Judit Polgár [born 23 July 1976] is widely considered to be the best female chess player of all time.
At age 7 she won her first game against the chess-master blindfolded.
She was the youngest ever player to break into the FIDE [Fédération Internationale des Échecs or International Chess Federation] Top 100 players rating list, ranking No. 55 in the January 1989 rating list, at the age of 12.
By age 15 she she made history by achieving the grandmaster title approximately one month younger than Bobby Fischer.
At her peak, Polgár was ranked 8th in the world and competed in the World Chess Championship. The only woman ever to have done so.
Chess is a game dominated by adult men.
Thus a young girl competing was bound to arouse both the curiosity and the prejudice of her competitors.
Grandmaster Edmar Mednis facing off against the young Polgár, noted that he was very careful to play his best against a young protege. Noting that Grandmasters don’t like to lose to 10 year old girls because then we make the front page of all the papers.
Some of her competitors celebrated the obvious genius of Polgár.
British Grandmaster Nigel Short called Judit “one of the three or four greatest chess prodigies in history.”
Former World Champion Mikhail Tal said Polgár [when she was still 12 years] had the potential to win the men’s World Championship.
Garry Kasparov was less convinced.
The former World Champion, Kasparov, is considered by many to be the best chess player of all time.
He is most famous for his matches against IBM’s Deep Blue Chess Computer.
He won against the Deep Blue in 1996 and losing in 1997.
This loss marked the transition to machine dominance in a game that is historically been considered one of the highest expressions of human creativity and intelligence.
Kasparov was less enthusiastic about the young Polgár’s chances.
Bear in mind, both Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov were 14 when they were awarded the title; Polgár was 12.
“She has fantastic chess talent, but she is, after all, a woman. It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche. No woman can sustain a prolonged battle.”
In a 1989 interview with Playboy magazine Kasparov said:
“In the past, I have said that there is real chess and women’s chess.
“Some people don’t like to hear this, but chess does not fit women properly.
“It’s a fight, you know? A big fight. It’s not for women. Sorry. She’s helpless if she has men’s opposition.
“I think this is very simple logic. It’s the logic of a fighter, a professional fighter. Women are weaker fighters.”
This prejudice erupted into full blown controversy.
In uttering those words, Kasparov set himself up as a target to topple for female chess players around the world.
Then came the big match:
Polgár [17 years] vs. Kasparov [31 years] in 1994, At Linares, Spain.
The tournament marked the first time the 17-year-old Polgár was invited to compete with the world’s strongest players.
The game was tense, cold and each player was calculating his and her move carefully.
On his 36th move, the World Champion reportedly changed his mind about the move of a knight, and moved the piece to a different better square.
This was a highly controversial thing to do by a chess legend.
Polgár was stunned.
According to chess rules, once a player has released a piece, the move must stand, so if Kasparov did remove his hand, he should have been required to play his original move.
In disbelief she starred at the referee hoping that the he will intervene, yet the referee didn’t challenge the Grandmaster.
Reeling from the move, Polgár lost the game.
Asked why she did not challenge Kasparov’s illegal move herself, in the moment, she responded:
“I was playing the World Champion and didn’t want to cause unpleasantness during my first invitation to such an important event. I was also afraid that if my complaint was overruled I would be penalised on the clock when we were in time pressure.”
She did however look questioningly at the arbiter, Carlos Falcon, who witnessed the incident and took no action.
She confronted Kasparov later in the hotel bar demanding;
“How could you do this to me?”
Kasparov when defending himself against the accusation said:
“She publicly accused me of cheating.”
“I think a girl of her age should be taught some good manners.”
It would be years before the two spoke again.
Whereas Kasparov was already well established in the chess world, Polgár was getting started.
Is genius something reserved for those lucky chosen few.
Is the game of chess, a game for rational thinkers, a male adult game?
Are geniuses made? If so, how? or are they born? If so, what’s are the right genes?
How does a young 17 years old become a genius at this game of chess or game of life?
Can anyone be a genius?
Will answer these questions in the next blog post.
PS: Inspired by Scott H. Young in his amazing book Ultralearning.