by Sam Sloan
Contrary to what Mr. Monson implies, I do not by any means look lowly upon Michael Valvo, whom I have known for more than 30 years. In the early 1960s, Valvo was an innovative and creative player who made significant contributions to chess opening theory. For example, in the 1963 US Intercollegiate Championship, Valvo won the tournament by playing the Benko Gambit in the last round against Norris Weaver, four years before the Benko Gambit was first invented!! (Valvo did not play 3. ... b5 but rather played b5 on the 4th or 5th move. The game transposed into the Benko Gambit as played today.)
Valvo was stronger at five minute chess than at tournament speed. I have written an article about this, which is available at http://www.samsloan.com/fleahous.htm
However, Valvo was never in the class of Raymond Weinstein. Weinstein was a 2500 player by the age of 19, when he finished third behind Fischer and Lombardy in the 1960-1961 US Championship. As this was a zonal year, this result qualified Weinstein to play in the World Interzonal tournament. This result also gave Weinstein the automatic International Master title. Weinstein defeated Lombardy, Reshevsky, Bisguier and Robert Byrne in this tournament. Unfortunately, Weinstein became schizophrenic not long thereafter and has been institutionalized since at least 1965.
Weinstein played in five US Championships between 1958 and 1964 and always got a reasonable result. Valvo on the other hand has never made it into the US Championship. His rating has never been high enough.
I do not have the old rating lists available, but I believe that when Valvo hit his peak, which was in about 1968, he was rated about 2380. At that time, 2420 was enough to get into the US Championship. Valvo never made it in. (Remember that this was before rating inflation. 2420 at that time was equivalent to about 2520 today.)
Interestingly, the peak of Valvo in 1968 of about 2380 is almost exactly the same as his 2375 FIDE rating today. Valvo's rating is not old. His rating is in the current list of active players, not in the inactive list.
Valvo quit chess in about 1969. He came back sensationally 8 years later in the World Open of about 1977. He has played sporadically ever since.
I agree that Valvo might have become a grandmaster had he continued with chess. However, that could be said of many players. Even Arthur Dake might eventually have become a grandmaster strength player had he not given up chess.
However, the attacks by Bruce Monson on Zsuzsa Polgar are crazy and ridiculous. Zsuzsa is a full class stronger than Valvo. She is presently rated 190 points higher. Comparing them is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Valvo has never in his life played in the level of competition which Zsuzsa normally plays.
Here are some of the ridiculous statements:
>"Valvo also knew and played with Ray Weinstein and was probably a stronger player than Weinstein."
In reality, Valvo was clearly weaker than Ray Weinstein.
>"Susan Polgar, while a good player, is still only an average GM who has yet (if I'm not mistaken) to win a male GM level tournament."
Statistically, at 2565, Zsuzsa Polgar is in the top 25% of the world's grandmasters. Zsuzsa is rated number 140 in the FIDE world ranking list. On the PCA list, Zsuzsa is rated 2594, the same rating as Bobby Fischer. Valvo is not even in the top 1000 players in the world. Zsuzsa has won several "male" grandmaster tournaments. I can remember that she won Albena 1986, Leon 1989 and Brno 1991. Brno 1991 was a category 13 tournament, which means that the average rated player was rated between 2550 and 2575.
Valvo has never even played in a category 13 tournament in his life, much less win one.
>"I suspect while you were oggling at Susan because of her looks, most of the other people were concentrating on the game analysis (which is the whole point isn't it?)."
I do not need to ogle at Zsuzsa because of her looks. When looking at the analysis of a chess game, I tend to give greater weight to what the strong players say. Zsuzsa is much stronger than either Valvo or Ashley. Of those on the stage, only Seirawan is rated higher than Zsuzsa. Grandmaster Joel Benjamin and the other grandmasters in attendance are all rated lower than Zsuzsa.
>".She's a good player, but she's no where near the strongest woman player (of course that goes to Judit)"
Zsuzsa is the second highest rated woman in the world. In the last 13 years (almost half of her life), she has never been lower than number 2. Just because her little baby sister is number one, does not mean that Zsuzsa is "no where near the strongest woman player."
> Zsuzsa is "completely out of her league in the category 14+ tournaments."
A category 14 tournament is one in which the average player is rated in the range of 2575-2600. This would be a tough tournament for Zsuzsa, because she is rated slightly lower at 2565. Nevertheless, Zsuzsa could play in such an event and have a chance to get at least an even score. Valvo and Ashley are too weak ever to be invited to such an event, and if they did get in they would almost certainly finish last.
>" There are numerous U.S. GM's (and even some IM's) who would eat her lunch in a match."
This is the most ridiculous statement of all. There is no IM in the world rated as high as Zsuzsa (except possibly somebody that I do not know about who has not gotten out of Russia yet.) There is certainly no IM in the US nearly as strong as Zsuzsa. The FIDE rating list of top US players is published in the April, 1997 Chess Life, page 47. It can be seen that if Zsuzsa were counted as a US player (as she could be since she resides in the US and has a green card) that she would be number 11 in the US. There are 43 US grandmasters. Ten are rated above her and 32 rated below her. One, Michael Rohde, has exactly the same rating. This again shows that Zsuzsa is not a "weak" grandmaster but is in the top 25% of all grandmasters.
Among the US grandmasters rated lower than Zsuzsa are Christiansen (2560), Benjamin (2555), Alburt (2550), Browne (2540), Dzindzichasvili (2540), Dlugy (2530) and Fedorowicz (2510). Would anyone dare to claim that there are US IM's who could eat Dzindzichasvili for lunch? Why does anybody make such a claim about Zsuzsa Polgar?
The only US player significantly higher rated than Zsuzsa Polgar is Kamsky (2720) who has retired. Number two is Yasser Seirawan, who at 2630 is rated only 65 points higher than Zsuzsa. Seirawan would be a favorite to defeat Zsuzsa in a match, but would certainly not eat her for lunch. By the way, Seirawan has defeated both Kasparov and Karpov in individual tournament games.
Also, apparently to sum up his point, Mr. Monson states: "I wonder if you may recall a match from about 5 years ago between the Southern California FM (should be an IM or GM) Cyrus Lakdawala and the women's finalist Isolani (I think?), who was visiting in the L.A. area. Well, this mere FM, who was about a 100 rating point underdog, annihilated this gal 5-1! So if your going to compare relative strength with ratings alone, then maybe you could figure this one out."
I have looked at my chess database. I find no mention of any match ever taking place between FIDE master Lakdawala and former woman's title contender Ioseliani. However, I have learned from other sources that there was such a match but that the match in question was a friendly, unofficial and unrated match. The match was unrated because Ioseliani was showing solidarity with the other women by refusing to compete in "men's" tournaments. It must be noted here that Ioseliani obtained her rating solely from playing in "woman's tournaments". Zsuzsa Polgar has a hard rating earned from competing against men. Even if a match between Ioseliani and Lakdawala took place and Lakdawala won, what would that prove?
What really disturbs me about Bruce Monson's letter is the specter of sex discrimination which once again rears its head. Mr. Monson seems to be saying that all women are weak, that they really cannot play chess and any rewards they receive were given to them rather than earned.
The true story of the terrible ordeal which Zsuzsa Polgar suffered to get where she is today has never been told. Forgetting the fact that the families of her grandparents were incinerated at Auschwitz and her grandparents returned from the concentration camps after the war, Zsuzsa has suffered terrible discrimination throughout her career. Whatever she won, she had to win twice. For a period of nearly four years from 1981 until 1985, she was banned and blacklisted from playing chess almost everywhere in the world. The only country in which she was allowed to play freely was Bulgaria. She played in 36 tournaments in that country and emerged in 1985 as the top rated woman chess player in the world at only age 15. The chess establishment was so shocked by this unexpected development that the top officials conspired to give every woman chess player in the world, except for Zsuzsa Polgar, 100 free rating points. Zsuzsa defeated 13 male grandmasters in the 1985-1986 rating period, but after receiving the 100 free points, Maya Chiburdanidze, who had defeated no grandmasters in tournament games at all, was placed 35 points above her.
But that is only a minor part of the story. The vilification she suffered in her native Hungary even as a child, the efforts to forcibly prevent her from playing chess, the efforts to put her father in jail, the bans and blacklistings, the tournaments she was not allowed to enter, the newspaper articles constantly attacking her, no normal person could have survived this. The worst years took place during the 1981-1985 period when her name was virtually unknown to the outside world and there was nobody to advocate her cause.
The book by Cathy Forbes entitled "The Polgar Sisters" virtually skips this entire four year period as though nothing happened then.
It does not surprise me that almost nobody realizes what really happened and nobody believes this, because when I first started hearing about it, I did not believe it either. It was only when I wrote a few mildly worded newspapers articles in favor of Zsuzsa Polgar and suffered immediate threats, vilification and even attempts to arrest, imprison and deport me, only because I had said something about Zsuzsa Polgar that was not bad, that I realized how serious and severe the situation was.
At 09:44 PM 5/9/97 -0400, Bruce Monson wrote:
>For all your knowledge of the Fischer era, and indeed Ray Weinstein, I'm
>very surprised that you look so lowly upon Michael Valvo!
>Valvo could've been a GM (let there be no doubt about it) had he pursued it
>further. He is STILL a solid IM, who's FIDE rating is an old one since he
>doesn't play much anymore. Valvo also knew and played with Ray Weinstein,
>and was probably a stronger player than Weinstein.
>Also, Susan Polgar, while a good player, is still only an average GM who has
>yet (if I'm not mistaken) to win a male GM level tournament. Further, just
>because someone is a GM doesn't mean they speak well in front of an
>audience. I can think of few others who can speak as well as Ashley or
>Seirawan about a chess game. I suspect while you were oggling at Susan
>because of her looks, most of the other people were concentrating on the
>game analysis (which is the whole point isn't it?).
>I wonder if you may recall a match from about 5 years ago between the
>Southern California FM (should be an IM or GM) Cyrus Lakdawala and the
>women's finalist Isolani (I think?), who was visiting in the L.A. area.
>Well, this mere FM, who was about a 100 rating point underdog, annihilated
>this gal 5-1! So if your going to compare relative strength with ratings
>alone, then maybe you could figure this one out.
>Anyway, I'm not looking for a pissing contest with you. I just think you
>overstep your bounds sometimes. If Susan wanted to be a part of this she
>should've got her butt in gear and spoke up months ago, instead of waiting
>till the last minute like she did. She lives in NY after all. She's a good
>player, but she's no where near the strongest woman player (of course that
>goes to Judit), and completely out of her league in the category 14+
>tournaments. There are numerous U.S. GM's (and even some IM's) who would
>eat her lunch in a match, but would they be provided with free admission
>just because they show up? Not likely.
>At 05:31 PM 5/9/97 -0700, you wrote:
>>At 01:43 PM 5/9/97 -0400, Bruce Monson wrote:
>>>Bite your tongue!
>>>Mike Valvo is a tremendously strong player with a vast degree of knowledge,
>>>not to mention a long history on the international scene (for example, he
>>>knew Fischer much better than you ever did!).
>>Are you sure that Valvo knew Fischer better than I did? I am not sure about
>>Valvo is up there because he is always the commentator at these computer
>>chess matches and is part of the organization of these matches.
>>Here are the current FIDE ratings for the above players:
>>Ashley, Maurice (IM) (USA) (2465)
>>Polgar, Zsuzsa (GM) (GM) (HUN) (2565) (W)
>>Valvo, Michael J (IM) (USA) (2375)
>>As you can see, Zsuzsa is rated 100 points higher than Ashley and nearly 200
>>points higher than Valvo. Plus, she is more beautiful than either Valvo or
>>Ashley. I would certainly rather hear her comments than theirs.
>>This is not in any way to denigrate the efforts of Valvo or Ashley. They are
>>the official commentators because of their involvement in computer chess.
>>There are many higher rated players.