Judit Polgar: How I beat Fischer's record

by ChessBase
2/5/2013 – It is not often that we review books, but some simply call for attention. Such as this one by the strongest female in chess history, which was given to us by Judit during the London Chess Classic. We have known her since early childhood, and followed her career. The book was a trip down memory lane. We are pleased to share with you a sample chapter and a wonderfully annotated game.

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Judit Polgar is one of the most celebrated chess players in the world, and as a woman competing in a male-dominated game, her achievements are unparalleled. It is not often that an active world-class player goes to the trouble of writing a highly personal account of their life and chess career, but now, with the help of the British publisher Quality Chess, the strongest female player of all time has made just such a gift to the chess world.

“I started flirting with the idea of publishing a collection of my best games a long time ago. For years, I was aware that the moment when I could fulfil my dream was far away. As a professional player, I spent most of my time and energy playing in tournaments and training, so each time the idea of my book popped up, I had to say to myself “Later, later...””

So writes Judit Polgar in the preface of her new book, How I Beat Fischer’s Record. The first in a three-part series, it documents her early life and chess development, spanning a period from the early 1980s up to 1991. The latter was the year in which she made history by achieving the grandmaster title approximately one month younger than Bobby Fischer.

Breaking Fischer’s record was a monumental achievement, but when you read the book it becomes clear that it was far from being Judit’s primary goal. Rather, it can be viewed as more of a by-product of her love and boundless enthusiasm for chess. Later in the preface she writes:

“Looking at my old games brought back unique memories, but I was also surprised by my strength as a player at that age. I gained the distinct feeling that to me playing chess used to be as natural as breathing.”

Throughout the book Judit has provided an abundance of personal insights and anecdotes, from the “lucky sweater” that helped her to victory in New York, to summer snowball fights in Iceland! Above all else though, she set out to give the book real instructional value so as to benefit players of varying abilities, as well as chess trainers. The fifteen chapters have been structured according to themes (including “Tricks”, “Zwischenzug”, “Pawn Play” and “Attacking without Queens”) rather than robotically structuring the material in chronological order.

Novi Sad 1990: standing are mother Klara, Pal Benko, Susan Polgar, Miklos Morvay,
Laszlo Hazai. Front row: Mihail Marin, Judit and Sofis Polgar

In Chapter 13 (entitled “Decisive Games”), Judit recalls her experience before the final round of the Hungarian Super-Championship:

1991 Hungarian Super-Championship

The 1991 Championship in Budapest was a round-robin tournament which gathered together every single one of Hungary’s strongest players and was rightly named the Hungarian Super-Championship. As a curiosity, I remember that one of the demo board boys was Zoltan Almasi, now Hungary’s second strongest player and a Super-GM.

I was getting used to playing my most important tournaments abroad and so it felt unusual to take part in such a strong event in my hometown. On a positive note, I would mention the moral support of local fans and friends as well as the comfort of preparing for the games at home.

Even the venue was very familiar to me: we played in a small theatre called Orfum Casino inside the four-star Beke Radisson Hotel. My sisters and I used to swim in the Beke Hotel pool quite frequently and we had some friends working in the hotel. From time to time during the championship, the porter or other employees would sneak into the playing hall to check out the situation on the demo boards.

On the other hand, the pressure was much greater than abroad, and sometimes I felt that being under the local media’s spotlight took away a lot of energy. Besides, no one is a prophet in their homeland and I felt that there were some people who were definitely not rooting for me.

In high level tournaments at this time (the Interzonals, for instance) the organizers used to apply a rule that players from the same country should meet in the early rounds, in order to avoid any doubts about the justness of the results. The organizers of the Hungarian Super-Championship decided to extend this rule to the two sisters in the tournament, Susan and I, so we were scheduled to meet in the very first round.

I drew number one and Susan was awarded number ten automatically. We made a short, fightless draw, as usual. By contrast, my second round draw with Portisch came after six hours of struggle.

As the tournament progressed, I won two games with White against the Rauzer Sicilian, against Groszpeter in round 4 and Sax in round 6. Before the last round, I was sharing the lead with Adorjan (on 5 out of 8) half a point ahead of Sax, Joszsef Horvath and Susan. A win in the last round against Tolnai was essential to secure the title, but a draw would be enough for my third and final grandmaster norm. I had turned 15 in July, meaning that I could break Fischer’s long-lasting record and become the youngest ever grandmaster! The obvious question was whether to aim for a draw or go for the norm and the championship.

Before the last round we had our third day off (a common feature in closed events at that time), which gave me some time to deal with this psychologically complicated situation. I was the rating favourite (2550 compared to Tibor’s 2480), but Tibor was an unpredictable player who could produce fantastic tactical games once in a while.

I remember that the evening before the game we discussed the situation with a very good family friend whom we had invited for dinner. The general opinion was that Tibor would not really mind a bloodless draw, since his results so far had been modest, which had probably caused him to somewhat lose interest in the tournament. A peaceful attitude seemed to be justified by the fact that earlier that year in Munich I had missed the grandmaster norm by losing my last round game with white against Beliavsky. (You can find three other games from Munich in this book: against Wahls on page 30, Hübner on page 90, and Anand on page 287).

However, I did not want to give up my chances of winning the championship so easily. However, I promised that if things were not going my way, I would consider offering a draw.

[Event "Hungarian Championship"] [Site "Budapest"] [Date "1991.??.??"] [Round "9"] [White "Tolnai, Tibor"] [Black "Polgar, Judit"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B43"] [WhiteElo "2480"] [BlackElo "2550"] [Annotator "Microsoft"] [PlyCount "96"] [EventDate "1991.12.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "HUN"] [EventCategory "12"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1992.04.01"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 {I prepared this small surprise after it was suggested by Ilya Gurevich. Ilya was playing in a tournament in Budapest at the same time as our championship and came to visit us the evening before the decisive game. He had played 4...a6 in a few games and following his advice I prepared it with Laszlo Hazai for this game. I only hoped that Tibor would choose the double-edged line that actually did appear in the game.. .} ({Previously, I had almost invariably played} 4... Nc6 {, as against Xie Jun (page 157) and Friso Nijboer (page 364).}) 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. f4 {This is what I was counting on, since Tibor had played it before on a few occasions.} ({ When I have this position from the other side, I usually prefer} 6. Bd3) 6... b5 7. Bd3 Bb7 {An important difference compared with my usual 4...Nc6 lines is that Black delays the development of the b8-knight in order to create pressure against the e4-pawn as soon as possible. There is also some similarity with my usual line: the d7-pawn does not move yet, leaving the a3-f8 diagonal open, and aiming to move to d5 in one jump.} 8. Qf3 {This is the start of an aggressive plan, based on castling long. On the other hand, placing the queen opposite the b7-bishop solves Black's problems with developing the king's knight.} Nf6 {Without needing to fear e4-e5 anymore.} 9. Be3 {We had played quickly so far (Tibor had used 12 minutes and I had spent only 2), but now I thought for 15 minutes. As you may infer, my preparation for this game was very general and I was basically on my own already.} Nc6 {I saw no reason to leave the knight undeveloped any longer.} 10. O-O-O {After this move I felt that my opening experiment was fully justified: I had managed to drag Tibor into a sharp fight. Since Black now gets a clear queenside target - the king - it makes sense to investigate the alternatives.} (10. g4 {is premature.} h5 {A typical reaction.} 11. g5 {Otherwise, the attack will leave White only with weaknesses.} Ng4 {Threatening the strategically winning exchange on e3.} 12. Bg1 Nxd4 {Black needs to maintain the initiative, as otherwise the g4-knight might get into trouble.} 13. Bxd4 Bc5 (13... e5 14. fxe5 Bc5 {is a worthy alternative.}) 14. Bxg7 Rg8 {In view of the overwhelming activity of the minor pieces, Black has fantastic compensation for the pawn.}) ({In this line, the d4-knight proved vulnerable, but} 10. Nb3 $6 {should definitely be avoided. As a general rule in the Sicilian, White's king's knight is best placed in the centre. In many variations, Black gladly spends a tempo with ... Qd8-b6-c7 or ...Bf8-c5-e7 in order to force the knight back to b3 (see, for instance, the comments on the opening phase of my game against Polugaevsky, page 301). We can infer that willingly retreating the knight is wrong in principle. Besides, there is a simple concrete reason that speaks against this move here:} d5 11. e5 {This is the standard reaction to the central break.} ( 11. exd5 Nb4 {is great for Black.}) 11... d4 $1 {With the knight on d4, this resource would not have been available. Black takes over the initiative.}) 10... b4 {As I found out after the game, this was a novelty. I considered two alternatives:} (10... h5 {to slow down the kingside attack, and}) (10... Na5 { . The latter was especially appealing in view of the original plan of ... Nc4-d6, increasing the pressure against the e4-pawn and taking advantage of the omission of ...d7-d6. My last move looks more natural and less risky, though.}) 11. Nce2 (11. Na4 {is an important alternative, putting some pressure on the b6- and c5-squares. I would have played} d5 12. e5 Nd7 { covering the weaknesses and inviting White to justify the knight's presence on the edge of the board.}) 11... Na5 $1 {White threatened Nxc6 followed by Ne2-d4, so I decided to step aside from the tension. My last move leaves both White's knights competing for the d4-square, which is likely to cause some loss of harmony.} 12. g4 d5 {Played according to the rule that a wing attack should be countered with a break in the centre. Concretely, the knight needed d7 as a retreat square.} 13. e5 {With the d4-square safely blocked, White has no reason to refrain from this standard reaction.} Nd7 (13... Ne4 {looks more active, but I feared} 14. f5 {would give White the initiative. The knight is more useful on d7; by keeping an eye on the e5-pawn it inhibits f4-f5. It also enjoys more mobility on d7 than on e4, having a choice between jumping to b6 or c5.}) 14. Kb1 $1 {!is is a generally useful prophylactic move in the Sicilian, although there is no rule without exceptions: please refer to 23.Kb1 in my game against Polugaevsky (page 308). In this specific case, White clears the c1-square for the bishop, anticipating my next move.} ({Preventing the knight jump with} 14. b3 {would create unnecessary weaknesses. I would probably have played} Nc5 {bringing the knight closer to the c3-square.}) 14... Nc4 15. Bc1 O-O-O ({I had already started looking for a good moment to deliver my favourite ...g7-g5 blow, but could not find a concrete way to make it work. For instance:} 15... g5 16. f5 $1 Ncxe5 17. Qe3 {Black cannot justify the weaknesses created by the daring advance of the g-pawn and I would definitely choose White here! Therefore, I decided to move my king into safety, hoping that ...g7-g5 would work later.}) 16. h4 {It looks as if the 12 minutes spent on this move allowed Tibor to read my mind. His last move radically prevents my pawn break.} ({I was looking forward to meeting} 16. b3 {with} Na3+ 17. Ka1 g5 {with counterplay in a complicated position. After the weakening of the long diagonal with b2-b3, losing control of the e5-square may have unpleasant consequences for White.}) 16... Nc5 17. b3 Na3+ {The knight was indirectly defended on c4, since bxc4 would allow the double attack ...dxc4, but I thought that a3 was an even better square for it.} 18. Ka1 {White's king has little to worry about and he threatens to open the queenside with c2-c3, putting mine in some danger.} f6 $2 {Played too quickly, after just nine minutes. In principle, the idea of breaking in the centre is correct, but my pieces are far from optimally placed to justify such an ambitious action.} ({ The safest continuation was} 18... Kb8 $5 {moving the king to a safer square and preparing ...Rc8. If} 19. c3 Nxd3 20. Rxd3 Nb5 {with complications.}) ({ Even though it looks like a waste of two tempos compared to 13...Ne4,} 18... Ne4 {would also have made sense. The circumstances have changed over the last five moves: my king is safer and the c3-square is weak. In fact, the last move prevents the immediate c2-c3. White can try to prepare it with:} 19. Bxa3 bxa3 20. c3 Bc5 ({not} 20... Nxc3 21. Rc1 {with a deadly pin.}) 21. Qe3 {the position is very complex and full of resources for both sides.}) 19. c3 $2 { Tibor was also becoming impatient: he spent only six minutes on this move. As in my case, his idea is good in principle, but could be refined.} ({After the correct} 19. exf6 $1 gxf6 20. c3 $16 {my position would fall apart. The c5-knight is tied down to the defence of the e6-pawn and the c-file will open in White's favour.}) 19... fxe5 20. fxe5 {The difference with respect to the line suggested above is that now I also have a target, on e5.} Nc4 $1 {I was really proud of this unexpected move. My knight returns only a few moves after I had played ...Nc4-a3. As in the case of the recommended 18...Ne4 above, the explanation is that the circumstances had changed abruptly in the meantime. My last move threatens ...Nxe5 and makes use of the fact that the knight is still taboo on c4.} 21. Nxe6 $6 {This apparently logical blow has a hidden flaw. Since his last move attacked my queen, Tibor counted on 21...Nxe6 22.bxc4 dxc4 23.Be4. However, 21...Nxe6 is not forced at all.} ({He could have retained the better chances with:} 21. Bb1 $1 {Removing the bishop from the attacked square and achieving a harmonious regrouping.} Nxe5 22. Qh3 $1 {Another far from obvious move, putting the queen out of my minor pieces' reach.} bxc3 23. Qxc3 { With my e6-pawn vulnerable, I would have faced problems meeting the threat of Bf4 followed by Rc1.}) 21... Nxe5 $1 {A strong zwischenzug, played after only three minutes. With so many pieces hanging, the position becomes chaotic, which was something I had hoped for since the beginning of the game. Obviously caught by surprise, Tibor now sank into deep thought for almost half an hour.} 22. Qg3 $6 {Not the best choice, but after you miss a strong move by your opponent, it is not easy to maintain clarity.} ({It is understandable that Tibor disliked the position after the somewhat simplistic:} 22. Nxc7 Nxf3 23. Bf4 Nxd3 24. Rxd3 d4 {Threatening a double attack with ...Ne5 and grabbing the initiative.}) ({The best move was:} 22. Qf5 {Black has to resort once again to a zwischenzug in order to avoid getting the worst of it:} g6 $1 23. Nxc7+ gxf5 {Tibor must have stopped here, thinking that his knight is lost and with it the game. However, White has not yet exhausted his resources.} 24. Bxf5+ Kxc7 25. cxb4 Ne4 26. Nf4 {White has two pawns for a knight and a strong initiative. The d5-pawn is vulnerable and apart from the obvious Ne6+ White threatens Bb2. I would probably have chosen to give up some material to regain the initiative.} Bd6 27. Ne6+ Kb8 28. Nxd8 Rxd8 {White is at least not worse from a materialistic point of view, but his b4-pawn is hanging and Black's pieces are very active. The position is hard to evaluate, maybe dynamically balanced is a good try, but subjectively I prefer Black.}) 22... Nxe6 23. Bf5 Kb8 24. Bxe6 {I played the forcing sequence rather quickly, but now I stopped for a while to readapt to the changed situation.} bxc3 25. Nxc3 {White decides to take the pawn at once.} ({The tempting} 25. Bf4 {would allow the zwischenzug } c2 {provoking a loss of coordination in White's army. Still, the position would remain unclear and with mutual chances after} 26. Rd2 Bd6 27. Rc1 Ng6) 25... d4 {I was getting more and more inspired by my position and I felt that the atmosphere in the playing hall was tense. It felt as though the spectators knew they were going to witness something extraordinary: a little girl winning the championship ahead of so many great players. Not to mention breaking Fischer's record...} 26. Rhf1 {The best square for the rook.} ({For instance,} 26. Rhe1 $2 {would lose material to} Nf3 27. Bf4 Bd6) 26... Bb4 27. Na4 Rhe8 { I played my last two moves almost instantly. I felt it would be difficult to find anything better than completing my development with gain of time. I remember that with such a harmonious setup, I felt I was getting close to the win. Objectively, this is largely exaggerated, since Black is only better, not winning. However, if we add that the psychological initiative was on my side, we can state that subjectively I was right. Besides, the final result supports my optimism.} 28. Bf5 Bc6 {Fighting for the c3-square by creating the possibility of eliminating its main defender, the a4-knight.} 29. Bb2 ({I am not surprised that he rejected the passive} 29. Nb2 {. I would have continued with} g6 {followed by ...Bc3 and ...Bb5 with domination.}) 29... g6 30. Bb1 Bxa4 $1 {I am surprised to find out from my scoresheet that I played this highly committal move after just two minutes. Psychologically, I entirely approve of my decision, which justifies the exclamation mark awarded to the move. The ensuing endgame allows me to play for a win without any risk, meaning that I could fight for the title with the norm in my pocket. I also seem to have felt at home in the simplified position, since I spent only 18 minutes for the remaining 18 moves! Things also look right if we step into Tibor's shoes: being a tactician, he would have preferred to defend in a messy position, which would offer him chances to trick me. Being tortured in a dull position without anything to aim for in the tournament must have been hard to bear.} ({Objectively,} 30... d3 {would have been stronger, but the position would have been more diffcult to control. One important point is that White cannot win the d3-pawn:} 31. Bxe5 $2 Rxe5 32. Rxd3 Rxd3 {followed by ...Bxa4 and ...Bc3+ with a deadly attack.}) 31. bxa4 Bc3 32. Bxc3 Qxc3+ 33. Qxc3 dxc3 { This is the position I was aiming for when I played 30...Bxa4. My centralized knight is stronger than the bishop and the white king is immobile. Also, I am practically a pawn up.} 34. Rc1 Rc8 {Defending the c3-pawn and planning ...Rc4. } 35. Rf4 $6 {Too passive. White defends the g4-pawn and prevents ...Rc4.} ({ During the game, I considered it was absolutely necessary to play:} 35. h5 $1 { This would increase White's drawing chances by exchanging pawns and activating the bishop. At the same time, it indirectly defends g4.} Re6 {Defending the pawn and preventing Rf6.} 36. hxg6 hxg6 37. Rfe1 Rc5 {Over-defending the knight in order to free the e6-rook.} 38. Re3 Rec6 39. Be4 Rc7 40. g5 {With my pieces tied to the defence of the c3- and g6-pawns, I do not see how I could improve my position.}) 35... Rc5 36. Rb4+ Ka7 37. Rb3 $6 ({Missing one more chance to play} 37. h5 $1 {. With the white rook away from the f-file, I could try playing} gxh5 38. gxh5 h6 {. Black has avoided getting a kingside weakness on a light square and has better practical chances than after 35.h5, but the final result remains uncertain.}) 37... Rec8 {Threatening to win the bishop with the advance ...c3-c2.} 38. Be4 R8c7 {Defending the b7-square.} 39. Rcb1 { Faithful to his style, Tibor creates tactical threats. He may have also relied on the fact that "All rook endings are drawn". Well, not this one...} Nc6 40. Bxc6 ({There was no way back, since} 40. Rc1 {would be met by} Na5 {followed by ...Rc4.}) 40... R5xc6 {Apart from the strong passed pawn, Black has the more active rooks and somewhat freer king. Taken together, these elements are enough to ensure the win.} 41. Rb4 {Trying to defend the fourth rank, but it is too late.} ({In the absence of the bishop,} 41. h5 {would be ineffective:} Rc4 42. hxg6 hxg6 {Winning a pawn and the game.}) 41... Rc4 42. a3 {This desperate attempt to defend the fourth rank will prove to be only a temporary solution.} Rxb4 (42... a5 {would be equally good, but once I find a forced win I almost never look for a second one.}) 43. axb4 Rc4 44. h5 $2 {Allowing a final trick.} (44. Ka2 {would prolong the fight, although after} Rxg4 {Black should win anyway.}) 44... a5 $1 {Ouch! The pawn is taboo because of ...Rxa4 mate, so White's queenside is doomed.} 45. hxg6 hxg6 46. Ka2 Rxb4 47. Rg1 c2 48. g5 Kb6 (48... Kb6 {In view of the line} 49. Rc1 Rxa4+ 50. Kb3 Rb4+ 51. Kc3 Kc5 {White resigned. Looking back, I believe that when things go your way, there is nothing better than playing in your hometown. This game marked my most important achievement in the period covered by this volume and even justifies its title. Despite feeling like I was walking on clouds, I had the usual post-mortem analysis with my opponent, and only then shared my happiness with the rest of the family...}) 0-1

The post mortem analysis of a very fateful game

This book is a rare gem from the undisputed Queen of Chess. Available in hardcover from all major chess shops, it has been priced modestly at the publisher’s standard paperback price. An extract is available in PDF here. Judit’s second volume, entitled From GM to Top Ten, is scheduled for publication in 2013. The third and final volume, A Game of Queens, will follow in 2014.

Copyright Polgar/ChessBase

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