End of an Era


On August 13 Judit Polgar announced that she was retiring from competitive chess.  This came as a shock to most people who follow chess – it certainly came as a shock to me though I have heard on several occasions that Judit wanted to put more emphasis on raising her family.  On her website she said that she was going to spend more time with her children and developing her foundation (The Judit Polgar Chess Foundation promotes pioneering cognitive skills development for school children). 

Judit is often described as the strongest female chess player ever and I have no reason to doubt that assessment.  At the peak of her career, Judit was one of the strongest players of either gender.  Her highest ELO ranking was a staggering 2735 and she was ranked #8 overall in the world in 2005.  According to Wikipedia, she has been the #1 rated female chess player in the world since 1989 (!). Judit typically played in the general tournaments – she actually never competed for the women’s world championship. Over her career, she has defeated a slew of famous players including Magnus Carlsen (the current world #1 and current chess champion), Viswanathan Anand (the previous world #1), Anatoly Karpov, Boris Spassky, … the list goes on and on. [1]

There is a famous anecdote that Gary Kasparov once described Judit as a “circus puppet” and asserted that women chess players should stick to having children. I’m not actually sure where this story comes from – it was relayed by The Guardian in 2002 without further elaboration. The statement is so over the top that I wonder whether it’s actually true.  It’s might be true – chess players are known for making zany statements like this from time to time (Bobby Fischer comes to mind). Perhaps Kasparov was trying to stir up some controversy … who knows. In any case, Kasparov asked for it and he got it.  In 2002 Polgar beat Kasparov and added to her trophy room.  Kasparov was the worlds #1 ranked player at the time. 

Another fascinating aspect of Judit’s chess life is that her father, Laszlo Polgar, apparently decided to use his children to “prove” that geniuses are “made, not born.” He made a conscious effort to train his children in chess starting when they were each very young. Perhaps Laszlo was right, in addition to Judit, her sisters Susan and Sofia are also established chess grandmasters. 

Speaking for myself, Judit has been my favorite active chess player for a while now.  Her style is somewhat of an anachronism – she is known for a hyper aggressive, dramatic playing style.  She often sacrifices pieces trying to gain initiative and attacking positions. For the most part, men’s chess is actually much tamer – many of the best male players are “positional” players who grind out games looking for small advantages which they eventually convert for a win (Alexey Shirov is a counter-example – see below). Stylistically, Judit reminds me a lot of Mikhail Tal – perhaps the greatest chess tactician of all.

Below is a video of one of Judit’s most famous games. In the game Judit plays against Alexey Shirov. The game commentary is by Mato Jelic. If you are interested in learning more about chess or about Judit’s games, Mato’s youtube channel is a great place to start. Among other things, Mato has a great collection of Judit Polgar’s games with commentary. 


[1] Here’s a funny quote from Judit about her sister Susan. “My sister Susan — she was 16 or 17 — said that she never won against a healthy man. After the game, there was always an excuse: ‘I had a headache. I had a stomach ache.’ There is always something.”  

6 thoughts on “End of an Era

  1. Mário Assis Ferreira, Director of “Selfish”, writes in an editorial: “I do not know if it was a revolution, a coup or a military uprising. I do not know if, just as it was a dying regime, exhausted himself in atonement dropping the mere sight of a “Chaimite.
    This type knows nothing but make collective redundancies is with him, when the best deal is to stay in the family, and is still sanding to those who weave.
    Let’s see what the difference between the Portuguese justice that disgrace the citizen who needs it as the case of 112 workers at Casino Estoril, the years pass and nothing and jihadist who cuts the head from a citizen saying is untrue.
    Jihadist shows the world his righteousness bad or good.
    The Portuguese justice doom citizen leading to poverty profiting as banks and governments to come together as a network and it can not prove the deaths caused by them.

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