Charisma is important for chess players: Susan Polgar, former women’s world champion
Sriram Srinivasan, ET Bureau Nov 23, 2013, 07.49AM IST
Former women’s world chess champion Susan Polgar is active these days in the chess circuit not as a player, but as a teacher, administrator as also a TV commentator. In Chennai to cover the championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen, the Hungary born Polgar, 44, told ET why she believes the Norwegian may not have much competition from the younger crop of players, at least immediately. Edited excerpts of the interview which took place after the eighth round:
You were a commentator at the world cup earlier this year (in Norway). How has the commentary experience for the Anand-Carlsen duel been?
It’s excellent. Because one of the problems in chess in the past has been that other commentators usually like to commentate on a very high level; and they kind of look down upon low-level commentating. My policy is the opposite. I believe that we want to reach the masses.
But with the grandmaster level analysis, it’s only for the rocket scientist. Most people cannot understand that. And that’s why chess for many has the perception of being very difficult. I want to bring chess to everyone. So far, we have got a very good feedback.
Have you had to change your commentary style with keeping with audiences in different countries?
Not so much the countries but the whole issue is to address people assuming that they are not grandmasters. Believe it or not, I am getting a lot of critics also – from some of my male grandmaster colleagues – who think it is shameful to analyse in such a low level. But I much rather reach millions.
There have been great chess masters who were also colourful characters, such as Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. Would we continue to see such interesting characters in the future?
Every champion has a different personality. Magnus also has his own personality. His courage, charm and even his sense of humour will make him probably even more famous over the years.
But obviously, Bobby Fischer played during the Cold War era, which will never get repeated. Kasparov also, because he was running for Russia’s presidential post. As a sport figure, Magnus has a tremendous potential to go beyond chess as he has already started doing as a model.
Have you studied Carlsen’s methods to teach your students?
Absolutely. He has a very unique style. And it’s kind of revolutionary the way he looks at chess. It’s not too easy to understand but at the same time you can also summarise it like this: he plays all the way out. He has a whole new attitude at the grandmaster level. In positions where most other grandmasters would just settle for a draw, not him.
He just grinds his opponents down, wears them down emotionally, physically and mentally and he just keeps playing on and on. Players know that when they play Magnus, they can be in for a long fight and can’t get out of it in two or three hours like they could do against other grandmasters.
Do you see someone having the ability to challenge Carlsen?
Magnus has proved that he has been the No. 1 ranked player for about two years now. And I don’t think there’s anybody right in his level at the moment. But there are a number of guys who are following him and who could make the jump one day. Like Hikaru Nakamura from the US or Fabiano Caruana. Levon Aronian, of course, in the No. 2 ranked player.
As people start to understand and learn more about his unique style, how much energy he has, and try to be physically as fit as Magnus is, eventually he will get good competition. And it will be great for the sport when that happens.
Do you see world champions being very young in the future?
Actually, Garry Kasparov became a world champion at 22. Even if Magnus wins this match, he will not break that record. Anatoly Karpov became world champion at 24. So it’s not unusual. But I hardly expect anybody, anytime soon to break this record. Because you can become a grandmaster as early as 12. But I really don’t really expect a world champion or even a challenger much earlier than 22.
What are your thoughts about women’s chess? Is there a possibility of the kind of duels as between Anand and Carlsen?
India’s Koneru Humpy has been a contender several times. And there has been a contest between her and Chinese champion Hou Yifan. So I do expect that to repeat. Hou is the champion and Humpy is still young.
Can women’s chess get as much attention as men’s championship?
It’s important to have a bit more outgoing personalities. Like you see Carlsen, he is always with a good sense of humour and ready to talk to the media. Charisma is important. I am not saying people have to be so provocative or extreme in their views, such as Kasparov. But in some way, you have to be interesting for the media.
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– GM Susan Polgar