Yelena Korotkaya spends her leisure team in a highly unexpected way for a draughts player – she enjoys knitting and calls it a professional hobby. She says knitting has a soothing effect. She knits things for both kids and adults, knits for her own children and has several customers.
European champion in blitz draughts and an international grandmaster
Korotkaya works as a draughts coach at a sports school in Kamianske (formerly Dniprodzerzhynsk) in Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk Region. In addition, Yelena is a member of the Ukrainian national draughts team.
The European champion says draughts are played at a highly advanced level in Kamianske and are extremely popular throughout the Dnepropetrovsk Region. There are numerous children’s clubs and coaches. Kamianske alone is home to multiple champions of Ukraine among boys and girls. Yelena says she loves children and takes great pleasure in working with them during training activities.
“But I still feel more like an athlete than a coach”, she says.
This year funding from the Ukrainian government was extremely tight for trips by Ukrainian draughts players to tournaments, but nevertheless they were sent to the European championship. The Ukrainian Ministry of Sport pays members of the national draughts team a salary that differs for everyone depending on their title and achievements. Grandmaster Korotkaya was included on the national team at half-pay this year and receives roughly $100 per month.
Q: Yelena, what does it mean to be a member of the national team at half-pay? After all, members of the national team don’t go to work in the usual sense of this term.
A: I play draughts for four hours a day and not 8!
She’s joking, of course. Nobody tracks the training activities of a competitor at this level. It’s just that her previous results were not sufficient for full-pay, and the maximum for such rates is limited in Ukraine. Fifth place at the World Championship proved not to be enough for full-pay.
Q: For some reason we haven’t seen you among the prize-winning places at major international tournaments. Where have you been hiding?
A: I’m a woman! It’s been one maternity leave after another. Hiding?
Q: I beg your pardon. I didn’t pose the question correctly…
A: And a bit inconsiderately! I’ve been playing draughts since my early childhood and have won multiple world championships among juniors. At the 2015 World Championship, I finished fifth in classic draughts. I was the women’s champion of Ukraine for two years in a row.
Training for this European Championship was especially difficult for Yelena due to the recent death of her mother.
“I literally forced myself to go play draughts just to forget everything”, she says.
In Tbilisi, all the competitors encountered an entirely new table of openings. Previously, women had competed at international tournaments with plies, while in Tbilisi they could extend their openings with two or even three plies, or roughly 150 variants.
Yelena says that when preparing for the tournament she had to delve deep into the openings in particular, although she did not learn them by heart, but simply tried to get a grasp of them. “I don’t like to cram. I try to understand”, the champion says.
She says it’s impossible to memorize everything, although when you scrutinize things thoroughly, you see numerous similar positions – for Yelena it’s enough just to remember how to play them.
Q: But you can’t know how your potential opponent will perceive the same position!
A: Why not? There are only a few correct moves in each position.
Yelena says that during the matches in Tbilisi she came up with new ideas and positions. The most unexpected situation was an additional match game with Russian international grandmaster Zhanna Sarshayeva to reach the quarterfinals of the blitz draughts programme.
According to Yelena, Sarshayeva hung out her king, yet neither Zhanna nor Yelena noticed! And the king remained untaken – an unbelievable situation for draughts-64 in which the rules require taking any draughtsman or king if it is possible.
“This is a testament to the crazy overstraining that builds up among competitors for additional matches”, Yelena says.
Q: And how do you cope with stress during a tournament?
A: I try to spend as much time as possible in the fresh air and go to bed earlier. Of course, that’s another problem for Ukrainians – we have a two-hour time difference with Georgia, which makes it difficult to go to sleep and get up early…
Following the European Championship in Tbilisi, International Draughts Federation (IDF) President Vladimir Langin said:
“Yelena Korotkaya is a strong and determined competitor. She won the blitz programme on the first day, which did not surprise me at all. She has long been on the short-list of the strongest players. At some point, she had to ‘take off’. And it happened here.”
The European champion spends her leisure team in a highly unexpected way for a draughts player – she enjoys knitting and calls it a professional hobby. She says knitting has a soothing effect. She knits things for both kids and adults, knits for her own children and has several customers. But Yelena does not view knitting as a way to make extra money and stresses that it is above all a hobby.
People generally place orders with grandmaster Korotkaya for children’s accessories – hats and scarves – as well as sweaters for both kids and adults. However, she does not put up any special advertisements anywhere to attract clients. She has enough orders from acquaintances, plus she doesn’t take on too much knitting work due to a lack of time. Yelena says that she definitely tries to work on knitting for two hours a day.
Q: So how much time do you spend on draughts?
A: Around 8-10 hours together with training.
A: And without training?
A: As I already said: 4 hours – half-pay for a member of the Ukrainian national team!
Q: So, in knitting you’re a master of sport at the very least.
A: Feel free to write that down!
When knitting, grandmaster Korotkaya either spends time talking to her daughter or watches movies, thus combining two types of leisure.
Asked what else she likes to do, Yelena replies in a very feminine way: she likes to make her home feel cosy and cook for her family. She doesn’t spend too much time at the stove, but makes sure that her “family always has something to eat at home”, and when she has time she enjoys cooking up something special. Yelena says her latest culinary achievement was a cake that she baked for her son’s birthday in October.
Yelena Korotkaya has two kids – a boy and a girl. Her daughter will soon turn 16 and she also plays draughts. Her best result so far has been champion of Ukraine among juniors under age 13. Her son is four and has already started exploring his mother’s favourite game.
Q: Does he like it or does his mom make him do it?
A: His mom certainly does not make him do it! When we play and I take his draughts, he gives me a look of surprise and asks: “Mum, where should I attack?”
Q: And what does his mom say?
A: She explains. It has to be interesting for a child after all. He picks things up quickly, but I don’t know if he will continue to play draughts. My daughter won’t be playing professionally – that’s a certainty.
Her daughter will enter university in two years and wants to become a psychologist. Yelena tells her that being a psychologist is not in vogue now at all, but her daughter simply likes this profession.
Q: Yelena, within the context of our conversation it’s only logical to ask: what about your husband?
A: My husband is a military man. Due to the deteriorating political situation in Ukraine, he is rarely home. But he understands me and is very supportive. The champion’s medal is our shared achievement!
The European champion was introduced to draughts in the most traditional way one could imagine. When little Lena was in the second grade, her school was visited by a person who would go on to become her first coach – Dmitry Marinenko. He was recruiting children for a draughts club.
“My friends said, ‘Let’s go!’ I was reluctant (draughts seemed like such nonsense!), but I went anyway. A month passed and they left the club, but I stuck around”, she says.
Yelena says she fell in love with draughts right away because of the beauty of the sport. Let’s be honest: this sounds a bit implausible for an 8-year-old girl (and she was exactly 8 at that time!) – sitting and staring at a board instead of running around and throwing snowballs. But Yelena knows the only correct answer to this question:
“I really liked the coach. He not only taught me about draughts, he taught me about life, and that was fantastic! And my mom and dad were there for me at the competitions”, she says.
There was something else about draughts that little Lena enjoyed. She would come home from school and defeat her own mom and dad, and they would heap praises on her for this.
Q: Did they give you any presents?
A: No, we lived very modestly, and there were no presents for victories.
Yelena Korotkaya has a higher physical education. She graduated from Dnepropetrovsk Institute of Physical Education and Sport with a specialisation as a table tennis coach. The champion says that she chose this specialisation because there was no major in draughts and she specifically wanted to become a draughts coach. She had no idea how to play table tennis prior to entering the institute, but she was accepted as a world champion in draughts.
Text: Lev Godovannik
Photos: Yelena Korotkaya’s personal archive
November 2016, Tbilisi
Yelena Korotkaya is a European champion in blitz draughts as well as a repeat world and European champion among juniors. She is champion of Ukraine among women as well as an international grandmaster and a grandmaster of Ukraine.
Yelena Korotkaya (Smirnova) was born on 2 October 1983 in Dnepr (formerly Dnepropetrovsk). She has lived in Kamianske (formerly Dniprodzerzhynsk) since 2001.
She began playing draughts in February 1991 at Youth Sports School-10 in Dnepr under the guidance of Honoured Coach of Ukraine Dmitry Marinenko.
Her second coach was Honoured Coach of Ukraine Igor Gubarev.
2009 – Second place at the World Championship in the blitz and rapid draughts programmes among women;
2016 – First place at the European Championship among women.