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Games a family affair for hometown chess queen

By SUN XIAOCHEN in Hangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-28 10:35
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As Hind Almudahka chased down a shot to the corner, a woman in her 40s up in the stands watched intently from the edge of her seat, clapping enthusiastically when the teenager returned a cross-court winner to secure the point.

Almudahka, the youngest player on Qatar's tennis team at just 15 years old, regained her cool after making eye contact with the cheering woman — her mother and former Chinese chess grandmaster Zhu Chen — before getting back to serve in her opening match at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.

Still a raw talent in the making, Almudahka was ousted by Pakistan veteran Sarah Ibrahim Khan 2-1 in the singles first round on Sunday, abruptly ending her Asiad debut.

Zhu, however, relished the whole experience, enjoying a unique family trip back to her home province.

Born in Wenzhou, a city 250 kilometers south to provincial capital Hangzhou, Zhu grew up on the tactical board game of chess, winning her first under-12 international title in 1988. She soon became a world-class player, earning her International Grandmaster title in 2001, one of 40 women to be named as such.

After marrying Qatar's first grandmaster Mohammed Almudahka in 2000, Zhu migrated to the gulf nation and soon switched nationality to represent Qatar on the international stage.

With her daughter competing in Hangzhou and her husband serving as a Qatari delegation official, Zhu, who herself returned as a representative of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), described the whole family's participation in the Games as an emotional full-circle experience.

"We all came back in our respective roles to my home province, it's just such a special homecoming and I feel lucky to be able to do it together with my husband and daughter," Zhu told China Central Television.

"When I was young, I practiced and played chess as a member of the Zhejiang provincial team and I spent a long time here. Hangzhou feels like home to me," said Zhu, who was re-elected as the treasurer of FIDE in August 2022 for another four-year term.

Almudahka said her mother's presence helped her play with more ease on the international stage.

"She said she would come to cheer me on, so I just checked to see if she made it," said Almudahka, who looked around, searching for Zhu at the beginning of her match.

"I don't watch her play too often. I'd like her to play without pressure and maybe I shouldn't have watched this time," said Zhu.

Despite being born to two chess Grandmasters, Almudahka's choice of tennis as a career path didn't surprise Zhu, nor her husband, who also serves as the president of Qatar Chess Federation.

"I respect her interest, which is the most important thing," said Zhu. "As parents, all we can do is to help our children discover their passion and support them to do their best."

With board games, such as chess, go and bridge, included as medal events, the Asian Games have shed spotlight on the competitive side of such "mind sports", which Zhu sees as healthy promotion for her beloved game.

"Hangzhou as a host will impress the world and it deserves to be remembered," she said.

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