The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Mariya Muzychuk

Mariya Muzychuk
Full name
Mariya Muzychuk
Sep 21, 1992 (age 31)‎
Place of birth
Lviv, Ukraine



Ukrainian GM Mariya Muzychuk belongs on the short list of elite female chess players. She captured the most prestigious championship in chess by becoming Women’s World Chess Champion in 2015—the same year she entered the top-10 ranked women in the world (and hasn't yet departed that list). Muzychuk also won back-to-back Ukrainian national championships in 2012 and 2013 on top of her three national titles in youth events.

She’s often recognized for being part of an elite sibling duo in chess. Her sister, GM Anna Muzychuk, has won two national championships (one in Ukraine and one in Slovenia) and three world titles for shorter time controls (one in blitz and two in rapid). Both sisters were featured on a Ukrainian postage stamp when Mariya won the women’s world title in 2015.

Playing Style

It’s not difficult to pin down Muzychuk’s style. With a nickname like “Miss Tactics,” you’ll notice her ability to find tactical shots in many games.

Here she exploits the opponent’s lonely king. After Black’s ill-advised f6 on move 25, Muzychuk finds the excellent Qd2 to take advantage of the exposed back rank. This game has plenty of fireworks—a few positions would make great problems in puzzle books.

Another example of Muzychuk’s tactical prowess is in the only decisive game of the 2015 world champion match. She made use of her space and initiative on the kingside to get an advantage. Thanks to an exchange sacrifice and a knight sacrifice eight moves later, Muzychuk forced her way to the enemy king.

Early Chess Career (1995 To 2011)

Muzychuk was introduced to chess at the age of two by her parents, who are professional chess coaches. When she was three years old, she knew all of the pieces and by six, she went to her first tournament.

Playing with her older sister and having parents as professional chess coaches helped Muzychuk excel at such a young age. She picked up a youth national title by winning the girls under-10 Championship of Ukraine in 2001 and was the runner-up that year in the same section of the World Youth Chess Championship.

In 2002 the 10-year old Muzychuk took second place in the girls under-12 section of the European Championships. Two years later, she played in the same section (under-12 girls) for the Championship of Ukraine, winning another national title in that event, and the World Youth Championship, where she tied for third place.

Muzychuk continued performing well when playing in the next age group. She tied for second in the under-14 section of the World Girls Championship in 2005. In 2006 she finished in a tie for third of the girls under-14 European Championships and took third for the girls under-14 World Youth Championships. The next year she placed in equal second for the girls under-16 European Championships.

It’s especially interesting to view Muzychuk’s career in junior tournaments—or under-20 competitions. That’s because she first played a junior tournament when she was just 10 years old. Indeed, in an unusual and impressive example as a chess prodigy, Muzychuk tied for fifth place in the Ukrainian Junior Girls Championship in 2003 as a 10-year-old. In the same event and division in 2008, she won, taking her third national title in youth competitions. The same year she placed equal runner-up in the girls division of the World Junior Championship.

Mariya Muzychuk at 2008 World Junior Chess Championship
Mariya Muzychuk at 2008 World Junior Chess Championship. Photo: CC 2.0, kapidis.

Muzychuk helped Ukraine win silver at the World Women’s Team Championships. In 2010, she won individual gold as the reserve for Ukraine at the women’s division of the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

Then she capped off her early chess career in two easy-to-overlook feats. In November 2010, two months after turning 18 years old, the Ukrainian prodigy was ranked fifth highest-rated female player under 20 years of age, behind GMs Hou Yifan, Anna Muzychuk, Harika Dronavalli and Ju Wenjun (three of whom became future world champions). The next month, she lost an armageddon game against Dronavalli in the Women’s World Championship 2010. Muzychuk, ranked number 25 in the 64-player knockout tournament, was one game away from reaching the quarterfinals of the most important event in women’s chess.

Two-Time Women's Ukrainian Champion (2012 To 2014)

Muzychuk ushered in another era of her chess career by taking the 72nd Ukrainian Women’s Championship in 2012. She scored an undefeated 6.5/9 points, which put her ahead of GMs Kateryna Lahno and Anna Ushenina on tiebreaks.

The defending national champion didn’t disappoint the following year. Muzychuk repeated with the championship, this time with 7.5/9 points, which was one and a half points ahead of the second-place finisher, GM Natalie Zhukova.

At the 2012 Chess Olympiad, Muzychuk helped Ukraine win bronze and took the individual silver medal for her performance on board two. The team repeated as bronze-medal finishers in 2014. Two other notable team performances came for Muzychuk and Ukraine in 2013. At the World Women’s Team Championships, the team won gold with Muzychuk earning individual silver. And at the European Team Championships, the Ukrainian women won gold, and Muzychuk took individual gold as well on board three.

Mariya Muzychuk at 2013 European Chess Team Championship
Mariya Muzychuk at 2013 European Chess Team Championship. Photo: Przemysław Jahr.

In 2014 Muzychuk placed third at the European Individual Women’s Championship. Her 8/11 points put her behind GMs Valentina Gunina and Tatiana Kosintseva in another strong showing for the then 22-year-old. Then Muzychuk scored one of her biggest accomplishments during this period, alongside her two national titles. She was the top female performer at the Gibraltar Masters tournament, taking the best women’s prize in the event. With 7/10 points, she ended in a big 17-way tie for number 10, finishing at 19 on tiebreaks alongside names like GMs Michael Adams, Richard Rapport, Pentala Harikrishna, Gata Kamsy, David Navara and Wei Yi.

The impressive performance gave Muzychuk her first grandmaster norm. However, she wouldn’t need the next two norms typically required to become a GM. Her next accomplishment, undoubtedly the biggest of her career, would grant her the GM title immediately.

Women's World Champion (2015 To 2020)

Muzychuk took part in the 2015 Women’s World Chess Championship, a 64-player knockout tournament, as the eighth seed. The field had three former world champions—GMs Alexandra Kosteniuk, Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Ushenina—along with future world champion Ju and the highest-ranked participant, GM Humpy Koneru.

In the first two rounds, Muzychuk defeated WIM Yuanling Yuan and GM Monika Socko in tiebreaks. Next was Stefanova, who won the world title in 2004 for two years. Muzychuk won their classical match 1.5-0.5, putting her in the quarterfinal against Koneru, another legend in women’s chess. Muzychuk won in tiebreaks and then again won in tiebreaks against GM Dronavalli Harika in the semifinals. The final matchup was between Muzychuk and GM Natalia Pogonina. In the four-game classical match, just one game was decisive—Muzychuk won a spectacular second game that featured an exchange sacrifice followed by a knight sacrifice.

Mariya Muzychuk and Natalija Pogonina
Mariya Muzychuk and Natalija Pogonina. Photo: Nastja Karlovich.

Thanks to that exciting game, Muzychuk won the women’s world championship. She became the 15th women’s world chess champion, was immediately crowned the grandmaster title and also took the honorary FIDE award, “Caissa,” for the best female chess player in 2015. (Caissa is the patron goddess for chess players.)

She was unable to hold onto her world title in the 2016 Women’s World Championship in an especially tough matchup against Hou. Other notable performances for Muzychuk include individual bronze at the World Women's Team Championships in 2015, team bronze for Ukraine at the 2016 Chess Olympiad and, at the 2018 Chess Olympiad, team silver for Ukraine plus individual gold on board two.

Present And Future

Although Muzychuk hasn’t yet turned 30, she has already accomplished a great deal in her chess career. The former prodigy has three national titles in youth competitions, two national titles as an adult, multiple gold medals in team competitions (as an individual and for the team), and, most importantly, her name on the short list of women’s world chess champions.

There’s no doubt that she’s one of the biggest names in women’s chess. Chess fans should keep an eye on this living legend to see what’s in store for the future.

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