Alexandra and I

ArnieChipmunk
CM ArnieChipmunk
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0 | Chess Event Coverage
I was selling books in the windy hallway of De Moriaan in Wijk aan Zee for Chess and Go Shop Het Paard. It was quiet, a regular week day.

By Arne Moll

There was practically no audience for the games. It was one of the last years of the nineties. I had put my books and chess sets on display on two tables and was reading a study book on the historical development of Eastern Slavonic language families in the meantime.

Suddenly I noticed a small fellow who was busy arranging a couple of wooden, hand-made chess sets on the empty table next to me. The man had a distinctly East-European look, but wasn't a participant in the A or B group. He had a dark moustache and was wearing an old-fashioned leather jacket. Perhaps a second?

Women World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk at the closing ceremony in Nalchik, Russia

Apparently, the man had noticed that I was reading a book on Slavonic languages, since he addressed me in Russian. He asked if he could display his chess sets next to me, and whether I would perhaps be willing to sell them for him ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú of course I would receive a share of the profit! I said OK. He introduced himself ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and suddenly I did recognize him: it was the same man whom I had seen the day before, during the annual blitz tournament in De Moriaan, and who had constantly been in the company of a young girl ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Alexandra Kosteniuk, against whom I had also played. She must have been quite young, because I won easily ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú to her and his chagrin. It was, of course, her dad.

The episode of the previous day made me wonder why he spoke to me today. What did he want from me, except that I would sell his chess sets? He offered me a cup of coffee and made some small talk on the political situation in Russia and the troubles he had finding suitable tournaments for his daughter. After that, he left ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú checking on Alexandra, no doubt.

The next day he was back again. He came up to me and said he wanted to discuss ?¢‚ǨÀúbusiness'. I was living in Amsterdam, right? I nodded. Did I perhaps know a store in Amsterdam where they sold [inaudible]? What did he mean? Did me mean walkie talkies? In any case he didn't mean cell phones ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú they were still rare in those days, by the way.

Although I still wasn't sure what he wanted, I said I might indeed know such a store: there used to be a store in the Bilderdijkstraat, close to my old job, where they sold all kinds of electronic communication devices. Excellent, in that case he wanted me to accompany him to this store, tomorrow, a rest day, and then I had to explain in Dutch to the salesperson what he was looking for. The fact that I myself didn't quite understand what he wanted, seemed not to worry him: we would be fine.

The next day I waited for him near the Victoria Hotel, where the bus from Beverwijk arrives. It was a cold, rainy day. To my surprise, not only dad Kosteniuk emerged from the bus, but Alexandra as well. She gave me a weak hand and didn't say much. Her dad, on the other hand, talked a lot and again expressed his hope that we would ?¢‚ǨÀúsucceed'. It started to dawn on me that the stuff he wanted to buy wasn't for sale in Russia. But why would it be available in Amsterdam? In the tram, he was talking about police radios and high frequency scanners. I didn't understand much of it. Alexandra didn't say anything during the whole ride. A shy, mouse-like girl with little glasses.

Fortunately, the store was open. By now I had understood that dad Kosteniuk was looking for a certain type of police scanners ?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄúI didn't dare ask what he needed them for. Miraculously, the store owner seemed to know what he meant, went to the back of the store and came back with two devices. They cost 500 guilders apiece, but father Kosteniuk bought them straight away, without even testing them. Alexandrea stared at the floor. Five minutes later we were outside again. He thanked me several times and we had a coffee in a caf?ɬ©. Alexandra remained as silent as the grave. After we finished our coffee, I brought them back to the station and then I was alone again in the rain.

I was selling books in Wijk aan Zee for the rest of the week, too, but I didn't see the Kosteniuks again. A couple of years later, when Alexandra was already called ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Anna Kournikova of chess?¢‚Ǩ?, I suddenly received an e-mail from father Kosteniuk. He asked me how I was doing, and if I had seen Alexandra's new website (www.kosteniuk.com) yet? And did I know she had written a book? It was being translated in English and he wondered if I was interested in translating it in Dutch, too. I answered that I would, but that doubted if there ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwas a market for it?¢‚Ǩ? ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Holland was, after all, a small country, and Dutch a small language. No problem: he would send me her book and I could see for myself.

And sure enough, two weeks later a package from Moscow arrived at the post office, a book called Kak stat' Grossmejsterom v 14 let (translated as How I became Grandmaster at age 14). For starters, that was not exactly true ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú she was a Women Grandmaster at age 14. I found the book curious, but I thought it would be crazy to translate it into Dutch ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it wouldn't even sell a hundred copies. In the most polite manner I reported back to father Kosteniuk, but I didn't receive an answer anymore. I haven't heard from the Kosteniuks since.

Last year, I saw Alexandra again in Wijk aan Zee. The same glasses; a woman now. Even now I thought she made a feeble impression, but the newspapers were talking about chessbabes and glamour girls in chess. She was even interviewed on national television. I nodded to her from the audience. Did she recognize me? It was years ago, of course, she'd seen the whole world in between, she was by now an infinitely stronger chessplayer than I, who was still going by tram in Amsterdam every day. She looked right through me. She'd made it, she was a star.

I still wonder if these police scanners worked or not.

April 2006
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