“I chose chess myself and then I taught the moves to my sisters, Sofia and Judit. I fell in love with chess as a little girl,” says Susan Polgar in this interview with P.K. Ajith Kumar.
One pleasant afternoon in Chennai, a few days before the rains arrived, Susan Polgar looked perfectly home at the lobby of Hyatt Regency. There were huge chess pieces all around the lobby, decked up for the World chess championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen.
Susan was happy in such a surrounding as she sat down for an interview with Sportstar. And it was a pleasure to listen to one of legends in women’s chess.
Susan became the World No.1 when she was just 15, she has been a World champion and she was the first female to earn the Grandmaster title, by getting norms from tournaments. She is a winner of 10 medals at the Chess Olympiad.
The eldest of the incredible Polgar sisters, Susan is in Chennai as a television commentator for the World championship.
Question: Your father, Laszlo, was trying to prove his theory that geniuses are not born, but made…
Answer: Yes, but he did not choose chess for me, or for my sisters. I chose chess myself and then I taught the moves to my sisters, Sofia and Judit. I fell in love with chess as a little girl. I remember being taken to a chess club by my father in Budapest, when I was four. I felt very proud because I thought I had grown up, being surrounded by all those men.
You must be proud of Judit, your little sister. She has no parallels, in any sport…
Yes, I am proud to be Judit’s first coach. It was from me that she learnt her opening moves. I must have taught her for thousands of hours. What she has achieved is amazing. To do so well against men is not easy.
She has beaten them all — Kasparov, Anand, Karpov…
She is a very strong player. I think among today’s players, she has the best attacking game, for male or female, but she is not strong in other areas compared to other top men players. That’s why she has not been able to challenge them for the World title so far.
Judit has chosen to stay away from the women’s competition. But do you think she might regret it one day, that she could not become the World champion even for once?
I don’t know, maybe she would. She still has the time to play in a Women’s World championship, though. I hope she does it, once.
You became the World champion in 1996, but did not play in another World title…
Because I wasn’t given an opportunity by the world chess governing body, FIDE, after I beat Xie Jun of China in the 1996 match. I had become pregnant and the 1998 match had to be postponed. Then I could not agree with the conditions of FIDE for a match in 1999, and they took the title away from me. I went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Lausanne. Then FIDE agreed to pay $ 25,000. That of course is no compensation for the World title.
I was at the receiving end of FIDE’s strange actions before that too. In 1986, FIDE had given an additional 100 Elo points to all female players except me, citing the reason that I had gained by playing in men’s tournaments. That move by FIDE defied reason.
Now you are chairing FIDE’s Commission for Women’s Chess.
Yes and I want to ensure that all chess-playing women are treated sympathetically.
The build-up to this World championship has been remarkable…
Yes and that is great for world chess. Carlsen has taken the world by storm and his presence alone generated a lot of interest, right across the globe, much like Bobby Fischer’s presence in the 1972 World championship against Boris Spassky. The fact that he is taking on Anand in Chennai, the champion’s hometown spiced it up further. Over one billion people are estimated to follow this World championship, on television, in print, and on the Internet.
Both Carlsen and Anand are great ambassadors for chess. I have known Anand for a long time as we were both born in the same year. He is fantastic, a complete natural. Nobody could play chess as fast as a young Anand could.
Carlsen too is phenomenal. He is just too difficult to beat. That is remarkable for someone who doesn’t do too much work in the opening theory. He reminds me of Spassky that way. I can’t recall any World champion without exhaustive knowledge in opening.
Are you impressed with Koneru Humpy, India’s biggest hope after Anand?
She is quite good. She is a potential women’s World champion, but somehow she stumbles in the final hurdle always. She needs to be psychologically even stronger, I think.
The other Polgar sister, Sofia, is not much into chess these days…
She is working with Judit on the Judit Polgar Chess Foundation. She is also into arts, she paints, you know. And she has kids to look after. It is never easy for women, you know.
Do they still talk about the Polgar sisters back in Hungary?
They do, especially about Judit as she still lives there. I am now based in the United States and Sofia is in Israel. Our achievements have been celebrated by the Hungarian media. We were made to feel special when we won the Chess Olympiad in 1988, shocking Russia.
You have a fabulous record at the Olympiad, almost flawless…
Yes, I didn’t lose even one of the 56 games I played at the Olympiad. And I cherish my 10 Olympiad medals.