Chess in The Atlantic

by Macauley Peterson
9/27/2019 – The American magazine The Atlantic has published an interview with the Hungarian chess players Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf in its series "The Friendship Files". Once Judit Polgar was Anna Rudolf's idol; now they are both friends. Earlier this week the magazine also featured a short film by Jenny Schweitzer Bell, and produced by Jennifer Shahade, called "Kid Chess Champions Share Their Secrets" which features a dozen cute kids who participated in the massive National Scholastic Championship in the USA. | Photo: Anna Rudolf

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Befriending an idol

Julie Beck conducted a double interview with the two Hungarian chess players Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf for the renowned U.S. magazine The Atlantic. Judit Polgar was the first woman to reach the elite level in chess, and crack the world's top ten. In recent years she has withdrawn from professional chess competition and focuses on chess education and popularization, including with her massive annual Global Chess Festival which starts in two weeks in Budapest.

Anna Rudolf played tournaments for a while and then switched to chess commentary and live streaming.

In the interview, the two players talk about how they came to play chess and how they eventually became friends. In a passage of the interview, the roles of man and woman in the chess scene are discussed. 

Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolph

Judit and Anna on a trip to Norway in November 2015 | Photo: Anna Rudolph)

Beck: My perception from the outside is that chess can be kind of a male-dominated world. Do you feel like it's helpful to have a female friend who understands the world you're in?

Judit: I think, generally speaking, whenever you are successful, you will meet more guys around you than women. You have to have your fighting spirit, your perseverance. I was always competing with the guys from a very young age. It didn't cause me too much trouble. Sometimes I was the only lady who was playing in the competitions, but I have the kind of character that I didn't mind.

For Anna, people think that things come easy for her because she's a blondie. But actually, I think she works more than most of the guys.

Anna: Likewise. Even though you are not a blondie.

Judit: I've not had to face very bizarre situations like [Anna did] when she was 20 years old. [She’s a] pretty, young, nice girl. And she plays incredibly well. She made the tournament of her life. And just because she was a girl and a blondie, people started to accuse her of cheating. It’s not so easy to handle, to be accused of something like that. 

Anna: That was in 2007. It was an open tournament in France. I was leading the tournament after four rounds. With just one round to go, I was still leading, and that's when the arbiter came to me and said, “There are some people who think that you may be using assistance in your games.” The arbiter himself and the organizers, they didn't believe it, but they wanted to make sure that people were not complaining. So they took away my backpack and they checked my lip balm because I’d had it on the table. The accusers thought that I had a microchip in my lip balm that was connected to wireless internet in my backpack and whenever I opened the tin of the lip balm, I would see the right move to make on the board.

Judit: That was a huge blow and a teaching from life to her of how unfair it can be, but you have to fight on. Right?

Anna: That's true. And you also get some comments, [someone saying] he would never lose to a woman or something very sexist along that line.

Judit: Oh, there have been many sexist lines like that. The guys can, many times, barely believe that your results are just good because you're good. Of course, you shouldn't think everybody thinks that, but there are some who think that way. For handling such a situation, you have to have a strong character to go on.

Beck: To wrap up, can you describe each other's style of playing chess? Does it reflect your personality?

Judit: I haven't seen so many games of Anna’s. In those team competitions playing for Hungary, I know that she was playing very long games. She had this fighting spirit. Her strengths were her focus and dedication. Generally speaking, you're a person who prepares as much as you can for a game, and then you focus and you give the maximum.

Anna: I obviously can say the same about Judit. She puts 120 percent in every game. The determination, the focus—they are among the many reasons why she got to be the only female player that made it into the top 10 [players in the world]. Judit is famous for her fighting spirit, for her aggressive attack in chess. She’s one of the best attacking players in the world. That is among women and men together.

I agree that your personality over the chessboard reflects how you are in life. Even though Judit doesn't compete any more, she's still extremely passionate about chess, and she promotes it in every way possible. She wants to promote the message of the Global Chess Festival: that chess can unite people regardless of your gender, your age, your profession, your income. It is a connecting bridge between many types of different people who may not be able to communicate with each other. But they can play and understand each other through the game, or they can become friends like we did.

Kid Chess Champions Share Their Secrets

"A cadre of pint-size chess champions reveals how the practice has enriched their lives."

Among the precocious kids featured is Tani Adewumi, the 8-year-old Nigerian refugee who became a strong player for his age group despite living in a New York City homeless shelter.

Andre Schulz contributed reporting


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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