'It was a very painful decision for me'

10/27/2004 – At the Chess Olympiad in Calvià, Spain, the US "Dream Team" is poised to take a medal in the Women's section, which would be a great boost for chess in USA. But team leader Susan Polgar is in distress. Today she must fight it out against the Hungarian team. Susan is originally from Hungary and tells us her feelings in an exclusive interview.

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Interview with Susan Polgar in Calvià

ChessBase: Susan, I think just about all chess fans from around the world know about the US Women’s Dream Team in this Olympiad. Could you tell us how everything started?

Susan Polgar: Back about two years ago, the then Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation Mr. Frank Niro approached me about helping US chess. He told me an example of what one person like Mia Hamm can do for US women’s soccer when her team won the 1999 World Cup. We also discussed many other issues to help US Chess.


Captain of the US "Dream Team": Susan Polgar

At this point in time, I was living in the United States for about eight years. My children were born here. I have retired from chess after 1996 and I have accomplished everything I could in chess. I have been the number one ranked player in the world. I have won many Olympic Gold medals. I have won multiple World Championships. I broke through many gender barriers. I thought there was nothing left in chess that I would want. But this idea intrigued me. In addition, after seeing so much turmoil in the game, I wanted to do something to help my fellow chess players. So after a month of very difficult consideration, I decided to do it.


The US Women's team with NYC Sports Commissioner Ken Podziba

So the first thing I did was recruit my best friend Paul Truong to help me launch a serious US Olympiad Training Program. After he agreed to do it, I immediately switched federation from Hungary to USA. Many well known companies such as ChessBase, World Chess Network, and IBM, etc. stepped in to help us. The Susan Polgar Foundation and the Kasparov Chess Foundation are the main sponsors of the team. To make a long story short, what you see here is nearly two years of sweat and tears.

CB: How do you think your team has done so far?

Susan: Of course we can always do better. But we are still in contention for a medal after 11 rounds. That is very important. I am very proud of my teammates, the captain, the head coach and coach. We have worked very hard and we will give it our best shot in the last three critical rounds. This has been a total team effort.

We heard that you originally decided not to play against Hungary today. What made you change your mind?

I have to say that this was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I said to the team captain Paul Truong before going to Mallorca that I will NOT play against Hungary. That was my condition. No matter that I live in the United States for around ten years and I am now a US citizen, I will always be a Hungarian. I am proud of my country and I am proud of what my sisters and I have done for Hungarian chess. Nothing can ever change that.

Unfortunately, there is something much bigger that I must deal with. My sole purpose of coming back to chess is to help US chess and then chess worldwide. If the US team can bring home the first ever medal, it will give a big boost to chess in this country. It can help bring in a lot of sponsorships for chess and chess players. This will benefit my colleagues. If we would have faced Hungary in the early rounds, I would definitely sit out. But when we face each other in round 12, what can I do? I cannot allow my personal feelings to stand in the way of the welfare of countless chess players out there. I see so many chess players struggle to make a living in the game. I must do everything I can to change that. I must do everything I can to help them.

I cried all night. It was a very painful decision for me. But just as I had to face my sisters in the 1992 World Rapid and World Blitz World Championships, we had no choice. We had to play. I hope that everyone can understand my decision. This is for the best interest of chess. As an ambassador for chess, I have to do what is best for the game.

I can see that you are quite distraught. There are a lot of people here playing for other teams – Alexei [Shirov] for Spain, Tiviakov for Holland, and just look at the US teams: Onischuk, Shabalov, Goldin, Kaidanov, Novikov, Gulko, all ex-patriots, and even your team: Krush, Zatonskih. Isn't that completely normal these days?

Maybe, but for me it is not so simple, especially since we have to actually play the Hungarians directly today.


The US boys: Onischuk, Shabalov and Goldin


The Dutch women's team with Peng Zhaoqin and Tea Lanchava


Sergey Tiviakov and Jan Timman playing for Holland


Almira Skripchenko (left), originally from Moldova, playing for France


Susan Polgar and Irina Krush (originally from Russia) face the Russian women's team.

Let's talk about your performance here. You started out very slowly but you have picked up the pace in the last few rounds. What changed?

I had never played with the 90/30 time control. I had a very difficult time with it in the beginning. I was in constant time pressure. I think I am more used to it now.

What was it like facing Xie Jun and Chiburdanidze after so many years?

I have great admiration and respect for Xie Jun and Maia Chiburdanidze. They were both great World Champions. They have done so much for chess in their native China and Georgia respectively. It was wonderful to see and play against both of them in this Olympiad. It brings back old memories. I was also very proud of my win against Maia in this tournament.

GM Polgar, Susan – GM Chiburdanidze, Maia [A17]
Olympiad, 20.10.2004 – Round 6
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3 6.Qxc3 c5 7.b4 b6 8.Bb2 d6 9.g4! A psychologically devastating move. 9...Bb7 10.g5 Nh5 11.Rg1 e5 12.Bh3 Nf4 13.Bf5 g6 14.Nxe5!! The key move that took an incredible amount of calculation. 14...Nxe2 15.Nxf7!! Another great move. 15...Nxc3 16.Nh6+ Kg7 17.Bxc3+ Rf6 18.Bxf6+ Qxf6 19.gxf6+ Kxh6 20.Be6? 20. Rb1! then Rb3 then Rh3#. This would be a much nicer ending of the game. 20...Nc6 21.Bd5 Rf8 22.f7 Nd8 23.Bxb7 Nxb7 24.Rg3 Rxf7 25.Re3 Nd8 26.b5 Rf4 27.d3 d5 28.Re7 dxc4 29.dxc4 Nf7 30.Rd1 Ng5 31.Rxa7 Rxc4 32.Ra6 Rc2 33.Rxb6 c4 34.a4 Ra2 35.Ra6 Nf3+ 36.Kf1 Nd2+ 37.Rxd2 Rxd2 38.Rc6 Rc2 39.b6 1–0.


Ex world champion Maia Chiburdanidze

All three of you won your titles under the classical time controls?

As I have often said, the classical World Championship should never be mixed with the Knock-Out World Championship. They are very different, like the sun and the moon. Anything can happen in a 2-game knock-out while you must be the best player to win the classical World Championship. Just look at the results of the last three ever classical World Champions Maia Chiburdanidze, Xie Jun and me here in Calvia. We have three of the highest board one performances in this Olympiad and all of us are no longer playing chess seriously.

So you are not happy with the FIDE cycle as it stands?

By combining the titles, FIDE has cheapened the title of World Champion and it is a big mistake. As good of a player as Ponomariov or Kasimdzhanov, do you think any chess fan can put them in the same category as Garry Kasparov or Kramnik? This is why there is so much confusion in the World Championship cycle.

And what do we do about it?

It is not too late for FIDE to fix this terrible error and separate the World Championships. I consider Kramnik to be the last classical World Champion. But Kramnik needs to play Garry Kasparov. The world wants to see the Kasparov – Kramnik rematch. This is in the best interest of chess.

There is nothing wrong with having separate World Championships. In tennis, players play on grass, clay, hard court and some times even carpet. Some tournaments are indoor and some are outdoor. Why not have separate World Championships? Why do we have to destroy the legitimacy of the World Championships in the past 100 years or so?

– The second part of the interview will appear later in our Calvià reports –


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