Women Chess Players
In 1804, Madame de Remusat (1780-1824) played chess with Napoleon Bonaparte at the Malmaison Castle. The occasion was immortalized by several paintings.
In 1827, a Mrs. Fischer became one of the very few to beat Maelzel’s Turk, which occurred in Philadelphia.
In 1847, an all-women chess club was formed in Holland, but lasted only one year.
In 1848, a chess column appeared in The Lady’s Newspaper in London, the first chess column to appear in a women’s magazine. It had a male chess editor and no women’s chess news.
In 1857, Amalie Paulsen (1831-1869), Louis Paulsen’s sister, defeated Judge Alexander Meek, one of America’s top chess players, in a game during the First American Chess Congress.
In 1879, the first women’s chess club, the Ladies’ College Club was formed in England. It was later disbanded after too many marriages.
In 1882, Louisa Matilda Fagan (1850-1931) won a chess tournament at the Bombay Sports Club in which 12 men took part. She won all her games, but was disqualified because she was a woman playing in a club whose membership was confined to men. She appealed this decision in court and won.
In 1884, the first women’s chess tournament was held, sponsored by the Sussex Chess Association in England.
In 1886, the chess society of Turin, Italy started permitting the wives and daughters of members to visit the chess club and play in chess tournaments.
In the September 1, 1894 New York Times issue, an article appeared that a Women’s Chess Association of America was formed. The article states that in the spring of 1893, a few women met informally and organized the Women’s Chess Association of America. In January, 1894 they elected their officers and had 75 members. The first president was Eliza Campbell Foot (1851-1914). Members included Nellie Showalter (wife of American chess champion Jackson Showalter) and Harriet Worrall. They mention that the honorary members include English women’s champion Mary Rudge (1845-1919) and Irish women’s champion Mrs. Thomas Rowland (Frideswide Beechey) (1843-1919). The Women’s Chess Club of New York lasted until 1949.
In the December 6, 1894 issue of the Fort Wayne newspaper, an article appeared called Two Queens of Chess. It states that “Mrs. Jackson W. Showalter has long been considered the lady chess champion of America. On November 5, 1894 she began a 7 game match with Mrs. Harriett Worrall of Brooklyn.”
On January 14, 1895, the Ladies’ Chess Club of London was formed.
In August 1895, a women’s chess tournament was held at the same time and place as the famous 1895 Hastings tournament (won by Harry Nelson Pillsbury). It was organized by Rhoda Bowles and won by Lady Thomas. Her prize was an ivory chess set and board.
In the December 26, 1896 issue of the Newark Daily Advocate, there is an article called A Ladies Chess Congress. It mentioned Harriet Worrall (1836-1928) as Brooklyn’s best woman chess player. It announces a chess congress arranged by the British Ladies’ Chess Club during the spring of 1897.
In the March 22, 1897 issue of the Arizona Republican, there is an article on the international chess congress for women players. It began in London with 20 women representing 9 different countries.
From June 22 to July 3, 1897, the first national championship for women was held at the Hotel Cecil in London, and called the Ladies Challenge Cup or the First International Ladies Chess Congress. It was won by Mary Rudge, followed by Matilda Fagan. The event was part of the Queen’s Jubilee.
In 1902, Rhoda Bowles and Mrs. Frank W. Lynn defeated world champion Emanuel Lasker in a simul event.
In 1903, Rosa Jefferson defeated Harry Pillsbury during a 16-board blindfold simul.
In 1904, Kate Belinda Finn (1870-1932) won the first British women’s chess championship. She won it again in 1905.
In May 1906, the first American Women’s Chess Congress was held at the Hotel Martha Washington in New York. It was won by Mrs. Charles P. Frey (Mary Grace Rogers) of Newark, New Jersey.
In 1909, Eliza Foot wrote a book on chess puzzles, becoming the first American woman chess author.
Here is a list of some other great women chess players.
In 1988 Elena Ahkmilovskaya (1957-2012) was a Woman Grandmaster and the number two woman chess player for the Soviets at the Chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece. During the tournament she defected and eloped with American International Master John Donaldson, captain of the American chess olympiad team. They later moved to Seattle, Washington. She won the U.S. Women’s Championship in 1990, 1993, and 1994. She died of brain cancer.
Anna Akhsharumova Gulko is a Woman Grandmaster who won the Soviet Women’s Championship in 1976 and 1984. In 1987, she won the U.S. Women’s Championship with a perfect 9-0 score. She is the wife of GM Boris Gulko.
Nana Alexandria, born in 1949, was the USSR Women’s Champion in 1966 at the age of 17, the youngest ever. She was also champion in 1968 and 1969. She was the Women’s World Championship Challenger in 1975 and 1981.
Mary Bain (1904-1972) was the Women’s World Championship Challenger in 1937 and 1952. Born in Hungary, she was US Women’s Champion from 1951 to 1953. She was the first American woman to represent the U.S. in an organized chess competition. She was a pupil of Frank Marshall and Geza Maroczy. She was also a bridge expert and operated a duplicate-bridge club in New York.
In 1882 Frideswide Beechley-Rowland (1843-1919) became the first woman to win a prize for chess composition. She was also the first woman to write a chess column. She authored several chess books in the 1880s.
Edith Baird (1859-1924) was the most famous female chess composer. She composed over 2,000 chess problems.
Anjelina Belakovskaia won the U.S. Women’s championship in 1995, 1996, and 1999. She has also won the Women’s Championships of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine.
Jana Malypetrova Hartston Miles Bellin, born in 1947, was a top British woman player for many years. She won the British Women’s championship in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1979. She is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesiology.
Clare Benedict (1871-1961) was the first woman chess patron. She sponsored team chess tournaments in European countries in the 1950s. She was the granddaughter of James Fenimore Cooper.
Elisabeth Bykova (1913-1989) became the 3rd women’s world champion from 1953 to 1956. She was also world champion from 1958 to 1962. She defended her title in 1959 after defeating Kira Zvorykina.
Ruth Cardoso (1934-2000) won the South American Women’s Championship in 1966, 1969, and 1972. She won the Brazilian Women’s Championship 8 times in a row.
Zhu Chen, born on March 16, 1976, became the 11th Women’s World Champion in 2001 when she defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk by the score of 5-3. In 1988, she won the World Girls’ Under 12 Championship, becoming the first Chinese chessplayer to win a gold medal in an international event. She won the World Junior Girls Chess Championship in 1994 and 1996. She became a Woman Grandmaster in 1998. She did not take part in the Women’s World Championship in 2004 (won by Stefanova). She is married to Grandmaster Mohammad Al-Modiakah of Qatar. Her current Elo rating is 2483.
Chantel Chaude de Silans (1919-2004) was a French player and countess. In 1934, at the age of 15, she won the ladies’ championship of France. She was the first female to play in a men’s chess olympiad (Dubrovnik, 1950).
Maya Chiburdanidze of Soviet Georgia, born in 1961, was an International Master at 13, USSR women’s champion and 15, winner of the women’s chess Interzonal at 16, and world women’s chess champion at 17. In 1978, she became women’s world champion, and was world champion until 1991. She was coached by GM Eduard Gufeld. She was awarded the title of International Woman Master in 1974 at the age of 13, making her the youngest title holder in the history of chess up to that time. Prior to her title, she didn’t even have a FIDE chess rating.
Pia Cramling was born on April 23, 1963 in Stockholm. From 1983 to 1985, she was the world number one female chess player. She became a Grandmaster in 1992. She is married to GM Juan Bellon of Spain.
Rachel Crotto, born in 1958, played in the U.S. Women’s chess championship at the age of 13. She was U.S. Women’s Chess Champion from 1977 (age 17) to 1979. She gave up the game in 1986.
In 1986 Miss Leigh Strange won the British Ladies Correspondence Chess Championship. Later, it was discovered that Miss Leigh Strange was actually Nick Down, a former British Junior Correspondence Chess Champion. She (he) was banned from the British Correspondence Chess Association.
Esther Epstein, born in 1954, was USSR Women’s Vice Champion in 1976 and US Women’s Champion in 1991 and 1997. Her husband in GM Alexander Ivanov.
In 1933 Miss Fatima won the British women’s chess championship. She was a servant to maharaja Sir Umar Hayat Khan. Also in 1933, the British men’s champion was Mir Sultan Khan, also a servant of Sir Umar Khan.
Ursula Foster (1927-2004) was a very active chessplayer in California abd had been ranked among the top female players in the country. She was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. She was a classmate and friend of Anne Frank. Her older brother died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Jennie Frenklakh, born in 1980 near Chernobl, was a USCF master at 16. She won the US Junior Championship for players under 13 in 1993.
In 1977, Nona Gaprindashvili became world women’s champion in 1962. She became the first woman to take first place in a men’s chess tournament when she tied for first place at Lone Pine, California. In 1978 Nona Gaprindashvili became the first woman to be given the men’s International Grandmaster title. She had a perfume named after her. She was 5-time Women’s World Chess Champion from 1962 to 1978.
Ellen Gilbert (1837-1900) was known as the Queen of Chess in the 19th century. She was a strong correspondence player.
Rusudan Goletiani, born in 1980, won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Championship. She is a Woman Grandmaster. At age 9, she won the Soviet Junior Championship for Girls Under-12 in 1990. She was the winner of the 19th annual Frank P. Samford chess fellowship in 2004.
Sonja Graf-Stevenson (1908-1965) was the Women’s World Championship Challenger in 1937 and 1939, losing to Vera Menchik. She shared the U.S. Women’s title with Gisela Kahn Gresser in 1958-59 and won it in 1964. In the 1930s, she was the German women’s chess champion. In 1939, Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels barred her from playing chess for Germany.
Gisela Gresser (1906-2000) was the first woman in the United States to achieve a master rating. She won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship 9 times from 1944 to 1969. She won the 1969 U.S. Women’s Championship at the age of 63.
Lina Grumette (1908-1988) was a popular chess organizer in California who ran The Chess Set in her Hollywood home. She competed in the US Women’s championship in the 1940s.
Anna Hahn, born in 1976, was the US Women’s champion in 2003. She was Latvian women’s champion in 1992. She is an expert in kick boxing.
Hoang Thang Trang, born in 1980, won the 1998 Girls’ Under-20 championship. She is a Woman GM from Vietnam.
In 2010, Hou Yifan became the youngest ever women’s world champion at the age of 16.
Humpy Koneru is the youngest to win the British Ladies Chess Championship at the age of 13 years, 4 months. In 2002, she became the first woman chess playeeer from India to receive the Men’s GM title, at the age of 15 years, 4 months, and 27 days. She is the youngest female GM.
Barbara Hund, born in 1959, is Germany’s 1st Woman GM. She won the German Women’s Championship in 1978. She now lives in Switzerland.
Harriet Hunt is the strongest British female chess player. She was World Girls’ Champion Under-20 in 1999. She is an International Master.
Nana Ioseliani, born in 1961, was the USSR Women’s Champion in 1981 and 1982. She is a former World Women’s Championship challenger.
In 1989 Carol Jarecki became the first woman to serve as chief arbiter for any world chess championship cycle match (Karpov-Hjartarson world championship quarterfnals). She is a former anesthesiologist and avid aircraft pilot.
Mona May Karff (1914-1998) played in 3 women’s world championships. She won the US Women’s Chess Championship 7 times (1938, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1948, 1953, and 1974 at the age of 60). She became a millionaire playing the stock market. She could speak eight languages fluently. She was romantically linked with Edward Lasker.
Carmen Kass, born in 1978, is a super model and was once the President of the Estonian Chess Federation.
Alexandra Kosteniuk, born in 1984, has been called the Anna Kournikova of chess. She won the 2005 Women’s Russian Chess Championship. In 2004, she won the Women’s European Championship. She was a Woman Grandmaster at the age of 14.
In 1993, Irina Krush, at the age of 9 (born Dec 24, 1983), beat a chess master, the youngest girl ever to beat a chess master in a rated game. In 1995 Irina Krush played in the U.S. Women’s chess championship at the age of 11. She won the U.S. Women’s chess championship in 1998 at the age of 14, the youngest-ever holder of that title. In 1999, she tied for 1st in the female section of the World Junior Championship. She is the current US women’s chess champion.
Alla Kushnir, born in 1941, was USSR Women’s Champion in 1970. She was Women’s World Championship Challenger in 1965, 1969, and 1972.
Kateryna Lahno, born in 1989, won the European Girls’ Under-14 championship and became the youngest Woman GM in history at the age of 12 years and 4 months.
In 1962 Lisa Lane withdrew from the Hastings Reserve tournament because she said she was in love and could not concentrate. She was the U.S. Women’s chess champion from 1959 to 1962, and 1966. She appeared on the cover of the August 7, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated. She married Neil Hickey and runs a metaphysical store.
Diana Lanni qualified for the U.S. Women’s Championship and used chess to beat a drug addiction problem and suicidal tendencies. In 1982, she represented the USA in the Women’s Olympiad in Lucerne. She now teaches chess to kids.
Ingrid Larsen, born in 1909, won the Danish Women’s championship 17 times.
Agnes Lawson-Stevenson was 4-time British Ladies’ Champion and married to Rufus Stevenson, editor of the British Chess Magazine. On the way to play in the 1935 Women’s World Championship, she left the aircraft to complete a passport check. She returned to the aircraft from the front and ran into the propeller and was killed.
Irina Levitina, born in 1954, won the USSR Women’s championship 4 times. She is now a professional bridge player.
Alisa and Mirjana Maric are twin sisters and both are women GMs. They are the only twin GMs in history.
Beatriz Marinello, born in 1964, was USCF President from 2003 to 2005. She was the Women’s Champion of Chile when she was 16.
Vera Menchik was women’s world chess champion from 1927 (the year that FIDE established a women’s world championship) to 1944, when she was killed. She defended her title 6 times (1930, 1931, 1933 (14-0 score), 1935, 1937 (14-0 score), and 1939) and only lost one game, while winning 78 and drawing 4 games. In 1937, she married Rufus Stevenson, editor of the British Chess Magazine and later secretary of the British Chess Federation. She was killed in London when a German rocket hit her home. The Vera Menchik Club were players who lost to Vera Menchik. It included Albert Becker, Max Euwe, Sammy Reshevsky, Mir Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, C.H.O’D. Alexander, Edgar Colle, Frederick Yates, William Winter, Lajos Steiner, Frederich Saemisch, Milner-Barry, Harry Golombek, Karel Opocensky, and Jacques Mieses. Menchik was born in Moscow, played for Czechoslovakia most of her life, then married an Englishman and died in Kent, England.
Elisabeth Paehtz was World Junior Champion for Girls in 2005.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky, (1911-2012), was a woman chess player and patron. She played in several US Women’s championships. She became a great chess patron.
Judit Polgar became an International Master at the age of 12 – younger than Fischer or Kasparov. At 13 she was the World Under-14 Champion (played against boys) and FIDE’s highest rated woman. She won the U.S. Open in 1998, the only woman to ever win it. In 1999 she was the first and only woman to be a FIDE World Champion quarterfinalist. In 2005, she was ranked #8 in the world. She is the only woman participating in the 2007 World Championship Candidates tournament.
In 1989 Sofia Polgar achieved the highest performance rating ever recorded when she scored 8.5 out of 9 at an international tournament in Rome. Her performance rating was over 2900.
In 1981 Susan Polgar was the winner of the first Women’s Cadet (under 16) chess championship. She won the 1992 Candidates tournament in Shanghai. She was the Women’s World Chess Champion from 1996 to 1999.
In 1948 Edith Price won the British Ladies Championship at the age of 76, the oldest player ever to win a national championship. She won the British Women’s Championship 5 times.
Adele Rivero won the 1st U.S. Women’s championship in 1937.
Alexey Rudolph Root won the U.S. Women’s championship in 1989.
In 1963 Mrs. Edvige Rubinstein of Milan, Italy was the first woman to divorce her husband because he played chess. The court ruled that she was entitled to the divorce and custody of the children because her husband was so obsessed with chess that he refused to work and support their two children.
Olga Rubtsova (1909-1994) was the 4th women’s world champion from 1956 to 1958. She became the first Women’s Correspondnece Chess Champion in 1972. She is the only chess player to become world champion at over-the-board and correspondence chess.
Ludmilla Rudenko (1904-1986) was the 2nd women’s world champion who reigned from 1950 to 1953. She was an economist and former swimming champion. She became the Odessa swimming champion in the 400 meter breaststroke.
Mary Rudge (1842-1919) won the 1st Women’s International tournament in London in 1897. She wasage 55 and the oldest of the 20 players.
Elaine Saunders, born in 1926, won the British girls’ under-21 title at the age of 10. She won the British women’s championship at the age of 13.
Diane Savereide was the U.S. Women’s Chess Champion 6 times, from 1975 to 1984.
Jennifer Shahade, born December 31, 1980, is a Woman International Master and a two-time U.S. Women’s Champion (2002 and 2004). She is the author of Chess Bitch. In 1998, she became the first and only female to win the U.S. Junior Open.
Betty South was a chess player and organizer in Ohio chess. She was the Vice President of the Ohio Chess Association. She later moved to Texas, married a chess player by the name of West, and took a different direction.
Antoeneta Stefanova, born April 19, 1979, won the FIDE Women’s World Championship in 2004. She was awarded the GM title in 2003.
Anne Sunnucks, born in 1927, was British Women’s champion in 1957, 1958, and 1964. She was an officer in the British Army.
Eileen Tranmer (1910-1983) won the British Ladies’ Championship with a perfect 11-0 in 1949. She won the British Ladies’ Championship four times. She was a musician, but then became deaf and then took up chess.
Anna Ushenina, seeded 30th in the Women’s World Chess Champion 2012, won the knockout tournament to become world women’s chess champion.
Xie Jun, born in China in 1970, was women’s world champion from 1991 to 1996, and again from 1999 to 2001.
Xu Yuhua won the Women’s World Chess Championship in March, 2006. She was pregnant during the championship. She is a Woman GM.
Anna Zatonskih, born in 1978, won the 2006 U.S. Women’s championship. She is a Woman Grandmaster. She won the Ukranian Women’s Championship twice.
Zhu Chen, born on March 16, 1976, became the 11th world women’s champion in 2001 after a knock-out event. She did not participate in the 2004 knock-out event due to pregnancy. In 1988, she won the World Girls’ Under 12 championship, becoming the first Chinese chess player to win a gold medal in an international event.
The FIDE Women’s World Champions have been Vera Menchik (1927-1944), Liudmila Rudenko (1950-1953), Elisaveta Bykova (1953-1956), Olga Rubtsova (1956-1958), Elisaveta Bykova (1958-1962), Nona Gaprindashvili (1962-1978), Maia Chiburdanidze (1978-1991), Xie Jun (1991-1996), Susan Polgar (1996-1999), Xie Jun (1999-2001), Zhu Chen (2001-2004), Antoaneta Stefanova (2004-2006), Xu Yuhua (2006-2008), Alexandra Kosteniuk (2008-2010), Hou Yifan (2010-2012), and Anna Ushenina (2012- ) of the Ukraine.
There are 28 women that hold the men’s Grandmaster (GM) title. They include: Nona Gaprindashvili (1978), Maia Chiburdanidze (1984), Susan Polgar (1991), Judit Polgar (1991), Xie Jun (1991), Pia Cramling (1992), Zhu Chen (2001), Koneru Humpy (2002), Antoaneta Stefanova (2003), Alexandra Kosteniuk (2004), Peng Zhaoqin (2004), Hoang Thanh Trang (2007), Kateryna Lahno (2007), Xu Yuhua (2007), Marie Sebag (2008), Zhao Xue (2008), Hou Yifan (2008), Nana Dzagnidze (2008), Monika Socko (2008), Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant (2009), Tatiana Kosintseva (2009), Natalia Zhukova (2010), Elina Danielian (2010), Vikorija Cmilyte (2010), Nadezhda Kosintseva (2011), Anna Muzychuk (2012), and Anna Ushenina (2012).
There are 83 women who hold the men’s International Master title.
Some men have been hostile to women chess players. In 1962, Bobby Fischer boasted in an interview, “They’re all weak, all women. They’re stupid compared to men. They shouldn’t play chess, you know. They’re like beginners. They lose every single game against a man. There isn’t a woman player in the world I can’t give knight-odds to and still beat.”
In 1972, grandmaster Jan Donner wrote an article called “Women Cannot Play Chess.” He wrote that woman could not play chess, nor paint, write, or philosophize. He wrote that women have never thought or made anything worth considering. Women were totally incapable of amusing themselves.
There is a big disparity in numbers of men who play chess and the numbers of women who play chess (a ratio of almost 10 to 1). Perhaps men are better at problem solving, spatial ability, and logic. Perhaps chess is a more attractive pastime for men based on an earlier game of war. Perhaps women feel excluded from chess and it male dominance at chess clubs and chess tournaments.
According to FIDE, the World Chess Federation, women make up less that 10% of its million members, 7% of its rated players, and only 2% of the top 1,000 players world-wide. The ratio of women GMs to men GMs is 1 to 60.
– Bill Wall