Making any list of the top female chess players is a tricky job. The standard of play in women's chess has been raised considerably over the last few decades, with several women now competing against the top players in the world. With that in mind, let's take a look at our list of the best women ever to play the royal game!
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While Judit Polgar has never actually won a World Women's Chess Championship, there's no doubt that she is the strongest woman ever to play chess. At the height of her career, Polgar was one of the best players in the world—male or female—breaking the top 10 on the ratings list several times. Her lack of Women's World Championships is due to the fact that she's never tried to win the title, instead focusing on competing for the overall World Championship. Polgar earned that opportunity in 2005, when she played in the 2005 FIDE World Chess Championship Tournament, finishing 8th.
02 of 05
Maia Chiburdanidze won her first USSR Girl’s Championship at the age of 15, and a year later, won the 1976 USSR Women’s Championship. It became clear that she was already one of the best female players in the world when she won her first Women’s World Chess Championship in 1978 by defeating the reigning champion, Nona Gaprindashvili. Chiburdanidze would defend her title four times, holding onto her world title until 1991. Since then, she has remained active in the hunt for the Women’s World Title, making the semi-final matches as late as 2004.
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Perhaps the most famous female player in the world, Susan Polgar—along with her sisters Judit and Sofia—was recognized as a chess prodigy early in life. Her accomplishments include becoming the first woman to earn the grandmaster title through tournament play, rather than by winning the World Women’s Chess Championship. In addition, she was the first woman to qualify for participation in the World Championship cycle, doing so in 1986—though she was not allowed to compete, due to her gender. Unlike her younger sister, Susan Polgar chose to compete for the Women’s Championship and won her first world title in 1996. She would go on to win four Women’s World Championships in her career.
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In the modern chess landscape, China is a big player, especially in women’s play. However, the first true Chinese chess star was Xie Jun, who won the Women’s World Chess Championship in 1991 by defeating Maya Chiburdanidze. She would go on to hold the title until 1996 when she was defeated by Susan Polgar. However, Xie would win her title back in 1999, defeating Alisa Galliamova in the final Candidates Match, then winning the title by forfeit when Polgar did not accept the conditions for the title match. She held the title until 2001.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
The first recognized World Women’s Chess Champion, Vera Menchik was also the first true superstar of women’s chess. After winning the first ever Women’s World Championship in 1927, she successfully defended that title six times—winning every championship until her death in 1944. Menchik scored an incredible +78 -1= 4 in her championship matches, showing just how far ahead of her competition she was.
Menchik was also clearly a player of the top class. In 1929, she finished tied for second at Ramsgate—finishing tied with Akiba Rubinstein, just a half-point behind Jose Raul Capablanca. While there was no official rating system in place at the time, Chessmetrics rated her as high as 52nd in the world during her career.