From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, chess was a popular social pastime for both men and women. However, men dominated the game for centuries. In the 1970s, more women appeared on the chess scene.
Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. It is a title awarded to world-class chess players by the sport’s governing body, FIDE.
Based on information from Wikipedia, as of June 2013, there are 1,380 living grandmasters worldwide. Of that number, there are 1,353 males and 27 females.
Among the 27 women, there are the amazing Polgar sisters of Hungary, Susan and Judit, grandmasters, and Sofia, international master. All three women have notched significant tournament victories over men.
Susan Polgar, born April 19, 1969, in Budapest, is a Hungarian-American chess grandmaster. She is an Olympic chess champion, a chess teacher, coach, writer and promoter. She is head of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Webster University. Also, she coached the 2011 national championship college chess team. Susan is more famous for being a child prodigy at chess, for being the first female to earn the grandmaster title through tournament play and for breaking a number of gender barriers.
In 1984, Susan became the top-ranked woman player in the world and remained in the top three for the next 28 years. In October 2005, she had an Elo rating of 2577, the second-ranked woman in the world at that time.
In 1997, Susan founded the Polgar Chess Center in Forest Hills, N.Y. In 2002, she established the Susan Polgar Foundation, which gives chess training to children, especially girls. Through her foundation, she sponsors several organizations for girls. She holds the position today as co-chairperson of the Commission for Women’s Chess for the World Class Federation (FIDE).
Sofia Polgar, born Nov. 2, 1974 in Budapest, is an international master. She started playing chess at age 4 and played professionally for more than 20 years. After her first Hungarian championship at age 5, she won gold and silver medals in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Greece. In 1989, at age 15, she won first place with 8.5 points out of 9 games in “Magistrale di Roma.”
This achievement is a record in chess history compared to any other open chess tournament. In 1997, at the Yerevan Olympiad in Armenia, she played all 14 games, scoring 10 points and won another gold medal. As a member of her team, as well as playing solo, she achieved the title of international master.
From 1999 to 2001, Sofia worked for Kasparov Chess Club, the Israeli branch of the international start-up company. She served in various capacities: co-editor of the news section, graphic designer, private instructor and chess community builder. Through the company’s website, she gave pre-recorded and online chess lessons, organized first-class international events and provided professional live chess commentaries. Currently residing in Toronto, Sofia is a chess teacher, artist and freelance designer.
Judit Polgar, born July 23, 1976 in Budapest is a Hungarian grandmaster. She is reputed to be the strongest female chess player in history. In 1997, Judit achieved the title of grandmaster at the age of 15 and 4 months, the youngest person to do so up until that time.
As of May 2013, Judit still ranked first in the world FIDE ratings list with an Elo rating of 2696. She is the only woman on FIDE’s top 100 players and has been ranked as high as eighth in 2005. She has won or shared first place in eight chess championships, having played in various locations.
Judit is the only woman to have won a game from a current world No. 1 player. Although she has defeated nine current or former world champions in either rapid or classical chess, her goal is to become world champion.
Judit and her sisters were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father, Laszlo Polgar, whose goal was to prove that children could make exceptional achievement if trained in a specialist subject at an early age. The girls were home-schooled by their parents, both teachers, thus they spent many hours in training. In this ambitious endeavor, Polgar and the girls have surely succeeded.
Congratulations to these women and other women who have been successful in this highly competitive game.
Women’s Watch is a cooperative writing effort of the local chapters of the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women.