Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield Offers Historic $100,000 Awards To New U.S. Female Grandmasters


In a groundbreaking initiative to support women’s chess, Saint Louis Chess Club has announced $100,000 awards to U.S. female players achieving the grandmaster title by July 4, 2029. 

Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield, co-founder of the Saint Louis Chess Club, announced the Cairns Chess Queens Award during the opening of the Cairns Cup on Thursday. She will present a $100,000 check to the first five American women who achieve the title of grandmaster in the next five years.

The disparity in the number of female versus male grandmasters is a heavily debated topic in the chess world. According to FIDE’s database, 1,826 players currently have the grandmaster title—just 42 are women. Just five have earned it since 2018. The latest is GM Vaishali Rameshbabu, who received the title officially last April.

“We can do better!” Sinquefield concludes in the announcement. The award intends to inspire more U.S. women players to pursue and achieve the grandmaster title.

We can do better!
—Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield

For eight-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion GM Irina Krush, who became the first and only female to earn the title while representing the country in 2013, this is particularly great news. The 40-year-old has been officially honored and also presented a $100,000 check for her exceptional achievements.

Krush told Chess.com that the award came as a total surprise and was completely unexpected: “Afterwards, I received a lot of congratulations, but I was thinking that the real congratulations should go to the people who had the generosity and vision to make all this possible, Jeannie and Rex and the Saint Louis Chess Club.”

GM Irina Krush presented with the $100,000 check by Jeannie Sinquefield. Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club
GM Irina Krush receives a $100,000 check from Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield. Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

“For me personally, it’s a huge gift, but it’s also a motivation to put more work into chess. I think this will definitely incentivize the new generation of girls and hopefully in a few years we will have an all-GM team representing the U.S. at the Olympiad!”

I think this will definitely incentivize the new generation of girls and hopefully in a few years we will have an all GM team representing the U.S. at the Olympiad!

—Irina Krush

Currently, the U.S. has several talented youngsters capable of achieving the title. One is two-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion IM Carissa Yip, who has one grandmaster norm and is the second highest-rated U.S. female player behind Krush.

Another is IM Alice Lee, just 14 years old, and currently ranked seventh in the world among girls under 20. U.S. women’s number-five, 22-year-old IM Annie Wang, also has one grandmaster norm.

IM Anna Zatonskih, four-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, sensationally won the 2023 Cairns Cup as the lowest-ranked player, earning her first grandmaster norm. The 44-year-old has already surpassed the required 2500-rating mark but still needs to score two more grandmaster norms to achieve the title. The table below lists the top U.S. female players.














# Title Name Rating B-Year Norms
1 GM Irina Krush 2415 1983 x
2 IM Carissa Yip 2402 2003 1
3 IM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova 2369 1999 0
4 IM Alice Lee 2368 2009 0
5 IM Annie Wang 2365 2002 1
6 IM Nazi Paikidze 2328 1993 0
7 IM Anna Zatonskih 2327 1978 1
8 WGM Tatev Abrahamyan 2304 1988 0
9 FM Megan Lee 2297 1996 0
10 FM Rose Atwell 2274 2009 0

Sinquefield emphasizes in the announcement that the award is open to female players who are American citizens or who gain citizenship before earning the grandmaster title. The Awards Committee reserves the right to investigate any irregularities to ensure the title is achieved ethically.

The initiative follows a trend of increased support for women’s chess. Recently, Norway Chess organized its first women’s super-tournament with a historic prize fund that matched the Open tournament. The winner of the women’s tournament, GM Ju Wenjun, received a prize of around $65,000, as did GM Magnus Carlsen, who won the Open.

Eight of the world’s top female grandmasters are currently playing in the Cairns Cup, which is hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club for the fourth time. The prize fund is a generous $200,000, and the winner earns $50,000.

Sinquefield says her goal for the award is to encourage other countries to offer similar awards and challenge their female chess players to achieve greater success. In the video below, she laments that just 16 countries have at least one female grandmaster.



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