Victor Bologan: We want to make women's events more prestigious

– Victor, you just returned from Kazan from the Women's Candidates Tournament. What are your impressions from this new event?
– All new is well overlooked old. In the past, women had candidates tournaments and candidates matches as well. However, let us not dig too deeply into the history.

A year ago, during the elections campaign, Arkady Dvorkovich and his team promised to improve the prestige of women's events and bring it to the next level. We are working hard to make it more comparable to men's chess in all aspects – prize money, recognition, prestige, etc. The tournament in Kazan is a carbon copy of men's candidates tournaments, which are known and loved for being the most exciting chess events of the past decade. The candidates tournaments always provide the thrill! Just recall those finishing round battles by Carlsen, Kramnik, Karjakin, Caruana... The stress and tension are always enormous! Frankly speaking, following candidates tournaments is more thrilling than following championship matches, although the matches are very important on their own.

From the competitive perspective this is the most exciting and just format of picking a title challenger. I would also like to mention the first place prize – 50,000 Euro. Such a juicy prize fund! This is something unheard of in women's events. In the recent history, only a championship match could brag about this kind of prize money! And this is only a qualification event! As you can see, the team of Dvorkovich upholds the promises.

We are very grateful to the Republic of Tatarstan for supporting this project. Initially we planned to carry out this event in Mexico. I negotiated with representatives of this country, however, eventually they realized that the expenses are too high for them at the moment and allowed Kazan to step in.

During the opening ceremony, I had a chance to talk with Mintimer Shaimiev, the first President of Tatarstan and a big chess fan. It was nice to see that despite his age he remains in great shape and is genuinely interested in all that's happening. He is an attentive listener of the game commentary.
– How the lineup was picked?
– It was well thought-out. Some players qualified from the latest World Championship, others advanced because of their rating – and in the end we've got the strongest round-robin tournament in the history of women's chess. It is also symbolic that all the participants are representing four leading women's chess countries – Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and China. These are four most dominating countries in women's chess in the last 25 years.
– Is this the strongest lineup possible?
– Yes, with the exception of Judit Polgar, who quit chess, Hou Yifan, who nearly quit, and Ju Wenjun, who is the reigning World Champion and will play a championship match against the eventual winner.
– Are all the players full of ambition? Did they arrive with strong coaching support?
– I don't think I can give a full disclosure in public. Of course, everybody is motivated, and everybody has good seconds, world class grandmasters. I've played with many of them, won some and lost some. Cannot mention their names, of course. This is an extremely important competition, and everybody takes it very seriously. Hiring high quality trainers is costly, too.

There was no clear favorite prior to the start. Many people singled out Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno, considering their experience and recent achievements, but it was Nana Dzagnidze and Aleksandra Goryachkina who surged forward at the start.
– What is your impression about the quality of play?
– The most attractive feature of women's events is, of course, very emotional and uncompromising games. Women's tournaments are very exciting to watch! Unlike more academic men's chess, there are more grave mistakes and absolutely brilliant moves in women's chess. Their fighting spirit is excessive at times, therefore sometimes they lose winning position and vise versa. With ten more rounds to go, the sporting situation can easily turn upside down.
– Are there many spectators at the tournament?
– The organizers introduced a very interesting innovation – I cannot recall anything like this being used in the past. The players live and play in the Nogai Hotel on Bauman street, downtown Kazan. This is a pedestrianized street, like Arbat in Moscow. Right in the middle of the street there is a chess tent open to everyone, where one can listen to brilliant live commentary of grandmasters Sergey Shipov and Ilya Smirin, free of charge. Sergey is an extremely popular chess commentator, and Ilya is a chess legend, who played in 1988 USSR championship with Karpov and Kasparov. There are always many spectators in the tent, and I thinks this is a great way to promote chess.
Interview by Vladimir Barsky
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