The match for the women's world chess crown has become part of history, but still continues to intrigue a huge number of fans and supporters of both participants. Many Ukrainian experts had the opportunity to express their views in the media and, of course, at different chess sites. Less well known, due to specific reasons, is the position of the opposing side. WhyChess.com expresses its great appreciation to the coach and second of the Chinese player, who has kindly agreed to answer some questions related to the match and other aspects of his activities.

Vladimir, how did your collaboration with Hou Yifan start? 

As I remember, it all started with Mr. Friedel of «ChessBase». Hou Yifan needed help, and he  kindly acted in the role of mediator ...

The meeting took place shortly before the title match in Lviv?

No, much earlier. We signed contracts  in May 2014 and met a little later.

Your appearance in Lviv was a surprise for the team of Mary Muzychuk?

In fact, it seemed to me that they knew about this.  But it is possible that they didn't. It's difficult to say. I know that some people certainly knew about my collaboration with Hou Yifan, though it seemed to me that people than did in reality (laughs).

What can you say about the preparation for the match?

It is clear that Yifan was the favourite in this match, but it is also clear that it was definitely not easy – no world championship match ever is. I looked at the play of Mary Muzychuk. I cannot  say that we did not take her seriously, quite the reverse. But the circumstances were such that Yifan had a very busy schedule. Me too. We held a brief session before the match started, and completed it in training in Lviv. What had some general thoughts about the match long before, of course, but specific, concrete systems, in the classic sense of preparation, we didn't have time for.  There were other moments. We had, for example, to prepare for the tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Of course, we consulted a lot during this tournament. Yifan there surprised her opponents with various new options...

How did Wijk so?                                   

She started well, but then ran out steam somehow. The tournament is very difficult and very long.

What, in your opinion, are the mental peculiarities of the Chinese women players?

I would say that they have particular a self-confidence. In general, the Chinese school of chess has its own specifics. Both women and men are strong practical players. But then there are individual specifics ... There are a lot of nuances.

In what language do you communicate with Hou Yifan?

In English.

Will Hou Yifan, if she does not repeat the achievement of Judit Polgar (getting into the men's top ten), then at least enter the 2700-group?

I think that in terms of pure chess potential, she is quite capable of becoming one of the 2700 club. But again there are certain conditions. She needs to conduct her work more efficiently, systematically, and purposefully. B general, she needs to spend more time on chess. Recently, she has combined chess with studies at the university. The current year she will do her thesis, it could be an important step. There comes an interesting period, with the possibility of a more professional approach. Talking about the top ten is still premature, but it all depends on how she reacts to this task. The pure chess potential is there. She must work very hard, but I am probably not being very original in saying that. 

How do you think her opponent's team worked?

I didn't really look into it, so I cannot go into details ... Here I would like to note right away ... no matter how the work is performed by the coaching team, ultimately the responsibility for the outcome rests wholly with the player. From the point of view of direct opening preparation, I think their work was very serious, of course, some things happened, some didn't, they guessed some things right and not others, but on the whole, they posed us problems....

Chess and psychology. In what proportion do you think they should be combined in a professional coach?

50-50?! (smiles).

The role of psychology is no less important than the chess component?

Yes, definitely. Especially when we talk about the "top segment". Of course, up to a certain level ,the chess component is more important, but when it comes to the top segment, here psychology becomes an important element. Sure, I do not know how exactly to compare the two, whether the relative weight is 50-50, or 65-35, etc. but it is clear that this is a very important factor. 

At this point you are already a coach of the highest level. Did you have  role models in the early stages of your career?

Certainly. It all started in 2002 when I was invited by Jeroen Piket as his second at the tournament in Wijk aan Zee. At that point I had not even thought about a career as a coach. The following year, Loek Van Wely took me on.  At first I played the role of a specialist, responsible for opening preparation. Basically, the work took place before the tournament. Coaching work as such did not exist. After successful performances by Van Wely in 2003, I began to receive various offers, in particular from the Dutch federation to work with their young and talented chess players. At that moment I was not yet ready for it, but at least there was some demand, and I decided to do it seriously. As usual before you dive into a branch of activity, you need to understand what already exists, to get an idea about the subject. At that time I studied a lot of different works, in particular Mark Dvoretsky. For me it was very interesting to see all that he  was doing, it has played an important role in the construction of my work with students. Then there were the years of the creation of the course in "strategic balance". By the way, an interesting fact, it all began with one position out of the book and the ideas of Iosif Dorfman.
Initially, I wanted to go in a universal direction to connect together: work on the opening, analysis, calculation options, etc. A sort of symbiosis of coaching and seconding work... I did not want to specialize in one thing! And in my professional activity as a result, it has turned out that I have worked in various different areas. 

Your students often becomes stronger players than their coach. Does this cause any problems?

You see, we do not compete with each other (laughs) It is necessary to separate the concepts. If you take a top player, then most of the work is opening preparation. Here analytical qualities are important, and a very strong practical player need not necessarily so great as a pure analyst. We cannot say that the practical strength has nothing to do with the topic, but there are still other qualities.

Such as the degree of confidence the student has in the coach?

Not only this. There are also a purely objective factors. Experience, intuition, common knowledge.

I cannot but ask the following question. Two players with whom you have worked for a long time are playing in this Candidates' tournaments. I would like to hear your assessment of the competition and find out who has the best chance.

It is clear that we are talking about Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana. So far, the tournament has not started easily for them. I thought that the first part would be difficult for Fabiano. Anish may struggle in the second part. Today he beat Nakamura (the interview was taken after the eighth round –interviewer's note.). It is interesting, but a lot still remains questionable. Anish has quite a few flaws, it's not a question of straight wins, but a feeling that something is missing. Now the question is, will he get bogged down in all these draws, or he will be able to break out of this quagmire. The next few rounds will show. Of course Karjakin has good chances, but it seems to me that he has revealed some problems with Black. Much depends on how he solves these problems in the second half of the tournament. Aronian also has chances, and that we just see in the scores, but again it is not so simple, because Levon is under a certain pressure, for, after all, he got into the tournament as the nominee of the sponsors. And that certainly imposes extra pressure. Will he be able to dissociate himself from this completely and concentrate on the games and on how the tournament goes? To achieve such a calm state as he was in when winning Wijk aan Zee 2014?

So Aronian's problems are purely psychological?

It is hard to say…It depends on how things work out. Each to his own, as they say. It is hard to predict. We could be surprised by someone we have not even mentioned (smiles). 


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