Susan Polgar's dream comeback

by ChessBase
11/11/2004 – The US women's team made history at the Chess Olympiad by capturing Silver, the first ever Olympic medal for the United States. The player and driving force behind this success was Susan Polgar, who came out of a seven-year hiatus with a stunning performance. Here's the full story and part two of our interview with Susan.

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The US women's "Dream Team" made history at the Chess Olympiad in Calvià, Mallorca (Spain) by capturing the first ever Olympic medal for the United States. The women's section consisted of 87 teams from around the world and represented the strongest Women’s Olympiad since its inception in 1924. The US team finished second behind China, but ahead of Russia, the famous chess powerhouse, who took home the Bronze medal. Although the US Women’s team defeated China in a head-to-head match, China’s total number of points scored against other teams allowed them to capture their fourth consecutive Olympic Gold.

The US women's team receiving the silver medal at the closing ceremony. In the picture from left to right are Anna Zatonskih, Jennifer Shahade, Irina Krush, Susan Polgar, Paul Truong, Alexander Chernin and Michael Khodarkovsky

The US team consisted of four players, a team captain/manager, head coach and special theoretical consultant. The team members included:

  • Board 1: Grandmaster Susan Polgar (Queens, NY)
  • Board 2: International Master Irina Krush (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Board 3: International Master Anna Zatonskih (Bowling Green, OH)
  • Reserve: Women International Master Jennifer Shahade (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Captain/Manager: FIDE Master Paul Truong (Queens, NY)
  • Head Coach: International Master Michael Khodarkovsky (Montville, NJ)
  • Theoretical Consultant: Grandmaster Alexander Chernin (Budapest, Hungary)

Back home in Queens, celebrating the silver medal at the Polgar Chess Center

The US women's team is sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. KCF provided the financial and training resources necessary to support a winning performance.

Susan Polgar captured a total of four medals during this Olympiad. In addition to the silver medal for the US team there were the following award-winning results:

  • Susan got the second prize (Silver) in percentage board points for board one. First was Viktorija Cmilyte of Lithuania with 8.5 points in 11 games (= 77.3%), second Susan Polgar with 10.5 out of 14 (=75.9%). Cmilyte's rating performance was 2550, Susan's was 2622.

  • The highest scoring women player (Gold) according to points was Susan Polgar, with 10.5 points won in 14 games. Second was WGM Zhao Xue, who picked up 10.0 points in 12 games (performance 2596).

  • The most relevant score is the overall performance rating, since for instance the third highest scoring player was the unrated Irene Kharisma of Indonesia, who chalked up 10.0 points in 12 games. But her performance against relatively weak opposition was just 2137. On pure performance Susan dominated with 2622, for which she received a gold medal. Silver went to Xie Jun at 2597, Bronze to Zhao Xue at 2596. The top ten are given in the graph below:

Susan has played in four Olympiads over a span of 16 years (see interview below). She always played board one, and never left out a game. In the four Olympiads she captured a total of 10 medals: 5 Gold, 4 Silver and 1 Bronze. She played 56 games without a single loss – which is comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s incredible 56-game hitting streak in baseball. In fact Susan has never lost a single game at any Olympiad.

Interview with Susan Polgar – Part 2

ChessBase: Congratulations on your superb performance on board one. You took the Gold for the best overall performance and you also had the most points scored at the Women’s Olympiad. You were second in best percentage on board one playing all 14 games. What is your assessment of your personal performance and that of the US teams?

Susan Polgar: Thank you very much! Overall, I think I performed as our captain and I expected and had hoped for. It took me a while to get used to the 90 30 time control. Once I got a hang of it, I was on my way.

Was this your best Olympiad ever?

I always did pretty well at Olympiads. In Calvià I had some personal records I wanted to preserve, and I successfully kept all of them. I played all 14 games on board one without a break in four consecutive Olympiads that I participated over a span of 16 years. I now have a 56 consecutive game scoring streak without a single loss. In fact, I have never lost a single game in the Olympiads. In each of these four Olympiads, I captured both team and individual medals.

USA vs Lithuania, Polgar vs Cmilyte, who took Gold in percentage board points

That is very impressive, especially your "comeback" after I think seven years where you were busy with personal and family matters – your two children – and had no time for competitive chess. How did it feel to be back on the road?

I am very glad that some members of the "Mommy’s Club" – Xie Jun, Pia Cramling and myself – showed that we still have a lot of chess left in us. Xie Jun and I finished first and second in the best overall performance of the Women’s Olympiad race. I took the overall best performance honor, but it is fair to say that Xie Jun took it easy in the later rounds since China was out in front. It is clear that she is still an incredible player. In fact, we even joked around that we still have a few tricks left to show the younger generation. We are not ready to set sail into the sunset yet. I was also very glad to see players such as Xie Jun, Maia Chiburdanidze and Pia Cramling, etc. again after so many years.

"Chess Mommies" Susan Polgar and Xie Jun before the summit match USA vs China

What about your teammates, and the performance of the US "Dream Team"?

I am half disappointed and half happy with our team results. We needed this medal to help boost US Chess. It created a lot of excitement in America. It also paid off dividends for our sponsors especially the Kasparov Chess Foundation for believing in us and sponsoring us. It was nearly two years of hard work finally paying off. This was the first ever Women’s Team medal for the US Women and I am glad I could bring home the first ever individual Gold for America as well.

The team got Silver...

I think we could be in a much better race for the Gold medal if we just played a little better as a team and had a little more luck. We lost a few points that were in our hands. We had the same match point as China, one fewer loss, higher Buchholz points, and we defeated the unbeatable Chinese team in our head to head match. But at the end, we ran out of rounds to catch up and I have to congratulate the wonderful performance by the Chinese team. I see a very bright future for Zhao Xue. She is very talented.

Young talent Anna Muzychuk, playing for Slovenia, faces Susan Polgar in round three

What is the secret of success for this US Women’s Olympiad Team?

For one, chemistry! This team spent a lot of time together in the past 18 months. We worked hard. We learned to know each other well. In addition, we had a team captain and a head coach that also know and understand us. We had a good chief theoretician as well. We went to Calvia to do a job. We took a very professional approach. It was a full team effort.

You have shown that you are still in top form. Do you plan to play active chess again or will you disappear for another 8-9 years?

Well, I am not going to play in a regular full time schedule. My two young children are on the top of my priorities. However, I will probably play in very selective events if the circumstances are right. I would definitely like to play very interesting matches to promote chess, such as the one I played against former World Champion Anatoly Karpov.

Give us some names, of some people you would like to play against?

There could be many interesting matches. One should definitely be against Xie Jun. I think we are both for this and I think it can help boost chess and relations for both China and the United States. I did not like the way the way it ended last time in the hand of FIDE. Another one is a rematch against Karpov to settle the 3-3 tie. This was the first ever match between two World Champions of opposite gender, and it created a lot of excitement and interest for US Chess. I would also not mind to play a match against the current FIDE Knockout Women’s World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova. I think the contrast of our styles would create a very intriguing battle for the fans.

USA vs Russia, Susan Polgar vs Alexandra Kosteniuk, in round four

Another idea would be against US top player Gata Kamsky. We left chess a number of years ago and now we are both back and it would be nice to have the number one US male and female player to play a match against each other.

But of course the one premier player for a match would be against Garry Kasparov. I have very high respect for Garry. He is not only a dynamic chess player but a dynamic person as well. I think this match can generate interest for US Chess the way Fischer-Spassky match did in 1972. Of course I would be the big underdog, because Garry is one of the greatest World Champions ever. But it would definitely be worth it. Other fantasy ideas that people have often asked me are matches against my sister Judit or Bobby Fischer in Fischer Random. My answer would be yes on both only if the conditions are right.

Susan about to beat the legendary Maia Chiburdanidze (Georgia) in round six

And what about your immediate plans?

I will be very active in continuing to promote chess in the United States and maybe worldwide. I have many lectures, simuls and promotional events planned in the upcoming 12 months. I will have at least three books coming out next year: World Champion’s Guide to Chess and World Champion’s Guide to Tactics by Random House, and Breaking Through by Everyman Chess. I also have a line of chess products that will be available soon. Some of the proceeds will be donated to the Susan Polgar Foundation to help promote chess for young people of all ages with emphasis for girls. I will also be doing a lot of fundraising for the Susan Polgar Foundation. We need funding to fulfill a lot of our initiatives to boost chess.

What else?

I will continue to run my chess center in Queens, NY. I have many students and I enjoy teaching them. My chess center runs tournament weekly and we have a special Super Blitz tournament every month with many Grandmasters taking part in the past. I also have my all-girls tournament for the best young girls of America, the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls. It will be taking place in Phoenix, Arizona in August 2005. In addition, I plan to organize a number of events including some Fischer Random tournaments. I want to do a lot more for chess. I am not afraid to take a step forward to make good examples for the younger generations. It is our duty to preserve the integrity of this game and bring it to a higher level.

What do you think about the upcoming match between Kasparov and Kasimdzhanov?

I think that is just the beginning of the unification process. As I said before, I think a rematch between Garry and Vladimir [Kramnik] is a must for the good of chess. Garry deserves to have the long overdue rematch. Their drastic differences in playing styles would make it a very exciting match.

During a photo shoot for Lifestyles magazine

Who would you consider the best players in the world now?

I think the top three are clearly Kasparov, Anand and Kramnik. I give a slight edge to Kasparov and Kramnik in standard time control and Anand in rapid. He is just a phenomenal player in fast time control. Even at his age, no one can ever count out Garry becoming a World Champion again. I was extremely impressed with Garry’s knowledge and calculation skills when he was in New York to help the US Women’s Olympiad Team. I learned a lot from him. His feel for chess positions is extraordinary. And then the next group of players is very close, players such as Leko, Judit [Polgar], Morozevich, Topalov, Shirov, Svidler, Adams, Ivanchuk, Grischuk, Ponomariov, Bareev, etc.

Who would you consider to be the future of Women’s Chess?

There are many young talented young female players out there. The question is how motivated will they be to continue to train hard to reach the highest level. I would say these young players have a lot of potentials: Humpy Koneru, Zhao Xue, Tatiana Kosintseva, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Nana Dzagnidze, Kateryna Lahno, and Anna Muzychuk, etc. There are many more.

Pictures supplied by Paul Truong

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