Susan Polgar's dream comeback

The US women's "Dream Team" made history at the Chess Olympiad in Calvià, Mallorca (Spain) by capturing the first ever Olympic medal for the United States. The women's section consisted of 87 teams from around the world and represented the strongest Women’s Olympiad since its inception in 1924.

11/11/2004 – The US women's team made history at the Chess Olympiad by capturing Silver, the first ever Olympic medal for the United States. The player and driving force behind this success was Susan Polgar, who came out of a eight-year hiatus with a stunning performance. ChessBase

Interview with Susan Polgar in Calvià

ChessBase*: Susan, I think just about all chess fans from around the world know about the US Women’s Dream Team in this Olympiad. Could you tell us how everything started?*

Susan Polgar: Back about two years ago, the then Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation Mr. Frank Niro approached me about helping US chess. He told me an example of what one person like Mia Hamm can do for US women’s soccer when her team won the 1999 World Cup. We also discussed many other issues to help US Chess.

At this point in time, I was living in the United States for about eight years. My children were born here. I have retired from chess after 1996 and I have accomplished everything I could in chess. I have been the number one ranked player in the world. I have won many Olympic Gold medals. I have won multiple World Championships. I broke through many gender barriers. I thought there was nothing left in chess that I would want. But this idea intrigued me. In addition, after seeing so much turmoil in the game, I wanted to do something to help my fellow chess players. So after a month of very difficult consideration, I decided to do it.

So the first thing I did was recruit my best friend Paul Truong to help me launch a serious US Olympiad Training Program. After he agreed to do it, I immediately switched federation from Hungary to USA. Many well known companies such as ChessBase, World Chess Network, and IBM, etc. stepped in to help us. The Susan Polgar Foundation and the Kasparov Chess Foundation are the main sponsors of the team. To make a long story short, what you see here is nearly two years of sweat and tears.

CB*: How do you think your team has done so far?*

Susan: Of course we can always do better. But we are still in contention for a medal after 11 rounds. That is very important. I am very proud of my teammates, the captain, the head coach and coach. We have worked very hard and we will give it our best shot in the last three critical rounds. This has been a total team effort.

CB: We heard that you originally decided not to play against Hungary today. What made you change your mind?

I have to say that this was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I said to the team captain Paul Truong before going to Mallorca that I will NOT play against Hungary. That was my condition. No matter that I live in the United States for around ten years and I am now a US citizen, I will always be a Hungarian. I am proud of my country and I am proud of what my sisters and I have done for Hungarian chess. Nothing can ever change that.

Unfortunately, there is something much bigger that I must deal with. My sole purpose of coming back to chess is to help US chess and then chess worldwide. If the US team can bring home the first ever medal, it will give a big boost to chess in this country. It can help bring in a lot of sponsorships for chess and chess players. This will benefit my colleagues. If we would have faced Hungary in the early rounds, I would definitely sit out. But when we face each other in round 12, what can I do? I cannot allow my personal feelings to stand in the way of the welfare of countless chess players out there. I see so many chess players struggle to make a living in the game. I must do everything I can to change that. I must do everything I can to help them.

I cried all night. It was a very painful decision for me. But just as I had to face my sisters in the 1992 World Rapid and World Blitz World Championships, we had no choice. We had to play. I hope that everyone can understand my decision. This is for the best interest of chess. As an ambassador for chess, I have to do what is best for the game.

CB: I can see that you are quite distraught. There are a lot of people here playing for other teams – Alexei [Shirov] for Spain, Tiviakov for Holland, and just look at the US teams: Onischuk, Shabalov, Goldin, Kaidanov, Novikov, Gulko, all ex-patriots, and even your team: Krush, Zatonskih. Isn't that completely normal these days?

Maybe, but for me it is not so simple, especially since we have to actually play the Hungarians directly today.

CB: Let's talk about your performance here. You started out very slowly but you have picked up the pace in the last few rounds. What changed?

I had never played with the 90/30 time control. I had a very difficult time with it in the beginning. I was in constant time pressure. I think I am more used to it now.

CB: What was it like facing Xie Jun and Chiburdanidze after so many years?

I have great admiration and respect for Xie Jun and Maia Chiburdanidze. They were both great World Champions. They have done so much for chess in their native China and Georgia respectively. It was wonderful to see and play against both of them in this Olympiad. It brings back old memories. I was also very proud of my win against Maia in this tournament.

GM Polgar, Susan – GM Chiburdanidze, Maia [A17]
Olympiad, 20.10.2004 – Round 6
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 c5 7.b4 b6 8.Bb2 d6 9.g4! A psychologically devastating move. 9...Bb7 10.g5 Nh5 11.Rg1 e5 12.Bh3 Nf4 13.Bf5 g6 14.Nxe5!!The key move that took an incredible amount of calculation. 14...Nxe2 15.Nxf7!! Another great move. 15...Nxc3 16.Nh6+ Kg7 17.Bxc3+ Rf6 18.Bxf6+ Qxf6 19.gxf6+ Kxh6 20.Be6? 20. Rb1! then Rb3 then Rh3#. This would be a much nicer ending of the game. 20...Nc6 21.Bd5 Rf8 22.f7 Nd8 23.Bxb7 Nxb7 24.Rg3 Rxf7 25.Re3 Nd8 26.b5 Rf4 27.d3 d5 28.Re7 dxc4 29.dxc4 Nf7 30.Rd1 Ng5 31.Rxa7 Rxc4 32.Ra6 Rc2 33.Rxb6 c4 34.a4 Ra2 35.Ra6 Nf3+ 36.Kf1 Nd2+ 37.Rxd2 Rxd2 38.Rc6 Rc2 39.b6 1–0.

CB: All three of you won your titles under the classical time controls?

As I have often said, the classical World Championship should never be mixed with the Knock-Out World Championship. They are very different, like the sun and the moon. Anything can happen in a 2-game knock-out while you must be the best player to win the classical World Championship. Just look at the results of the last three ever classical World Champions Maia Chiburdanidze, Xie Jun and me here in Calvia. We have three of the highest board one performances in this Olympiad and all of us are no longer playing chess seriously.

CB: So you are not happy with the FIDE cycle as it stands?

By combining the titles, FIDE has cheapened the title of World Champion and it is a big mistake. As good of a player as Ponomariov or Kasimdzhanov, do you think any chess fan can put them in the same category as Garry Kasparov or Kramnik? This is why there is so much confusion in the World Championship cycle.

CB: And what do we do about it?

It is not too late for FIDE to fix this terrible error and separate the World Championships. I consider Kramnik to be the last classical World Champion. But Kramnik needs to play Garry Kasparov. The world wants to see the Kasparov – Kramnik rematch. This is in the best interest of chess.

There is nothing wrong with having separate World Championships. In tennis, players play on grass, clay, hard court and some times even carpet. Some tournaments are indoor and some are outdoor. Why not have separate World Championships? Why do we have to destroy the legitimacy of the World Championships in the past 100 years or so?

Interview with Susan Polgar – Part 2

ChessBase: Congratulations on your superb performance on board one. You took the Gold for the best overall performance and you also had the most points scored at the Women’s Olympiad. You were second in best percentage on board one playing all 14 games. What is your assessment of your personal performance and that of the US teams?

Susan Polgar: Thank you very much! Overall, I think I performed as our captain and I expected and had hoped for. It took me a while to get used to the 90 30 time control. Once I got a hang of it, I was on my way.

CB: Was this your best Olympiad ever?

I always did pretty well at Olympiads. In Calvià I had some personal records I wanted to preserve, and I successfully kept all of them. I played all 14 games on board one without a break in four consecutive Olympiads that I participated over a span of 16 years. I now have a 56 consecutive game scoring streak without a single loss. In fact, I have never lost a single game in the Olympiads. In each of these four Olympiads, I captured both team and individual medals.

CB: That is very impressive, especially your "comeback" after I think seven years where you were busy with personal and family matters – your two children – and had no time for competitive chess. How did it feel to be back on the road?

I am very glad that some members of the "Mommy’s Club" – Xie Jun, Pia Cramling and myself – showed that we still have a lot of chess left in us. Xie Jun and I finished first and second in the best overall performance of the Women’s Olympiad race. I took the overall best performance honor, but it is fair to say that Xie Jun took it easy in the later rounds since China was out in front. It is clear that she is still an incredible player. In fact, we even joked around that we still have a few tricks left to show the younger generation. We are not ready to set sail into the sunset yet. I was also very glad to see players such as Xie Jun, Maia Chiburdanidze and Pia Cramling, etc. again after so many years.

CB: What about your teammates, and the performance of the US "Dream Team"?

I am half disappointed and half happy with our team results. We needed this medal to help boost US Chess. It created a lot of excitement in America. It also paid off dividends for our sponsors especially the KCF for believing in us and sponsoring us. It was nearly two years of hard work finally paying off. This was the first ever Women’s Team medal for the US Women and I am glad I could bring home the first ever individual Gold for America as well.

CB: The team got Silver...

I think we could be in a much better race for the Gold medal if we just played a little better as a team and had a little more luck. We lost a few points that were in our hands. We had the same match point as China, one fewer loss, higher Buchholz points, and we defeated the unbeatable Chinese team in our head to head match. But at the end, we ran out of rounds to catch up and I have to congratulate the wonderful performance by the Chinese team. I see a very bright future for Zhao Xue. She is very talented.

CB: What is the secret of success for this US Women’s Olympiad Team?

For one, chemistry! This team spent a lot of time together in the past 18 months. We worked hard. We learned to know each other well. In addition, we had a team captain and a head coach that also know and understand us. We had a good chief theoretician as well. We went to Calvia to do a job. We took a very professional approach. It was a full team effort.

CB: You have shown that you are still in top form. Do you plan to play active chess again or will you disappear for another 8-9 years?

Well, I am not going to play in a regular full time schedule. My two young children are on the top of my priorities. However, I will probably play in very selective events if the circumstances are right. I would definitely like to play very interesting matches to promote chess, such as the one I played against former World Champion Anatoly Karpov.

CB: Give us some names, of some people you would like to play against?

There could be many interesting matches. One should definitely be against Xie Jun. I think we are both for this and I think it can help boost chess and relations for both China and the United States. I did not like the way the way it ended last time in the hand of FIDE. Another one is a rematch against Karpov to settle the 3-3 tie. This was the first ever match between two World Champions of opposite gender, and it created a lot of excitement and interest for US Chess. I would also not mind to play a match against the current FIDE Knockout Women’s World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova. I think the contrast of our styles would create a very intriguing battle for the fans.

Another idea would be against US top player Gata Kamsky. We left chess a number of years ago and now we are both back and it would be nice to have the number one US male and female player to play a match against each other.

But of course the one premier player for a match would be against Garry Kasparov. I have very high respect for Garry. He is not only a dynamic chess player but a dynamic person as well. I think this match can generate interest for US Chess the way Fischer-Spassky match did in 1972. Of course I would be the big underdog, because Garry is one of the greatest World Champions ever. But it would definitely be worth it. Other fantasy ideas that people have often asked me are matches against my sister Judit or Bobby Fischer in Fischer Random. My answer would be yes on both only if the conditions are right.

CB: And what about your immediate plans?

I will be very active in continuing to promote chess in the United States and maybe worldwide. I have many lectures, simuls and promotional events planned in the upcoming 12 months. I will have at least three books coming out next year: World Champion’s Guide to Chess and World Champion’s Guide to Tactics by Random House, and Breaking Through by Everyman Chess. I also have a line of chess products that will be available soon. Some of the proceeds will be donated to the Susan Polgar Foundation to help promote chess for young people of all ages with emphasis for girls. I will also be doing a lot of fundraising for the Susan Polgar Foundation. We need funding to fulfill a lot of our initiatives to boost chess.

CB: What else?

I will continue to run my chess center in Queens, NY. I have many students and I enjoy teaching them. My chess center runs tournament weekly and we have a special Super Blitz tournament every month with many Grandmasters taking part in the past. I also have my all-girls tournament for the best young girls of America, the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls. It will be taking place in Phoenix, Arizona in August 2005. In addition, I plan to organize a number of events including some Fischer Random tournaments. I want to do a lot more for chess. I am not afraid to take a step forward to make good examples for the younger generations. It is our duty to preserve the integrity of this game and bring it to a higher level.

CB: What do you think about the upcoming match between Kasparov and Kasimdzhanov?

I think that is just the beginning of the unification process. As I said before, I think a rematch between Garry and Vladimir [Kramnik] is a must for the good of chess. Garry deserves to have the long overdue rematch. Their drastic differences in playing styles would make it a very exciting match.

CB: Who would you consider the best players in the world now?

I think the top three are clearly Kasparov, Anand and Kramnik. I give a slight edge to Kasparov and Kramnik in standard time control and Anand in rapid. He is just a phenomenal player in fast time control. Even at his age, no one can ever count out Garry becoming a World Champion again. I was extremely impressed with Garry’s knowledge and calculation skills when he was in New York to help the US Women’s Olympiad Team. I learned a lot from him. His feel for chess positions is extraordinary. And then the next group of players is very close, players such as Leko, Judit [Polgar], Morozevich, Topalov, Shirov, Svidler, Adams, Ivanchuk, Grischuk, Ponomariov, Bareev, etc.

CB: Who would you consider to be the future of Women’s Chess?

There are many young talented young female players out there. The question is how motivated will they be to continue to train hard to reach the highest level. I would say these young players have a lot of potentials: Humpy Koneru, Zhao Xue, Tatiana Kosintseva, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Nana Dzagnidze, Kateryna Lahno, and Anna Muzychuk, etc. There are many more.


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