There's a story in the Shah-nameh about how Chess was invented for the queen of India. She had two sons vying for the throne, and when one died, she suspected that it was at the hands of the other. The story has it that the sages of the kingdom developed the chess board to show that her son had in fact died of battle fatigue. This version of the invention of Chess describes the game as essentially being invented to demonstrate to a woman how a man died on a battlefield. This tale seems say that real battle is for men and that Chess is a way for women to comprehend how a battle is fought.
The game made its way into Persia and to the Muslims, who removed recognizable figures from the board, and eventually into Europe where the Queen was initially not as powerful as she is today. In fact, early European Chess rules made the Queen the second weakest piece after the Rook. The rule was in place that a Pawn could become a Queen if it reached the other end of the board, but only if the first Queen was dead because a King having two Queens caused anxiety. Eventually, in part because of the influence of powerful real-life queens like Isabella I, the Queen became the powerhouse she is today in a version called "Lady's Chess" or "Queen's Chess," which has since become the standard.
So why is it today that Chess is primarily a man's game? If you go to Central Park in New York and see all the people playing Chess, why are so few of them women? Why are so few of the upper-echelon of Chess players women?
Over the past century or so, Chess still has a cultural significance. It was used as a benchmark for artificial intelligence and computing power when IBM's Deep Blue defeated the reigning Chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1997. In fact, Kasparov accused IBM of cheating because he didn't believe a computer was capable the insight he sensed in his opponent. Chess is viewed as this benchmark for AI because it is currently seen as almost the perfect game for a competition of strategy and intellect. In the Western world, Chess is seen as the thinking man's game. The basic idea seems to be that if you are smart, then you can play Chess.
But it's not like women aren't smart. I think the big issue is that Chess is also viewed as nerdy. Just watch any children's programming and you'll see that the nerdy character has glasses, freckles, a pocket-protector, and is captain of the Chess team...and that it's always a boy. I think the main factor in Chess being a man's game in modern society is the cultural idea of the nerd, and that Chess is for nerds. Other things associated with nerds are science fiction, role-playing games, and any video games that don't involve guns or touchdowns. These are all things that are primarily indulged upon by males.
So, while Yalom urges women to follow to Chess Queen's example and outwit their male counterparts, I find it unlikely that women as a whole to take up Chess to the degree that men do. It all starts with childhood. While my parents encouraged me to play Chess, they encouraged my sister to wear dresses and play with Barbie dolls.
Yalom, Marilyn. Birth of the Chess Queen. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.