Women's World Championship: Candidates tournament announced

by André Schulz
1/3/2019 – As announced following the 2018 Woman's World Championship knockout, FIDE has adopted a new format more closely aligned with the open World Championship. Earlier this week, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich added the date and city for the 2019 Candidates Tournament, to begin at the end of May in Kazan, Russia. Eight players have qualified for the fight for the right to challenge Ju Wenjun in a match. | Photos: ChessBase Playerbase

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Kazan, Russia in May

As the World Blitz tournament came to a close, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich announced on Twitter the time and place for the upcoming Women's Candidates Tournament:

He also noted the field of qualified participants, who will presumably take part participate:

Hou Yifan, Anna Muzychuk, Mariya Muzychuk, Katerina Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Tan Zhongyi, Nana Dzagnidze and Valentina Gunina, with the first reserve player, Aleksandra Goryachkina.

The Women's World Championships have been held in the recent past under a rather confusing system: alternating annually between a match and a knockout tournament. Among those dissatisfied with the format was Hou Yifan, who leads the world ranking by a wide margin. This was no doubt a factor in her decision to withdraw from previous World Championship cycle and focus on her studies. However, the newly elected FIDE President signalled early on that reform of the Women's World Championship was a priority and FIDE announced in November that the Women's World Championship would more closely follow the overall World Championship format, including the addition of a Candidates Tournament. The winner of the tournament, now planned for late May, will play a match against World Champion Ju Wenjun, although many details of the new tournament are yet to come.

As an aside, FIDE also recently announced appointments to a variety of FIDE Commissions. For the Commission for Women's Chess (WOM), the composition is as follows:

Chairman: Eva Repkova (SVK)

Secretary: Ilaha Kadimova (AZE)

Ivan Mandekic (CRO)
Shadi Paridar (IRI)
Mezioud Amina (ALG) 
Mei Fang Dina Cheng (TPE)

Sarai Sanchez Castillo (VEN)
Susan Namangale (MAW) 
Carol Pesqueira (ARU)
Alexandra Kosteniuk (RUS)
Abigail Tian Hongwei (CHN) 
Damaris Abarca (CHI)
Christelle Jager-Hafstad (ENG)

A brief history of the Women's World Championship

In contrast to the open World Championship, which was governed privately until the death of Alexander Alekhine in 1946, the Women's World Championship was organised from the outset by the World Chess Federation — FIDE. In 1927, on the sidelines of the 1st Chess Olympiad in London, there was a women's chess tournament with twelve participants, won by Vera Menchik. In the eleven games, she gave up only a single draw. The tournament became the first Women's World Championship. 

Menchik was the first and remained the only World Champion before the Second World War. After winning the title, she defended it seven times, six times in a World Championship tournament and once in a match — against Sonja Graf. The extent of Menchik's superiority is evident from the fact that, throughout all the tournaments, she lost only a single game — against Walli Henschel in Hamburg, 1930. In addition, Menchik suffered two losses in her match against Sonja Graf, but also won nine games in a dominating performance.

In 1944, Vera Menchik was killed along with her sister Olga (who also played well) and her mother in the World War II aerial bombardment of London.

After the War, the Women's World Champion was determined by a tournament. Ljudmilla Rudenko won and became the second woman to hold the title. Subsequent title cycles were run by FIDE analogous to the open World Championship, with candidates tournaments and matches.

early women world champions

Photo: worldchesschampionship.blogspot.com

By the year 2000, there were five more world champions: Elizaveta Bykova, Olga Rubtsova, Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze and Xie Jun, who won the title in 1991, lost it in 1996 to Susan Polgar and then regained it in a match against Alisa Galliamova in 1999 after Polgar forfeited. Afterwards, FIDE changed to a knockout format matching the FIDE World Championship. The following year, 2000, was the first of these, and Xie Jun defended her title, rising through a 64-player field in New Delhi, India.

While the knockout World Championship format was shelved after Rustam Kasimdzhanov became FIDE World Champion in 2004, it remained in the women's cycle.

Since 2001, when Zhu Chen won the World Championship knockout, no less than eight other players have claimed the title. The current World Champion, Ju Wenjun, is the 17th in history.

Ju Wenjun

Ju Wenjun in St. Petersburg where she won the World Rapid title as well | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All Women's World Champions

Here is the complete list:

1st World Champion 
Vera Menchik 1927-1944 Czechoslovakia / Great Britain 

2nd World Champion 
Lyudmila Rudenko 1950-1953 Soviet Union

3rd World Champion 
Elizaveta Bykova 1953-1956, 1958-1962 Soviet Union

4th World Champion 
Olga Rubtsova 1956-1958 Soviet Union

5th World Champion 
Nona Gaprindashvili 1962-1978 Soviet Union

6th World Champion 
Maia Chiburdanidze 1978-1991 Soviet Union

7th World Champion 
Xie Jun 1991-1996, 1999-2001 People's Republic of China

8th World Champion 
Zsuzsa Polgár 1996-1999 Hungary

9th World Champion 
Zhu Chen 2001-2004 People's Republic of China

10th World Champion 
Antoaneta Stefanova 2004-2006 Bulgaria

11th World Champion 
Xu Yuhua 2006-2008 People's Republic of China

12th World Champion 
Alexandra Kostenyuk 2008-2010 Russia

13th World Champion 
Hou Yifan 2010-2012, 2013-2015, 2016-2017 People's Republic of China

14th World Champion 
Anna Ushenina 2012-2013 Ukraine

15th World Champion 
Mariya Muzychuk 2015-2016 Ukraine

16th World Champion 
Tan Zhongyi 2017-2018 People's Republic of China

17th World Champion 
Ju Wenjun since 2018 People's Republic of China

Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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