Womans in chess history

Queen's gambit serie. Protagonist in front of the chess board.

In this occasion to celebrate the International Women's Day 2021 on March 8, from Yottachess we want to make a special mention to those women who have been part of the recent history of our sport.

Although chess is a sport traditionally practiced more by men, there have been women who have managed to stand out at the highest level and, thus, have been a motivation for many girls who were beginning to take their first steps in the world of the 64 squares.

Vera Menchik (1906-1944)

Vera Menchik, first world chess champion
Vera Menchik, first world chess champion

This British player was born in Russian, she was the first woman to participate in official competitions, which at that time were male. She was a student of Géza Maróczy and managed to absorb his positional style of play with a great mastery of strategy.

Menchik was world champion for 15 years until she lost her life during World War II as a result of a German army bomb blast.

His presence in tournaments was conspicuous to his rivals, so much so that when he entered a tournament in Karlsbad (Germany), many participants were angry with the organization. One of them, Albert Becker, proposed to create a dishonorable club with the people who lost against Menchik. Curiosities of life, he was the first to do so.

Judit Polgar (1976-act)

Judit Polgar playing versus Gary Kasparov in Linares
Judit Polgar playing versus Gary Kasparov in Linares

At this point there is little to say about the best female chess player in history, but we will introduce her for those who do not know her. Judit Polgar is the youngest of three Hungarian sisters, all of them chess players. When they were little, their father, as can be seen in a documentary released last year on Movistar+, taught them to play chess at home. As part of the learning included not playing women's tournaments, "since the level was lower and would not allow them to improve their level".

In 1991 she got the title of Grandmaster, but already in 1988 she had been awarded with the Oscars of chess. Her level was increasingly higher to the point of standing out in the elite tournaments, with some resounding victories against some of the best players of all times, such as Garry Kasparov or Veselin Topalov.

Judit Polgar retired in 2014, but that hasn't stopped her from remaining the woman with the highest ELO since then. Her 2675 FIDE ELO points are enough to keep her at the top of the list, but she reached 2735. She is the only woman who has been able to break into the world Top-10.

Her sisters did not have such a brilliant career, but both have won international titles. The eldest, Susan, is Grand Master; while the second, Sofia, is International Master.

Humpy Koneru (1987-act)

Humpy Koneru winning the world chess rapid tournament
Humpy Koneru in the world rapid chess tournmanet

The currently fourth highest ELO player (2586), Humpy Koneru, is an Indian player who reached the milestone of surpassing 2600 ELO points, the second in history to do so, after Polgar.

Koneru obtained the Grandmaster title in 2002, being the youngest to do so at that time. Although it is true that her record is not as extensive as Polgar's, her involvement with women's chess has gone further, as she is one of the players who has protested the most against the economic gap in the prizes of men's and women's tournaments. So much so, that she assured that "if it were not for the Women's World Championship, many players would not be able to be professionals or live from chess".

Anna Muzychuk (1990-act)

Anna playing a chess game againt Mariya Muzychuk
Anna playing a chess game againt Mariya Muzychuk

Anna Muzychuk is an Ukrainian Grandmaster who started playing chess when she was only 2 years old. She has been world chess champion in several modalities and was the fourth woman to surpass 2600 FIDE ELO points. She is currently the 11th woman with the highest FIDE ELO (2535).

In addition to being a player, Muzychuk showed her social commitment and advocacy for women's rights when in 2017 she refused to participate in the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, where she was defending her title, because it was being held in Saudi Arabia.

"There, women are second-class citizens. I don't want to play by anyone's rules, or be escorted when the games are over, or wear the abaya. For me this is the biggest victory I can have," she added at the time.

She was joined in this refusal to take part in the competition by her younger sister, Mariya Muzychuk, also a Grandmaster and currently the 9th player with the highest FIDE ELO (2544). Mariya was World Champion from 2015 until 2016 when she lost her title to Hou Yifan.

Hou Yifan (1994-act)

Hou Yifan playing chess
Photo by Andreas Kontokanis

The Chinese player became women's world champion at the young age of 16. She was the third player to reach over 2600 FIDE ELO points and is currently ranked second in the women's list with 2658 points.

She is the youngest woman to achieve the title of Grandmaster, at only 14 years of age.

Yifan has always called for a similar world championship system for both men and women. So much so that she gave up defending her championship title in 2017. Under this pretext, her most controversial performance in front of the 64 squares is justified. In the last round of the 2017 Gibraltar Open, the Chinese player let herself win in five moves by way of protest for being paired with 7 players over 10 games.

He currently remains in the background and plays few tournaments a year, as he has prioritized finishing his academic studies.

Ju Wenjun (1991-act)

Ju Wenju with the title of World Chess Champion.
Ju Wenju with World Chess Champion title, the 2nd time in one year. Photo by oficial web

The reigning world champion since 2017, Ju Wenjun is currently the seventh highest woman FIDE ELO player (2560). Her maximum ELO was 2604 and she has remained above 2500 throughout the 2010s.

Although she is less well-known than most of her predecessors, Wenjun has also rebelled against male hegemony in chess.

Do you know of any other woman who has stood out and stood up against the supposed male hegemony in the world of chess? Write it in comments and we will investigate her story.

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