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50th Time on the Top of the World in Chess

Sándor Laczkó
January 5, 2012

Hungarian Grand Master Judit Polgár is the best female player in history. An article in the 2011 December issue of Diplomacy & Trade featured an article of the youngest Polgár sister who has ruled the world of women's chess for over two decades.

In January 1989, Hungary’s Judit Polgár was listed as the world’s top female chess player – and she has been on that throne ever since. At that time, ranking lists were compiled by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) twice a year, a system that was later changed to a quarterly listing. The latest list, published in November 2011, is the 50th with the youngest Polgár sister on top – by far the most top positions in history of chess. With 2710 Élõ points, the Hungarian grandmaster leads the women’s ranking with a considerable, 110-point, advantage over the rest of the field. In the men’s ranking, she is 35th. This year, she made it to the last 8 in the World Cup and finished third at the European Championship.

Early successes

Judit Polgar’s successes can largely be attributed to the unorthodox training and education methods of Laszlo Polgár, the father of Judit and her two sisters, Zsuzsa and Zsófia. Judit recalls those early years as times of “difficulties and criticism” as she puts it. However, she also remembers the bright side “with lots of enjoyable and interesting travel abroad to different competitions”. She explains to Diplomacy and Trade that this life was natural for her as she grew up under these conditions. “Of course, I noticed that we had a different life than other kids had but we got that back in other ways. The very early successes gave me an extra driving force in justifying the methods introduced by my parents. Also, I learned languages during these travels.” She was not even ten years old when she won her first international competition in 1986. At the age of 15, she reached the ranking of grand master.

The benefits of chess

Regarding the education of the youngest generation of chess players, Polgár says it always comes down to the attitude of the parents, how much time and energy they can or want to invest in training their children. “Chess has several benefits. It even comes in handy in times of crisis like this as it requires only the chessboard and the figures. It is suitable for building a community. Kids learn the rules, and how to adhere to them. They also learn that if they do things right, they’ll succeed; if they don’t, they’ll lose. It is very good for improving concentration, logic skills of tactics and strategy, and for giving respect to each other by shaking hands before and after each game.

In Hungary, chess as a game is acknowledged by most people. “As I can see, it is becoming popular with more children taught in schools and even in kindergarten – to my greatest delight as I am member of the European committee that supports the ‘Chess in schools’ program. This is despite the fact that it is a sport that is by far less reported than soccer or water polo, Polgár notes.

Against men only

As Judit’s parents were of the view that women are capable of the same achievements in this intellectual sport as men. In order to prove that, they demanded the maximum challenges for her against men. That is why she has long been playing against men only. “At that time, women had much worse results in chess than men and could not present enough opposition to achieve the highest goals,” she says.

Judit is the only Polgár sister who still lives in Hungary. She says the chess is not the dominant topic of discussion in keeping contact with Zsuzsa and Zsófia, except when one of them is involved in a tournament or chess-related event such as chess day this November with all three sisters present in Budapest.

Sándor Laczkó

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