Monday, July 6, 2009

WGM Anya Corke

Anya Corke – a special talent from Hong Kong
05.07.2009 – She was born in the USA but raised in Hong Kong, where her Chinese mother and Scottish father had lecturing positions. She is a WGM and strongest chess player in Hong Kong and has represented the island at several Olympiads playing on the first table against, amongst others, Gata Kamsky. In spite of an academic career this girl has a bright chess future. Portrait by Diana Mihajlova.

Anya Corke – a special talent from Hong Kong

A portrait by Diana Mihajlova

Around the time of the Spring Chess Festival, on which I recently reported, I had an opportunity to share considerable time with WGM Anya Corke. I got to know and befriend a fascinating young lady.

Anya Corke at this year's last session of 4NCL (Photo: Stephen Connor)

Anya is a highly accomplished chess player, passionate about literature – she has been devouring books since an early age and has built up a rich, erudite vocabulary. Anya is critical, analytical, with strong beliefs, but at the same time exquisitely sensitive and kind. Chess has been her main occupation for the last eight years (she is only 18!). At the beginning of her chess formation she studied on a couple of occasions at the GM Alexander Khalifman’s Chess Academy in St Petersburg.

Spring is in the air! Revelling in the first bloom on the Gellert Hill

Anya’s "chess sojourn" in Budapest might be her last for some time. She is about to take up residence at the prestigious Wellesley College in the USA. where she will be studying English literature and Russian language. She is well prepared for the Wellesley’s high standards: Anya has already accumulated a high amount of the classics of English Literature; she has a good grasp of Russian as well as French; and before the start of the academic year she is dedicating her summer to a very intensive course in Russian. It is obvious that her aspirations and new obligations will be highly demanding and time consuming. But Anya is hoping to be able to use any school holiday as an opportunity to fit in a chess tournament. "Academics will be my main focus, but I'll try to keep up with chess in whatever free time I have. I'm planning to play tournaments in the school holidays, as well as occasional weekenders around Boston. I'll also work with books, ICC and ChessBase to avoid getting too rusty. Every day hopefully, but it might not be realistic once I'm sucked into the vortex of college life. The Continental Open in Massachusetts in August will probably be my last tournament before college. Students are free from Christmas until the end of January, so I'm tentatively thinking about playing in the Rilton Cup, Hastings, or Gibraltar."

Anya was born in the USA but raised in Hong Kong, where her parents, a Chinese mother and Scottish father, had both obtained lecturing positions at the Hong Kong University. She is a Woman Grand Master and strongest chess player in Hong Kong. She represented the island at several Olympiads playing on the first table, an occasion that saw her play against GM Gata Kamsky among others. Today she represents England, which is normal, since she has a British passport. Anya got the WGM title when she was 14 years old at the 2004 Calvia Olympiad, scoring 9/13 in the “men's” section.

A surprise visit by the Rajlichs: IM Iweta Rajlich (POL), IM Vasik Rajlich (USA), Anya and (the host) Diana Mihajlova (ENG)

Rybka’s Iweta and Vas Rajlich were on their way back to Warsaw, where they now live, after a Mediterranean cruise and European travel holiday. They made a brief stop-over in Budapest, where they lived for a number of years. We caught up over an afternoon tea and chat about chess and life.

Vas and Anya exchanged notes about their colleges – Anya’s future Wellesley and Vas’ alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are found in the close vicinity of each other in the Boston area. Amusing information popped up: Wellesley College, which is an all-girls academic institution, has the reputation of producing very smart ladies after four years of traditional, strict live-in, behave properly and study hard policy (the College was featured in the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” with Julia Roberts). But traditions lax with time, and the Wellesley’s management thought appropriate to remind the girls that there are boys out there. Nowadays the college’s recreational curriculum includes bus excursions for the ladies to pay visit to their neighbours at MIT. It is not an all-boys College, but because of the nature of its highly technical studies it is predominantly attended by male students. Apparently ladies chess players are encouraged to enrol and their chess skills are deemed quite satisfactory for the admission requirements.

Anya, Vas and Iweta

On a more serious note, as the Kurnosov v Mamedyarov affair (Aeroflot) was still fresh we wanted to have the opinion of the Rybka’s man himself. Vas, not referring specifically to the case in question, thought that the use of technical help during tournaments is realistically possible and that a thorough security search should be compulsory before games at high level tournaments.

Before her “sabbatical” from chess, which hopefully will be only temporary, Anya rounded nicely her extended chess activities in Budapest by hopping off to the closing session of the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in Great Britain, during the long May weekend. She contributed 2.5 points to her team in the first division, White Rose, winning against GM Neil McDonald and WGM Jana Belin and drawing with the current British Champion GM Stewart Conquest. “20 Elo points in just one weekend!” she exclaimed in a subsequent email. She is now off to her new duties as a full-time student but hopefully similar successes will follow before not too long.

Time will show how much Anya the chess player will resist Anya the academic. “I always want to be involved in chess, but I don't think it's practical as a fulltime profession unless I drastically improve. After college I'm thinking of going to law school. Or maybe become a journalist, which would give me more flexibility to play chess. I don't know, right now it's all up in the air.”

The example of IM Harriet Hunt, the English multiple ladies champion, who after earning her doctorate and a position at the Cambridge University turned her back to a highly promising chess career, points to the fact that academic and professional obligations are among the dangers that may take promising ladies players away from chess. But I trust that in Anya’s case the chess player’s resilience and love for the game will hold its own ground. I have witnessed her reaction after a couple of rare occasions when she lost a game. Outside of the playing hall and in the privacy of our own company this gentle creature could not hide the pain, but at the same time all her being would turn into a fierce warrior determined not to repeat the experience. When once I related to her a discussion I happen to have with one of her opponents to whom she lost, and who maintained that he had an “equal position most of the time,” she burst out at such an indignant offence: “He had an equal position!?! He is dreaming! It was a lottery he ever managed to win that game!”

She is bound to slow down her chess activity due to her new occupation, but I can hardly imagine that she will be able to stay away from chess for too long. Chess and literature – she loves equally and she is quite capable of keeping up with both. Anya’s determination and driving ambition coupled with her sweet nature are inspirational.

On an afternoon stroll along the Danube we stopped by this charming Pierrot, an unavoidable photo opportunity for tourists. Locals created a myth that a wish thought of in his presence will come true. What might have been Anya’s wish at this crossroads of her young life? I will let it be her secret and wish it may come true.


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