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The Pay Gap - Why Do Men and Women Chess Professionals earn vastly differently amounts on average?

The Gender divide in Chess is not just the segregation of tournaments and coverage of chess, where women are given by FIDE, if they so choose, an entire professional circuit starting with Grand Prix events, elite women-only tournaments and culminating in the Women's World Chess Championship. There is also a divide in what women earn from Chess.

Above is the prize fund distribution from the 2017 Isle of Man International Tournament. You notice that men and women play in the same section however "Ladies Awards" are given in addition to women being able to compete for the main prizes. The organisers stipulate that no player can win more than one complete prize. So what have they done wrong against women?, I hear you ask. Well nothing actually. They have been super accommodating and created a situation where the highest placed women are awarded prizes, if they win the Masters places 1st to 10th, they could win a prize there too. This brings to mind two issues, perhaps you are already pondering them. First issue is a relative strong woman player can literally clean up here, since she is given a much greater chance of winning a significant amount of money then her male counterpart with the same ELO. Take for example a woman with an ELO between 2450 - 2499 elo, she will have a good chance of winning a grading prize in the 2400-2500 band, a fair chance of getting placed in the main winners and almost guaranteed walking away with a prize in the Ladies' Awards. So a 2450-2499 elo man would feel fairly hard done by since they have much slimmer chances of walking away with prize money. Second issue is that a woman may stand to win a better prize in the Ladies Award but end up "losing" money by gaining a place among the main winners. Even if the organisers fixed the issue by awarding each person the highest single monetary value prize they would then fall foul of complaints from other players (men and women) who would find this unfair. Inequality in prize distribution is a complex problem regardless of gender but sometimes favours some in an opposite way than you thought it would.

However if you assumed this article was going to be a clever ironic twist on the usual direction of the pay gap in Chess and life in generally you will be sadly mistaken, the really inequality of pay is seen in the FIDE events such as the  Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships. Here the participants qualify for the event and since FIDE have an event for women alongside the event called the "Open" which entirely comprises of men competing (by virtue of their performance). Hou Yifan narrowly missed out being qualified for the open events and qualified as top seed in the women's events but chose not to participate.

Looking at the prize distribution in the chart above for the event, between the big winners of the open event Vishy Anand ($250K - rapid 1st, 75K - blitz 3rd) and Magnus Carlsen ($250K - blitz 1st, $40K - rapid 5th)  they took home a combined total of $615K, between the two biggest winners in the open event which was entirely made up of men. In contrast the big winners in the women's event Nana Dzagnidze ($80K - blitz 1st, $12K - rapid 6th) and Ju Wenjun ($80K - Rapid 1st, $25K - Blitz 3rd), making a combined total of $197K between the two biggest winners in the women's events, that's not even close to the 1st prize won by one of the men.

What makes this even more remarkably unfair is that both the two men and two women performed virtually identically well and put in as much effort over the same number of rounds of Chess. The only difference was their genitalia, yet they don't get paid for effort but by gender in effect.

Apologists for this inequality will say men on average have higher ELO ratings and so deserve to get on average 200%-300% more in prize money than women. Well, that is a fallacy for a start because if we were to pay chess players on how elite they are in comparison to the entire population of  women on the planet, women players have a higher top percentile then men. If we talk about absolute ELO rating then statistically we have to adjust for the fact we have both men and women in two separate mutually exclusive populations. FIDE's ELO calculations are all based on the assumption that women and men have the same population mean ELO rating. This is unlikely to be true as men and women are just as likely to play chess well and have the same skill yet any random group of chess players who play chess between themselves mostly are highly likely to have a different mean ELO than another random group of chess players who play among themselves mostly. You can see this effect among male chess players from different countries in local or national leagues or tournaments. Nobody would expect that these group of players should have the same mean ELO rating, even though they are in the same distribution of male chess players who can technically play each other in open tournament. Compare this then to the situation with women's chess players who are playing each other and do not have the large population of chess players at each level that the men do. Progress is slower and in the Women's Grand Prix players population to outperform from a group of highly talented players whose skill is close to your own is difficult whatever your gender. In a nutshell the illusion of men's ELO rating superiority at chess over women is down to the differences in the distribution of the population of men players and the population of women players. It is partly participation numbers, rating inflation, the greater number of opportunities to win ELO points due to the greater number of tournaments of disparity between men where points for the elite players are for the picking.

If FIDE is going to create a segregated Chess Professional circuit for women then they should at least fund it proportionately. Yes, an open section that failed to show any women is not the fault of FIDE, this is a result of women not playing men who have all the rating points stored away and pass it around to each other in cosy male-only tournaments. FIDE needs to do something about this built-in barrier to the progress of women on the ELO rating list. It is also true to say that two mutually exclusive populations of chess players will not automatically have the same normal distribution for ELO rating purposes yet FIDE uses the same scale for qualification to its events. This is patently unfair whether they are smart enough to know it or not.

Now before you tell us that this huge inequality in distribution of the prize fund is entirely fair because women have an equal chance to participate in the open events this is only true up until the time the open event is entirely comprising of men. After that point the organisers know that they have a 100% perfect male-female split in the events. Further more the majority of men in the open section do not play women in the women's only event in other tournaments. The two populations are mutually exclusive with the exception of Hou Yifan (who wasn't playing here). 

We have not even discussed inequalities in appearance fees which are huge for the male elite chess players and consists of all expenses paid travel and accommodation and lump sum fee for turning up. The same privileges are not always afforded the female elite chess players. 

In 2013, Peter Zhdanov wrote an article titled Chess Cash Kings - The Highest Earning Chess Players in the World. In his article he listed the top ten highest earners in Chess by prize money in 2013, topped by Chess Wunderkid, Magnus Carlsen earning an eye watering estimated $2.2M . Unsurprisingly there was no woman in the top 10 list and the highest earning woman player was Hou Yifan who earned $265K in a year, which is less than what Magnus won in the Rapid and Blitz events over a few days.

Anyone still think as I was told when researching the issues that this was not a problem of pay gap in Chess between men and women?

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