Ju Wenjun, Anna Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi, Lei Tingjie, Aleksandra Goryachkina collage

Stev Bonhage / Anastasia Korolkova / Anna Shtourman

Ranking the Top 10 Women's Chess Players Now!

ChessOver the board
It's time everyone knows who is really No. 1!

FIDE ranks chess players based 100% on their FIDE rating (i.e. performance) and the outcome is decent, but let’s be honest, it also has some major problems.

The rankings tend to lag behind if a young player is on the rise or an older player is on the decline. Players are often afraid to face much lower-rated opponents out of fear of losing rating. There is also a propensity to make draws to keep your rating near the top. And players aren’t really rewarded for actually winning tournaments or doing well at the year’s biggest events.

These issues have led to calls to make the FIDE ranking system more like the tennis rankings, which only take into account results, not performance. (Golf and darts also have similar ranking systems.) I would love to implement such a ranking system for women’s chess, but unfortunately I don’t have the data available to automate it.

Instead for this post, I’m going to make my own women’s chess rankings where I basically try to guess at what the rankings would look like if I could automate it. The goal is to create a more tractable ranking system that people who don’t follow top-level chess 24/7 can use to tell which players have been in form and who is the best in the world right now! (as of 1/1/24)

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • Both results AND performance matter.
  • Classical, rapid, and blitz OTB from the last two years are included.
  • The past 12 months (2023) count about double the previous year (2022).
  • Classical counts more than rapid and blitz for the results, and even more so for performance.
  • More important tournaments count more. (i.e. World Championship > Candidates > World Cup > Grand Swiss > Grand Prix legs, etc.)
  • Only a player’s better performances matter. Bad performances don’t count against a player.
  • The results part of the rankings is about 50% a player’s best result and 50% everything else, so it’s important to have at least one stand-out result.
  • You must have played at least a few tournaments to be ranked at all (i.e. enough to have one good classical result).

You could also think of it as “This is just my opinion, and that’s what it’s based on.” Without further ado, let’s move on to the rankings. For each top 10 player, I’ll talk about why they are ranked where they are. If it’s very different from the FIDE classical rankings (as of 1/1/24), I’ll also explain why.

No. 10: Dinara Wagner

Dinara Wagner (FIDE: No. 23) made two GM norms, i.e. two 2600-level performances, in 2023. That’s something fewer than ten women achieved last year, and thus is no surprise to make it into the top ten. And Dinara’s first GM norm wasn’t just a norm, but also an outright win of the final Grand Prix leg in Nicosia. Not bad at all for the Grand Prix’s lowest-rated player. Hopefully she’ll be back in the next edition of the Grand Prix as well!

Dinara is lower ranked by FIDE because she was low-rated last January and also didn’t have as many good results in the second half of the year. But she did close out the year strong at the German Women’s Masters, crushing the field with a 2550-level performance. Expect more from her in 2024!

No. 9: Nurgyul Salimova

Nurgyul Salimova (FIDE: No. 38) was the most decorated women’s chess player in 2023, and also the most consistent. She had four 2530-level performances, spread out from January through November. These were at big tournaments too, most notably the World Cup where she finished runner-up and nearly won, but still made a GM norm and qualified for the Candidates!

There are two reasons Nurgyul is so under-ranked by FIDE. The first is simply that she started the year at only 2385. The second is that FIDE didn’t rate her national championship because they didn’t recognize the Bulgarian federation at the time. She would have gained +21 Elo in that tournament had it counted! Nurgyul might be the lowest-rated player at the Candidates, but the gap between her and everyone else isn’t as big as you might think.

No. 8: Vaishali Rameshbabu

Believe it or not, Vaishali Rameshbabu (FIDE: No. 14) wasn’t having a good year in 2023. She had actually lost rating by June and was down to 2416. But then, she turned it around. Vaishali made her final GM norm at the Qatar Masters. Then she had another GM-level performance to win the Grand Swiss outright and qualify for the Candidates, an unbelievable result. And when she hit 2500 on the first of December, she earned the GM title!

Vaishali was both my OnTheQueenside Player of the Year and the Woman Player of the Year, more than deserving of a place in the top 10!

No. 7: Alexandra Kosteniuk

Even at age 39, Alexandra Kosteniuk (FIDE: No. 11) is still at the top of her game! She won a Grand Prix leg outright for the first time ever back in February in Munich. She finished runner-up at the Cairns Cup in the middle of the year. And then she finished the year with a runner-up at the World Blitz Championship!

Despite that success, Kosteniuk ended up the highest-ranked player on this list not to make the Candidates. Her best opportunity was the Women’s Grand Prix circuit, but she didn’t have a good final leg. Nevertheless, I have a feeling Kosteniuk won’t be going away any time soon!

No. 6: Kateryna Lagno

Kateryna Lagno (FIDE: No. 6) was the 2022-23 Women’s Grand Prix circuit champion, earning her a Candidates spot! She won the circuit mainly through her victory in the first leg where she had a 2654-level performance, the best of any woman back in 2022. That’s a fantastic result and performance! It’s also just about her only recent accolade though, meaning she has to do well at the Candidates or her top 10 spot will be at risk.

Dinara Wagner, Nurgyul Salimova, Vaishali Rameshbabu, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Kateryna Lagno
Bottom half of the Top 10. Credit: Paul Meyer-Dunker; via Nurgyul Salimova; Anna Shtourman; Maria Emelianova; Lennart Ootes.

No. 5: Anna Muzychuk

Anna Muzychuk (FIDE: No. 7) hadn’t been playing well since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and was at risk of dropping below 2500 for the first time in 15 years! That changed this past summer when she essentially qualified for the Candidates twice, finishing in 3rd place at the World Cup and runner-up at the Grand Swiss! It was fantastic to see Anna keep her spot in the 2500s and also to see her earn a place in this inaugural top 10 too!

No. 4: Tan Zhongyi

Tan Zhongyi (FIDE: No. 8) quietly had a great year! She was runner-up at the Candidates, 4th place at the World Cup, and 3rd place at the Grand Swiss. After being the only World Cup semi-finalist not to get a Candidates spot there, she ended up getting one anyway at the Grand Swiss! Watch out for her in Canada this April!

No. 3: Aleksandra Goryachkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina (FIDE: No. 3) won the World Cup, the biggest tournament of the year outside of the Candidates and the World Championship itself. In doing so, she avenged her loss in the final from the previous World Cup. Goryachkina had also already qualified for the Candidates by finishing runner-up in the Women’s Grand Prix circuit, highlighted by winning the third leg in New Delhi with a 2600+ performance. And to top it all off, she had another 2600+ performance in the open section of her national championship.

I have a feeling Goryachkina will be looking to move back up in the rankings at the upcoming Candidates!

No. 2: Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie (FIDE: No. 4) only played three tournaments last year, but they were all huge tournaments. She won the Candidates, only just barely lost the World Championship match, and earned a bronze medal at the World Rapid Championship! All that, plus taking into account how underrated the World Champion Ju Wenjun is, and Lei Tingjie is more-than-deserving at No. 2 in the world!

No. 1: Ju Wenjun

In terms of results, Ju Wenjun (FIDE: No. 5) is at the top: she is the World Champion! In terms of performance, Ju Wenjun is also at the top: her 2680-level performance at the Sharjah Masters was the best by any woman in 2023. During that event, she beat Vidit (2731), making her the only woman all year to beat a 2700+ player.

FIDE both underrates and under-ranks Ju Wenjun because she hasn’t played many tournaments in the last few years, and she also plays in the Chinese Women’s League where she is content with drawing much lower-rated players. But don’t let that fool you. Ju Wenjun is a deserving World Champion and a deserving World No. 1, and it’s time more people appreciate that!

(Plus, as I wrote this, Ju Wenjun more than held her own in the Tata Steel Masters, which isn’t even taken into account in these rankings.)

Anna Muzychuk, Tan Zhongyi, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Lei Tingjie, Ju Wenjun
Top half of the Top 10. Credit: Stev Bonhage; Anastasia Korolkova; Anna Shtourman.

There you have it: the top ten women’s chess players in the world right now! (as of 1/1/2024)

Is ten not enough for you? Well then you’re in luck, because I ranked a whole Top 25 below, plus another five who just missed out and could make the next list! I won’t summarize the rest of the list, but I did list every player’s best result in 2023. Hopefully that provides at least some insight on the rest of the rankings.

Top 25
The top 25! Credit: @OnTheQueenside

Stay tuned for the next Top 25 list, which will be released after the next major women’s chess tournament: the Candidates! (in April)

For daily coverage of women's chess, follow Women's Chess Coverage on Twitter. For more posts, check out Women's Chess Coverage on Substack, where you'll be able to catch every post before it goes up on lichess, plus extra posts and related content!