The queen has made her last move. Judit Polgar, the greatest female chess player in history, has retired from competitive chess. Statistics would also tell you that the 38-year-old Hungarian is the greatest sportswoman of all time, that too without ever competing in a women’s world championship.
Judit did not want to play with women because they posed no challenge for her; besides, she was good enough to beat the strongest of men. She has defeated 10 world champions. She has been the world No.1 woman player for 25 years. She has been one of the world’s top players for a couple of decades. She had broken the record of Bobby Fischer to be the world’s youngest Grandmaster. She was once ranked No. 8 among men.
Yes, chess allows women to compete with men, but it has not always been so. It was Judit’s eldest sister Susan who fought for that right.
The Polgar sisters — the middle one Sofia too was a strong player — were taught chess by their father Laszlo. Judit, though, was a prodigy.
Attacking player A marvellously attacking player, she took on strong male players from a very young age and beat them. English Grandmaster David Norwood, one of her victims, called her ‘the cute little auburn-haired monster who crushed you’ though she was ‘the littlest and the prettiest’ of the sisters.
Not every male was as generous. “She is after all a woman,” said Garry Kasparov. “It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche.”
That woman, in spite of the imperfect feminine psyche, beat him in 2002, while he was the world No. 1. He wasn’t the first, or the last of the world champions humbled by her: the list includes Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Anatoly Karpov and Veselin Topalov.
Judit, though, never won the world championship. But there were many who felt she had the potential for that, too. She had lifted the world title in the boys’ championships twice.
People have often wondered whether she might not want to win the women’s world championship at least once. It has been there for the asking, for the last couple of decades.
During the world championship between Carlsen and Anand in Chennai last year, this correspondent posed that question to Susan, her first coach. “I feel she should play,” she said. “Maybe she will one day, who knows.”
Judit has ruled out that possibility by announcing her retirement during the chess Olympiad in Norway. She chose to quit without being crowned.
Crowned she may never have been, but reign she did. Like no woman ever did before.