The Chinese grandmaster won the second game against Maria Muzychuk and became the first quarterfinalist of the World Championship.
– Welcome, Zhao, and tell us about the last game and the match in general.
– I am happy to win this game. I think I had a better position after the opening, because she played imprecisely and probably didn’t know the theory very well. I had an easy game, and with my spatial advantage I created a strong attack. I think she needed to play f5 at some point, and Black’s position wouldn’t be that bad.
– Could you also share your impressions about the previous matches?
– All these matches were not easy for me. The World Championship is a tough tournament, and everybody can get eliminated. The match against Nino Khurtsidze was particularly difficult. I won the first game, but blundered a piece in the second game. I cannot explain that blunder, it was a very bad mistake. However, Nino made a similar oversight in the first game of the tie-break, then I drew the second game and moved on.
– You said you cannot explain that blunder… Maybe extreme nervous tension is the reason? Everybody plays under huge pressure, that’s why there are so many big mistakes.
– And yet it is hard to understand. Of course, the pressure is huge, but it cannot be the only reason. This is the most important individual tournament of the year, you know, and everybody should try to play at the highest level and be willing to show the best possible result.
– You became the highest rated player of the tournament after Hou Yifan, Humpy Koneru and Anna Muzychuk were eliminated. Does it put any extra pressure on you?
– I think rating doesn’t mean anything at this tournament. Humpy was the highest rated here, but she lost in the second round. This event differs from some random opens. Anything can happen, and it doesn’t matter how many Elo points you have. I have a pretty good rating, but still I blundered a piece and a pawn in the second round.
– Could you reveal how you prepared for this tournament? Did you do any special training?
– It’s my secret! (laughs) Well, I didn’t really prepare, because as you can see everybody plays different openings against me, and it is impossible to cover everything. The best thing you can do is to come mentally prepared. I can also say is that the Chinese players prepare differently – in groups.
– Are you done with your university studies? What did you study?
– I am studying management right now, trying to get the Master’s degree, and previously I studied political science at the Beijing university.
– Does it require much time needed for your chess?
– I am a student since 2007 so I could get used to it by now. I think I found the right balance. My teachers also understand my situation and help me.
– Could you tell us about your experience of playing for the Russian team from Saratov?
– I really liked playing there. Three times I took part in the very strong Russian league, it is very interesting to compete there. Our captain Alexey Vetrov is a very nice person and excellent manager, and we had a great team with Lisa Paetz, Masha Kursova, and Anna Ushenina. Everybody was very friendly and helpful. I even learned a few words in Russian in process. Unfortunately they decided to abandon the women’s team after the men’s team won the European Cup twice. I hope our team will be reborn someday, and I would very much like to be a part of it.
– What kind of tournaments do you prefer? Do you prefer playing in China or abroad?
– I prefer round-robin events, because you know your opponents in advance and can prepare to them. This is more comfortable than random pairing in opens. I don’t really like the knock-out format. Only a year ago I managed to advance to the semifinal at the World Championship, and before that I always lost in the second round.
The venue doesn’t matter for me, but of course I like coming to new places. In January, for example, I will go to Kingston, Jamaica. I am looking forward to visiting a new country. I have always wanted to see the world. And we will come there together with my mom, which also makes me happy.
– You English is very good. How did you learn it? Do you have a favorite writer in English?
– I learned it by myself. Actually I am a lazy student, so I had to learn studying on my own when it’s necessary. Maybe I have a little bit of talent for foreign languages, but it is certainly not even close to Lisa Paetz, who could easily learn even Chinese if she wanted to.
– Zhao, thank you for the conversation, and good luck!
Sign up for my free email chess course for Beginners and Club Players. In this free course, I focus on helping beginner chess players see the entire board. You will learn how to attack your opponent from move 1 and create a new threat with every single move! I’ve created this series of lessons designed to help beginner and club level players understand the game at a deeper level so that you can start beating higher rated players immediately. Start getting free tips from me directly to your inbox!
– GM Susan Polgar