Monika Soćko – the first Polish female chess player who in 2008 achieved the title of grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can
attain. How does a typical day of a professional female chess player look like? Does feminine intuition help in the game?
You’ve triumphed all over the world. What is your most significant achievement? What do you think is your greatest success?
It’s hard to choose one. Winning at the Polish women’s chess championship is not only a prestigious achievement, but it also evokes a special feeling that I’m the best in the country. I managed to achieve this title eight times, and each of these victories is very special for me. Winning the title of grandmaster placed me among the world’s best players, which is a marker of professionalism. I’m the only female player in Poland to win this title. My greatest successes also include Olympic medals which I won as a member of the Polish team in 2002 in Bled (bronze) and 2016 in Baku (silver).
Is there a trophy that you’d still like to win? What is it that you want to achieve now?
Of course. I’ve played at the European Championships, World Championships, in which I managed to place among the best. We have rankings in chess. Currently, I rank around the 20th place in the world. My dream is to get to the first ten. I have plenty of goals that I will fight for. The game of chess requires continuous development, work, and practice. You must prove that, as a player, you still matter, that you move forward and win.
Who taught you how to play?
My father was a very talented, yet unfulfilled, football player. For various reasons, his career didn’t go well, and he always wanted to have a son who’d become a football player. When it turned out he has two daughters, he didn’t know what could he interest us with. But besides football, my dad also plays chess as a hobby. When I was six, he showed me how to play, and I loved it from the beginning. A game of chess, when he was getting home from work, became a ritual for us. Now you can sign up your kids for anything – back then we didn’t have that many options. I quickly caught the chess bug. I won the U-10 Polish chess championship, played at the world championship in this age category, and later took part in the European championship. And so I began this adventure which continues to this day.
What’s the most important thing about chess? What predisposition is necessary?
I think that anyone can learn to play, but on the professional level, hard work is the most significant element. It is a well-known fact that you need talent, a sense for playing games, intuition…
There it is! Feminine intuition!
Yes, I think that men perhaps are better in chess, but they don’t have such a great intuition. I take a look at the position, and I know right away where to put my pieces, what move to make. However, I want to stress that it’s difficult to hope for any results without a great deal of effort put in this profession.
Chess is not recognized as an Olympic discipline, but, just like Olympians, you must practice for many hours a day. Participating in a tournament is an immense psycho-physical effort, do chess players feel as exhausted after a competition as runners do after running a marathon?
Clearly, it is an extremely exhausting experience. The effort which we put into a tournament is sometimes compared to the work of a coal miner. After a tournament, which typically lasts around 11 days, my weight usually goes down 2-3 kilos. The tournament rhythm is eight hours a day of mental work which involves huge stress, concentration, and rivalry. Just like athletes, we compete, participate in tournaments and have a qualifiers system. For instance, during the competition, ten best female players from different parts of Poland compete for nine days. It’s not different from any other sports disciplines.
It is my dream to get to the top ten. I’ve got plenty of goals I want to fight for.
The tournament rhythm is eight hours a day of mental work which involves huge stress, concentration, and rivalry.
How does a typical day of a female chess player look like? How do you practice?
It’s difficult to practice at home. I prefer going to training camps and practice with a coach. It’s hard to find motivation on one’s own; I think everyone knows that from their experience! Especially that I have three children. I must send them to school every morning, then, of course, do something around the house, prepare dinner. But I have no choice; I must find 3-4 hours to play every day.
Play against who, the computer?
Computers defeated humans a while ago. I stand no chances playing against the computer. It’s not fun to lose one game of chess after another. Instead, we’ve got books and chess exercises. I solve these just like Sudoku or crossword puzzle. It’s my way of exercising the brain.
You’re a family of chess players. Your husband, Bartosz, is a leading Polish GM and a Polish championship medalist.
When it comes to playing chess, my husband is better than I am, so he’s my primary coach. Our kids also play, but only for fun.
Allegedly, up to 11 years of age, boys and girls achieve the same results in the game of chess.
Yes, but later it quickly turns out that boys are more willing to compete and prove that they are better. Girls don’t necessarily have to win.
Why is there only one woman among the world’s top 100 chess players? What is it that men have that makes them better at this sport?
We, female chess players, can’t just leave everything behind and play. We can’t, or perhaps we don’t want to, fight until our last breath. Of course, we’re motivated; we want to win, we do throw around these threatening looks. But for women, six hours is too long to stay completely focused on having to compete.
Do these tournaments differ depending on the country in which they are held? Do participants with different cultural backgrounds play differently?
The Hindus play very energetically; they’re fast and dynamic. The Russians – without a blink. Women from Islamic countries play wearing hijabs, but I think they’re slowly becoming emancipated. They travel, take the hijab off when they come to Europe. The world has gotten small. One of my husband’s students from Dubai wanted something from Poland, and he called yesterday to tell me it has to be ‘Ptasie Mleczko’ candy and Dr Irena Eris products because his wife and daughters are using them. My daughter and I also use these, it’s nice to know that Polish brands are so recognizable in the world.
Alongside golf and sailing, chess is among the three sports disciplines supported by the Dr Irena Eris brand. For many years, Dr Irena Eris has been an official partner of the Polish Chess Championship, and chess champions get the chance to relax in one of the Dr Irena Eris SPA Hotels.