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Women players breaking the gender barriers in Chess – Or not ?! The story of Susan Polgar

Susan Polgar started playing chess in her early childhood. At the age of 4, she won the first chess tournament. 11 years later, at the age of 15, Susan Polgar became the top-ranked female player in the World, winning the Women’s World Champion crown in 1996.

Tending to break gender barriers in chess, Susan Polgar aimed to qualify for the “Men’s” World Championship. Herewith is enclosed the full story of Susan Polgar that was shared through her official Facebook account:


Wrong Gender Making History Again – Qualifying For The “Men’s” World Championship – Or Not

This was a historic moment for me as well as for women’s chess. A woman chess player had been able to break through the gender barrier and qualify for the “Men’s World Championship” cycle. This is a moment I will always cherish. Unfortunately, this occasion brought me both wonderful memories as well as horrific ones.

Between April and May of 1986, I participated in the Hungarian National Championship in Budapest. Going into the tournament, all participants were told the rules, and that the top 3 finishers would qualify to play in the “Men’s” World Championship Zonal Tournament. I had just turned 17 right before the tournament and until then, people would not even think about a woman qualifying for the “Men’s” World Championship.

But I was brought up differently by my parents. I was taught that I could accomplish anything I want if I put in the hard work. I had put in a lot of hard work since I had been 4 or 5. Unfortunately, I was not told that as a woman and Jew, I would be black-listed. By the time my younger sisters had begun to play serious chess, my battles had cleared the way for them.

The unexpected of course happened. Knowing that I needed to finish in the top 3 to achieve the unthinkable, I paced myself to accomplish just that. I finished tied for 2nd with IM Laszlo Hazai, behind Grandmaster Ivan Farago. I was very happy of what I have accomplished. I had become the first woman ever to qualify for the “Men’s World Chess Championship” cycle.

But the happy moment quickly turned sour. Many people were not happy. The Hungarian Chess Federation changed the rules and announced that only the top two would represent Hungary instead of the top three. No problem, I said to myself. So we will have a play-off between IM Hazai and me and the winner will move on. Wrong! The decision was made. Susan Polgar is not going to the “Men’s World Championship” Zonal tournament no matter what. IM Hazai will represent Hungary and that was final.

After I legitimately qualified and broke the gender barrier, I learned rules can be changed at any time (especially if you are a Jewish woman). To add more insult to injury, FIDE also refused to allow me to participate in the “Men’s World Championship” Zonal tournament. The reason? The word “Men’s Championship” speaks for itself.

Dr. Laszlo Lako of Hungary stated that he would not allow Susan Polgar or any other Hungarian women to play in the “Men’s World Chess Championship” Zonal tournament even if FIDE would have agreed to let me play. The Hungarian federation and FIDE succeeded in stopping me from participating even though I had earned my spot. However, they could not stop women forever. They had to change the name to the World Chess Championship in the following cycle and the word ‘Men’ was FINALLY removed.

Fortunately, my loss was a gain for women in chess. Now, all women can compete in the overall World Chess Championship. Someday, hopefully, another woman can break through the next barrier and win it all. But in the meantime, I am very proud to be able to chisel through the wall of gender discrimination in chess for future generations. I am happy to see so many good women players from around the world. I hope this trend will continue.

Another reason why this event was one of the most memorable moments for me is because it made me a stronger player and a better human being. Rather than dwelling on the discrimination and unfairness, I used it as a motivational tool and continued to win title after title for many more years. I realized that I had to work even harder to accomplish my goals. I also learned to be more compassionate and understanding to everyone because I want no one to experience what I had experienced.

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