In this article, we shall embark on a journey through time, delving into the annals of history to unravel the awe-inspiring tales of accomplishment and dedication of the Top 15 Greatest Female / Best Women Chess Players of All Time.
There have been many strong women chess players throughout history. Some of them have been forgotten while some of them remain etched in our memories.
Over the past few years, a notable shift in perspective has emerged, marked by an increasing fascination and acknowledgment of women in the realm of chess.
#15 Pia Cramling
The Swedish chess legend Pia Cramling became the sixth-ever female player to achieve the highest title in chess. Since the early 1980s, she has been one of the strongest female players in the chess circuit. She topped the rating list three times as the highest-rated player in the women’s category.
She’s also a recipient of the Chess Oscars. She also won the Women’s European Individual Chess Championship twice, in 2003 and 2010.
#14 Xu Yuhua
Xu Yuhua hails from China and is a former World Champion. In 2006 She beat the very strong Alisa Galliamova to win the Women’s World Chess Championship. She was undefeated throughout the knockout competition on her way to winning the title.
Xu Yuhua is the only women’s player to win the title in such a dominating fashion.
She also has an illustrious career in the Chess Olympiads. She has played for China on a number of occasions and emerged victorious four times.
#13 Alexandra Kosteniuk
Alexandra Kosteniuk was born in 1984 in Prem, Russia. She has had a long and successful career. She was taught to play chess by her father at the age of five.
Alexandra had a number of scintillating performances in the youth championships which culminated in her achieving the WGM title in 1998.
She went on to acquire the GM title in 2004. Her career peaked in 2008, when she won the Women’s World Chess Championship, defeating Hou Yifan in the final.
#12 Anna Muzychuk
Anna Muzychuk is a Ukrainian chess grandmaster. She was taught to play chess by her parents who were chess tutors themselves.
Anna has played in multiple championships in her home country and some notable achievements include winning the women’s title in 2003 and 2014.
She has also played in the continental stage and managed to win the European women’s blitz title in 2011.
Anna has three world chess titles, including the Women’s Rapid Chess Championship in 2014 and a double Women’s World Blitz Chess Championship (2014 and 2016).
She is only the fourth woman ever to cross the elite 2600 Elo rating.
#11 Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik was a legendary chess player who made history as the first female world champion. She went toe to toe with the best male players of her day.
Vera was born in Moscow in 1906 to a Czech father and an English mother. She began playing chess when she was nine years old.
After the end of the Russian Revolution, she relocated to England where she trained under the Hungarian master Géza Maróczy.
She dominated the women’s chess world, winning the first Women’s World Championship in 1927 and defending it seven times until her death in 1944.
Vera also participated in men’s tournaments and had many illustrious victories. She is regarded as one of the pioneers of women’s chess.
#10 Antoaneta Stefanova
Antoaneta Stefanova was born in Sofia on April 19, 1979. The young Bulgarian chess rose through the ranks quickly.
She won the World Girls U10 Championship in 1989 and the European U14 Girls Championship in 1992.
She competed in the Bulgarian Women’s Chess Championship and won it in 1995. At the turn of the century, she was one of the strongest women players in Europe and she cemented that spot by winning the European Individual Women’s Chess Championship in 2002.
She was given the title of Grandmaster in 2002, making her the ninth woman in history to do so. She won the Women’s World Chess Championship in June 2004 which was held in a knockout format.
Stefanova is a multi-talented woman with skills in multiple domains. She is also pursuing a political career in addition to chess. In 2021, she was elected as a Member of Parliament.
#9 Aleksandra Goryachkina
Aleksandra Goryachkina is a Russian grandmaster. She was born in 1998 and she started her chess journey at the tender age of six.
She was a chess prodigy who won multiple tournaments in her youth. Winning the world junior championships was the crowing achievement of her youth.
Aleksandra quickly gained a rating and rose through the ranks. She qualified for the Women’s World Chess Championship twice, in 2020 and 2023.
#8 Ju Wenjun
Ju Wenjun is the reigning Women’s World Chess Champion. She began playing chess at the age of seven, and at the age of fifteen, she qualified for her first Women’s World Championship.
She is one of the few women with a rating above 2600, reaching a peak rating of 2604.
Ju earned the opportunity to challenge incumbent champion and fellow national Tan Zhongyi by winning the Women’s Grand Prix in 2015-16. She defeated Tan and then went on to convincingly defend her title three times: against Kateryna Lagno in a 64-player elimination tournament in 2018, Aleksandra Goryachkina in a match in 2020, and Lei Tingjie in a match in 2023.
#7 Koneru Humpy
Koneru Humpy hails from India. She was born in the year 1987, she was born in Andhra Pradesh, India.
Her father quit his job for her career. He was also a state champion which helped to establish a strong foundation. As a child, she won multiple national championships. She was able to replicate this performance on the world stage as well by winning gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship.
Koneru became the youngest Indian woman to hold the title of Grandmaster at the age of 15 years, 1 month, 27 days, shattering Judit Polgár’s previous record by three months.
She is the second female player to achieve 2600 Elo, following Polgár.
Since 2004, she has also competed in the Women’s World Chess Championship cycles, reaching the semifinals three times.
#6 Xie Jun
Xie Jun is a Chinese chess grandmaster. She started to play chess at the age of 6.
She was the first Asian woman to become a grandmaster.
Xie has participated in eight Women’s Chess Olympiads, winning seven team and five individual gold medals.
A pioneer in Chinese women’s chess she took on the strong women players from Europe and managed to win the women’s world chess championship four times!
In her dominant run as the World Champion she managed to win the title in different formats, both the classical and knock-out systems.
She defeated Maia Chiburdanidze in 1991 to end the Soviet dominance of the women’s championship, and she won it twice more until finally losing it to Susan Polgar.
#5 Nona Gaprindashvili
Nona Gaprindashvili was the first female player to achieve the title of FIDE Grandmaster in 1978.
She absolutely dominated the chess world from 1962 through 1978, when she was the female world chess champion. A title she kept for 16 years.
Gaprindashvili was also not shy to compete in a number of open tournaments, where she faced some of the strongest male players of the time. Her fearless attitude and never-dying spirit earned her a number of victories against illustrious opponents.
#4 Maia Chiburdanidze
Maia Chiburdanidze is a Georgian chess grandmaster. She became the sixth Women’s World Chess Championship at the age of 17 in 1978.
She went on to hold the title for 13 years. Maia is just the second woman to hold the FIDE grandmaster title, after Nona Gaprindashvili in 1984.
Maia was virtually unstoppable in team events. She is one of the most decorated players in the history of the Women’s Chess Olympiad, having won nine gold medals with the Soviet Union and Georgia teams.
#3 Susan Polgar
Susan Polgar is a Hungarian-American chess grandmaster. She was the Women’s World Champion from 1996 to 1999.
Her father, an educational psychologist, taught her chess. He felt that geniuses are created rather than born, therefore he experimented by teaching chess to his three daughters.
Susan, along with her sisters Judit and Sofia, were chess prodigies who accomplished incredible accomplishments.
Susan became the world’s top female chess player at the age of 15, and she became the third woman to achieve grandmaster status in 1991. She holds several medals from the Women’s Chess Olympiad and other important competitions.
In 1994, she relocated to the United States and worked as a chess trainer, writer, and promoter.
#2 Hou Yifan
Hou Yifan was born on February 27, 1994, in Jiangsu Province, China. She began playing chess at the age of six.
In just 10 more years she managed the win the highest title in women’s chess. She went on to defend her title three more times in 2011, 2013, and 2016.
Hou is the world’s second-highest-rated female player. She touched a peak rating of 2680+
Hou is widely regarded as the best active female chess player. She has won numerous prestigious competitions, including the Gibraltar Masters.
She also has a Rhodes Scholarship and teaches physical education at Shenzhen University.
#1 Judit Polgar
Judit Polgar is a Hungarian grandmaster who is widely regarded as the best female chess player of all time.
She broke the record of Robert James Ficher when she became the youngest ever Grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 4 months.
Judit is the only woman to have attained 2700 Elo, with a high of 2735.
She has defeated many world champions, including Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, and Viswanathan Anand.
Judit retired from competitive chess in 2014. She received Hungary’s highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary, in 2015.