Almira Skripchenko – Discovering China part two

by ChessBase
9/18/2005 – Jinan is south of Beijing, a city with a population of over five million, which recently staged a chess tournament with twelve ladies from different parts of the world. "Beautiful and famous chessplayers welcome!" was the motto. Almira Skripchenko, who was one of the players, sent us a big report with her own personal impressions.

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A week ago I started a report series on my recent trip to China. In part one I told you how it came about, and described my first impressions of the country, in and around Beijing. Well, after a few days in the capital we proceeded to Jinan, just south of Beijing. The city, with a population of about five and a half million, is also called Jì'nán or Chi-nan, and is the capital of the Shandong province.

The Chinese Chess Association had invited twelve ladies from different parts of the world to play in the tournament: China, USA, France, Russia, Hungary, Armenia, Slovakia, Turkey, Iran and Malaysia. Ali Nihat Yazici reported on the event (see links at the bottom of the page); I will once again give you my personal impressions of the visit.

The view of Jinan city center, the first thing you see when you arrive in the city.

This was the view from my window in Jinan. It reminded me a little of Soviet times.

Near our hotel there was a typical Chinese market with different kind of vases. Sizes varied from little ones, from which I tried to extract the magical genie, but in vain, to ones where you yourself could hide inside.

Immediatelly after our arrival a press conference that took place, with me, Irina Krush from the US, Veronika Schneider from Hungary and Veronika Machalova from Slovakia. We were met by many journalists and the funniest slogan I have ever seen in chess tournament: "Beautiful and famous chessplayers welcome!"

Here the participants of the women’s event visit one of the main sponsors, the biggest Shandong newspaper "Qilu Evening", which naturally reported every day on the tournament.

Irina Krush and me in the restaurant, studying our travel guide, trying to learn a bit of Chinese and waiting for our tournament to begin. Little did we know that each day before playing our games we had to visit sponsors, give promotional simuls and interviews, and only then to play chess! Sometimes we didn’t even know at what time the round would begin.

So the first day started at nine o’clock (!) with a simultaneous display for the best kids of Shandong province, including many national champions.

Veronikas : Machalova and Shneider concentrating on their games.

The next generation of Chinese GM’s

These kids are dead certain on their way to GM titles

Here I was faced with the National under seven champion, who was playing theory, and had learnt a variation that forced a draw. It was nine o’clock in the morning, and so I was happy to repeat moves for a draw.

It was a theoretical draw, but the trainer came and started to shout at the kid: “You didn’t come here to make a draw, you have to play on.” My opponent went into deep thought and was obviously a bit confused. The trainer came with a chess clock and we had to finish our game in a blitz mode.

You can see the attitude: they do not allow them to make a draw against a grandmaster, they have to play. I managed to win after a long rook endgame struggle, but my little adversary got a lot of applause.

After the game he was interviewed by TV and treated like a movie star

Later that day we visited another sight of the tournament sponsors: a school of international languages. In the picture you see Xie Jun, Irina Krush, Zhu Chen and me inside the school, with the sponsor explaining to Xie Jun the importance of his project: to offer the opportunity to kids to study foreign languages with teachers coming from different countries.

We started the next day by visiting the other sponsor on the list:a big company which produces and sells cars. You can see all the famous Chinese chess players lined up here with us: Ye Jiangchuan who acts now as a president of Chinese Chess Association, Zhu Chen and further on Xu Yuxua. Chinese players take all these formal visits very seriously and show a lot of respect to people who sponsor chess.

This is me with Vera Nebolsina, posing in front of one of the sponsor’s cars. Vera is a young girl from Novosibirsk, fifteen years old, incredibly intelligent and nice. She was the only girl from our group who stayed on with me for the Chinese league.

I thought I looked great in this sports car, don’t you think? It suited me perfectly. But unfortunatelly it was not the first prize of the tournament.

Later on we went for lunch with the sponsors and tried many dishes. We were very fascinated by this one dish, especially Vera Nebolsina, who is a vegetarian.

Normally I love chicken, but I could not bring myself to try the above dish.

This is one of the most important people in the Shandong newspaper ”Qilu Evening”, Liang Hongwen. He is the vice president of the newspaper group, and the sponsor of my team.

After lunch Zhu Chen and I went to a radio talkshow – for one hour in Chinese. They invited us to many media events like these.

This was the host of the radio talk show, one of the most important in Shandong. He was getting questions from listeners, and also on the Internet. Some were directed at me and Zhu Chen had to act as an interpreter.

Zhu Chen, the last women’s world champion before Stefanova, is really very popular in China, and a lot of people were waiting to ask her questions.

This is us at the end of the show. We get along very well, she is also a special friend.

After the radio show we went to get some coffee, and our manager took this picture, which appeared in a number of newspapers. Liu Wei is a photography fanatic and took hundreds and hundreds of pictures. I like this one, because it is very natural and show the way the two of us are together.

After the talk show we went to the “Central Park” of Jinan, where we did a shooting for several newspapers, which wanted to show their readers what chessplayers look like outside the chessboard. Okay, they had to take one picture like this of such a beautiful park.

This park in Jinan is built around a spring (Jinan is called the city of springs). It was so incredibly beautiful – the water coming up in the middle, the light, the white blossoms falling.

This is Zhu Chen posing in front of the spring.

This is Liu Wei, the manager of my team, who set up the tournament and did all the work. Xie Jun told me that this man has done more for chess than anyone in China. Actually he is a professional football journalist and he visited more than 80 countries in the world. But then he decided that such chess events could be very popular, and he was right. Now he is planning to do this annually.

A giant poster in the park

This is a very important picture which I must include. It is a statue of Li Qingzhao a Chinese writer and poet of the Song Dynasty (11-12th century) and one of the leading woman poets in the Chinese language. It was extremely unusual at the time to find a women poet.

This is me and Zhu Chen at the Yellow River near Jinan. We went there right after our shooting and Liu Wei had a little surprise in store for us: horseback riding!

I was on a horse for the first time in my life. It was not so difficult, until this Chinese rider started shouting something like “tso, tso!”, which probably meant “go, go”, and the horses started galloping. But it was very nice, once we got used to it.

Me and Zhu Chen riding in the park.

After our ride, which was watched by many curious spectators, who were probably taking bets on how long it would take before I will finally fell from the saddle, a large group of people recognised Zhu Chen and yelled: “That is Zhu Chen!” and wanted her autograph.


We managed to survive this day, even played some chess and were very happy to attend the closing ceremony! This is Anna Zatonskih, me and Irina Krush, who were playing in the event, dressed in our normal clothes.

And here Anna and I are wearing the Chinese dresses that they had made for each of us.

Hou Yifan, the eleven-year-old discovery of this tournament, with the owner of the Torch Group. This little kid has a very bright future ahead of her. She already has many scalps under her belt: mine included! Actually we played for the same team "Shangdong Haoshang team” in the National team Championship which started the next day, and I was seriously doubting that I should play on the first board!

The Beijing Team, which has more women than men players! Ye Jiangchuan and Xie Jun in the middle of the picture.

The photographers went crazy.

In the Chinese league I had to play against Xie Jun. We made a fighting draw, but our team beat Beijing 4:1. Eleven-year-old Hou Yifan, the girl sitting next to me on the left, beat her opponent, who is rated above 2400. Our opponents decided to put a girl, Zhao Xue, who is 2470, on one of the men’s board, because they did not have a stronger male. Zhao is one of the most talented players of her generation and scored something like 11/12 at the last Olympiad.

This picture represents something you would never see outside China: two world champions, Xie Jun and Zhu Chen, playing against each other.

Phis is Peng Zhaoqin, who left China ten years ago and now lives in Holland, where she has just won the Dutch women's championship. She came to Jinan to play in China for the first time since she left!

Finally after many days of chess battles I had a chance to visit the city on my own. This is the Park of the Thousand Buddhas in Jinan. It is gigantic, and everywhere you find Buddhas in different postures and moods. The one at the entrance of the park is the biggest.

This was the entrance to a very long and dark cave which contains representations of all the Buddhas you can find all across China. I asked my interpreter Anna, a Chinese girl who spoke Russian, to take this picture, because you never know whether we will get out of this cave. Like in Indiana Jones.

These are a few of the ten thousand Buddhas you see in the very, very long cave.

This is Anna doing a Chinese ritual, where she has to rock this vessel which contains water, and depending on how many waves she gets it is an interpretation of her life. Anna got four, which means she will become very rich.

Anna really helped us a lot, because the language barrier is very severe. She spoke very good Russian because she had studied it for four years. But it was the first time she spoke to Russians and to chess players.

And finally a bit of shopping. The names of brands in China was one of the funniest things I found. This one is a company selling Italian jewellery, and it is anticipating the heart attacks of the husbands who are buying jewellery for their wives.


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