'This is the best phase of my career'

ARVIND AARON

BY winning six strenuous knock-out matches, including the final, in Moscow, Zhu Chen of China became the new women's World chess champion.

-ARVIND AARON

Zhu Chen, 25, who started learning the game at seven, had earlier won the World girls' U-20 championship twice in 1994 and 1996. She is married to Grandmaster Mohammad Al-Modiahki of Qatar.

Zhu Chen, who appeared tired on the day she won the world chess title in the tie-break, spoke to The Sportstar the next morning at Hotel Radisson which was the official hotel for the event.

Excerpts:

Question: Congratulations. How did you celebrate your victory last evening?

Answer: My husband has to leave today, so we did not celebrate much. We played some computer games and were talking.

Which was your best match among the six victories here?

I think the last one against... ... Kosteniuk? You forgot her name?

Yes. It is so tiring that I can only remember the moves, not the name (laughs).

Were you in a spot of bother in any of the games? Was there the fear of getting eliminated at any point during the tournament?

Yes, actually the danger was there and it could have happened any time. You have to be careful. When I am playing my game I don't think much of being eliminated.

How did you feel after defeating former champion Maya Chiburdanidze in the semi-finals?

It is tough to play her and also Maric because they are very solid. Chiburdanidze is very strong in understanding the position. Luckily I got some chances in the rapid game and made full use of them.

How does it feel to be the women's world champion? Do you think that you are at the peak of your career?

Yes, I think so. At the moment I am doing my best. For a long time I wanted to become world champion, and I worked hard (laughs). But you never know when you will achieve it, if at all, because to be world champion you need some kind of luck also.

What happened in the World championship in New Delhi last year?

In Delhi I was a bit nervous.

Now, are you getting used to the knock-out or do you think the other players are more nervous?

I think I am getting more used to it. Even here I played many rapid games.

How would people look at you: the best player or the second best player since Xie Jun was the champion and didn't play in the event?

Actually we played many tournaments together. Sometimes she is ahead of me and sometimes I do better than her (laughs).

How is your personal score with Xie Jun, your predecessor, and with Judit Polgar, the No. 1 ranked woman for the last 12 years?

I haven't played against Judit so far. I play in the women's tournaments and she plays in the men's events.

How were your preparations for this event?

Of course, I analysed the games of many players. I did it in China using Chess Base. I live in Wen Zhou city which has a population of about seven million.

What kind of reception do you expect back home?

I think there will be some celebration which will start at the airport. I don't think it will be bigger than it was for Anand (laughs).

How much of the $100,000 prize money will actually go into your bank account?

For me, it doesn't matter you know. I have my husband (who was seated beside her) and he has money. The job of the lady is to spend money (laughs).

Do you like the Chinese system or is there any doubt in your mind?

I think the Chinese system is not too bad. Okay, they take some per cent of the prize money. But I think that is normal. They give you a salary, so it means you are never too rich or never too poor.

Can you recollect some of your victories other than this big one?

I won the Under-12 World championship in 1988 and was the World junior champion twice in 1994 and 1996. Last year I won the best performance award in the Olympiad.

Your husband is a Grandmaster (GM Mohammad Al-Modiahki). Do you also train together with other Chinese players?

Xu Jun is my coach. He is from another city. He had won the Asian title twice in India.

Which are the next events you are planning to play?

I do not know yet. It is possible to get invitations to play because many people like me more.

A lot of women players complain about the lower prize money for women as compared to the men. Have you noticed this difference?

Actually, they seem to have introduced the knock-out system from tennis and now is the time to have the money system also like in tennis. It is not the male chess players alone who make the game popular. You can see that there are many women players who help the cause.

Is that a request or a thought? Because as world women's champion FIDE is likely to listen to your views more than anybody else's.

I wish they pay attention to my views. In an earlier interview I said if FIDE loves chess it can do something more for women's chess. Because we are playing a brain game and it can start offering us good prize-money.

Tell us something about your childhood days. When did you start playing chess? Did you also start playing Chinese chess before playing the traditional game?

I started playing chess when I was seven years old. My beginner coach taught me the moves. I really don't know if I learnt to play the other game, Chinese chess, to perfection but I knew to play that when I was five years old.

Which was your first major step? When did you begin to believe in your abilities?

Actually I took a liking for the game the first time I saw it. My mother brought me to my beginner coach. Then I came up on my own.

Who is your favourite player or idol?

I like Anand very much. It is very sad that he lost in the semi-finals. But I believe he can come again and win the title back, may be next year.

How do you like being champion for two years now? Something which Xie Jun did not enjoy?

(Laughs) This is my luck! See, when I win I am champion for two years!

Who are the major opponents you foresee in women's chess in the next two years?

There are many players. Two years is a long time.

Have you seen the games of Koneru Humpy from India?

I only saw the Indian players who were in Moscow. I think the Indian players have improved very quickly. I wonder if Anand is training them (laughs).

In the recent Asia versus Europe match at Batumi our continent was so strong. Do you believe China has gone ahead of Europe in women's chess?

I am not fully sure of this. They (Europe) also have a few youngsters making rapid strides. Maybe for the moment, China has some advantage. We can take the example from India. Humpy is only 14 and doing extremely well.

What are your views about Kosteniuk, your opponent in the finals?

I feel she is very strong inside but she needs to improve her technique.

What kind of chess do you like, tactics, positional or attacking?

Every chess player likes attacking play. Though I am a positional player, I played some attacking games here. May be I can do more.

What do you do in China, work or study?

I turned a professional chess player. I am also studying economics in the University.

Xie Jun did not play here and many reasons were cited. What do you think is the reason?

I only think about chess. I don''t know why she didn't compete. Qin Kanying (finalist, last year) is eight months pregnant and it is not good for the baby and mother to play chess. It could have been dangerous if she had come here.

When did you meet your husband and start your relationship? Do you live in Qatar or China?

We met in Malaysia in 1994 and fell in love. We married last year in China. We haven't decided where to live (laughs). I live in China and he lives in Qatar. We spend a lot of money over the telephone. Of course he is doing more than I do. Anyway we love each other very much. That is why we decided to marry.

Do you believe that the knock-out championships have produced new champions each year and this is not a stable system to create a superstar?

I think women's chess is different from the men's. It is true that we may have new champions but an experienced player has more chances than the youngsters.

There was a comment that the final match was like 'boxing'. All eight games were decisive. If there was a reward for a draw, would you have tried it?

(Laughs) Yes. Of course I want a draw sometimes. But it is out of control. In a knock-out game, a draw is difficult.

Can you name one factor which you think was important in your winning the title here, like tactics. Your secret to success?

I will keep my secret. Otherwise I will lose my title (laughs)!