Hungarian Judit Polgár has an impressive list of accolades to her name. She was once the youngest Grandmaster at the tender age of just 15 years and 4 months, and she is widely regarded as the strongest female chess player of all time.
She has not only been a top level player, but a team captain and coach also, and also the recipient of Hungary’s highest decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary.
So how could we not want to take a look at the career of this incredible woman, and see what it takes to become as successful as she has been?
The Early Life of Judit Polgár
Judit Polgár was born in Budapest on the 23rd July 1976 to a Hungarian-Jewish parents. She had two older sisters, Susan and Sofia, who both went on to have their own notable successes in the world of chess.
The three Polgár sisters were part of an educational experiment set up by their father, László Polgár, who was aiming to prove that if trained in a specialist subject from an early age, children could make exceptional achievements. His thesis was that “Geniuses are made, not born,”.
So along with his wife Klára, László educated Judit Polgár and her two sisters at home, focusing on chess as the specialist subject. They received a fair amount of criticism at the time for appearing to deprive the girls of a normal childhood, as well as some resistance from the Hungarian authorities, because home-schooling was not their preferred socialist approach.
Despite the perception that women were weaker chess players than men and the fact that up until then chess had been a male-dominated activity, László was against his daughters participating in female-only events. He believed that:
“Women are able to achieve results similar, in fields of intellectual activities, to that of men. Chess is a form of intellectual activity, so this applies to chess. Accordingly, we reject any kind of discrimination in this respect.”
The Hungarian Chess Federation wanted women to play in women-only tournaments, at odd with the Polgárs’ beliefs. In fact, Judit’s older sister Susan was the first to fight the bureaucracy by refusing to play in the women’s only tournaments and instead entering the men’s tournaments. It is believed that this conflict is the reason that Susan was never awarded the Grandmaster title despite having made the norm eleven times.
To begin with, as she was 5 years younger than her sisters, Judit Polgár was kept separate during their training, but she was soon to prove herself to be a child prodigy. At just 5 years old, she defeated a family friend without even looking at the board! She began playing tournaments only a year later, aged 6, by the time she was 9 her rating with the Hungarian Chess Federation was 2080.
Judit Polgár was a member of a chess club in Budapest, where she gained a lot of experience from master level players. She was only 10 years old when she first defeated an International Master, Dolfi Drimer, and then 11 years old the first time she won against a grandmaster, Lev Gutman,
Her game play went from strength to strength and at the age of 12 she completed the requirements for the International Master title, making her the youngest player ever to have achieved this distinction at the time. Before she even reached the age of 13, Judit Polgár had broken into the top 100 players in the world, and numerous articles and books were being written about the successes of her and her sisters.
The Chess Career of Judit Polgár
Judit Polgár has such an overwhelmingly long list of achievements as a child prodigy, it’s almost difficult to draw a line between where her childhood stopped and her chess career began. But although she may have become a world youth champion at the age of 12, for Judit and for her parents, the ultimate goal was the adult absolute world champion’s title.
In December 1991, Judit Polgár became the youngest ever person to achieve the grandmaster title by winning the Hungarian National Championship. She was only 15 years and 5 months old at this time, thus beating the previous record held by Bobby Fischer by a month. In the same year, she also won the Hungarian Men’s Super Championships in Budapest.
Between 1990 and 2000, Judit Polgár won or tied for first place at an impressive 20 tournaments. In 1993 became the first woman to ever qualify for an Interzonal tournament. Arguably one of the greatest successes of her career came in the summer of 1994, when she won the Madrid International in Spain against an impressive field of competitors.
n January 1996, Judit became the only woman ever to be ranked in the top ten of all chess players. Then in 1999, she even reached the quarterfinals at the Las Vegas World Championship.
In September 2002, Polgár made history by defeated Garry Kasparov in a game. She won the game thanks to her exceptional positional play, under rapid rules with only 25 minutes per game and a 10-second bonus per move.
By 2004, Judit had advanced to 8th place in the absolute world rankings, remarkably in the same year that she gave birth to her first child. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? Throughout her career she defeated a total of 11 world leader, including Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and, Magnus Carlsen.
Judit Polgár won a bronze medal at the Men’s European Championships in 2011, and has represented Hungary eight times as a member of the men’s team at the Chess Olympiad, winning two silver medals.
The 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø was her last tournament as an active professional chess player.
Judit Polgár’s Life After Chess
As briefly mentioned above, Judit took some time out during her chess career to become a mother to two children, Oliver and Hanna. Her husband Dr. Gusztav Font is a veterinarian and an amateur chess player. She said one of the reasons she set competitive game playing aside was to focus on her family.
But although she may have bowed out of competition, Judit Polgár is still ever present in the world of chess. She is heavily involved in the international promotion of the sport, as well as her own book writing and running the Judit Polgár Chess Foundation, which she established in 2012. She is also involved in organising the Global Chess Festival, which is linked to her foundation and is held in Budapest in October every year.
- Judit Polgár earned herself a Guinness World Record, for topping the women’s world rankings for a whopping 26 years!
- She famously excels in tactics and is known for an aggressive playing style.
- When she was only 10 years old Judit made the front page of The New York Times after finishing first in the New York Open among adult chess players in the unrated section.
- She was known for sitting cross-legged, Indian style, when competing.
- Judit’s three-volume book about her career has received two international awards.
- She is the first girl in chess history to have won the boy’s junior world championship.
- She is the first – and so far the only – woman who made it among the top 10 in the absolute world ranking of chess players .