From a pawn to a queen: chess gets some sex appeal

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The Independent US

Is she a pawn or a queen and is this really how chess players should be judged?

The World Chess Beauty Contest ranks a 16-year-old Australian as the world's most beautiful woman in the game. Vanessa Reid plays competitive chess and indeed once represented Australia at a tournament in Malaysia and played in New Zealand this year. But ranked only 47,694th among both men and women, she is no grandmaster.

While Ms Reid does not even make the World Chess Federation's list of the world's 50 top female players, she has one very useful attribute: her looks. For some, the much visited website is closer to porn than pawn but to others it's one way to ensure the sport of chess does not enter its endgame. The online contest seeks to judge the beauty of female chess players based on the votes of registered users. Sexist? Perhaps. But organisers say they are simply trying to raise the profile of the sport by injecting some glamour and highlighting the growing number of women players.

One of those who support the site is British grandmaster Nigel Short, currently ranked number 32 in the world and who is one of the "arbiters" for the online contest. Mr Short, perhaps better noted for his cerebral qualities rather than matinee idol looks, annotated one photograph of a Russian chess player, Maria Manakova, sitting in the bath covered in soap, with the comment: "Lovely bathroom tiles. Where can I buy them."

Mr Short defended the site and his participation. "How many women can play chess at a high level?" he told the New York Times. "There is precisely one - [the Hungarian player] Judith Polgar. If you want to promote women's chess on its own then you have to have something like this."

The organisers of the site - www.1wcbc.com - believe they are following a trend that has seen other sports, such as tennis, market themselves through the sex appeal of their women players. Russian tennis player Anna Kournikova has been able to develop a parallel career based on modelling and sponsorship deals. A similar career path has been taken by Ms Manakova, the fourth-ranked woman chess player in Russia who attracted widespread attention last year when she posed naked for the Russian magazine Speed.

The online contest was established earlier this year by Vladislav Tkachiev, 32, a grandmaster from Kazakhstan, and his brother Eugeny. Mr Tkachiev, who is currently ranked 83rd in the world, said: "Chess desperately needs some glamour. [People] think it's a game for those who are quite inactive and unattractive and aged. [That is] simply not true.

"This is a very democratic game for anyone. There are a lot of attractive people, whether female or male. We decided to show this side of chess."

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