Friday 3 January 2014

Chess Reviews: 232

From GM to Top Ten
By Judit Polgar
392 pages
Quality Chess
Volume 2 of the Judit Polgar's trilogy is now available. The first volume - reviewed here - took her chess story up to 1991 and the breaking of Fischer's record to become the world's youngest Grandmaster. This time, the period covered is 1992 - 2000.

Explaining the layout of the book, Judit says: ''I chose to structure the material as a manual rather than an autobiography. This way, it would be instructive for young players or amateurs aspiring to progress, but also offer a guideline to their parents or trainers. True, there would be a wealth of autobiographical stories, but they would pop up without respecting a chronological order.''

The material is split into the following chapters:

Reminiscences from my Childhood
Solving 1
Dynamic Pawn Play
Positional Sacrifices
Thunder from a Blue Sky
Fluid Attacks
Solving 2
My Matches
Solving 3
My Memorable Games

Judit Polgar's games are rarely - if ever - dull. Back in 1992, Smyslov even went so far as to describe her as ''Tal in a skirt''!

''I have always treasured beauty in chess'' admits Judit and the games in this volume certainly support the statement.

J. Polgar vs. Garcia
Dos Hermanas 1993
Here's one for you to solve. There are two ways for White to force checkmate in four moves and both lines start with a big sacrifice. Can you find both paths to mate?

Judit's results were as spectacular as her games. The very first chapter - starting with the year 1992, when she was still in her mid-teens - sees her beating Korchnoi and drawing with Karpov. It's not all one way traffic though, as a crushing defeat at the hands of Shirov demonstrates. Not many players like to show their defeats in their own books, but in this respect Judit is following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Fischer.

Indeed, the 11th World Champion makes a significant appearance towards the end of chapter 10, My Matches. The Polgars spent time with Bobby while he was in Hungary and Judit offers some revealing snippets about their days together and his personality.

''His behaviour was rather childish. He used to laugh a lot and tried to make jokes all the time. This is the reason why we never took him too seriously when he expressed anti-Jewish views or accused the Soviets of pre-arranging games at the highest level. Somehow, his words did not seem to match the way in which he said them, neither did they fit with the general ambiance.''

Of course, there never was a Fischer vs. Polgar match, but Bobby's temporary return to chess in 1992 had the world speculating on the possibility for a while. Meanwhile, Judit did to get to play a 10-game match with Boris Spassky (as a direct result of the second Fischer vs. Spassky match), which she won. A Rapidplay match victory over Anatoly Karpov followed in 1998. During the fifth game of the match, Karpov reacted to Judit playing on in a lost position.  ''At some point Karpov looked into my eyes and said: 'It is not nice to play on!' .'' Later, Karpov blundered into a stalemate...

Karpov played 75 Qf3?? stalemate!
 ...and ''he was so upset that he left the board without shaking hands.''

I enjoyed the little stories just as much as the sparkling games. We even get the inside story of the infamous clash with Kasparov (Linares, 1994), in which the 13th World Champion let go of his knight, saw that his move would lose the exchange and then quickly picked it up and played another move (and won, 10 moves later). It all happened so quickly but there were people watching and the champion got away with it. Judit's prose coverage of the incident is well worth reading.

The book is beautifully produced, with a hardback binding and numerous photographs (some of them full-page - a real rarity in chess books).

There are only two things I would have preferred: 1) All illustrative games to be complete scores and not starting from a position, as some do; 2) More anecdotes!  I know they are present throughout the book but I'm sure there must be lots more. There must, for example, be far more to say about the time spent with Fischer. Maybe a full-length autobiography will follow at some point.

Incidentally, Judit has been the No.1 ranked female chess player for 25 consecutive years. The FIDE lists, released on 1 January 2014, provided confirmation. An amazing achievement.

Oh, and one final note...despite my enthusiasm for the French Defence and the DVD and books I recently reviewed on the subject, I definitely wouldn't recommend meeting Judit's habitual 1 e4 with 1 ...e6! Based on the evidence presented in this book, it really would be asking for for trouble...

Extremely entertaining and highly instructive, this is a truly a book to savour. Hopefully, Volume 3 - A Game of Queens - will be available very soon.

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