LULWA SHALHOUB | Published — Thursday 25 January 2018
JEDDAH: The first woman to break the gender barrier in chess has challenged Saudi women to take up the game.
“Chess is available for everyone,” the Hungarian-American grandmaster Susan Polgar told Arab News. “It doesn’t limit your dress code and your physical strength doesn’t matter. Gender or age are not limitations.”
Polgar, 48, was speaking at an event at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, where she played against 10 international opponents simultaneously in a two-hour exhibition — and beat them all.
The grandmaster, who was ranked the world’s top female chess player at the age of 15, challenged a Russian grandmaster herself when she was 4 years old. She lost — but it was a memorable and educational experience. “Hopefully, I will give the same pleasant lifetime memories to my opponents here, regardless of the result,” she said.
Polgar’s visit comes a few weeks after the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz chess championship in late December, which she described as “a fantastic opportunity.”
“It is fortunate that the government decided to understand the value of chess and support it with the championship last year. This is a chance for all Saudis, including women.”
Polgar, a five-time Olympic champion, believes chess teaches people to be objective and to look at both sides of the coin. “I think a shortcoming in society is that people think too much only from their point of view and don’t look at the whole picture or from the other side’s perspective,” she said.
Entering the male-dominated world of chess was challenging, but it did not deter Polgar. She paved the way for other female chess players by becoming the first woman to qualify for the Men’s World Chess Championship. Initially, she was not allowed to enter, but the World Chess Federation changed its policy to include women.
“I think there are still very few women playing chess and, therefore, there are only a few good women players. If you go to a chess club, you will see that about 90-100 percent of members are men,” she said. Specialized women’s championships can be empowering “as some women don’t feel socially comfortable in the environment — being one of the very few women in a room full of men.”