“Without work, talent is lost,” said the “queen of chess”.
It has been a long, hard journey for Judit Polgár. Speaking at an event held this week by the UCD Chess Society, Polgár recalled that, before she was born, her parents decided she would be a chess champion.
Her father László believed that geniuses are made, not born, and that with intensive training from a young age a person would become a genius. Inspired by the "game of the century" between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne, Polgár's father began to teach chess to his three daughters.
Born in Budapest in 1976, Polgár was home schooled and practised chess intensively. Fluent in Hungarian, English, Spanish and Russian, she explains that she views chess as another language she had learned to speak while she was young.
Polgár saw her first international success at nine years old and explained she never felt the need to rebel against her parents’ decision because “I was very successful from a very young age . . . there was never a bad period.”
Early victories, such as being named a Grandmaster at 15, gave her self-confidence and encouraged her to continue. Winning two Chess Olympiad medals in 1988 and 1990 with the Hungarian national women's team, Polgár was the number-one female chess player in the world for 26 years. Finding less competition in the women's game, she fought to be included in men's tournaments, despite assurances from world chess champion Garry Kasparov in the 1980s that she would not play against him.
Speaking in Dublin, Polgár received the James Joyce Award from the Literary and Historical society in UCD. Past recipients of the award include Rory O'Neill, Noam Chomsky and JK Rowling.
Diana Mirza, a 16 year old from Limerick who was recently named the under-17 world chess champion, was also in attendance. She said Polgár had been an inspiration to her ever since she had won a book about Polgár and her sisters in a chess competition. Mirza also received a recognition award from the Chess Society.
“It’s very important where you put your goals,” said Polgár. “I’m convinced that if my goal hadn’t been to be in the absolute best category I can, I would not have been able to be for 26 years the number one in the ladies’ category.”
She began competing mainly against men in the mid-1990s, explaining that the best way to improve is to play against difficult opposition. By 2005, she reached her highest ranking at world number eight in the men’s listings. Now retired, Polgár organises and commentates on chess competitions.