They are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move

Monday, August 30th, 2021

To compete means to risk losing, and women, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, judge this risk differently than men:

A Stockholm University study of 1.4 million [chess] games over 11 years showed that elite women are less likely to use an aggressive opening move than elite male players. The women devote more deliberative thought to their first 25 moves: they are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move.

(That means they often run short on time in tournaments and have to rush at the end.)

Women are less likely to arrange a draw when the outcome is predictable — women want to play the game out. If it’s a sure win for women, they want to get that win.

(Men seem to get bored or decide that the time spent finishing the game is more trouble than it’s worth.)


  1. Harper's Notes says:

    Those are all differences between strong and weak players, veterans and novices. Probably a statistical artefact due to sex differences in choosing to allocate time and talent to a game with less social interaction than other activities. Or it may just be that a lot of women have recently been taking up the game and have not spent the years it typically takes to reach their full playing potential.

  2. Anomaly UK says:

    There are significant unexplained differences between male and female chess players, and risk-aversion might be part but only a small part. The sample of players in the study was 93% male.

    The study can’t really pull anything out by comparing results of the same players playing more or less aggressive openings in different cases, because chess players build repertoires of openings they are familiar with, so a player going into a different opening line is at a disadvantage due to less knowledge, compared to a player who frequently plays that same line. (The paper discusses repertoires, but doesn’t mention that players have more and less familiar openings within their repertoires).

    Then there are other confounding issues — a player will play a more aggressive opening if the score in a tournament is incenting them towards winning rather than drawing, but that will also affect the rest of the game — a player whose opponent is going hard for a win is likely to play less aggressively, hoping to induce an error.

    There is no mention in the paper of the time issue — female players spending longer on opening moves. That may have been taken by Broson & Merriman from somewhere else. Move time information isn’t in standard archives – it’s not even collected in normal tournaments, though that might be changing.

    link –

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