By nine years old, Alexandra Kosteniuk could play chess for four hours straight, easily beating not only her peers but older players. "We didn't have much money," the chess champion recalled. "We certainly could not afford the services of Grand Masters. I can say I learned on the street."

On September 18, Kosteniuk won the Women's World Chess Championship held in Nalchik, in the North Caucasus, bringing the title back to Russia after a long hiatus.
The historic win put the 24-year-old in a reflective state of mind, as she considered her
journey.

"All that I am and all that I have are thanks to my father," she said. Konstantin Kosteniuk realized that his daughter's gift would be squandered unless he devoted himself to developing it: He quit the military academy where he was teaching, and became his daughter's personal coach and manager.

The government didn't provide any assistance to the gifted chess player. The mid-1990s were a difficult time in Russia when sports programs sponsored by the government were cancelled, and many state agencies that provided assistance ceased to exist.

At 11, Alexandra began to earn money playing chess. She recalled a tournament in Paris, where they stayed for a few days to do some sightseeing, but soon ran out of money. They paid all they had left to exchange their tickets for an earlier flight.

"We arrived at the Place de l'Etoile at one in the morning to catch the last bus to Charles
de Gaulle International Airport. We had no money, so I sat on a bench underneath a neon street lamp, took out my chessboard and chess clock, and began waiting for someone willing to play with me for stakes. Place de l'Etoile is a very busy place, even at night, so there were enough people willing to try. By morning, we had nearly 1,000 francs," she explained.

Some time ago, journalists dubbed her "Chess Kurnikova," referring to the famous tennis star. Just like Kurnikova, she made a sensation when she posed for the cover of several glossy magazines.

Her chess school, "Alexandra," which recently opened in Moscow, accepts young children of three and up. Instruction is based on the unique Kosteniuk methodology - Alexandra's younger sister is also a brilliant chess player. Here, chess is seen as a component of comprehensive child development. It is used to foster their attention, memory, concentration and sense of purpose. Children who play chess are more successful at school and more easily adaptable to new situations. Not all of them will devote their lives to chess, let alone become champions. But playing chess will certainly help them in life.

She added that the the environment for chess is quite competitive today. Chess is a great opportunity for girls to learn they are as smart as boys, and can help them emerge as leaders, she has said.

The champion is convinced that she will also be involved in teaching children chess later.

"I love teaching young children to play chess. I also want to help young talent develop. I want to create an encouraging environment for them, something I didn't have," she said.

When asked about her favorite chess piece, she said it is the pawn. Although small and insignificant at the beginning of the game, it can rise to be the queen toward the end. It sometimes happens in life, too.

5 Facts about Sasha

1. At age 10, she became world champion among girls 10 and under.

2. At 14, was the youngest international Grand Master among women, and at 17, came in 2nd at the World Championship.

3. At 20, she became the 10th woman in the history of chess awarded the title of international Grand Master among men.

4. Eleven Russian female chess players won the world champion title between 1949 and 1991. After that the winners were from Hungary, Bulgaria and China.

5. Sasha is married to Swissborn Diego Garces. Their daughter, Francesca Maria was born on April 22, 2007.

Diamond-studded Crown for Chess Master

On September 18, chess champion Kosteniuk barely beat her 14-year-old rival from China to win Women's World Chess Championship in Nalchik.

Sixty-four Grandmasters from 32 countries came to the ruggedly beautiful North Caucasus to compete in the Women's World Chess Championship last month.
In the final, Alexandra Kosteniuk, 24, competed with the Chinese prodigy, Hou Yifan, 14. Despite her young age, the opponent proved to be a tough rival for Kosteniuk, who managed to win only the first game, with the remaining three ending in a draw.
At the closing, Kosteniuk wore a regional costume, a gesture that touched locals, according to press reports.
The championship's prize fund totaled $450,000. Kosteniuk received $60,000 and a golden crown made by a local jeweler, decorated with 46 diamonds and three big sapphires.