Hailing from China, current Women’s World Champion, Wenjun Ju has achieved a peak FIDE rating over 2600. During January 2020, She successfully defended her title against Aleksandra Goryachkina, who won the newly established 2019 Women’s Candidates Tournament. A titan of women’s chess, Wenjun Ju is the second highest rated woman behind fellow Chinese player Yifan Hou, and this rating currently puts her in the top 20 players in all of China. In addition to these accomplishments, Wenjun has numerous tournament victories to her name. These include being the winner of 2015-16 FIDE Women Grand Prix, 2009 and 2011 World Women Team champion, and 2010 and 2014 Chinese Individual Women Champion. As the top seed in Saint Louis, she will face some of her biggest rivals in women’s chess.
Humpy Koneru is an Indian chess grandmaster and current Women’s World Rapid Chess Champion. As a pioneer in women’s chess, she has followed in the path of Judit Polgár to numerous records. Koneru became the youngest woman ever to achieve the title of grandmaster at the age of 15 years, 1 month, 27 days, beating Polgár's previous mark by three months (a record eventually broken and still held by Yifan Hou). She went on to become the second female player, after Polgár, to cross the 2600 Elo rating mark in October of 2007. She currently stands at 2580 and is one of the top 20 players in India. This is her first time competing in the Cairns Cup as well as her first time playing at the Saint Louis Chess Club.
Mariya Muzychuk comes from an illustrious chess family. Her parents were both professional chess coaches and introduced her to the game at the early age of two. Her older sister, Anna Muzychuk, is also a chess professional and is ranked among the top 10 female players in the world. Mariya had a breakout year in 2015, winning the Women’s World Championship against top players, among which were fellow Cairns Cup competitors Harika Dronavalli, Humpy Koneru, and Antoaneta Stefanova. This title was claimed by Yifan Hou the following year, but Mariya has been a top player in women’s chess ever since, peaking at #3 on the rating list. Currently at 2552, she is the #6 female player in the world and is a competitive top player from Ukraine.
Kateryna Lagno became a WGM at just 12 years old, making her one of the youngest players ever to receive the title. She was born in Lviv, Ukraine in 1989 and competed under the Ukranian flag up until 2014. She now competes for Russia, and is the second ranked female player in the country behind Aleksandra Goryachkina. Lagno earned her GM title in 2007 and has an extensive resume of tournament accomplishments. She is a two-time European Women’s Champion (2005 and 2008), as well as a two-time Olympiad gold medal winner (2006 and 2014). Lagno also boasts three World Women’s Blitz Championship titles (2010, 2018, and 2019) along with a World Women’s Rapid Championship title in 2014. She is now ranked #5 in the world among female players.
Born in the Guntur district of the Southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 1991, Harika 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 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).
Her exploits have made her a star in her country, as she was named Chess Player of the Year in The Times of India in 2016 and 2017. She was also featured in Verve Magazine’s top 40 popular women sportspersons of 2017.
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, along won the World Girl’s U20 Championship in 2003. 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.”
GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, the former Women’s World Champion was born in Perm, Russia (USSR) in 1984. Alexandra learned chess from her father at the age of five and 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.
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. Following her junior success, she became a 3-time Women’s European Champion as well as a 3-time Russian Women’s Champion. Gunina also boasts success in faster time controls, winning the Women’s World Blitz in 2012 and Russian Women’s Rapid Championship in 2014. She will be returning to Saint Louis to defend her first place win in the inaugural 2019 Cairns Cup.
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. One of Guninas biggest career highlights 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.
Irina Krush was born in Odessa, Ukraine (USSR) in 1983 and emigrated to the US in 1989. Over the years, the now brooklyn native has proven herself to be one of the most dominant female players in the country. At the mere age of 14, 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.
Krush 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.
Outside of chess, Krush graduated from NYU in 2006 with a degree in International Relations. She made a TV appearance on Steve Harvey, where Hillary Clinton was tasked with telling Irina apart from two imposters.
At just 16 years of age, Carissa Yip has quickly become one of the top female players in America. Known for her creativity and fighting spirit over the board, she enters the tournament with a FIDE rating of 2418, just below her peak of rating 2425. Yip has been on a record-shattering pace ever since she learned how to play the game from her father at age 6. At age 9, she became the youngest female expert (rating of 2000+) in US Chess history. Two years later, she broke the record for youngest female to achieve the title of National Master at the age of 11 years, 5 months, and 18 days.
Along the way to Master, she set the record for youngest female player to beat a Grandmaster for her win against GM Alexander Ivanov in the New England Open a few days before her 11th birthday. Yip also represented the US at the 2019 World Team Championship in Kazakhstan, scoring many fines wins, including one over former Women’s World Champion Anna Ushenina. She earned her final IM norm at the 2019 SPICE Cup and her IM title is expected to be approved the the 90th FIDE Congress in Abu Dhabi at the end of February this year.
As the only non-GM participant in the field, Yip is surely considered to be an underdog at this year’s Cairn’s Cup. However, all the pressure will be on her higher-rated opponents as Yip has shown that she can compete with the best.