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Chess.com Player Profiles: Natalia_Pogonina

  • Englix
  • | Jun 16, 2012

Name: Natalia Pogonina                                                       

Title:   FIDE Woman Grandmaster, Grandmaster of Russia

Date of birth: March 9th, 1985

Fide rating:  2447, highest - 2501                                                                                   

Country: Russia


What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?        

Forrest Gump.

What kind of food and drink do you prefer?

Drinks – kvass and fruit drinks. Since I am a Russian, I will have to mention that I hardly ever drink alcohol. Not more than a glass of red wine during a celebration.

No special preferences when it comes to food. Meat with mushrooms maybe? And I can’t imagine a day without sweets.

What is your favorite book?

All the books by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, especially Citadel.


What music are you currently grooving to?

Bad Balance – that’s one of the oldest and most respected Russian rap groups. They started back in the late 80s and are still alive and kicking. Btw, their leader, Vlad Valov, loves chess! He challenged me to a game, so I will play him when we meet next time.

Here is their latest video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ws8-g23w_Jw 


Tell me a chess secret?

Avoid passively reading about opening ideas, middlegame plans, typical endgames. Always practice, play them out! You can only learn by doing.

What is your best chess memory?

Chess has presented me with many pleasant moments of different natures. I can’t single out one.


Which do you think is worse, failing or never trying?

After failing one can often learn something and try again, or find a better application of his energy. And never trying doesn’t lead to anything positive.

What chess player have you ever wanted to be and why?

I have never wanted to be like some other chess player. The two icons I would like to mention though are Bobby Fischer for his contribution to chess and helping make the game a professional occupation, and Judit Polgar for serving as an inspiration for all female players.

What do you do to get better at chess? How do you train?

Now that I have a small kid my time for studying is very limited. The best opportunities to work are during tournaments and special trainings sessions (held about twice per year for a week or two). I try to solve tactics on a daily basis (for example, using Chess.com’s Tactics Trainer) and make sure I have all of my games analyzed after the end of a tournament. My Chess.com columns are helpful in this respect too, because when I feel lazy they sometimes force me into taking a look at one of my games and including it in the next article.

Also, lately I have been paying more attention to psychology and physical shape, because most of my current weaknesses are not directly chess-related.

How old were you when you began to play chess?

My grandfather taught me how to play the game at 5. I started attending a chess club and studying at about 8-9 when one of the local chess coaches noticed that I won the school checkers tournament and thought I could have a talent for chess too.


Do you have a family?

They say that one chess player in the family is more than enough. However, my husband, Peter Zhdanov, apart from being an IT project manager and debate expert, is a member of the Association of Chess Professionals, and very keen on chess. We are cooperating on many projects.

Our son Nikolai is 2.5 years old. You might remember him from the Pogonina vs. Chess.com match.


Is the Internet a big part of your life?

Huge! I’m usually online on Skype; tweeting all the time. Before FaceBook allowed people to subscribe to other people's profiles, I had to create three pages in order to be able to confirm the friend requests (the limit is 5,000 per profile). 

I have a few blogs and a personal website, so I spend a lot of time responding to messages-- getting about two hundred of them per day. Therefore, if I am not replying promptly it usually means that I am either busy playing in a tournament, or simply flooded by e-mails. Sorry for the delay! 

Also, I love watching movies, listening to music, reading all sorts of news and articles on the Internet. To sum it all up, when I am not asleep, I am usually online.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Vladivostok and was an only child. My Mum is a teacher and my Dad is an engineer. In the 90s life in Russia was rather tough, so I obviously didn’t have access to top level coaching or opportunities to travel to tournaments. Even when I started winning the Russian and European junior championships things didn’t change much. 

At some point, when I was a teenager, I had to leave my parents and move to a different city - Saratov. It is now #3 in Russia in the chess sense after Moscow and St. Petersburg. There I received the assistance of a personal coach, eventually received some support from the university, and could travel more easily, because Saratov is closer to Europe than Vladivostok.

What is chess to you – a game of combat or an art? 

Frankly speaking, I don’t like the approach of viewing chess as an opportunity to break the other person’s ego, crush him. To me it is more of a search for harmony, a struggle to create a masterpiece together and learn something new along the way.


How much time do you devote to chess?

I don’t have a particular schedule, so it’s hard to say.

What is your inner being?

An ancient Dragon.



Who is your inspiration?

Who, not what? Strange question. I myself then.

What is your greatest fear? 


Describe a perfect day.

Every day is good in one way or the other. It’s not like I want to re-live a certain scenario over and over again.

Is there any chess book that has had a deep and lasting influence on you?

Here is my post on this.

If you could choose to live one day of any time in the history of mankind, which time would that be and why?

I would rather see a day in the distant future.


Do you have any favorite hobbies?

I love active sports and play soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Also, I am an avid fan of many types of sports. Besides that I like traveling, taking pictures, flamenco, skating, singing and writing poems. My current #1 passion is airplanes.



What is your most treasured possession?

I won’t be original here – my laptop with chess analysis.

Are you a superstitious person?

Not really. At least I don’t have any mascots or rituals that don’t make sense.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in chess? 

I am in the process of learning.

What does your future hold as a chess player?

I am not really a fortune teller, but I am hoping to improve as a player and help make the game more popular and enjoyable for other people!


How would you describe yourself to an alien from another planet?

I would ask Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to kindly introduce us to each other.

Do you have any thoughts on how chess.com can get even better?

Chess.com is easily the #1 chess website in the world: great articles, excellent Chess Tactics

software, daily chess news, interesting forum threads, access to coaching, witty polls, etc.  And, most importantly, a very friendly and intelligent international community!

I would work on Study Plans, add even more Chess Mentor courses and improve the interface and the features of the Live Chess. A large part of the audience at any website is people who love watching GM games. And so far Chess.com’s playing zone hasn’t attracted enough top players. Of course, it is partly due to the conservatism of the grandmasters – why leave the website where and your friends have been playing for a few years? Nonetheless, everything is possible.

Another idea – post FIDE ratings of players and create a utility that plots multiple rating graphs on one screen. For example, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how Carlsen’s, Aronian’s, Kramnik’s and Anand’s ratings were fluctuating as compared to each other over, let’s say, the last five years?

Sometimes I am somewhat surprised by seeing, for example, Chess Tactics tweaked to show performances, or Chess 960 added. Of course, it’s just my personal opinion, but these

innovations don’t seem important to me, while a few other critical ones could have been made instead.

Do you prefer blitz, otb tournaments or correspondence style chess? 

Over the board. Previously I used to play online, mostly using a secret anonymous accounts. Now I am not doing it much. As to correspondence – my first experiences were the two matches against the World (win with White, draw with Black). I have never played in official correspondence tournaments though.


How seriously do you take the online games you play?

I understand that they don’t matter much. However, I get really upset and crazy about losing a few games in blitz. Sometimes I go on tilt and keep playing until I regain my rating points, or squander even more.

What is your favorite time control in live?

The official FIDE classical chess time control. 1h 30m per game and 30s per move.

Would you be interested in playing a "death-match"?

I like this idea a lot. When it was first introduced, we have discussed it with David Pruess and have considered many options: a) I could challenge one of my 2700+ FIDE-rated friends b) play a more balanced match against an IM/”regular” GM c) arrange a duel between two females. So far this plan hasn’t been implemented, but I am sure we will bring it to life in the future.

Btw, a question to the readers: which of the three abovementioned scenarios do you like best? ;-)


  • 12 months ago


    Thanks for the nice article Natalia and for all the tweets!

  • 2 years ago


    I hope you took that one the right way... Smile

  • 3 years ago


    Go  ahead Natalia, your beauty is your simplicity!!

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    thank you for your graceful interview, you carry yourself so well and clearly "get it", i forget how much you can do in a Q&A

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you for the kind interview.  I hope you continued success in your life.

  • 3 years ago


    what about kazan grand prix or tal memorial we need some article ! thankx

  • 3 years ago


    great, good to see and know the personal life of a chess player.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks Natalia, for the glimpse into yourself. "Inner being" of course, you play the Dragon Sicilian.

    If you like chess fiction, I can recommend "The Queens Gambit" by Walter Tevis.

  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    @paul211 Thanks. Re Fischer chess: I think regular chess is way more interesting and instructive. Of course, some of the pros who have been spending a few hours per day for the last 10-20 years working on openings are sometimes groaning and complaining that Chess 960 is our future. However, by far not all of them have such an opinion. As to amateur players: they don't need to spend much time on openings anyway (although they often do). Most of their games are decided in the middlegame and endgame; ask any expert. Therefore, I think the argument that Fischer chess is beneficial in the sense of getting rid of opening theory is vastly overrated.

    @myplace2100 Hi! :)

  • 3 years ago


    i love chess.if you answer me natalia i will be proud..

  • 3 years ago


    Good article. Thanks to Natalia, Englix & (Andy Clifton for proof-reading ! :) Smile

    paul211 the link ( post ) works fine for me ?

  • 3 years ago


    Ok then, credit to mr. AndyClifton for his sharp sight Cool

  • 3 years ago


    I was looking for the book "Citadelle", but it has the English title "The Wisdom of the Sands". Sounds interesting.

  • 3 years ago


    Your opinion does not change anything about the book and the movie, the overall perception on the public, the critic assessment,the price received, the place in history of Nabokov etc.. Above all it does not change my perception and I don't really care about what you like or not, you can even say that Beethoven was an idiot just because you can't understand him....but that's your problem not mine.

  • 3 years ago


    No... it really was a bad movie. Glad to read the interview, though :) Natalia is one of the most friendly chess professionals I know!

  • 3 years ago


    For Mr Andy Clifton  The Luzhin defense is both a great book and a nice European movie far better than dozen of Hollywood stupid movies. The film was awarded at Luchon international film festival and Sudbory cinefest. The novel was considered by Nabokov himself (sorry one of the greatest world writer of 900) one of his best. By the way the name of Luzhin girfriend in the book is Natalia :-) which will complete the game and win against the Italian Salvatore Turati. Amazing enough I guess :-)

  • 3 years ago


    Wish you all the best. 

  • 3 years ago


    Madame Natalia, Have you tried playing Microsoft's Flight Simulator? It's fun and entertaining.

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