Women's World Chess Championship

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Current Women's World Chess Champion Ju Wenjun from China

The Women's World Chess Championship is a chess match played to determine the Women's World Chess Champion. It has been administered by FIDE since its inception in 1927, unlike the absolute World Chess Championship, which only came under FIDE's control in 1948.

There have been three main eras in the history of the Women's World Championship: the Menchik era (1927–1944), the Soviet-dominated era (1950–1991), and the China-dominated era (1991–present). Vera Menchik won every Women's World Championship from 1927 to 1944. The Soviet Union won every Women's World Championship from 1950 to 1991, particularly Georgian champions Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze, who combined for ten titles in a row, five each in succession. From 1991 onwards, China has 15 of the last 20 titles, spread across six different champions, including three four-time champions Xie Jun, Hou Yifan, and the reigning champion Ju Wenjun.

The championship has not always used a match format, instead originating as a round-robin tournament. A lone championship match was played in 1937, and the championship switched to a match format as the predominant format in the 1950s. This continued until 2000, when a new knockout format was established. The match format returned in 2011 on an alternating basis with the knockout format before replacing the knockout format altogether in 2020.


Era of Menchik[edit]

The Women's World Chess Championship was established by FIDE in 1927. FIDE wanted to gain control of the absolute World Championship and thought establishing a Women's World Championship they had already controlled would help them achieve that. They hosted a women's round-robin tournament as a side event at the Chess Olympiad and weeks after the tournament ended, decided to retroactively declare the winner of the tournament, Vera Menchik, to be the inaugural Women's World Chess Champion.

Menchik remained champion until her death, defending the title seven additional times. Throughout Menchik's reign, the world championship was primarily contested in tournaments, in contrast to the absolute World Chess Championship that used a match format and a challenge system. The lone exception was a privately-organized 1937 match between Menchik and Sonja Graf, which was formally recognized by FIDE. The Women's World Championship continued to be held in conjunction with the Chess Olympiad. As a result, it was held on a more regular basis than the absolute World Championship that was only held sporadically whenever there was a challenger.

Dominance of the Soviet Union players (1950–1991)[edit]

1981 Women's World Championship, Maia Chiburdanidze vs. Nana Alexandria

Menchik died, still champion, in 1944 in a German air raid on Kent. The next championship was another round-robin tournament in 1949–50 and was won by Lyudmila Rudenko. Thereafter a system similar to that of the overall championship was established, with a cycle of Candidates events (and later Interzonals) to pick a challenger to face the reigning champion.

The first such Candidates tournament was held in Moscow, 1952. Elisaveta Bykova won and proceeded to defeat Rudenko with seven wins, five losses, and two draws to become the third champion. The next Candidates tournament was won by Olga Rubtsova. Instead of directly playing Bykova, however, FIDE decided that the championship should be held between the three top players in the world. Rubtsova won at Moscow in 1956, one-half point ahead of Bykova, who finished five points ahead of Rudenko. Bykova regained the title in 1958 and defended it against Kira Zvorykina, winner of a Candidates tournament, in 1959.

The fourth Candidates tournament was held in 1961 in Vrnjacka Banja, and was utterly dominated by Nona Gaprindashvili of Georgia, who won with ten wins, zero losses, and six draws. She then decisively defeated Bykova with seven wins, no losses, and four draws in Moscow, 1962 to become champion. Gaprindashvili defended her title against Alla Kushnir of Russia at Riga 1965 and Tbilisi/Moscow 1969. In 1972, FIDE introduced the same system for the women's championship as with the overall championship: a series of Interzonal tournaments, followed by the Candidates matches. Kushnir won again, only to be defeated by Gaprindashvili at Riga 1972. Gaprindashvili defended the title one last time against Nana Alexandria of Georgia at Pitsunda/Tbilisi 1975.

In 1976–1978 Candidates cycle, 17-year-old Maya Chiburdanidze of Georgia ended up the surprise star, defeating Nana Alexandria, Elena Akhmilovskaya, and Alla Kushnir to face Gaprindashvili in the 1978 finals at Tbilisi. Chiburdanidze soundly defeated Gaprindashvili, marking the end of one Georgian's domination and the beginning of another's. Chiburdanidze defended her title against Alexandria at Borjomi/Tbilisi 1981 and Irina Levitina at Volgograd 1984. Following this, FIDE reintroduced the Candidates tournament system. Akhmilovskaya, who had earlier lost to Chiburdanidze in the Candidates matches, won the tournament but was still defeated by Chiburdanidze at Sofia 1986. Chiburdanidze's final title defense came against Nana Ioseliani at Telavi 1988.

Post-Soviet era (1991–2010)[edit]

Chiburdanidze's domination ended in Manila 1991, where the young Chinese star Xie Jun defeated her, after finishing second to the still-active Gaprindashvili in an Interzonal, tying with Alisa Marić in the Candidates tournament, and then beating Marić in a tie-breaker match. Thus, Soviet domination in the women's section ended after 41 years.

It was during this time that the three Polgar sisters Susan (also known as Zsuzsa), Sofia (Zsófia), and Judit emerged as dominant players. However they tended to compete in open tournaments, avoiding the women's championship.

Susan Polgar eventually changed her policy. She won the 1992 Candidates tournament in Shanghai. The Candidates final—an eight-game match between the top two finishers in the tournament—was a drawn match between Polgar and Ioseliani, even after two tiebreaks. The match was decided by a lottery, which Ioseliani won. She was then promptly crushed by Xie Jun (8½–2½) in the championship at Monaco 1993.

The next cycle was dominated by Polgar. She tied with Chiburdanidze in the Candidates tournament, defeated her easily in the match (5½–1½), and then decisively defeated Xie Jun (8½–4½) in Jaén 1996 for the championship.

In 1997, Russian Alisa Galliamova and Chinese Xie Jun finished first and second, but Galliamova refused to play the final match entirely in China. FIDE eventually awarded the match to Xie Jun by default.

However, by the time all these delays were sorted out, Polgar had given birth to her first child. She requested that the match be postponed. FIDE refused, and eventually set up the championship to be between Galliamova and Xie Jun. The championship was held in Kazan, Tatarstan and Shenyang, China, and Xie Jun won with five wins, three losses, and seven draws.

In 2000 a knock-out event, similar to the FIDE overall title and held alongside it, was the new format of the women's world championship. It was won by Xie Jun. In 2001 a similar event determined the champion, Zhu Chen. Another knock-out, this one held separately from the overall championship, in Elista, the capital of the Russian republic of Kalmykia (of which FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is president), from May 21 to June 8, 2004, produced Bulgarian Antoaneta Stefanova as champion. As with Polgar five years prior, Zhu Chen did not participate due to pregnancy.

In 2006 the title returned to China. The new champion Xu Yuhua was pregnant during the championship.

In 2008, the title went to Russian grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk, who, in the final, beat Chinese prodigy Hou Yifan 2½–1½, then aged 14 (see Women's World Chess Championship 2008).

In 2010 the title returned to China once again. Hou Yifan, the runner-up in the previous championship, became the youngest ever women's world champion at the age of 16. She beat her compatriot WGM Ruan Lufei 2–2 (classic) 3–1 (rapid playoffs).

Yearly tournaments (2010–2018)[edit]

Women's World Chess Championship, Tirana 2011

Beginning from 2010, the Women's World Chess Championship would be held annually in alternating formats. In even years a 64-player knockout system would be used, in the odd years a classical match featuring only two players would be held.[1] The 2011 edition was between the 2010 champion Hou Yifan and the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2009–2011. Since Hou Yifan won the Grand Prix, her challenger was the runner-up, Koneru Humpy.[2]

In 2011 Hou Yifan successfully defended her women's world champion title in the Women's World Chess Championship 2011 in Tirana, Albania against Koneru Humpy. Hou won three games and drew five in the ten-game match, winning the title with two games to spare.

Hou Yifan was knocked-out in the second round in Women's World Chess Championship 2012, which was played in Khanty Mansiysk. Anna Ushenina, seeded 30th in the tournament, won the final against Antoaneta Stefanova 3½–2½.

The Women's World Chess Championship 2013 was a match over 10 games between defending champion Anna Ushenina and Hou Yifan who had won the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012. After seven of ten games Hou Yifan won the match 5.5 to 1.5 to retake the title.

After Hou declined to defend her title at the Women's World Chess Championship 2015, the title was won by Mariya Muzychuk, who defeated Natalia Pogonina in the final.

Hou defeated Muzychuk 6–3 to reclaim the Women's World Chess Championship 2016 title for her 4th championship in March 2016.

The following year Tan Zhongyi defeated Anna Muzychuk for the title at the Women's World Chess Championship 2017.

Tan lost the title defending it against Ju Wenjun (with Hou not participating at this event) at the Women's World Chess Championship Match 2018.

Return to match-only format[edit]

Due to various hosting and timing issues, the championships had varied from their intended annual calendar in recent years.[3] FIDE held a second world championship in 2018 in order to get back on schedule.

After the 2018 championship tournament the new FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich announced the format would be changed back to matches only. He said the many different champions the yearly system created discredited the championship title as a whole.[4] Aleksandra Goryachkina won the Candidates tournament, held in June 2019, to challenge for the World Championship. Ju Wenjun retained her title in the 2020 Championship.

Ju retained her title in the 2023 championship against Lei Tingjie.[5]

Women's World Chess Champions[edit]

# Name Country Years
1 Vera Menchik  Russia (in exile)
 United Kingdom
none N/A (World War II) 1944–1950
2 Lyudmila Rudenko  Soviet Union 1950–1953
3 Elisaveta Bykova 1953–1956
4 Olga Rubtsova 1956–1958
(3) Elisaveta Bykova 1958–1962
5 Nona Gaprindashvili 1962–1978
6 Maia Chiburdanidze 1978–1991
7 Xie Jun  China 1991–1996
8 Susan Polgar  Hungary 1996–1999
(7) Xie Jun  China 1999–2001
9 Zhu Chen 2001–2004
10 Antoaneta Stefanova  Bulgaria 2004–2006
11 Xu Yuhua  China 2006–2008
12 Alexandra Kosteniuk  Russia 2008–2010
13 Hou Yifan  China 2010–2012
14 Anna Ushenina  Ukraine 2012–2013
(13) Hou Yifan  China 2013–2015
15 Mariya Muzychuk  Ukraine 2015–2016
(13) Hou Yifan  China 2016–2017
16 Tan Zhongyi 2017–2018
17 Ju Wenjun 2018–present

List of Women's World Chess Championships[edit]

Year Host country Host city World champion Runner-up W L D Format
Tournament formats (1927–1944)
1927  United Kingdom London Vera Menchik Katarina Beskow 10 0 1 RR (12 players)
1930  Germany Hamburg Vera Menchik Paula Wolf-Kalmar 6 1 1 Double RR (5 players)
1931  Czechoslovakia Prague Vera Menchik Paula Wolf-Kalmar 8 0 0
1933  United Kingdom Folkestone Vera Menchik Edith Charlotte Price 14 0 0 Double RR (8 players)
1935  Poland Warsaw Vera Menchik Regina Gerlecka 9 0 0 RR (10 players)
1937 Jul  Austria Semmering Vera Menchik Sonja Graf 9 2 5 16-game match
1937 Aug  Sweden Stockholm Vera Menchik Clarice Benini 14 0 0 Swiss (26 players)
1939  Argentina Buenos Aires Vera Menchik Sonja Graf 17 0 2 RR (20 players)
Menchik died in 1944 as reigning world champion.
Interregnum (1944–1950)
Match format (1950–1999)
1950  Soviet Union Moscow Lyudmila Rudenko Olga Rubtsova 9 5 1 RR (16 players)
1953  Soviet Union Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Lyudmila Rudenko 7 5 2 14-game match
1956  Soviet Union Moscow Olga Rubtsova Elisaveta Bykova 7 6 3 Octuple RR (3 players)
1958  Soviet Union Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Olga Rubtsova 7 4 3 16-game match
1959  Soviet Union Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Kira Zvorykina 6 2 5
1962  Soviet Union Moscow Nona Gaprindashvili Elisaveta Bykova 7 0 4
1965  Soviet Union Riga Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 7 3 3
1969  Soviet Union Tbilisi
Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 6 2 5
1972  Soviet Union Riga Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 5 4 7
1975  Soviet Union Pitsunda
Nona Gaprindashvili Nana Alexandria 8 3 1
1978  Soviet Union Tbilisi Maia Chiburdanidze Nona Gaprindashvili 4 2 9
1981  Soviet Union Borjomi
Maia Chiburdanidze Nana Alexandria 4 4 8
1984  Soviet Union Volgograd Maia Chiburdanidze Irina Levitina 5 2 7
1986  Bulgaria Sofia Maia Chiburdanidze Elena Akhmilovskaya 4 1 9
1988  Soviet Union Telavi Maia Chiburdanidze Nana Ioseliani 3 2 11
1991  Philippines Manila Xie Jun Maia Chiburdanidze 4 2 9
1993  Monaco Monaco Xie Jun Nana Ioseliani 7 1 3
1996  Spain Jaén Susan Polgar Xie Jun 6 2 5
Polgar forfeited title in 1999.
1999  Russia
Xie Jun Alisa Galliamova 5 3 7
Knockout format (2000–2010)
2000  India New Delhi Xie Jun Qin Kanying 1 0 3 KO (64 players)
2001  Russia Moscow Zhu Chen Alexandra Kosteniuk 2+3 2+1 0
2004  Russia Elista Antoaneta Stefanova Ekaterina Kovalevskaya 2 0 1
2006  Russia Yekaterinburg Xu Yuhua Alisa Galliamova 2 0 1
2008  Russia Nalchik Alexandra Kosteniuk Hou Yifan 1 0 3
2010  Turkey Hatay Hou Yifan Ruan Lufei 1+2 1 2+2
Alternating formats (2011–2018)
2011  Albania Tirana Hou Yifan Koneru Humpy 3 0 5 10-game match
2012  Russia Khanty-Mansiysk Anna Ushenina Antoaneta Stefanova 1+1 1 2+1 KO (64 players)
2013  China Taizhou Hou Yifan Anna Ushenina 4 0 3 10-game match
2015  Russia Sochi Mariya Muzychuk Natalia Pogonina 1 0 3 KO (64 players)
2016  Ukraine Lviv Hou Yifan Mariya Muzychuk 3 0 6 10-game match
2017  Iran Tehran Tan Zhongyi Anna Muzychuk 1+1 1 2+1 KO (64 players)
2018 May  China Shanghai
Ju Wenjun Tan Zhongyi 3 2 5 10-game match
2018 Nov  Russia Khanty-Mansiysk Ju Wenjun Kateryna Lagno 1+2 1 2+2 KO (64 players)
Match format (2019–present)
2020  China
Ju Wenjun Aleksandra Goryachkina 3+1 3 6+3 12-game match
2023  China Shanghai
Ju Wenjun Lei Tingjie 2 1 9
2025 Ju Wenjun vs. Tan Zhongyi

Key: RR = round-robin tournament, KO = knockout tournament

Women's World Champions by number of title match victories[edit]

The table below organises the women's world champions in order of championship wins. A successful defense counts as a win for the purposes of this table, even if the match is drawn. If number of championship wins is identical, the number of years as champion is used as tie-breaker. If both numbers are the same, the players are listed by year of first victory at world championships (in chronological order).

Champion Number of wins Years as champion
Russia Czechoslovakia United Kingdom Vera Menchik 8 17
Soviet Union Nona Gaprindashvili 5 16
Soviet Union Maia Chiburdanidze 5 13
China Xie Jun 4 7
China Ju Wenjun 4 6
China Hou Yifan 4 5
Soviet Union Elisaveta Bykova 3 7
Soviet Union Lyudmila Rudenko 1 3
Hungary Susan Polgar 1 3
China Zhu Chen 1 3
Soviet Union Olga Rubtsova 1 2
Bulgaria Antoaneta Stefanova 1 2
China Xu Yuhua 1 2
Russia Alexandra Kosteniuk 1 2
Ukraine Anna Ushenina 1 1
Ukraine Mariya Muzychuk 1 1
China Tan Zhongyi 1 1

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Regulations for the Women’s World Chess Championship Cycle. FIDE.
  2. ^ "Regulations and Bidding Procedure for the Women's Grand-Prix 2009-2010". FIDE. 30 July 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2019
  3. ^ FIDE General Assembly Agenda (5.20.8)
  4. ^ "A. Dvorkovich: Format of the Women's World Championship Cycle will be changed – Women's World Championship 2018". ugra2018.fide.com. 2018-10-13. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  5. ^ "FIDE World Championship Cycle". International Chess Federation (FIDE). Retrieved 2024-02-02.

External links[edit]