top of page

Who are the top female chess players to achieve a very high ranking in chess?

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Links: Hou Yifan|Vera Menchik|Rudenko|Bykova|Nona|Maia|Judit|Susan|Xie Jun|Zhu Chen|Kushnir|Nana|Irina|Galliamova|Stefanova|Xu Yuhua|

Hou Yifan

  • Born:1994

  • FIDE Rating: 2658 (December 2021)

  • Women's World Champion: 2010–2012; 2013-2015,2016-2017

  • Peak rating: 2686 (March 2015)

  • Peak ranking: #55 (May 2015)

Img source: By Andreas Kontokanis from Piraeus, Greece - Hou Yifan, CC BY-SA 2.0

Hou Yifan's father, a magistrate by profession was the person who instilled the love for chess game in his daughter and encouraged her to play chess when he brought her a chess set. He hired her first chess coach who was IM Tong Yuan Ming who found that Hou Yifan had an unusual talent in the game of chess. Hou Yifan also has stated that she took up chess as she was fascinated by the chess pieces.

Yifan earned her FIDE Master title in the year 2004. At the age of 12 years she had entered the top 50 women list and the next year she had earned her Grandmaster title and had become the National chess champion

One of the greatest achievements of Hou Yifan was that she became the youngest woman to earn the title of World Chess Champion in the year 2011. In the year 2012, Hou Yifan became the first woman player to defeat the strongest woman player of all time. Hou Yifan achieved her highest ranking in the year 2015. Hou challenged the defending champion Maria Muzychuk, and without losing a single game regained back her title of Woman world chess champion.


Vera Menchik

Img Source:Unknown (Studio Herbert Vandyk), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vera Menchik was born in Moscow to a Czechoslovakian father and British mother. Vera Menchik represented England during her chess career which started at the age of 9 years. Menchik being quite shy in her approach turned to chess which she found to be benefitting someone who does not speak a language. Hungarian Grandmaster Géza Maróczy guided Menchik towards her goal to become the best woman player which happened by the year 1925.

Menchik won the first Women's world chess championship with 10 wins and one draw and defended the title for 6 times consecutively. Menchik’s career came to a tragic end at the age of 38 when she passed away in their South London home during a June 1944 V-1 rocket bombing raid. Menchik became the first woman to be inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in the Year 2011.


Lyudmila Vladirovna Rudenko

  • Born:1904

  • Death:1986

  • Women's World Champion: 1950-1953

Img Source: Unknown author Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lyudmila Rudenko was a Soviet chess player who had begun playing chess as a child and became the second World Women's chess Champion. She also had achieved the title of International Master in the year 1950 and a Woman Grandmaster title in the year 1976. She was the second woman's chess champion from the year 1950 to 1953 and was also the USSR's woman champion in the year 1952.


Elizaveta Ivanovna Bykova

  • Born:1913

  • Death:1989

  • Women's World Champion:1953-1956,1958-1962

Img Source: GFHund, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Elizaveta Bykova was a Russian born in Bogolyubovo and started to gain interest in chess when she was 12 years old and then started to play chess with her brother. Among her achievements were the winning of Soviet Women's Chess Championships in the year 1946,1947 and 1950,gaining of WIM(Woman International Master) title in the year 1950,IM(International Master) title in the year 1953 and WGM(Woman Grandmaster) title in the year 1976. She also was the Women's World Chess Champion from the year 1953 to 1956 and from 1958 to 1962.Bykova also promoted the game of chess through the lectures and she was also a renowned chess author and columnist at that time.


Nona Gaprindashvili

Img Source: Hans Peters / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gaprindashvili was trained at home at the age of 12 years in Georgia by Vakhtang Karseladze and later on moved to the capital, Tbilisi where she could be trained by experienced coaches. In 1961, Gaprindashvili’s sharp attacks and keen

insight into the game of chess kept her at the top of women’s chess as she defeated Woman International Master Elizaveta Bykova of Russia. She then successfully defended her title consecutively for three times. Gaprindashvili was also a five-time winner of the Women’s Soviet Championship in 1964, 1973,1981, 1983, and 1985.Her presence always attracted coaches, and good coaching was very much vital to the player who is on the line of development into a good chess player.


Maia Chiburdanidze

Img Source: MBIHund, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chiburdanidze was born in the Soviet Georgia who became a WIM(Woman International Master) at the age of 13 in the year 1974. Chiburdanidze had to win the U.S.S.R Women's chess Championship to get a chance to challenge Nona Gaprindashvili for the Women’s World Chess Champion title in 1978. She won against Nona Gaprindshivili and successfully defended her title 4 times till the year 1991.

In the year 1984, Chiburdanidze became the only second woman player to earn the title of GrandMaster in the year 1984. Chiburdanidze has won an impressive nine team gold medals and four individual gold medals. Although Chiburdanidze’s success story seems similar to Gaprindashvili’s, however, chess champion and author Jennifer Shahade claims the two women maintained distinct playing styles. In her book Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport (2005), Shahade observes,

“There is no prototype for the temperament of a champion . While Nona’s energy emanates outward, Maia’s is more introspective, giving her a meditative glow.”

Maia Chiburdanidze was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in the year 2014.


Judit Polgar

Img Source:Wind87, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Judit Polgar,at the time held the world record for the youngest person to become a grandmaster. She defeated her first GrandMaster in the 1987 New York Open. Judit won her first international chess tournament when she was 9 years old and won the age category Boys' World Chess Championship when she was 12 and 14. In 1988, Judit became the youngest player at the time to become the International Master. She was the first person among the girls to win the overall under 12 chess Championship in Romania.

She then achieved the Grandmaster title at the age of 15 years,4 months and 28 days becoming the fourth woman to earn the Grandmaster title. She entered the world Top 10 chess players in the year 1996 with a rating of 2675. The interesting fact about Judit Polgar is that she never participated in the women's chess championship and was able to hold the world top 10 ranking list. In June 2015, Judit was appointed as the Head Coach of the Hungarian National Men’s Chess Team, and led them to a team bronze medal finish in the 2015 European Team Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland.


Susan Polgar

Img Source: GFHund, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Susan Polgar learnt chess at the age of two and a half years of age. In July 1984, World Chess

Federation (FIDE) listed fifteen-year-old Susan Polgar as the world’s top-ranked female player. Susan Polgar remained in top 3 for the next 23 years.Susan Polgar became the first woman to qualify for the Men's World Championship in 1986. Alongside Susan Polgar's book How the Polgar Sisters Changed the Game of Chess (2005), her contributions to the FIDE made the "Men's World Chess Championship" to "World Chess Championship" which opens the competition to both male and female players.

In Women in Chess: Players of the Modern Age(1987), John Graham discusses Susan Polgar’s struggles in playing in men’s tournaments: Polgar has said that the Hungary Chess federation declined her the Women's GrandMaster title in 1982 when she refused to play women's chess tournaments. Polgar was also against being present on the women's rating list rather than on the mixed rating list.

When she played the New York Open in the year 1985, the USCF's executive director ,Gerry Dullea received an information which read “Please note Polgar is no longer a woman”. FIDE created a unique grant for all the women players which was giving 100 ELO bonus ratings to all active female players except Susan Polgar thus creating a controversy. The FIDE ratings of women were not as high as that of the ratings of men as women always tended to play in women only tournaments. The decision of not providing bonus rating to Susan removed her first place position in the january 1987 FIDE rating.

Susan achieved the GrandMaster title by reaching the rating of over 2500 becoming the first women player to achieve it through conventional tournament play. In 2002, Susan Polgar established the Susan Polgar Foundation which was a non profitable organization for sponsoring events. In 2009, Susan Polgar became Co Chairperson of the Commission for FIDE. She also was the head coach of the 2011 and 2012 National Championship college chess teams at Texas Tech University. She was also the head coach of the National Championship teams in the year 2013 and 2014 at Webster University. In 2014, Susan Polgar received the Furman Symeon Medal for the best chess coach. Polgar has published such books as A World Champion’s Guide to Chess (2005, with Paul Truong) and Chess Tactics for Champions (2006, also with Paul Truong). She currently heads the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) at Webster University in St. Louis.


Xie Jun

Img Source:Andrzej Filipowicz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Xie Jun was born in an army hospital in Baoding in the midst of China's Cultural Revolution. During this period in 1976, the ban on the board games was lifted and Xie learnt xiangqi, similar to the game of chess. Chess trainers were recruiting the most promising players and and when she won the Beijing's girl championship, she became one among them.

She became the youngest Chinese National Master at the age of 14. Xie Earned the WIM title in 1989 with a FIDE rating of over 2400.Xie Jun became the first Asian player to win the Women's World Championship title to end 41 years of Soviet domination in chess. Xie also defended her Women's World Chess Championship title in 1993 by defeating Georgian Grandmaster Nana Ioseliani. Xie Jun earned the International GrandMaster title in the year 1994.Xie successfully defended the title in the year 1999 and 2000. In the year 1996, Xie Jun lost the Women's World Chess Championship title to Susan Polgar but regained back the title by defeating Alisa Galliamova after Susan Polgar forfeited her title.


Zhu Chen

Img Source: rorkhete, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Zhu Chen played xiangqi similar to that of chess game. After 1981, she shifted her focus from xiangqi to chess and the number of players playing chess had increased to a few million. In 1988, Zhu became the first Chinese player to win an international chess championship in the under 12 section. After this victory, Zhu Chen was summoned to be trained in the capital. During the intense training period, she was a lot exhausted only to dream more about chess.

She won the World Junior Girls Chess Championship in 1994 and 1996 and in June 2004, she famously (and unsuccessfully) played two games against “Star of Unisplendour”, the chess computer of advanced AMD 64 bit 3400+CPI and 2GB RAM combined with the chess engine Fritz 8.


Alla Kushnir

Img Source: Punt (ANEFO), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alla Shulimovna Kushnir was a Soviet-born Israeli chess player. Alla Kushnir was the second strongest female chess player in the world at the time of mid 1960s to the early 1970s. She had won the 1970 Women's Soviet Chess Championship and had won both the team and individual gold medals. Alla Kushnir had one of the finest victory over GrandMaster Larry Evans in the year 1975 at Lone Pine International Tournament. She was awarded the FIDE titles of Woman International Master(WIM) in 1962 and Woman Grandmaster(WGM) in 1976.


Nana Alexandria

Img Source: Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL , via Wikimedia Commons

Nana Alexandria was the Women's World championship challenger in the year 1975 and 1981

She was one of the contributing players of the USSR team that dominated the Women's Olympiads of the 1980s.FIDE awarded her the Woman International Master title in 1966 and the Woman Grandmaster title in 1976. Alexandria also received the title International Arbiter in 1995. She was the chairperson of the FIDE Women's Commission from 1986 to 2001. In 2021, Alexandria appeared in the documentary Glory to the Queen


Irina Levitina

Img Source: Shireen Mohandes, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Irina Solomonova Levitina was born in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. where she had been Soviet Women's Champion on 4 occasions in 1971,1978,1979 and 1981. She had earned the title of Woman International Master in 1972 and Woman Grandmaster in 1976.Levitina who became the challenger for Women's World chess champion candidate lost to Chiburdanidze. Levitina later in 1991,1992,1993 and 1998 won the U.S. Women's Championship. Levitina was also awarded the Paul M. Albert prize for her best game against contender Leslie Wood Pelech. Levitna discontinued serious chess play as she wanted to proceed with her career to become a professional bridge player.


Alisa Galliamova

Img Source: Etery Kublashvili, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Alisa Mikhailovna Galliamova who is a Russian chess player has the title of International Master and Woman Grandmasterand is twice runner up at Women's World chess championship in 1999 and 2006.


Antoaneta Stefanova

Antoaneta Stefanova
Antoaneta Stefanova

Img Source: Stefan64, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Antoaneta Stefanova represented Bulgaria for the first time in the women's division of the FIDE Chess Olympiads in the year 1992 and represented her country in 12 chess Olympiads from 1992 to 2014. Stefanova earned the Grandmaster title in 2002 at the age of 23 and hence becoming 8th woman to earn the title.Stefanova won the 2004 Women's World Chess Championship in Elista,Russia.

In Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport (2005), Woman Grandmaster Jennifer

Shahade noted Stefanova’s unusual tendency to travel to tournaments unaccompanied, to which the champion stated,

When I bring a coach I often feel more responsible for my results. I can easily become nervous and play badly.”

In 2012, Stefanova proved victorious in the Women's World Rapid Chess Championship. She was the runner-up in the Women's World Chess Championship 2012, losing to Anna Ushenina in a rapid chess playoff.


Xu Yuhua

Img Source: Mark Gluhovsky, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Xu was an all rounder who apart from chess had a Bachelor in Law and from Peking University and was a master in Literature. Xu Yuhua won the Asian Women's chess Championship in the year 1998 which was held in Malaysia and thereby achieved her Woman Grandmaster title. In 2000, Xu won the first Women's World Cup by defeating Natalia Zhukova of Ukraine. In 2006 Women's World Chess Championship Xu earned the International Grandmaster title and became the Women's World Chess Champion. Xu was eliminated in the second round of the 2008 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship ending her reign. Xu, who was four months pregnant at the time of the 2006 Women’s World Chess Championship, was honoured as one of the torchbearers for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

73 views0 comments

Leave us a message and we'll get back to you.


Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page