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Interview with Chess Champion Natalia Pogonina

User Rating: / 24
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Natalia Pogonina

Natalia Pogonina:

Natalia Pogonina has recently been interviewed by the blog StartUpTown:

How did you enjoy the Chess Olympiad and why didnt you play every round?

Hi! I have enjoyed Tromso a lot, from the friendly people to beautiful sceneries and the chess fever which is now taking place in Norway. Observing chess being broadcast on national TV every day for hours, plenty of chess merchandize in the shops and chess boards being offered at any bar was definitely pleasant for me. However, the organization of the Chess Olympiad itself left a lot to be desired. I dont want to go into details, but it is enough to point out that two chess players/participants died during the Olympiad2014. This is very sad.

I guess you were referring to a particular day when I didnt play, right? Its up to the captains to decide which line-up to choose for a particular match. This time I participated in 7 out of 11 rounds, although I would have certainly liked to play more and was always eager to compete.

Obviously, it was amazing to win the Chess Olympiad for the third time in a row. We have a fantastic team, and I am happy that we managed to perform so well.

Natalia in Tromso

At the Chess Olympiad in Tromso. Norway has become a chess country thanks to World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsens achievements

What chess title are you the most proud of and why?

In terms of bragging rights the most prestigious team tournaments Ive won are two international Chess Olympiads. My best individual result so far probably is becoming champion of the strong womens Russian Superfinal in 2012.

Team Russia in Tromso

Team Russia, winners of the womens Chess Olympiad-2014 in Tromso

In one of your tweets, you say that you were a strange girl growing up. What made you so strange?

I wouldnt say that I was particularly strange. However, I was more into cars, toy soldiers and playing with boys than with girls. Then came PC games, checkers and chess which are also more popular males than with females. Other than that I was pretty normal 

You were working on a book about the connections between chess and sex. Will that book ever be published?

My teammates used to jokingly bug me with this all the time during the Chess Olympiad. Theyve been asking for some excerpts to read. Frankly speaking, I am not sure whether this book will ever be finalized and published or not. Peter Zhdanov, my husband and co-author, is more interested in this kind of research than I, so its better to ask him.

Why do you believe physical training is very important in chess?

Tournament chess involves playing for 5-6 hours every day, not to mention preparation. This requires a tremendous amount of energy, and only a very fit and athletic person can endure this regime without losing concentration and succumbing to fatigue. I recall reading a paper stating that playing professional chess is more demanding in terms of energy than working in a mine. Hence, every serious chess player pays a lot of attention to sleep, nutrition and physical exercise.

Fan Art

Fan Art

What should we do to make chess more popular among girls?

Inform, motivate and persuade. If more parents realize how beneficial it is for their daughters to learn how to play chess, then the ratio between men and women in this industry will eventually even out. Also, female pro chess players should be more active in promoting the game, thus serving as role models for the young girls. Finally, currently the prize money in womens chess is considerably lower than in open tournaments. Of course, one can argue that women are allowed to compete for the mens prizes too, but at the moment it is clear that in the nearest future we wont see a female challenger for the World Chess Champion title. Ive heard radical suggestions along the lines of eliminating the womens events altogether and making us compete with men on equal basis. This hardly looks like a feasible solution: by far not all the women like competing against men, and just about all of them would be forced to give up on the profession, because the level of competition is too tough in mens chess for women to handle at the present time. As a result, I believe that womens chess should be additionally sponsored (positively discriminated) until at least a few women reach the level required to be invited to the mens super tournaments.

Natalia at the Russian Superfinals

The Russian Superfinals are the strongest national chess championships in the world.

You have said that the marketing potential of chess players is seriously underestimated. What can be done to change that?

Chess, the royal game, is a very strong brand which is associated with intelligence, luxury, rich historical traditions, refined manners and many other attractive qualities. The problem is that most players either dont want to get involved into any PR activities, or have a relatively low marketing profile. Consequently, many companies prefer to use the chess board and chess pieces in their ads without asking any of the leading GMs for endorsements. Lately there is more buzz about chess in the media than, lets say, a few years ago, but we are still far behind compared to pop stars or even football players. The chess community needs to work better with the media and sponsors to increase the coverage of chess events and the life of chess players. This is hard to implement when a typical chess federation doesnt even have a PR department, while many strong GMs still dont hire agents/managers either deliberately or due to lack of funds.

Natalia black and white

I myself promote chess whenever I can by writing articles, giving simultaneous exhibitions, commentating on events live, playing vote chess games, giving interviews and taking part in photo shoots, chatting with fans on social networks and answering their questions, endorsing certain chess products and so on. My official site is the most popular personal chess site and one of the leading chess sites in the world in general. While I understand perfectly well that some of my colleagues are focused exclusively on their own careers and achievements and dont blame them for doing so, I still believe that each of us is responsible for taking chess to a completely new level of popularity, and that requires being more accessible, friendly and helpful to other people.

On your website, you have written about the Polgár sisters father László and his thesis of geniuses are made, not born. Are you using any of his ideas with your son Nikolai?

I dont think that its a good idea to try to make a genius out of your kid at all costs. Some of these so-called prodigies grow up to become unhappy and quite unremarkable people. Each of us has his own talents and his own rate of development. We are definitely not going to impose chess or any other activity on our children. It is important to help them become critical-minded, well-educated and independent, as well as to offer them a chance to learn more about the world and the wide range of potential career paths and hobbies which can be practiced. Then we will let them make their own choices as opposed to training them from early childhood as if they were some kind of robots or pets.

Finally, I dont quite agree with the statement geniuses are made, not born. It sounds as a good motivator and reminds a bit the American dream. Of course, one can partially compensate for lack of talent by working hard, but a regular Joe wont become a Magnus Carlsen no matter how many hours a day the former puts into studying chess. Similarly, while in every society there are widely popularized stories of poor people who grew up to become successful and rich, the social status and financial level of most of us is defined by our social circle and the strata we were born in. Simplistically speaking, you are more likely to become a millionaire if you were born to a wealthy businessman than to a school teacher.

What was it like to be nominated Girl of the Month for Russia-2 TV?

From time to time I get featured in all those most beautiful female chess player or hottest girl contests all over the world. I believe its fun and useful for promoting our game. Of course, it is also pleasant to be nominated, but I dont take this fuss too seriously and treat it with a good deal of self-irony. Also, the cliché beauty with brains seems to be popular and works quite well, so why not take advantage of it for the benefit of chess.

Natalia Girl of the Month

Why is Antione de Saint-Exupéry one of your favorite writers?

He was a very brave, iron-willed and kind person. I wouldnt say that he was a role model for me, but I have certainly been looking up to him growing up. Additionally, I share his passion for airplanes and hope to get a pilot license one day.

Natalia in an airplane

What are you goals and ambitions, chess-related and in general?

In terms of chess, I am planning to fulfill my creative ambitions via chess and to reach a deeper understanding of life in general and of the game in particular. I am more focused on enjoying chess and on ongoing improvement than on any particular titles or achievements.

Talking about general goals and ambitions, I believe it is too personal to discuss in public.

What would you like people to know about you?

For those readers who liked the interview and/or love chess, I encourage you to contact me by e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. You can find the contact information here.

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Comments (1)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 16:56 08 2017 .
Congratulations for your plans
"Chess is like life" says G.M. Kasparov. And we can add to it: "Life is like chess". 
That is, your plans in chess, to dream, to think, to achieve a new principle; are coming to be your plans in life. 
This is the way to mastery !

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