24 January 2018

Aleksandra Goryachkina: My Dad Tricked Me into Visiting the Aurora

Two-time Russian Women’s Champion answers the questions of Eteri Kublashvili

– Aleksandra, my congratulations on your victory! As you know, first places in both sections of the Superfinal come with a Renault Kaptur. Do you have a driving license?

– Thank you. I have no driving license at the moment. 

– Can you drive, can’t you? 

– No license certainly means no driving.  

– But it is not uncommon for a person to be able to drive despite having no license, and vice versa. Do you plan to address this issue in the near future?

– No, this is not part of my immediate plans. 

Does it mean you'll probably hand over the vehicle to your father or mother?

– Well. That will not be a problem at all (laughing)

What are your ideas about spending the prize fund?

– It is never different for me: all prizes migrate to my mother, and she deals with them accordingly. She is a chief accountant and keeps everything under control (smiling).

– Can we qualify her as your personal manager? 

– Absolutely!

– In a year ago's interview Alexandra Kosteniuk confessed that a car was the main incentive for her to go ahead. And what kept you up and running in this Superfinal?

– It has been vice versa for me. It goes without saying that a car makes a perfect first prize, but it comes with great responsibility as well. This is because of a big gap between the top place and anything that follows it. The weight of this burden has been too much for not a few. I realized at a certain moment that I was not really after this car to the same extent as after simply playing well and making it into the top three. I failed the previous Superfinal, and this one, in fact, started other than well for me. And it came to me that a car was not a priority, not the end of the world!

– Indeed, your tournament path was not an easy walk in the park as you suffered defeats in crucial games. Let's talk about your play and the course of events.

- I started by going down to Valentina Gunina and Alina Kashlinskaya. It was not a rosy start: I had 2.5 points out of 5. I defeated Olga Girya and drew Natasha Pogonina, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Alisa Galliamova and lost to Valentina. It seemed like the game was going miserably for me. I was never correct in guessing openings for the upcoming games, everyone was well prepared for me, and I felt like struggling to cope with my play in general. In a word, I felt tired after having arrived immediately from Khanty-Mansiysk, where I had been contesting men in the Ugra Governor's Cup in the classical and rapid chess. I was out of inner resources up until the rest day and thought the tournament was over for me with neither strength nor results whatsoever. 

However, a single rest day was enough to restore myself completely. After that it was a downhill, as though I started a new tournament. Having reconnected with my inner power, I could steer my play in the right direction!

It turned out well for you in terms of a rest day scheduled after round 5 and not round 6?

– We can say so.

What were you up to during the rest day in the first place?

– We paid a visit to the Aurora. My dad tricked me into going there, saying, “Let's go see a boat and take some pictures". It was only upon arrival that I was told that we were heading for a museum (laughing). This said, I rather liked the open space of the ship’s deck as it allowed me to feel as if I were Jack Sparrow. Not falling overboard was above all, however. Besides, we joined a guided tour around the ship, visiting its different parts and hearing its story. I say it was time well spent.

Which of your games are you especially happy about?

– I cannot point out to any such. I am happy about my first tie-break performance against Natasha. I like my round ten duel against Evgenija Ovod, even if I cannot say that it was a deserved victory.

– You were sharing first with Pogonina with one round to go. Did you have any special strategy in place for game 11? 

– No, I had nothing special prepared for that game, just going out for a battle. The main point was not to go down because it would leave me completely out of anything due to the poorest additional tiebreakers. Dad believed the probability of a tie-break to be very minute, that is, there were unlikely to be either two draws or two victories.

I was aware that Natasha had a draw in hand right out of the opening, which she could go for as soon as one hour after the game. I do not know why she kept wasting her strength by pushing on. I realized that I still go on contesting first if I manage to keep my position together, but there were no winning chances for me whatsoever. If allowed, I would have continued playing for more, but there was no such position in view.

What was your mindset going into the tie-break?

– I just aimed at playing chess, and be as it may…The event was exhaustive, and I was determined to go as far as my remaining strength would let me. It was important, however, not to burn up too much clock time.


– Do you prefer classical or rapid chess formats? Or maybe you have no clear-cut preferences?

– Some two years ago I was of an opinion that the faster the chess, the weaker I perform. Nowadays, however, all my three ratings have become roughly equal. I even started to prefer rapid chess to classical one because you still play more or less normal chess, but it does not take up a whole day (laughing). It does not cost you so much in the way of preparation and emotional stress. You play five games a day and do not get so much upset about opportunities you missed along the way (laughing).

– Following your victory in the 2015 Superfinal in Chita you shared about being coached by grandmaster Ruslan Shcherbakov. If you don't mind my asking, who do you work with nowadays?

– Shcherbakov and I stopped collaborating the very same year, and I have had no coach ever since. We are looking for one at present, there are certain candidates, but ...

That is, you have had only training sessions with the national team in the meanwhile, right?

– That is so, but they take place once or twice in a year, and this is obviously not enough. This is why I work by myself at the moment.

– I see. What is your opinion about how the Superfinal was organized?

– I think it is okay. If you run parallels to Khanty-Mansiysk, which is considered to be the "chess capital" with one of the best managements in terms of playing conditions, the level is about equal. I do not know if it comes as an advantage or disadvantage for the Superfinal. The venue was within 20-25 minutes’ walk from the hotel, as in Khanty-Mansiysk. 

Do you prefer getting to the destination by foot or by bus?

I used to walk to the playhall, and go back by bus. I did not see the point in leaving the hotel 40 minutes in advance of the game, same time the bus was leaving, so we would start out about half an hour before the game. The only downside was that I came to Petersburg having an ordinary mascara, whereas I really needed a water- or at least a moisture-proof one! This is why I would show up with my eyes like those of a panda (laughing).


– As for outer appearances, the dress code subject has advanced to the forefront in chess. An increasing number of tournaments are held, let's say, in countries that we consider exotic. How did it feel like playing in hijab in Iran?

– It is an awful experience, and I am against similar conditions, because it's no longer about chess, but about being more adaptive than your opponents to sustaining such hardships. The game itself is no longer at the fore. I survived two cycles in Iran, and it used to be very hot in the playhall. At the same time, they insisted that we have everything covered from top to toe. I do not know how it was after I left, but the first two cycles were a real challenge.

I'm going to Saudi Arabia at the end of the month, and they promised that women would be allowed to wear suits. It is already something; not having to wear a headscarf means a lot (the interview was taken before the WRBC – ed.).

How convenient is it to play blitz games in a suit jacket?

It sounds like a problem, but men do put them on for the games.

Nevertheless, men are known to usually dress more comfortably for rapid and blitz tie-breaks at the World Cup for that matter.

– Well, I also showed up less officially dressed for the Superfinal tie-breaks, but I was a bit inconvenient because you need to be fully dressed for the closing ceremony. But here you already choose between two things: you either look good, or feel comfortable.

– That is, you still have the "picture” in your mind about how good the participants look at the tournaments. While the dress code is important to you, you want no exaggerations, right?

- Yes, I do agree with you, but at the same the participants should not be denied a comfortable play. For example, not everyone is used to playing blitz while wearing a suit jacket because you are sometimes unable to move your elbows in all directions, and things like that. I used to put on a frill-sleeve blouse for a couple of games, realizing that such clothes are not made for getting into time troubles because an awkward movement would simply send the pieces flying from the board. I had to hold a sleeve with a free hand, giving myself a clear message of no time troubles at all (laughing).



– Does it matter as to where you have to play – be it a museum, a gym, or elsewhere? Are you distracted by the decor?

– The décor has no bearing on me, but playing conditions differ from venue to venue. They have metal detectors and strong anti-cheating measures in place at hotels, playhalls and similar venues, and participants are provided with WC facilities. Again, the level of air conditioning there is different and can be suited to your needs. A museum differs significantly in this respect from the convenience point of view when it comes to WC facilities, air conditioning, and anti-cheating. Therefore, the full responsibility is on you - the organizers. For that, it is up to your conscience (smiling).

However, chess benefits a lot from the Chess in Museums program due to an influx of people and massive advertisement. Therefore, there are pros and cons.

When there take place outbursts of discussions around cheating such as, for example, around the recent case of Solozhenkina - Assaubayeva, to what extent do you get involved in them?

– This time I read up on the issue and kept track of how it was unfolding afterwards, but cannot say anything beyond that. You are not guilty until proven otherwise.

– And what would you do if realizing that the opponent’s behavior is somewhat suspicious? Would you or would you not approach an arbiter immediately?

– No, I would not. You see, I played Sandu at that very European Women’s Championship. And I did not even put my signature to the petition, although my dad was really for it. They could not find us to discuss this issue back then: I do not know if it is for better or worse. 

I cannot say anything definite... Maybe it was, maybe not. What can you say if a person sits at a table in front of you and leaves nowhere? At that tournament I happened to witness situations when grandmasters (not coaches) would enter with their phones not turned off and would get down to writing something on a piece of paper even without leaving the playhall premises. That’s how it was.

Again, what concerns Assaubayeva, I can say that at the European Individual Championship in Minsk I saw her and her mother enter not through the metal detector, where players used to hand over their pens, keys and other items, but through a different access point without having to part with their phones or anything. However, I cannot say anything definite anyway because I would not follow up on further developments. Nevertheless, that’s what I witnessed.

– I see. In conclusion, tell us about your future plans, please.

– Everything is written down minutely and to detail for half a year ahead beginning with January. My plans include the Gibraltar, Aeroflot, European Open and Women's Championships - the schedule is absolutely packed.

You are known to challenge men not infrequently; do you plan to gradually withdraw from the women's chess?

– No. I challenge men to perform better in the women's competitions afterwards. Playing men is not an end in itself.

– Sasha, thank you for the interview. I wish you good luck!

– Thank you.

Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili and Boris Dolmatovsky