Person of day - 29 OCTOBER 2023
Xu Yuhua was born on 29thOctober 1976 in the Chinese city of Jinhua, in the province of Zhejiang. Xu began to play Chinese chess, but she switched her focus to European chess in light of Xie Jun’s successes. She was a sixteen year-old provincial girl with no experience in international tournaments and no rating when she qualified from the Asian zonal tournament for the inter-zonal.
At the 1993 tournament in Jakarta, Xu Yuhua had a difficult time, winning only 5 points out of 11. Meanwhile, her failures at the world U18 and U20 championships meant that she was in the shadow of her talented compatriot, Zhu Chen. In 1996, Xu finally won a bronze in a juniors’ competition, but her opponent scored12 points out of 13. At the Asian team championship, the Chinese team consisted of Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, Qin Kanying and Xu Yuhua came first by some distance, but Xu was, for now, unable to qualify for the Olympic team.
Later on, when she had already became a world champion, the celebrated chess player admitted that the end of the 1990s- when she was considered unpromising and irrelevant- prompted Xu to spend more time training. In 1998, she won the individual Asian championship and to this she added the Asian team championship a year later. Xu Yuhua also enjoyed notable success at the 2000 World Cup, where she qualified from her group and defeated Pia Cramling and Natalia Zhukova in the play-offs on her way to winning the competition.
In 2000, Xu won the first of her three Olympic gold medals- she would go on to win the 2002 and 2004 Olympiads as well. However, at the individual world championship, Natalia Zhukova avenged her previous defeat in the third round. Nonetheless, a year later, the determined chess player won a qualifying tournament in China, finishing ahead of Zhu Chen by 2,5 points. In the Europe vs Asia match in 2001, Xu Yuhua thrashed Chiburdanidze, Kovalevskaya, Gurieli and Ioseliani, winning 6,5 out of 8 possible points. Surprisingly enough, only then did FIDE award her the title of grandmaster.
At the 2001 world championship in which Xie Jun was absent, many predicted a Zhu Chen-Xu Yuhua final, but Xu sensationally lost her place to a young Alexandra Kosteniuk. Another victory at the 2002 World Cup raised her reputation once again, as Humpy Koneru and Antoaneta Stefanova were defeated. But the 2004 world championship only brought more disappointment to one of the world’s strongest chess players as she lost to Koneru in the fourth round.
After this, Xu Yuhua took a break from chess to study law as an undergraduate at Beijing University. Xu married in 2006 and stopped playing in tournaments. She did not want to participate in another knockout world championship as she was three months pregnant by that point. At the last moment, the trainer of the Chinese national team insisted that she try her strength at a tournament.
Oftentimes, success comes when it is unexpected: after defeating Anna Ushenina, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Tatiana Kosintseva, Svetlana Matveeva and Alisa Galliamova, Xu Yuhu became the world champion, a grandmaster among men and attained her record rating of 2517.
In 2008, the world champion lost her crown and after the 2009-2010 Grand Prix, where she won the first stage but did not perform as well afterwards, she decided to end her career.
In 2011, Xu Yuhua earned her master’s degree in literature, specialising in Chinese linguistics. Unlike her hero Xie Jun, she did not remain the sport. Right now, she is helping applicants and writing a book about dialects of Chinese.