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Natalia Pogonina: "One does not become a GM by only reading books"

User Rating: / 17
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 07 September 2013

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Natalia Pogonina was interviewed by about chess books, DVDs, chess training, coaching, Magnus Carlsen vs. Viswanathan Anand and on other topics.

1. As a reviewer it is of major interest for me to know, which books strong players, who reached the highest degree in chess, found especially useful and which they would recommend for the basic education of everyone who wishes to become better in chess.

Here is a list of some of my favorite chess books.

2. What do you think about the development of chess literature, especially with some promising publishing houses available nowadays, i.e. Quality Chess, Everyman Chess, Gambit books, Chess-Stars, NewInChess just to name a few. Do you have any idea which could improve modern chess literature?

In fact, I am positively surprised that authors are still working on chess books. As far as I know, an average chess book sells less than 2,000 copies, so the profit from releasing it doesnt compensate the efforts of the author, especially if we are talking about the top players. I think most of them just love the game and feel like promoting it, sharing their passion with other people. Writing chess books is a form of educational charity.

Unfortunately, there are also many negative issues here. Certain publishers go for quantity, not quality. It is easier for them to release 10 mediocre titles than one real bestseller. They cut production costs by underpaying the authors (and, consequently, agreeing to work with just about anybody who is willing to accept their conditions), not reviewing the manuscripts well enough (resulting in misprints and chess errors), choosing generic and unattractive covers. Also, some of them are too inefficient and slow: the production cycle lasts so long that when the book actually makes it live, it is already outdated.

I believe that in general the trend is shifting towards e-publishing, and many publishing houses havent yet adapted to this new business framework. We will see how it goes.

3. Do you consider chess DVD's a major step towards efficiency when it comes to the study of chess?

Not really. DVDs are mainly a source of entertainment and soothing your guilty conscience: Ok, I did study hard today! It took me 2 hours to watch the DVD!. Nevertheless, I think that DVDs are a good product for some people. DVDs have more to do with making studying chess more fun for the amateurs. Pros are unlikely to be wasting so much time watching, because in the same 2 hours of work with a book/database one can review a few times as many variations. Fun and somewhat personal touch yes. Efficiency no.

4. Do you remember a certain book or point in your career which could be called the turning point in your development as a chess player? A point in history which truly broke the seal and allowed you to reach the GM level?

One does not become a GM by reading books. This is one of the most typical mistakes people make: study all day and avoid participating in real tournaments. Chess mastery has a lot to do with having an actual experience of playing over the board. There are many psychological, physical and purely chess issues involved, so one should both study and compete in events to progress. Another (also flawed) approach is to play all the time, without really analyzing ones games or trying to improve.

5. Do you plan to write some books or record DVD's in chess?

I am considering a few such proposals at the moment. However, the life of an active chess pro and a mother of a small kid is rather busy, so its hard to find a gap in my schedule for such activities. Besides, while one is still young it makes sense to concentrate on improving and taking part in tournaments. At a later stage, when one has a lot of experience, but a lower practical strength than earlier, it is ok to start sharing ones insights more actively. Moreover, I am already actively involved into other forms of chess ambassadorship. is a very popular website where you can find all sorts of interesting chess content. I am also doing my best to communicate with people personally online, to give interviews, commentate on events, write articles, play vote chess games, promote certain chess products, give simuls, etc.


6. In our modern era, where it is possible to find almost everything in the world wide web, would you say it's possible to reach a high level of chess just by working on your own?

Not really. Most likely, you will be doing all the wrong sort of things. People play blitz, solve tactics all day, memorize pages and pages of opening lines and so on. In the end they discover that their proficiency hasnt increased much, which leads to frustration. The more options one has, the harder it is to make a choice. Hence, a developing player needs wise guidance in order to work not only hard, but also smart.

7. How high would you rate the importance of a chess coach?

Basically must-have if you are contemplating playing chess for a living. If you are not ambitious and dont care about achieving good results in chess, you can just do whatever you like to. I know that some players like to brag about having achieved a certain level on their own. However, I dont think that its wise to hinder ones progress in such a way. Even if you cant afford a personal coach, look for a solution. Try to earn more money; find a sparring & training partner; attend lectures in one of the local clubs (could be much cheaper). There is always a way!


8. What are the main qualities a chess coach has to have in order to really improve the student's understanding of chess? Do you believe a good coach necessarily needs a high rating?

First of all, he must be a good and positive-minded person. A man who sincerely cares about your results and tries to help; who knows how to make sure you are in the optimal psychological state before a tournament and believes in you. Secondly, he must be a strong player. By far not all the top GMs are good coaches, but even less common are examples when a weak coach has succeeded in bringing up a really strong GM. Without a proper understanding of chess it is very easy to go astray and mislead the student. Later one will have a hard time unlearning the old bad habits and adopting the new good ones. Thirdly, he must be hard-working and willing to make progress. To try out new concepts, openings, etc. Of course, I am commentating on this from a competitive players perspective. A coach whose duty is, for example, to introduce small kids to the rules of the game, doesnt have to be a titled player.

9. Players such as GM Magnus Carlsen, who grew up in ideal conditions to develop their chess talent spread the opinion that playing the middlegame and endgame is the most important part in chess. He seemingly neglects the study of mainline theory and it often happens that he comes out of the opening with an equal or sometimes even inferior position just to outplay his opponents: How do you consider this "Carlsen approach"?

First of all, I dont think that Magnus Carlsen had ideal conditions. Of course, once he became a GM and a chess prodigy, he got a lot of attention from the media, sponsorships and tournament invitations. However, at an earlier stage of his career he had to study chess in a much poorer (chess-wise) environment than, for example, other top GMs of his age Karjakin, Nepomniatchi, Andreikin. Having access to top-level coaching, strong events and generally living in a city where there are many GMs and IMs is nourishing for a young talent. And Norway is not a kind of country that could offer one such an environment. This makes Magnus achievements even more remarkable.

Also, nowadays engines show us that in the prevailing majority of the so-called main lines the evaluation is very close to a draw. In this sense it is wise for a stronger player to avoid participating in memorization contests with inferior rivals. If Magnus knows he can outplay most of his colleagues on uncharted territory, then why check out what they have prepared at home with their coaches and Houdini? This makes perfect sense for any player, not just Magnus. Nowadays one has to be more flexible and be brave and hard-working enough to play all sorts of openings in order to surprise the opponents.


10. Do you have any prediction for the upcoming World Championship match between GM Vishy Anand and GM Magnus Carlsen?

I believe this topic has been addressed by so many GMs already that its hard to say anything new. All these talks about ratings, personal score, match experience, psychology, venue, teams of seconds and so on are very entertaining for the chess journalists and spectators, but have little to do with what will actually happen. Some things are decided by chance, fate, Caissa, or whatever you call it. Lets just hope for an exciting match!

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Comments (3)
1. Written by O_x on 18:42 07 2013 .
...btw Y U no mention women coaches...:x 
2. Written by Natalia on 18:59 07 2013 .
I meant "man" = person. No gender discrimination intended :)
3. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 23:49 09 2013 .
The last question of your poll "Who would you prefer to be next FIDE-president ? Kasparov or Ilyumzhinov ?" is really hard to answer :upset Please add the option "Natalia Pogonina" :zzz  
Best wishes Thomas

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