Women's World Champions
Born in Moscow in 1906 to a Czech father and an English mother, Vera Menchik debuted in a chess tournament at school at age 14 after switching to an integrated school during the Russian Revolution. In 1921 her family moved to Hastings, England, where Vera joined a local chess club and began training with James Drewitt and Géza Maróczy. Menchik established herself as the best female player in the country in 1925 by defeating the British women's champion Edith Charlotte Price in two matches, and just two years later, she won the inaugural Women's World Chess Championship in 1927.

Menchik was the dominant female chess player before the war, winning eight titles and at least 59 games in a row at the Women's World Championship tournaments.

The longest-reigning Women's World Chess Champion, Menchik was the first and only woman competing in master-level tournaments with the world's best players before World War II and had several top players' scalps under her belt.

Still the Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik tragically died in 1944 in a German air raid on Kent.
Vera Menchik
1927 –
photo source Chess Review
Born in 1904 in Lubny, in the Poltava region of the Russian Empire, now Ukraine, Lyudmila Rudenko was taught how to play chess by her father at age 10.

A gifted swimmer (she was a swimming vice-champion of Ukraine), Lyudmila took chess seriously only after moving to Moscow in 1925. Rudenko's real breakthrough came after relocating to Leningrad, where she started working with Peter Romanovsky. Lyudmila won Leningrad Women's championship three times and established herself as one of the leading Soviet players.

After the war, in the winter of 1949–1950, FIDE held a tournament in Moscow to determine the new women's champion. Sixteen women from twelve countries competed, with Rudenko, who was then 45 years old, coming out on top, a full point ahead of the field. In the next World Championship cycle, she faced Elisaveta Bykova and lost her crown in a close title match.

Rudenko was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2015.
Lyudmila Rudenko
1950 –
Born in Bogoljubovo village (Russian Empire) to a peasant family, Bykova moved to Moscow in 1925 and began to play chess with her brother. She progressed rapidly as just two years later, Elisaveta won her school's chess championship. Hard-working, cold-blooded and tenacious, Bykova quickly came to the forefront of Soviet chess and reached her peak right after World War II, having won the Soviet Women's Championship in 1946, 1947 and 1950.

She embarked on her quest for the women's chess crown in 1949 but tied for third place in the World Championship tournament.

Three years later, Bykova won the first Women's Candidates Tournament (Moscow, 1952), and in 1953 she defeated the reigning World Champion Lyudmila Rudenko (+7 -5 = 2) to become the third Women's World Champion.

She lost the title to Olga Rubtsova in 1956 but regained it two years later, becoming the first woman to do so.

In 1960, Bykova successfully defended the title against Kira Zvorykina (+6 -2 =5), but in 1962, she was dethroned by a new star, 21-year-old Nona Gaprindashvili (+0 -7 =4).

Passionate about women's chess, Bykova also wrote three books about Vera Menchik, Soviet women chess players, and the Women's World Championship.
Elisaveta Bykova
1953 –
1958 –
Born in Moscow in 1909, Olga picked up the game from her father, a professor of welding metallurgy and a strong player who had faced future fourth World Champion Alexander Alekhine several times. In 1926 she won her first tournament and just a year later came out on top in the first USSR Women's Chess Championship.

Rubtsova entered the first after-war Women's World Chess Championship as a four-time USSR champion and one of the main favourites but finished only second after Bykova. Her second attempt was even worse, as she ended up in the middle of the standings.

Olga's heyday came in 1955 when she first won the Candidates and then the 1956 World Championship in which the top three female players participated. Two years later, she conceded her crown to Bykova in the title match (+4 -7 =3).

Rubtsova also played correspondence chess and became the first Women's World Correspondence Champion in 1972. She remains the only player to become a world champion in both over-the-board and correspondence chess.
Olga Rubtsova
1956 –
Born in 1941 in Zugdidi (USSR, now Georgia), Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be awarded the title of International Grandmaster (1978), was the only girl in a big family of six children. Her brothers taught Nona chess when she was five and became her first opponents. After turning 12, she studied chess in Tbilisi under the tutelage of a talented coach Vakhtang Karseladze, and this work quickly paid off.

Aged just fifteen, Nona won Tbilisi and Georgian Championships and four years later breezed past the competition in the 1961 Candidates to set up the title match with Elisaveta Bykova.

Gaprindashvili wrestled the title from Bykova in a canter (+7−0=4) and successfully defended it three times against Alla Kushnir (1965: +7-3=3; 1969: +6-2=5; 1972: +5-4=7) and once against Nana Alexandria (1975: +8-3=1). After fifteen years of reigning, she lost the title match (Tbilisi, 1978) to another Georgian, 17-year-old star Maia Chiburdanidze (+2−4=9).

After conceding the title, Gaprindashvili remained one of the strongest female players in the world for another twenty years and amassed a very impressive tournament record.

Nona is still very active in veteran tournaments winning World Senior Championship and European Senior Championship multiple times.
Nona Gaprindashvili
1962 –
photo by David Llada
Born in Kutaisi (USSR, now Georgia) in 1961, Maia Chiburdanidze started playing chess around the age of eight. Her exceptional chess talent became evident very early. Still in her teens, Maia took the chess world by storm. She consecutively won her debut tournament in Brasov (aged just 13), USSR Girls Championship (1976) and then finished second in the Women's Interzonal (Tbilisi, 1976), thereby qualifying for the 1977 Candidates Matches. She made it all the way to the Candidates Final, where she prevailed over Alla Kushnir by a narrow margin to challenge the reigning champion Nona Gaprindashvili. The title match took place in Pitsunda (1978) and saw Chiburdanidze defeating Gaprindashvili (+4-2=9) and becoming the youngest Women's Chess Champions at the time.

Chiburdanidze successfully defended her title four times. In 1981, she drew a very close match with Nana Alexandria (8-8) to retain the chess crown. Three years later, she beat Irina Levitina in Volgograd (+5-2=7). The next title defence came against Elena Akhmilovskaya in Sofia in 1986 (+4-1=9). In 1988 she bested Nana Ioseliani in Telavi, Georgia (+3-2=11).

Her third-longest reign ended in 1991 when Chiburdanidze lost the title match to Xie Jun of China (+2-4=9).

After losing her title, Maia had several shorts for the crown but did not quite make it. In 1995 Chiburdanidze lost the playoff match to Susan Polgar (the opponents tied for first place in the Candidates in Tilburg in 1994), while in the knockout era, she stumbled in the semifinals twice (2001 and 2004).
Maia Chiburdanidze
1978 –
photo by David Llada
The first Asian female to become a chess grandmaster, Xie Jun, was born in Baoding, Hebei, in 1970 and raised in Beijing. Xie began to play Chinese chess at the age of 6, and just four years later, she became the girls' champion of Beijing. Urged by authorities, she soon switched to international chess and won the Chinese girls' chess champion title in 1984.

Her chess strength grew by leaps and bounds as just six years later, Xie Jun won the Candidates in Borjomi after beating Alica Maric in a tiebreaker and earned the right to challenge Maia Chiburdanidze. Xie dethroned Chiburdanidze (+4-2=9) to become the first Chinese World Chess Champion.

In 1993 she successfully defended her title by blasting Nana Ioseliani. Three years later, she conceded her crown to Susan Polgar in a dramatic match only to regain the title in 1999 by defeating another championship finalist, Alisa Galliamova (8½–6½), after Polgar refused to accept match conditions and forfeited her title.

After FIDE changed the format of the world championship to a knockout system, Xie won the title again, beating fellow Chinese player Qin Kanying 2½–1½ in the final, but opted not to defend it a year later.

Well-liked in China, Xie did a lot to popularize chess in her country and the rest of Asia. In 2019, she was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame.
Xie Jun
1991 –
1999 –
The oldest of phenomenal Polgar sisters, Susan (born in 1969), got an excellent tournament record playing mainly with men and became the highest-rated female player in July of 1984, aged just 15.

In the early 1990s, Susan changed her mind about playing primarily in open sections and set off on a quest for the women's chess crown. She entered the Women's World Championship cycle in 1992, won the Candidates tournament in Shanghai (1992) and reached the final in which she faced Nana Ioseliani. The match was drawn even after two tiebreaks, and the winner was decided by the drawing of lots that favoured Ioseliani.

Unfazed, Polgar tried again in the next cycle, and after convincingly outplaying Chiburdanidze in the Candidates' playoff (1995), she set up a title match with the defending champion Xie Jun (Jaen, 1996). Susan put in a dominating performance and clinched the title with three games to spare (+6-2=5).

Her title defence against Xie Jun was scheduled for 1998, and then postponed to 1999. Under new circumstances (Polar was pregnant and due to give birth and did not want to play entirely in China), Susan refused to play and forfeited the title.
Susan Polgar
1996 –
source chessdailynews.com
One of the first beneficiaries of rapidly growing chess popularity in China, Zhu Chen (born in 1976), showed early promise and quickly delivered.

In 1988 Zhu Chen became the first Chinese player to win an international chess competition after triumphing at the World Girls Under-12 Championship in Romania. She also won the World Junior Girls Chess Championship in 1994 and 1996 and three years later was awarded the title of GM (the seventh woman in history).

Going into the 2000 Women's Championship in New Delhi as one of the favourites, Zhu suffered a setback in the first round. Still, a year later (Moscow, 2001), she made it to the final in which she defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk (5-3) and became the ninth Women's World Champion.

Zhu gave up a chance to defend her world title in Georgia in May 2004 due to her busy schedule and pregnancy. She had a fair shot six years later (Antakya, 2010) but lost a close third-round match to the eventual champion Hou Yifan.
Zhu Chen
2001 –
photo by David Llada
Born in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, in 1979, Antoaneta Stefanova received her first chess lessons from her father at the age of four. Her bright chess future became apparent very early. At age seven, Antoanetta won a local women's tournament and, in 1989, took first place in the Girls U10 section at the World Youth Chess Festival in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Three years later, at 13, she debuted at Chess Olympiad (Manila, 1992). The same year, she became the European under-14 girls' champion at the European Youth Chess Championship in Rimavská Sobota.

On her way up, Stefanova won the Bulgarian Women's Championship (1995), the 3rd European Individual Women's Championship in Varna (2002) and in the same year, became the ninth woman in history to get the GM title.

Antoaneta reached the acme of her chess career in 2004 by winning a 64-player knockout Women's World Championship held in Elista, Kalmykia, but lost her title two years later.

Stefanova had a great chance to repeat this achievement in 2012 as she reached the final of the Women's World Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk but fell short of her second title after succumbing to Anna Ushinina in a tiebreak.
Antoaneta Stefanova
2004 –
photo by David Llada
Born in 1976, Xu Yuhua, riding on the success of Xie Jun, switched from the Chinese to European chess and, at the age of 16, surprised many by qualifying for the Interzonal (Djakarta, 1993) not even having a FIDE rating.

Her Cinderella story ended abruptly, as she took a knock in Jakarta and did not do so well at World Junior U18 and U20 Championships. However, all these setbacks did not throw her off as Xu started to work even harder and slowly but surely moved up in the ranks. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, she scored quite a few victories in various competitions, but the most coveted title of Women's World Champion eluded her.

Sometimes success comes when you least expect it. Xu Yuhua entered the 2006 World Women's Championship in Yekaterinburg after a long period of inactivity, being in her third month of pregnancy, but this very event became the pinnacle of her chess career. She smoothly navigated through a very strong field and clinched the title after beating Alisa Galliamova in the final.

Xu lost her title at the following championship in 2008 after being eliminated in the second round. Three years later, she retired from tournament chess.
Xu Yuhua
2006 –
source Chessbase
Alexandra was born on April 23, 1984, in Perm (USSR, now Russia) where her father – a career military man – served. But as early as 1985, she moved to Moscow with her parents, where she spent her childhood. A true prodigy, Alexandra repeatedly won a number of European and world youth championships and became a Woman Grandmaster at the age of 14.

Three years later, the 17-year-old girl reached the final of the Women's World Championship, a 64-payer knockout championship held in Moscow. Her rival was Zhu Chen and the final was tied 2-2 after the classical games, but Chen took the title by winning 3-1 in the rapid tiebreak.

Her second shot at the title would come in 2008, seven years after her first attempt. Alexandra made her childhood dream come true by winning the knockout Women's World Championship in Nalchik. Under the guidance of grandmaster Yuri Razuvayev, Kosteniuk demonstrated a remarkably balanced and mature playstyle, outscoring her rivals in a regular time to become the 12th Women's World Champion. In the final, Kosteniuk outplayed Hou Yifan, the future Women's World Champion.

Two years later, Alexandra was eliminated in the third round of the next championship and lost her title, but ever since, she has been a fixture in Women's Championship cycles.
Alexandra Kosteniuk
2008 –
photo by David Llada
Born in 1994 in China, Hou Yifan learnt the game at five. Soon after that, her family moved to Bejing to support Hou's chess career, as her remarkable chess was evident. She was admitted to the National Chess Academy for talented youngsters from all over the country and studied under the guidance of GM Ye Jiangchuan.

In 2003 Hou won the Girls U10 World Junior Championship and, a year later, shared first place in the open section. A true chess prodigy, she made her debut in the national team at the 2006 Chess Olympiad aged 12 and scored 11/13 playing on the third board. A year later, she became the youngest-ever Chinese women's chess champion. In August of 2008, Hou achieved the title of Grandmaster.
Unsurprisingly, Hou Yifan entered the 2008 Women's World Championship as one of the clear favourites. Hou indeed reached the final, where she fell to Alexandra Kosteniuk. Two years later, at the next championship (Hatay, Turkey), Hou was unstoppable and became the youngest-ever Women's World Champion at the age of 16.

In 2011 she defended her title against Humpy Koneru without a single loss (+3-0=5) but was eliminated in the second round of the 2012 World Women's Championship by Monica Socko. Hou returned strong, qualified for the title match as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix 2011-2012 and in 2013, crushed the defending champion Anna Ushenina (+4-0=3) to regain the title.

She did not play in the next championship (Sochi, 2015) and relinquished the title, but again set up the title match as the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013-2014. Just like in two previous title matches, Hou Yifan convincingly outplayed Mariya Muzychuk, not losing a single game (+3-0=6).
Hou opted not to defend her title in the 2017 knockout championship and a year later entered Oxford to study for a Master of Public Policy.

After graduation, Hou Yifan has stayed away from the fight for the chess crown, but it seems she has not said her last word.
Hou Yifan
2010 –
photo by Anna Shtourman
2013 –
2016 –
Born in Kharkiv (USSR, now Ukraine) in 1985, Anna Ushenina was introduced to chess at seven by her mother, who believed the game would develop her daughter's intellectual and creative talents.

After winning multiple junior events on the national level, Anna was admitted to the Ukrainian team that took gold at the 2006 Chess Olympiad and silver two years later.
Seeded just 30th at the Women's World Championship 2012, she was hardly considered one of the favourites, but Anna beat all the odds and got through to the final. In a close match, Anna Ushenina prevailed over former women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova on a tiebreaker and became Ukraine's first Women's World Champion.

Ushenina lost her title in the Women's World Chess Championship 2013 after game seven of a ten-game match against Hou Yifan.
Anna Ushenina
2012 –
photo by Lennart Ootes
Mariya was born on September 21, 1992, in Stryi, Lviv Region, Ukraine. She started her chess career in the village of Ugersko, where her parents used to work at a local sports school for children and youngsters. However, Mariya managed to train at home, too: her elder sister Anna used to help her along with her parents.

Since she was 7, Mariya has participated in the Ukrainian youth championships; in 2002, she won the Ukrainian and European championships for children under 10. At the age of 11, Mariya was shortlisted for the Ukrainian women's championship, and then she won the world youth championship for children under 14 and later repeatedly won medals at the European and world youth championships.
Her success at the European women's championships brought Mariya the title of Woman Grandmaster, and in 2008 she was awarded the title of International Master. Seven years later, she became a GM after stringing together some strong results in international competitions.

Muzychuk got her moment of glory in the 2015 knockout Women's World Championship in Sochi: after outplaying Yuanling Yuan, Monika Socko, Antoaneta Stefanova, Humpy Koneru, Harika Dronavalli, and Natalija Pogonina one by one, the Ukrainian GM became the fifteenth Women's World Champion. In March 2016, Mariya Muzychuk failed to defend her title in a match against Hou Yifan (+0-3=6) but continues to be among the main contenders for the chess crown.
Mariya Muzychuk
2015 –
photo by Lennart Ootes
A young prodigy and one of the best players of her generation, Tan Zhongyi showed early promise winning numerous youth events, including twice the World Youth U10 Girls Chess Championship (in 2000 and 2001) and the World Youth U12 Girls Chess Championship in the very next year.

Already in her early twenties, Tan demonstrated great consistency in her results, winning at least one major event per year, and became one of the main contenders for the women's chess crown.

Tan was crowned Women's World Champion in 2017 after winning the one-month knockout event held in Teheran. Her rival in the final was Anna Muzychuk, who was a very worthy opponent: Tan could only defeat her after winning the fourth rapid tiebreak match. This victory earned her the GM title.

She had to defend her title the next year against the Candidate Ju Wenjun. The match took place from 2 to May 20 2018 and was played in two halves, the first in Shanghai and the latter in Chongqing. Ju Wenjun won (+3-2=5).

Five years later, Tan advanced to FIDE Women's Candidates final, in which she lost to her compatriot Lei Tingjie.
Tan Zhongyi
2017 –
photo by Lennart Ootes
Born in 1991 in Shanghai, China, Ju Wenjun started playing chess at seven, primarily inspired by the legendary Xie Jun. Unlike many Chinese youngsters, Ju preferred to play with adults and rarely participated in junior competitions.

Her chess strength drew like a beanstalk. Aged just thirteen, she finished second at the Asian Championship, then won the Chinese national championship, heralding a new star's rise.

Ju Wenjun qualified for the Women's World Championship 2006 in late 2004 after placing third at the Asian Women's Championship in Beirut and has played in all knockout events since then.

Her breakthrough came in the 2015-2016 FIDE Women's Grand Prix, which Ju won and challenged the incumbent Women's World Champion Tan Zhongyi (Shanghai and Chongqing, 2018). Ju prevailed in a tightly contested match (+3-2=5) and clinched the title.

In the same year, Ju Wenjun successfully defended her crown in the knockout championship (Khanty-Mansiysk, 2018) and became the first woman to do so after Xie Jun.

In 2020 Ju faced worthy challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina and retained her title in a tightly contested match after prevailing on a tiebreak.
Ju Wenjun
2018 –
photo by David Llada