March 10, 2011

Interview with Olga Dolgova, the woman behind a top GM!

In an interview given after his loss against Peter Svidler, in the World Cup 2009, Khanty Mansiysk, Alexei Shirov had to answer, immediately after his game, to a personal question:

You came to Khanty Mansiysk with a charming friend? Tell us about her.

Here Alexei faltered. It was obvious that he was trying to find the correct words...

"It is not easy to speak about a dear person...Olga's support was very important for me now. Almost inestimable. I am very thankful to her for coming here! We are together since recently (ed.the interview was taken on December 2009) though we know each other for a long period. We met and I became more optimistic, in chess, as well as in life."

Picture: Joachim Schulze

Her name is Olga Dolgova, 23 years old, Alexei's wife and his reliable support. I met her three times so far:

  • Wijk aan Zee 2010, when I remember she was always "glued" in the direction of Alexei's board. I cannot forget how  connected to each other they seemed to be, how much love she was indirectly showing, waiting for hours on the same spot, everyday, every game.
  • Unive Open Tournament, Hoogeveen 2010: although we didn't speak, as a woman, I cannot overlook the natural grace and elegance, which were visible through her eyes and gestures.
  • Wijk aan Zee 2011: during Tata Steel Chess Tournament, while we were both waiting for our husbands to finish their games, we had the chance to speak much more. In fact, time simply flew away and what started as an interview, turned out to be a very pleasant conversation.

In modern chess, the computer has become "the best friend" of every strong player. However, the recent excellent results of Alexei Shirov (M-Tel Masters 2009, Wijk aan Zee 2010, Shanghai Masters 2010) seem to have a deeper explanation: Olga, his wife. Woman international master and licensed student, her role during Alexei's tournaments is to make him free of any disturbing factors, and allow her genius husband to concentrate on what he does best. She is just 'there for him'. Hence, there are times when he is tense and needs to take his mind off the game; and other times when he needs to focus on the board. Olga defines her role as sensing, without being told, what mood her champion husband is in, and reacting accordingly.

The pressures on Olga, thus, are almost as intense as that on her husband and yet, I've never seen her without her shy smile. Besides, she has an incredible quality, very rare nowadays: she listens to you. If you talk to her, you won't feel any language barriers, you won't "see" any separation walls, you will just be charmed by her calm and understanding eyes.
We can conclude, not just because I am a woman too, that behind every strong grandmaster, there is a wise and patient Alexei's case, Olga is the one to "push" him even further, to the highest heights of success.

When did you get married with Alexei?
On 26 on June 2010. I received a lot of congratulations, also for having a baby! I was completely surprised about that, but it seems that many people thought this was the main reason for our marriage. I understand that many people were surprised but we were even more surprised  about what they said:)

Did you finish your studies?
I finished my University in 2009. But then I decided to continue my studies. Now I am a post-graduate student, it's not a master degree, the Russian education system is a bit different than the European one; what I am doing now is higher than the master degree or it's a different level. By the way, I graduated Far Eastern State Transport University of Khabarovsk.
I guess it is usual for a woman to be a post-graduate student now, however, one could call my area of study quite unusual. So people's automatic question is 'wow, do you really advance science?:)', followed up by a question of the unusual nature of my studies. 
After finishing University I took my Bachelor and Master Degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. The Russian education system is a bit different than the European one, this is true, but under the European education standard I have the same degrees, because I studied at the University for necessary years. A post-graduate student is PhD student. My post graduation program is Mathematical modelization, numerical methods and complex programs in Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

That's unusual for a woman!
:) When I finished my high school, my father told me this field of action would be a good choice for me, he knows my character, what kind of things interest me, parents always want the best for their children, and it turned out to be great, so he was right:) I am working on my dissertation right now, I think you also have them in Europe. And I really enjoy doing it, especially because I don't have to attend classes anymore. It's much better for me, I am traveling a lot with my husband for his tournaments and it would have been too difficult otherwise. Like this is perfect right now, if I would be working in an office, it would be impossible to miss so many days from my job. But right now, when Alexei is playing, I can work on my dissertation without problems.

Where were you born?
In Russia, the city is called Tynda. It is an important railway junction, often referred to as the capital of the BAM (Baikal Amur Mainline). In 1997 my parents moved to Khabarovsk. It's close to the Chinese border, almost 9 hours by plane from Moscow and about 900 km from Vladivostok. It is a big city, there are around 700000 inhabitants, it has an airport and everything I need. Sometimes people ask me if we have internet or electricity, which is rather strange:)

Have you ever been to China, if you are so close?
Yes, I finished Chinese school, China is my second mother-country and Chinese language is my second native language:) But cannot get used with their culture and mentality, I am more an European person. They are hard workers, but we are not going to speak about politics right now:)

This is kind of far, how did you meet with Alexei?
It was in a chess tournament of course:) It happened in 2008, in Russia, in the team championship in Sochi, where we only spoke a bit, but when the tournament was over, when we went back home, we didn't change our phone numbers or emails. Only after one and a half year we met each other again. It was not a chess tournament this time, it was on internet:) He saw me on facebook by chance and told me:"Hello, how are you? I remember you...we were both in a tournament..." and so on:) Of course I answered and, after several months, we found an opportunity to meet.

And than you soon got married:) Where did you have the ceremony?
Yes, we decided to get married, why not? We did it in my hometown, because I am the only child and the whole family wanted to be next to me in this special moment. So I asked Alexei to have the marriage in my city - my parents, grandparents, my all friends wanted to be there for me.

Wedding pictures! Click to enlarge!

Olga: marriage preparation!


Manuel Perez Candelario, second of Alexei,
playing chess against Olga's friend, Yekaterina.

Chess is heavy:)

The second wedding day.

Are you still playing chess tournaments?
No, I don't know why but I don't have a strong wish to play in tournaments. I want to play but not very often: 2 or 3 times in a year is enough for me.

You don't really like it?
It's not that I don't really like it. I do, but to play as a is not for me. I want to concentrate on my studies, it's more important for my future.

So, which tournaments are you playing?
I remember you from Saint Petersburg, I was also playing there, in the European Championship (ed.2009). I am playing for a German team as well, in Bundesliga, Hamburg in the first division. I will have two games in March. We also have a Romanian player in our team!
And by the way: I am happy to speak in English with you, I started to understand much more than before. I don't speak English very well and it's a good opportunity for me:) I speak with Alexei in Russian, I asked him to speak in English, to have some practice, but he prefers Russian.

How do you feel when Alexei is playing?
Very difficult question...Usually I am very nervous (don't know why) and when I am with his second, I always ask him: "What's going on?" - like hundred times:) Or: "Did you check this position?" And he tells me: "Yes, don't worry" I answer: "Are you sure?!":)
I know him, I know his character and I don't understand how come such aggressive positions appear on the board!:) He is peaceful, caring and modest, but on the board: different story.

Shirov's team: Olga and his second, Mikhail Rychagov, 
in Bilbao Masters Final.

Are you working on chess together? Does he show you the lines he is going to play that particular day? 
No, we are not. When Alexei prepares for his next game in the tournament, of course I can watch, ask questions, in short, I can take part. Usually I don't do that. Sometimes if I hear a very interesting comment, but not watching a position, I can become interested and then take part in preparation. Sometimes Alexei asks me what do I think about it :-) Certainly such preparation could be useful for my own progress. If I manage to improve, to learn in chess something new, it is because I 'absorbed' the information which occured by itself, naturally. It is not my goal to work hard in chess, for several hours everyday, to play better. As well as any other person, I certainly would want it, but for this purpose it is necessary to devote a big amount of time. Someone devotes, I don't. To each his own cinema.

What are you doing when he is playing?
I read, I am thinking about my dissertation, I learn English or I do nothing, just shopping. Sometimes I can't focus on anything, it depends on the position on his board:)
I am a person who doesn't get bored easily. I always find something to do, without any problems.

After a lost game, how do you help Alexei to forget?
To be honest, I don't really know...I asked him how can I help him, I don't want him to feel bad and he knows I am there for him. I usually try to do something to distract his attention, not to think about the game anymore. A joke is always helpful or we go for a walk. Sometimes it works, sometimes not really. Probably depends on the game:) I feel that sometimes I influence his games, I am a person, I have feelings myself and I can be emotional.
When he loses, he can tell me about his emotions and, in this case, of course I am trying to hide mine. I can help him better if I keep my emotions for myself, it's not useful for both of us to be sad or to feel bad.

Do you travel together without chess?
Not really. He had many tournaments last year, from August until November he played 7 tournaments! I don't know how this is possible, because every tournament is really difficult. Of course he lost many games and maybe he cannot recover immediately. I went with him to all of them, so we travel a lot! For me it's easier than for him, he is the one to work extremely hard. So, we didn't have time to go somewhere without chess. Sometimes, after so many tournaments, we just want to be home, doesn't matter if it's in the West or East, but just to be home.

How many homes do you have than?
One with my parents, one in Riga, an apartment, and one in Spain, in Tarragona, not far from Barcelona. We spend time there in summer, it's very nice. In winter or autumn we cannot swim, so we prefer to stay in Riga. It's difficult to work in Spain, with so many distractions, the beach, the sun:)

Do you still manage to see your parents?
I try to visit my parents as often as possible, because I always miss them, I am their only child. I call them everyday, it's my habit:) We use Skype, internet...of course, when we will have a child in the future, we won't be able to visit my parents often. They live very far and it will be too difficult. But my parents visited Riga for New Year, we were together. Also for Christmas, because we celebrate it on 7th January, after the Old Calendar. Our families are from Russia and they both celebrate it this way.

Which places you enjoyed most?
I love Russia with its mentality, habits, problems... it is my native country. Besides, in December I went to Paris and I simply loved it! I like Paris so much not only because of the monuments and museums. I like the emotions I feel there, the atmosphere, the people are friendly and open, no wonder that the city is called: "the city of love":) But who knows, if you have to live there maybe it's different. 
I traveled a lot...I guess I can visit Germany always, it does not depend on my mood. I like it because of its predictability and order. It's a steady country and I know that people are supposed to be very strict and cold. But if you start to know them a bit, maybe it's just a stereotype. And they are great organizers:) We all hope to find stability in such an unstable world, not a very easy task. 

My warmest thanks to Olga and Alexei! 


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