A strong duo: An interview with Pia and Anna Cramling

by Tatiana Flores
1/31/2022 – Chess is an integral part of the lives of Pia Cramling and her daughter Anna. But mother and daughter are successful in very different ways. While Pia Cramling has been one of the world's best women player for decades, Anna Cramling Bellón has now become a successful chess streamer. But both pursue a common goal. As they explain in an interview with Tatiana Flores, they both want to promote chess and bring more women into the community.

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An interview with GM Pia Cramling & FWM Anna Cramling Bellón

In an exclusive interview with Tatiana Flores, Pia Cramling and Anna Cramling Bellón talk about chess streaming, Anna’s career as a streamer, chess in Sweden, their most memorable family moments and their chess schedules for this year!

The Swedish grandmaster Pia Cramling is well known as one of the world's strongest female players. She became the fifth women to earn the FIDE GM title in 1992 and more than once was the highest rated female player in the world. Cramling has represented Sweden (in open and women's events) in the Chess Olympiad, the European Team Chess Championship, the Telechess Olympiad and the Nordic Cup.

In 2002 she and her husband, the Spanish grandmaster Juan Manuel Bellón López, had their daughter Anna Cramling Bellón. Anna grew up in Spain and moved with her family to Sweden when she was 11 years old. She holds the title of Women FIDE Master and is currently a successful Twitch streamer and YouTuber. In 2021 she signed to the Esports team Panda, thus becoming the first Swedish chess player to sign with an Esports organization. In 2016 she and her parents played for Sweden at the Chess Olympiad in Baku.

Pia, what is your opinion about chess streaming and do you follow Anna’s streams actively?

You know, before Anna started streaming, I didn’t know it existed! I didn’t know anything about this world and when Anna wanted to start streaming I was very hesitant. Now, that Anna has started and is nearly doing it for two years, I’m very enthusiastic. It’s great because Anna has found her way to use chess and at the same time she encourages a lot of people (her followers) to enjoy chess with her.

I think it’s marvelous, because there are so many ways to use chess in your live – I did it my way which was competing – and Anna does it in a way that she also encourages others to join or appreciate the game.

I sometimes watch her streams, but I’m not that actively following them. That I have to admit! (both laugh).

Anna, did your family or your surroundings ever have big expectations about your chess career because your parents were so successful in chess?

No, I don’t really think so. I have never felt any pressure coming from my parents to follow their path, but I think I got more pressure from myself and from people I don’t even know, like completely strangers that believe I should become a grandmaster simply because I’m the daughter of two grandmasters! Thus, I think I got more pressure from the chess community than from my parents or any of my family members or friends.

On the other hand, I used to put pressure on myself – not because both my parents were GMs – , but because I really wanted to improve at chess. With time I learned that I could play chess in a way I love, enjoy it and be part of the chess world without having to be the best at it. Now, I can play in a more relaxed way, and ironically I now have better results when I compete.

Anna, how did your cooperation with Panda start and how is it going so far?

My cooperation with Panda basically started at the end of 2020, beginnings of 2021. There were some chess streamers that got a contract from different E-sports teams, so the idea of chess players being part of an E-sport team was there. I got contacted by Panda, and they were very eager to have a chess player on their team and thought that I was a very good fit.

I think it’s going great! They’ve supported me a lot along the way, and I have a lot of contact to the people in the team, so I’ve made many new friends. Panda also hosted a big chess tournament in the beginning of 2021 with Super Smash Bros players and other big names in the E-sport. Hopefully, they want to do more tournaments in chess!

We’ve been talking about different things, and I think there’s some really cool stuff we might get into doing in the future.

Anna Cramling is not only a chess player, but also a successful Twitch streamer and YouTuber

Anna Cramling at Twitch...

Pia, how would you describe the current situation of chess in Sweden and how has it developed since you started playing?

You know, if you go back a long time, chess used to have a lot of history and tradition in Sweden. We had all of these strong players who came to play tournaments in Sweden: Fischer, Kasparov, Karpov, Spassky.

When I was a kid, the government gave money to sports and cultural projects, and to activities for children. Chess clubs received money for each pupil who was under 20. Thus, there was a little chess boom when I started.

I joined my first club when I started playing at the age of ten, and at that time we had about 2.000 members. It was enormous!  Even later, when I was a teen, the government supported chess and its related activities and the clubs were very active and eager to get new members. At that time a lot of prominent people also played and supported chess. But now?

I think, things did not go well. 40 years ago you couldn’t find a newspaper without a chess column, nowadays you barely find a newspaper with a chess column. Maybe it’s due to our society, because we have so many things to do now … at that time it was all different and I can see that chess tradition has faded a lot, things are more difficult now.

Also, the fact that chess is not regarded as a sport nor as part of culture, makes it all harder. When you ask for money, the government doesn’t know where to put chess - and for the newspapers it's the same: Is it a sport or is it culture? So chess is excluded from both, and this makes it difficult to get heard.

But I think this can improve since chess has become an E-Sport now and during the pandemic a lot of new people got interested in the game. However, they often do not join a club. But at least they are active in chess and hopefully they also get motivated to join a club.

Anna, how would you describe your games and playing style? Do you see similarities to the playing styles of your parents?

I think that I play very aggressively, especially when I play online. It’s just more fun! (laughs) I’d say I got that from my father, as he’s definitely a very aggressive and tactical chess player. In that sense I play a lot like him, and in terms of openings, I play a lot that are similar to my mother’s openings, because she used to teach me a lot of them. So I guess, I’d say I play my mum’s openings with my dad’s style! I don’t know, how would you describe your openings mum?

Pia: Well… (laughs) I’d say they are not that aggressive. I’m more a positional player, but I think Anna can play very well positionally too. She’s not that tactical, because she has a very extreme way of thinking that’s unusual to anyone (both laugh), but it’s normal to play actively because when you’re young.

This is a question for both of you: Do you have a lot of memorable family moments related to chess?

Both: We don’t have any that aren’t related to chess! (both laugh)

Pia: When I was pregnant with Anna, I had some complications during the pregnancy, so I decided to stop competing for 10 months. I had never been away from chess for such a long time, so three months after Anna was born, I had to start playing again! I couldn’t live any longer without it. (laughs)

So yeah, Anna was almost always coming with us, because Juan and I were both very active players. Back then we were still living in La Costa del Sol in Spain, and I remember that Anna was sleeping peacefully during the games, while I was babysitting between the games. Sometimes my father came to take care of her but that was sometimes complicated because he lived in Sweden. He was really the only other babysitter we had; sometimes, e.g. at Olympiads or similar tournaments, we could find someone to help us and you could see an arbiter carrying Anna around! (both laugh)

Many times – when she was already a bit older – she’d sit on my legs while I played or next to me sleeping in the trolley. She was a very quiet and calm child and very easy to take with us, so she was almost all the time traveling with her father and me to tournaments. As you see, we really don’t have many memories that are not connected to chess!

Anna: I, of course, don’t remember the time when I was a baby, but I remember growing up in a chess environment. I was always at tournaments and there I felt most at home, which is funny, because I’ve always been moving around, but that was the one big consistency. (laughs)

Many of today's top players know my parents and I have seen them and met them when they were younger and that’s been really cool. I feel like I have a family in the chess community, especially when it used to be smaller, but I still enjoy it very much. We also have competed together in a lot of tournaments, and often I just came with them and watched them play, because I was too young to stay alone at home. So yes … many chess tournaments and many hotels! (both laugh) It’s definitely been a huge part of my life – if not the biggest one.


The Swedish grandmaster Pia Cramling started playing chess in her childhood and hasn’t stopped ever since

Anna, what advice would you give young girls who want to start playing chess, but feel a bit uneasy about the low percentage of female players?

I’d like to tell them that they deserve to be there just as much as anyone else and shouldn’t be afraid of the fact that maybe there aren’t that many more girls, because they should just find their love for chess and enjoy it. I know it’s hard, because I’ve felt that way too so … yeah, it’s really hard, but I believe that if chess becomes bigger on the internet with more female audiences, that’s going to make a huge difference.

That’s also why I’m really pushing what I’m doing, because I really hope that it makes a difference if they see other female chess players and can have them as role models. I completely understand why they feel that way – because again – I’ve felt that way too. But I would just like them to play because of their love for chess, and because chess is super fun. And they have the same right to be there as anyone else.

Something important I’d like to add is that every girl that plays chess is helping out. The more girls we have now, the more we can get in the future. Every girl that’s out there playing chess and that is going to tournaments is making a difference in the sport, each of them is important. I think it’s good to remind people of that sometimes.

Another question for both of you: What projects, tournaments, etc. do you have planned for this year?

Pia: I’ll go to Gibraltar and it’s very nice that the tournament is taking place again this year, because last year it had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. It has become one of the most popular and strongest opens in the world, but this year it will be different: We’ll play a match which is called “The Battle of Sexes”, a match between ten female and ten male players.

We’ll all play ten games and the team selection was very interesting: both teams have about the same rating average and the same average age! I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes. It’s the first time such a match is played, and I’m very excited to be part of it.

After that I’m going in February to Monaco to the Golden Globe which is like the Oscars, though for chess. (laughs) I hope the Olympiad in Moscow will take place in August, and I also hope that the European Club Cup will take place this year. My schedule is not what it was two years ago, but it’s still better than last year, when it was completely empty! (laughs)

Anna: For me, I want to branch out my content this year. I’d love to have much more varied content to attract more viewers and bring them into chess. Attract more viewers, play more games and travel more. That’s my plan … and oh yes! My mother and I are actually going to New York in February to film some content in the United States. That’s going to be a pretty big thing and very exciting, so February is going to be fun! Maybe I’ll also compete a little bit as I’d love to play in the Olympics this year.

One last question to both to conclude: What would you like to improve or change in the chess world?

Pia: Well, I’d definitely like to have many more women in the game. That is my main wish for chess. There are more women playing now than when I was a kid, because back then most of the time I was the only girl, but it’s still not enough, especially here in Sweden. That’s something I really love when I go abroad: The atmosphere at tournaments when there are more women playing. That’s really so nice! It has changed a bit here in Sweden, not very much, but at least I’m not the only one anymore. I think it is important for everyone to understand that chess will become so much better if there are more women playing.

That’s what I’d like to change the most, more than anything else! Apart from that I think it’s also important for chess to have better marketing, to present chess in a better way.

Anna: Two things: Make chess more inclusive for everyone, and getting more women to play. And I think chess has always been a little bit scary to people who are completely new to it, so I’m just hoping that will change too. Maybe that’s more a job for the chess federation, but above all, I want chess to become more inclusive. It would be nice if people felt encouraged to to join a club and go to tournaments.

I also think it’s important to give better conditions to the players that live from chess. In Sweden for example, there’s not enough prize money and the conditions are not always good. I really hope we can get more money into chess (with a better image and sponsors), because I believe that the players that compete in chess should be able to live the life equal people in other sports would be able to live.

Thank you very much for your time! The ChessBase team and I wish both of you all the best for your future endeavors.

The interview was conducted via Zoom on January 13, 2022, in English. Tatiana Flores transcribed it.


Tatiana Flores was born in Andorra in 1998 and moved to Germany with her family when she was 14. She works as a chess journalist, poet and multilingual author. Besides chess, she is also passionate about literature and music. See also her website under tatianaflores.de/.


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