GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) â€“ Peng Jou-an, a 12-year-old from Taiwan looks like many girls her age, but as the youngest competitor at the Asian Games in Guangzhou has had to cope with unusual expectations and pressures.
As Taiwan’s youngest ever national champion in xiangqi, a Chinese board game similar to Western chess, Peng skipped school for several weeks ahead of the Games and was put through an intensive chess training camp over her summer break.
To ease the pressure ahead of important games, the hamburger-munching chess prodigy says she has a simple solution.
“Water helps me relax. Sometimes tea helps too,” said the shy and bright-faced girl from Taichung in central Taiwan.
Peng first played xiangqi when she was six and swiftly honed her skills against her elder brother.
Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou was famously invited to a game of chess by Peng just before the Games, but Ma quipped that he might be beaten and suggested Peng be his trainer instead.
Like other kids, Peng loves fast food. “I’m glad there’s McDonalds (in the athlete’s village),” she told Reuters.
The Chinese chess game is one of several new displines in the Asian Games including cricket, dance and dragon boat racing.
While Peng isn’t expected to be among the medals she said the long, mentally draining, practice stints were worth it.
“My classmates were envious because I didn’t have to attend classes (before the games),” she joked.
Chess sports will also feature the oldest competitor of the Guangzhou Asiad, 66-year-old Rani Hamid from Bangladesh, with a total of nine gold medals up for grabs.
Rather than pawns, queens, rooks or knights, xiangqi involves generals, elephants, horses and soldiers.
(Editing by James Pomfret and Alastair Himmer)