Polgar Sisters Defeat Soviets in World Chess Olympiad

by Ismail Sloan

SALONIKA, GREECE - 17 November 1988 - Soviet hegemony in woman's chess was dealt a crushing blow when a team consisting primarily of the Polgar sisters of Hungary defeated the Soviet Union by a score of 2 - 1. The defeat would have been worse except for the fact that on board two 12-year-old Judit Polgár was unable to prove a win, in spite of being a full exchange up against former world champion challenger Levitina. Judy missed a rook sacrifice which would have ended the game and then, in a difficult position in spite of her material advantage, was unable to prevent Levitina from placing her remaining knight in such a domineering position as to guarantee a draw.

On board one, woman's world champion Maya Chiburdanidze played the tame bishop's opening against Suzie Polgar, hoping for a slow build-up. Maya seemed to have a slight advantage in the early middle game. However, later on, Susan was starting to get the edge, so Maya forced a trade of queens and headed for a draw.

The Soviets entered the match with an apparent advantage. They were paired with two whites against one black plus their average team rating was 55 points more than that of the Polgar sisters. They were also vastly more experienced. The ages of the three Polgar sisters are 19, 14 and 12, whereas the youngest Soviet is Maya, aged 28. Nevertheless, most observers who had seen the previous rounds gave the Polgars at least an even chance of drawing or winning the match. It was also pointed out that two years earlier all of the Russians had received a gift of 100 free rating points, which Susan Polgar did not get, so the 55 points rating advantage of the Soviets was illusory.

The stage for the showdown was set by Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld of the Soviet Union, who is Maya Chiburdanidze's personal trainer and who is known for his disparaging remarks about the playing strength of the Polgar sisters. In an interview published in the official bulletins before the match, Gufeld stated, "It is true that the Polgar sisters have had astonishing results against men. However, I have the feeling that we usually make a mistake here. When women play against men there is a significant psychological advantage for them. ... I believe that the Polgar sisters are going to lose a good part of their image if they play against women. This image was acquired by them before long and maybe now they can experience some surprises."

Gufeld concluded his remarks by stating, "Certainly the Polgar sisters and Madl are good chess players, but ours are better. Anyway, after the 28th Olympiad we are going to know if the Hungarian sisters are geniuses or just women!"

After the Polgars defeated the Russians by 2 -1, Gufeld will perhaps be left to reach his own conclusions. However, a grandmaster on the Hungarian men's team was overheard to chortle that Maya Chiburdanidze is too valuable to be sent to Siberia, but the others might be on their way any time now.

The Olympiad is not yet over. After defeating the Soviet Union, the Hungarians are in first place with 12 1/2 points out of a possible 15, but they enjoy only a half point lead with nine rounds remaining. In addition, the Russians and the Hungarians seem to be so much stronger than the other teams that both will have to try to win almost all of their remaining matches by a score of 3 - 0 to insure first place. Also, in the history of the chess Olympiads, the Soviet women have never yet failed to win the gold medal.

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