Meet GM Judit Polgár, Chess Legend

They say you should never meet your heroes in real life because you will be disappointed.  But we’ve already met our chess hero a few times and we absolutely love her!  Over the last few years, we have been very fortunate to have several online events with grandmaster (GM) Judit Polgár. 

If you and your child are new to the world of chess you may never have heard of GM Polgár.  In this article, we will try to cover some of her career highlights.

GM Judit Polgár pictured at the 2023 Global Chess Festival in Budapest

Top Ranked Female Player for 25 years 

It is difficult to describe how dominant Judit was relative to other women chess players.  For some perspective, Serena Williams spent a total of 6 years (319 weeks) as the world’s number one ranked tennis player. Judit Polgár was the world’s number one female chess player for over 25 years, without interruption. 

She became the number one female player in January 1989 and remained in the top spot until she retired from competitive chess in August 2014.  If you love data animation, the people at made a video of the top female players over time.  You can see Judit’s rise relative to other players.  In this case, there is no “rise and fall” because Judit rose to the top and retired as number one. 

Judit was number one by a long way, for a long time! 

The One And Only

Only a few female players have ever been in the FIDE top 100 list, which ranks all players regardless of gender.  The current top 100 list (as of September 2023) contains no female players. Judit is the only female player ever to be in the top 10. She reached the number 8 spot in 2005.  Around the same time, she smashed through the 2700 rating barrier, reaching a peak rating of 2735.  She is the only woman who has ever broken 2700. 

She is also the only woman who has ever competed in the “candidates”  tournament, which is the final phase of selecting a world championship challenger. The more you read about Judit the more you realize that she has a lot of “onlys” after her name.  We can’t possibly cover all of her “onlys” but we are super excited to have the one and only GM Judit visiting us again. 

Conqueror of Champions

Although we’ve never had a female world champion, Judit made it very clear that no world champion was safe from her tactical prowess.  She has an impressive record of wins against 11 different reigning or former world champions.  During her career, Judit scored wins in rapid or classical games against Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik, Spassky, Smyslov and the list goes on.   

Even after she retired, she was not afraid of anyone at the chessboard.  Check out this fun video of Judit beating Magnus in 19 moves. Remember that Magnus was reigning world champion and number one player in the world at the time of this game.  YouTube has hundreds of videos of grandmasters beating unsuspecting chess hustlers.  This might be the only video where a world champion gets hustled by a retired grandmaster. 


Prodigious Polgárs

Among chess players, Judit Polgár is “first name” famous. If you just say “Judit” we know who you mean.  But “grandmaster Polgár” might mean Judit or her oldest sister Susan, who also attained the GM title and, for a time, was the number one female player in the world.   The middle sister, Sofia, is an International Master (IM) and Women’s Grandmaster (WGM) and peaked at number 6 in the world.    

 Sofia (left), Susan (middle) and Judit (right). 

All three sisters are highly accomplished chess players and all would qualify as prodigies under any definition. But Judit rose faster and reached higher than her sisters. 

Judit’s Rise

Judit broke several records on her way to the top. In her time, she was the youngest person to become an IM (at age 12) and famously broke Bobby Fischer’s record for the youngest to earn the GM title (at age 15 years and 4 months).  Looking at her games, it is easy to forget that Judit was just a girl when she started playing in international tournaments and scoring wins against experienced masters.  A more thorough timeline of her many achievements can be found on the career page of her website, which also includes some amazing photos. 

Teacher and Author

Judit is an incredible teacher and kids of all ages and playing levels enjoy her lessons. Of course, as one of the world’s best players her chess knowledge and analytical skills are beyond comparison.  But more than that, Judit brings a sense of joy whenever she talks about chess.  It’s no wonder that her 2016 TED Talk was subtitled “Giving Checkmate is Always Fun”.  At Magnus Chess Academy we believe it is incredibly important that kids should have fun while learning to play chess.  As a teacher, GM Judit brings the perfect combination of knowledge and enthusiasm. 

Judit has also written several chess books and even more books have been written about her.  For young players or adults wanting to learn more about Judit, we can heartily recommend the charming, funny and personal series “Judit Polgár Teaches Chess”.  We have used these as teaching resources and they are a fixture on Coach Daniel’s bookshelf.   These books were published about ten years ago and are available on Amazon:

More recently, Judit has published a comprehensive chess course on the Chessable platform.  Her three-part course “Master Your Chess With Judit Polgár” was co-authored with IM Andras Toth and has received excellent reviews.  You can find all of her Chessable publications via her author profile page

Giving Back to Chess

Although she has retired from competitive chess, Judit is still very active in the wider world of chess.  Her non-profit organization, the Judit Polgár Chess Foundation, promotes social development and lifelong learning through chess.  Her annual event, the Global Chess Festival, brings together chess players from around the world.  Some of our students and coaches were lucky enough to participate in the 2023 festival by competing in the Chess Connects Us Championship (see the tournament recap for our results).  Judit clearly has a deep love for the game of chess. And we have a deep gratitude for the fact that she has chosen to visit our academy and share her love for the game with our young students. 

Puzzles To Enjoy

GM Polgár has often emphasized the importance of loving tactics to the development of young players.  If you already know some chess you can try your hand at finding Judit’s finishing moves for the following games. 

Puzzle #1 

Polgar - De La Villa, New York Open 1989.
Black will lose his queen but is counting on making a new one with d1/Q.
White to play and mate in 2. 

You might like to review the entire game, which features an interesting long term sacrifice in the French Defense.  Judit’s opponent in this game would later go on to become a grandmaster and wrote a very popular endgame book. 


Puzzle #2

Polgar - Wagner Michel, Women’s Olympiad 1990
There is a tactical problem with Black’s move Rf6.  Can you spot it?
White to move and win material. 

The gold medal Hungarian national team included all three Polgár sisters. This was the last women only event that Judit played in. This miniature game started as a King’s Gambit, which Judit played often in her youth. 


Puzzle #3 

Polgar - Svidler, Wijk an Zee 2005
Judit found a beautiful interference move. Do you see it? 
White to play and win material. 

This game was played around the time of Judit’s peak world ranking (#8 in 2005). The annual tournament in Wijk an Zee is known as the “Wimbledon of Chess”. The full game was a Ruy Lopez, Marshall Attack. 

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