The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

Alexandra Kosteniuk
Full name
Alexandra Kosteniuk
Apr 23, 1984 (age 40)‎
Place of birth
Perm, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union



Alexandra Kosteniuk is among the best female chess players. At the age of 20, she became the 10th woman to earn the grandmaster title, and her biggest accomplishment came four years later, when in 2008, she won the Women’s World Chess Championship. She’s also a two-time Russian Women’s Champion, a European women’s champion, a two-time Fischer Random World Champion and a 10-time gold medalist in team competitions playing for Russia.

Kosteniuk remains active in chess events across the world, and 2021 was one of the best years of her career: She won the Women's World Cup and World Rapid Championship and finished second in the Women's World Blitz Championship.

Additionally, Kosteniuk is a chess streamer, author, model, ambassador for chess education and has appeared in a film (Stanislav Govorukhin’s Bless the Woman).

Youth and Junior Chess Career (1989 to 2004)

Kosteniuk’s father taught her how to play chess when she was five years old. It wasn’t long until she started making a name for herself on an international stage.

In 1994, Kosteniuk became the European Champion among girls under the age of 10. One month later, she finished in a tie for first place (but took home silver) at the World Youth Championships for the U-10 Girls section. She bounced back to win two more world titles in her age group. Two years later, Kosteniuk took gold in the 1996 World Youth Championships for the U-12 Girls section. Then she won the World Championships U-14 Disney Girls tournament in 1998.

Along the way, Kosteniuk earned several FIDE titles. She became a Woman International Master at 13 years old (1997) and a Woman Grandmaster at 14 years old (1998), two titles exclusive to women that are given roughly 200 rating points less than the corresponding open title requirements. Kosteniuk became an IM in 2000 when she was only16 years old.

The next major accomplishment for Kosteniuk took the chess world by storm. “In 2001, at the age of 17, to everybody’s surprise, I came in second at the Women’s World Championship in Moscow,” she wrote on her website. The final match went to rapid tiebreaks after it was tied two games apiece after four classical games. Yet, Zhu Chen won the title with a score of five to three games over Kosteniuk. Note that the tournament was a 64-player knockout tournament. Kosteniuk was ranked 12th and defeated three higher-ranked opponents (No. 1 Alisa Galliamova, No. 6 Almira Skripchenko and No. 8 Xu Yuhua) to get into the final match of the Women’s World Chess Championship.

The 10th Woman to Earn the GM Title (2004 to 2008)

Weeks before Kosteniuk’s 20th birthday, she won the European Women’s Chess Championship after beating Peng Zhaoqin on tiebreaks. That performance helped qualify her for the highest FIDE title of GM, and later that year, in 2004, Kosteniuk officially became one. She was the 10th woman in history to earn the GM title.

The following year, Kosteniuk won the Russian Women’s Championship with an undefeated score of 9/11 points, topping a field that included five other players rated 2400 and up. Another highlight during this period was her performances at Chess960 Women's Championship matches. From 2001 to 2009, Fischer Random World Championship matches took placein Mainz, Germany, and women’s matches were held in 2006 and 2008. Kosteniuk beat Elisabeth Pähtz 5.5-2.5 in 2006 and defeated Kateryna Lagno 2.5-1.5 in 2008, winning both world titles. Her second world title in the chess variant wasn’t her most notable accomplishment that year, however.

Winning the Women's World Chess Championship (2008 to 2019)

The high point of Kosteniuk’s chess career came in 2008 when she won the Women’s World Chess Championship. She was the 14th woman to earn the world championship since it was established by FIDE in 1927.

The tournament took place in Nalchik, Russian, and once again it was a 64-player knockout tournament. This time, Kosteniuk was ranked No. 9 based on rating, and she upset three higher-rated players on her way to the championship. Those included No. 8 Tatiana Kosintseva and No. 5 Pia Cramling, but her biggest test was in the finals when Kosteniuk faced No. 3 Hou Yifan. Kosteniuk won the first game with a brilliant tactical display, and the rest of their games resulted in draws, giving Kosteniuk the win with a score of 2.5-1.5. Kosteniuk didn’t have a single loss at the Women’s World Chess Championship 2008.

The next year, Kosteniuk followed her world title with a win at the 1st ACP Women World Rapid Cup. In a 12-player field that included three other players rated at least 2500, Kosteniuk took clear first with 10/11 points and a performance rating of 2745. Other individual accomplishments from this period include winning the Moscow Open Young WGM in 2011, becoming the first woman to win the Swiss National Championship in the men’s and women’s events, tying Kateryna Lagno for first in the Women’s World Rapid championships (Kosteniuk won silver on tiebreaks) and, in 2016, winning the Russian Women’s Championship for the second time.

A brief look at Kosteniuk’s decorated chess career wouldn’t be complete without her team performances with Russia. Five of her gold medals came from winning the Women's European Team Chess Championships in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017. She added three more gold medals at the Women’s Chess Olympiads in 2010, 2012 and 2014 (three events in a row), with eight medals at the Olympiads altogether. Kosteniuk won the 2021 Women's World Team Championship, her second gold victory at this event, and brought her total gold medal count to 10 across major team competitions.

Kosteniuk and Team Russia at Women's European Team Chess Championships in 2011
Kosteniuk and Team Russia at Women's European Team Chess Championships in 2011. Photo: A. Kontokanis, CC 2.0.

Current and Future

Kosteniuk continues to be active in chess, taking part in elite international tournaments and online-only activities like the 2019 Women’s Speed Chess Championships and her Twitch stream. As the 14th Women’s World Chess Champion, a two-time Russian Women’s Champion, a European women’s champion, a two-time Fischer Random World Champion and a 10-time gold medalist, there’s no denying the legacy that Kosteniuk has developed. 

In 2021 she added to that legacy, first by winning the Women's World Cup in July, without needing a tiebreak in any of the seven rounds of mini-matches. At the 2021 World Rapid & Blitz Championships, Kosteniuk won the Women's Rapid and finished second in the Women's Blitz.

On March 3, 2023, she announced her transfer to the Swiss federation.

Kosteniuk is poised to have a considerable impact on chess for as long as she wants, and it’s not just on the chessboard. Her chess skill is rivaled by her involvement as a streamer, author, model, ambassador for chess education, and much more. Don’t overlook how Kosteniuk has altered and continues to alter the game.

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