Jennifer Shahade: Underestimating Girls Who Play Chess


Jennifer Shahade, a two-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, is one of the authors on a New York University study about parents and mentors underestimating girls who play chess. Earlier in Shahade’s career, Shahade asked girls easier chess questions than boys.

Jennifer Shahade

NYU Study

The paper’s senior author is Andrei Cimpian, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology. The news release about the paper is here and includes a quote from Shahade:


These beliefs are likely to be harmful both to girls who already play chess and to those who could want to: Would you be interested in participating in an activity where your potential is downgraded by your parents and by your coaches before you have even started?

Shahade’s Questions to Chess Girls

In 2007, Jennifer Shahade interviewed Elizabeth Spiegel (née Vicary). Shahade quotes Spiegel as saying, “Even though I call on both genders a similar amount, I found that I ask girls much easier questions. And honestly, often it was because I didn’t think they were capable of answering the harder ones and I didn’t want to embarrass them.” 

Shahade replied, “I blushed when I read the part where you discovered you asked girls easier questions, because I also consider myself an enlightened feminist but, I definitely also ask girls easier questions…I didn’t consider this habit critically till I read your thesis… I always did it consciously, hoping to get more girls involved.”

The 2023 news release states, “The researchers note that the sample of mothers and female coaches was too small to analyze separately—a reflection of women’s underrepresentation in chess more generally.” Shahade’s 2007 article, which included the aforementioned section about Spiegel and Shahade asking girls easier questions than boys, may indicate that some mothers and female coaches also underestimate the potential of girls in chess.

Shahade resigns from US Chess

At the time of her 2007 article, Shahade was working for US Chess. In 2006, she began as a Web editor. She later served as Senior Digital Editor and, since 2018, as Women’s Program Director. She resigned as Women’s Program Director on September 6, 2023.

US Chess is now hiring a Director of Programs, who will oversee its Women’s, At-Risk, and Older Adult programs. Apply by October 10, 2023.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on

One Response

  1. Sarah Cohen
    Sarah Cohen at

    A couple thoughts… what is mentioned here seems to be a subconscious or unconscious thing. Like habits, one is often unaware they are even doing it and this makes it hard to rectify.
    Second, the reason for asking girls easier questions my not be due to assessing them as inferior, but simply because you want them to succeed, so you give them a safety net or because you believe they might be less able to handle failure than boys and will become discouraged. It could be you don’t care as much if a boy fails because you inwardly believe boys are more resilient.
    The point is, even if you you say is somewhat universal, the reasons for it don’t seem so cut and dry.

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