PV’s Playhouse – Women and Magic

After my last couple articles, it became obvious that the subject of “Women and Magic” was extremely delicate – one would think, therefore, that I would simply never speak of it again, as to avoid, ahem, complications. But, you see, the thing is – it really should not be delicate! I want to get to a point where I can make a joke about unicorns and it will not be the end of the world. So, I have decided to take my chances and write this article – I know I am walking on eggshells here, but hey, what’s life without an adventure? I guess that, if this article doesn’t get me lynched, it’s pretty safe to say none will.

In this article, I will try to discuss three main points:

1) Why are there so few women that play Magic?
2) Why don’t they win as much as the men?
3) How do we get more women to play?

To bring a different perspective than my own (and probably more accurate, since they’re the subject in question), I’ve decided to interview three female Magic players for this article (and thanks a lot for the help!):

Melissa DeTora: Melissa is a player from Providence, RI. Her best results in Magic have been a GP top 16, several GP top 32s and 64s, a bunch of PTQ top 8s with 4 wins, and she has qualified for the PT/Worlds 9 times, with two top 64s. I think it’s probably fair to say that Melissa is the most consistent woman on the tour, at least since I’ve been playing in it.

Kali Anderson – Kali is a level 2 Magic judge who has just recently moved to Roanoke, VA to start her job as an Event Specialist for Star City Games. Before she started judging, she won a SCG 5k (with Mono Green!).

Carrie Oliver – Carrie is a 25 year old resident of Cambridge, UK. She has just completed studying for her PhD in Pathology and now works full time as a research scientist. Though her biggest Magic accomplishment is obviously beating me in PT Nagoya, she was also in the top 32 of said PT, which is, to the best of my knowledge, the best finish ever in a Pro Tour by a woman. She also plays Bridge, so she will be bringing that perspective too.

Along with her answers, Carrie submitted a “disclosure”: If you are a girl reading this article and you disagree with anything that I have said please don’t take it to heart. It is just an opinion. At the end of the day if you want to compete in Magic and you work hard enough you can do so and I look forward to playing against you.”

I like that, I’ll borrow it – If you are a girl reading this article and you disagree with anything that I have said, please don’t take it to heart. It is just an opinion!

Before we start, How did you get into Magic/judging?

Melissa: I started in 1997. I was in high school (I’m old, I know). I was taught by friends in high school who played. I was totally against learning at first, but once I learned I was hooked.

Kali: I started playing Magic in high school. I’ve always been kinda nerdy, and I was very much into D&D. I knew about the game, but never played it until one day I just decided I wanted to learn because it looked fun. No one in my play group wanted to teach me, which I found weird. I went to our local store and asked around if someone would teach me, and everyone kept saying, “No, no, no, you don’t want to play this game.” Finally, one guy spoke up and said he’d teach me. I bought the WW precon from Mirrodin (poor you – PV). And from there I just played casually with my friends. I wasn’t introduced into the competitive circuit until after I moved to Birmingham, AL and met Todd. That was back in 2006, and I have been going to Magic tournaments since.

I had an inkling for judging about a year before I actually became a judge. My good friend Casey Hogan had suggested it to me when I asked about it. I took some practice tests online and realized that I didn’t know much about the rules, and decided to focus more on playing the game instead. A year later, I was getting burnt out of grinding and was at the brink of quitting. I posted on Facebook about going to a PTQ just to socialize, and the TO contacted me and asked if I was interested in judging. So I studied, took my Rules Advisor test, passed, and went to my first PTQ as level 0! I never felt so excited to be a part of a Magic tournament as I was that day. After that, I felt like I found my place in the community. Since that day, I have played in two tournaments (excluding FNMs), but I have judged a countless number of times!!

Carrie: I started playing Magic on Janurary 30th 2010 after a friend suggested going to the Worldwake pre-release. Prior to that I had played Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox 360. After going to the pre-release I was pretty much hooked.

I also figured that it would be pretty interesting to get yet another perspective, from women that do not play Magic but play other games competitively. Those games have always had more male players, but the concentration of women is infinitely higher than in Magic, and, in analyzing those, we can better see if the “problem” is with the Magic community, with the competition, with the game itself or if there is no problem. For this purpose, I’ve also talked to a very special guest, who was also kind enough to answer some questions (thank you!) – top chess player Natalia Pogonina.

Natalia Pogonina is a Russian chess Women Grandmaster, three-times European champion (U16, twice U18), bronze prize winner at the World Championship (U18) and European Women Championship, winner of the gold medal at the 1st International Mind Sports Games, among others. In 2010, her FIDE rating crossed 2500, a mark usually associated with male grandmasters. She writes articles and promotes chess on her website and she also writes for chess.com.

Have you ever heard of the game called Magic: the Gathering?

Natalia: Yes, I have. It has been popular in Russia for years, and even in the 90s high-school teens of my age along with adults would trade cards, but sets, boast who has the best deck and hold meetings in special clubs. Some would be proud of their golden cards and even purchase them online. There were also people, who liked the computer version of the game, but those were considered to be freaky since playing live and collecting the actual cards is probably way more exciting than dealing with virtual ones. Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience in the game, but I have attended the Russian national championship twice. A hall in a large shopping center, arbiters, screens, lots of stylish and nerdy-looking players from all over the country rotating from one table to another. That was fun to watch even if you don’t understand much. 🙂

Now that’s a surprise – I’ve never really pictured anyone who did not play going to watch a Magic tournament, let alone twice. I guess having it in a shopping mall instead of in a god forsaken convention center in the middle of a road will do wonders for publicity… In any case, let’s begin with the proposed questions:

Why are there so few women in Magic?

From an outside perspective, there are many possible reasons one can find:

Women are less competitive than men.

This is something we keep hearing, though I am not sure there is actually any truth to it. My impression is that women are less competitive with men than men, but actually more competitive with women than men are with other men. In fact, I’ve heard a Magic playing girl once specifically say that she hated losing to other girls. Perhaps because we are men we do not see all the competitive side, but I think it is definitely there.

Do you agree that men are more competitive than women?

Natalia: On the average, I guess it is so. This is determined by genes, social stereotypes and other factors.

Melissa: I agree. I have always been competitive. I played competitive sports when I was younger, and have always been competitive in anything I did, including Magic. My friends that are female never really had that trait, but guy friends usually did.

Kali: I think women are competitive, just in a different way than men. Women, especially those who grind the PTQ and Open circuits, want to win, and want to win just as bad as the guys do. But we aren’t aggressive about it towards other people. I know I tend to be harder on myself when I perform poorly, and I think guys take it out on others more than themselves.

Carrie: Maybe to some extent. Though, to be honest, I think this is different from person to person. I have a very competitive personality and want to excel at everything I do.

Women are not attracted to the theme of the game – sorceries, dragons, wizards, zombies, giants, all this fantasy stuff.

This one I can get behind a lot more. Whether it is a preference due to the way our brain works, or a cultural preference (very likely cultural), I think men simply like fantasy more than women, or at least this kind of fantasy. Once you start playing more and more professionally, the theme starts disappearing – sure, I enjoy the fact that [card]Phylactery Lich[/card] doesn’t die until you kill his artifact, and I appreciate that [card]Djinn of Wishes[/card] grant three wishes, and I do like the idea of throwing a [card]Fireball[/card] at people, but, ultimately, this is not going to change the fact that I play the game. When you begin, though, this is really important – I will check pretty much anything that has a dragon on the cover because I think it has potential, but I’ll always ignore a Battle Tank.

Would you say the fantasy theme drives girls away?

Natalia: I don’t think so. For instance, in the 80s and 90s PC and video games used to be dominated by men, but now many girls enjoy playing both offline and online. I like fantasy, especially the Dragonlance series, and look like an elf myself, or at least they say so! 😀 Another example: in LOTRO the ratio of female players to male is probably about 1:2. Not sure about WoW, but I guess the trend is the same.

Natalia even sent us a picture, to prove that she does like fantasy (and for us to decide if she looks like an elf):

Melissa: Yes, I think that women are just not into that kind of thing, unless they were brought up with gaming. Like I grew up playing a lot of console games and D & D so I was drawn into Magic that way.

Kali: Maybe, but only to girls who wouldn’t play a game like this in the first place. I think the fantasy theme has gained popularity in recent years, what with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and now Game of Thrones is in the spotlight. People don’t tend to look down on those genres because they also enjoy a bit of escape from the real world now and then.

Carrie: Nope! Well, certainly not for me and most female Magic players I have spoken to. I love fantasy novels and pretty artwork. My favourite Magic art so far is Linvala which is just stunningly beautiful. Breaking news: not all girls like ponies and dollies.

Women do not like the environment of Magic tournaments

I’ve always thought the rumors of lack of hygiene among Magic players were greatly exaggerated – sure, some people could definitely shower a little bit more often, but I don’t ever really find myself in a room the likes some people describe. From what I read, it seems to me that the girl would walk into a room full of Ogres with the remains of a cheeseburger (the third, you know, because we’re all fat) and ketchup dripping over their cards, and who would pinch them like serving maids in a Robert Jordan novel if they pass too close. In my experience, we’re not nearly that bad -I’ve never actually witnessed someone being rude to a girl in a tournament or store; in fact, it’s often quite the opposite, players try to be overly nice to girls, though that might be because they have other intentions (it’s quite common for any girl in a Magic tournament to cause some commotion, and for several people to be “interested”). Perhaps this is part of what drives them away? Do you ever get flirted with during a match? If yes, does that annoy you?

Natalia: During a match opponents aren’t supposed to talk to each other or interact in any non-game related way. On the other hand, I do occasionally get obscene messages at Facebook, Twitter and at other social networks and chess websites, or see some vulgar remarks connected with my looks. Naturally, this is not pleasant, but that’s quite common of the Internet age. Others are more polite and gentle, but not aware of the fact that I’m married and not interested in any affairs.

Melissa: Yes and yes it does annoy me, since I have a boyfriend.

Kali: I used to a lot. Now, most people know I am married (if not by my wedding ring, then by my association with Todd). It doesn’t so much annoy me as it does make me feel awkward. No one has really pushed the issue after I told them I was taken, thankfully.

Carrie: Not in an over-the-top fashion as such I have not noticed. Although an opponent in Japan gave me an origami flower, that was sweet. I’m quite a flirty person and good natured flirting doesn’t bother me.

Kali also brings up this point later on when she mentions the environment is not “female-friendly”, though I don’t think she means exactly what I mean by that.

Women do not like losing in Magic because of the repercussions

Though there is perhaps a combination of factors, this is my pick for the most neglected one. What I mean by this is that, when women start playing, they will lose – everyone loses when they start playing. For women, however, that is a much bigger deal because, invariably, it will be associated with the fact that they are women, and they understandably dislike that. There were a lot of comments in my PT Nagoya article that I chose to ignore, but some of them were actually really good, and a person produced this genius cartoon:

(Image courtesy of xkcd.com)

To me, this describes the situation perfectly. If a person gets paired against a beginner, they might think ” Great, I got paired against a guy who just started – beginners are so bad!”. This in itself is not necessarily wrong – beginners are bad, and no one would expect anything else. If they get paired against a girl who is a beginner, though, they will think “Great, I got paired against a girl – girls are so bad!”. And the girl will be bad – she is, after all, a beginner – but that will never cross the guy’s mind as the reason for why she is bad. Instead, the game will confirm his suspicious – by the end of it, he will be thinking “I was right, girls really are bad”, even if it doesn’t make sense.

I think that no girl wants to be that girl. No one wants to join a tournament and be exposed to this way of thinking, and they really don’t want to help increasing the stereotype – yet they know they will, because they know they’re beginners and they will make mistakes, and they know this is what is going to happen. When you and I started playing, we lost and no one cared, no one went to table 325 to check us out. When a girl loses, she does not go unnoticed – people really do go to match 325 to check her out, and when she loses they mark another one against girls in their minds.

This, of course, poses a problem, since girls don’t want to play unless they think they’re going to win, but they’re not going to get to that point if they never play. I remember when we had a GP in my city, Porto Alegre, some years ago, and I told my mother she should play in it. She told me she would never play unless she thought she was going to win, because otherwise it would just be ridiculous – she would just be made fun of. She knew everyone would automatically assume her bad for being a woman (and, well, an older than usual one at that), and unless she could actually beat the stereotype and prove those people wrong, she was not interested.

I feel that this point, specifically, is one we can change (well, that and showering). If girls dislike fantasy, well, we can’t lobotomize them to start liking it, and we can’t really change the game. If girls aren’t competitive, we also can’t do anything about it. This, though, is all us – it is the effect of our mindset, and I urge you to change that mindset. I also urge the girls to be a little braver – it doesn’t do much help for the men to change the way they see things if the women then do not step up. So, if you’re a woman, go play! Some people will definitely think “hah look at what she did, I knew girls were bad”, but the only way to prove this people wrong is to actually play, and play more, until you are no longer bad.

One thing I think might be relevant is all the attention girls get from coverage. If you are a girl at a Magic tournament, it’s almost impossible to go unnoticed – not only do people go check on you on table 325, like I’ve mentioned before, but you also get a lot of coverage simply by being a girl. Girls are different, and when there are girls, the staff wants to pass the message to everyone – LOOK, THERE ARE GIRLS PLAYING HERE. As such, they do things like placing them on an environment where their skills will be judged way before they are ready for it – such as a feature match. In Melissa’s awesome article for The Starkington Post, she writes “One of the matches was actually a feature match, but I only got it because I was a girl (it was the 3-4 bracket or something like that).”

The fact that girls get feature matches more often than they would if they were not girls is not something that is wrong – they give what they think people want. When they are in Japan, they feature more Japanese players; when in the US, they feature more American ones. They also tend to sneak, say, poker pros in the coverage, to try to appeal to a higher mass – again, this is not wrong, but I think it could be bad for the girl. In a feature match, people will watch and judge your plays, though that is usually not a very big deal because the players featured are good. When you take a girl who has began playing not long ago and put her on a feature match because she is a girl, though, you’re basically throwing her to the lions – she does not have a skill that is “feature-matchable” yet, she will mess up and she will be judged for it, ultimately contributing to the stereotype. Of course if they go and feature Melissa nowadays, this is not going to happen, but from my experience they’re not against featuring girls who really are beginners.

Would you say that the “artificial” promotion of girls is more beneficial to the “cause” of girls playing because of the popularity that it gives or is it more harmful by scaring them away?

Melissa: I think that is is fine to show women in the feature match area as long as they are doing well in the tournament. Like I don’t think it is right to show a women if they are doing poorly and it is there first tourney, etc.

Kali: In my experience and observations, they only feature girls if they have been performing well in the tournament. Obviously if she is doing well then she is feature-matchable. People want to see what they don’t normally get to see. They want to see the Pros in the feature area, sure. But they also want to see the Average Joe grinding it out at the top tables, because that’s where they see themselves. They want to see the little kid making Top 16 of a Grand Prix, because it doesn’t happen often and it inspires others to join the Grind. When a woman is featured because she is doing well, then it shows other women that they can be just as good. The Feature Match area is “The Show.” It’s what they give to the people back home who couldn’t be there.

Carrie: As a company WotC obviously want to take people who are different and showcase them because that is interesting to people. As such a successful female Magic player is currently interesting because it is unusual. I think it does encourage women to see a female player doing well at a Pro Tour or Nationals. Depending on the person this could result in a lot of pressure or publicity that they don’t want. I actually went to the Pro Tour with the goal of getting a feature match. I screwed up in that match but who cares. I make mistakes because I’m new to the game. If people look at me and go “Ha! She sucks” because of that one mistake they are clearly quite bad at judging a persons ability and skill and I look forward to playing (and beating them) sometime soon.

Why do you think there are way less female than male Magic players? Do you think there is a single aspect that contributes more to this or is it just a combination of factors?

Melissa: I just think that the average woman is just not interested in gaming.

Kali: I’ll be honest – It’s a boy’s club. When the game started out, it meant to cater to boys. That’s not a bad thing! However, I think WotC is trying to expand their reach. I remember playing my first Regionals in 2007 in Atlanta. It was a huge tournament, and I only saw one other girl playing that day. I went to several PTQs where I was the only girl playing. Nowadays, there is at least a handful of girls slinging spells.

Why would you say there are a lot more women who play Bridge than women who play Magic?

Carrie: Bridge is a partnership again and therefore a much more social games. As such the competitive aspect of it is reduced and I think for this reason more women are inclined to play. A lot of women start playing bridge with their husbands. Later they will start partnering other players. I am aware of a number of girls locally that do play Magic, just not competitively like their boyfriends. If Magic required a partner you might see more girls coming along to competitions/club nights etc.

If only Two Headed Giant wasn’t such a bad format…
Right now, there are way more female judges than female players, in proportion. Why does that happen?

Kali: Actually, I think there are a lot more female players. Maybe a lot more casual players than competitive, but female judges aren’t as bountiful as you think. I have met a lot of girls who play Commander and that’s it; I also know some girls who are dedicated to the Grind.

Oh, ok. Maybe it is just my impression because – I guess I should have asked about female competitive players – I definitely see a bigger female judge than players ratio (for example there were pretty much as many female judges as players in GP KC, except there were like 50 times more players), though if you include the casual players that’ll probably not be the case.

Do you feel like players respond differently to you as a judge because you’re a woman? Have you ever encountered any problems?

Kali: I have not encountered any problems from players being a judge. Most players know to respect judges at events and luckily I haven’t been in a situation where someone didn’t know how to respect. I have heard the horror stories and the tall tales (the classic, “I want a male judge” request) but I thankfully don’t have any of my own to tell.

2) Why are women, as a group, not as good as men in Magic?

It is pretty safe to say that, right now, women are not nearly as good in Magic as Men – all you need to do is look at the top finishes. I see three possible explanations – numerical, biological and cultural.

The first point is that women are not as good as men because there are waaay more men playing, and it would actually be really awkward for us if it was any different. Saying that is not demeaning to women at all – it would be the equivalent of saying that the players in Monaco are, as a group, not as good as the players in the United States. This is pretty obvious, and pretty interrelated with the cultural point.

The second difference is not so obvious. That the brains of women and man are different, everyone knows, but are the differences harmful to women in Magic?

Let’s go back to chess for a bit…

If you thought I was being sexist by making a Unicorn joke, let me introduce you to arguably the best chess player in history, Russian Garry Kasparov. Kasparov once delivered the following speech about the best woman in chess history, Judit Polgár:

“It’s inevitable that nature will work against her, and very soon. She has fantastic chess talent, but she is, after all, a woman. It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche. No woman can sustain a prolonged battle. She’s fighting a habit of centuries and centuries and centuries, from the beginning of the world. She will be a great grand master, but she will never be a *great* grand master.”

Kasparov is also reported to having described Judit Polgar as a “circus puppet”, and asserted that “women chess players should stick to having children”. Is (or was) this the dominant male point of view in chess, or is Kasparov an exception? Did anything change in the chess world regarding that after he was defeated by Judit in a rapid game in 2002?

Natalia: I wouldn’t take Kasparov’s words too seriously since, as far as I know, he also used to call his colleagues “tourists”, “cockroaches”; make harsh statements regarding lack of talent or perspectives; dictate his own rating lists (i.e. say who knows how to play chess and who doesn’t with respect to the world’s top-10 players). As to Judit’s win: first of all, a victory in rapid isn’t valued as highly as a win in standard time control. Secondly, for misogynists it has changed nothing. Now they either say she was lucky, or (best case scenario) acknowledge that “Judit Polgar is the only woman who can really play chess, while other female players are mere woodpushers”. 🙂

My opinion, of course, differs from Kasparov’s (or I guess I would not be writing this article…). Now, keep in mind that this is just my opinion, I don’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert in the human brain, but… The way I see it, success in Magic is mostly a function of three variables – practice, overall intelligence and talent for the game. When a person is naturally skilled in certain aspects – the ability to see the game ten turns in the future, to understand it, to get into the mind of your opponents to see what they are doing, to quickly recognize a pattern they’ve seen before or rework their train of thought if they haven’t – then that person has Magic talent. When a person has considerable talent, is intelligent enough and practices enough, they become very good in Magic.

In intelligence and practice, men and women are on equal footing. When it comes to talent, though, I believe that the areas that are usually associated with the male brain (math, spatial understanding) are more likely to generate skills that will reflect in a better Magic talent than the areas women usually have better developed (emotions, languages, speech). What this means is basically that I think it is easier for a man to be born with Magic talent than for a woman.

This, of course, does not mean women cannot have talent for Magic – it just means they have to win an even bigger lottery. If one in every 100 men has Magic talent, then one in every 200 women does. Once she does have the talent, though, she is not handicapped in any way.

Let’s go back to Judit Polgár and arbitrarily say she had a talent of 9.5. There are more men with a talent of 9.5 than women, but, since she was already born with this much talent, she will be as good as any man with talent 9.5 – the fact that she is a woman mattered only because it made it less likely that she was born with that amount for chess, but since she already has, it’s no longer relevant.

There is also the cultural aspect; men are much more likely to be introduced to games such as Magic when they are young, they’re more likely to be encouraged to play. Even if some girls like fantasy as much as men, this is not the view of the society, and girls usually don’t even have the opportunity to know that they like it until they’re older – no one is going to give a girl a Magic Deck for her 10th birthday because she “might like it”, but things like that happen to boys. As such, it’s much easier to identify interest and talent, and to nourish it. Let’s take chess again; the Russian are the best ever at it, but that is probably not because they have “chess genes” – in all likelihood, the amount of people born with chess talent in Russia is the same as everywhere else. However, in Russia those people are found when they’re very young, there are incentives for playing, children school tournaments, etc. For example, when I asked Natalia how she had gotten into chess, she replied:

Natalia: My grandpa taught me the moves at 5. As a kid, I won the school checkers tournament, and one of the local chess coaches decided I might have a talent for chess too and offered his assistance.

When everyone in the country plays chess, and your parents play with you when you’re young, if you have any amount of talent it’s much easier to turn that talent into actual skill. In other countries, there are probably a lot of talented people who either never even find out they have the talent, or do not really have anything to do with that talent, since the opportunity cost of playing chess is too high due to no incentives, so they end up spending their time with something else. For the same reason, it is harder to identify the talent with women, and harder to turn the talent into skill.

So, for me, the reason women have not broken into Pro Tour stardom is probably a mix of this – they’re less likely to have the talent for it, and that talent is much less likely to be found and honed.

Women have, so far, not being as successful as the best male players in Magic. Would you say this is just a matter of numbers (since the overwhelmingly majority of the players is male) or is there something else?

Melissa: I think it is numbers. I mean, most Magic players are just not that good. So if the average player is just not that good, and given the number of female players out there, chances are, they are not that good.

Kali: I think it’s probably a matter of numbers and the fact that the Grind is not the most “female-friendly” environment. I remember the first time I went to a Magic tournament, there were guys staring at me. The first match I played, my opponent was really nice, but we were one of the last matches playing and the whole place had crowded around our match. I ended up winning, and a bunch of guys were laughing at the guy I just beat. I hear it all the time around events, guys joking on their friends for losing to a girl or someone commenting on their pairings, saying that they got a bye because they were playing a girl. At the 5K in Nashville, I was waiting for the pairings for round 6. A guy approached me and asked me (in a way that a parent would ask a child) what my record was. When I told him I was 5-0, he looked at me in sincere disbelief.

Carrie: Well, there are fundamental differences between how the average man and average woman thinks. There is plenty of research to support this fact, it is not just my opinion on the matter. There are obviously exceptions, men that show a more female way of thinking and vice versa, but the data is pretty conclusive. For example, men tend to be better at mental mathematical calculations and the visualization of objects in a 3D space, whereas women tend to excel at human relations such as recognizing emotions. Magic uses a lot of the skills traditionally associated with the male brain. As such it’s not surprising to me that, in general, male players are more successful at Magic. Men will be naturally better at the game when they first come to it and thus will progress further faster. It is the same at bridge. However, in bridge at the very top there are equally successful female players (although fewer than there are guys). This shows that any natural advantage that male players have can be negated by hard work and practice eventually leveling the playing field between the genders. However I can see the initial disadvantage may discourage some female players. A larger number of female players in Bridge has obviously resulted in there being more at the top levels of competition relative to Magic.

And would you say there is a fundamental difference in the way women and men play Magic?

Melissa: I don’t think so, I just think that competitive players strive to win tournaments, and more casual players just want to have fun. Women tend to fall into the casual group, but I don’t think that means they play differently, they just don’t like tournaments as much as guys do.

Kali: Whenever I am at a tournament, I do check out what the gals are playing. I don’t see a pattern. I see girls playing all sorts of archetypes (including Mono-Green Unicorns 😉 )

(I have reproduced the entire answer to keep the integrity of the interview, but I’d like to register here my dislike for this sort of sexist joke. Really, Unicorns?? I expected better from you Kali)*

Carrie: No? I don’t think so.

And in Bridge?

CarrieAt the highest levels women do not play bridge differently to men. At lower levels I believe women are in general slightly more conservative bidders in the auction, whereas men will tend to throw caution to the wind – neither of these traits are good, a balance must be learned to reach the top of the game. Again men naturally have some of the skills needed to be good at bridge but numerous females players have demonstrated that they can compete on an equal footing to the men.

How about in chess?

Natalia: Men are usually more hard-working and goal-oriented than women. For example, many leading female players quit chess after motherhood, while I have never heard of a top male chess player who finished his career for this reason. As to playing styles: women’s chess is less predictable and more exciting – no short draws, fighting till the very end, etc. Men are more predictable and stable.


Do you play differently against men and women? Which one would you rather play against?

Natalia: No, I don’t adjust my style depending on the sex of the opponent. However, I try to pay attention to psychological aspects of their personalities and exploit them somehow to my advantage. As top men are stronger in chess than top women, I am naturally more interested in competing with them.

3 – What can we do to increase the number of women who play?

I think there are some alternatives, the first of which is simply changing the mindsets mentioned above – if we make the environment more pleasant for women, and if we stop judging them for being women and start acting like each woman is a different individual, then we will already be helping. There are other alternatives, though, that do not always depend on us.

Many mind games (chess, Bridge, Draught, Go, poker sometimes, etc) have different categories for women – they have a different ranking and different tournaments, which is something that doesn’t exist in Magic. All those games also have a much larger number of women playing, so it’s possible that those are related (though it’s also possible that the reason they can afford the separation is because they have more women playing).

My opinion had always been that this kind of separation was demeaning to women – sort of like an admission that they cannot compete with the men. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking… even if they do play because it is easier, that is not necessarily demeaning. For example, if I had the choice to play Brazilian nationals or US/Japanese nationals, I would play the Brazilian one – is that demeaning to me? It is not that I don’t think I am capable of doing well in US or Japanese nationals, it’s just that, given the choice, I’ll obviously go for the easier one. In the end, I think that a separation is derogatory to women in general, but choosing to compete in women-only, when the category already exists, is not necessarily demeaning to the woman – it is just the logical course of action on her part.

Derogatory or not, it might also be more enjoyable for the women – I play Junior Bridge because it’s easier (and I can actually qualify, whereas I wouldn’t get close in the regular Brazilian team), but I also have a much better time with the juniors in general than I would with the regulars, because we’re more alike. In the end, I think women only events could actually give incentives for more women to play, by producing a more “familiar” environment for them to grow into the game and by giving them a more attainable short-term goal – narrowing any category, be it Juniors, Women, Seniors, Brazilians, will stimulate people in those categories to be more competitive, because they have something to aim for that’s now at much closer reach. You can, then, transport them to the open environment when they get accustomed to it.

Basically, I am not saying hold a women Pro Tour based on women-only rating, but it would not be unthinkable to me to have, for example, a women only GPT or even PTQ as a promotional side-event in a Pro Tour or GP – it would be a way of exposing women to a more competitive environment without them feeling the pressure of it as much. Take, for example, a big event like PT/GP Paris – how many women were there that would play in a women only PTQ? Is there any who was not there but might have gone if there was a PTQ? If you manage to get, say, 30 players, that is already enough for a decent tournament (30 is not a big number for a PTQ, but PTQs in Alaska have 15 people, so who cares?).

My opinion doesn’t count for much here, though, so…

Do you think the fact that, in chess, there is a special category for women and women choose to play in it instead of playing with the men demeans them in any way?

Natalia: This topic (“women’s chess titles are demeaning”) is quite popular. Briefly speaking, I believe there is a lot of negative discrimination against women in chess, and some positive discrimination too. It is closely connected with the argument on whether women can and should play on par with men. For instance, the best female soccer, basketball or tennis player will be no match for even a top-100 male player. However, they are more popular and have a larger income. On the contrary, many people believe that women should be able to match the skill of Anand or Kasparov. If they can’t, it’s just their problem, they say. So, there is no agreement in the chess community on whether a 2550-rated woman deserves a very-very modest wellbeing (since it’d be like top 400-500 in the world), or a top athlete’s (since it means being top-5 among women).

Magic, right now, does not differentiate in any way between men and women (no tournaments, no ranking, it’s all mashed up together). How important do you think this is for the inclusion of women in the game?

Natalia: It’s hard for me to judge objectively, but I think that women can be as successful in MTG as men. Also, they should be popular among male players. Of course, they are probably strongly underrepresented now, but the ratio should improve in the future. It is nice and natural that guys and girls compete in the same events. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at poker. There are both mixed tournaments and special events for women. Those can be quite helpful in terms of boosting the popularity of the game, especially if you can find skilled and sexy chicks girls. 🙂

In Bridge, women can play with the men but they also have their own category. Would you say this plays a big part in getting women to play? Do you think that women demean themselves in any way by playing in women-only categories when they could instead be playing with the men?

Carrie: I think it has a say in getting women to compete at the highest levels. There are a number of women-only competitions and also most competitions run an open and a women’s category. I know some women who refuse to be considered for the women’s division and will only play on the Open Team or not at all and consider the fact that there are separate competitions derogatory. Competitions where there is a spilt have the teams selected and being on the Open Team is more prestigious so it can be difficult for a good female to be selected for the Open team when she can be placed in the Women’s Team. However, only 2 teams or so are selected from each country so the presence of a Women’s Team allows more women to play in these competitions. If there was only an Open Team and the best players are always men with the occasional exception I believe competitive women’s bridge would suffer a confidence hit. Also, the Women’s Team allow women rising up to show how good they are and that they should be selected for the Open Team. In Magic competitions people are not selected but simply enter or qualify. As such a split would not work and mostly feel very belittling to women who want to compete. I for one would choose to compete in an open event. I do think that perhaps an annual Women’s Championship might raise the profile of female Magic players and encourage more women to compete. This competition would need to stand alone from any other series such as National or Pro Tours so as to not look like a side-line event.

Do you miss this separation in Magic? Do you think Magic will naturally evolve to have a women only ranking and women only tournaments if more women start playing? Would you say that is better or worse than the current system? If you had the option, would you play women-only or no?

Carrie: I enjoy playing with guys. I get on better with them in general. I don’t miss the separation and I don’t believe it should exist in Magic due to the nature of the game. I don’t think it would encourage more women to play, it would be really bad. I would play in the open events.

Melissa: I don’t like the idea of women-only tournaments. Women can play at the same level as men. It is different with something like Basketball, because men have a different body type and are naturally stronger, and therefore better at the game than women. But Magic is an intellectual game and there does not need to be women-only tournaments. I would personally be offended if that happened.

Kali: I think that this will push women out of the game. I would certainly protest if they created a “women’s league” for Magic. It’s almost like they are saying that women aren’t good enough to compete with men. We don’t need to be alienated. We need to be included and segregating the genders would do way more harm than good.

What do you think could be done to bring more women to chess?

Natalia: Stop treating women as the inferior sex in chess. Train coaches who will be skilled at working with women (top coaches often dislike working with women, don’t know how to do it, or believe “they will never become good anyway”). Promote the game among parents of girls with a special emphasis on how chess can be useful for girl (finding a few impressive role models will also help). Increase the number of top-level female events and the prizes. Nearly all the closed elite super tournaments are men-only. As to the prizes: a world champion may earn over a million dollars for the championship match. A woman gets like $50-100k. In other events the proportion is 5 to 1, 3 to 1, but nearly always disrespectful for women.

(A MILLION DOLLARS? Jesus Christ, WOTC step up!)

How about to Magic?

Melissa: Again, I just think that the average woman is just not interested in gaming. I don’t really know how to attract more female players.

Kali: I think that if the game continues to grow at the rate it is, then more women will come. I think as more women experience success in the game, then more women will see that they can have success as well.

Carrie: I don’t think there is an easy way to fix the number of Women that play Magic. In essence it is a game with a set of skills that just won’t appeal to some and you can’t force people to play something they don’t like. There are a large number of casual Magic female players out there and they maybe encouraged to compete if they see other women be successful. I do wonder if an annual Women’s Championship would inspire more girls to compete. Or whether it would suggest Women aren’t able to compete on a level with men. I think the best way to raise the profile of female Magic would be the instigation of a Women’s Championship but this would have to be done with some care.

Well, this is it! Hopefully I’ve helped you a little bit in understanding the female perspective of the world of Magic (and, well, mine), and hopefully I’ve encouraged a woman or two to attend a tournament! One last thing – if you are a woman and you’ve read this, please identify yourself in the comments – I am actually clueless as to how many women read Magic articles and I would like to have an idea (and if you wanna chime in on any of the topics, be my guest!).

I’d like to thank Natalia, Melissa, Kali and Carrie again for taking the time to answer those questions, you were all awesome and very helpful!

See you next week,


* this is a joke. Normally this asterisk wouldn’t be here, but people seem oversensitive those days, so I thought it was better to play it safe…

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