Everybody knows who the greatest female chess player ever is. BUT…
Imagine for a moment that this post is one of those fun online discussions, which challenges you to “name” a celebrity — without actually mentioning their name. I love how those threads uncover lesser-known gems and fun facts about our favorite personalities…and I’ve got plenty in store for you.
If you’re new to chess — and don’t know who the strongest-ever female chess player is — then read on and allow me to introduce you to a true genius of the game. If you do know her, then read on anyway. Your tactics and attacking technique might just thank you for it.
Let’s get started!
(Note: For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to the strongest female chess player of all time as the “Wonder Woman of chess” — at least until the name reveal at the end of this post.)
Training To Become A Genius
Once upon a time, a young girl from Hungary saw her dad play chess. She asked for a game…discovered that she’s a natural-born grandmaster…wiped the floor with her old man and…
Nope, that’s not what happened.
The Wonder Woman of chess is the youngest among three chess-playing daughters. And their father — an educational psychologist — is on a mission to transform them into geniuses.
“I grew up in a very special atmosphere. Everything was about chess,” she said in an interview.
And by “everything was about chess,” she meant devoting five to six hours to the game every single day. She meant starting the day by taking on 30 exercise positions on a real chess board. She meant searching for their wall full of file cabinets for games to analyze, puzzles to solve, and ‘intel’ on potential opponents. She meant skipping the playground and TV in favor of blindfold blitz.
She meant battling the authorities for their right to homeschool, so they can live and breathe chess.
If the following puzzles are any indication, then their father’s chess training methods have been wickedly effective. (Press play to reveal the answer.)
Becoming A Grandmaster At A Record-Breaking Age
By the way, the smooth combinations you just saw were played by an eight-year-old!
The Wonder Woman of chess loved to attack, even as a kid. When she’s playing, everyone — from fans…journalists…to grandmasters — would stop by and watch her set the board on fire with her sizzling tactics and “cut and thrust” moves.
In April 1986, at 9 years of age, she played and won her first rated international tournament — finishing first in the unrated section of the New York Open and taking home $1,000 for her splendid effort. Now, that may not impress you because the tournament was for unrated, untested players. But…
In the same year, at age 10, the Wonder Woman of chess defeated an International Master for the first time. She took down the 52-year-old Dolfi Drimer after 62 moves.
Impressive, but the breakthroughs didn’t stop coming.
The very next year, at age 11, the Wonder Woman of chess scalped a grandmaster for the first time.
She met German player Lev Gutman in the third round of the 1987 SWIFT International Chess Tournament, and gutted his favorite Sicilian in 37 moves. (Lev didn’t take the loss well and banged his head on the elevator after the game. Double ouch!)
By 1989, the 12-year-old Wonder Woman of chess was already rated 2555. Her rating put her at the 55th spot in the world rankings — and she wasn’t even a grandmaster yet!
But the title couldn’t elude her for long. In 1991, she won the Hungarian Super-Championship in Budapest…which made her the youngest ever grandmaster at the time at 15 years and 5 months.
Going into the final round, the Wonder Woman of chess only needed a draw to secure the title. But did we mention she loves going for the throat? That she did! She won her game against GM Tibor Tolnai and scored 6/9, securing the title and the championship.
Playing With The Elite
The year 1994 marked the first time the Wonder Woman of chess competed with the world’s best players. Only 17 years old at the time, she crossed swords with 13 of the best grandmasters in the world in XII Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez “Ciudad de Linares”.
The event was marred by controversy when the 14th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov broke the touch-move rule in his game against our heroine. The fiasco shook the Wonder Woman of chess, and the next six rounds saw her drop five games and salvage a draw. Although she managed to score 1.5 points in the last three rounds, it’s clear that she didn’t play up to her potential in Linares 1994.
The rest of the decade was full of ups and downs for the Wonder Woman of chess.
She reached plenty of highs, such as winning shared or clear first in:
- Madrid International 1994: Finished 1.5 points ahead of second place. Earned a tournament performance rating of 2778 against a host of top GMs, such as Gata Kamsky, Evgeny Bareev, Valery Salov, and Ivan Sokolov.
- León Masters 1996: Scored 3.5/6 and shared first place with Veselin Topalov. She had the pleasure of drawing “first blood” against her co-winner — slaying the Sicilian Dragon in 36 moves.
- U.S. Open 1998: Scored 8/9 alongside Boris Gulko and became the first woman to ever win the U.S. Open Chess Championship. Many of her opponents were happy to get away with a draw. But the Wonder Woman of chess either ground them down in the endgame, or set sneaky traps which they duly fell for.
- VAM Hoogeveen 1998: Scored 5/6 and finished clear first, with the second place 1.5 points behind. In the second round, she took Tal Shaked to a masterclass in harmonizing tactics and positional play…winning the game in 34 moves.
In between these bright spots, however, the Wonder Woman of chess also suffered setbacks and “middle of the pack” performances in top-level tournaments, including…
- The “super tournament” of Linares in 1997
- Dos Hermanas 1997
- The 6th Torneo Magistral in 1997
- Dortmund International Tournament 1997
- The Annual Hoogovens Chess Tournament in 1998
- And many more
In January 1996 — with a rating of 2675 — the Wonder Woman of chess became the first and so far only female to break into the top 10. But the the next six months saw her lose that prestigious spot, followed by a steady descent in the rating list for almost two years.
Invitations to the best tournaments became farther and fewer as a result. But…
When your entire childhood is an educational experiment on building killer chess skills, unwavering discipline, and ironclad resilience, even the most serious of setbacks isn’t enough to stop you!
Returning To Form And Making History
While the 90’s were shaky for a player of her caliber, the Wonder Woman roared back in the 2000’s.
She began the decade by winning the…
- Sigeman & Company International Tournament 2000: Scored 4/6 to finish clear first in the the four-player double round robin event. Round three saw the Wonder Woman of chess on the cusp of losing. But her opponent, Jan Timman from the Netherlands, blinked…and that’s all she needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
- Japfa Classic 2000: Another nail-biter. She scored 6.5/9 to secure clear first and the $20,000-prize…but only after winning the last round on demand. The victory broke the four-way tie between her, Brazilian GM Gilberto Milos, then-FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman, and 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov.
- Najdorf Chess Festival 2000: Scored 6.5/9 — four wins, five draws, and no losses — to share first place with Viktor Bologan. She finished ahead of World Championship Challenger Nigel Short and Anatoly Karpov, who scored 6/9 and 5.5/9 respectively.
The Wonder Woman of chess also slugged it out with 143 Grandmasters and 38 International Masters in the European Individual Chess Championship 2001. She came in fourth, missing a top three finish by a hair’s breadth. Still, her strong showing catapulted her rating from 2678 to 2686 — and from here, she swiftly rose to the top.
In the closing months of 2002, the Wonder Woman of chess played on Hungary’s second board in the 35th Chess Olympiad.
Her score of 8.5/12 helped their team secure silver. But she had to settle for the individual bronze medal for board two. That said, her win against Shakhiryar Mamedyarov is worth its weight in gold:
Her strong performances the said Olympiad, Polish League Super Cup 2002, and the 18th European Club Cup brought her just a point over the 2700-rating mark. Yet another first for our heroine and women’s chess.
But the Wonder Woman of chess isn’t done yet.
In the 65th Corus Chess Tournament, she achieved what was perhaps her finest result — an undefeated score of 8/13 and a clear second place in a field with an average rating of 2701. She finished half a point behind future World Champion Vishy Anand and left four World Champions in the dust.
In the fourth round of the tournament, the Wonder Woman of chess played one of her best games — crushing Anatoly Karpov with an opening novelty she came up with over the board.
Top three finishes at the Vth Enhein Masters, Talent & Courage GM Super Tournament, and the Essent Crown Group 2004 skyrocketed her up the rating list some more. In January 2004, the Wonder Woman of chess reached her peak ranking of #8 in the world.
And while she had to take a break from chess for the rest of 2004 to make progress in motherhood, the Wonder Woman of chess bounced back in May 2005…finishing third in MTel Masters and bringing her peak rating to 2735.
Check out her round six game, where she wrestled the initiative from English number one Michael Adams and ground him down in 52 moves.
A Crownless Queen Humbling Kings
Perhaps you may have noticed that — despite the Wonder Woman of chess’ record-breaking results — we haven’t talked about her reign as a Women’s World Chess Champion.
Well, that’s because she never played for the title…not even once!
In gaming lingo, the Wonder Woman of chess is too “overpowered” for female-only competitions. When she reached her peak rating in 2005, she outranked the women’s world #2 by a whopping 158 rating points.
Recognizing this — and being the fierce and fair competitor she is — the Wonder Woman of chess turned down what might’ve been “easy wins” and squared-up against the toughest opposition possible.
No doubt, her principled approach to competing have locked her out of a world title. The closest she ever came to winning the crown was in the FIDE World Chess Championship 2005 in San Luis, Argentina — an eight-player, double-round robin event which saw the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov emerge as the winner.
But do you really need a world title when you’re the only female player to have won against 11 reigning and former world champions?
Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, and Viswanathan Anand — the Wonder Woman of chess defeated all of them and more…and in stunning blowouts no less!
I’ll let her games do the talking.
The Wonder Woman of chess never wore the crown. But reign she did!
The Greatest Female Chess Player Ever – Name Reveal
Judit Polgár is the Wonder Woman of chess…the real-life Beth Harmon long before Netflix released The Queen’s Gambit…the greatest female chess player of all time.
She retired from competitive play in August 13, 2014, at the end of 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway. The announcement came during a brief interview with The Times, and fans were wondering if she was giving up chess completely.
The answer is a big fat NO.
Judit may have retired from competitive play…but her impact on the game and its community only grew exponentially!
In June 2015, through a unanimous vote, the Hungarian Chess Federation appointed her as the captain and head coach of their men’s chess team — and she led them to a bronze medal at the 2015 European Team Chess Championships in Iceland.
In the same year, Judit Polgár received Hungary’s highest state decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen. Speaking in praise of Judit, President of the Republic János Áder said:
“Her successes speak of the triumph of talent, of skill making its way across conventions without regard for sex or age.”
That said, her impact isn’t confined within Hungarian borders.
The first month of 2021 saw the Play Magnus Group sign Judit Polgár as an educational ambassador — so she can treat fans to her eye-opening commentary for top Chess24 events.
PLUS, she also agreed to create a series of interactive courses for Chessable…two of which have already been released. Alongside another stand-out author International Master Andras Toth, Judit gave users a piece of her brilliant chess mind in Master Your Chess With Judit Polgár Part One and Part Two.
Here’s what fans are saying:
“Polgár has the very rare ability to convey the information in an understandable way. It’s a lot of fun to see how some basic foundational concepts can be weaponized and used to weave elegant and beautiful mating patterns…I can finally take this knowledge from the theoretical to the practical, from concept to application.” — jsettle1
“Get the video! Judit Polgár has such a simple way of explaining concepts. I really like how she always goes over the what ifs and explains why it’s bad. This was a good refresher for basic skills I thought I had.” — pamhermano
And that wraps up our little “name a celebrity” challenge.
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