GM Alexandra Kosteniuk hardly needs an introduction, as the former Women’s World Champion has been a successful and high profile player throughout her career. Born in Perm, Russia (USSR) in 1984, Alexandra learned chess from her father at the age of five. She won numerous junior titles, including the European Girl’s U10 and U12, as well as the Girl’s U12 division of the World Youth. Kosteniuk also won the Women’s Russian Rapid Championship that same year, an impressive feat for a 12-year-old.
In 2001 at the age of 17, Kosteniuk reached the final of the Women’s World Championship, only coming up short against GM Zhu Chen in the final. She won the European Women’s Championship in 2004, and as a result became the 10th woman to secure the Grandmaster title. Alexandra is also a two-time Russian Women’s Champion, capturing the title in 2005 and 2016. Her biggest success came in 2008, however, when she won the Women’s World Championship by defeating Chinese super-talent Hou Yifan in the final.
Alexandra has been a member of the Russian Women’s Team since 2002, a team which has won the Olympiad three straight years (2010, 2012, 2014), and the most recent World Team Championship in 2017. In addition, they won three European Team Championships in 2007, 2009, and 2011. Kosteniuk has enjoyed success in open events as well, including winning the 2013 Swiss Chess Championship. Outside of chess, she has done both modeling and acting. She is also a member of “Champions for Peace,” a group of elite athletes that promote peace through sport.
Georgia has a fantastic tradition of strong female players, and GM Nana Dzagnidze has been carrying the torch for her country for a long time now. She was born in Kutaisi, Georgia (USSR) in 1987. She enjoyed much junior success, winning the Girl’s U12 division of the World Youth in 1999. Nana also won the World Girl’s U20 Championship in 2003, outscoring the closest competitors by a whopping two points. She won the Jermuk event of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix series in 2010 with a dominating 9 points out of 11. More recently, Dzagnidze won the 2017 European Women’s Championship as well as the Women’s World Blitz that same year.
Nana has represented Georgia in numerous team events, and has been largely instrumental to their success. The Georgian Women’s Team won the 2008 Dresden Olympiad and 2015 World Team Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk. As an individual performer, Dzagnidze won a gold medal for her board 1 performance in 2014. She has also won three gold medals at the European Women’s Chess Club Cup with the Batumi Chess Club “Nona.” The chess club is pleased to welcome Nana to Saint Louis for the first time.
Russia has never had a shortage of strong players, and GM Valentina Gunina has been one of the top women representing the chess powerhouse for many years. Born in Murmansk, Russia (USSR) in 1989, she broke out by winning the 2000 European Girl’s U12 Championship. She continued her winning ways at the 2003 World Girl’s U14, 2004 European Girl’s U16, and 2007 World Girl’s U18 Championships. Gunina’s winning ways followed her after the junior years. She won the Women’s European Individual Championships three times, including the most recent one in 2018, and is also a three time Russian Women’s Champion. Valentina has also had success at faster time controls, winning the Women’s World Blitz in 2012 and Russian Women’s Rapid Championship in 2014.
Gunina has been an important part of the Russian Women’s squad for many years. They won gold at the Olympiad in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The team also captured the gold at the European Team Championships four times. Valentina’s most jaw-dropping victory, however, came at the 2016 London Chess Classic Super-Rapidplay. She took clear first ahead of 44 other GMs, and did it with an incredible 9/10. Her run included wins over top-tier GMs Smirin, Iturrizaga, Howell, and McShane. It will be a treat to watch such an exciting player in St. Louis.
The Georgian Women’s Team has always been a force to be reckoned with, and in recent years GM Bela Khotenashvili has been pivotal to their success. Born in Telavi, Georgia (USSR) in 1988, Bela first garnered attention by winning the World Youth Girl’s U16 division in 2004. She won the Maia Chiburdanidze Cup in 2009, a prestigious event named after one of the country’s sporting heroes and former Women’s World Champion. A regular participant in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix series, Khotenashvili took clear first in the 2013 Geneva event with a score of 8/11, claiming her 3rd GM norm in the process. She’s also a two-time Georgian Women’s Champion, winning the event in 2012 and 2017.
As mentioned, Bela has been instrumental to the Georgian Women’s team since making her debut in the European Team Championships in 2009, where the team got silver medal. They got two bronze medals soon thereafter, in the 2010 Olympiad and the 2011 World Team. The biggest event for the team and for Khotenashvili, however, was Chengdu World Team Championships in 2015. Bela took home two gold medals, both for the team and for her board one performance. She’s also won two golds and a silver alongside Dzagnidze with the Batumi chess club “Nona” in the Women’s European Chess Club Cup. The Georgian Grandmaster will be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the Cairns Cup.
Like many Cairns Cup participants, the German Women’s #1 had an ability that was evident from a young age. Born in Erfurt, East German in 1985, Elisabeth was trained from a young age by her father, GM Thomas Paehtz. She first won the German Girl’s U11 age group at nine years old. Elisabeth really made her splash in 1999, however, when she became German Women’s Champion as a 14-year-old. Paehtz was also a World Youth Champion in Girl’s U18 in 2002 and a World Junior Girl’s Champion in 2005.
Elisabeth has represented Germany at 10 women’s chess olympiad between 1998-2016, often anchoring their first board. At the 2007 World Team, she scored an undefeated five out of eight on board one, securing an individual bronze medal. She also won the individual bronze on board two in the 2001 Women’s European Team Championship. Paehtz has had success at faster time controls as well, and is the reigning European Women’s Rapid Champion. Elisabeth will be coming to St. Louis fresh off of the super strong Tata Steel Challenger’s event, so there is little doubt she’ll be in form and out for blood at the Cairns Cup.
France has had its share of strong players, but few made as big a splash as when a young Marie Sebag burst onto the seen. Born in Paris in 1986, Sebag won the European Youth Championships three times, one each for Girl’s U12, U14, and U16. She also shared first place at the World Youth in Girl’s U18. Marie truly made headlines, however, at the Grand Prix de Sénat rapid event in 2003. The upstart 16-year-old defeated 2600+ GM Laurent Fresinet 2-0 in the semis, and came close to defeating GM Anatoly Vaisser in the finals, though regrettably came up short.
Sebag played in several Women’s World Championship knockout events, her best result coming in 2006 when she made the quarterfinals. She has also manned board 1 for the French Women’s team in many international competitions. Another milestone in Marie’s career came at the Hogeschool Zeeland tournament in 2007, where she not only achieved her second GM norm, but beat former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Few players can claim to have defeated a former World Champion, never mind doing so at age 21. Marie is the only woman to secure the GM title from her country, and is currently their #1 female player by a wide margin. It will be interesting to see how the French star fares at the Cairns Cup.
The success of Vishy Anand lead to a slew of strong Grandmasters coming out of India, and the Indian Women’s number two was one of those to lead the charge. Born in the Guntur district of the Southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 1991, Dronavalli had tremendous success from an early age. She won the silver medal at the World Youth Girl’s U10 Championships in 2000. Harika followed this up with another silver medal in the U12 section in 2001. Her regional junior successes are too many to name, but one of the most eye-catching was capturing gold at the Asian Girl’s U18 games in 2002 as an 11-year-old. In fact, she’s won a whopping 16 medals at national level tournaments throughout her career.
Harika is a regular participant in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix series, and won the 2016 Chengdu event. She’s also had consistent success at the Women’s World Championship knockout events, winning the bronze medal three times (2012, 2015, 2017). The 2017 event was particularly memorable, as she came within a hair’s breadth of defeating the eventual winner, Tan Zhongyi. She was neck and neck with the Chinese Grandmaster the whole way, only losing in a tense Armageddon game. Dronavalli has also represented India in numerous Olympiads, and has had much open tournament success as well.
Her exploits have made her a star in her country, as she won the Arjuna Award for sporting success in 2007, was 2016 and 2017 Chess Player of the Year in The Times of India, and also in 2017 was featured in Verve Magazine among the top 40 popular women sportspersons of the year. She’ll be coming to St. Louis immediately after playing the extremely strong Gibraltar Open. Harika has a creative and versatile style, and there is little doubt that she’ll pick up many new fans at her first Cairns Cup appearance.
The Kazakh IM might be just 19 years old, but she already has a chess resume that would satisfy a player twice that age. Born in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Zhansaya won the GIrl’s U8 section in both the Asian Youth and World Youth Championships in 2008. 2011 was an especially big year for her, as she not only won the Worth Youth Girl’s U12, but also snagged her WIM title by tying for first in the Girl’s U20 ASEAN+ Age Group Championships. This was quite the accomplishment for the 11-year-old, and she certainly didn’t slow down from there.
Abdumalik has represented Kazakhstan on the international stage, and between her and fellow IM Dinara Saduakassova, they have turned the nation into quite the dangerous team. At the 2016 Asian Nation’s Cup, team Kazakhstan won the bronze medal, and Zhansaya secure a silver medal for her board two performance. Her open tournament resume is also quite impressive, as she won the 2013 Brno Open in the Czech Republic with 7.5/9. In 2017 she made a big splash on US soil, trying for second at the World Open with a score of 7/9 and securing her first GM Norm. Abdumalik secured her next two GM norms in short order, and only needs to boost her rating to get the title. If she manages a strong performance at the Cairns Cup, the younger superstar could do just that.
If you had to pick one player among women that has been the face of American chess in the past 10-15 years, it would most likely be GM Irina Krush. The Brooklyn native was born in Odessa, Ukraine (USSR) in 1983 and emigrated to the US in 1989. While an extremely talented junior prospect, she truly took the chess world by storm when she dominated the field of the 1998 US Women’s Championship with a score of 8.5/9. This would become a staple event for her, and she has been crowned US Women’s Champion an additional six times. Her most impressive streak was between 2012-2015, when she captured the crown four years in a row.
Irina has also represented her country well in team competition, playing her first olympiad in 1998. She helped lead the team to a silver medal in 2004 and a bronze in 2008. At the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, Krush scored an impressive 7.5/10, securing a silver medal on board 2. Despite her continued success in women’s events, Irina most enjoys taking on and defeating strong grandmasters. She secured the title herself in 2013 after many years spent on the cusp.
Outside of chess, Krush graduated from NYU in 2006 with a degree in International Relations. Irina also enjoys tennis, yoga, writing, and practicing her French. She made a TV appearance on Steve Harvey, where Hillary Clinton was tasked with telling Irina apart from two imposters. The real Irina will be in St. Louis this month, hoping to add the Cairns Cup to her already extensive trophy collection.
Anna has been a dominant force on the US Women’s chess scene since she emigrated from Ukraine in 2003. Born in Mariupol, Ukraine (USSR) in 1978, she won the Ukrainian Women’s Championship in 2001. Since then, she has also added four US Women’s Championships to her title list. Since her first victory in 2006, Zatonskih and Irina Krush dominated the Championships, passing the title back and forth until IM Nazi Paikidze took her first title in 2016. 2009 was a particularly notable year, where Anna blew the field away completely on her way to a score of 8.5/9.
Zatonskih represented Ukraine in the 2000 and 2002 Olympiads, as well as in two European Team Championships, scoring a silver medal for her board in Batumi 1999. She really helped bolster team USA since 2004, aiding their silver medal run in 2004. Her best performance was perhaps in 2008, scoring a gold medal for her board in Dresden 2008 to lead the team to a bronze medal. She also won an individual silver medal for board 1 at the World Team Championships in 2017.
Anna currently resides in Germany with her husband, GM Daniel Fridman, as well as their two young children. Since becoming a mother she has played noticeably less often, but is certainly no less dangerous, as she recently took out super GM Boris Gelfand at the 2017 Isle of Man. It wouldn’t be surprising if she took a few more scalps at the Cairns Cup.