The legendary chess game is going through its own #MeToo moment as several women come forward to share their unsettling experiences in the chess community, including claims of sexual misconduct by a grandmaster.
Anna Cramling, a well-known online chess streamer, claims that she has also encountered awkward situations over her career in the game.
The 20-year-old, who has nearly 400,000 YouTube subscribers, claims that being a woman in chess has occasionally resulted in unpleasant comments from guys that made her feel uneasy and lonely during competitions.
Since I was a little child, “I’ve had unusual experiences in the world of chess,” Cramling told the associated press.
“I’ve experienced everything, from adult guys admiring me at chess competitions to getting DMs from my chess opponents who said things like, “I couldn’t stop staring at you,” during our game.
“A chess game usually lasts four or five hours, so it felt wrong knowing that someone so much older had been thinking about me in that way for so many hours,” the player said. “This made me feel quite uncomfortable.”
Chess has always been a significant part of Cramling’s life as the daughter of two grandmasters—her mother Pia was the fifth female grandmaster in history and her father Juan Manuel Bellón López was a five-time Spanish champion.
Cramling, who was born in Spain, claimed she spent a lot of time traveling with her parents to competitions throughout the globe before deciding to hone her abilities.
After relocating to Sweden with her family, she claims she began to take chess more seriously and spent up to two hours every day practicing.
“Even if I didn’t study every day, I was always hearing about chess, and I was always seeing my parents analyzing their chess games and talking about chess,” she explained.
Cramling, who holds the third-highest ranking for women, behind the woman grandmaster and the woman international master, according to Chess.com, achieved a peak International Chess Federation (FIDE) rating of 2175 in 2018. This makes her a Woman FIDE Master.
Cramling, on the other hand, claims that her concentration since 2020 has been on expanding her social media channels.
‘I’m embarrassed and guilty,’ she says
Cramling recalls being 15 years old and participating in a youth competition when an arbiter questioned her attire.
She went over to talk to some people she knew who were competing in the men’s event because it was summer, and like many others, she was wearing shorts.
A tournament official allegedly approached her and accused her of “distracting all the male players.”
“I remember coming back to the women’s portion of the tournament and feeling so embarrassed and awful that I couldn’t concentrate throughout my entire game – I just wanted to go,” she added.
“One of the primary challenges has been that there are far more men than women who play chess, and being a woman at a chess tournament might feel lonely at times.”
“I have occasionally participated in competitions with more than 300 competitors, but only five of them were female.
“I believe that one of the reasons there are so few female players are because chess tournament environments can be extremely hostile to them, and I know that many, many women have experiences that are similar to mine or worse.”
Despite these instances, Cramling continues to play the game with a clear love that is evident on her online platforms.
She frequently posts videos to YouTube and streams her games online, including casual encounters against grandmaster Magnus Carlsen.
Although chess streaming is a relatively new phenomenon, it has a following.
Cramling has around 150,000 followers on Instagram and 301,000 followers on Twitch in addition to her expanding YouTube channel. She claims that the majority of the online criticism she gets is positive.
In addition, Cramling just received a nomination for Best Chess Streamer at The Streamer Awards this year. She claims that her presence and subsequent following have risen month after month.
After making her first film, which she claims to have done on her ex-laptop, boyfriend’s she has gone a long way.
By happenstance, her choice to try streaming occurred around the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused the online chess community to explode in popularity. Chess.com said earlier this year that it had more than 102 million people signed up, a 238% rise from January 2020.
Cramling expresses her gratitude for the audience her chess knowledge and enthusiasm have attracted.
I never imagined I’d be able to support myself through this, she added. “I still believe it’s a lot of fun, and it was a lot of fun at first.
People can tell that I’m having fun, and I believe that to be the most significant factor. I believe that this also transfers into streams.
“I think it’s incredibly hard to generate good material when it stops being fun,”
What women should gain from chess?
Cramling claims that she wants her content to be more than just for fun.
Only 11% of FIDE-rated players and 2% of grandmasters—the highest title bestowed by the organization that governs the game of chess—are women, according to researcher David Smerdon.
Cramling feels tournaments must play a role in encouraging other women to play chess, just as her mother served as an example for her.
According to her, she wants officials to watch men’s behavior toward women more closely and has urged them to step in if a problem occurs.
Chess instructors, players, and especially tournament officials should all serve as examples of how to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of who they are. Chess is a game that everybody can enjoy, she remarked.
“I hope that by being active online, I may encourage more women to play chess by demonstrating that we have a voice in the game.
“I am aware that this is not how chess tournaments will always be; we simply need to encourage more female players.
“The more we talk about how poorly some women are treated during competitions and the more we hear everyone’s stories, the more we can bring about change,”
As of the time of publication, the associated press has contacted FIDE for comment but had not heard back.