Judit Polgar in Rocca di Papa

1/7/2011 – It's the place where the Pope spends his holidays – a small hilly village in the affluent outskirts of Rome. It is also the venue of a day-long nine-round rapid tournament, with more than 140 participants, organised by Caissa Italia, a publishing house of quality chess books in Rome. The guest of honour this year was Judit Polgar, who went on to win the tournament. Diana Mihajlova reports.

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Judit Polgar in Rocca di Papa

Report by Diana Mihajlova

For several years, Caissa Italia, a publishing house of quality chess books, from Rome, has been mounting a yearly event with a simple but attractive concept: a chess star is invited as a ‘guest of honour’ to talk about his/her life and career in a question-answer session with the audience’s participation. There follows a presentation of a grant awarded by the Caissa Italia to emerging Italian chess hopes. The next day the party lead by the guest of honour, leave Rome to go to Rocca di Papa, a village 20 km away, to a nine-round rapid chess tournament. Since 2006, the ‘guest of honour’ has been Viktor Korchnoj, Gata Kamski, Vasily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand and in the latest 2010 edition, Judit Polgar.


Yuri Garrett and Judit Polgar

The organiser of the event and owner of ‘Caissa Italia’, Yuri Garrett over the years has made a significant presence in the Italian chess life as organiser of various tournaments and events. He has also created the ‘Herbert Garrett Study Grant’, which consists in 1000 Euro worth of chess books published by Caissa Italia and ten titles donated by the Scottish publishing house Quality Chess. Started in 2005 the grant aims to provide rising chess stars with a worthy library of books. Previous recipients were Daniele Vocaturo (2005), Marina Brunello (2006), Fabiano Caruana (2007), Luca Shytaj (2008), Pierluigi Piscopo and Adriano Testa (2009). This year’s recipients are Daniyyl Dvirnyy and Andrea Stella.


Daniyyl Dvirnyy

Dannyyl (23), born in Ukraine, came to Italy with his parents who emigrated there eight years ago. He started playing chess only in Italy, having left behind another great love – classical dance. ‘I loved dance, but once in Italy I could not continue my training. After a long break I realized that I could no longer return to dance and took up chess, as a substitute.’ It is always hard having to abandon one’s chosen career, but in Danyy’s case chess proved a lucky substitute. Within only a couple of years he emerged among the leading young Italians and earned an IM title. Playing on the first table in the first division for his club Montebeluna (Padova) he told me with obvious satisfaction that last year he lost only one game – to Shirov.


Andrea Stella

Andrea Stella, a quiet, polite young man talks with passion about chess and philosophy. He studies philosophy and Latin and likes to read Plato. He found an analogy between Latin and Old Greek and chess: ‘When I translate Latin texts I have to find the best solution, the best word, the exact meaning, which has to fit into the whole of the text – just like chess. Latin is more logical and technical, like a positional chess, while Old Greek is more artistic – like tactical chess.’


Judit presented the awards to Andrea and Daniyyl

After the awards presentation there was a discussion with the Chess Princess that lasted well over two hours. Monitored by Yuri Garrett, who was helped by GM Mihail Marin, for many years Judit’s secod, the conversation centred on the working English translation of the book ‘Checkmate to Men’, by Andras Kepes. Written together with Judit, it chronicles her fight and victories in the men dominated chess world. We bring you some highlights of the talk, which was interspersed with questions from the audience and revealed once again some of the well known facts of Judit’s life – starting from her childhood when together with her sisters, Susan and Sofia, they followed a strict chess training as part of their father’s educational program, which catapulted them into stardom. ‘My parents had decided that chess would be our life.’ Judit remembered fondly. ‘Because I was the youngest, at first, for a long time they (Susan and Sofia) would keep me out of the room where they were training, and my curiosity grew ever stronger about what was going on and why I had no access. But once I learned the chess rules, they would call me in because I was finding interesting solutions.’

Today a mother with two young children, a natural question imposes itself: would her kids be dedicated chess players? ‘My husband had a normal education, went to university, has a doctor’s degree… so we are trying to educate them in a more normal way. We think languages are important, so we have a Spanish nanny and they go to an English school. We spend a lot of time with our kids. Yes, they have started learning chess, particularly from the newest book that I wrote, with Sofia’s illustrations ‘Chess Playground’. But you will be surprised to know that it is not me but my husband who is instructing them in chess. They do not seem fanatic. I would like them to reach a level at which they would be able to enjoy my games when they look at them.’

Judit’s husband, Gusztav, a vet by profession, is a great moral support to her, accompanying her at most of the tournaments. ‘I sometimes travel on my own; sometimes have a second at my tournaments, Mihail Marin, or Lev Psakhis. But most often my husband comes with me, which is a great psychological support. During a tournament is important to remain fresh’

What is the chess princess’ daily routine during a tournament? ‘Wake-up 9.30 am, gymnastics for one hour, then two hours preparation. After a game, I put it in the computer, to close it; then – dinner and no more chess for the evening’

Judit is returning to chess after a break following the birth of her children. A year of inactivity in chess means being stricken off the FIDE list. In 1980 Judit, who for years kept her position among the top ten men, was off the chess scene. Janis Nisii, a journalist with the Italian chess magazine Torre & Cavallo remembered her dismay at the time, saying: ‘I was shocked to learn you were not on the FIDE list. In no sport a woman is removed because of childbirth. I was angry’.


Janis Nisii (in the background, Gusztav Font, Judit’s husband)

To which, Judit replied: ‘It is not easy with a child. I thought I would be back soon after my first child was born. It was strange to be off the list for a year, during which time my sister took my place. When the second child came, I felt that if I would continue playing, it would be impossible to reach the level I want – either as a mother or as a chess player. So I decided to take a break from chess. I am coming back now. The results are not the best. In the last year and a half, I realized I can play again but not at the highest level. After my kids, going to a tournament feels like having a vacation, having a full night sleep.”


Luca Shytaj

Luca Shytaj, another young Italian emerging star and former grant recipient, questioned the impact of computers over the ‘chess generations’: ‘There are three generations: Kasparov and Karpov in the ’80s, when chess reached its peak; Shirov and Ivanchuk in the ’90, and now the computer generation, Carlsen and Karjakin. How do you see the difference between these generations? Where the computers are taking us?’

‘For me Kasparov/Karpov was the strongest point in chess history. It was probably the time that was toughest for them. This period was unique. Kasparov was the first who brought a different approach to opening preparations. He was also the first to explore the computer in the preparations. Anand is trying to catch up with Kasparov. He is weaker in tournaments, stronger in matches. In the ’80s, if you did not prepare well for the opening, it was still OK. Sometimes I would decide my first move just before the start of the game. Today you cannot do that. Computers kill the creativity but they also help the preparation which today is inevitable. It is obvious that after 2000 the approach to chess is definitely different.”

And what about Fischer who spent sometime at Judit’s family home? What was her experience with such an eccentric person? “At first it was very exiting to meet a hero, but after you got to know him personally, he was not a person you would like to know. He was already mentally ill and tiring to be with. Fishe Random Chess was his thing at the time (1993, after the match with Spassky in St. Stefan). He spoke obsessively about the Russians cheating and anti Jews. And he never wanted to play chess with me.”

Judit has beaten most of the chess greats. She had some difficulty rummaging in her memory looking for the success that was dearest to her. ‘It is like asking a mother to choose one child over the other’. Finally, she decided that it was her match with Spassky in 1993. She fondly remembered that Spassky anticipated that he might lose and asked Judit if she would agree to a split of the prize fund independently of who would be the winner. Nope – the lady would not agree and went on winning it all.


Judit and Spassky in the 1993 Budapest match (Photo: archive Lev Psakhis)

The following day, Judit Polgar and other participants from the event in Rome, met with more than 140 players for a day long nine-round rapid tournament, in Rocca di Papa, a small hilly village in the affluent outskirts of Rome, where the Pope’s holiday residence Castel Gandolfo is also found.


Rocca di Papa

It was the season of chestnuts that abound in the region and the rapid tournament coincided with another manifestation in Rocca di Papa, the Chestnut Festival.


The chestnuts are revered in a folk celebration in Rocca di Pappa

The narrow, antique streets were lined up with local produce and wine and huge fireplaces where chestnuts are fried in the open.


A local schoolboy, Matteo, was happily helping his family in their chestnuts enterprise

Amid the music and fanfares the loud speakers announced at one point: the Mayor is on his way to visit the chess tournament!


One needed to climb steep, narrow, cobbled streets to reach the playing venue,
which was the auditorium of the church, perched on the top of the hill


GM Yannick Pelletier and his student IM Axel Rombaldoni at the 13th Rocca di Papa


GM Daniele Vocaturo and his manager Yuri Garrett.

Daniele is the fastest rising star in the Italian chess, the second youngest and second highest rated – after Fabiano Caruana. He will be making a debut in this year’s Wijk aan Zee tournament in the C group. Daniele proved the toughest challenger to Judit, having reached an equal score, 7.5/9. However in the play-offs, Judit claimed victory.


Judit – winner of the 13th rapid Citta di Rocca di Papa

Yuri Garrett’s contribution to the emerging Italian players does not stop at the gift of books. He understands they need exposure and opportunity to play against counterparts at tournaments abroad, and makes efforts to secure their participation at as many international tournaments as possible. Almost immediately after the Rome/Rocca di Papa event, he whisked his charges off to the strong Hoogeveen Open in Holland. By the seventh round, five of the top eight places were occupied by the Italian squad. By the end, two of them, Vocaturo and Bonafede, ended up sharing the 1st place. Stella emerged with an IM norm and Bonafede with a GM norm.


Italians in Hoogeveen, 2010 (from left) GM Daniele Vocaturo (2569), IM Axel Rombaldoni (2471), Yuri Garrett, IM Daniyyl Dvirnyy (2492), FM Andrea Stella (2338) and FM Alessandro Bonafede (2310) (photo: Jeroen van den Berg)

It would be a grave omission not to mention Yuri’s right hand’ in his chess enterprises, his partner, Dr. Francesca Masini. A researcher in the Linguistics department at the Bologna University she is also an instigator for combining chess and linguistics as subjects of their publishing house's production.


Yuri and Francesca

They created the study grant for chess players in memory and as homage to Yuri’s father, Herbert Garrett (Vienna 1925 – Marsala 2005), translator and interpreter, historian and engineer, Sandro Pertini’s translator and on occasions John Paul II’s interpreter. Herbert Garret bestowed upon his son the love for books and chess books and the admiration for the genius of David Bronstein.

Judit Polgar’s next venturing on the Italian soil will be this spring at the new Ravenna International Chess Tournament – Lido Adriano, 2-10 April. She will give a simultaneous on 9th April. Among the registered titled participants at the tournament are: GM Viorel Iordachescu (MDA, 2634), GM Sarunas Sulskis (LTU, 2568), GM Tamir Nabaty (Israel, 2565), GM Elshan Moradiabadi (IRA, 2558), GM Pablo Lafuente (ARG, 2561), GMYuri Vovk (UKR, 2539), GM Andrei Vovk (UKR, 2528), GM Denes Boros (HUN, 2513), GM Ramil Hasangatin (RUS, 2508), IM Michail Zaslavsky (ISR, 2431), IM Julia Mashinskaya (RUS, 2350), GM Yair Kraidman (ISR, 2258).


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