Person of day - 13 MARCH 2024
At the end of the 1980s, a real chess boom began in China that encompassed the success of Xie Jun, who won the world crown shortly after. One of the first to follow in the footsteps of the great Xie was a girl from Wenzhou city of Zhejiang province called Zhu Chen. Her immense talent was evident from a young age: Zhu won the U12 world championship comfortably and took two gold medals from U20 championships several years later.
The young chess player repeatedly proved her superior skill in national adults’ championships and cemented her place as board two of China’s Olympic team. Her inclusion resulted in drastic improvements for the team: bronze in Moscow in 1994, silver in Yerevan in 1996 and victories is Elista in 1998, Istanbul in 2000 and Bled in 2002!
Going into the 2000 world championship, Zhu Chen was considered one of the favourites, but she went down to Irina Krush in the very first round. However, only a year later, following Xie Jun’s departure from chess, the path to the title lay clear! Having defeated a young Alexandra Kosteniuk in Moscow in what was a bloody final, Zhu became a second world champion from China. The Western press gave the following coverage to the new chess queen: “Not only does Zhu Chen play well, but she is charming, beautiful and smart, with a degree from one of China’s most prestigious universities. (In 1995-2001, Zhu Chen was a student of the Economic and Management Faculty at Tsinghua University, China – ed.). Never before was the female champion’s image so attractive to the chess world!”
Qatar’s strongest chess player Mohammed Al-Modiahki was captivated by the Eastern princess and asked for her hand. The young couple married in year 2000. Zhu Chen performed wonderfully at a Rapid Grand Prix stage in Qatar, where she knocked out FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov and battled fiercely with Alexey Dreev. Soon, the grandmaster couple had a child and Zhu Chen missed the 2004 world championship without defending her title.
After returning to the game, Zhu Chen reached new highs: she won the world women’s rapid championship in 2005, super tournament in Krasnoturinsk in 2007, several Asian Games. Her cooperation with her new coach Viktor Bologan turned out to be extremely fruitful; Zhu Chen also worked with Alexander Morozevich, one of the strongest chess players in the world, and she also worked with GM Vladimir Akopian from Armenia.
In 2006, disagreements arose between the ex-world champion and the Chinese Chess Association that decided to rejuvenate the national team and put forward a young group for the Olympiad in Turin. The three-time world champion took it personally and already the next event in Italy saw her performing for the Qatari men’s team.
Xie Jun’s successor never regained the crown, though. In 2010 in Antakya, she was faced off with a player recruited to replace Zhu at the 2006 Olympiad. The leading match between Zhu Chen and Hou Yifan was an equal and rigorous contest- the future world champion only won on tie-break. Recent years have seen Zhu Chen a rare visitor to competitions, but quite a successful one at that, as a rule. Thus, she became Asian blitz champion in 2015.
Zhu Chen is spending a lot of time advertising and promoting chess. She used to be a member of the FIDE Women's Committee in 2010-2014, and beginning with 2014 she has been acting as an adviser to the same committee. In 2013, she founded a chess academy in China bearing her name, actively participating in the training process of future male and female champions. She is Chairman of the Chinese Language Club in Qatar, a member of the All-China Committee of Young Compatriots Living Abroad.
In 2018, Zhu Chen entered Arkady Dvorkovich's team for the FIDE presidential elections. After the team's victory, she has become FIDE Treasurer.
Besides her native Chinese, she is fluent in English and has basic knowledge of Arabic. Zhu Chen and Mohammed Al-Modiahki bring up two children.