Independent Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
A COUPLE of days ago, while discussing nine-year-old Murugan Thiruchelvam's superb result in Maidstone last weekend, I deliberately avoided the use of the word "prodigy". This appellation, much beloved of journalists, is often, in its implication of otherness, not welcomed by those upon whom it is bestowed; I know that, for example, Nigel Short detested it.

Another on whom the term has been much visited is the world's strongest ever woman player, Judit Polgar, youngest and most bellicose of the Polgar sisters, who is now all of 22 years old.

Judit is in action this week at the VAM tournament in Hoogeveen in north- west Holland. With, I hope, no disrespect to the sponsors - a glass company - VAM in English does sound rather macho, or even comic book. In accordance with this Judit bammed, bashed and splatted her way through the first cycle of the four-player double-rounder, beating all three opponents to lead with 3/3, ahead of Timman 1.5, Spassky 1 and Tal Shaked, the current world junior champion, 0.5.

Polgar's best game thus far was this magnificently sustained assault against the former world champion Boris Spassky. Spassky with 9... Nb8 chose the solid Breyer Defence, but his surrender of the centre four moves later with 13... exd4?! 14 cxd4 d5 was very committal.

Judit quickly built up a powerful attack. Black had to retreat 23... Nf8 since if 23... Ne5? 24 Rxe5 fxe5 25 Qf7+ Kh8 26 Qxb7 wins at once. In the diagram the fine pawn sacrifice gained time and exchanged off the black rook - a key defender. A computer might have been able to defend against Polgar's subsequent pressure - for instance 28... Bd4 is one possible improvement - but for a human it was well-nigh impossible. Instead of 33... f5, 33... Qg7 would have run into 34 Nf5! gxf5 (34... h5 35 Qg3 doesn't help) 35 Qxg7+ Kxg7 36 Re7+ and 37 Rxd7 winning. A move later, if 34... gxf5 35 Bh6+ Kf7 36 Qxf5+ Nf6 (or 36... Qf6 37 Qxh7+) 37 Qe6 mate! At the end 41... Qxb4 42 Qf5 and 41... Qc6 42 Bxh7+ are equally hopeless.

White: Judit Polgar

Black: Boris Spassky

Hoogeveen, 1998

Ruy Lopez Breyer Defence