Anya Corke '13 Competed in Her 4th World Chess Olympiad

September 28, 2012

Anya Corke ’13 has held the title of Women’s Grandmaster since the age of 14, and recently added another accolade with her team’s solid finish at this year’s World Chess Olympiad.

“Playing in the Olympiad is always a wonderful experience,” Corke said. “Thousands of players take part, including many friends and acquaintances, and most of the world’s best chess players; I still can’t help feeling star-struck when I’m in the same room as so many of my childhood heroes, such as [Hungarian chess player] Judit Polgar.”

This was Corke’s fourth World Chess Olympiad, but it was her first time representing England. In her three previous tournaments she played for Hong Kong.

“Team tournaments feel very different from individual competitions. There’s more pressure, because I know the outcome of my games can dramatically impact my team’s standing,” Corke said. “As a result, I tried to play more cautiously, and not take unnecessary risks. But the intensity is counterbalanced by team spirit and camaraderie. My teammates were great, and everyone was very supportive and encouraging of each other.”

Corke’s chess career highlights include winning four Hong Kong championships, three British junior titles, and an Asian girls’ championship. She started playing chess at the age of 9 after “stumbling across a chess set.” Her father taught her to play and, she said, she took to the game quickly. “I was fascinated by the aesthetic beauty of chess, and its equality and objectivity also appealed to me: irrespective of age or sex, players compete on an absolutely level playing field,” she said.

Corke said her best early memories of chess took place in Russia, which sparked her fascination with the language, literature, and culture of the country and inspired her choice of major.

“At the age of 10, I had the chance to spend two weeks studying chess in Saint Petersburg, which remains my favorite city in the world. I would train for 4 hours every day, then participate in evening rapid tournaments in smoky chess clubs. The other competitors were typically men many times my age, but they nonetheless took me seriously as an opponent. I won a lot of games, while the games I lost become grist for analysis and improvement. When I wasn’t playing chess, I consumed copious quantities of black tea and Russian fairytales, and reveled in the snow (growing up in Hong Kong’s subtropical climate, I’d never seen snow before). That visit to Saint Petersburg made me fall irrevocably in love with chess and Russia.”

At Wellesley Corke said she’s mostly involved in Russian activities: Russian Club and Russian Corridor. After graduation she hopes to pursue a PhD in Russian literature, and eventually become a professor. Corke said she “loves philosophy (which is her second major), reading and writing (particularly poetry), old movies and music (from the 20s, 30s, and 40s), studying languages, film photography, hiking, cooking and baking, and spending time with my friends and family.”

This past summer, Corke interned at the labor rights organization Social Accountability International in New York City and competed in the First Saturday International Master tournament in Budapest, Hungary where she came 2nd with a score of 7/11. She was a 2012 Fellow at the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs, and received a 2011 Critical Language Scholarship from the US State Department to study Russian in Kazan, Tatarstan.

Corke said she doesn’t play regularly with anyone at Wellesley, but she’s looking forward to the installation of a new chess set in the Science Center which she hopes will inspire more interest in chess on campus. According to Science Center faculty, the chess set should arrive sometime next week.