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Essay on Chess

Story twenty eight: A QUEEN GOES TO WAR

         Many people in the world have heard about the famous Polgar sisters from Hungary, but few have seen them in person. One fine day, in 1992, Boston was in luck, as thousands of local residents were eye-witnesses of a grandiose open air simultaneous exhibition which was given by three chess queens from Budapest. Townsfolk had gathered around Copley Square in the center of the huge city.

        The fans were intrigued as to how these modest pretty girls would fare against hundreds of men in a tandem simultaneous exhibition. Each sister took a turn making her moves, being at some distance from each other, and had to quickly guess not only their opponent’s meaning but also their sisters’ plans. Still, one after another, the men fell in this unusual chess battle. The Polgar sisters triumphed.

         Over a year earlier, the President of the United State, George Bush, and the First Lady came to Budapest for a short visit. Naturally, the Hungarian government wanted to show the eminent guests those celebrities in whom its country took a legitimate pride. First of all, the Polgar sisters were introduced to George and Barbara Bush: (L to R) Susan, Judit, Sofia.

        When Susan Polgar was four years old, she found the chess set in her home and asked her father, Laszlo Polgar, how to play. Soon she was accompanying her father to the Budapest chess club where many local players gathered to listen to grandmaster Laszlo Szabo’s lecture. One of the games he displayed was an ending from the 1958 Hungarian championship where master Haag played with white pieces. (See diagram # 128).        

President Bush with Polgars

       Somebody’s voice was heard from the hall: “Take a queen!” At that moment, Zsuzsa was running up to the big demonstration board and took from the chess table another piece, a black bishop. The decision became clear to everybody: 1…f2-f1 B!  After any white bishop’s move, mate becomes inevitable: 2…Nd2-f3, and 3…Bf1-g2. Mate!

         Szabo took the child in his arms and exclaimed: “This girl will become a women’s world champion!” In 1996, 22 years later, Susan, the oldest of the three famous Polgar sisters, earned the highest chess title for women.                                          

         Although today’s chess landscape is dominated overwhelmingly with male players, women have gained a general acceptance in chess that did not exist a generation ago, when Susan (or Zsuzsa) had been ranked among the top 100 players.

        “When I started playing chess as a little girl, I was the subject of ridicule by boys and grown men,” she recalled. “How could a tiny little girl play chess and even beat some of boys? Later, when I started to have more and more victories, people were amazed this was possible. Many doubted that any woman was capable of becoming a serious player.”

         In 1987, Susan became the first woman ever to qualify for the men’s World Championship. Before she started to play against men, some officials in Hungary were opposed. They insisted that she should play only against other females because “women are inferior at chess.” Polgar’s achievement at this tournament was a breakthrough. It was an important first step in giving women a place on today’s chess stage.

         In 1991, Susan became a grandmaster. “Unlike other sports, chess is wonderful because you can enjoy it all your life,” she says.

         In childhood, Polgar sisters went in for sports as a part of their upbringing. Susan swims, plays tennis, and runs. She even competed at the Maccabi Games in Israel, as a participant of the amateur table tennis tournament. 

         Her younger sister, Judit, who was ranked among the ten best grandmasters in the world, acknowledges Susan’s historic role. “Obviously, Susan did most of the hard work to pave the way for others,” says Judit. “She was the first to prove that women can compete at the same level as men and beat them. And without her, it would be much harder for me and other women chess players.”

         At the age of nine, Judit competed in the York Open and captured first place in the unrated section, mostly consisting of men. In the spring of 1991, I saw how the middle sister, Sofia, skillfully beat grandmasters at the International tournament in Slovakia.

         A unique scenario was worked out in their family. Parents, Klara and Lazslo, took the role of producers.  First of all, they decided that Judit would not play in women’s tournaments.

         Going back to the beginning, the sister’s parents made a good match. Klara lived in the Ukrainian town of Uzhgorod, near the border with Hungary, Lazslo resided in his native Budapest. They knew each other since childhood via children’s letters. The correspondence of many years developed into friendship, and when they met face to face, both decided to marry.

         I knew both parents personally for a long time. Once, I asked Laszlo: “Which abilities and qualities did you try to develop in your daughters?”  “Many!” he said. “My principles of upbringing are different from the ones which occur everywhere. We consider that it is necessary to teach 4-5 year- old children to “play seriously.” From the earliest years, Klara and I tried to maintain our daughters’ interest in studying foreign languages. On the whole, the daughters found time for studying chess. They always waited impatiently for their trainers’ arrival.”

         Recognized as chess prodigies, the Polgar sisters were educated at home, developing their chess skills step by step. For example, at 12, Susan captured the world championship title for girls. In this event she also defeated the boy’s world champion playing against him in an informal match. Three years later, she was the strongest female chess player in the world and the strongest junior player of either gender.

         The Polgar parents’ most successful stories are, of course, about their own daughters, all of whom were home-schooled.  Achievement the grandmaster title was their father’s ultimate goal in chess. The education program continued until his daughters reached 25-27 years. All three sisters are married. Szusza is a mother of two sons. Sofia, living in Israel, married a local grandmaster. She also has two boys. Judit married her beau of the last few years, a veterinarian, breaking the hearts of chess players worldwide.

         In fall of 2003, Judit played in Spain, and then came a long respite. After taking time off to have a child (a son!), Judit returned to the chess battles of the highest level. In summer of 2006, she arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, with her six-week-old daughter to compete blitz with Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, and Viktor Korchnoi. Will the Polgars bring up their children on the basis of grandpa’s education program?

         Laszlo Polgar was going to defend his thesis at the Moscow State University psychology faculty, but some circumstances prevented him from doing so. I tried to promote his dissertation on this subject, often telling the psychologists his main conclusion: “Parents are the best teachers!”

         For a long time, this family cherished a hope for Judit to win the man crown. The World Chess Federation gave her a real opportunity to do just that. The charming Hungarian was named a participant of the 2005 FIDE world championship in Argentina.

         Judit was asked before the start: “What do you think about the chance for a woman to get the world champion among men?” “It is very hard,” she said.  “Of course I am nervous.”

         Polgar was off-form during the tournament and won only once, but this game was like an Argentinean tango on the chessboard.

                                          SICILIAN DEFENSE

                                       J. Polgar- Kasimdzhanov

                                       San Luis (Argentina), 2005

1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.g4!

         The famous Estonian grandmaster, Paul Keres, was the first to suggest such an aggressive move in the Sicilian. Later, the Hungarian players worked out a plan which Judit brought into practice.

7…e5 8.Nf5 g6 9.g5 gxf5 10.exf5!

         Black has no option. If 10…Bxf5 11.gxf6 Be6 (11…Qxf6? 12.Nd5! Qd8 13.Bb6) 12.Bg2 Nc6 13.Qf3, his pieces have little scope: it is hard for King’s bishop to come into action. In case of 11…Nd7, White gets an overwhelming advantage by 12.Qf3 Bxc2 13.Rc1 Bg6 14.Bh3 and so on. Black has to play with an extra piece in a cramped position.

10…d5 11.Qf3 d4 12.0-0-0 Nbd7

         Judit already won a luminous game in this variation. In Dos Hermanas, Spain, in 1999, she beat the omnipotent Vishy Anand: 13.Bd2 dxc3 14.Bxc3 Bg7 15.Rg1 0-0 16.gxf6 Qxf6 17.Qe3 Kh8 18.f4 Qb6 19.Qg3 Qh6 20.Rd6! f6 21.Bd2 e4 22.Bc4 b5 23.Be6 Ra7 24.Rc6. Black is a piece up has no useful moves (See diagram # 129).

          24…a5 25.Be3 Rb7 26.Bd5 (27.Rxc8 threatens) 26…Rb8 27.Rc7 b4 28.b3 Rb5 29.Bc6 Rxf5 30.Rxc8 Rxc8 31.Bxd7 Rcc5 32.Bxf5 Rxf5 33.Rd1 Kg8 34.Qg2 1-0.


         It is the beginning of a deep combination.

13…exd4 14.Rxd4 Bg7 15.Rg1 Kf8 16.Qe3! Qe7 17.Qd2 h6 18.gxf6 Nxf6

         Should the King’s bishop disappear by 18…Bxf6 19.Nd5 Qe5 20.Nxf6 Qxf6, the squares around Black’s king will be very weak.  For example, 21.Bc4 Qe7 (21… Rg8 22.Qb4+) 22.Be6! fxe6 23.fxe6 Qxe6 24.Qb4+ Qe7 25.Rf4+ Ke8 26.Re1

19. Rd8+ Ne8 20.Bb5! {See diagram # 130}

  20…axb5 21.Re1 b4

         After 21…Bf6 22.Rxe7 Bxe7 23.Qd4 Rg8 24.f6 Bxd8 25.Qxd8, Black loses because his pieces are not coordinated.

      A decisive blow is striking: 22.Rxe8+! If 22…Kxe8 (22…Qxe8 23.Qd6+), White wins by 23.Nd5 Qxe1+ 24.Qxe1+ Kf8 25.Nc7.

22. Nb5? Bxb2+?

         Black returns a favor. 22…Be5 was correct.

23. Kxb2 Qf6+ 24.Qd4 Kg7 25.Rexe8 Rxe8 26.Rxe8 Qxd4+ 27.Nxd4.

         The storm has blown, and White reaps the fruits.

27…Kf6 28.f4 b6 29.Rd8 Bb7 30.Rxa8 Bxa8 31.Kb3 Bd5+ 32.Kxb4 Bxa2 33.Kb5 Bb1 34.c3! Ke7 35.Kxb6 Kd6 36.c4 Bd3 37.c5+ Kd5 38.Nc6 Ke4 39.Ne7 Bc2 40.c6 Ba4 41.c7 Bd7 42.Kc5+ 1-0

       The strongest female grandmasters try to follow Judit Polgar’s example and try to “claim the scalps of men.”

         For a long time, women were not welcome in chess clubs in Europe and America. Only at the end of the 19th century did the situation change. The first step made a chess club in Turin, Italy, by allowing its members to join their wives and daughters at the chessboard. Today more young women than ever attend chess tournaments.

        As the head of the U.S. Olympic team, Susan Polgar was a heroine in the women’s section of the 2004 Chess Olympiad in Mallorka, Spain. American participants, Susan Polgar, Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih and Jennifer Shahade, were decorated with silver Olympic medals, after the winner - the Chinese team, but ahead of the Russians. It was a great success in the history of American chess.          

          By the way, this bellicose team and other American talented female players have an interesting peculiarity. Fathers were their first trainers!

         Jennifer Shahade, the U.S. women’s champion and the strongest American-born female chess player in history, learned chess at the age of 6 from her father, Michael, a four-time champion of Pennsylvania.

         Irina Krush, who is a female grandmaster and a men’s International master, immigrated to the United States from the small Ukrainian town of Kasatin where her father, Boris, was the best in chess. The family came to America in 1988 before Irina turned 5, the age at which her father taught her the game. In 1998, at the age of 14, she became the youngest U.S. Women’s champion ever. In 2007, Irina has achieved her second U. S. Women’s Championship title.

         The female grandmaster, Anna Zatonskih, lived in America since 2002. Her father, Vitaly, a strong Ukrainian chess master, gave her very instructive lessons.

 .       The 2005 U. S. Championship was an extraordinary event. The best grandmasters and masters, men and women, played together. Rusudan Goletiany achieved the highest result among female players and became the new American champion. She grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia, where she learned chess at preschool age from her father, Tengis, a professor of the local university and also a strong chess amateur. Rusudan is a young woman, but she already follows a strategy that is wise beyond her years.

         One can also cherish the hope of the talented Tatev Abrahamyan who came to the U.S. from Armenia. The list of the gifted American women players was also supplemented with the name of the former women champion of Mongolia, Battsetseg Tsagan.

        As the saying goes, our numbers have grown. The former immigrants often speak with accents, and more often analyze their games in Russian. But all of them became American women in style, attitude, and individuality.

         However, let’s return to the Polgars. Both parents, Laszlo and Klara, always accompanied their daughters all over the world. Many fans are interested in what kind of atmosphere reigned in their family. Of course, the sisters love and help each other.

         In 1992, the Reshevsky Memorial was held in New York. Before the opening ceremony, the arbiters had set up the tables, many tags and flags at random, of course not knowing who would play who until the drawing of lots. A ripple went through the audience when it became clear that Judit Polgar had selected the lottery number that forced her to play her sister Susan in round one.

          I would like to introduce to readers commentaries which were published in the magazine “Chess Life” by the grandmaster Michael Rohde who was an eye-witness of this unique game.


                                            SICILIAN DEFENSE                           

                                        Judit Polgar- Susan Polgar


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.0-0 Nge7 5.c3 a6 6.Ba4 b5 7.Bc2 d5 8.e5 d4 9.Be4 Nd5

         Perhaps Black can dispense with this and simply play 9…g6. Now White develops irritating pressure.

10.a4 Rb8 11.axb5 axb5 12.Qc2 h6 13.cxd4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 cxd4 15.d3 Bb7 16.Qe2 g6

         Seemingly risky, but White would be very happy after 16…Be7 17.Nd2.

17. Nd2 Bg7 18.Nb3

         It would be tough to make forward progress on the mundane 18.Nf3 Qb6.


          Typical of Susan’s practical style: she eliminates her positional disadvantage, figuring she has better equity in a tactical battle.


          The text is the beginning of a campaign to break down the e6-square(19.Nc5? Bxh2+)

19…Qd6 20.f4 (See diagram # 131)


         Again both sisters are seeking the most complicated route. But Black’s position finally have been cohesive after the judicious retreat 20…Bg7. Then after 21.Be4 an interesting positional problem arises. Black doesn’t want to allow f4-f5, so she should play 21…f5 22.Bf3 0-0 23.Bd2 Rfe8, after which she is ready for e6-e5. The point is that the Black pawn on f5 stops White from sealing the e-file with her bishop on e4.

21.Bxf7+ Ke7

          Not 21…Kxf7? 22.Bxf4 Bxf4 23.Rxf4+ Qxf4 24.Rf1 and the White queen and knight combo will be deadly.

22.Bxf4 Bxf4 23.Rxf4

          Judit breaks through on e6 after all, at the cost of the Exchange. At first, White’s threats seem overwhelming, but she has to watch out for the potential queen exchanges and threats on the long diagonal.

23…Qxf4 24.Qxe6+ Kf8 25.Re1 Qg5

         In turn, each sister threatens total destruction (See diagram # 132).



         Later Judit found the subtle 26.Re2! Then 26…Rd8 27.h4! Qxh4 28.Rf2! Now on 28…Bd5 White has either 29.Qg6 or 29.Qe5 and Black is in trouble.


         The threat was 27…Re5. 26…Kg7 would not have helped.  But the text prepares the vicious sequence 27.Re5 Bc8! and wins! Note also that if White tries instead 27.Rf1 then 27…Kg7 is strong as 28…Qe3+ is coming.

27. Bg6 Bd5 28.Nxd4 Bxe6 29.Nxe6+ Kg8 30.Nxg5 hxg5 31.Re5

         Judit has two pawns for the Exchange, and intends to clean out her opponent’s remaining pawns.

31…Rc8 32.d4 Rc1+ 33.Kg2 Rd1

         The arrival of the rook on the seventh rank ensures the draw.

34.Rxg5 Rd2+ 35.Kf3  Rhxh2 36.Bd3+ Kf7 37.Ke3 Rxb2 38.Bxb5 Kf6 39.Rc5 Rb3+ 40.Bd3 Rh1 41.Rf5+ Ke6 42.Rf3 Kd5 43.Rf5+ Kd6 44.Rf6+ Kd5. Draw.

        Abbreviated comments belong to the eye-witness of this event, Michael Rohde.

        The approach of many young and talented female players to chess life gives hope of seeing new stars in this field. One can say: the more men play, the better it will be for women’s chess!