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Sport - Chess Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Beauties in the brain game

By Stan Rayan

— Photos: Mahesh Harilal

Ekaterina Korbut.

KOCHI, NOV. 22. As the pretty girl lazes near the Casino Hotel lawns here, you realise that chess is slowly shedding its stuffy image.

With her short tops, tight mini skirts and long graceful legs, Russian Ekaterina Korbut could easily give some of the world's top catwalk queens a run for their money.

And she is not alone. Young chess czarinas like Romanian Alina Motoc, German Elisabeth Paehtz and Indian Tania Sachdev are giving the sport a cool and vibrant look at the ongoing Junior Worlds in Kochi.

They are the Maria Sharapovas and Anna Kournikovas of chess.

Packed with overweight players for years, chess is finally becoming a sport worth watching. Even the World Chess Federation, which is hunting for ways and means to make the game popular, is thrilled with the sport's new look.

True to her name, which conjures up images of Olympic gymnastics legends Olga Korbut and Ekaterina Szabo, the Ekaterina in Kochi was a top tumbler as a little girl.

"But I had frequent health problems in gymnastics, so I gave up the sport and took up chess at nine," said the Russian, the top seed at the Girls Worlds here.

As she floats lightly around the stuffy, crowded hall, you watch a hundred eyes following her.

Hail Kosteniuk

Tania Sachdev.

Glamour is brilliant for chess, World star Viswanathan Anand told this writer during a recent interview.

"Alexander Kosteniuk started this trend and I think it's great. In tennis, women players have done a lot to bring a wide audience and this will happen in chess too," said Anand.

Two years ago, when Russian Kosteniuk came for the majors in some stunning dresses, she was proclaimed as the Anna Kournikova of chess. Even the world chess federation, FIDE, which did a photo-shoot with her, was basking in her glamorous image.

And behind her beautiful image is also a very smart brain. Kosteniuk finished runner-up at the Women's Worlds a couple of years ago and a few days ago, the 20-year-old European champion became a men's Grandmaster.

Her rise to the top pack in world's chess is as stunning as her looks. Six months ago, she was languishing at the 15th spot in the world's women's rankings, while the brilliant Indian Koneru Humpy was an impressive third.

But with her attacking style of chess, Kosteniuk has powered her way to the fourth spot in the current women's list while Humpy has dropped to sixth. The Russian has also taken away Humpy's throne as the World's top girl. The Indian, who plays in the Boys Worlds in Kochi, is currently No. 2 in the girls' World list.

Two years ago, a series between Kosteniuk and another lovely chess queen Elisabeth Paehtz, titled the `Duel of the Graces', drew a lot of attention all over the world. Kosteniuk pipped Paehtz, who is the second seed in the Girls Worlds here, in a close tie-break and won the title in Germany.

Paehtz also won the under-18 World crown two years ago, while the other pretty girls in Kochi have similar impressive trophies in their showcases.

Romanian Alina is a former under-10 World champion and Tania is a former Asian junior champion with a Women's International Master title under her belt.

Who said beauty and brains don't go together!

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