World Chess World Cup 2021: Judit Polgar: “Chess educates a lot from the age of two” | Chess News


Judit Polgar (Budapest, 45 years old) is the great lady of the board, the only woman who has been in the top ten and one of the most brilliant athletes in history. Of exceptional intelligence, with a photographic memory (a very rare gift), she was educated by her parents at home along with her two sisters, also prodigious, Susan and Sofía; they only went to school for exams. Retired from the competition in 2014, he is dedicated to disseminating chess as an educational tool from the age of two and commenting on live tournaments. He is very clear that the format of the World Cup must change.

A 22-meter-long panel that summarizes 1,500 years of chess history is the first thing that visitors to the Spanish Pavilion at Expo Dubai see, under the slogan “Intelligence for life”. That panel includes a large silhouette of Judit Polgar. In addition, if a discreet restricted door is opened to the public, the best player of all time can be right there, with her headphones, commenting live for the Chess24 platform on the World Cup that faces the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen and the Russian Ian Niepómniachi.

The four times that EL PAÍS has spoken with her in recent months reflect well her current activity and her great value as a standard bearer and role model. He was one of the characters interviewed in the Economic Summit from the University of Warwick (UK). He organized a large educational chess congress in Budapest, where his foundation has just signed a contract with the Government to further its introduction in schools (whatever the outcome of the next elections). He visited Spain (one of his favorite countries) for the umpteenth time to be one of the stars of the Marca Sports Weekend In sevilla. And at Expo Dubai it contributes to the image of Hungary, where more than 90% of citizens know it, according to a recent survey.

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His opinion is very clear in the debate that floods chess social networks regarding the World Cup: “If we want to attract new fans, and I think this is fundamental, we cannot continue with this format, in which there is one victory every twenty games. If the players make it a priority not to lose, and to win only in the background, what we offer is very unattractive to the great masses. It is true that classical, slow chess must be preserved because it has its charm; but combined with the fast modalities [menos de media hora por jugador] and maybe lightning [menos de cinco minutos]. Of course, maintaining an image of seriousness ”.

Carlsen and Judit Polgar pose on the 24th in the Spanish pavilion with the participants of the Expo Dubai World School Tournament
Carlsen and Judit Polgar pose on the 24th in the Spanish pavilion with the participants of the Expo Dubai World School TournamentSilvia Santos / Spanish Pavilion

He praises Carlsen for the way he achieved his victory in Game 6, the longest in World Cup history (136 moves in almost eight hours): “His smile at the end was that of a baby because he completely changed the situation after how much he suffered in the 5th. And he did it with determination and intelligence, without going crazy, forcing Niepómniachi, who is a very tough rival, to make difficult decisions for eight hours ”. The Hungarian believes that the Russian “is the most difficult rival that Magnus can have right now”, but already glimpses the next, for 2023 or 2025, the French-Iranian Alireza Firouzja, 2nd in the world at 18 years: “He reminds me of Magnus at the same age. We all see that it still has gaps, but with them it is already the 2nd in the world, which indicates its gigantic potential ”.

Beth Harmon, the main character of the series Lady’s Gambit, the most watched in Netflix history, it has features of the youngest of the three Polgar sisters: “Obviously, I wasn’t in an orphanage getting high with pills, but I have points in common with the character’s trajectory. And I really liked the scenes where Beth is lying on the bed imagining match positions on the ceiling. That, or analyzing a game while walking down the street, is very normal and very easy for chess players ”.

But there is a nuance that she, out of modesty, only clarifies when asked: the vast majority of chess players develop a lot of logical memory (the pieces are connected by defenses, attacks or structures); Judit, like her sisters, has the gift of photographic memory, unique to very few people. He downplays it: “Actually, we chess players are always playing blindly, not just blindfolded at exhibitions. Because the position that you are interested in seeing during a normal game is not what your eyes see on the board, but rather what your mind glimpses because they can occur within several movements ”.

And that gift, in your case, is it genetic or acquired by your very peculiar upbringing? “I suppose both, but in the case of my sisters and I, education weighs a lot. It should be emphasized that both my mother and my father were students and educational professionals when they designed and applied the pedagogical experiment they did with us. In addition, they made sure that we traveled a lot since we were little girls, which was incredible in Hungary in the eighties. That gave us a social life, tolerance, a vision of the world and a thirst for learning ”.

Judit Polgar, in 2016, during the Vitoria congress on the equality of women in chess
Judit Polgar, in 2016, during the Vitoria congress on the equality of women in chessPillar G. Boat

Judit is very critical of the educational systems of today’s society: “They leave much to be desired, and there should also be schools for parents to teach them to educate. But she and her husband (Gusztav Font, veterinarian) did not repeat the experiment with their two children, Hanna and Oliver: “The circumstances are very different. We both already had a consolidated professional career, we could not dedicate ourselves body and soul, day and night, to a pedagogical experiment for as many years as my parents did. But there are common elements that we have introduced, such as travel and languages. My children understand Spanish, for example ”.

Hungary is, along with Spain, one of the leading countries in the use of chess as an educational tool during school hours, thanks to the Judit Polgar Foundation: “Playing chess can already be educational in itself, but our experience in schools shows that it is even more so if it is used as an educational tool. Many people will be surprised, but this works very well from the age of two, with a giant board on the floor, combining chess with music and dance. The children respect each other, the teachers are very happy because they can work on many essential pedagogical objectives at that age through chess. It does not matter if these children are going to be players or not, but chess helps them a lot in their personal development ”.

The enormous contribution of chess as a field of experimentation for artificial intelligence also has something to do with Judit, in a very indirect way: “Demis Hassabis is the CEO of Deep Mind, the Google company that has just achieved the greatest advance in science. history of biology (the deciphering of proteins) thanks to what his program AlphaZero he learned chess and go. As a young man, Hassabis chose science over chess because he was the 2nd in the world of 12-year-olds, and the number one It was me. I am glad that I was guilty of that decision, because humanity has won a lot ”.

On the eternal controversy of why so few women play chess (and there is only one in the top 100): “The key is education and society. Coaches of very talented boys tell them they can be world champions; those of highly talented girls, who can be female champions. That is a tremendous mistake ”. And she ends with an anecdote about her daughter: “My mother-in-law told Hanna that she greatly admired her for how beautiful and friendly she was, for how well she danced and, also, because she is very intelligent. I know she did it with the greatest affection, but I corrected her, because she should have said it in the reverse order. “

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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