Interview with three times World Youth Champion Stavroula Tsolakidou

Stavroula Tsolakidou: I managed to handle it by repeating to myself “come on!! we’ve done this before!”

Stavroula Tsolakidou (born March 24, 2000) is a Greek chess player, three times World Youth Champion (among girls under 14 in 2013, under 16 in 2015 and under 18 in 2016). She has also won other medals in World and European Youth events (2nd among Girls under 14 in 2014 in both the World and European Youth, 3rd in European Youth Girls under 16 in 2016, gold individual medal in the 2014 World Youth Olympiad). FIDE awarded her the Women’s Grandmaster title in early 2016, and she is currently ranked 14th among Girls. Stavroula became the 8th chess player in the history of chess who won three different categories in the World Youth Championships, since 1981 when they started being held in their current format. She is still only 16 years old, but decided to take part in the under-18 section of the World Youth Championships (Khanty-Mansiysk, September 2016), where she became the World Youth Champion for the third time.

Anastasia Karlovich: Stavroula, my congratulations for your victory in the World Youth Championships! You have finished the tournament one point ahead of the other players. How did it go for you?

Thank you! The truth is that one point ahead means almost nothing! Up to some point in the tournament the leader would change round after round; but then Alexandra Obolentseva was the clear leader, which almost made me accept the fact that I could only fight for second place. And suddenly she lost in the 10th round, which I didn’t expect at all! That made me even more anxious, as I realized that all of the sudden I had my chances. It was definitely a really tough tournament, as from the very early rounds I played against strong players who had won medals in many other championships. But I believe that the stronger the tournament is, the better! It gave me greater motivation to try my best!

That`s really great motivation, especially when the tournament is not going so smoothly. How difficult was it to recover after the 6th game [Stavroula lost against Siranush Ghukasyan]? How did you cope with the tension of the last round?

The 6th game seemed like a nightmare to me. I felt very disappointed, because I managed to lose a kind of technically winning endgame. But as I was taught by my trainer, it is much more important to recover after a loss rather than avoid losing (as this is simply impossible!). So I tried to forget that game, move on and play as well as I can. I was of course very nervous before the last round, as the pressure was quite high, but I managed to handle it by repeating to myself “come on!! we’ve done this before!” The truth is that I got very nervous again(!) when I saw that my contender, Alexandra Obolentseva, was losing and I had a winning position! I almost lost my mind and I was begging for the game to finish no matter what!

It was a very exciting tournament indeed! Which victory was the most remarkable for you (U-14, U-16 or U-18)?

The most remarkable victory for me was this last championship, the U18, as it was the toughest of them all.

You are only 16 and could have played in the U-16 section, but you chose to participate in the U-18 championship instead. Did you believe in your chances to win this time as well? What do you think is the secret of your success?

My goal before the tournament was one of the first three places and my dream was the gold medal! The truth is that this time I really tried to believe in myself, because usually I don’t!

My trainer, GM Ioannis Papaioannou, says that my strongest points as a player are a very good feeling for tactics, quite good opening preparation – but definitely not good endgame technique(!) – and a great deal of luck!!

What do you think is the role of GM Papagiannou in your chess career? Did he help you to prepare during the World Championship? What was the best advice he ever gave you?

This is the third year that I train with him. He is really important for me and I feel I owe him a lot. Apart from every special thing he taught me, he even made me love chess more! During the tournament he would help me every time I needed. After the 6th game he gave me a lot of courage by telling me “every day you play worse and worse but today you played like the day after tomorrow!” GM Athanasios Mastrovasilis was the trainer for the Greek delegation in this championship and he also helped me a lot.

Are you aware of the fact that only 7 female players have won three different categories in the World Youth Championships since 1981, and that Romanian IM Corina Peptan is the only four-time world youth champion? Will you take part in the next World Youth Championships? Are you interested in breaking this record?

The truth is that I was not aware of that and I am really glad to know! I am not entirely sure yet, but I will most probably stop playing in Youth Championships. These championships are definitely strong for my age, but my goal from now on will be to play with tougher opponents, as this will help me to improve.

In an interview you said you would like to become a professional chess player in the future. Do you believe you have enough strength to compete with the best female chess players in the world? How ambitious are you? Do you have the goal of becoming Women`s World Champion some day?

It is true that I would like to be a professional chess player in the future, but for the moment I am definitely not as strong as the best female players. “Becoming a world champion!”… Objectively I cannot call this a goal, but I can definitely call it “my biggest dream”!!