Death Match 18 - Going Toe to Stiletto

Death Match 18 - Going Toe to Stiletto

FM MikeKlein

UPDATE: GM Judit Polgar wins Death Match 18 over GM Nigel Short - 17.5-10.5. A longer news article will follow Sunday.


We've had Super-GM clashes before. We've had Europeans play many times, and we've had all-female battles too. But has never had a Death Match of this caliber.

Former world title challenger GM Nigel Short and undisputed best-ever woman GM Judit Polgar will renew their third decade of friendly rivalry in Death Match 18, to be broadcast live on on Saturday, October 5 at 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific.

Short-Polgar, Budapest, 2003 (Photo courtesy Judit Polgar)

Almost exactly 40 years ago, Billy Jean King easily beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match. Did the executives have this in mind when scheduling these two players?

"Who's Bobby Riggs?" said IM Danny Rensch, who will be commentating. "Kids," said GM Ben Finegold, Danny's co-host for the match on Chess/TV, in response to Danny's ignorance.

"Honestly, don't tell anyone this, but I just wanted to have one of the best Death Matches come right before my birthday. It's selfish, that's all." Rensch turns 28 not more than a few days after the match.

King and Riggs a few days before their 1973 match

Unlike that match, Short and Polgar have met many times before - some in classical tournaments, but also in a wide variety of other formats. Polgar said she has faced Short in rapid, blitz and blind. Partly due to her beginning a family, she said they strangely haven't played since 2005. "Even though we know each others' strengths and weaknesses, it will be really interesting to meet Nigel for the first time on the Web!"

Although the Death Matches represent a new thinking in blending technology and chess, the pair's most audacious chess match harkened back to the 12th century. Short and Polgar were slated to play a rapid match in 1995 on the Isle of Lewis using the famed Lewis Chessmen. Despite the assurances that they would wear gloves, apparently no promises were made about time pressure. 

A 19-year-old Polgar eyes 900-year-old pieces

In the end, the curators trumped the competitors - the match still took place, with the priceless chessmen loaned by the British Museum only as an art installation. Polgar won both of their encounters - with the Black pieces she found the yet-to-be discovered resources of castling long in what was thought to be a dangerous system for Black against the Alapin (see the scariness in Nunn-Sher, Vejle 1994).

A year later, Short got his revenge by beating Polgar at the 32nd Chess Olympiad in Armenia. Short played board one for England, and his win over Polgar in the final round was the only decisive result of the four boards as England toppled Hungary 2.5-1.5. Team England only lost the bronze medal on tiebreaks to the United States.

Polgar's 14. Bh6, which opened the long diagonal and helped complete development, was astoundingly similar to GM Walter Browne's 14. Bh6, though Short found a worthy defense.

Between the two, they have played and bested practically everyone who is worth knowing in chess world. "I have defeated 12 World Champions," Short said. "You shouldn't believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Although I only beat Petrosian in a simul and Spassky in rapid chess. The other 10 I have beaten in classical games. Garry (Kasparov) was by far the toughest."

Short giving Kasparov a good fright

Polgar has similarly beaten most of the class of her generation, with one notable exception. "I would still love to play against Kramnik when I am in the best possible [form] for he is the only champion I did not win against yet," she said.

Nowadays, the two remain active in tournaments, but have found other pursuits within the community. Polgar has begun a chess school and written several books. She is hosting the 2013 Polgar Chess Festival on September 29, with as a sponsor. The tournament will feature some of the best young players from Hungary against prodigies from the U.S.

Polgar, invading Short's homeland in 2012

Last year Polgar released "How I Beat Fischer's Record (Judit Polgar Teaches Chess)", which Rensch favorably reviewed here. She also just finished the follow-up "GM to Top 10" where she analyzes some of her own games.

As for Short, he has been racking up the frequent flyer miles. Recently he has traveled to tournaments in Thailand, Angola, Tanzania and Canada (winning most), broadcast the World Cup in Norway, and has plans to visit Guatemala for chess. In March, he played "Talking Chess" in Iran, where he kibitzed his in-game thoughts and plans for the live audience.

Short, not afraid of third-world travel

He now puts his total country count at 102, good enough for the Travelers' Century Club. "I will travel almost anywhere once, but prefer visiting more sizable and important countries," Short said. "Of the places I haven't visited I guess Colombia or Cambodia would be somewhere near the top of my list. I also like Africa a lot."

Short during a "chess safari"

Neither player used online blitz much in their formative years. Short said he's only been playing since his rating has been on the decline, while Polgar still prefers the days when players sat down to talk about chess, "spending good and more relaxed time" with each other. She still remembers her first computer, a 286, and now "any amateur can see what kind of mistakes a professional makes just by switching on the engines." Polgar said she is a fan of the live relay of games, and she often finds herself on the couch watching the live moves of tournaments.

As for the Battle of the Sexes, the chess version has a lot to strive for. That 1970s matchup drew more than 30,000 spectators into the Houston Astrodome, still the largest crowd ever to see a tennis match in the U.S. Does have similar aspirations for Death Match 18?

"If I don't see at least 50,000 members watching on the livestream server, I may just pack up and start my birthday early," Rensch said.

Rensch has a plan to compete with tennis. Riggs came dressed to the Astrodome as Cleopatra. Look for his own flamboyance on the broadcast:


Join Danny and GM Ben Finegold (his opponent in the above pictured game from the SPICE Cup 2010) on October 5th at 11 a.m. EST, 8 a.m. PAC for all the action. Give your comments here on who you think will win this match.