Monday, 5 November 2012

Chess Reviews: 201

How I Beat Fischer's Record
By GM Judit Polgar
384 pages

How I Beat Fischer's Record covers Judit's chess career 'from my early years until 1991, when at the age of 15 years, 4 months and 28 days, I broke Fischer's record by roughly one month and became the youngest ever grandmaster.'

It is not a straightforward chess autobiography, nor is it simply a 'best games' collection. The material has been structured by theme. 'The aim is to increase the educational value of the book, but it also evokes the rapid progress I made at that young age.'

Themes are given a chapter each:

Mating Net
Trapping the Queen
Tales with an Unexpected End
Improving Piece Placement
Pawn Play
Piece Domination
A Lead in Development
Attacking the Uncastled King
The Art of Simplifying & Elements of Endgame Technique
Attacking without Queens
Decisive Games
Memorable Games
Amsterdam 1989 OHRA Tournament Diary

These days, when chess prodigies just seem to be younger and younger and there is far more equality than ever before, it is easy to forget how much of an impact the Polgars had on the world of chess. Judit's memories provide a reminder of how they shook up the world. Winning the gold medals at the 1988 Thessalonika Olympiad - 'the first major success of the Polgar sisters' - was in itself a remarkable achievement (the Soviet team had previously won every Olympiad in which they had competed) but it was phenomenal when one takes into account the ages of the team: Susan Polgar (19), Ildiko Madl (19), Judit (12) and Sofia Polgar (14).

Indeed, I enjoyed reading of such achievements even before I started to look at the illustrative games. It brought back memories of a time when I used the games of the young Polgar sisters for coaching purposes. They proved to be very good examples, inspiring my young students to compete against much older and more experienced players. Judit, of course, had great success in that department and it took some of the established players a while to get used to it. There's a great quote from Hans Ree, prior to to his encounter with Judit at a tournament in Amsterdam (1989): 'In case I get the option to take a pawn en passant, I think I will not do so, even if it is good for me. I guess she is too young yet to know the rule!' Ree had to resign after 24 moves...

The book has plenty of photographs, most of which were new to me. Some of them show how much chess has changed since the 1980s. On page 13 there is a snap of Judit working hard over a real chess board, writing notes (with pen and paper!) with a desk covered in chess literature, including a New in Chess Yearbook and a volume of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. Looking into a mirror from the other end of the room is Susan Polgar. The caption is: The way we prepared back then. Later in the book there's a photo of Judit in front of a large filing system. One laptop can do all of that work now, of course.

The games themselves are exactly what one would expect: sharp, direct and bristling with tactical nuances. The early chapters provide the more basic examples, such as these, which you are encouraged to try for yourself:

Polgar - Chilingrovia: White to play and mate in three

Bertholee - Polgar: Black to play

As we work through the book, the games become real heavyweight encounters. For example, a game with Anand (Munich, 1991) has no fewer than 13 pages of annotations. Judit's no-nonsense approach has always been admirable; there are, for instance, games showing her beating Uhlmann's Winawer French (something Fischer couldn't always do) and Polugaevsky's Najdorf Sicilian (albeit not in THE Variation).

The depth of the young Judit's game is repeatedly demonstrated by a whole host of kingside attacks (expect a lot of g2-g4 pawn thrusts as White and several ...h7-h5 lunges as Black) but one example which caught my eye came on the other side of the board.

Majul - Polgar
Black played 46 ...Qb4!

'When I offered the queen swap, I had already foreseen the consequences of opening the c-file and clearing the road for my king towards the dominant d4-square. I have little doubt that this kind of long (though elementary) strategic vision had been developed precisely because of the training methods mentioned in the introduction. Without it, I probably would have looked for a tactical solution, which may well not have worked.'

After 47 Qxb4?! - which 'fails to see the danger' - 47 ...cxb4, Judit was already planning a king march. Sure enough, fast forward to move 61 and there is the critical moment of the whole plan.

Black to play - can find the winning simplification?
How I Beat Fischer's Record presents a feast of nostalgia, entertainment and great chess. It is an inspirational chess book. Quality Chess have provisionally scheduled the next two books in the series - From GM to Top Ten and A Game of Queens - for 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Judit will soon be making her London Chess Classic debut. Hopefully some of the game she will play at the Olympia will find their way into future volumes.

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