Person of day - 30 OCTOBER 2023
The seventh world champion and progenitor of the Chinese school of chess started her career by playing Xiangqi. Xie Jun made significant progress right away and won the Beijing championship soon after she started playing. After this, the Chinese government passed a secret decree to devote substantial efforts to prepare her for Western chess. The young chess player quickly moved to the forefront of Chinese chess; she became the youngest master of sport in the country and she became a player of international stature.
The first revelation of Xie Jun came at the 1998 world U20 championship. A player who did not even have an official rating, Xie Jun offered strong competition to Alisa Galliamova, Ketevan Arakhamia and Elena Zaiats, but she lost to the champion from Kazan and split 2nd-4thplaces. Xie was noticed by multiple experts of women’s chess, but no one expected that it would take just a few years for the Chinese player to knock Maia Chiburdanidze off her throne.
Xie Jun’s rise was quick and linear: she came second at an inter-zonal tournament to Nona Gaprindashvili, split 1stplace at the candidates’ tournament with Alisa Maric from Yugoslavia before winning the additional match 4,5:2,5. All of China’s chess resources were devoted to preparing her and her trainer Liu Wei for the match against Chiburdanidze. The male leaders of the Middle Kingdom’s chess schools copied her openings and played countless training games.
The match took place in 1991 in Manila and the contest was bitter. Maia Chiburdanidze surged ahead by a score of 4:3, but Xie Jun took the initiative and ended up winning 6,5:4,5. Chess fans around the world treated this development with scepticism- many said that Maia could not prepare properly because of the collapse of the USSR and because she was unsuited to the unfamiliar Philippine climate.
While candidates were playing for the right to challenge her, Xie Jun fulfilled the norms of a male grandmaster and defeated a veterans’ team while leading the women’s team. The challenger in 1993 was Nona Ioseliani, and her defeat was overwhelming: 8,5:2,5. The world was once again witness to the power of the Chinese champion.
Meanwhile, another rival was preparing to challenge her: the eldest Polgar sister, Susan. While preparing for her match against her fierce opponent, she played a friendly match against Viktor Korchnoi, which she lost 1:3. In Linares, the Chinese grandmaster surged ahead with a score of 2:1, but here, Senor Rentero, who was the match’s main sponsor, felt disappointed by the draws of the second and third rounds and announced that he was fining both players. Both naturally protested, but the match became more and more rigorous, which suited Polgar. After triumphing in several key rounds, Susan won the match 8,5:4,5 and became world champion.
Xie Jun made an immediate attempt to regain her title and came second at the candidates’ tournament. As per the regulations, a match between Xie Jun and Alisa Galliamova- the winner of the tournament- took place, which Xie Jun won 8,5:6,5. Alas, the second round is yet to take place; Susan was expecting a child and asked FIDE to postpone the match to give her time for recovery after her pregnancy. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov rejected this request and the seventh world champion retained her title without playing. After the scandal following the cancelled match, the FIDE Congress decided to institute a knockout championship for women.
In 2000, Xie Jun played a match against the whole world- her opponent’s moves were decided by vote. Soon after, she drew 1:1 against the Deep Junior computer programme. Finally, the world champion played against Anatoly Karpov and lost 2:4.
In the 2000 knockout world championship, she defended her title, defeating Svetlana Matveeva, Elena Zaiatz, Natalia Zhukova, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya and her compatriot Qin Kanying in the final. In 2001, she won 9 points at the Europe-Asia match, which finished with a large victory ofChinese players against Russians and Georgians. By then, the level of authority enjoyed by the 1998 Olympic champion in her own homeland was immense- Xie Jun gave regular lectures and chess sessions to young Chinese players.
Despite all this, Xie Jun did not play in the 2002 world championship: she married chess master Wu Shaobin and they had a daughter shortly after. The former world champion announced that she would be competing in the 2004 Olympiad, in her final attempt to help her country win gold medals. China did indeed win, by a healthy margin. Xie Jun won 7 points out of 10 at the first board and dedicated her victory to her child.
“I think raising children is very important. Parents must devote regular attention to their child. I would like my daughter to know what victory is early on. And I also want her to never rest on her laurels.” (Xie Jun)
Since 2006, she has not competed in any tournaments. Xie Jun heads a grandmaster centre in Beijing and works at the Chinese Ministry of Sport. Young Chinese chess players are obliged to pass an interview with the Middle Kingdom’s most legendary chess player.