Pia Cramling (Sweden). GM, rating 2452, world ranked 29, age 58. Women’s team captain. Pia Cramling is greatly looking forward to an exciting contest. Pia, whose elder brother Dan holds the IM title, is long established as an iconic chess figure, having taken part in the Women’s Olympiad as early as 1978, later representing Sweden in the open Olympiad several times, as high as board two. She became the fifth woman player to earn the full grandmaster title in 1992. She was European Women’s Champion in 2003 and 2010. Pia has participated in every Gibraltar Masters tournament since the series began in 2003. She has won the prestigious top women’s prize at the Gibraltar Festival three times – a record. Her husband, Juan Manuel Bellón, is also a grandmaster and a former Spanish champion, and their daughter Anna Cramling Bellón, 19, is a woman FIDE master and popular chess streamer.
Mariya Muzychuk (Ukraine). GM, rating 2539, world ranked 6, age 29. Born in Lviv, Mariya is younger than her sister Anna by 2½ years. The two girls were both taught chess as toddlers – Mariya knew all the pieces aged three and was taking part in chess competitions by the age of six. Both sisters have been regular competitors at Gibraltar, with Mariya clinching the prestigious top Gibraltar women’s prize in 2014 – Anna did so in 2016. Her 2014 success on the Rock also brought her a GM norm. Mariya’s greatest career success was in winning the 2015 Women’s World Championship, held in Sochi. She was eighth seed at the start and eliminated such eminent players as Monica Socko, former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova, top seed Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavalli on her way to beating Natalia Pogonina in the final match to claim the title and $60,000 prize money.
Zhansaya Abdumalik (Kazakhstan). GM, rating 2491, world ranked 15, age 21. In June 2021 Zhansaya won the final leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in Gibraltar in some style ahead of a stellar field, completing her qualification for the GM title in the process and achieving a career-best TPR of 2699. This completed a unique double as she also qualified for the woman grandmaster title in Gibraltar in the 2014 Masters as a 14-year-old, scoring a creditable 5½/10 and beating one GM. She also played in the 2020 Gibraltar Masters, scoring 5/10 against a much tougher field, beating two GMs. Zhansaya learnt chess aged five, winning three major girls’ titles – the 2008 World Under-8 Championship, the 2011 World Under-12 title, and the 2017 World Junior title. Back home in Kazakhstan, Zhansaya has set up her own chess academy with three branches and 700 students.
Gunay Mammadzada (Azerbaijan). IM, rating 2470, world ranked 24, age 21. From Baku, Gunay started playing chess aged five and was soon winning junior events, culminating in winning the World Under-10 Championship in 2009. She qualified as a WGM in 2014 and had all her IM norms aged 16, gaining the title in 2018. Gunay has already enjoyed significant success in Gibraltar. Drafted into the May/June 2021 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix as a replacement, she finished third overall and was only half a point short of her first GM norm. She also took part in the 2020 Gibraltar Masters. In November 2021 Gunay played on top board for Azerbaijan in the European Women’s Team Championship in Slovenia, playing all nine games for a score of 6/9, the best by her team which won the team bronze medal, and only just missing an individual bronze medal for the top board.
Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria). GM, rating 2469, world ranked 25, age 42. Antoaneta won her first world title in the 1989 Girls’ Under-10 Championship. Antoaneta became an IM in 1997and a GM in 2002 shortly after winning the 2002 European Women’s Championship. In 2004 she became the Women’s World Champion in Elista, Russia, by winning a 64-player knock-out event. Antoaneta has played in 16 Gibraltar Masters tournaments, twice sharing the top female prize here, with a best score of 7/10, achieved three times. Her career-best scalps have been taken here: Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2723) and Wang Hao (2711). She also took part in the 2021 FIDE Women’s Grand Prix tournament held in Gibraltar. Antoaneta Stefanova has also acted as captain of the now traditional Gibraltar Battle of the Sexes fun match on a number of occasions. Antoaneta recently embarked on a new career: in 2021 she was elected to the Bulgarian parliament.
Marie Sebag (France). GM, rating 2460, world ranked 27, age 35. Marie has been France’s top female player for more than a decade, qualifying for the IM title in 2003 and the GM title in 2008. In 1998 she won the European Girls’ Under-12 title and went on to take the under-14 and under-16 titles in subsequent years. In 2003 whilst still in her teens she hit the headlines by defeating 2600-rated Laurent Fressinet 2-0 in the semi-final of a prestigious rapidplay event and scored a classical chess victory over former FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov in 2007. In 2006 she reached the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Championship. Her highest rating to date has been 2537 in 2013 when she was ranked 8th female player in the world. She has played once previously in Gibraltar, scoring 6/10 in the 2014 Masters. She also holds the FIDE Trainer title.
Marsel Efroimski (Israel). IM, rating 2437, world ranked 32, age 26. Marsel, Israel’s top rated woman player, was taught chess by her grandfather and excelled in junior events, winning the 2007 World Girls’ Under-12 Championship and the 2009 World Girls’ Under-14 title. She made her Women’s Olympiad debut for Israel aged only 13 in 2008 and has since played in four further Women’s Olympiads. After two years compulsory military service and further time studying (she has a degree in Economics and Management from Tel Aviv University), Marsel’s chess career trajectory took a significant upturn in 2021 as she improved her rating by more than 100 points, with strong performances at a GM tournament in her home town of Kfar Saba in June and in the Israeli National League. In passing 2400 she completed her qualification for the IM title together with norms earned some years previously.
Irene Kharisma Sukandar (Indonesia). IM, rating 2407, world ranked 48, age 29. Born in Jakarta to a sporting family Irene is Indonesia’s top female chess player, winning numerous national titles and becoming her country’s first WGM and IM. She has won the Asian Women’s Chess Championship twice, in 2012 and 2014. Irene scored a remarkable success in a strong women’s all-play-all in Moscow in 2015, scoring 7½/9, two points ahead of IM Alina Kashlinskaya and 2½ points ahead of a strong field. Irene has taken part in the Gibraltar Masters three times, scoring 5½/10 in 2018 (defeating one GM), 5/10 in 2019 (defeating GM Valentina Gunina) and 5½/10 in 2020. Irene is a councillor on FIDE’s Planning and Development Commission. She took a Master’s degree at Webster University, Missouri, USA. She enjoys a large following on social media and publishes YouTube videos in Indonesian.
Olga Girya (Russia), GM, rating 2405, world ranked 51, age 30. From Langepas, in the Ugra region of Siberia, Olga Alexandrovna’s junior successes included winning the World and European Girls’ Under-18 titles in 2009, and she went on to win gold medals as part of Russia’s winning women’s teams at the 2014 Olympiad and 2017 World Team Championship. After losing out in a play-off for the 2018 Russian Women’s Super-Final against Natalija Pogonina, she gained her revenge the following year by beating the same opponent in another play-off for the Russian Super-Final title; she later said she spent a lot of time between rounds of the Super-Final listening to the rock group Queen! Olga played in the 2020 Gibraltar Masters, scoring 5½/10. In the November 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss in Riga, Olga scored 6½/11, defeating two of her Gibraltar team-mates, Zhansaya Abdumalik and Irene Kharisma Sukandar, along the way.
Jovanka Houska (England), IM, rating 2365, world ranked 95, age 41. Born in England to Uruguayan parents, Jovanka achieved the WGM in winning the 2000 European Girls’ Championship. She followed this with a win in the Commonwealth Women’s Championship, qualified for the IM title in 2005 and became the first female player to be voted England’s player of the year in 2006. Since 2008 she has won the British Women’s Championship nine times. Jovanka has played in the Gibraltar Masters 12 times, winning the top women’s prize in 2007 when she scored 6/9, and taking such scalps as Tal Abergel, Nana Dzagnidze and Eric Hansen. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 she started her career as an online commentator at the Gibraltar Festival, and has since gone on to carve out a highly successful career as a TV chess commentator in Norway, where she lives with her chess-playing husband Arne.
Sabino Brunello (Italy) GM, rating 2503, age 32. Men’s team captain. Sabino learnt chess aged eight and became Italian Under-18 Champion in 2002. In 2007 he placed second in the Italian Championship, the same year that he became an IM, and in 2010 again finished second in the European Union Championship. He qualified as a GM in 2010. Sabino has represented his country at six Olympiads and four European Team Championships. He has a peak rating of 2617, achieved in 2013. Sabino will be making only his second visit to the Rock. He played in the Gibraltar Masters in 2012, exactly ten years ago, scoring 6½/10 in the famous year when a man and a woman shared first place – Nigel Short and Hou Yifan. In the same event Sabino crossed swords with his rival captain – he and Pia drew their game. Sabino also holds the FIDE Trainer title.
Bobby Cheng (Australia). GM, rating 2550, age 24. Bobby moved from New Zealand to Australia aged ten and continued his chess training with GM Darryl Johansen. In 2009 he became the first Australian to win a world title when he won the World Under-12 Championship. He won the 2013 Australian Open and the 2016 Australian Championship. He achieved the IM title in 2013. He took part in the 2017 Gibraltar Masters, scoring 5½/10,and recorded GM norms in the 2017 Batavia Amsterdam and Australian Young Masters tournaments, with his final norm coming in the 2018 Australian Young Masters tournament. In the 2019 Australian Young Masters tournament he scored an outstanding 9/9 for a 3050 tournament performance rating. He finished third behind Justin Tan and Daniel Fernandez with a score of 7/9 and a TPR of 2599 at the April 2021 Doeberl Cup in Canberra.
Leandro Krysa (Argentina). GM, rating 2531, age 29. Leandro completed his qualification for the GM title in Gibraltar in 2017, winning his first game, then drew the next two… against Fabiano Caruana and Veselin Topalov. Tough pairings! Perhaps inspired by his resilient start, he finished with 6½/10, adding a third norm to those he had recorded by virtue of winning the 2011 South American Continental Under-20 Championship in Duran, Ecuador, and by scoring well in the City of Lorca Christmas tournament in Murcia, Spain, in 2016. Leandro returned to Gibraltar to play in 2019 and 2020, scoring 6/10 and 5½/10 respectively. In 2020 he made a splendid start with 3/3, including a quick win against the formidable Russian GM Mikhail Kobalia, and then played out an exciting draw with top seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov before losing to the eventual winner David Paravyan in round four.
Bilel Bellahcene (Algeria). GM, rating 2508, age 23. Bilel was born in Strasbourg, France, where he still lives. His father is also a keen player – the tournament’s chief arbiter remembers playing chess with him in Strasbourg some years ago. Bilel switched nationality to Algeria in 2018 when he became an IM and he won the 2018 Algerian championship. Bilel has played in Gibraltar three times. In 2017 he scored 6/10 and then 5½/10 in 2018, finishing with a win against German GM Thomas Paehtz. In 2020 he made a strong start with 2½/3 before losing to the eventual winner GM David Paravyan and finishing with 4½/10. Bilel qualified for the GM title with norms at the 2016 Grenke Chess Open in Karlsruhe, where he defeated Gata Kamsky and Zdenko Kozul, the 2017 Paris Open Championship, which he won, and the 2017 Mitropa Cup in Hungary.
Ravi Haria (England). GM-elect, rating 2490, age 22. Ravi Haria is currently the rising star of English chess, chalking up a second GM norm in August 2021 in a ten-player all-play-all in Stafford, England, and a third in winning the Northumbria Masters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That still left the little matter of lifting his rating above the 2500 threshold but this he achieved in November when selected as board five for England in the European Team Championship in Slovenia. These, and his first GM norm in the 2016/17 4NCL British Team Championship, are subject to FIDE ratification. Ravi learnt his chess in Barnet, London, and read History at University College, London. He won his first British junior title (Under-9) in 2008 and has added several more up to and including the Under-21 title in 2019. Ravi played in the 2018 Gibraltar Masters, scoring 6/10, defeating one GM, Bela Khotenashvili.
Balazs Csonka (Hungary). IM, rating 2474, age 24. Balazs lives in Szeged, Hungary, and is knocking on the door of becoming a GM, with one norm from the 2019/2020 Bundesliga and a peak rating of 2500 already achieved (his highest published rating is 2498 but the 2500 was achieved between lists). He qualified for the IM title in 2017 with norms achieved in Hungarian team and individual events. He formed part of the Hungarian team which won the gold medals in the 2019 Mitropa Cup. In September 2021 Balazs took part in the Manx Liberty tournament in the Isle of Man, finishing 7th equal. He supplements his income with coaching and online streaming. Balazs played in the 2016 Gibraltar Masters, scoring 5½/10, so this will be his second visit to the Rock. He has a first degree in international relations and is studying for a master’s in economics.
Joe Gallagher (Switzerland). GM, rating 2447, age 57. Born and bred in London to Irish parents, married a Swiss national and switched chess nationality to Switzerland in the 1990s. Joe wasn’t a chess prodigy but by virtue of taking every opportunity to play, anywhere and everywhere, and a lot of hard work, Joe transformed himself from a relatively modest player into a GM at the age of 26. Thus his first British title was the national championship itself, achieved in 2001. He had already won the Swiss championship by then, in 1997 and 1998, and has so far repeated the feat a further five times, including in 2021, demonstrating a longevity as a player similar to that of his late Swiss team-mate Viktor Korchnoi. Joe is a prolific and much-respected author of chess books, demonstrating the same dedication to his work that brought him ultimate success as a player.
Gillan Bwalya (Zambia). IM, rating 2410, age 33. Gillan learnt chess aged 11. He made his Olympiad debut in 2010 and scored a creditable 7/10 on board 3 for Zambia at the 2012 Istanbul Olympiad, including a win against Australia’s IM Alex Wohl. He followed this by winning the African Zonal tournament, gaining him the IM title. This qualified him for a first round pairing in the 2013 FIDE World Cup in Tromso with ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik, which was quite an experience. Since then most of Gillan’s OTB chess has been played in the growing number of tournaments held in Africa, with steadily improving results. In May 2021 he finished 5th equal with GM Bilel Bellahcene and others in the Pan-African Championship in Lilongwe, Malawi, on 6/9 behind joint winners GMs Ahmed Adly and Bassem Amin and two other Egyptian GMs. He has not played previously in Gibraltar.
Husain Aziz Nezad (Qatar). IM, rating 2379, age 36. Husain Aziz Nezad made his Olympiad debut for Qatar aged just 13 in 1998 at Elista, and he has played in a further eight Olympiads for Qatar. His peak rating to date is 2433 in 2011. He has been a regular visitor to the Gibraltar Masters, having played here eight times between 2005 and 2016, with a best score of 6½/10 in 2009 and 2010, and including wins against GMs such as Gawain Jones, Sébastien Mazé and Chanda Sandipan. Other fine scalps to his credit include Baskaran Adhiban, Ivan Sokolov and Elshan Moriabadi, all achieved with Black. He is also a FIDE Arbiter.
Eric Rosen (USA). IM, rating 2356, age 28. Eric learnt chess at the age of seven and was soon active in US scholastic chess, winning the US National High School Championship in Nashville in 2011 with a perfect 7/7. During play, Eric said he pretended he was explaining the game to someone else. “It helps me to organize my thoughts, and… commit myself and feel confident about going in a certain direction.” Eric studied mathematics and computer science at university before taking up a scholarship at Webster University. He completed his IM qualification with a third norm at the 2015 Philadelphia Open, pushing his rating up to its peak of 2453. Eric now focuses more on his entertaining and informative content creator role at YouTube and Twitch, with more than half a million followers on YouTube and 200,000 on Twitch, with just the occasional foray into OTB classical chess.