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I might never have become a chess grandmaster if I’d stuck to women-only tournaments
06.07.2021 Judit Polgár
Judit Polgár Judit Polgár

Iam used to being cited as living proof that women can play chess at the same elite level as men. When I was 15, I became the youngest grandmaster in the world, breaking the record set by Bobby Fischer more than three decades earlier. It turned out that I was not able to become the overall world champion, but I always strived to fulfil this ambition – and at my peak, I was the eighth highest ranked player in the world.

I could never have reached those heights if I had only been interested in winning women’s titles. In fact, I was only a teenager when I last participated in a women’s tournament – representing Hungary, with my older sisters Zsúzsa and Zsófia as my teammates, in the 1990 Women’s Chess Olympiad. It was great fun, but the chess itself wasn’t very challenging.

I always knew that in order to become the strongest player I could, I had to play against the strongest possible opposition. Playing only among women would not have helped my development, as since I was 13 I was the clear number one among them. I needed to compete with the other leading (male) grandmasters of my time: the likes of Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand, all of whom I would go on to beat.
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