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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Online Chess Interview with Grandmaster Susan Polgar

Winner of 4 Women's World Championships

The only World Champion in history (male or female) to win the Triple-Crown (Rapid, Blitz and Classical World Championships)

5-time Olympic Champion with 10 overall medals. Never been defeated in Olympiad competition (5 Gold, 4 Silver, and 1 Bronze)

Currently holds a record 56 consecutive Olympiad game scoring streak without a loss Broke 4 World Records on August 2, 2005 by playing 326 opponents simultaneously, winning 309 (drawing 14)with a winning percentage of 96.93% as well as playing 1,131 consecutive games, winning 1,112 (drawing 16)


  • Break the gender barrier to qualify for the Men's World Championship (1986)

  • Earn the Men's Grandmaster title (1991)

  • Receive the Grandmaster of the Year Award (2003)

  • Win the U.S. Open Blitz Championship (2003 and 2005)

  • #1 ranked woman chess player in the world at the age of 15 (Ranked in the top 3 in the world for 20 straight years)

  • Currently ranked #1 in the United States 3-time winner of the Chess Oscar

  • Won the Budapest Championship for Girls under 11 at age of 4 with the score of 10-0!

  • Award-winning and best-selling chess author author in numerous languages

  • Winner of the prestigious Cramer Award for "Best Chess Column of the Year" (2003)

  • 3-time winner of the Chess Journalists of America Award for Best Magazine Column (2003) & Best Endgame Analysis (2003-2004)

  • First ever recipient of the "Chess Educator of the Year" award (2003)

  • First chess professional to receive the very prestigious Tree of Life Award (2005)

  • A pioneer in women's chess, an ambassador and a true role model to millions of young people worldwide Founder of the Susan Polgar Foundation (A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization to promote chess, with all its social, educational and competitive benefits throughout the United States, for young people of all ages, especially girls)

  • Sponsor and organizer of the prestigious annual Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls Championship (held annually for the top girl under 19 years old from each state)

  • Sponsor and organizer of two other prestigious annual events: The Susan Polgar World Open Chess Championship for Girls(u/21) and the Susan Polgar National Open Chess Championship for Girls (u/21)

  • Member of the Chess for Peace initiative with former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev and 7-time World Champion A. Karpov

Dennis Steele: Susan, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer questions from the ChessManiac community.
You are welcome Dennis.

The Iceman: Since what age have you played chess? What inspired you to take it up?

I started at age 4 by accident. I discovered a chess set while looking for toys. My father then taught me the basics of chess. I won my first big event at the same age (4). I scored an unthinkable 10-0 in the Budapest Girl's Under 11 Championship when I was too small to even reach across the table. The rest is history.

The ability to compete equally against my male counterpart is my inspiration. I like the fact that I can play against anyone, regardless of age, gender, size, etc.

Captain Dave TSA: Did your parents encourage the competitiveness between you and sisters or was that just regular sibling rivalry?

I do not think you can say sibling rivalry. I was already a master when my sisters started to play. There was really no rivalry. I helped them when they were younger and later they helped me if and when I needed it. We always helped each other when possible. One of my best chess moments was when Judit won the overall Hungarian championship.

Susan before I ask my questions, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that you have been one of the most inspiring role models in my life - not only as a woman and an astonishing chess talent but as a human being as well. You are a big part of the reason why I started playing chess (though not that well!) in the first place.

Thank you very much! I plan to do even more in the next few years.

My questions are as follows:

Deathless: You've done so much in this sport. What are your proudest achievements in chess?

I have a few:

1. Becoming the first woman in history to earn the GM title with 3 norms and 2500 rating like anyone else in 1991.
2. Becoming the first woman in history to qualify for the Men's World Championship in 1986. Even though I was not allowed to play because I am a woman, FIDE changed that rule because of me and all the women today benefit from this.
3.Winning the Olympiad Gold with my sisters in 1988 when we were all just teenagers, breaking the Soviet dominance. The Soviet women's teams have won Gold in every Olympiad they competed in up to that time.
4. Leading the US Women's Olympiad Team to the first ever historic medal and personally winning 4 medals (2 gold and 2 silver) after 9 years of not playing competitive chess. The sweetest medal was the best overall performance of the entire Women's Olympiad.
5. 56 consecutive games in the Olympiad on board 1 without a single loss. In fact, I have never lost a single game in the Olympiad.
6. I believe in chess and I set out to change the game of chess for the better. I also fought against dirty chess politicians head on. I want to protect the integrity of chess. Chess and rotten politics just do not mix for me.

Deathless: You were the 'Jackie Robinson' of the patriarchal world of chess for women everywhere. How was that like? There must have been incredible pressure and stress, with all eyes on you, waiting for you to slip so that they can reconfirm their stereotypes of women's inferiority to men. How did you deal with the burden of being the 'ambassador' of an entire gender?

This is something I am determined to succeed at. I love chess. Chess is my life. Chess is my passion and I will do everything in my power to protect the integrity of this game. I will not stop until my mission is completed. I hope not to be the ambassador for just my gender but for our entire sport.

Deathless: How much has the chess world changed since you first started playing competitively - in terms of its patriarchal culture? How difficult is it being a 'female chess player' and does it present challenges not faced by our male counterparts?

Many things changed, some for the better, some for the worst. It is easier for women to play chess well now. They have more opportunities because of the fights that I had to go through to break those ugly gender barriers. They have top of the line chess software, database and the Internet to help them. I hope they will take full advantage of it.

Deathless: I've already asked this question to Alexandra Kosteniuk, but I was wondering what your opinion was on whether we could one day have a world champion that was female - and how soon you thought it could happen.

Alexandra is a good player. However, we do have very contrasting views in chess promotion and women's chess. We disagree in many different areas. However, I think we both agree that women can play chess well. I believe that there will never be a female overall world champion UNLESS women are willing to work just as hard or even harder than men in chess.

There is no secret pill. There is no magic. If you want to be the best then you have to be willing to sacrifice everything to reach that goal. Judit has very supporting parents and sisters and she devoted her life to be where she is. No one can do it half way and expect the same results. Even at Judit's level today, she still trains harder than most other women players. You cannot divide your time into so many things and expect the same results.

When my sisters and I were younger, we had many offers to do endorsements, promotions, exhibitions, speaking engagements, movies, etc. My father turned down most of them so we could fully concentrate in chess. That is why we were able to accomplish what we did.

Deathless: Do you think female chess players approach the game differently from their male counterparts, both generally speaking and at the top level of the game?

Yes. The psychology of men and women are very different. So is their approach to chess. It is night and day. Women look at chess more for the artistic and social enjoyment. Men focus much more on results.

Was there much stress competing against your sisters?

Of course! It is very tough. I would prefer to play anyone else but my sisters. We prefer to avoid playing against each other if we can help it. We did make a number of quick draws when we used to play. However, when organizers imposed fighting rules, we had no choice but to fight it out. I do not believe I have ever lost to either of my sisters in classical time control.

Alexey Hurricane: How come chess does not have the same status as other sports like for example football, basketball?

This is a very complex question and the answer may be unpleasant. Chess players know chess. Marketing people know marketing. We usually do not have one person who knows and understands both very well. This is a big problem. We have never had anyone who understands marketing and chess promote this game until now.

To market anything successfully, you have to offer the public something that they would find interesting, something that they would understand. Chess is perceived as something too difficult, too brainy. In addition, our industry has not done a good job simplifying the game or promoting compelling stories. However, I think this will change in the near future. That's what I have been trying to do in the last few years.

Wolli Wolli: How do you prepare for special tournaments or opponents?

I work on my middlegame, endgame and tactics. Then, I work on specific opening repertoire for my opponents in each event. Every tournament and every opponent is of course different.

Wolli Wolli: Do have a second? How does your work with him look like?

Two of my most famous seconds were GM Lev Psakhis and my sister Judit. They have helped me a lot, especially with the World Championship, Candidate's tournament and matches. My current second and trainer right now is FM Paul Truong, captain of the 2004 US Women's Olympiad Silver Medalist Team. We all work on things I just mentioned above.

Wolli Wolli: What are your ambitions for your chess career?

Change the chess world for the better and introduce chess to every child. I believe in the educational and social benefits of chess for young people. I also would like to bring chess to the mainstream.

r00t: Is it true that Susan Polgar and sisters were taught by Bobby Fischer.

No, it is not true. I have analyzed many games with Bobby and we played some Fischer Random. But he was not our teacher.

Timothy: Why won't Judit and other top FIDE players play in the USA? Why aren't there more FIDE tournaments in the USA with Master norms?

Because the USCF does not support such programs / activities and chess organizers usually do not have the expertise to attract sponsors. We had about 40 sponsors in my first annual Susan Polgar National Open Championship for Girls in Texas. How many sponsors does a normal tournament have? Few if any! And that is one of the biggest reasons why we haven't had too many events like that.

Without money, you cannot attract top talents to come and compete. They are professionals and they have to make a living. It is too costly for these players from other countries to come and compete for 2 weeks with little or no compensation. Most of the tournaments in the US do not even offer decent conditions for professional players.

Jesse Turner: Are you planning to go for the main title yourself? I have been backing Judit every time win lose or draw, I love it... and it would highly interest me if you entered the mainstream.

I did but not anymore. That was once my dream. Unfortunately, I had to fight so many obstacles during my prime years of chess. (I was not allowed to compete in the "Men's World Championship" when I was the first woman to qualify for the cycle in 1986. FIDE had to change the rule later because of me and it opened up opportunities for future women players such as my sister Judit and others. When I was the #1 female player in the world, FIDE decided to give every woman player 100 free points except me so I would lose my #1 spot. There were many other incidents but these are the two most well known.)

Now, I am a mother. My full time is with them. I can see everyday how chess helps my two sons so much with school and socially. That is why my mission is to promote chess and education for children, especially young girls because of my personal experience. In addition, I am fighting to fix many glaring chess problems such as corruption, unfairness and dirty politics, etc., things that hinder the proper growth of chess.

Dennis Steele: Thanks for your time Susan.

Please visit Susan Polgar's websites for more information.


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