A Lesson From Judit Polgar: Fear Nobody …

It is such a pity to learn of the retirement of Grandmaster Judit Polgar, who confirmed that she is leaving professional chess at the end of the 41st chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. This ended on August 14th; and with it, then, chess lost one of its strongest exponents and finest ambassadors.

The reasons for her retirement, one can only speculate, Judit said in a recent interview with The Times newspaper, that she wanted to focus on her chess foundation which aims to spread chess through schools, and that she also wants to spend more time with her children. Who can blame her? I remember speaking with her Husband at the Corus Chess Tournament a few years ago, and he told me that she found the travelling and separation from her family very hard.

Also mentioned in the article was Polgar’s struggle to be recognized along with the male chess establishment. Sexism is ever-present in most walks of life, and no less in chess. Judit’s tireless resistance and condemnation of this has gained her much admiration from the chess world, from male and female alike.

I think that chess players can learn a lot from Judit Polgar, not only from her games, many of which contain powerful strategic and tactical finesses, but also from the way that she approached her opponents. Namely: all the same. She showed the same respect to amateur and Grandmaster alike, and was afraid of none. Let’s not forget that she was the first female player to defeat Garry Kasparov (who apparently once referred to her as a “circus puppet”) in tournament play. This happened in a rapid game, which took place during the Russia versus the Rest of the World Match, played in the September of 2002.

What strikes me about this game, is that Kasparov is never actually present in it. Judit punishes him for uninspiring play, and asserts herself right from the word go. With precise and aggressive play, she sends out a clear message that she is not to be trifled with, and that no one (not even the strongest player, world number 1, and multiple World Champion) can take liberties with her.

The game is below. As you play through it, notice first Kasparov’s allowing the early exchange of Queens as Black and neglecting his King which remains in the centre of the board, how his position lacks development, and how he allows his opponent far too much space. To me, this game strikes as an under-estimation at best, and a lack of respect at worst.

In her response, Judit Polgar does not stand on ceremonies, but instead takes full advantage and seizes her opportunity. This is a fine example of how to play against any opponent, even more so when you are the underdog. Do not be intimidated, but stay true to yourself, and focus on the board rather than the person. Play the best moves you can find. For at the end of the day, it is that and not reputation which will decide the outcome of the game.

John Lee Shaw