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Lifestyle Women


Lifestyle Women Life

On the black-and-white battlefield with the worlds greatest female chess player



By Rachel Halliwell
5 DECEMBER 2015 2:00PM

hess has long been a sport plagued by charges of sexism. Earlier this year, British Grandmaster Nigel Short drew blood on the
black-and-white battlefield by declaring that female players simply dont have the right brains for the game. They are, he said,
hard-wired very differently; comments which echoed his Russian chess rival, Garry Kasparovs controversial assertion that women,
by their nature, are not exceptional chess players: they are not great fighters.
As someone who has beaten Short at the board (with a record of eight classical wins to three), Judit Polgar - widely acknowledged as the
worlds greatest female player, and the only woman to qualify for a World Chess Championship tournament - was held up as living proof
that theyre both wrong. Only a simpleton, Short bit back, would believe Polgar's personal score against him disproved his general
point, that fundamentally different cerebral structures [exist] between the sexes.
Last week, however, the most comprehensive neuroscientific study of its kind concluded otherwise: after analysis of 1,400 brain scans,
researchers at Tel Aviv University declared: human brains cannot be categorised into two distinct classes - male and female brain.

Gary Kasparov playing Judit Polgar in 2001


Polgar, now head coach for the Hungarian mens team, is unsurprised; she has always insisted that at the very highest levels of the sport,
competitors gender is irrelevant. Rather, she believes the problem is that female players are actually held back by the success they find
at womens tournaments.

To beat men at chess you have to constantly play against them, which cant be achieved if you limit yourself to being satisfied with
winning ladies only tournaments, explains Polgar, who retired from competition last year, after 26 years at the top of her game. I was
playing against men from being a small child. My dream was always to beat every other player and become world champion.
But with men dominating the highest echelons of the sport, that goal only becomes achievable if you focus on picking them off, one
after the other. Polgar saw off a sizeable number: making it to number eight in world rankings.
I came close, she says, but in the end that ultimate goal never became a reality for me. One day I would love to see a woman take that
title. But unless women-only competitions are demolished then Im afraid I dont think the guys have too much to worry about.
Now 39, Polgar began playing at five and hit the competition circuits a year later, eschewing the ghetto of female events from the start.
She became the youngest player of either sex to be awarded the title of Grandmaster, aged just 15.
Polgar is the only female player to have never taken part in a women-only competition and the only woman to ever make it into the
worlds top ten chess players. Its good to see other ladies progressing, she says, acknowledging Chinas Hou Yifan, who overtook her
in the womens rankings after she retired.

Judit Polgar at the Linares Chess tournament


But unfortunately we are still far away from another woman being in the world top ten. I would love to see another lady playing at the

toughest and highest level, but for that I am still having to wait.
Sadly, she wont see any women playing at the 7th London Chess Classic - the climax of the international 2015 Grand Chess Tour - which
began at Olympia on Friday and culminates next Sunday. Every contender is male and Polgar remains the only woman to have ever
competed in it.
At the highest levels everyone is an individual, she says. When you reach the very top, your own character and your vision as to how
to play the game is all that matters. There are no male or female traits just brilliant players, who develop different ways of fighting.
But to join those elite rank you must, says Polgar, be able to focus on the game above all else. It has to be everything to you you have to
love it so much that you dont mind giving everything else up and focus only on that one thing. You have to start playing at a very young
Though Polgar lives in a smart part of Budapest, with her veterinary surgeon husband Gusztav Font, their son, Oliver, 11 and daughter
Hanna, nine, chess didnt make me a millionaire. she says; explaining that she prized her privacy more than the lucrative sponsorship
deals that could have made her a fortune.
She has taught both children to play, but harbours no hopes that her daughter will become the woman who might one day surpass her
own success as a chess player. Its very good for our daughters to play chess, she says. Its great for their education it helps develop
cognitive skills and fine tune skills in vision and thinking. Mastering it can also give them enormous self confidence and a great sense of
See, girls can play chess! Six-year-old punches the air after beating Norwegian chess champ

But if you want them to become truly great at this sport, then everything else must come second. They have to be passionate, to love it
more than anything else because only then will they be happy to be pushed and pushed. You cannot underestimate how hard you must
work to achieve something special in this sport.
My daughter enjoys to play and has competed in a few tournaments. She is competitive, but she doesnt want it to be her life and I
respect that. Shes a regular kid with many other interests.
Polgar is the first to point out that her own phenomenal success had less to do with natural brilliance at the sport than but her parents
decision, while she was still in the womb, that they would raise her to become a chess champion.
Laszlo and Klara Polgar were players themselves who believed that 'genius was something that any child could achieve, in the right
environment. They refused to send their three daughters of which Judit is the youngest to school, and instead taught them at home;
with chess, universally considered the ultimate intellectual challenge, at the heart of their studies as their means of proving this theory.
All three girls did indeed become chess champions the eldest, Zsuzsa, a Grandmaster and womans world champion, while middle
sister, Zsofia, achieved the title of International Chess Master.
Judit says she never felt looked down on by the men she played throughout her 26-year career as the worlds top female player. I
proved to them that I was in their league by playing them and beating them on a regular basis. I didnt experience sexism because I put
myself in their arena and proved to them I had every right to be there.

Judit Polgar


Of course, the male players say I was an exception and in many ways I was, because I was raised to be someone who could beat them.
But it would be so great to see another girl giving the men of the chess world a hard time, at a really young age.
The other big problem we have, though, is that only five per cent of chess players are women . There is no balance, so of course men
are going to outweigh women at the top.
To try and redress that balance Polgar is using her 'retirement to focus on further developing a schools programme she started working
on while still competing, with chess used as an educational tool. She hopes to encourage a new generation of players to take up the sport
in schools in an environment where girls will naturally be pitted against boys from the outset.
You cant end women-only competitions overnight. It would have to be a gradual thing. My father, who was my teacher, gave me the
important message, from childhood, that I had to dream about winning at the toughest, highest level possible.
That was one of the things that made it possible for me to even stand a chance of becoming world champion. He gave me a life message
that I think we should give to all our daughters: never consider that there is a limit to what you can achieve as a woman.
While Polgars daughter may not have inherited her passion for chess, she has picked up tools that will prove far more useful. My
attitude to life and my fighting spirit are what she gets from me and Im so very proud of that.

Polgars winning tips

Love what you do - The greatest players will train ten hours a day, without distraction. Being passionate doesnt guarantee success,
but its the greatest motivator there is.
Develop resilience - Learning how handle losing is the key to winning. Defeat should motivate you rather than discourage you.
Surround yourself with positive critics - Listen to those who love you; family and friends have to be able to tell you difficult truths.
Live in the moment - Life cant all be about the end goal, because you may not get there. Make sure you enjoy yourself along the


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