“There has long been a lively debate about who is the strongest player of all. Prominent candidates are Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine or Emanuel Lasker. But there is no argument about the greatest female player: she is 21-year-old Judit Polgar.” – GM Robert Byrne (in his New York Times column in 1997)
The Amazing Career Of The Best Female Chess Player Ever
She is the first, and to date only, woman who achieved an Elo rating above 2700 with a peak rating of 2735 and a peak world ranking of No. 8 in 2005. She also was the youngest chess player ever to make her way into the FIDE Top 100 players rating list in 1989, aged 12 and ranked No. 55.
Among her countless victims in rapid and classical chess are also several World Champions: Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, Veselin Topalov, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky, to name just a few.
She was way ahead of all her female rivals by a large margin.
- Click here to get instant access to Judit Polgar’s 15 hour chess course on the Sicilian Defense with 50% off
But what else do we know about Judit Polgar’s chess career? Nowadays, many chess players are reluctant to study the great classics from the past and present, and so they miss out on learning key concepts from the chess giants.
It’s a bit sad to see that many club players today only have a vague idea of Judit Polgar’s aggressive style and her many sacrifices, but can’t name or recall a single game she played.
In this article, we’re going to retrace Judit Polgar’s chess career from an early age to when she retired from competitive chess in 2014.
How did Judit Polgar, who was born in Budapest in 1976, become such a strong chess player? Why did she never compete for the Women’s World Championship title? And what are her best games from her career?
Play Like Judit Polgar – Test Positions
To start, you have the opportunity to learn actively and solve 4 puzzles from Judit Polgar’s games. Put yourself in Polgar’s shoes: (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of this article.)
Judit Polgar: Childhood and First Grandmaster Scalp
Judit and her two sisters were part of a controversial experiment by their father László who wanted to prove that “geniuses are not born, but made.” He wanted to show that children are able to have exceptional success at a certain subject if they study it very hard from a very early age onwards.
The three sisters were educated at home, with a special focus on chess.
When it came to competitive chess in tournaments, László Polgar’s approach was remarkable. He didn’t want his daughters to participate in female-only events and wrote: “Women are able to achieve results similar, in fields of intellectual activities, to that of men. […] Chess is a form of intellectual activity, so this applies to chess. Accordingly, we reject any kind of discrimination in this respect.”
From an early age on, Judit had a lot of passion for the game and worked hard to improve her chess. Aged 11, she already made the headlines in the chess world by beating her first grandmaster. Let’s take a look at that game.
Polgar, Judit (2355) – Gutman, Lev (2475): Brussels 1987
Chess Olympiad 1988: Gold For Hungary In The Women’s Section
“I always say that women should have the self-confidence that they are as good as male players, but only if they are willing to work and take it seriously as much as male players.” – GM Judit Polgar
Judit Polgar’s success did not stop. In 1988, aged 12, she fulfilled the requirements for the title of International Master. At the time, she was the youngest player to ever obtain the IM-title. Players like Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer, for example, were both 14 years old when they became an IM.
In 1988, Judit and her two sisters, alongside Ildikó Mádl, played for Hungary in the Women’s section of the 28th Chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki. Judit Polgar did not play many women-only tournaments in her life. Yet, as the Hungarian Chess Federation’s policy was that women should play in the women section, Judit had no chance to play in the men’s section at that time.
Before the Olympiad started, Eduard Gufeld, a Soviet grandmaster and the team coach for the Soviet women’s team, dismissed the three Polgar sisters: “I believe that these girls are going to lose a good part of their quickly acquired image in the 28th Olympiad. Afterward we are going to know if the Hungarian sisters are geniuses or just women.”
The Polgar sisters proved him wrong. Not only did Hungary win the Chess Olympiad ahead of the strong Soviet Team, but Judit scored a stunning 12,5/13 points and a performance of 2694, winning the individual gold medal on board 2.
For her miniature against Pavlina Chilingirova, she even won the brilliancy prize.
Polgar, Judit (2320) – Chilingirova, Pavlina (2195): Thessaloniki 1988
Judit Polgar Becomes A Grandmaster, Aged 15
In January 1989, before Judit Polgar became 13 years old, she entered the Top 100 Elo rating list. With a rating of 2555, she made it to number 55 in the world and thus already overtook the reigning Women’s World Champion at that time, Maia Chiburdanidze.
She already could have thought of participating in the Women’s World Championship cycle with good chances of success. Yet, Judit took over her father’s attitude towards female-only events and never played in the Women’s World Championship in her life.
Yet, it took Judit almost three more years until she managed to make all the three necessary GM norms. It was in December 1991 when she made her final GM norm by winning the Hungarian National Championship. Judit was 15 years and 4 months old at the time and thus broke Bobby Fischer’s record as the youngest Grandmaster, who had become a grandmaster at 15 years and 5 months.
Almost all the strong Hungarian players at the time (apart from Zoltan Ribli who was missing) participated in the National Championship. It’s interesting to note that Judit won the tournament with 6/9, three wins and six draws. All three wins were games in the Sicilian Defense – two wins with White and one with Black.
In the last round, she only needed a draw with Black to make her final GM norm. Yet, she won her game to also win the championship.
Tolnai, Tibor (2480) – Polgar, Judit (2550): Hungarian National Championship 1989
If you’re looking for in depth analysis of Judit Polgar’s game against Tibor Tolnai from Judit Polgar herself, you can watch Judit Polgar’s webinar on the Sicilian Defense.
- Click here to get instant access to Judit Polgar’s 15 hour chess course on the Sicilian Defense with 50% off
Not only does she take a closer look at this game, but also at two more games she played in the Sicilian Defense – one game against Elisabeta Polihroniade at the Chess Olympiad in 1988 and one against Garry Kasparov from 2001.
Judit Polgar’s Brilliancy Against Alexei Shirov in 1994
After Judit Polgar became a grandmaster, she was invited to many strong elite tournaments where she managed to compete with the world’s leading players. She had many successful tournaments. In 1994, for example, she won the Madrid International with a stunning 7/9 in a field that included players like Gata Kamsky, Evgeny Bareev, Valerly Salov and Ivan Sokolov.
Later that year, Judit played a brilliancy in the Sicilian Defense. It was in a tournament that included top players Anand, Karpov Ivanchuk, Shirov, Kamsky, Salov, and Ljubojevic. It took place in Buenos Aires as a tribute to Polugaevsky. The format was quite interesting as in each game, Black had to play the Sicilian Defense as Polugaevsky was considered to be one of the biggest experts ever in this opening.
Generally speaking, Judit Polgar is well-known for her fierce attacking games. Her speciality was the Sicilian Defense, with both colors, as it gives the opportunity to brilliantly sacrifice material in order to win the initiative.
In the following video, IM Anna Rudolf analyses Judit Polgar’s fantastic win against GM Alexei Shirov. In this game, Judit Polgar, with the Black pieces, sacrificed two pawns to obtain excellent piece activity:
Another brilliant game by Judit which is worth taking a closer look at was played in the Linares Super-tournament in 1997. The tournament featured 12 exceptionally strong players and was finally won by Garry Kasparov (see the final ranking below – source: 365Chess.com):
In round 4, Judit won a nice miniature with the Black pieces against Vassily Ivanchuk:
Ivanchuk, Vassily (2740) – Polgar, Judit (2645): Linares 1997
Judit Polgar against Garry Kasparov: A Historic Victory
“It was all-out war for five hours. I was totally exhausted. She is a tiger at the chessboard. She absolutely has a killer instinct. You make one mistake and she goes right for the throat.” – GM Joel Benjamin (after a game he played against Judit Polgar)
Throughout her chess career, Judit Polgar had many encounters with Garry Kasparov. For example, you might have heard of the Infamous Touch-Move Game where Kasparov furiously insisted that he hadn’t let go of his knight.
In a free preview video from her 15-hour Master Method for iChess.net, Judit Polgar shows you some of her games against the Garry Kasparov in the Sicilian Defense:
Yet, Judit Polgar’s most important game against the living legend Garry Kasparov took place in 2002.
This historic Judit Polgar vs Garry Kasparov game took place in round 5 of the 3rd Russia vs Rest of the World Match, 2002. (The first was in 1970 and the second 1984, so very different players in each).
Playing for Russia were 4 World Chess Champions: Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik and Rustam Kasimdzhanov (FIDE World Champion). The Rest of the World team could only field two: Vishy Anand and Ruslan Ponomariov (FIDE World Champion). However, the supporting cast of Judit Polgar, Boris Gelfand, Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexei Shirov was strong enough to challenge anyone and, the Rest of the World team’s average rating was 1 point higher than Russia’s.
The tournament was played under rapid rules with 25 minutes per game and a 10-second increment per move.
A Garry Kasparov vs Judit Polgar clash ignited everyone’s imagination: the highest rated male player versus the highest rated female chess player.
Judit Polgar opened the game with 1.e4 which lead to a Ruy Lopez (Spanish opening) and Garry Kasparov opted for the Berlin Defense, as famously used by Vladimir Kramnik to frustrate Kasparov during their World Chess Championship match in 2000. The Berlin Defense, however, had rarely been used by Kasparov before and he did not seem comfortable playing it.
Polgar played actively and slowly built her advantage while Garry Kasparov seemed confused by the line and was unable to effectively develop his pieces. While this game doesn’t have the ultra-aggressive attacks both players are often associated with, it is still a very accurate reflection of Judit Polgar’s style, in that her play is extremely logical and straightforward.
Once Judit Polgar was able to double the rooks on the 7th rank, Kasparov’s position was hopeless. FM Will Stewart analyzed the game in the video below:
It is key to understand that this Judit Polgar vs Garry Kasparov game was important from a historical perspective as it was the first time – in ANY sport – that the #1 women’s player in the world had beat the #1 men’s player in a competitive game.
Judit Polgar: Her Chess Career from 2003 – 2014
In January 2003, aged 26, Judit became the first woman to overcome the 2700 barrier. Within one year, by January 2004, she made it to an impressive rating of 2722 and number eight in the Elo rating list.
Right up until the summer of 2005, she continued her fine form and hit 2735 Elo, the peak rating of her career. What’s especially remarkable about this rating increase is that it happened in a period when she gave birth to her first son, Oliver.
From 2003 until her retirement from competitive chess in 2014, she played many great games and had many tournament successes. In 2003, for instance, Judit Polgar had one of her best tournament results in her whole career at Wijk aan Zee.
With an unbeaten 8/13, she finished second, only half a point behind the future World Chess Champion Vishy Anand and clearly ahead of players like reigning World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, Alexei Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Alexander Grischuk, Anatoly Karpov, Veselin Topalov and many more.
One of her best games in this tournament was her positional win against the godfather of positional chess – Anatoly Karpov:
Karpov, Anatoly (2688) – Polgar, Judit (2700)
Judit Polgar Beats World Champion Magnus Carlsen in 2012
To finish this article, we take a look at a game where Judit Polgar managed to beat the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a rapid game in Mexico City in 2012.
Carlsen, Magnus (2848) – Polgar, Judit (2705): Mexico 2012
Conclusion: Judit Polgar – The Best Female Chess Player Ever
“In chess, the most unbelievable thing for me is that it’s a game for everybody: rich, poor, girl, boy, old, young. It’s a fantastic game which can unite people and generations! It’s a language which you’ll find people “speak” in every country.” – GM Judit Polgar
In this article, we chronicled the amazing chess career of Judit Polgar, the first, and to date only, female chess player having crossed the 2700 barrier and competed with the world’s best male players at the highest level for years.
Polgar proved that the prejudice that women lack the killer instinct to crush their opponents in chess is wrong. Her countless crushing attacks against various strong GMs from all over the world show the exact opposite. That said, Judit Polgar not only challenged the gender-biased establishment but she forever shattered the idea that a woman can not compete with the world’s best.
The good news for you, after having made your way through this huge article, is that you can not only learn about Judit Polgar, but also with her.
We are glad to tell you that Judit recorded a video course which became an instant classic: The Judit Polgar Method – Sicilian Defense Mastery.
Secrets of the Sicilian is Judit’s first ever video chess course in which she analyzes the most instructive, fascinating and difficult games from her career against players like Kasparov, Ivanchuk, Anand, and Topalov – plus other Sicilian brilliancies by legends like Tal and Fischer.
In this course, Judit will transform you into a Sicilian Defense master whether you’re playing with the white or black pieces. You will learn the typical sacrifices and maneuvers, where to place your pieces for optimum performance and what tactical ideas you should look for.
As well as the 15+ hours of superb video lessons by the strongest female player ever, you get bonus videos of Judit’s Q+A session and a game vs. GM Ron Henley, 18 HQ photos, 30 challenging puzzles, a 4000 word course summary and the PGN of all 56 games!
After 15 hours of training, you’ll become a highly trained Master of the Sicilian Defense!
Solutions To Test Positions:
- Top Left (Polgar – Chilingirova, Thessaloniki 1988): 1.Qh6! Qf5 (Black’s only defense to stop Bg5-f6) 2.Qxf8+! Kxf8 3.Bh6+ Kg8 4.Re8 mate.
- Bottom Left (Shirov – Polgar, Buenos Aires 1994): 1…Qxg5! Now, White’s position falls apart. Black’s pieces are too active. After 2.Qxg5 Nf3+ 3.Kd1 Nxg5, Black wins back the queen with a crushing initiative. White’s pawns on e4 and h5 are hanging.
- Top Right (Polgar – Anand, Wijk aan Zee 1998): 1.Rh8+ Kg7 2.Qd4+ Bf6 3.Qxf6+! (a beautiful queen sacrifice) 3…Rxf6 4.Rh7+ Kxh7 5.Nxf6+ Kg7 6.Nxd7.
- Bottom Right (Polgar – Berkes, Budapest 2003): Judit won with the strong 1.g4!! (stopping the Black g-pawn from marching forward and threatening to play h2-h2, opening the h-file) 1…Rb8 2.h4! g6 3.hxg5+ Kg7 4.Qf4 (with the idea to transfer the queen to the h-file) 4…Bb7 5.Rh7+! Kxh7 6.Qh2+ Kg8 7.Rh1 +-.