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The changing fortunes of Indian Women in Chess

Modified 06 Jan 2014
Koneru Humpy of India

Koneru Humpy of India

The Prologue

As is common with most sports in India, the men’s game is usually the more highlighted, the more decorated and the more celebrated one while their women counterparts are usually less renowned, poorly funded and lack adequate training facilities. On the other hand, there are some exceptions created due to supremely gifted individuals such as Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, P.T. Usha amongst others who have elevated the status of their sport to a whole another level. In between both these extremities lies the beautiful sport of Women’s chess in India. Vishwanath Anand, probably one of the best sportsmen India has ever produced has ensured a royal status for him and the men’s game.

The rankings

FIDE is the international organization governing the rankings and rules of the game of chess. The ranking system differs slightly from the men’s ranking system. There are four titles awarded in women’s chess and will be described in ascending order of importance:

  • Woman Candidate Master (WCM)

Woman Candidate Master is the lowest ranking title awarded by FIDE. ELO rating of 2000 is sufficient for this title.

  • Woman FIDE Master (WFM)

The WFM title is next in line and is one of the few women-only titles given by FIDE. The minimum rating for receiving this title is 2100.

  • Woman International Master (WIM)

WIM is next to the highest ranking title given by FIDE exclusively to women. The WIM title has lower requirements than the unrestricted FIDE Master title. The runners-up in the World Girls Junior Championship are automatically awarded the WIM title. This title usually requires a minimum rating of 2200.

  • Woman Grandmaster (WGM)

Woman Grandmaster is the highest ranking title in chess restricted to women. The winner of the World Girls Junior Championship and is automatically awarded the WGM title. WGM is in reality a misnomer, as it is awarded to women who attain a level of skill between that of a FIDE Master and an International Master and requires a minimum rating of 2300.

  • International Master (IM)

The title International Master is awarded to strong Chess players. IMs usually have an ELO rating between 2400 and 2500.

  • Grandmaster (GM)

The title Grandmaster is awarded to outstanding chess players by FIDE. Apart from World Chess Championship, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. Once achieved, the title is held for life. This title can be awarded to the players with an ELO rating greater than 2500 and have completed the 3 norms in the rulebook.

The key players

India has consistently produced a stream of supremely talented chess players since the turn of the millennium. Humpy Koneru was the youngest women to get the Grandmaster title in 2001 and also the second player in the world to cross the 2600 ratings after the legendary chess player Judit Polgar.


The young Dronavalli Harika has also been making a lot of waves as she became just the second woman after Koneru to get the GM title at Men’s level. Similarly, Tania Sachdev has also been performing rather impressively in the last few years.

In the table given below, we find a list of players who competed for India in the Turkey Chess Olympiads:

 Name                    Title RatingB-Year 


Koneru, HumpyGM26071987


Harika, DronavalliGM24871991


Sachdev, TaniaIM24031986


Gomes, Mary AnnWGM23941989


Subbaram, VijayalakshmiGM23931979


Karavade, EshaIM23911987


Mohota, NishaIM22571980


Rout, PadminiWGM23831994


Swaminathan, SoumyaWGM23481989


Subbaram, MeenakshiWGM22401981

 The challengers

Humpy Koneru was the highest seeded player for India in the World Championships held in Turkey after the defending champion A. Kostenuik (who is allotted the top seed by default) as the no. 1 seed Polgar has not been participating in this competition recently.

Similarly, Miss Harika has also been upsetting quite a few opponents recently. She also reached the quarters in the World Championships in Turkey in 2010 and almost knocked her Chinese counterpart while Humpy Koneru lost in the semi-finals to another Chinese.

While India has a realistic chance of winning the individual event, they also have a good chance in the team Chess Olympiads. India has six players in the top 75 of the FIDE rankings and only Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and China can equal or surpass this feat. India had been peforming rather poorly in the team event in the recent seasons failing to finish in the top 10 in the 37th, 38th and 39th Chess Olympiads.


The Indian Chess Federation and Humpy Koneru have been at loggerheads since the former prevented Koneru from participating in the Turin Chess Olympiad and this has affected the Indian team’s chances greatly. Though, India managed to surprise everyone and come 4th in the Chess Olympiad held in Turkey in 2012 without Koneru. This achievement clearly showcases that the Indian team is strong enough to compete without their best player.

The future

The common problems of poor funding, lack of sponsorship for major tournaments still plague this wonderful game. This has been acting as a deterrent for many young athletes when compared with the perks other sports such as badminton offer.

India has a supremely talented bunch of young female chess players coming up and with the right amount of support and motivation they can easily challenge the Russian and the Chinese teams for the no. 1 spot in the world. To achieve this, it is imperative that sports fans in India go beyond the horizon of traditional sports such as cricket, tennis, badminton and start experimenting with following new sports.

Media coverage to these sports will also prove to be an important factor and though the support from media has been gradually increasing, accomplishments like reaching the semi-finals or finishing fourth at the Olympiads should definitely garner more screen time than what is currently allotted.

Published 05 Jan 2014, 21:34 IST
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