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Book Review: "How I Beat Fischer's Record" - by GM Judit Polgar!

  • IM DanielRensch
  • | Mar 16, 2013
  • | 27344 views
  • | 99 comments

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing Grandmaster Judit Polgar's new book, How I Beat Fischer's Record for our community here on Chess.com - and I must say I found Judit's work refreshingly honest, surprisingly inspiring, and undeniably as instructive as any "best games"-themed book I have read in a very long time.

Without naming names, I will be straightforward: I have often found "best games" collections by still young/active grandmasters to be, well, "thrown together" in an effort to make a quick buck. Not that I blame anyone for seizing the time to capitalize on their current popularity. That said, I am of the opinion that it often isn't until a great player has had a few years to reflect on their careers that they can create a great games collection and truly tell their story.

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A young Judit Polgar performs a simul for hundreds...
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I can say with 100% authenticity that this is not the case with Judit Polgar's new book. I believe there are actually several reasons for this, from the format in which she chooses to present her games, to the manner and tone in which she tells her childhood chess story. I will review those points in more detail here today, but before I do, I just want say I thouroughly enjoyed this book on a personal level, and am thankful for the opportunity to review it for all of you!

I knew when I started reading this book that I was reviewing the games of one of the most exciting, attacking players of all time - so I was sure to have fun Smile - but having no prior knowledge of the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a highly original presentation and format waiting for me:

Judit organizes the games and critical moments of her young career (the book follows her journey up to 1991 - when she broke Fischer's record) in a "chess education/patterns theme" (like "Mating Nets" and "Pawn Play" among other instructive chess themes) rather than simply a chronological retelling of events. This format proves perfect in allowing Judit to explain her own growth from a tricky young tactician into a more mature, strategically powerful grandmaster - yet one who still possessed the brilliantly dynamic edge that made her famous.

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Not much older than in the previous picture, GM Judit Polgar smiles before the start of a game...
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This is not to say that Judit's positional and strategical understanding as a young player weren't already way ahead of the curve, but as she admits herself, she often "played fast, getting overly excited with her own ideas" and it wasn't until she was beaten positionally (and sometimes at her own game of "resourceful tricks") a few times that she learned to appreciate some of the "finer things" the game of chess had to offer. These trials are relayed in detail in the book, and help readers relate to Judit's story in a real way.

These points, along with many others, are relayed so honestly that it's hard not to feel like you're growing up along with her as you read the book. You love when she pulls a fast one over an opponent, as she did here:

I have included many of the critical variations and annotations by Judit below...

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BUT you also feel her pain when she falls victim to a trick herself, as here:

Again, I have included many of her notes and comments, though not all...

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Judit gently criticizes herself, suggesting that one major negative consequence of her tactical vision was a feeling that "no matter how bad a position got, she could always save it with some sort of swindle": an admission that she may have relied too much on her "tactical talents" at times.

These are the moments that make the reader feel like they can learn (and are learning) from Judit's experience. And as further proof this book offers far more than just a recap of her own victories, she often provides examples from famous puzzles and games that influenced her - and shines a light on her own training as a child (along with her sisters and her father's famous training techniques).

The famous Polgar Sisters, and their parents: Sofia left, Susan middle, and Judit right. Mom and Dad sitting...
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As she puts it, "Once you become familiar with lots of such surprising setups, by solving thousands of specific exercises, spotting mating combinations ... becomes much easier". Indeed, she even surprises herself from time to time as she looks back on her games as a young player, noting that the art of finding hidden, often amazing ideas was as "natural as having breakfast" Smile and must have had something to do with her training...

Here are a few of my favorites in regards to positions/games she provided that were not her own:

In Chapter 4 (theme of Zwischenzug), after providing a relatively simple example from a game of her own, she offers a more complex version of the same idea - taking the opportunity to really drive the lesson home for her readers rather than focus solely on her own games.

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After reviewing an amazing Knight endgame that culminated in an awkward smothered-style mate of the White king in the middle of the board (you'll have to get the book to see that one Wink) she recalls one of her favorite puzzles of a similar nature:

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Whether she's telling personal, often funny and heartfelt stories from her youth or reviewing a few of her favorite games from that particular time period or tournament, Polgar is also always making sure the reader is learning about the relevant chess theme or pattern. And it's a joy to read!

You are led happily through Judit's early chess journeys, and it all leads to the final two chapters of her own "Memorable Games" (Chapter 14) and finally, the full review of the strongest tournament she had the opportunity to play at the time, with Chapter 15 "Amsterdam 1989 OHRA Tournament Diary".

Without spoiling more Tongue Out, I'd like to end my review by providing two of my favorite games (annotation free this time) from the above mentioned final two chapters. First, a game I enjoyed from a tournament she played in New Delhi, India - 1990:

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And finally, an easy choice! Here's the game that won Judit the best game prize at the OHRA Invitational Tournament in Amsterdam:

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As with all the other games in those final two chapters, Judits annotations and comments make reviewing the games easy, fun and educational.

To sum it all up, I highly recommend this book for players of all levels! Instructional, inspirational, and highly educational! 

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Judit will be answering questions about her book, her new app for kids, her career, her annual event in Budapest with her sisters, and more on Sunday (March 31st) with me on Chess.com/TV!

Comments


  • 4 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Even Kasparov is not as strong as he was before....everyone declines with age and changing priorities....

  • 4 months ago

    5012035

    nice

  • 4 months ago

    CP6033

    yes, she was very strong. Still is, though not as strong as she was/

  • 4 months ago

    kamalakanta

    CP, thanks for your explanation. Now I understand your previous comment. Chess fans tend to hyperboles easily, stating who is "the greatest ever" at the drop of a hat.

    I do maintain, though, my admiration for her. No other woman has ever qualified for the men's Candidates Matches for the World Championship. And she is still the highest-ever rated woman player.

    I apologize for saying your statement was ignorant.

    Peace.

  • 4 months ago

    CP6033

    kamalakanta this is a really old conversation, but i will come to the defence of my previous comment. My refference was to the fact that i have come across people who think that Judit polgar is the greatest ever chess player because of the popular line that she beat 10 world champions in rapid or classical chess. this is true, but that does not mean that she is better then them, (actually not even close, it is like saying that a 2696 isn't even close to being better then Magnus). No, the news posts never say that she is better, but that is the impression. 

  • 4 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Thanks, Zenomorphy! I just sent away for her 2nd book....could not help myself...one reviewer said it was better than her 1st book, and that is saying a lot!

    http://tinyurl.com/ot4d543

  • 4 months ago

    zenomorphy

    Exceptionally well spoken Aaronsky72!

    Kamalakanta, ...way to come to the defense of reason, as well as Judit's honor. ;)

  • 4 months ago

    5012035

    i think shes beaten magnus carlson in a blindfold match in 2010.

  • 8 months ago

    chelseaarebest17

    cool












    Please be relevant, helpful & nice!

  • 11 months ago

    chelseaarebest17

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 11 months ago

    Aaronsky72

    While Judit's achievements are impressive, girls develop faster than boys and many men come into their own in their early twenties, so in that context beating Fischer's GM age record is not as significant as one might think.

    Judit is amazing and an exciting player to watch but no credible person would claim that she was as good as Fischer, but then neither were virtually all the male players. Judit has earned her place as one of the top players male or female, and is bound to receive more attention being a female and the greatest ever female by a wide margin.

    I've met people however who assume that she is world champion or is better than world champions because the press has misrepresented reality when they describe her 'beating' them. The press sensationalises of course but they need to balance it out with the realities of the tournament formats and rating system.

    Sad about Fischer's madness but then genius level minds often walk the tightrope between sanity and madness. This is why so-called 'conspiracy theorists' are often much more intelligent than their rabidly irrational detractors as they can perceive patterns and probabilities, collate information and draw valid conclusions based on empirical evidence, while others tend to base opinions on emotion and other social factors.

    Once paranoia takes over however and views can no longer be backed up by evidence, it's becomes madness.

    I'll buy her book, it looks interesting!



  • 13 months ago

    Commander-Zero

    Chess is not popular among women, congrats to Judit for being a top level chess player for many years.  

  • 15 months ago

    kamalakanta

    I don't know how you can call over-rated a woman who has achieved a rating of 2731, all the while playing in men's tournaments, and who also qualified for the Candidate's Matches (again, among men). Your statement is ignorant. You don't have to like her, but she has earned every point in her rating by playing over-the-board. And to win a game against Kasparov, even in Rapid Chess, is quite an achievement. Case closed.

  • 15 months ago

    CP6033

    Judit Polgar is way overrated. Look how kasparov crushed her in classical chess! (in my blog) although she did beat him in rapid

  • 17 months ago

    mylibrary

    I am thai thor

    It is very interesting book I learn some technique from it.

  • 18 months ago

    zenomorphy

    Reason never reigns where BS rains. Thanks Danny, ...well written, unlike reactionary, emotional reasoning herein. Like Bobby, Judit will always be loved for the barriers she obliterated, ...not to mention the timeless gems she too created OTB. Already added to must read list bro & grats for the review, as well as "highly recommended" summation. Didn't think you'd spark a 4 alarm blaze trying to review a good read, did ya Danny. That is, ...unless it is you who covertly commands of the dreaded "Chess Disinformation Branch" of the Zionist Police State. Hmm... Undecided   

  • 18 months ago

    warrior689

    great review

  • 18 months ago

    Am1nOS

    This is what I've read Today in Judit polgar fan page : "Can you name this mystery man, who went pretty mad when I broke his record, and then moved into our home for a while, and we trained together, and later gave me this sun-shield as a gift?" of course she was talking about Bobby Fischer.. The problem is that she is not only using his giant name to promote her little book.. But she is even misrespected him again and again by saying that he was mad when she brokes his record.. This is bullshit !!! I doubt that Fischer if he was alive today, I doubt he will remember her name even.

    You can check this yourself : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Judit-Polgar-Official/294908720520513

     

  • 18 months ago

    doublebruce

    This is realy good , well done , thanks

  • 18 months ago

    titust

    Nice article.

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