Monday, November 12, 2007

Chess Interview: Judit Polgar: 'my goal is to raise my children so that they can be happy, successful '

She is far and away the strongest female chess player that ever lived.

[Note: She has always declined to play in competitions limited to females, which is why she never won the Women's World Championship.]

At times she was in the top ten of the overall world rankings, but in the last three years, due to the birth of two children, has dropped back a little in her preparation and results. But as everyone can see from her recent tournaments this remarkable lady is on the rebound.

Interviewing Judith Polgar [born July 23, 1976, in Budapest, Hungary] implies some kind of caution due to her merits she has achieved. Now she has two children aged three and one, and motherhood is the most important thing for her. She is known for having broken many clich├ęs in a world traditionally ruled by men. She was the first person who achieved the title of Grandmaster at the age of fifteen.

[Note: Bobby Fischer was the first, in 1958, when he became history’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 15 years, 6 months, and 1 day. He held the record until 1991, when Polgar broke it. When Fischer became world champion in 1972, before chess ratings “inflation,” there were 88 grandmasters. As of July, 2005, there were more than 900. Link:]

Polgar starts playing today in the Champion's League held in Vitoria with the difficult aim of turning the tables with Veselin Topalov as the big favourite.

El Correo: What has led you to compete in the Champion's League Tournament?

Judit Polgar: I received an invitation some months ago and I thought it was very interesting. So far I had never taken part in a tournament which combines both charity and the professional side.

Correo: What are your expectations?

Polgar: I want to play well, and to achieve one of the highest scores.

Correo: What is your situation professionally?

Polgar: Currently I’m ranked number 20 in the world.

[Note: Current Rating: 2708. Highest Rating: 2735. Highest Ranking: No. 8. She is the only woman on FIDE’s Top 100 Players list.]

In the last three years my children, Hanna and Oliver, were born. I had to stop working during my pregnancy, when I gave birth and also after that. All this has led my game through a bad patch, which I’m trying to recover from. It's important to take part in this kind of tournaments so that I can work myself into the top ten again.

Correo: At the end of the 90s you stated that you would rather be happy than a star in the chess world. Do you still think the same?

Polgar: Yes, but I'm aware of the fact that playing chess is part of my happiness too. In the last years I got married and I’ve become a mother. Now I've got a stable life and I'm very happy with it.

Correo: It must not be easy to combine motherhood with such a high level of competition.

Polgar: I'm happy with both and, even if it's difficult to organise personal and professional life, I try to do my best.

Correo: Your father, Lazlo Polgar, an expert teacher, educated his daughters out of the school. He had a particular way of thinking: “Geniuses are made, not born”. Can intelligence be taught?

Polgar: Yes, I believe in what my father said. It's always important to focus on an area of education. In fact, I think it should be a compulsory subject. In Brooklyn they carried out an experiment which consisted in initiating problematic children in chess. As they improved in chess, their marks did too. This is only an example of how much can chess help.

Correo: Can playing chess help solve the everyday problems as Gary Kasparov claims in a book?

Polgar: Yes, I think that playing chess can be a good way of training your mind to face everyday life. Playing chess has many aspects that can be useful in everyday situations like planning, concentration and combinations. You learn to win but also to lose and to be creative.

Correo: Can there be a female chess revolution in this century?

Polgar: Right now the part played by women is changing everywhere. Personally, I wouldn’t look at chess from the female point of view but rather observe the evolution that it has had in every country. India and China are improving by leaps and bounds and it will be their chess players who will lead the revolution of the XXI century.

Correo: What feeling do you get when you are described as the best [female] chess player of all time?

Polgar: I’ve been playing since I was five and I have got used to the big names. It’s something I no longer consider important. It will be something to tell my grandchildren but nothing more.

Correo: Has Judit Polgar ever had any idols?

Polgar: I have never had idols in chess. As time went by I followed some players more than others, some moves, some moments...

Correo: How would you define your game style?

Polgar: I am known to be a very aggressive player, an attacker. It’s more difficult to be one when playing black, but I try to develop that aspect with them too.

Correo: Do you identify yourself with any particular chess piece?

Polgar: The knight is my favourite.

Correo: Are glances in chess really as important as they say?

Polgar: To me, chess is a psychological game and glances are a part of this personal game. But I don’t think they have the importance everybody keeps trying to give them.

Correo: What do you think about the controversy generated during the last years about whether chess is or not a sport?

Polgar: This is a question that has appeared in many countries. One can say that in the last decades chess has become more of a sport than of a science. I see it from an artistic point of view.

Correo: What kind of hobbies does a grandmaster have?

Polgar: I like nature, animals and going to the theatre a lot. But of course now that I have two children I don’t have free time and try to combine my hobbies and my family.

Correo: You have fulfilled many of your goals from getting into the world’s top ten to defeating players like Kasparov. What are your aims now?

Polgar: From a personal point of view, my goal is to raise my children so that they can be happy, successful and take care of themselves in the future. To support them all the way. Whatever they do, their mother will always be there for them. From a professional point of view, now that I have a family I choose the tournaments I play in, why and against who a lot more. I want to play chess while I’m still fascinated by it. The moment I stop having fun, I will quit this.

Translation by Aitziber Elejalde

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