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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Teen Prodigy Gives Chess a Makeover

The plunging necklines and designer outfits worn by Russian prodigy Alexandra Kosteniuk, the world's first chess model, have made some people in the chess world a little hot under the collar.

But the 18-year-old grandmaster, who won the top chess accolade at the age of 14, sparked a wave of interest in the game when she began to model "chess wear" for the International Chess Federation, or FIDE.

Kosteniuk consolidated her position at the top of the chess ranks last December when, after a spectacular set of games, she only narrowly lost the FIDE women's world championship crown to China's 25-year-old Zhu Chen.

"To tell you the truth, I don't take all of this for granted, but I don't see it as an amazing feat either -- I take it all calmly," she said in an interview. "People only see one side of the coin -- before and after this there were difficulties, slip-ups."

Glossy and often provocative photographs of the dark-haired Kosteniuk are posted all over her web site -- produced by her father Konstantin.

However alluring the pictures might be, Kosteniuk is less than keen to be compared to tennis pin-up Anna Kournikova.

"People find it hard to handle new things without drawing parallels with something they know," she said. "But I sincerely hope to create more interest in chess, to provide the impetus for more people to play."

Judging by some of the harsher comments posted on her site, though, some chess fans feel she places a little too much emphasis on her make-up, and not enough on the board.

"Do you ever feel you are being appreciated more for your looks than your skills?" Ian Davis from Belfast, Northern Ireland, wrote. "On seeing the emphasis on the photo galleries it made me wonder!"

But sitting in a denim outfit in a popular Moscow cafe, Kosteniuk comes across like a bashful teenager.

"Chess genius! Oh no, that's way too much," she said as she read through an article about her published in a prominent European paper.

"I have moments when I think to myself, 'What's this about?'" she confides. "But those moments pass. And I figure, that's life."

Kosteniuk finished high school at 15, thanks to her father's tutorship, and is now studying at the chess faculty of the Moscow Institute of Physical Culture. Russia is one of the few countries in the world to consider chess a full-fledged sport.

Her father, who dropped a career in the military to coach Kosteniuk from the age of 5, is now only one of several coaches who help the young woman perfect her game.

"I have to be busy all the time. If I'm not, I just don't feel right," she says.

And, she adds, there is a lot of work to be done.

"I played well in the world championships, but in the months since then, I haven't won anything," she said. "I've been feeling odd, out of shape."

The training to hoist Kosteniuk up from the 20th spot in the FIDE ratings table is both mental and physical. She runs 5 kilometers every day and hopes to compete in a short marathon to be held in Moscow this spring.

"In chess, everyone has his or her own way of training, people's brains work in different ways," she explained. "But I need to work hard and I need to prepare myself physically. If I don't feel fit, I don't play as well."

But she dismisses talk of her "aggressive" chess moves.

"People want to see something amazing in the way I play, but that's not true. I still have to work on my style," she said.

A book written by Kosteniuk and her father -- "How I Became a Grandmaster at Age 14" -- includes not only tips on how to reach "the shining peaks of the chess kingdom," but her life story so far, photographs and some of her poems.

Published last year in Russian, the book has since been translated into English and Spanish. And for $100 an autographed copy is available through her web site -- .

But when it comes to plans for the future, Kosteniuk dismisses questions with a shrug.

She would like to learn languages, she says, but may not. "My father didn't think it was a good idea, ahead of the world championships," she says.