A former world chess title challenger who once said women weren’t “hardwired” for the game, has taken on 20 female players in an Auckland exhibition on Wednesday.
Most of them were children, however the last woman standing in controversial chess grandmaster Nigel Short’s chess challenge was former reality TV contestant and competitive chess player Natasha Fairley.
Short made headlines last year after an essay in a chess magazine where he tried to explain the lack of world-class female players.
“Men and women’s brains are hard-wired very differently, so why should they function in the same way?” Short wrote in an article for scholarly journal New in Chess.
The Bachelor NZ contestant Natasha Fairley waits for chess grandmaster Nigel Short to make his move
“I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do,” Shorts said.
“Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills.
“It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”
The idea for the Beauty versus The Beast challenge came from New Zealand’s former chess grandmaster Murray Chandler.
“He [Chandler] thought it would get some publicity … it was a nice gimmick and we thought ‘just do it’,” Short said.
Most of Short’s opponents were pre-teens – which meant that former Bachelor NZ contestant Fairley stood out.
She said that while she wasn’t there to challenge his theory, she does agree that women don’t play enough.
“I’ve met Nigel a couple of times at Olympiads, overseas a few times. He’s a very charismatic, social guy and good for chess, to get it out there. He brings a lot of publicity to the game, which is good – Increasing awareness for lots of females who do play chess,” said Fairley.
“He said, you know, that women don’t play as much as men, and that is true.
“I’m trying to do my bit [to say] women should play, rather than fight his statement, because the reality is not heaps of girls do play and they do give up early. So I’m just here trying to encourage girls to play, however, I know Nigel is a very strong player.
“There’s definitely females that are as strong as him, I’m not one of them. So I’m not here to be like ‘females can beat men’, because I’m not an equal competitor, just because of my rank and rating – not because of my gender.”
Unlike competing for bachelor Art Green’s heart, Fairley anticipated she’d have a better run competing on the board than she did during season one’s rose ceremonies.
“I think it’s a much better competition, because you’re actually in control of the situation. There’s no interfering, no other factors, it’s just you v one other person, it’s all on the board,” she said.
Ten-year-old Aucklander Nadia Braganza has played chess for about a year, already winning five out of her nine competition titles. St Cuthberts’ students Charlotte Wen, 11, and Kimberly Yuan, 10, chose to compete for the experience of playing against a grandmaster of the game.
“I’m just going to try my best, and do as well as I can, he’s a really good player. We play at school, for fun,” said Yuan.
Chess tutor and New Zealand Chess representative Helen Milligan says young girls don’t simply “lose interest” but rather school and exams take precedent once they reach high school. “To me, chess is everything. It’s great for women and young girls, competitors like this,” she said.
“I think when students get a bit older, they’ve got exams and school work, which is of course important. A lot of highschool students do drop off, not because they’re losing interest but because they’re busy.”