Susan Polgar is one of the most famous – and most important – female chess players in the history of the game. A grandmaster, Polgar has been active in chess for decades. Although she has been inactive in tournament circles for some time now, she continues to teach and coach the game, allowing her to continue to have influence in the world of chess even away from the board.
Early Life and Career:
Susan Polgar was born on April 19, 1969 in Budapest, Hungary. She is the oldest of three sisters, all of whom were taught chess at an early age by their father, Laszlo Polgar. It was his belief that child prodigies were made through specialized training rather than being born with any innate talent that led him to train his daughters relentlessly in chess. Along with Susan, her younger sisters Judit and Sofia also excelled at chess, with Judit managing to break into the top ten in the overall world rankings and Sofia earning the title of International Master.
Whether she had a talent for the game or not, the results of the Polgars’ hard work paid off early. Only four years old, Polgar was able to win her first chess tournament, the Budapest Girls’ Under 11 Championship. That pattern of being far ahead of her female contemporaries continued, as she was able to win the World Girls Under 16 Championship at just 12 years old, and became the highest ranked female chess player in the world be the age of 15.
Breaking Barriers and World Championship
In 1991, Polgar became the first woman ever to receive the Grandmaster title based on her rating and the achievement of norms, rather than simply being granted the title by FIDE (as had previously occurred for Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze). The next step for Polgar was to win the Women's World Championship, though this proved to be slightly more difficult. On her first try, Polgar reached the Candidates’ final match where she drew with Nana Ioseliani, then drew again after two tiebreaks. At the time, the resolution for a drawn match was the drawing of lots; Ioseliani won the drawing, and thus moved on to the championship match.
Polgar found much more success in her second attempt at taking the title. In the 1996 Candidates’ final, she defeated Maya Chiburdanidze by a 5.5-1.5 score to secure her place in the Women’s World Championship. There, she easily defeated reigning champion Xie Jun 8.5-4.5 to claim the title.
In 1999, Polgar was asked to defend her title against Xie Jun. However, as Polgar had recently had a child, and because the match was set to take place in Xie Jun’s home country of China, Polgar objected to the conditions. When she refused to play, FIDE declared that Polgar had forfeited. Since that time, Polgar has not participated in competitions related to the Women’s World Championship.
In the last decade, most of Polgar’s chess activity has come in the United States. On three occasions – 2003, 2005 and 2006 – she has won the US Open Blitz Championship. She also participated in the 2004 Chess Olympiad for the United States Women’s team, winning an individual gold medal and leading the team to a silver medal. Her performance continued an ongoing streak of 56 games – spanning her entire Olympiad career – in which she has never lost a game in Olympiad play.
More recently, Polgar has taken to coaching collegiate chess teams. In 2007, Polgar became the coach of the Texas Tech chess team, eventually leading the team to a national championship by winning the 2011 President’s Cup. In 2012, she – along with most of the players on her team – left for Webster University, where she now coaches.