Chess Racism Patriarchy Resources

As I do with most things, I’ve got to research a little before I commit.
I’m considering supporting an elementary/middle school chess club in the spring.

I introduced chess to our kids as early as possible and have enjoyed watching them put it all together and learn to the point where they can challenge my own ability. As I’ve shared with them inevitably the question is asked “why does white always go first?”

Since it was one of the first things that my kids asked, I assume others will as well. Rather than fumble through a response, I thought I would prepare a little and put together some resources to share. I’m not sure if all of these will make it into the final resource sheet, but it is a start.


  • Breaking Down Patriarchy in Competitive Chess
    AR: Yeah, I think the most famous one would be when I was accused of cheating with an engine in my lip balm. That made it to New York Times, New York Post, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, a caricature. It was literally everywhere in the world media, not chess media, world headline news type of media, that a 20-year-old girl playing at an international chess tournament plays the best chess of her life and three title players, men, say that she was most certainly using a chess engine hidden in her lip balm that was connected with a wireless internet in her backpack to a super computer. Every time she would open the lid off the lip balm she would see the right move inside the tin! And that’s how she almost won this chess tournament in France.


  • Why does white always go first in chess?
    There are several psychological factors at play. A beginner of chess learns the power of “white first” very quickly. They will see that an opponent will prefer the white pieces if given a choice. They feel a sense of empowerment even when they are playing a stronger opponent. For this reason, players who play white may be more motivated to win. Conversely, we have been conditioned to believe that black should be content with a draw.


  • Is Chess Promoting Racism?
    In the meantime, however, possibly stronger arguments suggest that chess actually did not originate in India but in Iran. In Iranian chess pieces, however, such green or red coloured pieces could not be found. Rather, the Persian epic Shahnameh (شاهنامه) mentions the nature of chess pieces on several occasions. This indicates that the pieces given to the Iranian ruler were made of ivory and teak, i.e. white and dark brown. So it could well be that this was the origin of the colour combination of white and black that is still common today (a view, inter alia, expressed by Deborah Freeman Fahid, Chess and Other Games Pieces from Islamic Lands, London 2018, p. 65).