Kazakhstan has become a rising power in the world of chess. A group of young Kazakh women have had a lot of success playing chess in recent years. Their success comes at a time when the game is growing in popularity in Kazakhstan.
FIDE is an international chess organization. It releases rankings of chess players and countries.
One of the rankings is the average rating of a country’s top 10 female players. Kazakhstan is currently number 9 in the world. Ten years ago, the country was number 28.
Some players, such as Dinara Saduakassova, are gaining wider recognition outside of the game. The 23-year-old Saduakassova is the highest-ranked Kazakh woman.
Kazakhstan is also among the world’s top 20 countries for female participation in chess. That information comes from a study by David Smerdon, a chess grandmaster from Australia.
Smerdon believes that women may be more likely to play chess in gender-unequal countries because chess games are judged without discrimination.
Over the past three years, the number of chess schools in Kazakhstan’s two biggest cities, Almaty and Nur-Sultan, has increased tenfold. That information comes from a Kazakh chess federation. It added that some 200,000 children and teenagers are involved in organized play.
Chess is also taught in more than 200 schools across the country.
Saduakassova has opened a number of chess schools that teach around 600 children. She has even become a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund.
She said, “I see so many chess centers being opened, chess being introduced at schools and I realize I have contributed to it, to making chess popular, to encouraging parents to enroll their children in chess clubs.”
Sadukassova said she does not seek profit from her schools, which were opened with a state loan for small businesses. She noted they are free for children from poor families and those with disabilities.
“It is great because chess... is very helpful in life,” she added.
The reasons for the success of female chess players in Kazakhstan are unclear. But being a part of the Soviet Union, which dominated the sport until its collapse in 1991, might have helped.
Kazakh women outperformed men as early as the 1980s, notes Saule Kaldybayeva, who played for the Kazakh national chess team at the time.
“There must be something about Kazakh women,” said Kaldybayeva.
Saduakassova said that she believes the word feminism has a bad or unwanted meaning in former Soviet countries. “I’d like to say that feminism is not about just fighting for women’s rights,” she said. It is also about fighting major issues such as child marriage or kidnapping women and forcing them into marriage, she said.
Saduakassova added, “I stand for every person’s rights to be fully respected.”
I’m John Russell.
Tamara Vaal reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
ranking – n. a list of people or things that are ordered based on their quality, ability or size.
participation – n. the act of taking part in an activity or event with others
grandmaster – n. an expert in the game of chess
gender – n. either of the two sexes; the behavioral or culture qualities often linked to one sex
tenfold – adj. ten times as much or as many
federation – n. an organization or group made up of smaller states or groups
contribute – v. to give or donate something
enroll – v. to register as a student or a member of an organization
feminism – n. the support of women’s rights based on equality of the sexes
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