January 17, 2011

Interview with:

Tania against Kateryna: encounter seen
through the eyes of an artist!
Picture courtesy: Pia Sprong 
Kateryna Lahno

Country: Ukraine
Born: 27 December 1989
Title: GM
Current Fide Rating: 2518
Peak Rating: 2539 (September 2010)

  • WGM at the age of 12
  • now a full GM
  • a child prodigy with a tremendous chess career
  • mother since last year

How is it possible to achieve so much by the age of 21?!
If you think a bit, you will discover that her life took a normal direction, in the rythm that suited her best. For me or for you, the age of 21 is still a time for parties and having fun. But Kateryna has a maturity in her eyes, voice and gestures, maturity which didn't come over night.
She's been playing and travelling since she was a little girl. She was breathing and living this chess life between adults her entire childhood and teenager years. Instead of playing with dolls she was playing with the chess pieces and her opponents nerves. Sacrifices? Of course, you always have to give something in return; was it worth? Check her CV, it speaks for itself.
I am sure there are many people out there, saying that she became an adult too soon, that she missed many things, experiences which will never come back. But than, if asked, they are more than ready to trade at any give moment, for at least half of Kateryna's success:)

Young, beautiful, successful and now a mother too: Kateryna continues to surprise us and I am sure her best results are still to come.

Alina: First of all, congratulatins for becoming a mother! Isn't it difficult to be all in one: mother, chess player, wife...?
Kateryna: Of course it is very difficult, especially in the beginning, because when a baby comes, your life is changing completely. You just cannot imagine from before how it will be, only time will teach you.  It was very difficult to play again, just after my baby was born, and i played quite well...but we had hard times: our baby was travelling with us, we didn't have anybody to leave the baby with, so we took him to the tournaments. But anyway, it was a great feeling, you cannot compare it with anything else, and now I am very happy to see him growing!

Right before becoming parents!
Picture from: www.exd5.com
The happy family!
Picture from: www.capechecs.com
A: Your son is almost one year old: is he walking or, even better, playing chess already?!
:) He likes chess! He doesn't really know how to play but he likes the pieces very much. Of course, for him is just a game, unlike for his parents: both chess players.

A: Would you like him to become a professional chess player?
K: I think it's very tough, really very very hard work. Especially nowadays, both in women and men chess...there are more than 40 GM's with a very high elo rating and...he will decide for himself when the time will come.

A: But will you teach him?
K: Of course I will teach him the rules, it's important for his education and it's also preparing him for life in general. And than, if he will say: "Can I play more?" - I will guide him further, why not?!

A: You and your husband are travelling a lot, this is your life in the chess world. Do you get help from your families with the baby?
K: When we went to Olympiad in Khanty Mansyisk for example, I took my son first to Ukraine (it would be too difficult to have him during the tournament, especially for such an important one like Olympiad) and my parents looked after him.

A: I think it is very difficult for you now that you live far from your family...
K: Yes, it is very difficult because for me, now being a mother, it would be great to have my own mother next to me, to help me with advices, with the baby. But ok...we are a family now, we had to make a decision and we chose France.

A: So, you already started to speak French?
K: Yes, I have to:) I live in France, I'm going out for shopping, so I am forced to speak. I am trying and of course it is not perfect, I am afraid it will never be perfect:) It is a difficult language for me and I had never thought before that one day I am going to speak French! But I try:)

A: You speak in French now with your husband?
K: We developped in time our own language: a mixture between Russian, English and French:) And I am thinking: when my son will be older, what will he say?! Although, i think it's a great opportunity for him to get as much as possible when he is little and his brain is like a sponge, absorbing a lot of information. If he will manage to speak such difficult languages like Russian and French, we will be more than happy.

Kateryna and Robert on their wedding day:
25 February 2009. As you can see,
chess brought them together!
Picture taken from: www.chessbase.com

A: When we were speaking before, you mentioned your son's name: Sacha. Many people think that it is coming from Alexander. Is that true?
K: No, in the official documents his name is Sacha Fontaine.

A: Now that you have Sacha, you play less than before?
K: Yes, that's true. I was playing much more but now, as a mother, I want to spend time with my son. And I don't think that playing so much is a great idea because it is very tiring. I like much more this life now: playing a tournament, than spending time with Sacha and than I am ready to go and play again!

A: That means you are not missing very much the chess life you were used to?
K: No, not really:) I am enjoying my life now and I can even say that before I was playing too much. You have to work and work for your tournaments, which is very tiring and it's better to stop running from one tournament to the other, especially when you are young. I say this because you have to invest time preparing and checking your games carefully as well, when you are still young and eager to improve. I don't know...I don't want to go in the past, but I am very happy with my life right now! Maybe it's better, but we will see:)

A: Even with sleepless nights and less tournaments, you are still on the top and recently you won the World Women Blitz title!
K: It was a very nice moment for me and I was very happy! I wanted very much to win and I prepared hard for it, even if my son was just 7 months and he needed me. That's why I am even more happy and satisfied with my result. But immediately after the Blitz Championship, where I lost a lot of energy, we went to Olympiad. For me this was very difficult,to go directly to Khanty Mansyisk. For some people it would be no problem: they can go from one tournament to another, living in buses and airplanes and that's ok. But for me, I don't know why, it was hard.

A: Well...I think we might have the answer: you are a happy mother, which is kind of a full time job:)
K: Yes, it was really hard, but I am happy, that's true:)

A: A few days ago many people celebrated the Old New Year, you are also celebrating it? - (ed.the Old New Year is an informal traditional Slavic Orthodox holiday, celebrated as the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar. The Old New Year falls on January 14, being 13 days adrift from New Year in the Gregorian calendar. The Russian Orthodox Church continues to use it and the tradition of celebrating the coming of the New Year twice is widely enjoyed between russians, ukrainians, serbians.)
K: We know about it, but we don't celebrate it in my family. Christmas is more important. But december is a great month: on 25 is Christmas, than on 27 is my birthday, than New Year and on 30 January is the birthday of Sacha.

In Wijk aan Zee: playing in the C-Group.

A: On 30 of January: you will be playing in Wijk your last round during your son's first birthday! Did you set a goal for yourself for this tournament? 
K: As you can see, we always have to make sacrifices, this is how life goes. I just want to play as well as I can, it's a very strong and difficult group this year. I won't even mention how it is for the A and B groups! It is a long tournament with many young and energetic players...so I don't know, I just want to play and enjoy my games.

A: I remember when we were playing against each other in Hungary and you crushed me completely...
K: Well, not really, you gave me a piece:) I remember you were pressing entire game and i was defending, in a najdorf. I was surprised that you wanted to crush me right from the opening and I had to keep my eyes open:)

A: You were 11 year old back than and i remember that our team's coach was predicting a great career for you. It became true by the way; which results are you most proud of?
K: Well...I think these three results...or maybe four. No, I think five:)

  • Two times European Champion
  • Blitz  Champion
  • First place in the Olympiad with the team (ed.Turin - with a great score: 8 points out of 10!); we also took the silver medal, which was great, but somehow...it's not first: the winner takes all:) 
  • And I also won North Ural Cup in 2006.

A: Advice for women chess players?
K: Advice?!:) It is very important to have the possibility to find a coach. I don't work so often anymore now, it is also a question of finding sponsors for that. That's why for a woman is harder; men: they can work together, in a sort of partnership, they have the same level. As a woman, when you have to pay someone everytime and, as you know, the women prizes are not so high, it becomes very difficult to improve your game. Usually you have to spend everything you win on coach, travelling and finally...you are left with nothing. I think that having more and more rapid and blitz tournaments is a great idea and good for the media and our publicity. This will eventually attract more sponsors and more coaches:)

Thank you Kateryna and good luck in your tournament! Maybe we will soon have a new record with your son becoming the youngest Grandmaster ever?! Happy Birthday in advance for Sacha!

Dutch version of this article on: Schaaksite.nl! 


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