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Chess Queen Making All the Right Moves
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World champion chess master Zhu Chen is now a Qatari citizen and is representing the Asian Games hosts as she battles for gold against opponents from her former hometown.

"They were all my old team-mates, but right now, we have to sit on the opposite side of the board and try to win for different countries," said Zhu Chen at the on-going Doha Asian Games.

Zhu won a bronze medal at the women's Rapid Swiss with a 6-3 record on Monday. "I know it is a complicated feeling. But as a professional chess player, you must be focused on the competition," she said.

"Whether it is a world championship or the Asian Games, all you have to do is to win rather than think of anything else."

The International Grandmaster was married to local counterpart Mohamad al-Modiahki, Qatar's first-ever Grandmaster. The unlikely pair met in 1994 at a match in Malaysia. Then, the 18-year-old Zhu could barely speak English, so the pair had to resort to playing out their love on a chessboard.

"There are many combinations with the king and the queen that are quite beautiful," says Zhu, with a wink.

They started the romance against the wishes of both families and also lots of Chinese fans and officials. But the couple married in 2000 in China. Zhu confronted the opposition with characteristic determination. "Nobody could have stopped our marriage," she said.

Now having had a two-year-old girl, Zhu begins to pay more attention to her family rather than on the chess board. "After you get married and have a baby, life is different. I want to spend more time with my husband and baby. Competition is just part of the life but not the most important one any more."

Chess mania

But whether Zhu is willing or not, her former team-mates and coaches have seen her as the biggest obstacle on China's way to winning major international tournaments.

"She has always been one of the best players in the world. Her techniques and experiences are excellent. She had showed good form in different competition after representing Qatar. There will be fierce competition between her and Chinese players in the future," said Xu Jun, Chinese Grandmaster and also Zhu's former coach.

In 1988 Zhu became the first Chinese player to win an international chess competition when she won the World Girls Under 12 Championship in Romania. She won the World Junior Girls Chess Championship in 1994 and 1996 and crowned the world title in 2002.

Zhu's popularity can be partially explained by China's current obsession with chess.

The chess icon's move also saddens a great number of fans as her beauty and achievements have helped establish a large base of supporters.

In just two decades, the number of amateur chess players in the country has increased from a few thousand to more than 5 million.

Training regimens were brutal. Eight hours of rigorous mind games a day left her so exhausted that she would flop into bed and fall asleep immediately, only to find herself a few minutes later dreaming of chess moves.

"Zhu has a strong personality. I think we should not exaggerate her identity as an opponent. If we push her too much, she should fight back more," said China's world champion Xie Jun.

(China Daily December 6, 2006)

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