Name: Natalia Pogonina
Title: FIDE Woman Grandmaster, Grandmaster of Russia
Date of birth: March 9th, 1985
Fide rating: 2447, highest - 2501
What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?
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? ;-)