Global Chess Festival with the Polgars (1/2)

by Manuel Weeks
10/13/2016 – The Global Chess Festival organised by Judit Polgar can be described in many ways but the main feeling when you enter the glorious venue used, the Castle Garden Bazaar on the Danube in the center of Budapest is “fun”. There is an abundance of colour and music and noise that immediately attacks your senses. As a child you have a huge variety of activities to choose from, that is the idea: to show chess as an enjoyable activity that can be shared around the world as a common language. Enjoy this illustrated report.

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It was my first visit to the Global Chess Festival and it had already been described by many people as something very different, and while I myself am still not sure how to best put it in words, the best I can think of is a combination of Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and a hundred odd chess sets!

The “greenroom” where you could create fantasy images was very popular

Computer games involving memory and chess were also popular

Since 2007 Judit Polgar has organized a yearly chess festival in Budapest, which started as a 100-board simul given by the three famous Polgar sisters. Through the years it has grown into a highly prestigious event, in which well-known Hungarian sportsmen, artists, musicians and more importantly an enormous number of children take part. In 2015 the event became known as the Global Chess Festival. The aim is to showcase chess as an educational and social activity that can be enjoyed by children all around the world. Other junior organisers are encouraged to hold similar events on the same day and make it truly an international day of chess.

Sofia, the Mayor of Budapest, Istvan Tarlos and Judit at the opening of the Festival

Tamas Sesztak the President of the Hungarian Chess Federation, Judit and Dr Tunde Szabo, Minister of Sport

I arrived early to still see the last preparations for all the parents and children that would turn up. A young team of organised professionals was everywhere making everything look easy, while in fact hard at work to create a chess festival for the very young crowds of children who would flood through the doors at 10am on a Saturday morning. The star of the day was the tireless Judit Polgar, who was seemingly everywhere, opening the day with the Mayor of Budapest, Istvan Tarlos, doing interviews, and granting every photo request. One minute she was at the “serious” chess event host, making the ceremonial first move with the Minister of Sports, Dr Tunde Szabo, the next she was giving a simul with some very hard opponents mixed with very young kids.

Sofia, the Mayor of Budapest, Istvan Tarlos, and Judit at the start of Sofia’s simul

There were obvious highlights like two simultaneous exhibitions given by Sofia and Judit Polgar with Dutch grandmaster Loek Van Wely proving adjudications towards the end all helped fuel the festival atmosphere. Especially when Judit did not quite agree with some of Loek’s evalautions! The serious event, the Highlander Cup, was held in a soundproof room in a theatre atmosphere with the crowd in darkness with commentary available through headphones as well as the normal live Internet coverage so the rest of the world could also see players of the calibre of Boris Gelfand, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Zoltan Almasi.

Loek Van Wely was given the job of adjudicating the positions after various hours, the two main protagonists did not always agree but it was taken in good spirit!

Credit must be given to the excellent production team for the following video which gives a quick overview of this very popular Chess Festival in Budapest. A must see!

Lovely short video of the 2016 Global Chess Festival in Budapest

A room full of different choices for the young chess players of today and tomorrow

There was a stage with invited guests to talk about chess and various forms of entertainment to keep the youngters happy. The soundproof room where the “serious” chess was played was tested fully!

The giant chessboard is always popular

You could also carve your own chess pieces!

Face and body painting were just one of the many activities

The people attending the festival not only got to ask questions from the chess champions, but also Olympic champions from different sports. Above we see on the left, István Vaskuti, a Hungarian Sprint canoeist who has an Olympic gold medal as well as six gold medals at the world championships. In the center is Tamas Farago, Hungarian water polo player, a triple Olympic medal winner including a gold at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal while the young lady on the right is Danuta Kozák who is also a Hungarian sprint canoeist with five Olympic gold medals and one silver medal to her credit. Not many other events could you see such a number of sporting role model champions!

The four Hungarian champions together during Judit Polgar’s simul. You can imagine how much the youngsters wanted to meet their local sporting stars.

Ok, what event does not have a star taking a “selfie” these days? Two of the most successful women in Hungarian sporting history, Judit Polgar and Danuta Kozák.

What do kids do after the simul is over? Play chess on the now available boards of course!

The standard of the chess during the simul was quite high although the main aim of the Festival was not to find the next champion, but to highlight chess as an international activity that can bring people all over the world together. To show chess as a fun, educational and social activity, the motto of the Global Chess Festival was “Chess Connects Us” and judging from the smiling faces seen throughout the day I believe the festival was certainly a very positive experience for the large number of children who visited. Another important idea was to show the “1000 faces of Chess”, that age, gender or cultural background are no barrier to enjoying playing chess with an old friend or a new friend you might have just made online. One can only hope it can continue and expand around the world.

A lot of work has gone into the Global Chess Festival over the years and not just for the one day every year. At the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair an international jury of experts evaluated the best European products and the special prize of the Best European Learning Materials Awards (BELMA), the Merit Award, was given to Judit Polgar's Chess Palace Program.

There was also the small matter of the main event, the Highlander Cup, but that will be discussed in detail in part two

An event like this cannot be run without the help of numerous people, Judit’s husband Gustav and sister Sofia worked tirelessly throughout the day. Anna Rudolf was not only helping to organise but doing interviews and then commentating online. Special guests who came to Budapest to help out were Loek Van Wely and Jeroen Van den Berg from the Netherlands, Daniel Yarur and his lovely daughter, Jugar from Chile, as well all the participants of the Highlander Cup. Add in the huge production team, the arbiters and you can see that chess can truly brings people together and connects them!  


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Manuel has been an international arbiter, a national coach at various world Juniors, a press officer, the Director of various tournaments and has been to eleven Olympiads as captain of the Australian Open team. Straight after the last Olympiad a small group went immediately from Tromso to Mainz to see Manuel get married to his lovely wife Brigitta. They live in London.


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be8ki be8ki 10/14/2016 09:38
Thanks for the report. Some minor corrections regarding the people in the pictrues: you mixed up Tamas Farago and Istvan Vaskuti (latter is on the left in their joint photo) and Tunde Szabo is not a minister, but a secretary of state, which means the second human after the minister, its deputy.