Friday, September 19, 2008

Kosteniuk "Not Just a Chess Kournikova"

By Dylan Loeb McClain at The International Herald Tribune: Dylan Loeb McClain: Chess Published: September 19, 2008 Alexandra Kosteniuk can no longer be called the Anna Kournikova of chess. For years, Kournikova, the tennis player, was more noted for her looks than her accomplishments on the court. Like Kournikova, the 24-year-old Kosteniuk, a Russian grandmaster, has traded on her looks, modeling for magazines like the European editions of Vogue and Marie Claire, and selling bikini-clad images of herself through her Web site. Kosteniuk, however, bristles at comparisons with Kournikova. "I think I've won enough chess competitions not to be compared to her," Kosteniuk said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. Her argument is now beyond doubt. That interview took place barely an hour after she became the 14th women's world champion by winning a tournament in Russia. Kosteniuk's victory was a bit of a surprise. She had not played much since giving birth to a daughter two years ago. "I wanted to have some time," she said. Once she decided to return to tournament play, Kosteniuk found it difficult to regain her competitive form. But, she began working intentively with four grandmasters, and the work paid off. Kosteniuk, who is ranked No. 10 among active women players, played exceptionally well during the championship, beating Pia Cramling of Sweden, No. 6, in the semifinals and Hou Yifan of China, No. 4, in the final. Kosteniuk said Hou will dominate women's competitions in a few years. Hou certainly learned some valuable lessons in her match with Kosteniuk, who had the upper hand in every game. Still, she only managed to win the first, while the other three ended in draws. In that first game, Hou played 8 a3 to avoid the Marshall Attack, which arises after 8 c3 d5. The position was fairly balanced until Hou lashed out with 17 g4, an impetuous move; 17 Ng3 was more circumspect. Kosteniuk immediately took advantage, launching an attack with 17 ... h5. Hou managed to hold on until Kosteniuk broke through, first with 33...Nd3 and then 36 ... Nf3 and 37 ... Bg4. The point was that White could not play 38 Qg4 because of 38 ... Qg4 39 Ng4 d1/Q, while 38 Ng4 would lose to 38 ... Qf3 39 Kf3 d1/Q. Hou resigned after 48 ... fg because she faced certain checkmate.

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