Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chess for Peace

Polgar: Champion reflects on Chess for Peace match of opposite genders

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Sunday, February 22, 2009
Story last updated at 2/22/2009 - 2:17 am

The question last week was has there ever been a chess match between World Chess Champions of opposite gender, something similar to the Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King tennis match back in the 1970s?

I mentioned a few big matches last week. However, the biggest one of all took place in the beginning of November 2005 in Lindsborg, Kansas.

Chess is a game of war, but no human lives are at stake. By nature I am a mild-mannered person and I always like peaceful resolutions when conflicts arise. Therefore, when I was asked by Dr. Mikhail Korenman to take part in the "Chess for Peace" initiative with Anatoly Karpov and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, which included a Battle of the Gender match, I jumped at the opportunity.

A year earlier, former World Champion Karpov and I played a 3-3 tied match. This was another chance for one of us to break the deadlock.

The spectacular Chess for Peace parade began at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Anatoly and I were in the first car followed by many other dignitaries. Thousands of people were watching the parade and thousands more were taking part in it. There were floats, marching bands, and other cool stuff. Everyone was so enthusiastic.

Shortly after Anatoly and I arrived at the stage, President Gorbachev arrived with his daughter Irina, and the rest of his entourage to enjoy the parade. He even suggested they take part in the parade, but unfortunately the secret service would not permit it.

Gorbachev was charming and funny, and when he was presented with a key to the city he jokingly apologized to the citizens of Lindsborg for entering their city illegally the night before, which got everyone laughing.

The conference hall was filled with reporters who asked a variety of questions ranging from the situation with the war in Iraq, the future of the world and global warming, to how chess helped him become a great leader and whether chess can really help promote world peace. He answered all questions with aplomb, class and a sense of humor.

One of my most memorable moments occurred during the press conference when President Gorbachev wanted to have some special tea, which he had requested in advanced. But as he looked around, he only saw one cup. So he turned and offered me the tea. I declined, saying that the tea was for him, but he insisted on me having it and wouldn't take no for an answer. He then prepared the tea for me just the way he likes it. I was so embarrassed, but he kept on insisting. Anatoly smiled and said that it was a zugzwang position and I had no choice but to accept his generous offer.

As the press conference continued, one of the reporters asked what had been the most surprising part of the event and I responded that it was President Gorbachev's demeanor. He was so pleasant, friendly, warm, and thoughtful, etc. When he heard this, he gave me a kiss on both cheeks. I thought he was done, but he said no, the Russian tradition is to kiss the cheeks three times and all the media people burst out laughing.

The time finally came for to play the second "Battle of the Gender" match. Once again, it was a six-game match. Anatoly won the first game, I won the second, and the third was a draw. I lost the fourth game, drew the fifth, and then won the final game to tie the match 3-3 again.

The Chess for Peace initiative continued after this magnificent event. I led a group of more than 50 people to Moscow in March 2006 to play a friendly match against Russian youths. It was a very exciting event for our young players and the Russians visited America the following year.

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