Chess is often seen as a game that requires great intelligence and skill. While this is true, you can see that there have been many women who have excelled at this game. Here we will examine some of these women and see how they have become some of the most famous women chess grandmasters.
Women in Chess
Separation of the sexes in chess dates from about 1500 AD with the introduction of the queen. Chess became a much faster, more exciting game and, thus, came to be perceived as a more masculine pursuit. Women were often barred from the coffeehouses and taverns where chess clubs developed in the 19th century.
However, women players achieved distinction separately from men by the middle of the 18th century. The first chess clubs specifically for women were organized in the Netherlands in 1847. The first chess book written by a woman, The ABC of Chess, by “A Lady” (H.I. Cooke), appeared in England in 1860 and went into 10 editions. The first women’s tournament was sponsored in 1884 by the Sussex Chess Association.
The first woman player to gain attention in over-the-board competition with men was Vera Menchik (1906–44) of Great Britain. She won the first Women’s World Championship, a tournament organized by FIDE in 1927, and the next six women’s championship tournaments, in 1930–39. Her good results against men in British events led to invitations to some of the strongest pre-World War II tournaments, including Carlsbad 1929 (tournaments are identified by venue and year) and Moscow 1935. Among the strong male masters who lost to her were the world champion Max Euwe, Samuel Reshevsky, Sultan Khan, Jacques Mieses, Edgar Colle, and Frederick Yates. She was also one of the first women chess professionals.
Women’s chess received a major boost when the Soviet Union endorsed separate women’s tournaments as part of a general encouragement of the game. The 1924 women’s championship of Leningrad was the first women’s tournament sponsored by any government.
Soviet domination of women’s chess ended with the defeat of Chiburdanidze by Xie Jun, of China, in 1991 and the rise of the three Polgár sisters, Susan, Zsófia, and Judit. The Polgárs of Budapest were the most impressive women prodigies ever; each had achieved grandmaster-level performances by age 15. They also distinguished themselves by generally avoiding women-only competitions, until Susan Polgar defeated Xie for the women’s championship in 1996.
In the 1990s a series of men-versus-women events were organized as the difference in playing strength narrowed. In 1995 a team of five senior male grandmasters, including the former world champions Boris Spassky and Vasily Smyslov, was beaten 26 1/2 to 23 1/2 in a match against five leading women. Among the women was Judit Polgár, ranked eighth in the world on the international rating lists issued in July and October 2005 by FIDE, the highest level any woman had ever achieved.
List of Woman Grandmaster
Here are twenty most famous women chess grandmasters.
1. Alexandra Kosteniuk
(23 April 1984 – Present)
Alexandra Konstantinovna Kosteniuk is a Russian chess grandmaster who is the reigning Women’s World Rapid Chess Champion, and the former Women’s World Chess Champion from 2008 to 2010. Kosteniuk learned to play chess at the age of five after being taught by her father.
She graduated in 2003 from the Russian State Academy of Physical Education in Moscow as a certified professional chess trainer.
The Russian Grand Master is one of the best female chess players of all time. She was the female world chess champion from 2008 to 2010 and apart from winning many Russian championships, she was also the European women’s champion in 2004.
Kosteniuk won the team gold medal playing for Russia at the Women’s Chess Olympiads of 2010, 2012 and 2014; the Women’s World Team Chess Championship of 2017; and the Women’s European Team Chess Championships of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017; and the Women’s Chess World Cup 2021.
In the online world, she is known by the name ‘ChessQueen’. Alexandra Kosteniuk is a versatile chess celebrity indulged in streaming, writing, modeling, and along with being the ambassador for chess education, she has also appeared in a couple of films.
2. Alina l’Ami
(1 June 1985 – Present)
Alina l’Ami is a Romanian chess player who holds the titles of International Master (IM) and Woman Grandmaster (WGM). She won the under-10 girls’ division of the World Youth Chess Championship in 1995 and the under-18 girls’ section of the European Youth Chess Championship in 2002.
Also in 2002, l’Ami won the Women’s Balkan Individual Championship in Istanbul. In 2013, she jointly won, with Sophie Milliet, the Women’s Grandmaster Tournament of the 8th Japfa Chess Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia. The following year, l’Ami took part in the Sharjah stage of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2013–14.
Professional chess player, born and raised in Iasi (Romania). She graduated cum laude in psychology but returned to her first love: chess, which brought her great (and less good) results, including the World Champion and European Champion titles or the Sports Merit Order and the Fair Play prizes in her native country. Alina is a very enthusiastic person in everything she does: playing, training, reading, writing, photographing.
In the Netherlands she first played chess at the Hilversum Chess Society, and since 2011 at En Passant in Bunschoten-Spakenburg.
3. Alina Kashlinskaya
(28th October 1993 – Present)
Alina Kashlinskaya is a Russian Grandmaster from Moscow. She began to play chess when she was 7, in a group trained by grandmaster Lyudmila Zaitseva. In just a year, she evolved from a beginner to a first-category chess player.
Shortly after, she was mentored by international master Valerii Tsaturian, but she made her real breakthrough under the guidance of renowned specialist Vladimir Vulfson. The young FIDE master became the champion of Russia and a two-time vice-champion of Europe in her age category.
One of the most promising young chess players in Russia was admitted to a sports school, where she worked with grandmasters Valery Chekhov and Sergey Arkhipov and since 2008, she has been trained by the former Russian men’s team coach Sergey Dolmatov. As a result of her lessons with Dolmatov, Kashlinskaya fulfilled all the women’s international grandmaster norms in 2009. Furthermore, a large contribution to the development of one of Russia’s strongest female grandmasters was made by the two-time Soviet champion Lev Psakhis.
In 2010, Kashlinskaya made her debut for the Russian national team in a friendly match against China, which finished with a Russian victory. At the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Alina played for the junior national team and won a silver medal at her board. She was a champion of Russia with SHSM-RSSU in 2011 and a prize-winner at the European Cup. She also won the 2011 Russian women’s blitz championship.
Alina Kashlinskaya won a silver medal at the 2012 Universiad with RSSU and another silver medal at the 2012 students’ world championship. She was also the Russian junior champion in 2013 and in the same year, she debuted at the Superfinal of the Russian championship and won a medal at the Universiad in Kazan.
Alina graduated from the Russian Social State University’s psychology faculty. She has written several poems and articles on her favourite sport. She was awarded the Anton Chekhov medal for her poem titled A Girl and Sportswoman. She holds clear philosophical views, runs her own website and gives multiple interviews where she discusses ideas relevant to the lives of chess players.
In February 2021, Kashlinskaya won the World Corporate Championship with the Grenke Bank (Germany). In October, she won the World Women’s Championship as a member of the Russian national team. Alina scored 6.5 points out of 7 and won the gold medal on her board.
4. Anna Ushenina
(30 August 1985 – Present)
Anna Yuriyivna Ushenina is a Ukrainian chess grandmaster who was Women’s World Chess Champion from November 2012 to September 2013. She is of Jewish ethnicity.
Determined that the young Ushenina should develop intellectual and creative talents, her mother introduced her to chess at the age of seven, along with painting and music.
She became the Ukrainian Girls’ (under 20) champion at 15 years. Many of her chess skills have been self-taught, although in 2000–2002, she studied chess in the Kharkiv sports school of Olympic reserve. During this period, her coach was International Master Artiom Tsepotan. Afterwards she received more coaching at a specialist facility in Kramatorsk.
At the national Ukrainian Women’s Championship, her progress and achievements have been noteworthy. In 2003 (Mykolaiv) and 2004 (Alushta), she finished in fourth and sixth places respectively, thereafter becoming the champion at Alushta in 2005, and outperforming top seed Tatjana Vasilevich along the way. At these combined (men and women) events, she has defeated grandmasters of the caliber of Anton Korobov and Oleg Romanishin and in Ukraine was endowed with the title “Honored Master of Sports“.
Her many successes in team chess reached an early pinnacle in 2006. In 2008, at the Dresden Olympiad, Ukraine’s ladies took home the team silver medals, after failing to oust the powerful Georgian team from the top spot.
Tournament successes at Kyiv in 2001 and Odessa in 2003, earned her the title Woman Grandmaster (WGM), awarded in 2003. Her performance at the 2006 Women’s Chess Olympiad and subsequent results in Pardubice and Abu Dhabi in the same year then qualified her for the International Master (IM) title, awarded in January 2007.
In 2016, she won the European Women’s Championship in Mamaia, edging out on tie-break score Sabrina Vega, after both players had scored 8.5/11 points. She won the silver medal in the second GM group at the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
In the final of the Women’s World Chess Championship 2012 she achieved a tiebreak victory over Antoaneta Stefanova to become the 14th Women’s World Chess Champion.
5. Anastasiya Karlovich
(29 May 1982 – Present)
Anastasiya Karlovich is a Ukrainian chess player and journalist. She achieved the FIDE titles Woman International Master in 2000 and Woman Grandmaster in 2003.
Born in Dnipropetrovsk, Karlovich started to play chess at age eight. She was the women’s chess champion of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and the semi-finalist of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast men’s chess championship in 1998. She later moved to Kharkiv and in 2007 became a chess journalist as well, having published articles in the newspaper Ladya, magazines New in Chess and Schach 64, the ChessBase website and elsewhere. Karlovich was the press secretary of FIDE at the World Chess Championship in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
She played on the first board for the gold medal-winning Ukrainian team in the European Girls’ Under-18 Team Chess Championship in 2000.
6. Claudia Amura
(26 August 1970 – Present)
Claudia Noemí Amura is an Argentinian chess player holding the title of Woman Grandmaster. Born in Buenos Aires, Amura learned how to play chess when she was seven years old. At the age of 13 she won the Argentine youth championship against mostly boys.
She was the first Iberoamerican to achieve the FIDE title of Woman Grandmaster (WGM) and rose to the 12th place in the FIDE women’s ranking in 1991. She won the Pan American women’s championship in Venezuela 1997 and five South American women’s championships (1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999).
Amura has won the Women’s Argentine Championship five times (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 2014) and played in the Women’s Chess Olympiad eight times (1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2008, 2010, 2014). At Novi Sad 1990 she won the individual silver medal on the first board.
When playing against men, she won the Grand Prix Open 1990 in Buenos Aires and the Buenos Aires championship 1992. She has also played in three Argentine Championships. Amura has also written chess columns for Argentine newspapers La Nación, Página/12 and El Liberal.
7. Elina Danielian
(16 August 1978 – Present)
Elina Danielian is an Armenian chess grandmaster born in Baku and is six-time Armenian women’s champion (1993, 1994. 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004). She has represented Armenia twelve times during the Women’s Chess Olympiads (1992–2014).
She played in the gold medal-winning Armenian team at the 5th Women’s European Team Chess Championship in Plovdiv 2003. In 2021 she won the European Individual Chess Championship.
Danielian won the World Under-14 Girls Championship in Duisburg 1992 and the World Under-16 Girls Championship in Bratislava 1993. In 2001, she won the European Women’s Rapid Chess Championship in Minsk. In October of 2010, she was in the top 10 women chess players in the world. Danielian won the bronze medal in the 2011 European Women’s Championship in Tbilisi, scoring 8/11 points.
8. Harika Dronavalli
(12 January 1991 – Present)
Harika Dronavalli born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh is an Indian chess player who holds the FIDE title of Grandmaster (GM). Her father, Ramesh, works as a deputy executive engineer at a Panchayat Raj subdivision in Mangalagiri. She took a keen interest in chess at a very young age.
She won a medal in the under-9 national championship. She followed it up with a silver medal in the world youth chess championship for under-10 girls. That’s when she approached her coach NVS Ramaraju, who refined her game. She became the second Indian woman to become a grandmaster, after Humpy Koneru.
She has won three bronze medals in the Women’s World Chess Championship, in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Dronavalli was honored with the Arjuna Award for the year 2007–08 by the government of India.
In 2016, she won the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix event at Chengdu, China and rose up from world no. 11 to world no. 5 in FIDE women’s ranking. Vladimir Kramnik, Judit Polgar and Viswanathan Anand are her chess inspirations. In 2019, she was awarded the Padma Shri for her contributions to the field of sports.
9. Hou Yifan
(27 February 1994 – Present)Hou Yifan is a Chinese chess grandmaster, four-time Women’s World Chess Champion and the second highest rated female player of all time.Once a chess prodigy, she was the youngest female player ever to qualify for the title of grandmaster (at the age of 14 years, 6 months, 2 days) and the youngest ever to win the Women’s World Chess Championship (at age 16).
At the age of 12, Hou became the youngest player ever to participate in the Women’s World Championship (Yekaterinburg 2006) and the Chess Olympiad (Torino 2006). In June 2007, she became the youngest Chinese Women’s Champion ever. She achieved the titles of Woman FIDE Master in January 2004, Woman Grandmaster in January 2007, and Grandmaster in August 2008.
In 2010, she won the 2010 Women’s World Championship in Hatay, Turkey at age 16. She won the next three championships in which the title was decided by a match (in 2011, 2013 and 2016, with a total of ten wins to zero losses and fourteen draws against three different opponents), but was either eliminated early or she declined to participate in the championships in which the title was decided by a knockout tournament (in 2012, 2015 and 2017).
Hou is the third woman ever to be rated among the world’s top 100 players, after Maia Chiburdanidze and Judit Polgár. She is widely regarded as the best active female chess player, “leaps and bounds” ahead of her competitors. As of October 2021, she has been the No. 1 ranked woman in the world since September 2015, and is 56 points ahead of the No. 2 ranked Aleksandra Goryachkina. She was named in the BBC’s 100 Women programme in 2017. She has been semi-retired since 2018, and became a professor at Shenzhen University in 2020, at the age of 26.
10. Humpy Koneru
(31 March 1987 – Present)
Koneru Humpy is an Indian chess player best known for winning the FIDE Women’s rapid chess championship in 2019. In 2002, she became the youngest woman ever to achieve the title of Grandmaster (GM) at the age of 15 years, 1 month, 27 days, beating Judit Polgár’s previous record by three months.
This record was subsequently broken by Hou Yifan in 2008. In October 2007, Koneru became the second female player, after Polgár, to exceed the 2600 Elo rating mark, being rated 2606.
Koneru won three gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship: in 1997 (under-10 girls’ division), 1998 (under-12 girls) and 2000 (under-14 girls). In 1999, at the Asian Youth Chess Championship, held in Ahmedabad, she won the under-12 section, competing with the boys.
In 2001 Koneru won the World Junior Girls Championship. In the following year’s edition, she tied for first place with Zhao Xue, but placed second on tiebreak. She became the eighth ever female Grandmaster in 2002. Koneru competed with the boys in the 2004 World Junior Championship, which was won by Pentala Harikrishna and tied for fifth place, finishing tenth on countback with a score of 8.5/13 points.
Koneru won the British Women’s Championship in 2000 and in 2002. In 2003, she won the 10th Asian Women’s Individual Championship and the Indian Women’s Championship. In 2005, she won the North Urals Cup, a round-robin tournament held in Krasnoturyinsk, Russia featuring ten of the strongest female players in the world at the time.
She participated in the Women’s World Chess Championship for the first time in 2004 and since then, she has competed in every edition of the event held in the knockout format. Koneru reached the semifinals in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
11. Irina Krush
(December 24, 1983 – Present)Irina Borisivna Krush is an American chess player who received the FIDE title of Grandmaster (GM) in 2013. She is the first woman, and as of December 2021 the only woman, to earn the GM title while playing for the United States. Krush is an eight-time U.S. Women’s Champion.
Irina Krush was born in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine). She learned to play chess at age five, emigrating with her parents to Brooklyn that same year (1989).
At age 14, Krush won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship to become the youngest U.S. women’s champion ever. She has won the championship on seven other occasions, in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2020.
Krush took part in the “Kasparov versus the World” chess competition in 1999. Garry Kasparov played the white pieces and the Internet public, via a Microsoft host website, voted on moves for the black pieces, guided by the recommendations of Krush and three of her contemporaries, Étienne Bacrot, Elisabeth Pähtz and Florin Felecan. On the tenth move, Krush suggested a novelty, for which the World team voted. Kasparov said later that he lost control of the game at that point, and wasn’t sure whether he was winning or losing.
Krush played in the Group C of the 2008 Corus Chess Tournament, a 14-player round-robin tournament held in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. She finished in joint fifth place having scored 7/13 points after five wins (including the one against the eventual winner, Fabiano Caruana), four draws and four losses.
In 2013, she was awarded the Grandmaster title thanks to her results at the NYC Mayor’s Cup International GM Tournament in 2001, Women’s World Team Chess Championship 2013 and Baku Open 2013. Krush frequently contributes articles to Chess Life magazine and uschess.org. Her article on earning her grandmaster title in 2013 was honored as the “Best of US Chess” that year.
12. Judit Polgar
(23 July 1976 – Present)Judit Polgár is a Hungarian chess grandmaster, generally considered the strongest female chess player of all time. In 1991, Polgár achieved the title of Grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 4 months, at the time the youngest to have done so, breaking the record previously held by former World Champion Bobby Fischer.
She was the youngest player ever to break into the FIDE top 100 players rating list, ranking No. 55 in the January 1989 rating list, at the age of 12.
Polgár is the only woman to have been a serious candidate for the World Chess Championship, in which she participated in 2005; she had previously participated in large, 100+ player knockout tournaments for the world championship. She is also the only woman to have surpassed 2700 Elo, reaching a peak world ranking of No. 8 in 2004 and peak rating of 2735 in 2005. She is the only woman to be ranked in the top ten of all chess players, first reaching that ranking in 1996. She was the No. 1 rated woman in the world from January 1989 until her retirement on 13 August 2014.
She has won or shared first in the chess tournaments of Hastings 1993, Madrid 1994, León 1996, U.S. Open 1998, Hoogeveen 1999, Sigeman & Co 2000, Japfa 2000, and the Najdorf Memorial 2000.
Polgár is the only woman to have won a game against a reigning world number one player, and has defeated eleven current or former world champions in either rapid or classical chess: Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Spassky, Vasily Smyslov, Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov, Alexander Khalifman, and Rustam Kasimdzhanov.
On 13 August 2014, she announced her retirement from competitive chess. In June 2015, Polgár was elected as the new captain and head coach of the Hungarian national men’s team. On 20 August 2015, she received Hungary’s highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary.
13. Ju Wenjun
(31 January 1991 – Present)
Ju Wenjun is a Chinese chess grandmaster. She is the current Women’s World Chess Champion. In March 2017 she became the fifth woman to achieve a rating of 2600.
She is a three-time World Champion having won the title in May 2018, November 2018 and 2020. She is scheduled to play a match to defend her world title in 2022.
In December 2004, Ju Wenjun placed third in the Asian Women’s Chess Championship in Beirut. This result qualified her to play in her first Women’s World Chess Championship in 2006. She competed in this event also in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017.
She won the Women’s Chinese Chess Championship in 2010 and 2014. In July 2011 she won the Hangzhou Women Grandmaster Chess Tournament undefeated with a score of 6½/9 points, ahead of the then women’s world champion Hou Yifan. In October 2011 she took second place at the Nalchik stage of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2011–12 with 7/11, ranked only after her compatriot Zhao Xue; her performance was enough to acquire her third and final norm required for the Grandmaster title. However, one of the three norms was missing the signature of the arbiter, disqualifying her for consideration for the title.
In December 2017, Ju won the Women’s World Rapid Chess Championship in Riyadh, and won in the same championship held in St. Petersburg in December 2018, scoring 11½/15 (+8=7) and 10/12 (+8=4), respectively.
14. Jovanka Houska
(10 June 1980 – Present)
Jovanka Houska is an English chess player with the titles International Master (IM) and Woman Grandmaster (WGM). She is a nine-time British Women’s Chess Champion. Born in south London, her family name stems from her grandfather who was part Czech.
Her first name is typically Slavic, but was chosen only to complement the family name. Chess is a popular sport in the Houska family, and she owes much of her progress to the sibling rivalry that developed with elder brother Miroslav, himself an International Master of chess, though currently inactive. She has a degree in Law.
One of England’s most active professionals, she first represented her country at the World Youth Championship for Girls (under 10) în Timișoara 1988, finishing fifth after a disastrous start and despite being years younger than most of her opponents. She competed in the same event at Aguadilla in 1989 and then, for a third time at Fond du Lac in 1990, where she won the bronze medal.
There were many more successes over the next few years including another bronze medal at the European Junior Championship for girls (under 20) at Erevan in 1998. As a consequence, she was awarded the Woman International Master (WIM) title the same year, after securing all three norms in just over a month. Her first WGM norm was achieved at the 1999 British Championship when she was still a teenager.
Despite her time-consuming academic studies, the next few years were notable for Houska’s unstinting contribution to the England Women’s team at various major competitions around the world. She participated at each of the Chess Olympiads between 1998 and 2008 and aside from her first appearance as a reserve, has played consistently on high boards, scoring in excess of 50% on each occasion. From 1999 onwards, she has also been an ever-present at the European Team Chess Championships. The team’s most notable performance in this event occurred at Leon in 2001, where a third-place finish produced a team bronze medal.
An active league chess player, she has represented SK Hofheim in the German Bundesliga, Deauville in France, and Wood Green in the 4NCL.
15. Keti Tsatsalashvili
(10 June 1992 – Present)
Keti Tsatsalashvili is a Georgian chess player and Woman Grandmaster (WGM) (2011). Keti Tsatsalashvili repeatedly represented Georgia at the European Youth Chess Championships and World Youth Chess Championships in different age groups.
In European Youth Chess Championships and World Youth Chess Championships she won six medals: two gold (in 2007, at the World Youth Chess Championship in the U16 girls age group and in 2010, at the European Youth Chess Championship in the U18 girls age group), two silver (in 2009, at the World Youth Chess Championship in the U18 girls age group and in 2009, at the European Youth Chess Championship in the U18 girls age group) and two bronze (in 2007, at the European Youth Chess Championship in the U16 girls age group and in 2008, at the World Youth Chess Championship in the U16 girls age group).
Keti Tsatsalashvili has won multiple international chess tournaments, including in 2010, Florencio Campomanes memorial women’s chess tournament in Ankara. In 2008, she was awarded the FIDE International Woman Master (WIM) title and received the FIDE International Woman Grandmaster (WGM) title three years later.
In early 2021, Tsatsalashvili partnered with Armenian Women’s Chess Champion, WGM Maria Gevorgyan, as well as IM Zura Javakhadze, and Aram Mashigian, to start the LetsChessLive channel on the streaming platform Twitch, before deciding to start streaming on her own eponymously-named channel. Tsatsalashvili also regularly does commentary on chess events, both in real life and online, especially on chess.com and for FIDÉ.
16. Marie Seabag
(15 October 1986 – Present)
Marie Rachel Sebag is a French chess grandmaster. She is a two-time French Women’s Chess Champion. In 1998 Sebag won the European Youth Chess Championship (girls under-12), a feat she repeated the next year (girls U14) and in 2002 (girls U16). In 2004, she shared first place in the World Youth Chess Championship in the category girls U18 with Jolanta Zawadzka, who defeated her in the tie-break.
In 2006, she reached the quarter-finals during the Women’s World Chess Championship, in which she lost to Svetlana Matveeva.
Sebag was already an IM and a WGM when she scored her second GM norm during the Hogeschool Zeeland tournament in Vlissingen in August 2007, where she won a game against former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. By securing a third norm during the European Individual Chess Championship, she qualified for the title of Grandmaster in May 2008.
17. Natalia Pogonina
(9 March 1985 – Present)
Natalia Andreevna Pogonina is a Russian chess player who holds the FIDE title of Woman Grandmaster (WGM). She is the runner-up of the Women’s World Chess Championship 2015. She is a two time Russian Women’s Champion (in 2012 and 2018).
Pogonina was a member of the gold medal-winning Russian team at the Women’s Chess Olympiads of 2012 and 2014, and at the 2011 Women’s European Team Chess Championship.
Pogonina learned to play chess at the age of five, as her grandfather taught her the basics of the game. She has been studying chess since 1993 after winning the school’s checkers tournament. She achieved notice for the first time in 1998 when she won the Russian under-14 girls championship. Natalia Pogonina has won two gold medals at the European Youth Chess Championship, in the U16 girls category in 2000 and U18 girls in 2003.
In 2004, Natalia Pogonina was awarded the title of Woman Grandmaster. Some of her other victories are winning the Bykova Memorial in 2005, Rudenko Memorial in 2007, bronze medal at North Urals Cup tournament and sharing first place at the women’s World University Chess Championship in 2008.
In 2008, she won the gold medal in team blitz and bronze medal in team rapid chess at the first World Mind Sport Games in Beijing and scored 6/7 on board 5 for the Russian team in the Women’s Chess Olympiad. She finished first (with 8 points from 9 games) at the prestigious Moscow Open 2009, and won the bronze medal at the Women’s European Individual Championship 2009 (on tie-breaks).
In 2011 Pogonina won gold medals at both the Women’s European Club Cup and the European Team Chess Championship, as well as got silver at the Women’s World Team Chess Championship. In August 2012 she won the Women’s Russian Chess Championship with a score +4 =5 -0. In 2014, she played for the Russian women’s team and won another gold medal at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromsø. She reached the final of the 2015 Women’s World Championship and lost to Mariya Muzychuk.
18. Pia Cramling
(born 23 April 1963 – Present)
Pia Ann Rosa-Della Cramling is a Swedish chess player. In 1992, she became the fifth woman to earn the FIDE title of Grandmaster (GM). Since the early 1980s, she has been one of the strongest female players in the world as well as having been the highest rated woman in the FIDE World Rankings on three occasions.
She was the clear number one rated woman in the January 1984 rating list, and joint number one rated woman in the July 1984 list.
Cramling is married to the Spanish grandmaster Juan Manuel Bellón López. She lived in Spain for a number of years, but later moved back to Sweden. They have a daughter, Anna Cramling Bellón who is a Woman FIDE Master. At the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku in 2016, Pia played on board 1 for the Swedish women’s team, while Anna played on board 5.
Cramling is, aside from Judit Polgar (who chose not to play in women’s events), the only woman to have earned the grandmaster title before 2000 who has never won the Women’s World Champion crown. She has had greater success in Europe where she won the Women’s European Individual Chess Championship in 2003 and 2010. In 2006, she won the Accentus Ladies Tournament in Biel.
In team competitions, Cramling represented Sweden in the Chess Olympiad in both the open and women’s events, European Team Chess Championship in both open and women’s sections, Telechess Olympiad and Nordic Cup. In the Women’s Chess Olympiad, she has won the individual gold medal as the best player on board 1 (according to the rating performance) in 1984 and 1988. In the European Club Cup for Women, Cramling has won the team gold medal in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016 playing for team Cercle d’Echecs Monte Carlo.
19. Susan Polgar
(April 19, 1969 – Present)
Susan Polgar born as Polgár Zsuzsanna and often known as Zsuzsa Polgár) is a Hungarian-American chess grandmaster. Polgár was Women’s World Champion from 1996 to 1999.
On the FIDE rating list of July 1984, at the age of 15, she became the top-ranked female player in the world. In 1991 she became the third woman to be awarded the title of Grandmaster by FIDE. She won twelve medals at the Women’s Chess Olympiad (5 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze).
Also a trainer, writer and promoter, Polgar sponsors various chess tournaments for young players and is the head of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) at Webster University. She served as the Chairperson (or co-chair) of the FIDE Commission for Women’s Chess from 2008 until late 2018.
Polgar and her two younger sisters, Grandmaster Judit and International Master Sofia, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, who sought to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialized subject from a very early age. “Geniuses are made, not born,” was László’s thesis.
At age 4, Susan Polgar won her first chess tournament, the Budapest Girls’ Under-11 Championship, with a 10–0 score. In 1981, at the age of 12, she won the World Under 16 Girls Championship. Despite restrictions on her freedom to play in international tournaments, in July 1984, at age 15, Polgar had become the top-rated female chess player in the world. In 1986, aged 17, she narrowly missed qualifying for the Zonal, the first step in the “Men’s” world championship cycle.
In January 1991, Polgar became the third woman awarded the title of Grandmaster by FIDE, after Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze. Polgar was the youngest woman to become grandmaster at the time, but this record was soon broken by Judit in December 1991 (where Judit became both youngest female grandmaster and youngest grandmaster).
20. Xie Jun
(October 30, 1970 – Present)
Xie Jun is a Chinese chess grandmaster. She had two separate reigns as Women’s World Chess Champion, from 1991 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2001.
Xie is one of three women to have at least two separate reigns, besides Elisaveta Bykova and Hou Yifan. Xie Jun is the current president of the Chinese Chess Association.
Although born in Baoding, Hebei in 1970 and raised in Beijing, the ancestral home of Xie and her parents is Liaoyuan, Jilin. At the age of six Xie began to play Chinese chess, and by the age of 10 she had become the girls’ xiangqi champion of Beijing. At the urging of government authorities, she soon began playing international chess. Despite indifferent training opportunities, Xie became the Chinese girls’ chess champion in 1984. In 1988 she tied for second–fourth places at the World Junior Girls’ Championship in Adelaide; as the highest-placed Asian player in the tournament, she earned the Asian Junior Girls’ Championship title.
At the age of 20 Xie won the right to challenge for the women’s world title, and in 1991 she defeated Maia Chiburdanidze of Georgia, who had held the title since 1978, by a score of 8½–6½. In 1993 she successfully defended her title against Nana Ioseliani (winning the match 8½–2½).
In the summer of 1994 she was awarded the full Grandmaster title; the sixth woman ever to be awarded that title. She lost the 1996 Women’s World Chess Championship to Susan Polgar of Hungary (8½–4½) but regained the title in 1999 by defeating another championship finalist, Alisa Galliamova (8½–6½), after Polgar refused to accept match conditions and forfeited her title. In 2000, FIDE changed the format of the world championship to a knock-out system, and Xie won the title again, beating fellow Chinese player Qin Kanying 2½–1½ in the final.
In Guangzhou in April 2000, Women’s Champion Xie played a match with former World Champion Anatoly Karpov. Billed as a “female vs. male chess contest”, the match consisted of four games at normal time controls and two rapid games. The four-game portion was won by Karpov 2½–1½ (1 win, 3 draws), and the rapid-play portion also went to Karpov, 1½–½ (1 win, 1 draw).
A hero in China, Xie became widely known for her optimism and vivid attacking style. Her success did much to popularize international chess in her country and the rest of Asia. Xie Jun proved to be the first of a number of strong Chinese women players, the others being Zhu Chen, Xu Yuhua, and Wang Lei. She was also an important factor in the Chinese women’s team winning the gold medal at the 1998 Chess Olympiad in Elista in Kalmykia, Russia.
In July 2004, she was awarded the titles of International Arbiter and FIDE Senior Trainer. In April 2019, Xie Jun was appointed as the new president of the Chinese Chess Association.
The world of chess is a fascinating one. From playing the game to watching chess championships, it’s clear to see that the game is one of the most famous women chess grandmasters around. In fact, there have been so many famous women chess grandmasters that it’s hard to keep track of them! That’s why we’ve decided to compile this list of the most famous women chess grandmasters of all time.
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