How important is confidence in chess

In chess, action has consequences

What was your fastest mate?

About 15 moves. But that doesn't reveal anything about whether the opponent is strong or weak.


For example, how well the opponent is familiar with the respective opening. Sometimes the way he moves the figures, whether the hand trembles. Such a thing can of course only be observed when playing with amateurs.

What is chess about: defeating your opponent or solving a task?

Since this is a sport, in the end all that matters is that I win the game. But I've always loved the art of the game. For a long time, aesthetics had priority for me. In top-class sport, however, I only managed to get into the TOP10 because I learned to make compromises and not only let my heart drift, but also use my mind. Then I played more thoroughly, did not take unnecessary risks, and at the same time paid attention to the status of the tournament and my own form.

After four decades of chess, are there any surprises for you at all, such as a new type of combination that you discover during an analysis?

I am less surprised by the human talent for combination, but more by the logic of AlphaZero's artificial intelligence (this software was developed by the AI ​​company Deep Mind / editor's note). Man is predictable; it is extremely rare for people to present combinations that I have never seen before. The computer, on the other hand, sometimes has amazing steps ready.

JUDIT POLGÁR was born in Budapest in 1976. At the age of nine she won her first international tournament, at the age of twelve and fourteen she won - as the only girl among the boys - the youth world championship and, at the same time, won the women's chess Olympiad with her sisters Zsuzsa and Zsófia in the same years. At the age of 15 she became the youngest grandmaster of all time, and from 1989 to 2014 she consistently led the world rankings for women. In 2005 she was ranked 8th in the world for men. She was honored with the Chess Oscar seven times and she was named Chess Player of the Century. She is married and has two children.

Is his logic so different?

A chess computer offers solutions that it gains from the experience of millions of games that have been fed into it. He looks very far ahead: on move 12 he already knows what the punch line will look like on move 24. A person cannot overlook that, we have different intuitions. The machine combines strategy, positional play and tactics - we can't do that like that. We humans see specific trains or we think strategically.

How many moves can you foresee?

It all depends on the situation on the board. Imagine a trip where you want to visit a dozen and a half places. So you will calculate how you logistically go about getting to all of these places. There are concrete positions in chess: if you are pushed into a corner, one move may automatically follow the other. At other times, combinations can be planned strategically. There are then up to 25 trains in mind.

Every move is a fork in the road. Doesn't a game of chess develop a bit like solving the Rubik's Cube?

I don't see many parallels there. I'm just reading Ernő Rubik's new book, we talked about it. In chess we also play blind games, without seeing the pieces. If I want to get to Heldenplatz from downtown, it's not difficult for me because there are solid clues. In chess, however, things move, you have to take the opponent's moves into account. Similarities to Rubik's Cube are, of course, that memory and visual imagination are required.

Back to artificial intelligence: do grandmasters train with software today?

Of course, everyone without exception. They rely on the Leela Chess Zero AI project. Apart from artificial intelligence, every professional has chess programs on his computer that are running around the clock. Competitive sport has changed enormously: While players used to rely on training partners, today they play against computers that calculate more precisely and give tips. Humans are not allowed to give up their leadership role; they have to control the machine and give it instructions.

Do you share fears that AI could one day turn against humans?

DeepMind is part of the Google Group and has used the game of chess to model how Artificial Intelligence can be applied to other areas of life. It is extremely important that humans maintain control over these developments. AI promises great opportunities, but it also comes with huge dangers. Humankind could overcome the biggest problems with it, or it could go under.

What does a person win with chess? Which abilities and skills does play promote in the child's psyche?

It depends on whether the child is doing competitive sports or just playing. I approached this sport professionally from the start. No matter what I put in my head today, I allow myself to be guided by maximalism, perseverance, fighting spirit and humility. In the case of children, of course, the game and thus the feeling line dominates at first. If you like the game, you will have to decide at some point whether you want to play it as a competitive sport. Chess promotes personal development immensely, it teaches children to respect rules, to accept defeat, to think logically, to plan and to understand that decisions have consequences.

Her father László Polgár demonstrated in a kind of educational test that geniuses can be trained, as he himself titled one of his books. All three daughters became world chess champions in their teens. Didn't you feel like you were paying too high a price for it as a child?

No, I didn't have that feeling. Probably because I was very successful extremely quickly. I won my first international tournament in New York when I was nine years old. I traveled a lot, which was a great thing in those times. Of course we lived a completely different life than the other children, we knew that only too well. As a result, my parents had to endure many attacks. But the successes motivated me. Sure, I missed a lot as a kid, but I received a lot more things in addition.

Her father claimed that children are able to excel in one area without lagging behind in other areas - on the contrary, thanks to their sense of achievement, they get better there too. Can you share this thesis based on your experience?

Our life was actually very purposeful, my life was about chess. For a long time I was focused on it; really everything - even cinema or sports - was subordinated to the sole aim of doing as well as possible in competitions. This tension remained in me even after I started writing books, organizing the World Chess Festival, giving lectures or developing a teaching program.

When did your world expand?

When I got married. And especially when my children were born. From then on, completely different segments came into my life: kindergarten, school and things like that.

When you won your first international tournament at the age of nine, your big sister Zsuzsa had been youth world champion for a long time, and your second sister Zsófia won her first title around this time. Was it inevitable that you too would climb these heights?

My two sisters led by example and they trusted me. Zsuzsi kept saying: "It's okay, it's okay, we're playing strong, but just wait and see when my little sister competes." That gave me extraordinary support.

As the winner of the Chess Olympiad and youth world champion, you reached the top of the world rankings in women's chess at the age of just 13. They held this position for 26 years, which is unprecedented in the history of chess. What do you see as the highlight of your career?

The reason I held first place for 26 years was because my goal was to get to the top in the men's category. I finally got 8th there, which is why my position was out of reach for women for a long time. But the world rankings were not my dream, which is why I was able to achieve far greater successes. I reached the peak of my career around 2003. Actually, I wanted to be world champion in men, but I didn't make it that far.

One of your books is entitled: "From Grand Master to World Class". How do you make this quantum leap?

In the life of world-class players, talent is not decisive, but the question of how much work and energy they are willing to invest. The question of how their characters are suitable for competitive sport, how strongly they shape fighting spirit and perseverance, how well they cope with family life and teamwork in order to be able to develop professionally. It is a huge leap from the level of the grandmaster to the world class: Differences in nuances emerge, it shows how fanatically one pursues this one great goal. Many graduate from university, but very few become Nobel Prize winners.

You said goodbye to top-class sport six years ago. Isn't chess a game for life?

When I announced that I would no longer play tournaments, I meant it. I also no longer play tournaments in blitz or rapid chess. Many, such as Kasparov or Kramnik, keep coming back for a tournament in blitz or rapid chess, but I definitely don't. This is determined by my personality: I live so much in the today and now, concentrate completely on my current activities, that I don't miss the tournament chess. I neither have the time, nor do my thoughts constantly revolve around the chessboard. But no success can be achieved in this way, but without success I would be dissatisfied. I like to play, but losing all the time is less appealing. I enjoy chess these days by commenting on online tournaments or analyzing games.

With more and more tournaments being played online, I would think that the corona pandemic had less of an impact on chess life.

A little, because the athletes travel and compete in tournaments to compete. Without tournaments, their income is also lost. On the Internet, trust is crucial because it is easy to cheat - in top chess, however, this trust is given. Today millions of games are played online every day; the world of chess has changed enormously in the wake of the pandemic.

Does the game of chess increase in quarantine times?

I hear from a lot of amateurs who are now trying their hand at online tournaments. There are an enormous number of live broadcasts, and I have to admit: Even if the game offline corresponds to the sporting competition, it can also be played well on a computer.

Chess is used in prison therapy, it is effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's and autism and in reducing prejudice. Does it steer thinking onto a different track?

It's an extraordinary game. Often it is called difficult, I would rather call it complex. It follows from this complexity that many people find joy in it. It can be used very well in class. In chess there are six different pieces whose steps you have to coordinate and a team to lead. A lot of things can be modeled with it. In life we ​​encounter a wide variety of situations; sometimes there are three alternatives, other times a single solution - it's the same in chess. There are fixed rules and framework conditions, but within this framework there are almost endless possibilities. It is true that you make the wrong move, but you can still correct it afterwards. It is also true that consequences arise quickly. Chess can be easily combined with other areas of life.

Your foundation, the Judit Polgár Chess Foundation, recommends a method to encourage children to play chess. In the lower level, chess is already recognized as an optional subject. Do many schools use it?

Basically yes. In 2011 we built this program on strong foundations: Those educators chose this subject who are motivated to explore teaching methods in order to fascinate the children. The word-of-mouth propaganda did the rest, today we have 21 reference schools and can show good results in tutoring. Today's children can't stand it for a minute without picking up some kind of technical device. They need intense visual stimuli, which is a huge challenge for educators. Anyone who understands our “Chess Palace” program can use this module well.

At the 6th World Chess Festival, which took place a few weeks ago, there was talk, among other things, of what business people can learn from the game. How do skills in chess help you move forward in business?

The children are enthusiastic about the game and sense of achievement. Business people use strategic and tactical thinking to make decisions in various areas of life. There are many business people who enjoy playing chess, some even as professionals, and who benefit from this knowledge in their work.

The festival is now a major international chess festival; This year participants from more than one hundred and fifty countries registered. What is your goal with this major event?

The whole thing began in the summer of 2007 when my sisters, who have long since been scattered around the world with their families, were once again at home together. We thought of organizing a simultaneous competition with an audience. This turned into a regular event, which I developed into a full-day program a few years later, which we again named “World Chess Festival” six years ago. With a businessman friend of mine, we considered setting up an event in Budapest that would attract people from all over the world. At the same time, we wanted to make the smallest chess encounters in the country present on our website. The aim was to show what power chess has in different cultures and what significance it has in science, education and sport. After the end of my competitive career, I was able to devote myself more intensively to this topic; since then we have tried to organize more colorful programs from year to year. The most important thing for me is that chess is integrated into school lessons in some way in all countries.

Chess is a strategic game in which the professionals think through their move order in advance. Just like in life. If you look ten years ahead, which goals would you still like to achieve?

Above all, I want to keep my life in balance with my family and with myself, with the children and the outside world. I think if you look at the pace of today's lifestyle and the developments in the world, that is also the most difficult task. Certainly in ten years I will be under the influence of chess in some way and want to pass on my knowledge. Other dimensions will also open up, new projects and perspectives that I cannot even imagine today - but probably mainly online. Chess will always be important to me, and in ten years' time it will also play a more important role in education.

Translated from the Hungarian by Rainer Ackermann.

Tamás Maráczi’s interview appeared in the conservative weekly magazine at the beginning of November Mandiner.

Click here to go to Judit Polgár's website (Hungarian / English).

Click here to go to Judit Polgár's webshop. In addition to chess equipment, you can also find all of her books there. There are also several English-language titles. The autobiographical book "How I broke Fischer's record”Is even available in German at a price of 7,000 forints.