At a recent match held at the U.S. Chess Academy in Chicago, the winner was an Orthodox woman: Anatoly Karpov, 88, a world champion and World Chess Federation head for 24 years, defeated a 30-year-old challenger, Ukraine’s Yulia Shapovalova. The title had previously belonged to a woman: Magnus Carlsen, then 22, who had won the first world championship to go to an outsider since Donkervoort Hove of Holland in 1693. But on May 11, eight years after that historic match, the world champion will go to a woman: Russian chess champion, Anastasia Kuzyrev, 24, who became the number-one female player in the world this year after a ranking gap that hovered around 1,000 points.
And what about this set of games? There will be no black or white pieces on the board during the match, and no game is expected to last more than two hours. The game was designed by the independent chess skills organization, Aspiration Chess (AS), and published to help girls become more interested in the sport.
But some people on Twitter are outraged over a recent sponsorship by a company selling breast-implant replacement products, Elite Pump and Drive:
Fourteen-year-old girl fighting to become #world #champion becomes #Controversy of the Day because a breast implant company has given her a special award. https://t.co/Uvky6M7epv pic.twitter.com/TvZEDD9C3V — HuffPost Politics (@HuffPostPol) May 2, 2018
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At the Women’s Chess Championship world champion Magnus Carlsen announces sponsorship with Elite Pump & Drive: https://t.co/R3JkN3k5fh pic.twitter.com/U73UaBhwUK — Ice Puzzles (@IcePuzzles) May 2, 2018
Mark Ladner, the co-founder of AS, called the controversy over the tie-breaking game “disgraceful,” “disgusting” and “not only sexist, but it’s very demeaning to the athlete.” The idea to use “[testosterone] chemicals” and make the women “harder” is hardly a fair reading of the match’s context, he said.
“Are you going to think that female players should automatically have the ability to understand probabilities or they should be heavier, faster?” he told the Huffington Post.
But Kathy Cronk, the executive director of the National Women’s Sports Foundation, said her organization, which partnered with AS on the program, believes Karpov and Shapovalova faced a common barrier. “Without question, some of the articles that I’ve read about the match or articles that you’ve seen come out in the press make it sound like the world’s largest bidders and the chess world is just going through menopause,” she said. “That’s not accurate.”
She suggested there was a “big difference” between the experience of girls playing chess as young as 7 who play “races,” such as the Championship, versus the actual game. Girls who were raised with more experience as players, Cronk said, “take the more advanced strategy so that they can go on to win a championship.”
For her part, Shamova said she has high hopes for the match — and for her future as a champion.
“The only thing stopping me from seeing it is [the artificial breast implant],” she said. “A Champion is great for women in all sports.”