Michal Walusza / FIDE

Tan Zhongyi Interview

Lichess caught up with Tan Zhongyi after her monumental win at the 2024 Women's Candidates


Tan Zhongyi recently won the 2024 Women's Candidates with a rather dominant performance, only sharing the lead in rounds 8 and 10 and otherwise maintaining a lead over the remaining rounds. Lichess interviewed the 2017 Women's World Champion ahead of her World Championship match against Ju Wenjun. Tan answers questions about her upbringing, chess career, favourite chess platforms, personal life, and wider chess questions. Many thanks to WFM Yilin Li (@thecatdoglady) for helping us translate the questions into Chinese as well as the responses to English.


1. Could you share a bit about your childhood and growing up; what kind of child were you, and what activities and subjects did you enjoy? How did you spend your time in your childhood when trying to relax or enjoy? Who introduced you to chess and discovered your talent? Who nurtured that talent?

When I was little, I was introverted, but not shy. I just did not know how to communicate with people who were a lot older than me. I was selected into the national team at the age of 10, entering the grownup world very early. I didn’t think about what I like when I was little; I naturally accepted my father’s arrangement: study chess, only chess. When I was little, other than chess, I didn’t have other entertainments; my childhood memories are full of training and tournaments. My father discovered my talent because I showed it very early on. This is perhaps the reason that he insisted on training me. It also caused the loss of my childhood. But the moment that I really started professional training was when I was 21 years old. Grandmaster Yu Shaoteng started to mentor me in chess; before that, I was training by myself.

2. Once your talent was discovered, did much change in your childhood? Were you still able to do the things you enjoyed?

I have a lot of hobbies, but not from my childhood; they are from the present. I only started to think about what I like and want after I obtained everything from succeeding in chess.

3. You studied law — had you always wanted to study this, or was there any other reasoning behind it? (It is an interesting coincidence that Ding Liren also studied law! And myself, but I don’t think that’s related...)

The reason I studied law was just because it does not require studying very profound math, for I did not attend high school. If the math had been very profound, my life during university would have been very challenging and difficult. I’m very happy to have studied the same field as Ding, but I’m not sure about his reasons to study law. I think they must be different from mine XD.

4. You experienced being a World Champion from a young age — winning the U10 Girls and U12 Girls World Championships. Even from that age, did you have ambitions for the Candidates and Women’s World Championship cycle? Do you have memories from those events?

It was a natural state for me when I was young. I loved the beaches in Spain at that time, and I always wanted to go there after the game. I hadn't considered challenging for the world title; that was too far away for me. Although my parents had high hopes for me, I had no long-term plans at that time.

5. In 2017, you won the Women’s World Championship; and then lost it to the current incumbent, Ju Wenjun. Do you view the upcoming Women’s World Championship Match between yourself and Ju Wenjun as revenge, or are you more indifferent towards it? How do you rate your chances?

I want to focus on my own life and not be disrupted by surprises (the right to challenge) that come my way. Of course, I also hope to finish my revenge XD. I think it’s [the probability] half and half; we could both win.

6. At what point did you feel like you would win this Candidates? Your form seemed great here; how did you get into form for it?

When the second to last game finished, I believed I would win this Candidates. I think that, because my opponent in first round was not in form yet, that win helped get into the zone faster.

7. Did you ever feel like you were at risk of not winning this Candidates? Do you have any tips to keep “tilt” and negative emotions at bay in competitions?

When I lost to Lei, I felt that perhaps I could not win this Candidates. My team comforted me, but I was not sure if it was useful. But in round 8, I won against Vaishali, which allowed me to pick up my confidence again. Maybe round 9. It is hard to not be affected by negative emotions; we are all humans. It is not a big deal to be impacted by emotions; I think we are all the same. Don’t go on and think that others deal with emotions better than you and be really harsh on yourself, giving yourself double debuff.

Michal Walusza / FIDE

8. What were your immediate feelings when winning this Candidates? Was it any different from when you qualified for the 2017 Women’s World Championship? (Of course, the actual tournament format was quite different). How do you feel about it now?

I think this month has been really exhausting. I didn’t feel much when I won the championship in 2017. I think back then I was not prepared, and it was a bit unreal. Now I just want to go home, get in better physical shape, and get back to my previous weight.

9. In the Open World Championship, what are your perspectives on Ding versus Gukesh? Do you see any similarities or differences in their playing styles? Who do you think will win that World Championship? (I asked Gukesh this same question about Tan Zhongyi v Ju Wenjun).

I think my current level gives me little confidence to evaluate the battle between Ding and Gukesh. Of course I support Ding, but, after all, Gukesh and I were both born on the same day, so I will wish him well. Cheers!

10. Have you ever considered quitting or leaving chess? What prevented you from doing so?

Of course I have thought about giving up, but other than chess, I don’t have other things that I’m really good at.

11. What is your fondest memory in chess?

Chess is an everyday thing; I don’t think she is beautiful. But she has always accompanied me.

12. And your own favourite game (your own, and someone else’s)?

I cannot recall at this moment, perhaps my favourite game will always be in the future. Chess is always improving.

13. Who is your favourite historical chess player? How about your favourite current player? Do you think your style is influenced by any particular chess player?

I like Kasparov. I think my style was influenced by him. As for current players, it must be Ding, haha.

14. How has chess developed in China since you were a child?

We have the chess and cards management centre. There are 3 major "chess"es in it, including [Western] chess, but the most developed chess in China is Go. Go is part of China's traditional culture, and there is also Chinese chess. As a foreign chess game, [Western] chess does not have a big share in the Chinese chess market. [Western] chess can be accessed in economically developed cities, especially in coastal areas. There is no way to study in the smaller towns of the mainland. Many people don’t understand chess and even confuse it with Chinese chess.

15. Lu Miaoyi appears to be the most promising Chinese prodigy. What are your thoughts on her? Are there other Chinese prodigies you believe we should keep an eye on?

Of course, the rising star in China must be Lu Miaoyi. I think it is also the case in the world. Her stardom is thanks to her mom’s, Xu Yuanyuan, nourishment.

16. One theory for China producing so many chess talents was due to the one-child policy, which has since been repealed. However, India has never had this policy, and currently appears to produce more young chess talents than China. Do you think there are differences in how India and China approach chess, and if so what are they?

Regarding the one-child policy, it is only my personal opinion, not theory. India’s chess population and base are much larger than China’s. There are not even 100 people in China’s professional chess circle.

17. Are there popular chess platforms in China? Do you have a favourite chess platform — and what are some of the reasons why you like that platform? Do you play much chess online? Do you enjoy any variants of chess?

China has a chess platform called: Chess Alliance [I think that’s the English name for the platform; the name in Mandarin is 国象联盟 — Yilin], but I prefer to use Lichess. I use Lichess most frequently. I find the user interface to be clean; the database of puzzles is huge. I also use, mainly for Titled Tuesdays. I really like 960, but if the prize money is not high, I would not invest a lot of energy.

18. Do you have hobbies, sports, or interests outside of chess that you continue to do yourself, or to follow?

I have so many hobbies. When I was asked in a previous interview, I said I like music, novels, anime, and all kinds of new things. She [Anna Burtasova] asked me that everyone is saying that I like video games. Yes, of course I like it, but it’s not very positive. That is why I didn’t mention it and only mention it in the end haha.

About WFM Yilin Li

WFM Yilin Li is a Chinese Woman FIDE Master and chess coach. You can find more about her in her Instagram profile

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