Impressions from the European Championship

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Mar 27, 2012

From March 1st to 19th most of the strongest European female chess players gathered at Gaziantep, Turkey to compete for the classical, rapid and blitz titles. I don’t want to dwell too much on the statistics and peculiarities of the tournament struggle and will dedicate more time to the atmosphere and general impressions. After all, we had to spend over two weeks at the same venue, which is not very easy.

This year I decided to arrive at the Championship one day in advance. Two flights require a lot of energy, so the spare day was quite handy in terms of taking a rest, getting some sleep and familiarizing myself with the place.

Preparation for a chess tournament is by far not limited to working on one’s chess. Many other things are important as well: your physical shape, psychology, living conditions. By the latter I mean the hotel, nutrition, working schedule, etc. Having good Internet access is critical for communicating with your coach/second and other people via Skype. Overall the hotel was fine, although a lot of noise came through my window in the mornings. Also, the Internet was ok in the hall, but quite unstable and slow in the room itself. Last but not least, the choice of dishes at the restaurant was somewhat limited, so by the middle of the tournament many of us got bored with the cuisine and started eating out.

As I like to take walks before the game and afterwards, it is important for me to have a park nearby. In this case a park was available within 15 minutes by foot. I wonder how many miles I walked during those 19 days?!

The playing hall was spacious and comfortable:

I started the event with a win, but then slowed down and made four draws. In round 6 I won again and got 4/6. March 8th was a rest day aka International Women’s Day. In Russia it is considered to be a popular holiday, but I am indifferent towards it since I have a birthday on March 9th. Therefore, all the attention that is left over from celebrating Fischer’s birthday (also March 9th) is transferred to mine. Wink Frankly speaking, I don’t like participating in tournaments on the eve of my birthday. I tend to get reflective and reconsider my life in general – not the best state of mind for playing competitive games. Nonetheless, I have been doing it on a regular basis, from the Russian junior championships until now. This year the game against Olga Girya in round 7 was also quite challenging. Eventually I got a draw. Naturally, one can’t celebrate the birthday too actively during a tournament, so the procedure was limited to a modest cake-eating ceremony with my friends on March 8th, reading a nice column titled "Do women have a chance against men?" and having a chuckle at a list where I was named one of the top-10 Russian female athletes.

After a victory in round 8 I found myself at 5.5/8. On the next day I had a promising position against Kateryna Lahno, but made a blunder and lost. Just like in 2011, I had to win both final games to qualify for the World Championship. I succeeded in both cases: 2/2 with Black and 5th-11th place (10th by tie-break); 8 rating points gained. The total prize of the classical chess championship was  € 100,000 with a record €20,500 for the winner. My share was €5,170 (about $6,900) – obviously, not much for 11 days of work, but at least more than enough to compensate for travel expenses, accommodation and the services of my chess second. Being a chess pro is tough even if you perform well.

The new ECU dress code was introduced for the first time during this championship. For example, women weren’t allowed to wear sports shoes and suits and… undo over two buttons on their blouses. Funny, isn’t it? That is one of the few situations when chess news makes it to the mass media. Of course, the regulations were a popular discussion topic among the participants in private conversations and on Twitter. From my personal experience I can tell that not a single player was a fan of the new rules, but maybe such women do exist. My opinion is that dress code is relevant at super tournaments, World Championships and at other elite events with personal invitations. On the other hand, the European Championship is an open tournament that attracts people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to impose such limitations. However, in reality some of the players were wearing sports shoes or too short skirts, and no one reprimanded or punished them for it.

After the classical tournament some players decided to stay for the rapid and blitz events. For some of the girls the idea was to have fun and train, while others were taking things seriously and aiming at the titles. Russia has confirmed its status as the #1 chess country in Europe: all three gold medals went to members of our national team. Having played 42 games in 19 days, I was rather tired and anxious to get home as soon as possible. This was typical of other participants as well.

At the Moscow airport I and my friend Baira Kovanova went to a traditional Russian restaurant and ordered borsch, meat rissole and fried potatoes. Home, sweet home!

In the first round I had to face my compatriot and long-time friend Liza Bronnikova.

White chose a risky plan with 14.g4. The attack is illusionary, while the kingside gets weakened for real. After an overactive move 22.g5 the White king got into trouble, and Black quickly capitalized on the mistake.

All the photos are courtesy of Anastasiya Karlovich,


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

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

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 5 years ago


    All the luck, Ms. Natalia.

  • 5 years ago


    I will say GM SultanOfKings is being ruthless to a modest lady like WGM Natalia_Pogonina. We as a reader should appreciate the effort being put in writing this article or any articles.

    The act of codemning or criticising repeatedly should be avoided at all cost. This is an unfair play or treatment to the author of the articles. I will say those people who had written negatively in the comment posts should sincerely and reservely apologise to the author of this post, WGM Natalia_Pogonina, if you think you are a gentleman.

  • 5 years ago


    Oh yeah, as civilized as Fischer! (lol)

  • 5 years ago


    Natalia, happy birthday!  I don't know that anyone pointed out that your income from the tournament does not continue for the whole year!  Plus, there is no pay for the hours of preparation ....  you are an inspiration for many in chess, including me(age 63) and my daughter, Jennifer(age 20).  Chess players at your and women... should be better compensated in our society..  Maybe when we are more civilized (another 100 years?) Please keep playing good chess and stay in touch with us!

    Wikipedia: think definition: to form or have in the mind.

  • 5 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    GM SultanOfKings I don't see what you are trying to refute. You say that my prize was better than what 95% of the chess pros usually get. So what? Like I have written, are many chess pros European & Club Team Chess Champions, runner-ups at the World Team Chess Championship? Obviously less than 5%. And my point is that imho all the chess pros could use a better standard of living, especially those who excel in the open tournaments and still make less than a bright college graduate in the USA.

    Now to your statement about the highest prize you have won ($4k). I hate to take it on a personal level, but you get a decent amount of attention from the media as the #2 player in Norway and a friend of Magnus Carlsen. If you were a Russian rated 2606 (that's #40 in Russia), nobody except for hardcore fans would even know that you exist, and you wouldn't earn even $4k. Therefore, I wouldn't say you are at that much of a disadvantage as compared to the 95% of the chess pros you are referring to.

    Also, your highest FIDE rank among men was 98. My highest rank among women was 14. As you know perfectly well, the lifestyles differ: top-15 players usually win a lot of titles and play in closed events, while top-100 grandmasters have to struggle in open tournaments. That's the way the chess world works like at the moment, whether we like it or not.

    P.S. My highest prizes were about $10k - one for winning the European Team Championship in 2011, one for silver at World Team Chess Championship in 2011, one for sharing 1st at the Russian Superfinal'10. And I don't remember the prize for bronze at the EC-2009, but it was in a similar range. However, when I was a teen and used to win the junior ECs and Russian Championships, all I had was expenses. We didn't even get any prizes...

  • 5 years ago


    lol. as an IT slave it takes me threee months to get what natalia earned "working 11 days". so i understand what jon says.

    but to discover that "someone earn more than me" shouldn't be so surprising. actually, lots of people earn less than that. we get used to our income, and natalia - who is 36th in women ranking, a one-step-to-the-top player - sees it from her perspective. no offence intended, jon.

  • 5 years ago


    Natalia was very clear and precise in her statements. This is not just a matter to play chess the stakes are much higher. 

    There was a time during the Cold War in which chess have been the subject of challenge in relation to different political views. There is nothing wrong if today they can be helpful toward a less sexist vision of sport and life and it is right to talk with someone who has  firsthand  experienced the consequences of that.

    All her friends and fans please should understand and support the battle that Natalia and all women are fighting and not just on the board

    With great respect and admiration for our chess Queen Natalia Pogonina :-)

  • 5 years ago


    The current discussion is pretty consistent with the things Natalia has brought up in her comments below, and it is her article. As for it being calumny, I disagree with that.

  • 5 years ago


    the topic was not intended for the discussions now happening!!

    this is called calumny....

  • 5 years ago


    I agree that we should be working towards sex-blindness in mental sports like chess. The only problem is how to get there. The current system seems to be moving things in that direction, albeit slowly.

    If you throw everyone together at this point, I think women would not compete well at the highest level. It would be discouraging for young girls to see that, to the point where they may not bother with chess. If that were to happen it would mean a lot of progress down the drain. Why take the risk?

  • 5 years ago


    See, essentially, all this could be solved by making chess COMPLETELY unisex i.e. no silly things like "women's world championships". Women don't have any sort of disadvantage INHERENTLY in playing the game (not talking about opportunity etc.). At least in sports women are obviously physically weaker, it's a biological FACT. In chess, this is still ambiguous. While there are studies that men have better spatial reasoning, let every single chess event be unisex to prove if this is true to an extent. Then there is none of this "women don't make as much as men" crap. Women shouldn't be in their own category. That in itself is sexist. The bloody title of WGM is sexist (you should just have GM/IM/FM/CM/NM, none of this "woman GM" which could be even lower rated than an IM, it should just be an IM or FM). I'm surprised women complain about how much money they make etc. when the sheer idea of women's titles or women's events is sexist in itself.

  • 5 years ago

    GM SultanOfKings

    Hi Natalia,

    I think you are trying to shift the discussion from what I commented, to what you want to talk about.

    You wrote:
    "My share was €5,170 (about $6,900) – obviously, not much for 11 days of work, but at least more than enough to compensate for travel expenses, accommodation and the services of my chess second. Being a chess pro is tough even if you perform well."

    John wrote:
    @WGM Natalia_Pogonina - No doubt Jon is well aware of the vast divide in earning potential between like-rated male and female players.

    His point is that your statement

    "My share was €5,170 (about $6,900) – obviously, not much for 11 days of work... Being a chess pro is tough even if you perform well." 

    is completely out of touch with the realities most "chess pros" face. You're belittling a prize that >95% of professional players would be extremely happy to earn."

    I think John understood the essence in what I was trying to say, and I feel you're trying to steer attention elsewhere. I feel the comment was disrespectful since you belittle a prize most professional players would be very happy with.

    That being said, I know why you said what you said - or at least I think so. The European Women's champ is a tournament with fantastic prizes, so for you the prospect of making more than what you got is much higher than the prospect I would ever have of getting a higher prize.

    For outsiders, I'd like to make you aware of a comparison; the highest prize I can recall ever having gotten is about 4000 US.

    And we are talking about prizes for playing chess - though I start to realize teaching is extremely much more lucrative :P

    Best wishes, Jon Ludvig 

  • 5 years ago


    I would also like to point out that Viktorija was the leader in victories. This is a nice and somewhat amusing coincidence, but it does say something about what her parents thought she could accomplish, and it's hard to overlook this convenient example. A better example would be Tigran L. Petrosian.

    And there are a million other ways parents can show belief in their children. From everyone I've known in my life I can find concrete examples of how aspects of their upbringings made them much of what they became later. I think the invaluable role the parents play in the child's development far supersedes any outside pressure from society, including sexist beliefs. When more parents take this to heart I think men and women will achieve an equal footing, aside from the undeniable physical differences.

  • 5 years ago


    @ those in debate over male/female compensation

    I like fairness as much as the next guy/gal, but in practical terms there will always be a difference in the amount of wealth we have as individuals, no matter our other attributes. This is due to various factors regarding each of us as individuals, but the idea is also based upon an immutable principle that is relatively easy to demonstrate.

    If I had it at my discretion to give everyone an equal amount of wealth, suddenly many people who never had anywhere near that much would rush out and spend to satiate themselves or even give others gifts. Others who used to have much more, would suddenly realize that the playing field had been leveled and they weren't technically wealthy anymore, they would probably be conservative and even burn the midnight oil trying to once again be ahead. Others would lie,cheat and steal to get more. If you look those behaviors, they demonstrate the the same circumstances we are already in.

    So for anyone who thinks because they are male, rated 100-200 points higher than a female chess player, who could probably make even more money as a model/actress than as a chess player, and you are so troubled by the chess community deciding that, due to advertising/appeal of something that isn't as common as you, the females should get more money.

    Try to think about it from a practical economic perspective and be happy that chess organizers are astute enough to help generate interest in anyway they can. This will help women become as prevalent in number and rating, as well as, the growth and economic potential in general of chess.This will perhaps make the difference for you to make more money. Also, try to remember, there are plenty of people who would probably be thrilled to simply have the ability to be a GM and not really complain about getting paid. I know I would. Sometimes it's better to look on the bright side instead of thinking someone always owes you something.

  • 5 years ago


    I'm sure GM Hammer would do quite well and earn a pretty penny in the Women's European Championship were he allowed to enter

  • 5 years ago


    Very Good point Natalia,

    wow this it's quite a checkmate now (Bobby Fischer style :-)

    We want Natalia as the next world champion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 5 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    GMSultanOfKings Let me try to get my message to you for the third time. Once again, you (probably correctly) point out that an average 2600-rated male player earns less than I do, while my rating is now 2450. However, the society rewards achievements and an active style of life. You don't get assigned prizes for having a certain number associated with your playing strength. For example, among other results, last year I have a) qualified for the World Championship b) won the European Club Championship c) won the European Team Championship d) got silver at the World Team Chess Championship, etc. Meanwhile, an average 2600 hasn't clinched any of these prestigeous titles. Of course, a man who has the same level of achievements as me has earned much more. Your obvious argument will probably be that it is harder to win those titles as a man. However, competition is relative: if you are born a man, just face it, or change your sex. Smile Also, as a man, you are not aware how many obstacles every woman is facing in her chess career. Parents won't introduce her to chess since they think women are no good. Coaches will refuse to study with you since girls are useless. Other players will be making vulgar and spicy remarks. You won't be getting scholarships or sponsor money since girls shouldn't practice chess. And so on. Even if you make it to the level of the national team, you will still be treated as a second-rate player. And if you play for the World Champion title, the purse will be like 8% of the men's one. Therefore, I would be happy to see fair competition as long as it is really fair. Not just see women's earnings cut down even more, while all the barriers remain.

    P.S. I've been a professional player since the 90s. Some of my chess friends are millionaires; others had to get a real job to survive. My message was that even being a succesful top player is often not enough to be considered rich by common standards. Naturally, many players do even worse, so they come to the EC and simply bear expenses with no gains. Then you pop up here and tell me in a somewhat patronizing tone that I was "lucky" and should be "happy with what I earned". You know, one doesn't consistently make the prize money at the EC by being lucky. Wink

  • 5 years ago


    nice article Undecided

  • 5 years ago


    A good point for "poor" male chess player "Sultans of kings" :-)

    I just want to say that a total prize of 100.000 € for a European champ it's too low anyway in my point of view.(this is just a Berlusconi's breakfast so to say:-)

    A lot will depend on the ability to attract sponsorship, media coverage attention and so on not only on the grand event of world championship. The world is full of bored billionaire who don't know how to do with their money. You must be able to give them some good reasons to invest money in chess tournaments and not only on stock exchange :-)

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