Two of the sharpest minds in women's chess will battle this week in Shanghai with a world champion title on the line and a record prize fund as the game seeks to close the gender gap.
The 500,000 euros ($556,772) on the table in the showdown between holder Ju Wenjun and challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina is the largest prize fund in the nearly 100-year history of the Women's World Championship.
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) says it is a significant moment for women's chess, which has long lagged behind the publicity, pay packets and participation of men's chess.
The winner between the grandmasters from China and Russia – which will be determined over 12 game days in Shanghai and Vladivostok – will take home 300,000 euros.
The total prize is a 150% hike from the previous women's championship match, according to FIDE, and the format of the competition has been changed to mirror the World Chess Championship, which is theoretically open to all but has been dominated by men.
"We are trying to increase the prestige of the women's game and also close the pay gap with the men," said Nigel Short, once one of the top-ranked players in the world and now FIDE vice president.
"It's something that we are concerned about and we are trying to do our best to improve the conditions in particular for women's chess," the 54-year-old Briton said.
Moves to boost women's chess came with the election of Arkady Dvorkovich as FIDE president in October 2018. He is a former deputy prime minister of Russia.
Speaking on the eve of Sunday's opening game, rising star Goryachkina, 21, called the changes "very positive" but said that she was motivated by winning the title, not the cash.
Shohreh Bayat, a chief arbiter for the match between Goryachkina and the 28-year-old Ju, laughed off the notion that this is chess's #MeToo moment. But the Iranian said, "There were many complaints from women players about the format of tournaments, such as this one, and the prize money."
Bayat hopes that one day women will earn the same as the likes of Magnus Carlsen, the world champion and best-known name in chess. "In chess right now, if you compare their ratings, men are better players than women, there's a big difference," said Bayat.
The effort to improve the standing of women's chess extends to having more female tournaments and more women as coaches and arbiters, Bayat added.
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