Sunday, January 11, 2009

Article on Alexandra Kosteniuk

Story from the Miami Herald Online (Image - from my archive - Kosteniuk at the 2007 European Team Championships) World chess queen plots her next move The women's world chess champion is a 24-year-old Russian aspiring model who lives with her husband and baby in Key Biscayne. BY EVAN S. BENN January 11, 2009 The best women's chess player in the world flipped a dirty diaper into the trash as she pondered her next move after a dominating year. "I want to open a chess academy online, keep training, doing the podcast," South Floridian Alexandra Kosteniuk said during a recent stroll with her baby, Francesca. "But right now, my priority is being a mommy." Kosteniuk, 24, won the Women's World Championship in her homeland of Russia in September. After several months of traveling the globe, Kosteniuk, her husband, Diego Garces, and their 20-month-old daughter are settled back at their home in Key Biscayne. An aspiring model who uses her good looks to promote chess, Kosteniuk has been compared to Russian tennis knockout (and Miami Beach resident) Anna Kournikova. (Kosteniuk debunks the comparison by noting that she has won individual tournaments, a feat the other Russian cannot claim.) But, like Kournikova, Kosteniuk has managed to broaden her sport's appeal by selling her combination of talent and beauty. About 3,000 people subscribe to her podcast at, and about 10,000 others log on each month to her website, where they can see photos of Kosteniuk in bikinis and buy her instructional DVDs. "It's the most popular chess site out there," said her husband, 49, who is also her webmaster and publicist. They met at a chess demonstration that Kosteniuk hosted in Switzerland, Garces' home country. He is an attentive handler, lugging oversize chess pieces to photo shoots and making sure that certain shots are off-limits -- nothing promiscuous and no photos of the hubby, please. The pair decided to make South Florida their home because Kosteniuk prefers the weather to Moscow's, and Garces' parents live here. An added perk: They are close to the World Chess Hall of Fame, situated just off the turnpike in West Kendall, where there is an Alexandra the Great exhibit highlighting Kosteniuk's successes. The museum is not the only one trumpeting her talents. The chess news site hails her "very analytical, incisive mind and an extremely determined spirit." She learned to play from her father when she was 5 years old. The young prodigy advanced so quickly that she was soon playing games blindfolded and dominating European tournaments. She made it to the finals of the World Championship in 2001 when she was 17 but lost. She continued her climb to the top, becoming the 10th woman to earn the rank of international grandmaster. Jerry Hanken, president of Chess Journalists of America, says he hopes she will inspire more women and young people to play. But after giving birth prematurely to Francesca in April 2007, Kosteniuk took time away from the game. She trained with fellow grandmasters and got into a daily running regimen that led her to enter several South Florida 5K races. She returned to Russia this past fall to win the World Championship -- good for a $60,000 prize and a jewel-encrusted tiara. (It's about as big a payday as professional chess players see; Kosteniuk's income comes in small doses from regional exhibitions and by selling merchandise from her website.) The title hasn't brought Kosteniuk worldwide fame. She gets noticed sometimes in Moscow, but "in Miami, I'm just like anyone else." And that, she said, is fine with her. "The modeling is just a hobby. What I really want is for people to enjoy chess the way I do." When the time is right, the champion said, she "of course" will teach her daughter to play. In the meantime, she plans to keep playing, keep studying and keep up with diaper duty. "Being a mommy is much harder than chess," she said. "But playing chess has taught me how to predict and analyze the next move. I'd say that's pretty useful in chess and in life." Miami Herald intern Carolina Navarro contributed to this report.
Darlings, I love Alexandra Kosteniuk. Years ago when I had the Chess Goddesses website online, I did an interview with her before she became the international chess star she is today. But to say that her website with 10,000 visitors a month is the most popular chess website on the internet? Even I, naive as I am, know better than that. Hell, this blog gets about 10,000 visitors a month! I'm sure sites such as The Week in Chess, Chessbase, Mig's Daily Dirt, Chessville and Susan Polgar's blog get a lot more than 10,000 visitors a month. Did he perhaps mean 10,000 visitors a day and the reporter mis-interpreted? All power and glory to Alexandra Kosteniuk. I'd love to see her successfully defend her world title next cycle (if there is one) and I'd love to see her mix it up in more events against guys rated 200 points above her - that's where she will get the experience she needs to truly become a top performer. I'd also love to see her switch her federation to the USA and start playing under the US flag. Is it patriotism and loyalty to her home country that keeps her from doing so, despite what I can't help but see would be more lucrative opportunities playing for the US as a young, beautiful and highly-rated female chessplayer?

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