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Natalia Pogonina: The race after titles, fame and money is destroying people from the inside

User Rating: / 27
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Natalia, my congratulations to you on an inspiring performance!

What were your expectations for the Womens World Chess Championship? The bookmakers didnt seem to have a lot of confidence in you: one of the companies estimated the odds of you winning the event at 1:41, while the #1 favorites chances, according to their assessment, were almost 13 times higher. Did you set any goals before the tournament?

I dont pay attention to such forecasts. Humans are in charge of all those assessments, and they tend to make mistakes. For a player there is not much sense in studying such information. Under the knockout system anyone can pull oneself together and do well. One shouldnt set any limits for oneself. I didnt have any particular goals and didnt treat it in the the minimal task is to reach round X way. I was mentally prepared to go home after the very first round. If I move on, its nice. If not, its also fine, because I will return to my family. Maybe this attitude helped me to focus on the game itself instead of dwelling on the results. My attention was on the game, not on the outcome.

This was the fourth time you competed in the Womens World Chess Championship. Did you prepare in a special way this time?

My preparation was more serious than usual. In early March I played a training match against a strong GM. We agreed to keep his name a secret, although if he finds it acceptable, I will be glad to reveal the mystery. We played standard time control chess, rapid, blitz and even Armageddon. This is very interesting and useful. I believe the match helped me a lot, especially since I hadnt played anywhere after the Russian Superfinal in December. I was rusty and lacking practice. Without such training it wouldnt make much sense to participate in the WWCC.

Also beneficial was the training session of the Russian womens chess team which took place in the vicinities of Moscow in February.

What do you think of the knockout format? How objective is it? Would you prefer the mens system or some other approach?

Men have a rather interesting scheme with the World Cup being the knockout event. Getting rid of the knockout tournament altogether doesnt look like a good idea to me. A system when there is the World Cup, the Grand Prix series, the Candidates tournament and the World Championship match is very attractive. The only drawback is that it is very complicated and costly. This time FIDE had trouble finding sponsors for the Womens Championship, so they had to postpone the event. If we adopt a more expensive system, wont there be even more potential problems? This is what is bothering me. If FIDE manages to attract additional funding, I guess it will be interesting to universalize the systems. If not, then maybe we should just keep the current scheme.

Knockout is a very specific format. Two-game matches are a real challenge. Sometimes even top-tier rating favorites are eliminated in the very first rounds. Lose one game, fail to strike back, and you are out. There is hardly any room for making mistakes. You have to be prepared very well and to have nerves of steel to prosper under such a system. Let me repeat my statement: I would love to play under the mens system, but at the current moment this seems hardly realistic to implement.

Is it even worth it, this endurance test? When watching from the distance ones hair can turn grey prematurely from the level of stress. And how does it feel to be part of the process? How many kilos have you lost during the tournament? I guess its entertaining for the spectators to follow all the sensations and the drama, but how does it feel from the participants perspective?

Dont blame the format too much. Its up to you how to react. No one is obliging you to be nervous. This system teaches you to be strong intrinsically. It has its own advantages. In terms of self-development it is very useful not to be distressed and to maintain a good self-control. The fact that I have lost a lot of weight reveals that I have been making certain mistakes. Maybe my schedule wasnt good enough: I have been working on openings too much and sacrificing time for sleep. One should be able to survive through this without any serious harm, but you have to be prepared in a special way. By the way, Anna Muzychuk told me that Mariya has also lost quite a few kilos during the tournament. Its not only my problem.

In such extreme conditions one can test oneself and temper ones character.

Is playing on home turf a gift or a curse? Do you think it was easier or harder for the 10 Russian chess participants to compete in Russia as compared to other countries?

For me the venue was convenient in the sense of being close to one of my homes. Normally when you purchase the tickets you have to decide what return date to choose, but here the trip was simple. I would also like to note that the organization of the event was top-notch: an excellent hotel, a comfortable tournament hall, amazing nature, fantastic mountain air. Had we played in a megalopolis, it would have probably been tough, while here even if you are tired and havent slept well, the atmosphere is still refreshing.  

For the first time in my life I have felt how double-edged it is when everyone is actively rooting for you. On the one hand, this is nice. On the other hand, additional responsibility is placed upon you; everyone is expecting something from you. You are subconsciously starting to feel that you are playing for the entire Russia and thus should show a good result. After Round 3 I have felt an instant increase in attention. At first I couldnt cope with it, but later managed to somehow let go of the tension. For me all those attempts to cheer me up by saying come on, I know you will win or you will score today for sure are counter-productive. I appreciate the fans support, but not when they come up to you and start saying such things. I guess they think its helpful, but the effect is often the opposite. Maybe its just me though.  

How is Sochi after the Winter Olympics? You were there during the Carlsen-Anand match and also now. Did the resort turned into a ghost town, like some journalists predicted?

Everyone is saying world championship in Sochi, but in fact we have been staying in Krasnaya Polyana, a mountain-skiing resort an hour by car away from Sochi. As to Sochi, numerous sports and business events are held there. The Olympic infrastructure is actively exploited. There are many tourists and vacationers. The Winter Olympiad has contributed a lot to the citys development. I am not an expert myself, but Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the organizing committee Arkady Dvorkovich has mentioned that Sport Accord is starting there soon, Formula 1 and other events. Everything is going to be all right!