Chess is not Only about Winning

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Jan 26, 2010

Continuing last week's story about the '09 Russian Superfinal, I would like to share with you my game from round 3 against the experienced 2-time vice-World Champion IM Alisa Galliamova, who also happens to be the  ex-wife of GM Vassilii Ivanchuk.  We have played before twice: I won one game and drew one.

This time we were leading the tournament with 2/2. The public has dubbed our game as “the duel of two chess mums”: Alisa took a 2-year break from competitive chess to look after her baby, while I have been away for 8 months due to pregnancy.

Natalia Pogonina & Nikolai Zhdanov

On a separate note: just like in an RPG, each chess player has 5 main character attributes:
1)    Chess skills – also referred to as “chess class”. There is even a saying in Russia – “you can’t ruin your class through drinking”. Smile For example, a master is supposed to remember how to play the Philidor’s position even if he’s heavily drunk, sick and almost asleep.
2)    Chess shape – that is your current chess conditioning. For example, you might be a great player, but if you haven’t had practice lately, you may easily forget how to play some technical positions, have problems recalling moves in the opening, calculate slowly, or just blunder.
3)    Physical shape – an essential component of success. Chess games usually last for a few hours, so it’s very important to be fit. Tiredness or illness may easily cost you the full point.
4)    Mental shape – that is how well your brain is operating at the moment. Sometimes it seems that everything is great: you are feeling well, your chess preparation and skills are excellent, you have been performing well in chess – and then you just find out that today your head feels like having a holiday. It doesn’t feel like doing any calculation at all, so you have to rely on your intuition only.
5)    Psychological shape – if you’re feeling down, unconfident, have no energy, are not motivated enough, tired of playing chess, etc., then chances are that you will perform much worse than you could have done otherwise.

The difference between the elite players (Anand, Topalov, Kramnik, Carlsen, etc.) and the rest is that the former can afford to play selectively (since their earnings are high enough), and at times when their 5 main attributes are at the top levels. "Regular" GMs are deprived of the luxury and have to travel from one event to another to make a living. Amateurs are at the worst possible situation: they either have to play on weekends, in the evening, or during a vacation. Naturally, that leaves hardly any choice and opportunity for maneuvering.

Getting back to the Superfinal, I was pretty rusty and in bad physical shape, etc. The media had even published reports saying that “she obviously won’t play since she has a newborn baby”. However, I decided to enjoy the game & see what I could do. Unsurprisingly, not everything went as smoothly as usual.

IM Alisa Galliamova (2460) - WGM Natalia Pogonina (2501)


After this game I understood that my physical & chess shapes have been far from optimal, but I'm a stubborn fighter, so I decided to play on...


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

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  • 7 years ago


    very nice!

  • 7 years ago



  • 7 years ago


    Hi Natalia,

    "Chess is art, sport and science" Anatoly Karpov.

    Chess is competitive in nature therefore it is somehow a kind of sport. Chess is also artistic, seen through a player`s brilliant combinations including strategy and tactics. And, chess is also a science given that with some calculations it is possible to get an expected outcome. And what about psychology in chess! (A different kind of science.)

    In the 5 attributes stated, it is interesting you break down the psychological attribute in two categories. This shows how complex the mind is. Maybe the 5th attribute would be understood better if renamed 'emotional shape', which is less complex but more sensitive. One is basic and more fundamental and, the other('mental shape'), is more complicated(or advanced) but somehow equally fragile. 

    To be in good shape for chess, I believe one has to score positive results in 3 out of the 5 attributes.  

    Beautiful picture with your baby boy!   

  • 7 years ago


    Thanks for the nice article & a very beautiful photo of the baby with his Mother!

  • 7 years ago


    Cute baby!  When will he be learning chess?

  • 7 years ago


    what about taking g3 with the rook, putting the king in check, then taking the bishop, saving mate and getting position on the queen?

  • 7 years ago


    I am sure having a child makes it a bit more difficult to find the free time to study and play, and yet I think having a child also makes your life fuller. I and my wife are both Professionals, and my wife was studying for her PhD and I was a Professor when we had our son, and boy that was difficult. Yet we managed and continued working, sharing child responsibilities. Still I am guessing that travelling is difficult at times. Well, despite all the difficulties I still think there is more good than bad. My wife is a Professor now and travels around the world and I'm the one who does the child care so it's not ALWAYS the woman staying at home.


    All the best


  • 7 years ago


    well done keep it up .......... it up .............
  • 7 years ago


    Also love the RPG reference.  In my chess blogging, I always try to tie chess into other forms of gaming.  You'd be amazed at how well it works in getting "mainstream" gamers to try chess! 

  • 7 years ago


    As always, great article...
  • 7 years ago


    I loved this article, especially the title. The baby is beautiful.

  • 7 years ago


    One of the things about your collumns I like a lot (besides the fact that the content is interesting) is the way in which you take your time to reply to the comments made here and there. Interaction like that is really nice.

    Keep it up! :)

  • 7 years ago


    Chess as an RPG, now thats a metaphor. Lets get some XP and lvl up.

  • 7 years ago


    I’m not a great chess player, but I have had an interest in the Benko Gambit. It seems that maintaining some balance of activity of pieces on the board is important is winning as black. I suppose you could say this about all chess games, but I remember thinking this while studying one of Kasparov’s games:
  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    Nikolai is chooooooooooo chweeeeeet! Innocent

  • 7 years ago


    B97, just so you know USCF rules don't allow you to do that.

  • 7 years ago


    Lauged also at the RPG breakdown.

    And at the title. Chess is a science, and an instructive loss is no loss at all...that's a good perspective even at the tournament level!

  • 7 years ago


    One of the reasons that i will never become a better than average player is because i can never take the time to think something through, mostly it just intuition. I guess teenagers attention spans are short :D.

    A chess game going on for hours? *shivers*

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