Queen who exposed the arrogance of kings
Oliver Moody

Judit Polgár has blood on her hands. The most successful woman in chess has beaten Garry Kasparov, Boris Spassky and even Magnus Carlsen, the present world champion and the game’s only bona fide celebrity.

Now that juggernaut career is coming to a stop. At the age of 38, after almost 25 years as the women’s world No 1 player and long stints in the World Chess Federation’s top ten, Polgár has chosen to announce her retirement in The Times.

The Hungarian will not go gentle into that good night. In her last interview as a player at the world’s top table, she lamented the struggle it had taken her to break into a club still dominated and defined by men. In a game in which many male grandmasters still insist that women do not have the logical wiring or the belligerence to succeed, Polgár has stood out like a third sex.

At one tournament a man asked if he could have a picture taken with her. As they posed for the shot, he said: “Somebody told me that the best player is Hou Yifan [the Chinese women’s world champion] and I said ‘Come on, it’s Judit Polgár’ and he said ‘Come on, she’s a man’.”

Even her coach once told her she was “an exception, not a girl”. “I got this down the years,” Polgár said. “There were men, women and Judit Polgár.”

Chess remains a redoubt of sexism. Polgár blames a worldwide reluctance to let girls compete against boys. “The problem is in chess that all the girls should be not competing between themselves — they should always compete in a higher level so they can improve faster,” she said.

Most observers, Polgár among them, rate her as the strongest female player in the history of chess. In her view, the world may have to wait some time before it sees her like again.

Asked when chess would have its first female world champion, she said: “I hope in the next 20 years. But I’m not sure she’s been born yet.”

She describes her childhood as a kind of “educational research project”. Polgár’s father, Laszlo, took his three daughters out of school to make them a “living example” of how women could break men’s adamantine grip on chess if only they had the right upbringing.

The experiment worked better than he could ever have hoped. At 15 years and four months, Judit became the youngest grandmaster in history, beating a record set by Bobby Fischer three decades earlier. This was the very same Bobby Fischer who once told an interviewer: “They’re weak, all women. They’re stupid compared to men. They shouldn’t play chess, you know.”

If the old prejudices are still an animating force, one thing has changed dramatically in chess over the past quarter of a century.

“When I travelled to tournaments at 15, I would take a chess board, chess pieces and about ten kilograms of notes, and I was always analysing by myself,” Polgár said. “In the last ten years it’s a huge difference. Players aren’t taking chess boards with them any more. They’re not only using engines [chess simulators], but so many competitions are driven by who has the best computer.

Now married with a son and daughter, aged ten and eight, Polgár finds it increasingly hard to summon the laser-like concentration that drove her to the top. She is retiring to focus on the Judit Polgár Chess Foundation, which aims to spread chess through schools, and to spend more time with her children.

There is still time for one last hurrah, though. The Hungarian team is chasing a medal at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, and Polgár has won all four of her opening games.

For now, there will be no relenting. “You have to be better than the other one,” she said. “You have to be a winner. You have to be more motivated, you have to work more, and if you lose you have to stand up and fight again and again and again and again.”

Source: http://www.thetimes.co.uk

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