Aleksandra Goryachkina: I Can Go a Long Way with Enough Motivation
The winner of the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament is interviewed by Eteri Kublashvili
– Aleksandra, my congratulations on your success! Being a winner of a crucial tournament, have you caught up with what has happened yet?
– Thank you for your compliments. Indeed, I have had a couple of days to catch up with it (smiling). It is just the full measure of success that I am still struggling to realize.
– Let us recall how the tournament was unfolding. Which moment can you point out as crucial, and which games do you think of as most vital and challenging for you?
– There have been a couple of them. One of them is round two game against Valentina Gunina. Had I failed to come up with a nice move Nh4 or had Valentina made a draw earlier, further developments might have been not so smooth for me. No less important was my game against Nana Dzagnidze, at which point I was half a point ahead and this encounter seemed to be determining a leader. A draw being a very decent result, I managed to score. These are two games that stand out for me, upon which things went more or less smoothly.
– You said that an early victory gave you a hard time to find motivation, which, perhaps, accounts for your going down in the final round.
– It was a mix of fatigue, lack of motivation, and a sort of unwillingness to prepare for the upcoming game. While I was trying to make it somehow to the end, the rest of the field was still in the thick of the fight. This is how I see it.
– I was amazed to hear you go to prepare for the game even after becoming a winner. Does it mean you feel like keeping up with your training routine anyway?
– It was as if on autopilot. However, it was not the usual level of preparation. An early overall victory gives you such thoughts as, “That’s enough, it will do just fine.”
– You won the tournament with two rounds to go, and then it was a rest day, and, as far as I know, you went to the circus. Did you do anything else to celebrate your victory?
– We just took it down a notch and switched into our habitual way of life, which the tournament hectic denied us completely. As I turned on the TV for the first time in many days and found out about the live chess on Match TV in progress (the Armageddon project- EK), my first reaction was, “I like that!” By that time, I was out of touch with the outside world as I hadn’t watched at anything for a month, and those were some developments to enjoy.
– I have recently learned that you have an Instagram account. There must have surely been some congratulations coming from people outside your family circle, which is here supporting you, right?
– I am not as socially active on the Internet as, say, Alexandra Kosteniuk or Sergey Karjakin. Therefore, I receive congratulations from people who are close or long-known to me anyway. Even if very few, there have been congratulations from outsiders indeed. Instead, such people would approach me here in Kazan, saying something like, “We congratulate you, root for you and wish you success.”
– Do they greet you in the game venue or outside it as well?
– They approach me outside, either. You emerge out of some backstreet, and here they are, saying, “Give me an autograph, please, we are rooting for you.” Alternatively, you may be strolling down the street and hear, “Look, here she is.” I think, “It is not about me.” It turns out that it is (laughing).
– What do you attribute your success to? It is indeed cool to have such a tournament in your pocket with two rounds to go. Is it due to your working hard on a permanent basis, or your being psychologically more stable than others? Is it due to your age – you are the youngest participant after all?
– It seems like a combination of several factors to me. I am always working hard on chess to prepare for each tournament, and adding itself to it this time was a training camp as well. I thank RCF for paying for the coach’s services and the training camp taking place before the tournament. One also needs to take into account that everything was organized for me on short notice because I got into the event much later than anyone else.
– While Hou Yifan was undecided, you knew nothing about possible participating, did you?
– They told me that I was likely to play, but there was no definite telling until I had a contract on my hands. A good start here gave me a boost of confidence. It is also outstanding support that I have enjoyed. All these factors worked well for me, and my play went off splendidly. I did not anticipate such a morally “easy” tournament, because physically it was exhausting as a rather long one, and psychologically I set myself to a much more demanding task that would definitely mean an intrigue along the way...
– Up until an ultimate round?
– Well, maybe not until the ultimate, but rather from rounds ten to thirteen. I anticipated this segment to be of utmost importance, and it is there that you have to give it your best, whereas before that your performance would usually be neither good nor bad as you try not to spoil anything, looking forward to the home stretch to settle things once and for all. This being my mindset, and I was just playing my usual type of chess. That is, I believed that any one game would not matter much given the length of the event. Somehow, I found everything gradually playing into my hands so that when looking up the table after round ten it came to me that a draw next day would mean that catching up with, let alone overtaking me, would no longer be feasible.
– A draw would have sufficed in round twelve against Tan Zhongyi, but your setup looked rather dubious. Were you assessing your tournament situation in the sense that “a draw is enough for me, but the position is bad, what should I do?”
– Again, it was not yet the last round when you need to make a draw no matter what. I was well aware of two more games in store for me, one of them as White, which made my tournament winning chances rather substantial. It was only a question whether it was going to happen this or the next round. I was not sitting on pins and needles, so to speak. Needless to say, I was unwilling to lose either... I was not destroyed out of the opening, and then my position started looking more or less tenable to me, and I went on to hold my ground and make a draw. Besides, the final position was even winning for me.
– You have mentioned the training session. As far as I know, you had worked there with Evgeny Miroshnichenko, and this time you worked with Konstantin Landa. What is the coaches’ share of your current success?
– Going into this tournament, I worked with Landa, and before that - with Miroshnichenko. However, Evgeny assisted me before for about a year. At the competitions, I was on my own, because he is actively involved in commenting, and our schedules do often keep us apart. He was busy commenting in Kazan as well. Considering how much we worked with Konstantin here, I see that it is merely impossible to combine commenting and coaching at an event of this magnitude.
There is no disregarding the coaches’ merit since lack of such cooperation would have resulted in no success.
– You have always claimed in previous interviews that the prize money management is usually up to your mother. – Is it going to be different this time around? Your prize is way higher than usual this time after all...
– Everyone does what they know best in our family: I know to play chess, and my mom knows to count money and put it to best use. Besides, I keep a certain amount to myself. I have no lack of anything and avoid dealing with substantial sums.
– With global ones.
– Indeed, this is the word. I have a bank card which, in some mystical way, is never short of money. However, some expensive purchases would immediately result in a phone call from my mum, inquiring, “Is it you? If not, we will quickly block the bank card" (laughing).
– Safety first, as they say. You are now a runner-up to challenge Ju Wenjun. Have you ever faced her in tournament games?
– If I am not mistaken, it was only a blitz and a rapid game in the world championship. There was also the Anatoly Karpov tournament in Cap d'Agde, but I was just a teenager back then. I was thirteen, if my memory serves me right.
– Is it somewhat premature to talk about drawing of a psychological portrait of your future opponent?
– It has not reached this point yet, what I need now is a deep breath of relief. I lack strength for something else at the moment. It resembles the last round game in a sense that you are absolutely worn out to prepare for it – you just go there to play it.
– Quite a few players cherish champion ambitions since childhood as they go to chess clubs and see portraits of champions on the walls, visualizing themselves nearby. Is it about you?
– I have never lacked ambitions. We moved to Salekhard from the small town of Orsk, known for inadequate financing. When heading for the children's world or European championships, they kept telling me, “You know, if you come back empty-handed, we will send you no longer for lack of money.” Like it or not, you are bound to shine if urged by ambitions and desire. It explains my mindset for the world and European championships or other prestigious competitions since early childhood.
– That is, having developed an athletic stance since a child helps you win "on demand.”
– I can go a long way with enough motivation. Whether being a good or bad trait of my character, managing to work myself up for certain crucial events goes back to my childhood as well. After having no results, a year ago and then playing in a U20 world championship in the fourteen age group you think about no medals yet and a need to do something about it.
– Does it help you to turn the tables?
– It does, there is no other way.
– As far as I know, you are going to visit your grandparents to take some rest. How long are you going to stay away from chess?
- I cannot distance myself from chess for long since it is always an urge to see how I played, how I later commented on what I had played, what I said shortly afterward, and so on. Besides, you need to keep an eye on the tournaments running simultaneously.
– Like the one in Stavanger.
– Indeed. I also feel like keeping up with what is going on the Match TV channel. Like I said, I was out of touch with my usual way of life for about a month.
– You are known to refrain from interviews during the tournaments. Do you feel like focusing on the game as much as possible?
– I would rather say that it might turn into mental anguish for me if saying something wrong and then keep regretting it time and again. I would rather avoid it. No need to ask for trouble, as they say. I try to avoid whatever I am not obliged to do.
Do you mean to keep away from anything unmentioned in your contract?
– That’s right.
– It would be interesting to know your non-chess hobbies to have a fuller picture of you. What about your favorite movies, music, books, and types of sport?
– It is hard to share your hobbies after having been out of touch with them for over a month.
– I mean, in general...
– In general, I am not steady about my preferences, and tomorrow is likely to have something else appealing to me from what it is today. I like various type of movies. The latest film was Rush, based on real-life events. It Is about a contest between two top-notch race drivers.
– Does it appeal to you as sharing something of your character?
– Well, I was more into the athletic type of movies going into this tournament.
There are quite a few books that I like, which makes it hard to single out anything specific. I like different music and do not dwell on anything for long. My sister, for one, learns all songs by heart, watches a music channel, and has formed own opinion about everything (laughing).
– Your sister is known to study chess either.
– Yes, in the meanwhile she was participating in one of the Russian Youth Cup stages - the Nezhmetdinov Memorial. She was in the lead but ended up taking second after losing the ultimate round game.
– Does she have any future in chess in your opinion?
– I think she does; the question is whether she wants it. Supported by me, her future is not hard to imagine; the problem is only in her desire.
– What are you going to do when you have had enough rest? Do you have any tournaments planned, say, till November?
– We were looking forward to the outcome of this competition to assess our next steps. Now that I am a challenger, I need to be more selective. Otherwise, it would have been a completely different kettle of fish when you have to play in every event coming your way. Now I need to make a schedule and fill it with activities to take part in.
– To better prepare for the upcoming match?
– Aleksandra, I thank you for this interview and wish you every success!
– Thank you.
Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili