Chess is one of the best ways to develop your next generation’s brain and character!

Dana Reizniece-Ozola is not “merely” a chess player (a Woman Grandmaster since 2001), but also the Finance Minister of Latvia! Her victory against Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan in the 4th round dominated the Olympiad news, but the hurly-burly of Ukraine’s win against Russia upset our plans for a press conference. One day later, Anastasia Karlovich prevailed; shortly after her game against French IM Sophie Milliet had ended in a draw, Dana joined her in the Press Center. Naturally, there was much more than chess to talk about!

-          First things first! Yesterday (ed: in round 4) you made big news: you won a game against Hou Yifan! How do you feel about this victory? I think you were all over the news in your country!

Yes, you are right; my win was the biggest news in all the Latvian media. This was the biggest aspect of my achievement: that the people back in Latvia noticed that our teams are participating here at the World Chess Olympiad. I am very satisfied, and not only by the fact that I beat the World Champion – although of course that doesn’t happen every day! – but also by the quality of the game. Chess coaches always remind us not to be stuck with a bad bishop, and yesterday I had a chance to make use of this advice. I had a slight advantage out of the opening and eventually succeeded in leaving the World Champion with a bad bishop; and then I converted that advantage.

-          Did you have any celebrations after this game? Okay, I know the team lost, but still I am sure they were happy for you.

Well, everybody was of course happy about my win, but nevertheless we had lost the match… You know, you have to be careful with celebrations in chess tournaments: chess is not a short-distance sprint, but rather a marathon. Every game is one little lifetime, you try to fully live through it, but you must also preserve your energy till the end of the tournament, so no real party yesterday. But today… We are of course going to participate in the Bermuda party – it’s a tradition that one cannot afford to miss!

-          Great news! I was about to ask you that question actually, if you are going… Do you have time for parties as well? It seems you find time for everything: for chess, for your job, for your family! It’s good to hear that you will be there too!

Can you tell us a few things about today’s game as well? It was so interesting and complicated… What do you think about the match (against France)?

I hope we are still winning the match, we are now leading 2-1 with one game still going (ed: they won 3-1). My game was actually very interesting: I played the “Modern Tiger” (ed: an opening named after the Swedish GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson, who has authored books on it; he is also playing in the Baku Olympiad), sacrificed an exchange in the opening, but I think I got some slight… no, a quite noticeable advantage. But you know, pushing hard and trying to win as quickly as possible usually leads to disaster (smiles)… You have to be patient and know how to sit on your hands…

-          …and in the end it all finished in a draw, after a long and tiring fight. So the question is begging to be asked: what is more difficult and exhausting? To play chess or your job (ed: as Finance Minister), which is obviously quite demanding?

Neither! Both are simple but also very exciting; you have to find a balance all the time, you have to find something that gives you the energy required… For example, my job, being a Finance Minister, is a very energy-consuming occupation, while chess is that thing that I can derive energy from! Especially if you’re a politician, it’s very valuable to have some hobby, something else to do, so that you don’t lose your gravitation. Otherwise, if you become too dependent on politics, you lose your integrity and that’s rather dangerous.

-          Interesting viewpoint! Do you consider yourself better as a team player, rather than individual? I mean, such qualities must be necessary for your job back in Latvia as well: to have good team spirit, to work together…

Yes, I do consider myself better as a team player, but I want and I like to be a leader of the team! (laughs) That’s my peculiarity!

-          I noticed that you play on the first board, even though your rating is slightly lower than that of your teammate on the second; is that because of the peculiarity you mentioned?

Yes, it’s because of my character, as I said. It works well for me to be the leader, so…

-          So everyone in the team accepts this…

Yes, that’s true. But also note that my rating is pretty low because I don’t participate in tournaments frequently. I do try to keep myself fit by playing for a club in the German League, which means I am forced to set up the chessboard and practice a little, but it’s not often that I have the chance to play a chess tournament and increase my rating. Still, the old Latvian Chess School is still in my head and in my blood, one cannot lose this; it’s similar to riding a bicycle.

-          Have you done any kind of preparation before this Olympiad? Either with your team or on your own?

Yes, we had a training camp on the hills somewhere; we spent some time in a house there, studying chess, cooking together, building up some team spirit – which is very important! We’ve been doing that together with our coach, Aloizas Kveinys (ed: Latvian Grandmaster), who already is a very experienced “ladies’” coach; he used to work for the Iranian ladies’ team and you probably are aware that their results have notably improved. He knows some tricks – he doesn’t feed you with a spoon, as is probably the common feature of a ladies’ coach, but he somehow manages to force the girls to read the books themselves. That’s already something!

-          Returning to the topic of your job as a Finance Minister for your country, I would like to ask if you find that chess helps you do it better.

Chess helps a lot in every area. I would be happy if every child in the world would play chess, or at least a musical instrument. Chess structures the brain very well, and so it helps you everywhere, especially in politics; for example, to get oriented in complicated situations, to be able to forecast, to “see at least some moves ahead”… All this while still keeping in mind the rules of fair play; this helps a lot in politics. Besides that, if you are a young lady entering politics, which is normally a man’s world, it helps you; chess gives the impression of you being a smart person (laughs).

-          Only the impression? (laughs)

At least the impression!

-          Okay, so, you undoubtedly stole the limelight in the Latvian media now! What is the attitude of the media towards chess in your country?

Chess is still not like ice hockey or basketball, which are the most popular sports in Latvia, but people know who Mikhail Tal was (ed: the 7th World Champion, a Latvian), they know Shirov (ed: famous Latvian Grandmaster, leading the men’s team here in Baku)… Yes, yesterday, when I won against the World Champion, this was the big news in all the Latvian media. I see it as my mission, to be successful in politics or in other areas, in order to be able to promote chess in Latvia.

-          But, at the same time, doesn’t anybody complain that you are here in Baku playing chess, while “normally” you should be back in Latvia doing your job? Or are you here on vacation?

Indeed, I saved up all my holidays to be able to come to this Olympiad, and I did do my job before I left for Baku; I prepared next year’s budget for the government, it has been passed already, so… You have to be able to do everything, you know! That’s the lesson I have learned already from childhood, because if you are doing something professionally – and I used to play chess professionally – you are always absent; then you return to school and you have to do everything two and three times faster than the others do. That’s the attitude that can help you everywhere, throughout your life. That is why I admire sportsmen: I know that those people who have dedicated themselves to any sport, be it chess or anything else, they know how to work hard and manage their time.

-          Thank you for your answers! Let’s have some questions from the other journalists here…

I have seen, on your Twitter account, that your motto is “Go against the herd”; can you please elaborate on this a bit? How do you connect this concept with chess?

The point is that if you want to succeed, in chess or any other endeavor, you have to do something different. You have to find your niche, your special thing, where you can invest your talent in. For me it has been chess, now it’s politics, but if you want to be the leader, the number one, you shouldn’t allow the stream to drag you along.

-          What is your opinion of the Chess Olympiad in Baku? The organization, the hospitality… You have participated in many Olympiads, how does this one compare?

This is my eighth Olympiad, I guess… Time flies! It is one of the best Olympiads – you can really feel that chess is loved here! The organizers have done so much for the players to feel comfortable; the hotels, the food, the atmosphere… They are just great. Sometimes it’s bad to have such good conditions, because you get too relaxed, but… (laughs) I think the best players can still concentrate!

-          We know that, apart from everything else, you are a mother of four children! Everyone here is wondering, how do you manage all these things together…

Hmm… It is very important to have a good team! In this case, to have a good family to help you. You can turn the entire world around, if you only have at least one stable point - physics! For me, my family is my stable point. The toughest management task is that of the children; if you can handle that, you can handle everything! But of course the husband, the parents, the relatives, they all help a lot.

-          Are your children already learning chess?

Well, the older girl, who is 13 years old, she knows the moves and she can play a little, but she is so tall that she has chosen basketball and soccer! But the next ones have already started learning chess, yes. And I’ve been lucky to get a very good coach for my second girl, Vija Rozlapa, who was the first coach of Alexei Shirov – so she has excellent potential! (laughs)

-          Why don’t you suggest to your colleagues, the other European Finance Ministers, to organize a championship among Ministers? And by the way, and correct me if I am wrong, there is a Eurogroup (ed: meeting of Finance Ministers of the EU countries) scheduled to be held here in Baku, what are your plans about it?

To be honest, I haven’t had much time for politics these days; when you play chess, you want to fully concentrate on that! My advice for the Ministers – and all the politicians – in the other countries is… Well, to organize some nice tournament is OK, but I would like to see chess be promoted in the schools. Chess in schools is really, really cool! If they can take the necessary decisions and follow the example of e.g: Spain, where the political parties did take such a decision and were brave enough to introduce chess in the schools as a regular subject, their nations would benefit! As I said, chess is one of the best ways to develop your next generation’s brain and character!

-          Thank you so much for joining us and sharing all these thoughts and ideas!