Natalia Pogonina Interview




Natalia Andreevna Pogonina born March 9, 1985, in Russia is a chess Woman
Grandmaster and member of the Russian Olympic chess team. Taught the basics of the game by her grandfather Pogonina learned to play chess at the age of five. In 2004, Natalia Pogonina was awarded the title of Woman Grandmaster.

On FIDE’s Top 100 Women July 2012 list placed in 41st place with a rating of
2447, Natalia has many accolades as an active player.

Accomplishments noted on her site

Woman Grandmaster (WGM), 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 Russian Superfinal-2010, and #1 at multiple prestigious international tournaments (2005 – Bykova Memorial, 2007 – Rudenko memorial, 2009 – Moscow Open, etc.).
Ranked as 3rd most successful female chess player in the world in 2009 by the
Association of Chess Professionals.

As of 2010 Natalia’s FIDE rating was over 2500 – a mark that is associated with the title of a male Grandmaster.

As of  2012, Natalia Pogonina is the only chess player in the world to hold
simultaneously two prestigious titles – European Team Chess Champion and European Club Chess Champion. She also became the runner-up at the World Team Chess Championship.

Thank you Natalia for taking the time and granting us this interview to answer
questions from you fans at .

Natalia says, “the more original and uncommon they are, the better.”


kingsnehashis: When our opponent castles, should we use all our strength in attacking the
castled king, or concentrate more on controlling the center?

Natalia: Chess is a very complicated game, so there are no universal rules of this scale. The devil is in the details, so sometimes you have to play for a direct king attack; sometimes in the center; sometimes even on the other side of the board, etc.

kingsnehashis: While playing, what things should grandmasters always keep in mind?

Natalia: Try not to fall asleep, I guess.

kingsnehashis: Which offers more chances to win — an attacking approach or defensive


Natalia: Being a universal player. Also, it’s more about playing well than having a certain style. For example, while being universal, Kasparov is more of a tactical player. Carlsen is more positional. But I bet you wouldn’t be unhappy about having either of their ratings.

kingsnehashis: In blitz, when both the sides are in equal position and any wrong move can
invite a blunder and you don’t have much time left, how do you find a suitable move quickly?

Natalia: You have to develop your intuition and practice a lot in order to get used to playing quickly and well. Also, when both partners are short on time in blitz, many mistakes go unpunished. So you should try to avoid making obvious blunders and confuse the opponent if possible.

AVIJIT DAS: Suppose you are playing with another GM and the foremost rule is that you
have to draw the game, what opening would you start with that will help you to force the draw?

Natalia: I will just play my standard openings and try to win, but keep in mind that if there is a way to draw (e.g., perpetual check), then I can go for it. Choosing “dead drawn” openings is bad from the psychological point of view. A player starts simplifying the position and talking himself into believing that he will be able to hold it. Gradually, the position is becoming worse and worse, and then he loses. Therefore, you should remember that when you need a draw you are happy with either drawing or winning. Basically, two outcomes out of three suit you.

AVIJIT DAS: If in chess… all pawns become bishop…then what would be the problem in
playing the game? Or who will get the advantage…White or Black? If you are playing such game as white, then what would be your first move and why?

Natalia: This “game” is a mate in 4: 1. Bf7 Kf7 2.Bc4 (or 2.Bh5) Ke8 3.Qh5 Bg6 4.Qg6X
There are a few sub-variations (exercise: find them), but it’s still a mate in 4.

AVIJIT DAS: What are the differences between normal chess and jumping chess in terms of tactics?
Why is jumping chess is not so popular?
Do you think Online Chess sites need to include this type of chess?

Natalia: Personally I prefer classical chess over all the variants. Also, I believe that in terms of marketing it’s better to have one official format and promote it. If we have a hundred versions of the game, each of which is played by a few thousand fans, we won’t ever get anywhere in terms of establishing chess as one of the world’s leading sports. However, don’t get me wrong, I mean no offence to people who enjoy other types of chess. I myself used to play bughouse and other variations when I was a teen.

AVIJIT DAS: What is best way, resign early when we see the coming defeat or see till the end? What do you prefer?

Natalia: My formula for this is “resign when the weaker of the two players realizes that it’s all over”. You can find a detailed answer in my article “When should one resign?” –

AVIJIT DAS: If God gives you the power to turn your family in to chess set then which
chess piece (other than Queen) would you like to be and why?

Natalia: I love all my pieces equally; otherwise one of them might become insulted and start avenging me. Besides, don’t you think that being a human is somewhat more advantageous than being a chess piece?

AVIJIT DAS: If all the chess pieces become alive and they are in a battle field then
which chess piece would be less tensed and why?

Natalia: Maybe the bishops, because they will set their hopes upon God’s mercy?

AVIJIT DAS: I have weakness in playing fast games, in a hurry I make more blunders than my opponent, but I can play days game well where I can take time and give my moves.  Can you give me some tips that would help me to play blitz games better?

Natalia: Hope this article will help (“Playing Blitz”):

AVIJIT DAS: Can chess make a child an introvert or unsocial?  I’m asking this because I have seen such kids and elder people who are such type.  Obviously it doesn’t apply for all, but is it true to some extent?

Natalia: I am afraid you are mixing up the cause and the effect here. I’ve read stories about kids who, for example, had an injured leg, so they had to stay at home and read books/play chess. Then they grew up relatively unsocial. Or someone who doesn’t like to communicate a lot with other people might decide to choose chess as a career, because of its “silent” nature. However, many of the people who like chess are very amicable and communicable. To sum it all up, chess does attract a lot of nerds and nuts, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who plays it must be one.

Last but not least, introvert and unsocial are not synonyms. While being unsocial is typically regarded to be a negative trait, being an introvert is quite ok.

chesspro: I recently played in a high school dual meet.  I was beating my opponent and during my turn I knocked over my king by mistake.  We stopped the clocks and the game and asked our teacher if this means I resigned because he would accept the resignation.  Teacher said to keep playing as if it never happened.  I eventually beat him, although he said that I accept his mistake resignation.  My question is did I or he win the game?

Natalia: Knocking the king off the board doesn’t mean resignation. We all know this symbolic action from movies/history, but in the modern world it doesn’t have a legal status. There is another example: capturing the king. Kids are often taught that the goal of the game is to capture the opponent’s king (some coaches think that this concept is easier to understand than checkmating). So, imagine a situation when one of the players makes an illegal move and exposes his king to a capture. The other one happily grabs it and says he won. This happens all the time. Instead, of course, the illegal move should be annulled, and the game should continue in a normal way.

chesspro: Is the Fried Liver attack for black?  Can black also play this attack?  It is one of my favorite attacks.

Natalia: Did you mean to ask if there is an equivalent of the Fried Liver attack for Black? Guess not, because Black doesn’t have the time for it. Also, against die-hard Fried Liver fans one can simply play 3…Bc5 instead of 3…Nf6.

chesspro: I have a question, should I read to become stronger at chess, or is playing enough?

Natalia: I’d say that the stronger you are, the more you have to study. For novices the ratio is maybe 80% practice, 20% theory. For mid-level (Expert to FM) it is closer to 50%-50%. The very top GMs can spend 90% of the time or more preparing for the games.

Also, by practice I mean playing classical and rapid time control games and carefully analyzing one’s mistakes afterwards. If one, for example, just keeps mindlessly playing blitz day after day on the Internet, his skills will improve somewhat, but not much. Theory and practice always go hand in hand.

chesspro: I have come across many books by grandmasters, should I purchase one?

Natalia: Of course. Since your question implies that you have never bought chess books before, I suggest you start with something about the history of the game and/or a chess manual of some sort. Just don’t buy one of those voluminous boring opening encyclopedias.




Higginator: G’day Natalia, I’d like to ask you about “Body Language” in Chess.  I’ve
noticed that in a few Games (on Youtube) you prefer to keep Low to the Board and sure enough your Eyes rarely glance at your opponent! (like a Snake in the Grass)  The Chess Pieces are your Main focus of course by the way you move them… but do you use any tactical Body language to create the opponent
to make Eye contact with you (apart from # Check Mate # ) and can you see the
Chess Future in your opponents Body Language before the and during the Game?

Natalia: On the one hand, if you know a certain person well, you are beginning to get more “tells”. On the other hand, you never know what’s really going on the board. Let me try to convey my idea by introducing an example. Vladimir Kramnik mentioned that Garry Kasparov’s body language was extremely rich. Often after an opponent made a move he would shake his head, thrust his eyes out, touch his watch and so on. Most GMs became nervous at this point: “If Kasparov disapproves, then I must have done something wrong”. On the contrary, Kramnik stayed calm and adopted another paradigm: “If he is acting like that, then maybe he has overseen something?”. Moreover, Viswanathan Anand mentioned that Kasparov’s body language is widely overrated by journalists. The Indian WCC said that the main strength of Kasparov was in his moves. If he had been a weaker player, then people would have just laughed at his grimaces, and that’s all.

Nonetheless, some people still seem to have a magical aura surrounding them. People say that some players had/have hypnotic powers (Tal, Fischer, Carlsen, etc.). My interpretation of this phenomenon is that those GMs are great players who, in addition to their chess skills, have a formidable reputation. Some of their opponents are feeling like turkeys before Thanksgiving starting from move 1! The Customer and Nemesis theory plays a role here too.




Higginator: Nat, would you like to see Chess (the World Game) being played in the
Olympics rather than the Chess Olympiad and like Aussie Michelle Jenneke’s warm up Dance before competing do you have any Warm up routine before sitting at the Chess table?

Natalia: Generally speaking, our Chess Olympics are not in any way inferior to the regular Olympics. This year 160 countries will be taking part, and I am looking forward to competing there. However, it would still be helpful for chess to become part of the Olympics just because this way we would get more recognition, TV time and support from the state/private sponsors. For example, as far as I know, the US Olympic Chess Team is often having problems with funding, so Rex Sinquefield is kindly supporting them. If chess was an Olympic sport, I am sure there would be more companies willing to seek the player’s endorsements and sponsor them. In Russia the status of a member of the Olympic chess team is supposedly equal to a member of the “normal” Olympic team, but we still have less funding and privileges.

Pic: with Veselin Topalov at the Bermuda Party, Chess Olympics-2008



I don’t really have a warm-up routine since chess a mind game. But if I come up with some weird and hilarious dance, I will certainly record it and post a video.

Crazy dances: WGM Natalia Pogonina & WGM Anna Burtasova



higgie: Hi Natalia, when Playing Chess “Over The Board” its nice to Play with Quality Chess Set…! What is the Most expensive Chess Set that you have played on?  Do you have a Chess Set collection of your own?  Do you like Playing on Larger Chess Sets that you can walk on the Board and get
amongst the Pieces and how would you describe the feeling compared to Playing at a Chess Table?

Natalia: I prefer the standard tournament Staunton chess sets that are used at all the official tournaments. We do have a few chess boards at home, but I wouldn’t call it a collection. Of course, I have played giant chess and seen a couple of expensive chess boards made from mammoth’s tusks, gold and silver, and so on. But I don’t really like those fancy sets, so one of the worst presents for me that one can come up with is one of those elite chess boards.

Giant chess:




higgie: Nat, When Playing Online Chess Sites do you have Handles/usernames that are not linked to your real Identity that you are using for ChessFun maybe?  Other Chess sites that I’ve played on don’t have the Designs that I have seen here at ChessRex…!!  What would your Chess Set Choice of Colors
and Shapes be if you could design a Chess Set that Suits you most online?

Natalia: I have official accounts at most of the major chess servers, but sometimes I do experiment using a different nickname. Also, quite often someone proudly messages me and says something like: “I hope you remember how I beat you in that game in 20 moves?”. Then I ask him to send me the annotation, and it turns out that he was playing an impersonator. Be careful, for some reasons there are always people willing to use my avatar/name…

NZT-48: Natalia I could not find any video interviews of you in English.  Would you give your English speaking fans a video interview to enjoy?

Natalia: Good idea. It’s a pity that there are very few interviews with chess players available on the Internet. I think we need more talk and/or play shows of this type. I am also considering releasing a chess DVD, but so far haven’t allocated the time to record it.


1) Natalia as you know Chess is a very competitive sport…  Man vs woman, Man vs Program, Man vs the World, Woman vs the World.  Like yesteryear’s Greats; Fischer and Spassky representing their Nation for the championship do you see anyone in the near future representing their countries in a political showdown over the chess board? Asia has always been at the top of Chess competition mainly Russia (Soviet Union) taking most accolades and making a huge statement in history by leading this way. By all accounts
if chess is a measurement of intellect and intelligence makes a Country or
Continent superior to others, Asia should be leading the world in all aspects; economic, science, space age hardware, etc.  What would you say is holding Asia back from becoming the Superior Continent in the world?

Natalia: Some people cherish the days when chess was a toy in the hands of politicians who were exploiting it a symbol of intelligence. First of all, I believe that this sort of confrontation doesn’t really benefit anyone. Secondly, being intelligent helps in chess, but it is by far not the only prerequisite. When the media says that the current World Chess Champion is “the smartest person in the world” or “one of the greatest thinkers” this is good PR for the game, but it’s not necessarily true. Thirdly, neither the USSR nor Russia is Asian countries. They are what we call Asiopa, a hybrid of Europe and Asia. Fourthly, I don’t see why you think that a) Asia should be dominating the world b) something is holding it back. I mean, I’ve also read all those semi-racist findings that Asian people are supposed to be the smartest race, but it’s not like I trust those articles. Not to mention that it’s not a good idea to get too excited about such theories…

Boris Spassky & Natalia Pogonina:



kalevipoeg: Natalia do you like Estonian GM Paul Keres?  What do you think about Keres’s games?

Natalia: I have deep respect for Paul Keres as a person, although I haven’t studied his games in detail. Of course, I’ve, nonetheless, seen some of them.

AWOLNATION: Natalia you have been Columnist at, chess blogs at,, and  Will you be taking part in any of those activities at since it promises to be the chess site of the future?

Natalia: Haven’t really blogged at ChessGames and ChessDom, but we had other interesting projects.

I am always open for interesting proposals related to promoting chess and making other people happier. Maybe this interview is a first step towards future cooperation?

AWOLNATION: Natalia do you like Awolnation ?
What music do you listen to?  What is a good song that helps you get pumped
before a game?

Natalia: I like different music – A-HA, Enigma, Mylene Farmer, Dido, Coldplay, Madonna, Paul McCartney, M83, Ace of Base, etc. Also a lot of rappers – mostly American/English and Russian. I don’t have a special song that keeps following me year after year. Before the most important games I usually don’t listen to music at all. Instead I am trying to reach inner harmony without having anything distract me from doing so.

Haven’t heard Awolnation before. Thanks for the link; nice group!

Also, I like singing



puffin: Did you finish your book “Chess Kamasutra”?  If so, where can I find it?

Natalia: One of my chess books is pretty much completed, but, if you are familiar with this industry, you know that the publishers can often slow down the process considerably. Frankly speaking, I am disappointed that it still hasn’t been released. As to Chess Kama Sutra: that project is too energy-consuming; we haven’t finalized it yet. This is a very serious topic, and we don’t want to release anything superficial and half-baked.

puffin: Who are the highest rated male and female players you’ve defeated?

Natalia: First of all, I don’t remember. Secondly, there were some private games that I shouldn’t be talking about. Here’s a post about my official classical time control games against the highest-rated female chess players ever:

One of the problems here is that it’s very hard to get to face strong the very top-rated players. They are playing in closed round robin events, and I am not good enough yet to be invited to some tournament with an average rating of, let’s say, over 2700.

devel777: Who was the lowest rated player you lost to (relative to your rating at the time)? What was the game?

Natalia: I don’t remember. The gap between amateurs and pros is closing, and nowadays we see upsets quite often. Ok, you wouldn’t be satisfied with such an answer. Maybe this game ?

devel777: I like Chess960 because I think have a better chance at winning since I
haven’t studied the opening book.  What do you think of Chess960?  Should it become more important in the chess world?

Natalia: I am not a fan of Chess960 and believe that all these moans about having to cram up too much theory that we’ve been hearing lately are a) exaggerated b) apply only to the very top GMs. Yes, at 2700+ level people do spend a few hours before the game memorizing and going over variations. However, the prevailing majority of the players in the world don’t need to dedicate so much effort to studying theory. I like Magnus Carlsen’s practical approach: don’t stuff too many lines into your head; just outplay the opponent later on.

dijak: What do you think about the idea of draws counting as 0.49-0.51 for black (if black offers the draw, and white accepts it, then the result would be 0.51-0.49 for white; if position is theoretical draw, and there would be too much time needed for threefold repetition, then black needs to declare
the draw in order to achieve the result 0.49-0.51) in order to at least a little restrict the number of quick draws?  For example – berger tournament, odd number of players, so that everyone would be white just as many times as black.  I think it would work even in team competitions (with berger
system), if there would be odd number (let’s say 7 or 9) of teams, and also odd number of chess boards in single team (let’s say 5 or 7).  So, how do you feel about that idea?

Natalia: It is obviously better than the crazy idea to award 3 points for a win and only 1 for a draw. However, I don’t really think that scoring is a serious problem. Talking about final standings, there are much worse situations when one person is announced the winner based on some parameter that he can’t even control himself, e.g., number of games played as Black. Or performance, which depends on the rating of the opponents, and those are chosen by the machine. And someone else who has the same score ends up being, let’s say, #5. The winner might get $20,000 and the other guy – $1,000. I don’t think it’s fair. Ok, it’s a long discussion that deserves a separate article.

dijak: Have you ever had any frustration about the position of black knight on b8
after the move 1.d4? (Frankly, I had it in the past – the “philosophy” goes like this: after 1. e4 e5 white attacks the
pawn e5 with his piece (2. Nf3) and so black is able to defend it with piece (2. .. Nc6), or even go for counter-attack (2. .. Nf6), while after 1. d4 d5 white attacks the pawn d5 with his less-worth
c-pawn (2. c4), so if black wants to defend it, he needs to do it with his pawn – either with 2. .. c6 or 2. .. e6.  In case of 2. .. c6, there is no more an option for development
with Nc6, and in case of
2. .. e6 – if he wants to play later Nc6, and have some agility in his position
– he is obliged to play
c7-c5 (Tarrasch defense), which results in isolated pawn on d5.  And in cases of
all kind of developments
with Nb8-d7, I really think that knight on d7 is somewhat passive piece (squares
e5 and c5 are controlled
by white d4-pawn, on f6 is blacks other knight).  Exept maybe in Queens gambit
accepted and Semi-Slav Meran,
where black expands on queen side with b7-b5, c7-c5, etc.  Otherwise, black
knight can stay on c6 for period
longer than one or two moves only in Tarrasch defense (price = isolated pawn on
d5), Queens gambit accepted,
and sometimes in Gruenfeld Indian defense (price in both cases = giving up the
center).  But then I have
just said to myself “well, let it be”. Of course – all this “philosophy” is
very, very general and relative.
So, how do you judge the position of black knight on b8 after 1. d4 ?

Natalia: I have never thought of it this way and never had such frustrations. If I don’t like how my pieces are placed in a certain opening, I try not to play it. Let them and me enjoy ourselves during the game Also, I don’t see how the b8-knight should be feeling bad after 1.d4. There are numerous options to develop it the normal way.

dijak: I am a huge lover of Fischer-random chess.  What do you have to say about
Fischer-random chess?  Is it good and advisable to play it or not?

Natalia: This question has already been asked before (see above). And in terms of being “good and advisable to play it” – it depends on your goals. If you like the game and enjoy playing Chess 960, then why not do it. Or, if you meant using Chess 960 as a way of increasing your mastery in regular chess, then I wouldn’t recommend it. There are lots of more efficient training techniques available.
Thanks for the questions. Some of them were indeed unexpected and mind-boggling! You can always contact me via and/or check out the “Your questions answered by Natalia Pogonina” series.
Favorite games
It’s hard to say which games are most memorable to me, but I guess I would pick the two matches vs. the World in 2009 and 2010, because a lot of effort has been put into them, and because they have affected thousands of players, not just two.
Here are the videos:
Pogonina vs. The World,, 1-0
The World vs. Pogonina,, ½-½

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