Chinese grandmaster Lei Tingjie already has one victory in the Candidates under her belt and in Toronto she will be looking for another. The eyes of the chess world turned to Lei in 2017 when, at the age of 19, she secured victory in the national championship, outshining the then reigning women’s world champion, Tan Zhongyi. Despite a brief exit from the top 10 in women’s rankings, she made a remarkable comeback in 2021 by triumphing in the prestigious Women’s Grand Swiss tournament, earning her a spot in the 2022/23 Candidates Tournament. In April 2023, she emerged victorious in the Women’s Candidates matches, defeating Tan Zhongyi in the final. In July of 2023 she lost a tightly contested match against the defending World Champion Ju Wenjun. Lei Tingjie’s style, characterised by ambition, dynamism, and a willingness to take risks, mirrors the tradition of great Chinese chess players. As she vies for a chance to take part in another Women’s World Chess Championship against Ju Wenjun, Lei Tingjie aims to become the 7th Chinese player to claim the women’s crown.
FIDE, 2022-23 WGP 1st
Kateryna Lagno is one of the most seasoned and strongest chess players in the world. She has played the match for the Women’s World Champion twice, in 2019 and 2022, and lost both times. Known for her strength in blitz and rapid chess, Lagno has clinched three women’s blitz championships and one rapid championship. Her remarkable achievements include two European Women’s Championship titles and multiple team gold medals at prestigious events like the Women’s Chess Olympiad and the Women’s World Team Championship. Lagno’s outstanding performance in the 2022−23 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix, where she won the first leg and qualified for a third consecutive Candidates Tournament, underscores her enduring excellence. Consistently ranked among the top-five women in the world at various time controls, Lagno shows her enduring potential in the chess world.
FIDE, 2022-23 WGP 2nd
Aleksandra Goryachkina is an elite chess player who demonstrated her strength by winning the 2019 Women’s Candidates Tournament with two rounds to spare, but then narrowly lost the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship in tiebreaks. Breaking the 2600 ELO barrier, she became the sixth female player to achieve this milestone and the first woman to qualify for the open section of the Russian Championship Superfinal in July 2021. With three Russian Women’s Chess Championship titles (2015, 2017, 2020) and five world youth titles, Goryachkina has consistently excelled in chess. Globally ranked No. 3 by FIDE, she holds a peak rating of 2611, making her the fourth-highest rated woman in chess history. Her recent victory in the FIDE Women’s World Cup in August 2023 adds to her impressive list of accomplishments, highlighting her position as a top contender in Toronto.
Bulgaria, 2023 World Cup 2nd
Nurgyul Salimova secured her spot in the Women’s Candidates Tournament by reaching the finals of the Women’s World Cup in Baku, outshining numerous top contenders. A distinguished chess player, she achieved the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster in 2019. Salimova claimed victory in the Bulgarian Women’s Chess Championship in 2017 and added a silver medal to her accolades in the 2023 edition, where she notably stood as the only woman in the open section. Her chess journey took a significant turn in January 2022 when she achieved her first GM norm at the Vergani Cup, defeating former world championship challenger GM Nigel Short. The 2023 Bulgarian Chess Championships witnessed Salimova’s outstanding performance, securing the silver medal and surpassing six GMs. Her impressive run extended to the Women’s Chess World Cup 2023, where she reached the final, ultimately facing Alexandra Goryachkina. While Salimova fell short in the final, her accomplishment earned her not only a place in the Women’s Candidates Tournament but also her second GM norm.
Ukraine, 2023 World Cup 3rd
Anna Muzychuk is the fourth woman to attain a 2600 rating and one of the strongest chess players ever. In the list of world championship titles, she has almost all of them — world junior, youth, rapid and blitz champion — save one: the title of the Women’s World Champion in classical chess. Renowned for exceptional skill, her enduring success is underscored by consistent appearances in FIDE’s Top 100 Women list since her top-10 debut in January 2009. Muzychuk and her sister, GM Mariya Muzychuk, were featured on a Ukrainian postage stamp following Mariya’s 2015 Women’s World Chess Championship triumph. In 2017, Anna secured second place in the Women’s World Chess Championship, narrowly trailing Tan Zhongyi. Anna took second place in the 2019 Women’s World Blitz Championship and won the best game award at the 2020 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival. She continued her excellence in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, finishing third out of 103 players, earning a spot in the upcoming 2024 Women’s Candidates Tournament.
India, 2023 Grand Swiss 1st
Vaishali Rameshbabu, a prominent figure in Indian chess, has solidified her standing among the top 15 women in the world rankings as of December 2023. In a remarkable year, she achieved notable milestones, winning the FIDE Grand Swiss, securing candidacy for the Women’s World Championship, and swiftly attaining the grandmaster title. Notably, she is the elder sister of GM Praggnanandhaa R. Her successful streak continued with a victory at the Qatar Masters open tournament, where she scored 5/9, secured her final GM norm, and claimed the women’s prize. Vaishali’s exceptional performance in the FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss 2023, where she remained undefeated and scored 8.5/11, earned her a spot in the Women’s Candidates Tournament in Toronto, Canada, alongside her brother. In December 2023, at the IV El Llobregat Open Tournament in Spain, Vaishali surpassed the 2500 Elo rating threshold, achieving the Grandmaster title and, alongside her brother, creating history as the world’s first sister-brother grandmaster duo, marking a significant moment in chess.
China, 2023 Grand Swiss 2nd
Tan Zhongyi, the accomplished Chinese grandmaster, already left her mark on the chess landscape by being the reigning Women’s World Chess Champion from 2017 to 2018 and clinching the Chinese women’s championship thrice. Her pivotal moment materialised in 2017, triumphing over GM Anna Muzychuk in rapid tiebreaks during the knockout edition of the world championship in Iran. Despite a subsequent setback, surrendering the title to GM Ju Wenjun in 2018, Tan has maintained her place among top women chess players. Showcasing her versatility, she seized individual gold at the 2016 Chess Olympiad and claimed the coveted top women’s prize at the 2020 Gibraltar Masters. Tan won another world crown in 2022 — the Women’s Rapid Championship. Her stellar performance secured her a runner-up finish in the 2023 Women’s Grand Swiss, thereby earning a coveted spot in the Toronto Candidates.
India, Best by rating
Humpy Koneru, the second highest rated woman chess player in the world, emerged as a prodigious talent early on, making her mark as one of India’s premier players following in the footsteps of Vishy Anand. Claiming numerous junior titles, including four golds at the World Youth Chess Championship and victories in the British and Indian Women’s Championships, Koneru’s prowess was evident from the start. Notably achieving her 3rd GM norm in 2002, she became the youngest woman at the time to attain grandmaster status. Her resilience and competitive spirit shone through as she reached the semi-finals of the Women’s World Championship in 2004, 2008, and 2010. In 2011, she clinched the FIDE Grand Prix series and contended for the championship against Hou Yifan. After a break due to becoming a mother, Koneru made a stellar comeback, securing victories in the Women’s Grand Prix, Women’s World Rapid Chess Championship, and the Cairns Cup in 2020. Leading the Indian women’s team to a bronze medal at the Chennai Chess Olympiad, she will continue her pursuit of the Women’s World Chess Championship title at the Candidates.