She could well be the world’s only minister to beat a reigning World champion. Dana Reizniece-Ozola, former Minister of Economics and then Finance of Latvia, breaks into a big smile when she is asked about her stunning victory over Hou Yifan, the second highest-rated female chess player of all time.
A politician’s is only one of the many hats Reizniece-Ozola wears. She has been on the board of governors of the World Bank and the European Investment Bank as well. She is now world chess governing body FIDE’s managing director.
She has had a splendid career as a chess player too. She is a grandmaster and played for Latvia in eight Olympiads. And it was in one of those Olympiads, back in 2016, that she stunned the four-time World champion from China, who was rated some 400 Elo points above. She was then the Minister of Finance, but still found time to play on the top board for Latvia.
“Sometimes when you are way from regular chess, you get a sparkle,” Reizniece-Ozola tells The Hindu, smiling. “I come from a country with a strong chess tradition and school, and it is like learning to ride a bicycle; you will never forget that.”
That Olympiad at Baku (Azerbaijan) was her last as a player. “I was too busy fighting the elections in my country during the 2018 Olympiad,” she says. “Now it feels a bit strange being at the Olympiad here, as normally would be fighting for my country.”
She is impressed by the way India has hosted the Olympiad, despite getting just four months to prepare. “India has done an amazing job, completing the mission impossible. Everybody knew that India had the resources to conduct an Olympiad but nobody thought it would be done at this level.”
Reizniece-Ozola is glad that Viswananthan Anand is joining FIDE as an administrator, in the role of deputy president. She sounded a bit disappointed that Magnus Carlsen would not be defending his World title next year.
“I am very sorry he has left the way he did,” she says. “It would have been fairer if had announced his decision before the Candidates tournament. But I also understand (his lack of motivation). And I hope Magnus gets his hunger back.”