Interview with an American Medallist:WGM Rusudan Goletiani
By Jennifer Shahade   
February 5, 2009
Feb09FC.jpgWGM Rusudan Goletiani helped lead the 2008 Women's Olympic squad to bronze in the Dresden Olympiad, America's second ever women's team medal. She also earned the individual silver medal for her board three performance, and her final IM norm. "Rusa" as her friends call her, played every single game and finished with 9/11 and a 2500+ performance rating. Goletiani is also a former U.S. Women's Champion (2005) and the co-founder of a chess academy in Westchester. There was a joke going around the Women's Olympic team squad that captures Rusudan's infectious energy and busy schedule: "Rusa prepared for the Olympiad by raising a child, going to business school and coaching six days a week." In this edition of Interview with an American Medallist, the February 2009 Chess Life cover girl talks about talent, time trouble and the "three C's."

Jennifer Shahade : How did you feel going into the tournament? Did you prepare a lot?
Rusudan Goletiani: It's funny that I played so well as I wasn't preparing at all. I haven't been playing chess much because I have a 16-month-old baby.  I played in Sweden in March (2008), and it was one of the worse tournaments, if not THE WORST tournament of my life. It wasn't even that I played badly, but I scored badly. Two weeks before the event, I spoke to Gregory Kaidanov, and asked him to work with me for a few weeks before the Olympiad. My games were not bad, he told me, that my main problem was time. Because I hadn't played for a while, I spent a lot of time, worried that I would make a mistake.  

GM Gregory Kaidanov. Photo Janis Nisii
JS: Did you improve in that area for the Olympiad?
RG : Definitely, in the Olympiad I didn't get into time pressure. Sometimes you need someone to tell you and wake up. It was also really important to me that such a strong player told me I play well, since lack of confidence can make you play slowly.  During the Olympiad, Gregory was joking, "I wonder who prepared Rusa for this tournament?" We had a good laugh.

JS: What was the team dynamic like in Dresden? 
RG: Once the pairings were up, Kaidanov would study our opponents' games. And at breakfast, Kaidanov had emailed us a file with what to play. He would have "our breakfast ready for us." It was kind of cool. It helped us psychologically, and saved us a lot of time.

 JS: It sounds like he deserves a medal as well...
RG: Yes, but he didn't get it (laughs). But I think so as well, he would encourage us so much and tell us how great our games were.

JS: What was your proudest moment of the event?
RG: We were jumping up and down when we beat Russia. We had come so close against China as well, and when you defeat or draw the strongest teams, it gives you confidence. We realized after the match with Russia, that we could really do it, that we could really medal.

JS: Did you end up earning your IM title at the Olympiad?
RG: This was my third norm, yes and I went over 2400 in the past. But once you are a WGM, it sounds better than IM so I never paid much attention to it.

IM Anna Zatonskih, who earned an individual gold is interviewed by FM Mike Klein. Photo Janis Nisii
JS: How did Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush get along?
RG: They did great, they were nice to each other, they spoke to each other.   It was hard for them after what happened (in the 2008 U.S. Championship), but they both realized that it was important for the team. I give them both a lot of credit.

What was your favorite game of the event, besides the one you annotated for the February Chess Life?
RG: I felt great every game, cause I was playing so well. I was very happy every day. But if I had to pick, I would say the last game. We were all very nervous because we knew we had a chance to medal, so I asked Gregory his advice. He said "Just play chess." I was inspired by Rohnoyan's game, because she was playing so well... But otherwise I was just concentrating and playing very carefully...


I'm most proud of that game, of moves like h5 and a4, and most of all, 32.Ba3! after Qb4. Ba3 was the move of my tournament. Black cannot take the bishop because of Qc4+ and if Qxa4 I have Be7 (as played in the game.)

Position after 31....Qb4

JS: Tell me about Tatev Abrahamyan 's role at the event?
RG: She was the best. She would help go over the games, select games, even help me decide what to wear. She really cheered up and helped us. She really cared. Tatev drove herself crazy a bit while we played. She watched our games online with Fritz or Rybka on, and would see all of our mistakes!
Rusudan Goletiani celebrates with teammates and friends. Photo Janis Nisii

JS: You must have had a special feeling at the awards ceremony. Not only did U.S.A. win bronze all around, the women from your homeland Georgia won gold.
RG: Yes, I was double proud! Georgia got such a warm welcome home- they met with the president and got $30,000 each, which is an enormous sum in a poor country like Georgia.

The U.S. didn't end up playing against Georgia. Would you have participated in such a match?
RG : Yes, but it would have been hard. I'm very in touch still to my home country. I'm very close to everyone on the team. I'm glad we didn't have to play.

JS: Where do you plan to play in the coming year?
RG : I plan to play in the U.S. Women's Championship but I have to figure out where to play to prepare. It's hard because I have a sixteen-month-old. I run a chess academy and during the week, I also teach privately. I'm also taking business classes part time. I like to be busy but I need to find some time to play. It's hard to play in the U.S. especially without conditions in tournaments with two rounds a day. That gives you no time for preparation.

JS: Mike Klein wrote in his final report that you were weighing the priorities of packing and partying on the final day. How did that balance end up working out for you?
RG: We were so excited, so we finally decided who cares about packing? We went out and had a great time. Mike invited us to a nice dinner. We drank, we celebrated, we ate, we talked, and we stayed up all night.  I did make sure I packed my medals!
Mike Klein interviews Rusudan Goletiani.
Photo Janis Nisii

JS: What was your homecoming like?
RG: Oh my god, it was great... I cried when I saw my baby. She grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. It was great to come back to my students, who were all following my progress in Dresden. One student even had a list of questions ready for me when I returned.  The father of one of my students invited me for dinner and made a celebratory toast :"I knew you were a great teacher and great person, but now I have proof that you're a great player too!"

What is your teaching philosophy?
RG: I believe that if you're really good at calculating and concentrating you can reach 2000 or even 2200. I mainly challenge my students to solve  real puzzles from real positions. Our motto at the academy, 1. Concentrate, 2. Calculate and 3.

Hold up, let me guess the third one... Checkmate?
RG: No

JS: Control? Capture? Check?
RG: No, no, no.

JS: OK fine you can tell me. Why can't I get this?
RG: No, you can get it...

JS:  Oh , confidence, duh!
RG: Yeah, I guess if it took you so long to get that, it may be something you need to work on it....  (laughs)

JS: Do you have a lot of female students?
RG: It's getting better. I had a class the other day that was half and half, seven boys and seven girls.  I definitely encourage girls to play chess but many girls and women don't like to put so much time into one activity. When I used to travel to the World Youth, my teachers in Georgia would say "Make sure you play well, don't worry about school."  Here unfortunately, teachers and parents are not as supportive. It's getting better overall, there are more and more schools and chessplayers that know it takes a lot to get to the top. 

What's a more essential ingredient for a great player- talent or hard work?
RG:  Talent will only get you so far. I never spent hours on hours and chess and players who spent six hours a day would start to pass me. Maybe I was more talented, but at some point, it didn't matter anymore. At my Academy (The Westchester Chess Academy) , my business partner Michael Amori sometimes jokes, "So Rusa, what was the secret of the  "Soviet School"?" It's a joke because we both know there is no real secret, just hard work.

Login as a member to read FM Mike Klein's February 2009 Chess Life Magazine article on the Olympiad,
"Bronze Times Two!" You can also see an index of Klein's Chess Life Online dispatches from Dresden in Best of CLO: #8- "U.S. Teams Celebrate Bronze Medals." Learn more about the official sponsor of the 2008 Olympic teams, the Kasparov Chess Foundation.

The other two installments of
Interview with an American Medallist feature IM Sam Shankland and GM Larry Kaufman.