Judit Polgar Teaches Chess 3

A Game of Queens

Judit Polgar

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Quality Chess
392 pages (hardback)

This is the third and final volume of Judit Polgar’s trilogy covering her life and career. The present book focuses on the years 2001 to her retirement from tournament play in 2014. This period includes her entry into the World Top 10 and participation in the 2005 World Championship Final in San Luis. Judit is the only women to have achieved these milestones to date.

Game collections by top players are always welcome in a world in which 80 percent of chess books published are on the opening. What makes this series special is Polgar’s annotations which are accessible to a wide range of playing strengths. She achieves this by including not only concrete variations as needed, but also a great deal of explanatory prose which is not only instructive but also entertaining.

Polgar frequently offers insights that are rarely if ever seen in the commentary of top players. The following example, taken from Polgar-Anand, Wijk aan Zee 2003, gives the reader an idea of how A GAME OF QUEENS is not only a great read, but explains how top players think. Everyone understands how profoundly computers have affected opening preparation, but Polgar points out this is not the only place where their influence is felt. She writes after 17….Qf5!:

“After 10 minutes Anand took the best practical decision.

“17…f5?! would be rather one-sided. I could strengthen the pressure along the g-file at my leisure.

“The main alternative is 17…Nxf2.

“You can play such a risky move in only two situations. Either there is no other reasonable option or you have analyzed it thoroughly with a computer. The latter situation can save you time and give you comfort and self-confidence. Use a strong computer with at least eight cores and give the engine enough time!

“I will never forget a conversation I had with Vishy. After one of his games I told him ‘Your position was very dangerous.’ ‘If you check and double-check it at home’, he answered, ‘then it is not dangerous at all.’

There could be no better description of the modern reality of opening preparation. I would add that this approach works out well not only in chess, but in real life as well!” Earlier, on page 168, Judit writes about the silicon oracle.

“Somewhere around 2004 or 2005 I experienced a general crisis in my opening preparation. I had a tough battle with myself to accept the fact that, whether I liked it or not, I had to use the engines on a daily basis, double-checking my old analysis as well as all my new ideas. I can say that the whole concept of preparation changed due to the intrusion of technology into chess!”

Later on the same page she observes:

“The engine’s evaluations can at times be very misleading. These days, one can frequently hear a player complaining that he had lost from a position with a +4 advantage, but that is not always relevant from a sporting point of view. In order to prove the advantage, one sometimes needs to find one far-from-obvious move, or even a whole series of such moves. You should not stop analyzing an opening variation before you understand why it is winning.”

A GAME OF QUEENS has twelve chapters. The first three focus on Judit’s battles with the giants Kasparov, Karpov and Kortchnoi. The middle of the book includes sections on the opening, middlegame and endgame.

All top players are strong in all phases of the game, but are noted for their preference for certain types of positions. For Judit this was sharp complicated middlegames with attacks on the King and there are no shortage of King hunts in A GAME OF QUEENS. These are all good fun, but check out the 55-page chapter on her most memorable endgames! In particular the opposite colored bishop ending she saves against Kramnik (Wijk aan Zee 2003) to which she devotes five and a half pages of commentary. Equally instructive is her win over Azerbaijani GM Guseinov at the 2011 European Individual Championship where Judit makes a space advantage count from a position that seems almost certain to end in a draw. Play over these two games and the miracle save against Grischuk (Biel 2007) in a Knight ending two pawns down and you will appreciate what a fine endgame player Judit was.

Like the two previous volumes, A GAME OF QUEENS features many games where the Sicilian and King’s Indian, two of Judit’s favorite openings, are used. This includes her win as Black against Magnus Carlsen from a rapid tournament in Mexico City in 2012. This was a memorable victory for Judit, but characteristically she adds that Magnus won the second rapid game and both blindfold games to take the match.

Such fair mindedness is not always present in the writings of great players and this example is not an isolated incident. Elsewhere in the book Judit praises Rustam Kasimdzhanov for his good sportsmanship after beating him at San Luis 2005. Incidentally, she spends almost 11 pages analyzing that game. The only other recent book this reviewer can recall in which individuals and incidents are treated so fairly and objectively is Yasser Seirawan’s CHESS DUELS.

Some of Judit’s views on chess matters may surprise readers such as her opinion that Khanty-Mansiysk 2010 was the best organized of the numerous Olympiads she has played in. The change from game points to match points in FIDE team competitions meets with her approval as she feels it makes chess more of a team game instead of four individuals playing together. She is quite right than scoring by match points makes each game more important, but to this reviewer it seems better suited to a small round robin event like the World Team. It’s a harder fit for an Olympiad with close to 200 countries competing and match scoring leading to difficulty separating teams aside from the medalists. Ironically the reason some insiders give for FIDE making the switch is not to make these events more team oriented, but because of an incident at the 2004 Chess Olympiad. There were allegations that a thrown last round match affected the medals. Scoring 2 for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss does not have as much impact in a single round as game points, which can range from 4 to 0.

A GAME OF QUEENS is a personal book. Judit lets the reader get to know what great support her husband Gusztav is and what a joy her children Oliver and Hanna are. There are many pictures of them and of Judit not playing chess that give the reader a glimpse into her life away from the board. There certainly has never been a chess book in which one of the world’s best has been photographed with so many different animals – cheetah, lion, chimpanzee and tapir! Gusztav, being a veterinarian, was undoubtedly a help with these.

All three of the books in this series are well-produced. Each is a neatly laid out hardback with a two-column format printed on good paper. Care has been taken to ensure that all of the numerous photographs (all black and white except the front and back cover) are clear and of good quality. The price of $30 represents exceptionally good value.

It’s rare to find a chess book, let alone a series, that will appeal to such a wide range of players. Some will like it for the annotated games, others for the stories, observations and photos. Most will like everything about this book and series about one of the greatest players and ambassadors the game of chess has ever known.

Highly recommended