Chess Games Collections and Tournament Reviews.
The Princess of Chess
Reviewd by the Duke of Brunswick
by Tibor Károlyi (Batsford Chess 2004) £15.99
Buy from: www.amazon.co.uk
T his is one of the most interesting chess books that I have read in a long time. It is the story of rise of Judit Polgar, the best female chess player ever. But it is not only this. Károlyi, a strong Hungarian player and chess trainer, has a close knowledge of the Polgar clan. He has used it to provide a fascinating portrayal of the entire Polgar phenomenon.
Parents and Sisters of Judit.
Károlyi provides little pen portraits of the Polgar family. The mother, Klara Polgar, is an educated woman, “a very charming person… who speaks several languages fluently.” Until Judit’s marriage, Klara accompanied her daughter to most tournaments and gave tremendous support.
The elder sisters of Judit (born 1976) are Zsuzsa (1969) and Zsofia (1974). Zsuzsa and Zsofia were strong players in their own right. Zsuzsa became women’s world champion and Zsofia attained an ELO rating of around 2500. Both Zsuzsa and Zsofia rarely play these days and neither have the ability of Judit to compete at the top level with the very best (above ELO 2700) males.
The father Laszlo Polgar was the driving force behind the Polgar phenomenon. “Whenever I see the girls’ pictures in a chess magazine, I always feel Laszlo’s smaller photo should be on each picture as well. Almost all the ideas and initiatives came from him. He was the one who fought, and he made all the decisions.”
The family used to live in a working class area of Budapest, in the district of Angyalfold. “They owned a shabby house – people in such houses had a modest standard of living. In those days teachers earned around 150 dollars a month …”.
Károlyi maintains that the Polgar sisters grew up with chess as a second language. They were able to calculate variations much better than ordinary players. “ I think that this ability was the most important thing which Laszlo discovered. He also took a tremendous risk in experimenting with his own children. Would you take your children out of school just to prove you have discovered the best way to bring up a child who shows the potential to become an artist in a sophisticated form of puppetry?”
Károlyi maintains that initially the Polgar parents were walking a financial tightrope. They could have fallen badly as they did not have enough money in the bank to provide financial security if their ideas went wrong. But Laszlo Polgar’ faith in his ideas was justified. The Polgar sisters became strong chess players and here lay the road to riches. It would have been unusual if only one of the Polgar sisters had become a strong player. But that all of them should ‘make it’ – this was remarkable and commanded the attention of not just the chess world. The Polgar sisters could command fees for chess tournaments and exhibitions which their male counterparts could only dream of.
Károlyi wishes the Polgars well, but there is a theme which runs through the book which can only be called the trainer’s lament. The Polgar family became extremely successful, “Although it is not typical of them to condemn things just because they are inexpensive, they may not have realised that they were getting very good value for money – it was less than a dollar for an hour’s work.” Evidently the chess trainer’s lot in Hungary is not a happy one More than once the book bemoans the lack of status and money which follow the trainer.
A Shocking Experience
Little titbits in the book always entertain. Károlyi maintains at one point that, something went badly wrong between Hungarian chess society and the Polgars. He had to play Zsofia in the penultimate round of a Budapest Open when both of them were in the running for a prize. Before the game Laszlo Polgar called and offered a draw (Zsofia only needed a draw for an International Master norm) which Károlyi turned the offer down. At the time he was much stronger than Zsofia. Károlyi won the game and was congratulated by a host of people. “The joy that my win created for so many others was shocking to me.” That the success of the Polgars invoked the envy of many in Hungarian chess circles should not have come as a shock. People who are talented and work hard will always be resented by the many who are not talented and do not work hard.
The book is not without faults. It is not divided into chapters, so it is difficult to look up the part of the book you want. There is no list of Judit’s results – even crosstables of the major tournaments would have been a help so we could see failures as well as successes. We would then have been given a picture of how Judit compared with the other players in a tournament and have a guide to her progress overall.
But one thing about this book (and other modern chess books) annoys me above all. The analysis of the games has become dominated by the computer. At some point in the game the annotator turns on the computer and produces extraordinarily deep and complex variations which even strong players will not have seen. As if by irritating contrast, some moves which obviously need comment are passed over. I will give a couple of examples.
J. Polgar - Gutman
OHRA Open, Brussels, 1987
J. Polgar - K. Bischoff
European Championship, 2001
The art of analysis for the average player, of which Alekhine and Botvinnik were conspicuous masters, seems to have disappeared. I would offer these guidelines:
A) Important moments of the game should not be passed by. What may seem to be obvious tactics to a grandmaster should still be mentioned.
B) Notes should be as concise as possible, highlighting the important moments of the game.
C) Twenty move variations which neither player saw should be cut to a minimum. Only when they are of crucial importance to the game should they be indulged.
Judit Polgar’s Combinative Brilliance
One thing that shines through the book is the talent of Judit. Her games are rarely dull.
I finish with two games which give a flavour of the way Judit plays chess and serve as the best advertisement for the book. When you pay money for a chess book you want to see first class, exciting chess. Here you will not be disappointed.
Play through sample Games : MILOS v POLGAR | POLGAR v BERKES