Youngest grandmaster puts older chess rivals on edge

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The Independent Online
THE 68th Hastings International Chess Congress began yesterday with some sharply contested games among the eight players invited to its Premier tournament; but when the world's youngest grandmaster, Judit Polgar, 16, is playing, she always seems to make her older rivals a little more nervous. She was one of three first round winners yesterday, in what promises to be an unusually interesting event.

Miss Polgar last played at Hastings in 1988, when she won the Challengers tournament to earn the right to play in the following year's Premier. By 1989, however, the girl of 13 was too expensive for Hastings. Now the youngest veteran of the tournament circuit, she no longer demands such large fees and Hastings, despite not having a commercial sponsor this year, secured her participation.

But it is not only in financial matters that Miss Polgar is no longer treated as a little girl. Beneath her teenager's mane of well-brushed Goldilocks hair her eyes glare with determination and concentration. Even the strongest players take her seriously.

Four years ago, she sat bolt upright at the board, like a child disdaining cushions on a chair too low for her to see the pieces comfortably. Now she has developed a touch of the characteristic grandmaster's slouch, leaning over her pieces with head supported in both hands.

Her win yesterday against the English International Master Colin Crouch was not, for the most part, one of her more convincing efforts, but she did show brutal efficiency in the final moves. Crouch fought back after playing the opening poorly, but ran short of time. Just as he seemed to have solved most of his problems, and even gained a considerable advantage, with few pieces remaining on the board she lured his men to uncomfortable squares and conjured up a mating attack.

In the Challengers tournament her sister Zsofia also won her first game to round off a generally successful day for the Polgar family. Only their father, Laszlo, looked a little disappointed when he was unable to find any antiquarian items on the tournament book stall to add to his collection of about 10,000 chess books.

Back in the Premier tournament, John Nunn and Jonathan Speelman both won their games in incisive style. Nunn attacked from the start against the Russian former world title candidate Lev Polugayevsky, forcing the black king to seek refuge on a draughty queen's side. Nunn's attack then broke through all the same forcing decisive gain of material.

Speelman's imaginative play was too much for Ilya Gurevich, the American former world junior champion. In a position in which both sides seemed to have more pieces under attack than was good for them, an unexpected knight sacrifice by Speelman suddenly destroyed Gurevich's game. The speed with which Speelman made the decisive move showed that he had calculated it long in advance.

The final game of the Premier tournament, between Matthew Sadler and last year's winner, Yevgeny Bareyev, was still in progress after five hours' play with the young English master standing clearly worse.

(Photograph omitted)