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Women's World Chess Championship

Women's World Champion Mariya Muzychuk

The Women's World Chess Championship is played to determine the women's world champion in chess. Like the World Chess Championship, it is administered by FIDE.

Unlike most sports, women are able to compete against men in chess, and so some women do not compete for the women's title. Notably, the world's top rated female player for the past 20 years, Judit Polgár (and by far the highest FIDE-rated woman in chess history), has never competed for the women's title.


Era of Menchik

The Women's World Championship was established by FIDE in 1927 as a single tournament held alongside the Chess Olympiad. The winner of that tournament, Vera Menchik, did not have any special rights as the men's champion did - instead she had to defend her title by playing as many games as all the challengers. She did this successfully in every other championship in her lifetime (1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 and 1939).

Dominance of the Soviet Union players (1950-1991)

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 men's 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. Elisabeth 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 men's: 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 proceeded to soundly defeat 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 was 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)

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 Maric in a tie-breaker match.

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 men's 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 (812-212) 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 (512-112), and then decisively defeated Xie Jun (812-412) 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 men's 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 men's event, 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. Interestingly, 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 212-112 (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-present)

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. 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.

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 312-212.

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.

Muzychuk and Hou are expected to play each other in the Women's World Chess Championship 2016.

Women's World Chess Champions

Name Years Country
Vera Menchik 1927-1944 Russia (in exile) / Czechoslovakia / England
none 1944-1950 World War II
Lyudmila Rudenko 1950-1953 Soviet Union (Ukrainian SSR)
Elisabeth Bykova 1953-1956 Soviet Union (Russian SFSR)
Olga Rubtsova 1956-1958 Soviet Union (Russian SFSR)
Elisabeth Bykova 1958-1962 Soviet Union (Russian SFSR)
Nona Gaprindashvili 1962-1978 Soviet Union (Georgian SSR)
Maya Chiburdanidze 1978-1991 Soviet Union (Georgian SSR)
Xie Jun 1991-1996 China
Susan Polgar 1996-1999 Hungary
Xie Jun 1999-2001 China
Zhu Chen 2001-2004 China
Antoaneta Stefanova 2004-2006 Bulgaria
Xu Yuhua 2006-2008 China
Alexandra Kosteniuk 2008-2010 Russia
Hou Yifan 2010-2012 China
Anna Ushenina 2012-2013 Ukraine
Hou Yifan 2013-2015 China
Mariya Muzychuk 2015- Ukraine

List of Women's World Chess Championships

Year Host Country Host City World Champion Runner-up(s) Won (+) Lost (−) Draw (=) Format
Women's World Chess Championship (1927-1944)
1927 United Kingdom London Vera Menchik 11 players 10½ points out of 11 12-player round-robin tournament
1930 Germany Hamburg Vera Menchik 4 players 6½ points out of 8 5-player double round-robin tournament
1931 Czechoslovakia Prague Vera Menchik 4 players 8 points out of 8 5-player double round-robin tournament
1933 United Kingdom Folkestone Vera Menchik 7 players 14 points out of 14 8-player double round-robin tournament
1934 Netherlands Rotterdam Vera Menchik Sonja Graf 3 1 0 4-game match
1935 Poland Warsaw Vera Menchik 9 players 9 points out of 9 10-player round-robin tournament
1937 Sweden Stockholm Vera Menchik 25 players 14 points out of 14 26-player round-robin tournament
1937 Austria Semmering Vera Menchik Sonja Graf 9 2 5 16-game match
1939 Argentina Buenos Aires Vera Menchik 19 players 18 points out of 19 20-player round-robin tournament
Vera Menchik died in 1944 as reigning Women's World Chess Champion.
Women's World Chess Championship (1944-1950)
Women's World Chess Championship (1950-1999)
1950 Russian SFSR Moscow Lyudmila Rudenko 15 players 11½ points out of 15 16-player round-robin tournament
1953 Russian SFSR Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Lyudmila Rudenko 7 5 2 14-game match
1956 Russian SFSR Moscow Olga Rubtsova Elisaveta Bykova 10 points out of 16 3-player (Rubtsova, Bykova, Rudenko) octuple round-robin
1958 Russian SFSR Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Olga Rubtsova 7 4 3 14-game match
1959 Russian SFSR Moscow Elisaveta Bykova Kira Zvorykina 6 2 5 13-game match
1962 Russian SFSR Moscow Nona Gaprindashvili Elisaveta Bykova 7 0 4 11-game match
1965 Latvian SSR Riga Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 7 3 3 13-game match
1969 Georgian SSR
Russian SFSR
Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 6 2 5 14-game match
1972 Latvian SSR Riga Nona Gaprindashvili Alla Kushnir 5 4 7 16-game match
1975 Georgian SSR Pitsunda
Nona Gaprindashvili Nana Alexandria 8 3 1 12-game match
1978 Georgian SSR Tbilisi Maia Chiburdanidze Nona Gaprindashvili 4 2 9 15-game match
1981 Georgian SSR Borjomi
Maia Chiburdanidze Nana Alexandria 4 4 8 16-game match (draw)
1984 Russian SFSR Volgograd Maia Chiburdanidze Irina Levitina 5 2 7 14-game match
1986 Bulgaria Sofia Maia Chiburdanidze Elena Akhmilovskaya 4 1 9 14-game match
1988 Georgian SSR Telavi Maia Chiburdanidze Nana Ioseliani 3 2 11 16-game match
1991 Philippines Manila Xie Jun Maia Chiburdanidze 4 2 9 15-game match
1993 Monaco Monaco Xie Jun Nana Ioseliani 7 1 3 11-game match
1996 Spain Jaén Susan Polgar Xie Jun 6 2 5 13-game match
Susan Polgar, last women's lineal champion.
Women's World Chess Championship (1999-present)
1999 Russia
Xie Jun Alisa Galliamova 5 3 7 15-game match
2000 India New Delhi Xie Jun Qin Kanying 1 0 3 64-player knock-out tournament (4-game championship match)
2001 Russia Moscow Zhu Chen Alexandra Kosteniuk 5 3 0 64-player knock-out tournament (8-game championship match)
2004 Russia Elista Antoaneta Stefanova Ekaterina Kovalevskaya 2 0 1 64-player knock-out tournament (3-game championship match)
2006 Russia Yekaterinburg Xu Yuhua Alisa Galliamova 2 0 1 64-player knock-out tournament (3-game championship match)
2008 Russia Nalchik Alexandra Kosteniuk Hou Yifan 1 0 3 64-player knock-out tournament (4-game championship match)
2010 Turkey Hatay Hou Yifan Ruan Lufei 3 1 4 64-player knock-out tournament (8-game championship match)
2011 Albania Tirana Hou Yifan Humpy Koneru 3 0 5 8-game match
2012 Russia Khanty-Mansiysk Anna Ushenina Antoaneta Stefanova 2 1 3 64-player knock-out tournament (6-game championship match)
2013 China Taizhou Hou Yifan Anna Ushenina 4 0 3 7-game match
2015 Russia Sochi Mariya Muzychuk Natalia Pogonina 1 0 3 64-player knock-out tournament (4-game championship match)
2016 Ukraine Lviv 10+-game match

Note: The former Republics of the Soviet Union are used in place of the Soviet Union for consistency in matching with that of their respective country names of the present.

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