Rising Kazakh Chess Star Meruert Kamalidenova: Success Comes from Balancing Fun and Effort

ASTANA – It has been a promising year for the 17-year-old Meruert Kamalidenova, Kazakhstan’s national chess team member, who made an eye-catching performance on the final day of the women’s teams match, defeating China’s four-time Women’s World Chess Champion Hou Yifan.

Meruert Kamalidenova. Photo credit: Lennart Ootes/Instagram @m_kamalidenova

In her recent interview with the Kazinform news agency, she talked about her approach to playing chess, her thoughts on the recent tournament and revealed her future plans.

The match with Hou added to Kamalidenova’s growing reputation with her previous impressive results, becoming a two-time champion of Kazakhstan among women and a recurrent champion of the country among girls. She is also a bronze medalist of the World Junior Chess Championship among girls 20 years old and younger.

Kamalidenova had a rocky moment losing to the Chinese star in the first of a four-game match but managed to win the remaining three games.

“There was not much anxiety. When the game starts, you don’t think about who is sitting in front of you. All your thoughts are focused on the game,” said Kamalidenova on her emotions during the game with Hou.

“In general, chess is an intellectual sport. But here, in addition to thinking, logic and patience are important. Personally, I think that one of the most necessary qualities for chess players is endurance,” she added.

Meruert Kamalidenova (fourth from left) represented Kazakhstan’s national team at the FIDE women’s teams match, a side event of the World Chess Championship. Photo credit: Anna Shtourman/FIDE

Kamalidenova stood strong during the women’s chess match, but harder tests await, and she prepares to achieve even higher ambitions.

“There is the Asian Team Chess Championship ahead. Then there will be the World Championship. In the future, there will be many competitions for which I have to prepare tirelessly,” said Kamalidenova.

According to her, joy from the process is a key driver of performance.

“You have to enjoy chess while playing, and only then will there be a result. That is to say, you need to enjoy the game, even if you lose.”

The greatest takeaway from losing a game is learning from mistakes and developing resilience to get better, according to her.

“In case of defeat, I try not to think about it too much. I just analyze the mistakes and learn lessons. I try not to make that mistake again. When I was a child, I used to cry after a loss, but this habit has passed with time. If I lose now, I already know that I can win the next time because it is a game,” said Kamalidenova.

She also said she is still figuring out her future career path while focusing on chess.

“Now I am preparing for the exams. For now, I plan to continue chess. I will consider getting a higher education in time. I have not yet decided what specialty I am going to enter. Even now, many domestic and foreign universities offer grants and invite me to study,” said Kamalidenova.

In an eternal debate on whether excellence comes from hard work or innate talent, Kamalidenova thinks the former beats the natural gift.

“A hard-working person can beat a very talented person,” said Kamalidenova. “I am of the popular opinion that in any field, the key to success is the ratio, where one percent is talent and the other 99 percent is work.”

She puts long hours into practicing and refining her skills.

“I practice chess three to six hours a day with my trainer, sometimes on my own. Chess does not just consist of playing. You have to read books and improve your level through online platforms. Similarly, you can learn a lot from watching other chess players play,” she said.

Kazakhstan has several promising young girls in its chess team, including 19-year-old Bibisara Assaubayeva, the current Women’s Blitz World champion. Yet Kamalidenova already has a strong claim to be the best female player in the country and to represent Kazakhstan in the world chess tournaments.

Get The Astana Times stories sent directly to you! Sign up via the website or subscribe to our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok!