Female chess – Jan Hein Donner

Women, for whatever reasons, have not truly attained an equal footing with the male chessplayers. Madame Chaudé de Silans, one of the better female players (in 1950 she was the first woman to play in an Olympic Chess Team (for France)), had this contemptuous remark on why her own sex didn’t do better: “Women can’t play chess because you have to keep quiet for five hours.

Chantal Chaudé de Silans

On the other hand Milunka Lazarevic, a top Yugoslav female player, notes: “No one asks me why I play better than 19 million Yugoslavs, but only why I play weaker than some 100 (male) Yugoslavs.

Milunka Lazarevic

Indeed, the question has been raised many times: “Why can”t women play chess on the same level as men?“. I”ve seen several answers. The best and funniest ones (in my opinion) were given by the late Jan Hein Donner (more about him soon elsewhere on this site!).


In 1968 he noted: “However painful it may be, we must not shrink from the truth: women cannot play chess. And, if you ask me, they will never learn to play chess. … And why can”t they play chess? After more than twenty-two years of pure scientific research, I think I have found an explanation. It is a well-known fact that a woman is superior to a man. Physically she is stronger. With her endless patience she will win, in the end, the everlasting battle of the sexes. She can think more logically… She has a far better memory… In everything a woman is superior to a man, but she misses one thing: intuition.

And: “I have studied Fraulein Jorger closely and attentively. In any aeroplane whatsoever, I would completely put myself in her hands, her piano playing is a delight, but chess… forget it, she is hopeless at it, just like any other woman.

A little bit later I hear the echo of a quote by Anna Garlin Spencer: “The failure of women to produce genius of the first rank in most of the supreme forms of human effort has been used to block the way of all women of talent and ambition for intellectual achievement in a manner that would be amusingly absurd were it not so monstrously unjust and socially harmful.

This is what Donner has to say about the subject, in 1972: “The difference between the sexes in chess is remarkably big, but in my opinion no bigger than in any other cultural activity. Women can not play chess, like they can not paint, nor write literature, nor compose music, nor be a philosopher. In fact, there is nothing thought or done by a woman, that is worth noticing. So chess is not to blame. But what is? First of all a woman is far more stupid than a man. And, a woman is not at all capable to amuse herself.”


A little bit later after he received some “fan” mail regarding his observation, he writes: “The authoress Hanny Michaelis protested against my assertion that women cannot write, citing a number of names as evidence to the contrary. What a ghastly list it was! The nastiest hags and frumps that ever wielded a pen!

To another woman who wrote: “Donner forgot to mention the blacks. It should have been: women and blacks can not play chess, because they are too stupid“, he answered: “She misses my point: black men can play chess, black women can not.


He adjusted his views a little bit in 1973: “The feeling of horror a real chessplayer gets when looking at women playing chess, should not make us blind for reality. They are not as silly as we like to think.”

And even more in 1977, after Nona Gaprindashvili won the Lone Pine tournament: “Even in the world of chess there is at least one woman who rates as a world-class player. For inveterate masculinists and for those who must write jocular pieces to earn a living, this is a serious setback, which will naturally not prevent us in the least … from continuing our struggle unabatedly.”

And then…

In 2002 Judith Polgar wins from Gary Kasparov (the World’s number one for many years). This was the game:

Judith Polgar – Garry Kasparov

Alas, Donner did not live to see this game…

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