Nikita Kim, Press-Officer of the tournament, reflects about the phenomenon of the third stage Grand Prix winner.
Oh, how unbelievable women chess is! You could hardly imagine two weeks ago that the 9th rated chess player in the tournament could have 8.5 points after 9 games and she would be a comfortable winner with 2 rounds to go. Almost all the leaders of the world of female chess gathered in Nalchik with the exception of Hou Yifan, Humpy Koneru from India and Anna Muzychuk from Slovenia.
Three former world champions: Zhu Chen, Antoaneta Stefanova and Alexandra Kosteniuk were in the list of competitors. The Russian top women players: two sisters, Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintseva and also former World candidate Alisa Galliamova. The champion of Europe Viktorija Cmilyte, and the number one of the Ukrainian national team Kateryna Lahno.
This phenomenal achievement of Zhao Xue reminds us of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov at their best. But the 11-th and the 13-th world champions achieved such success in a period when they dominated their opponents. But we couldn’t say that Zhao was a favourite in this tournament.
But it was possible to send all initial prognosis in a pile after crazy start of the Chinese – 6 from 6! And it is necessary to give the due to Zhao Xue, who did not relax and kept her motivation at the highest level until her inevitable victory. “I remember the tournament where I was a leader with the result 7.5 out of 9. But then I lost the last 2 games. So I was really worriyng until that moment when I was unapproachable by the others.”
What is the difference between Zhao Xue nowadays and her play last year? Here is her own opinion on this question: “There is not much difference but I feel myself more confident here. The matter is sometimes I rely not only on variations, but more on intuition. Feelings can deceive when you are in a bad shape. But it is perfect here that I can combine them both”.
Does Zhao Xue consider challenging the world champion title in this cycle? “ I haven’t had such an aim yet. I played in the semifinal in the last world championship and did not get to the first 3 places in general standings in Grand Prix. Now I want just to play better”.
What we can also say about the Chinese chess player? She is very nice and pleasant to talk to (as the other participants of Grand Prix, by the way) though she is rather too modest for a player of such level.
It looks like there is no aggression in her character which is really peculiar for great champions. It is obvious that the she just loves chess and enjoys it. Nothing personal towards her opponents. Moreover at every press conference it seemed that Zhao Xue was a bit shy after every victory. “ I was very lucky”- it is the traditional summary of Zhao Xue after every game. Though “very lucky” she was just against Ekaterina Kovalevskaya who really had a chance to stop the winner. But it has not happened. So amazingly the result of Zhao looks natural!
The participants of Grand Prix also give the due to Zhao Xue, though they are not ready to consider her as the new leader of world chess. This means that the Chinese woman played one fantastic tournament, but it cannot guarantee her the next results. But of course everybody agreed that it was a brilliant performance. “ My congratulations to Zhao, she achieved phenomenal result which is perhaps unrepeatable at all” - said Kateryna Lahno.”
“Zhao is a good girl, - says Nadezda Kosintseva. - Recently she had been playing unsuccessfully and lowered her rating. A lot of people have written her off. Nothing to say - she is a fighter!”
“My congratulations to the winner. And we promise that we will do our best to provide her a “harder” tournament life the next time”- assured us Alexander Kosteniuk.
But let’s not forget about the world champion Hou Yifan who obviously has her own chess opinion on her compatriot’s victory. Will this phenomenal success of Zhao Xue be the only one or is it a sign of an appearance of a new leader in female chess for the following years? We can get an answer in the next Grand Prix.