Queen of NY: Judit Polgar talks about analysing the match

by Fernando Offermann
11/6/2016 – After officially retiring from professional play, many fans might have worried the Hungarian star would drop out of the chess world, but these fears seem to have been put to rest. We first saw Judit Polgar embrace new roles such as coach of the Hungarian ‘Open’ team at the Olympiad, and now as another first, when Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin battle it out in New York City, she will be the official commentator. Judit Polgar talks about her expectations, her preferences and her plans.

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Q & A with Judit Polgar

Judit, on Friday, 11th November, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin will play the first game of their World Championship match. You will commentate the game live from New York. How did this come about? 
Well, I got a kind email from Mark Glukhovsky, in which he asked if I would be interested to be commentator of the upcoming World Championship in New York City. And you know my answer (smiles).

Judit Polgar will officially provide live analysis on the fight Carlsen vs. Karjakin in NYC

Is it the first time that you are commentating a major event? How did your friends and family react? 
I have been asked before, but this is actually the first time I am going to commentate a major event. I am really excited as I know both players since their youth and I have always followed their careers closely. In November 1990, when World Champion Magnus Carlsen was born, I was fourteen years old and had just won my second gold medal with the Hungarian Women’s team at the Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad (smiles).
My family and friends are also excited. They look forward to the match and to seeing me commentating.

Gold for the second time: (from left to right) Idliko Madl, Sofia Polgar, Judit Polgar and Susan Polgar 1990 in Novi Sad

From the family album: simul in New York (1992)

Judit and her sister Sofia in New York, 1992

As far as publicity is concerned, your sister Susan has been more present in the media. At the Chess Olympiad 2016 in Baku she commentated together with Evgenij Miroshnichenko ("Miro"). Why do you think you were chosen as commentator for the World Chess Championship?
I think in the last ten years or so chess commentary has become more interesting and entertaining than ever. More and more strong players are happy to explain the games and events to an audience of chess amateurs to help them to understand and enjoy the games much better.
Why the organizers chose me is a question for Agon (smiles). However, while I will be a new face as a commentator I am a well-known personality in the world of chess.

Will you use an engine during your commentary?
Yes, we will use a cutting edge engine during our commentary. Many viewers will have an engine running when following the game – in fact, there is one that comes with Agon’s online broadcast – and we cannot afford to commentate without one. But I am happy and willing to use my brain and hope to find some interesting ideas myself (smiles).

Which chess shows do you like to watch?
Recently, I enjoyed the Carlsen – Nakamura "blitz battle" on chess.com. It was great fun and a real joy for chess enthusiasts. It was amazing to follow the best players in the world playing blitz: a lot of their moves seem god-like but then they suddenly make mistakes like any other human being. I hope we will see more of such chess shows that are entertaining for a wide audience with maybe only a little chess knowledge. I believe chess here has a lot of resources.

What do you think about the commentary of the Sinquefield Cup: two anchor-men, a specialist who tells the anchor-men and the public what the engine thinks, and some reporters outside in the crowd? And what are your thoughts on Miro’s commentary of the Tal Memorial? And the way Sergej Shipov comments?
I am impressed how people all over the world, in Russia, in Spain, the USA and other countries, try to present chess in a more attractive way.
I believe commentary is most entertaining when you have one chess expert and one journalist or guest who is interested in chess, the game and the event and who stays curious. This brings a lot of freshness to the chess commentary.

Are you going to commentate alone or with colleagues? Will there be guests? And is it difficult to commentate during the entire length of a long match?
I will be commentating with Kaja Snare, who works as a TV presenter in Norway and who is a familiar face on the chess circuit. She now works directly with Agon and brings an excitingly fresh approach to chess commentary. Agon also plans to have a lot of guest commentators, among them a number of celebrities who are chess fans. I really look forward to find out who will be sitting next to me in the commentary booth. 

Well, commentating a long match can be demanding because you have to concentrate on the moves on the board while entertaining a global audience for the whole length of the games. But I enjoy this and I look forward to the Championship Match.

Kaja Snare is going to be Judit's colleague in New York

Will you talk to Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin at press conferences after the games? What are your personal preferences when listening to a commentator? How do you think a commentator should do the job?
Yes, we will have the chance to interview Magnus and Sergey after the games. And for the better part of a month we will share the venue with them, so there will be opportunities to talk with them on other occasions as well.
When listening to chess commentary I like a commentator who is enthusiastic about the games and ready to provide interesting background information and stories. Once, during the World Cup in 2011, after I had won a game that lasted for 112 moves and that helped me to advance to the next round, someone called me and said that he had never thought that chess can be as exciting and tense as a soccer game – and he was a great soccer fan. I think this is a real compliment to a commentator team.

When you were still playing actively, has a commentator ever said something that distracted or affected you negatively?
No. And I think a professional player should not get distracted by a commentator’s remark. Especially in a World Championship match the players have to be immune to all kind of outside talks or comments and stay focused.



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neilparker62 neilparker62 11/8/2016 12:44
Judit is a legend in the chess world - looking forward to the championship match and her commentary.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/7/2016 08:51
@fons, I will certainly be in that minority :)
fons fons 11/7/2016 01:16
Very nice, but only a very small minority will actually be watching her commentary.
GalacticKing GalacticKing 11/6/2016 08:00
I'm excited to read that Judit finds stories, and other historical anecdotes as an interesting way to present Chess commentary. I find it so boring when all commentators do is run through endless what if moves and variations, continually trying to second guess what the players might do. Pointing out a couple possible plans, and tactical variations is helpful, but during a three hour game, I don't want to hear that stuff non stop.
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