Columns | September 20, 2008 17:24

Alexandra and I

I was selling books in the windy hallway of De Moriaan in Wijk aan Zee for Chess and Go Shop Het Paard. It was quiet, a regular week day.

By Arne Moll

There was practically no audience for the games. It was one of the last years of the nineties. I had put my books and chess sets on display on two tables and was reading a study book on the historical development of Eastern Slavonic language families in the meantime.

Suddenly I noticed a small fellow who was busy arranging a couple of wooden, hand-made chess sets on the empty table next to me. The man had a distinctly East-European look, but wasn't a participant in the A or B group. He had a dark moustache and was wearing an old-fashioned leather jacket. Perhaps a second?

Women World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk at the closing ceremony in Nalchik, Russia

Apparently, the man had noticed that I was reading a book on Slavonic languages, since he addressed me in Russian. He asked if he could display his chess sets next to me, and whether I would perhaps be willing to sell them for him ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú of course I would receive a share of the profit! I said OK. He introduced himself ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and suddenly I did recognize him: it was the same man whom I had seen the day before, during the annual blitz tournament in De Moriaan, and who had constantly been in the company of a young girl ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Alexandra Kosteniuk, against whom I had also played. She must have been quite young, because I won easily ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú to her and his chagrin. It was, of course, her dad.

The episode of the previous day made me wonder why he spoke to me today. What did he want from me, except that I would sell his chess sets? He offered me a cup of coffee and made some small talk on the political situation in Russia and the troubles he had finding suitable tournaments for his daughter. After that, he left ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú checking on Alexandra, no doubt.

The next day he was back again. He came up to me and said he wanted to discuss ?¢‚ǨÀúbusiness'. I was living in Amsterdam, right? I nodded. Did I perhaps know a store in Amsterdam where they sold [inaudible]? What did he mean? Did me mean walkie talkies? In any case he didn't mean cell phones ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú they were still rare in those days, by the way.

Although I still wasn't sure what he wanted, I said I might indeed know such a store: there used to be a store in the Bilderdijkstraat, close to my old job, where they sold all kinds of electronic communication devices. Excellent, in that case he wanted me to accompany him to this store, tomorrow, a rest day, and then I had to explain in Dutch to the salesperson what he was looking for. The fact that I myself didn't quite understand what he wanted, seemed not to worry him: we would be fine.

The next day I waited for him near the Victoria Hotel, where the bus from Beverwijk arrives. It was a cold, rainy day. To my surprise, not only dad Kosteniuk emerged from the bus, but Alexandra as well. She gave me a weak hand and didn't say much. Her dad, on the other hand, talked a lot and again expressed his hope that we would ?¢‚ǨÀúsucceed'. It started to dawn on me that the stuff he wanted to buy wasn't for sale in Russia. But why would it be available in Amsterdam? In the tram, he was talking about police radios and high frequency scanners. I didn't understand much of it. Alexandra didn't say anything during the whole ride. A shy, mouse-like girl with little glasses.

Fortunately, the store was open. By now I had understood that dad Kosteniuk was looking for a certain type of police scanners ?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄúI didn't dare ask what he needed them for. Miraculously, the store owner seemed to know what he meant, went to the back of the store and came back with two devices. They cost 500 guilders apiece, but father Kosteniuk bought them straight away, without even testing them. Alexandrea stared at the floor. Five minutes later we were outside again. He thanked me several times and we had a coffee in a caf?ɬ©. Alexandra remained as silent as the grave. After we finished our coffee, I brought them back to the station and then I was alone again in the rain.

I was selling books in Wijk aan Zee for the rest of the week, too, but I didn't see the Kosteniuks again. A couple of years later, when Alexandra was already called ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Anna Kournikova of chess?¢‚Ǩ?, I suddenly received an e-mail from father Kosteniuk. He asked me how I was doing, and if I had seen Alexandra's new website (www.kosteniuk.com) yet? And did I know she had written a book? It was being translated in English and he wondered if I was interested in translating it in Dutch, too. I answered that I would, but that doubted if there ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwas a market for it?¢‚Ǩ? ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Holland was, after all, a small country, and Dutch a small language. No problem: he would send me her book and I could see for myself.

And sure enough, two weeks later a package from Moscow arrived at the post office, a book called Kak stat' Grossmejsterom v 14 let (translated as How I became Grandmaster at age 14). For starters, that was not exactly true ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú she was a Women Grandmaster at age 14. I found the book curious, but I thought it would be crazy to translate it into Dutch ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it wouldn't even sell a hundred copies. In the most polite manner I reported back to father Kosteniuk, but I didn't receive an answer anymore. I haven't heard from the Kosteniuks since.

Last year, I saw Alexandra again in Wijk aan Zee. The same glasses; a woman now. Even now I thought she made a feeble impression, but the newspapers were talking about chessbabes and glamour girls in chess. She was even interviewed on national television. I nodded to her from the audience. Did she recognize me? It was years ago, of course, she'd seen the whole world in between, she was by now an infinitely stronger chessplayer than I, who was still going by tram in Amsterdam every day. She looked right through me. She'd made it, she was a star.

I still wonder if these police scanners worked or not.

April 2006

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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll

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Comments

ranger224's picture

The story left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Although Ms. Kosteniuk is now an adult, calling a child or adolescent "mouse-like", who "even now" makes a "feeble impression" strikes me as rather ungentlemanly and classless. Euwe's claim that the story is not about Alexandria at all is ridiculous, but he is right that it reflects far more on the author than it does on Ms. Kosteniuk or her father.

arne's picture

@ranger, perhaps you don't know the background of this story. It was the Kosteniuks themselves who at the time of their book created and exploited a particular 'image' of Alexandra (suggestive photos etc.) when she was still a child or adolescent. That is indeed why I wrote the last paragraph. On me, Alexandra has never made that impression. She's a very likeable girl, but I have known her only as shy and mouse-like - indeed like myself, as any average reader could have understood from the story. I don't see what's so 'unpleasant' about this.
If anything, I suppose certain pictures of 16 year old Alexandra in bathing suit should leave an 'unpleasant taste' in some people's mouths. It's not up to me to judge this, and I'm sure she has grown over it long ago, but I don't see why I shouldn't write about it either.

ton's picture

These kinds of stories are the ones we like to read. thank you , Arne and keep up the good work.

Euwe's picture

@Karpanskyarov: I think the story is not about Alexandra at all, but about the author (notice also the title). If there's anyone consciously described in a "unflattering terms", it's the "fragile ego" of the writer, not Alexandra. It's rather easy to describe a story as 'banal' if you don't read between the lines and regard it as a piece of journalism or gossip only.

I'm back!'s picture

And now...

Vladimir Kramnik 51%
Viswanathan Anand 50%

One thing is certain about this match, it won't be decided by polls.

Karpanskyarov's picture

Perhaps something is lost in the translation, but the story came across as banal. Other than describing Mrs. Kosteniuk in unflattering terms and insinuating that her father is perhaps a little strange, there's nothing of substance. I doubt a similar story titled "Me and Anand" would make the cut to appear on this site.
Is there some general animosity towards female chess players, or a more specific disdain of Alexandra? For those with a fragile ego it is perhaps understandable for there to be negative feelings towards a female that it is better at chess than 99.5% of the people who visit this site, but you would think winning the world title (even a "women's" title) would afford her some respect.

Manu's picture

@ i?Ǭ¥m back: I hope vishy wins , but what is more important to me : i hope nobody cheats.

Tim's picture

Nice story! I remember the Dutch version from some years ago, but it's great to read it again and it deserves an international audience. It has this bittersweet life-passing-you-by touch that is easy to relate to.

Of course this is no ordinary "gossip" story! If anything, just read the last paragraph again. It should be quite obvious.

neil's picture

hi

Who will win the 2008 World Championship Match?

Viswanathan Anand (51%)
Vladimir Kramnik (50%)

Total Votes: 296

some are more equal than others

x y's picture

@E - it has to do with hormones and the male/female ratio in chess, not at all unreasonable...

Manu's picture

@E: Maybe they think she?Ǭ¥s beautifull compared with the other top female players.I wonder what can J Polgar think of this WWC.

Andy's picture

Cut & Paste story... I've read it before, long ago

peter's picture

Not Cut & Paste, it's called translation, Andy. It was published in the Dutch language on the predecessor of this website, Doggers-schaak.nl, on April 23rd, 2006, when we didn't write in English yet.

Aleksander's picture

Great story, it has a certain dream-like quality (the part with scanners and inaudible omission).

Janis Nisii's picture

This is a little gem, thank you Arne!

Felix's picture

Translating such nice articles is a good idea, I found this quite funny :)

Thegreatbakker's picture

What a story! But here in the Netherlands I also knew people who had these scanners and would listen all night to the conversations of the police officers. Maybe he will read this and tell us now why he wanted them :|

Peter Visser's picture

Prachtig verhaal! Heel invoelbaar.

E's picture

I never understood how one sees a "babe" in Kosteniuk. The Anna Kournikova of chess... Give me a break.

Bert de Bruut's picture

Oops a blitz game *blush* Did not notice that in time...

ChessGirl's picture

I might be mistaken, but even though the book was translated as "How I became a grandmaster at 14", the Russian original means "How to become a grandmaster at 14", so I don?Ǭ¥t really understand why the English translator decided to give the title such a turn because, true as it is that the English title is not completely true, I think it?Ǭ¥s totally licit to advise people on how to become a GM at 14 even if it took you more time... just a comment on something unimportant.

Bert de Bruut's picture

So what about showing the game? Not everybody carries the scalp of a future worldchampion on his belt.... and a glamourous scalp for that matter!

hairulov's picture

Intersting story Arne. I enjoy it very much. Thanks....and write more :)

smith's picture

Publishing this story wants us to take a closer look on Kosteniuk's moves, right?

John Hamer's picture

I am suspicious of those radio scanner or walkie talkies

Jarvis's picture

1. 0-0-0

Jarvis's picture

You did an individual a personal favor some years back. His daughter happens to be famous, and now you sell out his integrity like this? Indeed tasteless, pointless (except, unfortunately, there are many vulgar people who enjoys this kind of seedy crap) and stupid. I'm happy there are people like Karpanskyarov and ranger224 out there though. Oh, and the subtle irony of smith pleases me of course.

Respect the integrity of your fellow human beings.

Arne Moll's picture

@Jarvis, not that it's relevant but for your information, mr. Kosteniuk himself has said he liked the story. In Holland, we have an expression for your kind of demand for respect: "More Catholic than the Pope".

Creemer's picture

he who does not perceive depth, thinks the world is flat

verhoek's picture

This is an interesting and insightful article. The main theme has to do with the tremendously difficult voyage that took Kosteniuk to the World Championship. The article brings home the point that she practically came out of nowhere with not much more than her talent and her father's support. IMHO, the few mistakes made along the route only underscore the difficulty of the enterprise. I would dare to say you don't have to like her but you have to respect her.

Alex's picture

"Even now I thought she made a feeble impression"

Arne, Arne, Arne!

Perhaps it is time for you to visit an optometrist!!

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