Time and again women have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with in every sphere of life. And the chess world is no exception. From not being allowed to play, to having separate tournaments specially for women — it has been a long journey!
Despite facing challenges and pressure from society, women have excelled in chess and will only keep getting better from here on.
The pioneers of this change are undoubtedly the women Grandmasters all over the world. They beat stereotypes and play neck and neck with men in international tournaments.
Let us take a look at some of the popular women Grandmasters in Chess –
1. Nona Gaprindashvili
This list won’t get its deserved start if we do not mention the first woman to ever receive the International Grandmaster title from FIDE. Born in 1941, this Georgian (then Soviet) player has played in numerous international tournaments and won several of them.
She was the Women’s World Champion from 1962 to 1978! She participated in the Women’s Chess Olympiad for the Soviet Union many times between 1963 to 1990 and for Georgia in 1992. She contributed immensely to the team in these olympiads and won many gold medals along the way! She has also won the Women’s World Senior Championship several times between 1995 to 2019.
Nona Gaprindashvili has given more to the field of chess than words can express. She was the flagbearer of women’s chess and gave hope and inspiration to many young girls to work hard and achieve the Grandmaster title.
2. Judit Polgar
Popularly referred to as the strongest woman chess player of all time, Grandmaster Judit Polgar needs absolutely no introduction! She was known for her aggressive, tactical and fierce playing style. But here’s something that has cemented her fierce reputation amongst the chess world. She is the only woman to have played in the men’s candidates tournament and to have crossed the 2700 elo mark in the history of chess!
In her long and successful chess career, she has won games against fellow legends like GM Anatoly Karpov, GM Garry Kasparov, GM Magnus Carlsen, GM Viswanathan Anand, GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Veselin Topalov and many more in either rapid or classical formats.
She is the only woman to be ranked among the top 10 of all chess players, her peak ranking being 8th in 2004.
She has been a source of inspiration for countless women chess players. And she truly has broken many gender stereotypes people have about women playing chess.
3. Koneru Humpy
The highest ranked Indian woman player and one of the finest Grandmasters of our country, Koneru Humpy has been a sensation since her childhood days. She achieved the title of Grandmaster in 2002, at the young age of 15 years and 1 month – a feat not achieved by any other Indian woman so far!
GM Koneru has won many world youth championships and in 2001 she won the coveted World Junior Girls Championship.
Interestingly, she participated in the boys’ section of the World Junior Championship in 2004 and tied for 5th place which is an extremely amazing achievement!
In 2019, she won the Women’s World Rapid Championship. In 2020, she was a crucial part of the gold medal winning Indian team for the Online Chess Olympiad.
She is also the recipient of the honorable Padma Shri Award and Arjuna Award for her contribution to the field of chess. In 2020, she received the BBC Indian Sportswoman of the year award.
If Vishy Anand has influenced India to take up chess, GM Koneru Humpy has done the same for young Indian girls.
4. Alexandra Kosteniuk
Popularly known as the chess queen, Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk is one of the finest female Grandmasters in the history of chess. She was the Women’s World Chess Champion from 2008 to 2010. She is also the first person to win the Chess960 Women’s World Championship. In 2013, she became the first woman to win the men’s Swiss Chess Championship.
She has won numerous gold medals while playing for team Russia in the Women’s Chess Olympiad, Women’s World Chess Team Championship and Women’s European Chess Team Championship.
GM Kosteniuk is known to play aggressively and quickly, often creating pressure over her opponent with her speed. She has been one of the top women grandmasters in Russia for many years and has even won the Women’s World Cup in 2021.
5. Hou Yifan
A chess prodigy, GM Hou Yifan has taken the chess world by storm since her debut. She is the youngest female to achieve the Grandmaster title and the second highest rated female chess player after GM Judit Polgar.
Between 2010 to 2017, she has won the Women’s World Chess Championship 4 times!
Currently ranked no.1 in active players, she has held that streak since September 2015!
Many regard her as the best active female chess player and her track record only proves her capabilities.
Apart from being a successful chess player, she’s also given equal importance to academics and completed her degree from University of Oxford. She is now working as a professor at Shenzhen University.
WGMs - a humble gratitude
Women have had to face many obstacles in their respective careers over the years. Despite that, they have strongly overcome these hurdles and established themselves firmly.
The female Grandmasters mentioned in this article and many others have done the same in the field of chess. They have broken barriers and set new records and fought neck and neck with their male competitors. They are a constant source of inspiration for many young girls to take up chess professionally.
To such exceptional female personalities, we extend our humble gratitude!