Interview: between training and tournament games

Foto: Charlie Solorzano

Whether in the afternoon in the park, during a lecture or on the tram – chess is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people. And at the latest since the success of the Netflix series “The Queens Gambit”, chess is enjoying media attention again. Josefine Heinemann is a women’s grandmaster and publishes videos on her YouTube channel in which she analyses games. KOPFZEILE talked to her about her passion for the strategic board game.

Chess player Josefine Heinemann was born in Gardelegen on 7 January 1998. She has been Women’s International Master (WIM) since 2016 and Women’s Grandmaster (WGM) since 2018.


KOPFZEILE: Hello Josefine! How did you get into chess?


Josefine Heinemann: There was a chess club at my primary school. No one is quite sure whether I had learned anything at home before, but I liked the training right from the start. Almost everyone in this club quickly joined the chess club and played in the U10 team. Then I stuck with it.


„There are infinite possibilities.“ 



KOPFZEILE: What was it that excited you so much?

Josefine Heinemann: Chess is simply super interesting. There are infinite possibilities, every game is something new. Every game in itself is exciting, even if you’ve seen similar positions before. There is always something new to discover, no matter how much you have already learned about it.


In official tournaments, chess players receive a rating, also called Elo, which is calculated from wins, losses and the respective strength of the opponents.
There is both the international rating FIDE (= Fédération Internationale des Échecs) and national ratings, such as the DWZ (= German rating).
Magnus Carlsen currently has the highest FIDE rating with 2853.
For the title of women’s grandmaster, a FIDE rating of 2300 is required.


KOPFZEILE: You have a degree in business mathematics. How did you come to work as a chess coach?


Josefine Heinemann: Over the years, I have found that chess is what I enjoy most in life. That’s why I’ve been looking for a way to earn a living with chess. Not only is it difficult to do that with games, it’s impossible with my playing strength in Germany. Women can earn money from about the WIM title onwards, for example with Bundesliga matches, but that’s not enough to live on. It’s a bit different with the men: They have to be stronger to get a title, but then they also earn more money. Coaching is quite a good source of income. And I enjoy sharing my passion with other people and bringing the game a bit closer to both children and adults.


KOPFZEILE: What do you do when you’re not playing chess?


Josefine Heinemann:I go running more or less regularly and now also do workouts. Those aren’t really my thing, but it certainly can’t hurt to build up some muscles. I think physical fitness is helpful for chess, but it’s also important to take care of your body in general. I also like playing football and basketball.



Chess puzzles are about finding the best moves in a given position. Here it is White to move. Can you deliver checkmate in two moves? You can find the solution below the interview.


KOPFZEILE: On your blog you talk about your tournament games, like at the European Women’s Chess Championship in March. How do you prepare for these tournaments?


Josefine Heinemann: It’s always different. This time I tried something new: I repeated my openings before the tournament. I don’t usually do that because I play very regularly myself. Instead, I saved my files on the computer with all the moves I should know, which I can then click through and see if I remember the moves or not. I usually only decide which opening I want to play at the tournament. Otherwise, I regularly solve a lot of tactical problems. I always repeat endgames when I think it might be time to do that again.


KOPFZEILE: And during the game? What goes through your mind?


Josefine Heinemann: Psychology is definitely an important factor in chess. It can start with who you play against. For example, we regularly play the German Masters, a German championship, and there you naturally get to know each other and know who you’ve won against and lost to. Personally, it’s easiest for me when I don’t know my opponents. And I prefer to play calm, positional games. If it’s too wild on the board, I quickly get nervous and that’s usually not good in chess either. It can also be disruptive if there’s a lot of noise around. So it’s important to block it out as much as possible and above all not to get upset about it. Some things are beyond your control, and the more you think about them during the game, the more it gets in the way. If I notice that I’m not concentrating, I take a sip of water or make myself some tea.


“I probably look at my chessboard for ten hours a day.”



KOPFZEILE: How many hours a day do you spend playing chess?


Josefine Heinemann: Difficult question… If it’s just about playing, then it’s not that much. But I probably look at my chessboard for ten hours a day. But not all of that is my own training. I teach, watch games and videos, or record videos myself for my YouTube channel. So it’s a very varied mix. Sometimes, when I’m depressed, I play a round of Bullet.


* A game mode in which both players have one minute each.


KOPFZEILE: In one of your videos you argue for the abolition of draw offers. Players should no longer be able to agree on a “Remis”. Why?


Josefine Heinemann: What bothers me is not the result of the draw itself, but that it can be offered in any position. I don’t like the fact that it deprives the game of chess of its logical outcome. It’s often done in very complicated positions where, in principle, anything can happen. To me, it’s just not logical to break off the match and share the point. Of course, a game can end in a draw if neither side can deliver check mate or make progress. That is something completely different, but we also have different rules for that. That’s why I think draw offers shouldn’t exist. In many tournaments, especially in top chess, they are already forbidden up to a certain number of moves, also because it is more exciting for the spectators that way.


The opening is what you call the first moves of a chess game. The players move their pieces into the desired position before one side begins to attack. There are long theories about many openings, in which the best moves were calculated even before computer programmes existed. Top players know most of the main variations of the classical openings by heart.





KOPFZEILE: Which openings do you prefer to play? And what is your opinion on the London System?


Josefine Heinemann: I like to play Spanish with White. With Black I prefer to play Najdorf. I now have a much higher opinion of London than I used to, but you should study the move sequences very carefully in order to achieve really good results with it. Then you can also play out positional advantages. If you just bluntly make the moves you want to make without paying attention to the order, it’s not a very good opening.


KOPFZEILE: What advice do you give to people who are considering getting into chess?


Josefine Heinemann: From my point of view, you just have to dare to go there. Check it out and maybe you’ll like it. It doesn’t always have to be the same activity that your best friend does, sometimes something else can be exciting. In my family, not everyone is into chess either, but I’ve made a lot of good friends through playing.




You can find more from KOPFZEILE on the topic of chess here.


And here is the solution to the chess puzzle:
1. Rb8+: The white rook moves to b8 and puts the black king in check.
Rxb8: Black has no other way to get out of check than to capture the white rook.
2. Rxb8# : White can in turn now capture the black rook. Since Black can neither move the king out of check, nor put anything between the rook and king, nor capture the rook, this is checkmate. White wins the game.