Wednesday 20 February 2019

Ireland has a new world champion and President Higgins has led the tributes

Diana Mirza lifts the world championship trophy
Diana Mirza lifts the world championship trophy
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Sixteen-year-old Diana Mirza is Ireland's newest world champion after an all-conquering display in Romania.

The Limerick teenager was victorious in the World Schools Under-17 Chess Championship following nine gruelling contests spread over 10 days in the Fide (World Chess Federation) governed event.

Diana is no stranger to picking up silverware with numerous Irish awards to her name while she also represented her country as part of the women's Fide Chess Olympiad team in Baku last year.

But this latest achievement has surpassed any other before and left Diana in "total shock" as she stood proudly to Amhrán na bhFiann and picked up her prize.

President Michael D Higgins led the tributes as he took to Twitter to say: "My heartfelt congratulations to Diana Mirza from Limerick on winning the World Schools Chess U17 Girls Championship."

The tournament was played off over nine games with each participant playing their eight opponents once with the winning prize going to the competitor who accumulates the most amount of points (one point for a win, half for a draw.

With some matches stretching to seven hours and a healthy two or three hours needed in prep time beforehand, Diana admits that it was an exhausting process and she could scarcely believe it when her name was announced as the winner.

"I didn't think I was going to go close but I worked really hard before the Championship so I am just so happy. Even after they put the result up, until they called out my name I didn’t believe it," said Diana.

"I felt so emotional. They even played anthem. It was so emotional. It was bizarre.

"I lost to Russia in the third round but my dad motivated me and explained I could still win. I started winning again, ended up playing the first seed and we drew. I was in second at this stage and then she lost in the penultimate round and that put me ahead.

"Preparing for each round is really stressful and I did a lot of work in preparation where I would study the opponent and decide what to play. The competition was really tight but it's all down to the amount of work you put in and luck is always a factor of course.

"An unfortunate thing is that chess lacks funding in Ireland and that is a very big problem because it comes down to parents or whoever else may be able to support the players. Hopefully there will be improvements in the future here, but of course it's incredibly hard because chess isn't recognised as a sport in Ireland.

"But it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I am extremely proud of myself and grateful to everyone who supported me, especially my dad (Gabriel Mirza) and of course my mom (Stela Tonita) because without them I really wouldn't have been able to be where I am or achieve anything I have achieved so far, since they have provided me with all the funding in countless amounts of times and sacrificed a lot for me."

A spokesperson for Irish Chess Union added: "The ICU are delighted for Diana on her groundbreaking success.  It is a testimony to her talent, hard work and commitment over the years and to the support of her family and friends in chess."

Well done champ.

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