Interview with Anna Zatonskih

By Tom Braunlich
June 13, 2008

Anna Zatonskih won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Championship last month in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I interviewed her for the report on the event I’m writing for Chess Life magazine. Due to space restrictions and the interview’s timeliness, I am publishing it now on CLO. We hear about her new life living in Germany, her feelings on the championship, and her thoughts on the controversial playoff game.

Anna Zatonskih: I would like to begin by expressing how delighted I am to have won the 2008 U.S Championship. This has been a dream come true and I would like to thank the organizers for staging such a wonderful event, my fans, my parents, my husband and my daughter for supporting and helping me. Without them none of this would have been possible.

Tom Braunlich: Tell us about your family home life now; I understand you’ve been living in Germany? What have you been up to recently?

AZ: I’ve been living in Germany for a few months now. My husband (Grandmaster) Daniel Fridman, a German citizen, managed to fly to the U.S. back and forth for two years, joking that he lives on a plane. Now it is my turn to live in Germany. After our lovely one-year-old daughter Sofia and I moved to Germany, Daniel was so happy that he won the German Championship!

Germany is very different. I don’t speak German yet. I miss the U.S. and my American life. I worked for 2½ years with “Great Knight,” a chess organization in Long Island, New York, enjoying every moment of teaching kids to play chess. I remember my students were so excited when I won US Championship in 2006! We celebrated in each club and we ate so many cakes!

Recently I visited a children’s tournament and was very happy to see them again! My pupils were giving me advice on how to become a champion! That was sweet! I received many nice e-mails during the U.S. Championship and felt a great support from them! I am trying to convince Daniel to come back to the US 🙂

TB: After you tied with Irina with 7½/9 there were rapid playoffs for the title that proved to be an ordeal for both players. How did you get through it?

AZ: I always enjoyed playing in rapid chess and blitz but the playoffs were heavy with pressure on both of us. We got 15 minutes + 3 seconds increments for the first set of games. I won my first game but Irina won the second one. With a tie we had to play blitz 5 minutes with 2 seconds increment. I won a pawn in the opening and lost on time having 1 piece and 2 pawns up. I could not believe I lost! I ended up in a very difficult situation where I had to win with black pieces and I did it. Our score was equal again and we had to play a final Armageddon game.

Probably this is not the best way to determine the winner but this is how the rules were set up. Jim Berry flipped the coin and Irina had to choose the time. She chose 6 minutes for white and 4½ for black. After the game my husband told me playing white would have been a better choice since they had a time advantage and we had no draws yet in our match anyway! However, I chose to play with the black pieces and don’t regret it all, especially that they brought me the final victory.

I started the Armageddon game not very successfully and was in a worse position, which especially managed to increase Irina’s time advantage. With good defense I survived till the severe time pressure where we both had less than a half of minute.

TB:What is your response about the controversy stirred up by Irina in her Open Letter published on Chess Life Online a week after the tournament which protested the playoffs?

AZ: Close to the end of the game Irina knocked her rook over and never put it back. The USCF rules say: “If, during the course of a move, a player inadvertently knocks over one or more pieces, that player must not press the clock until the position has been reestablished.”

I remember my very fast thoughts at this point: If I will press ‘pause’ and claim win or extra-time based on illegal actions… I will lose on time! The “Pause” button is a very small one on the front of the clock. So I only had 2 seconds and I didn’t have a time to do it! I know Irina didn’t do it on purpose but I had to move my rook as fast as I could. I didn’t see any other choice for me.

Irina pointed out (in her Open Letter) that I started couple of my moves before she pressed her clock. I’ve always liked to watch on YouTube how strong chess players play blitz. I was amazed how they can make good decisions in just a fraction of a second. During those games players with a 2600-2800 ratings and even world champions occasionally moved before their opponents pressed the clock. This is a common thing in blitz games.

Here is the full interview:

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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