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AVELLINO: Women's chess coverage needs improvement

Grandmasters (GM) Vaishali Rameshbabu, Anna Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi have all been at the top of their game in the chess world. – Photo by @chessvaishali /, @FIDE_chess / and @anna_muzychuk.official /

I first got into chess when I was 4 or 5 years old. My grandfather, always eager to give his grandson a much-needed shellacking, showed me how the game works. As a casual fan, I did not play much until the pandemic, when chess experienced a tremendous boom due to the popularity of streamers and online play. I love playing the game, and I especially enjoy watching it at the competitive level.

Sunday was the conclusion of the Candidates Tournaments, two double round-robin events to determine who will compete for the title of World Champion and Women's World Champion later this year. There are two tournaments happening simultaneously: the Candidate's Tournament, which is open to members of either sex, and the Women's Candidates Tournament, which is only open to women.

The story of how and why there are two World Championships, one for anybody and one exclusively for women, is a long and complicated story. It involves the ugly history of women's relegation to second-class players by their male peers and the International Chess Federation's attempt to "solve" this through separate tournaments and titles for women.

There are many arguments for and against the prevalence of women-only tournaments, including from the greatest women chess players today. What is not arguable, though, is that these women-only tournaments exist now, and the women competing in them are high-class athletes who deserve as much attention and seriousness as the men — which brings us to our problem.

Over the course of the last few weeks, the coverage gap between men's and women's tournaments has been painfully inequitable. Though both tournaments contained high-quality players and exciting personal stories in each group, many content creators, for some reason, could not give the women as much coverage and respect as the men.

This relegation of the seriousness of women's chess is exemplified by Levy Rozman, popularly known as "GothamChess" on YouTube. Rozman is one of the platform's largest chess content creators by far, with a channel of 4.86 million subscribers. If anyone is capable of boosting the viewership of women's accomplishments in one of the fastest-growing sports, it is him.

As of April 20, Rozman has posted 13 videos covering 13 rounds of the Candidates and Women's Candidates Tournaments. His coverage of the women's games throughout this series averages around only 26 percent of the runtime or roughly 8.5 minutes of coverage per video.

His video covering round five of the Tournaments only spent 2 minutes and 31 seconds for four matches of some of the greatest women in the game. His recap of the game between Koneru Humpy and Aleksandra Goryachkina, the third and fifth-highest-rated women in the history of the game, respectively, was 27 seconds long. That is abysmal.

This is not anything new for Rozman, who, in my view, also did not give equal coverage for the 2023 Open and Women's Chess World Cup events. These are two of the biggest yearly chess events featuring the strongest players in the world, who often compete in the Candidates Tournament or for the 2023 Open and Women's World Chess Championship matches.

While Rozman's coverage of the women's section is insufficient, it is still somehow greater than other popular chess YouTubers. Antonio Radić, better known as "agadmator" on YouTube, has a channel of 1.32 million subscribers. He has barely covered any games played by women in the Candidates Tournaments. He primarily covers men's matches.

Most of the other top chess content creators on YouTube, Twitch and other streaming platforms give lip service at best to the most prestigious women's tournaments of the year. Professional chess platforms like stream women's events and do a fairly decent job of providing them with serious coverage. This deserves some credit (as long as there are no male commentators making sexist remarks about the women players — which there are), but it is not enough.

Some may defend these and many other content creators as a simple supply and demand lesson. Videos on women's chess events tend to do poorer than open events that include men, and so, therefore, it makes sense to cover them less. If you want to maximize your viewership, chase the viewers.

The viewership gap between videos on open and women's chess events is a sad reality in the chess world. But this standard has never been applied to any other sport. If ESPN stopped airing the NCAA women's basketball championship, there would justifiably be outrage that a whole field of competitive athletes were not getting equal recognition. ESPN viewers would be surprised when the women's tournament surpasses the men's in terms of viewership, which it did this year!

Sometimes we cannot control the preferences and tendencies of a mass audience. I do not think that equal coverage for women's chess tournaments will suddenly solve sexism in chess or change the deficits between the number of viewers for open and women's tournaments.

But it would be something! In the same way that increased coverage of women's sports has changed how we think about those sports, this, too, can be true of women's chess. This Women's Candidates Tournament had several exciting stories that any viewer, regardless of sex, can latch onto and root for.

Grandmaster (GM) Vaishali Rameshbabu was half of the only brother-sister duo in the two tournaments alongside her brother GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu.

GM Anna Muzychuk is a longtime player whose sister won the Women's crown in 2015. She is playing two Russian chess Grandmasters while the Russian government invades her native Ukraine.

GM Tan Zhongyi, the 16th Women's World Champion, won the Women's Candidates Tournament. Zhongyi lost her title to current Women's World Champion GM Ju Wenjun in 2018, and her victory is setting her and Wenjun up for a rematch six years in the making.

These are all exciting and sympathetic stories that chess viewers around the world should be able to latch onto in order to show the diversity of experiences that chess can have.

If only they were given the platform to show it.

Noble Avellino is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in economics and minoring in political science. Avellino’s column, “Noble’s Advocate” runs on alternate Mondays.

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