Chess is not only about winning

TheChessWorld begins to publish articles written by WGM Natalia Pogonina as a part of & cooperation. Natalia Pogonina is three-times European champion (U16, twice U18), bronze prize winner at the World Championship (U18) and European Women Championship, winner of the gold medal at the 1st International Mind Sports Games,co-winner of the 2008 Student World Championship, and #1 at multiple prestigious international tournaments. Her current elo is over 2500.

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.

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”.  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.

pogonina chess

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

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.

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Updated 04.05.2023