Susan Polgar

About the future of chess, FIDE, USCF, and US Open

Our good friend Susan Polgar shared with us her views on the future of chess, FIDE, USCF, and US Open.

Hello Susan! You recently came back from Las Vegas where you were a major part of the US Open. Tell us more about the Susan Polgar events.

This is the second year that I joined force with the Las Vegas International Chess Festival organizer to add a major scholastic chess component to this prestigious event. They are the second annual Susan Polgar World Open Championship for Girls and the first annual Susan Polgar World Chess Challenge for Boys. These events are open to young players from all over the world. The idea is to give opportunities for young American players to compete against each other as well as foreign players. The players have chances to win wonderful prizes.

Last year, the winner of each section received a Dell Notebook computer. This year, each winner got a state of the art Sony Digital Camera package. In addition, many more players got a lot of useful chess prizes. Some even got scholarships to Texas Tech University. I hope to continue these events for many more years to come and I hope to attract many more players from around the world.

In addition to the main championships, there were also the Blitz Championships and Puzzle Solving Championships. Parents and coaches can also compete and we combine family / team scores for other prizes. The idea is to get everyone involved. I also conduct free lectures and seminars to help the players, their parents and coaches. I want to make these events fun, informative, competitive and beneficial.

How do you see the future of chess in the USA (Nakamura, Kamsky, Zatonskih and Krush)?

The future of chess in America will greatly depend on the future direction of the USCF. In the United States, it is very difficult for young talented players to afford proper chess training to be able to compete against the best players in the world. This is why this country produces a lot less grandmasters and top players than many others. There is no set system and the federation is incapable of changing this.

The Samford fellowship is the top chess award in the United States. It offers substantial monetary award for top American players to spend 2 years training and playing high level chess. It is a wonderful award but it can only help 1 or 2 top players each year. Other top players are on their own.

GM Gregory Kaidanov and IM Gregory Shahade have a very good training program for promising players and I have something similar through my foundation, the Susan Polgar Foundation. However, these programs are done by various individuals or foundations. There is very little or no help coming from the USCF itself. It is a pity for a major organization like this.

Kamsky, Nakamura, Onischuk, Zatonskih and Krush are of course top American male and female players. But they basically got there on their own. They do not get any help from the USCF.

Gata is still one of the best players in the world. However, if he wants to win the World Championship, he must work with a second to improve on his opening repertoire. It was different 10 years ago when he was in the top 3 in the world. Today, with computer technology and the Internet, he will not survive in important matches with just his middle and endgame skills. This was evident in the match against Gelfand. Boris got a wonderful position out of the opening too often. But the question is who will pay for this assistance? American professional players make too little money to be able to afford this luxury.

Nakamura has the opposite problem. His opening variety causes havoc to his opponents. He is fearless and he is willing to try any opening and this makes it very hard for his opponents to prepare against him. However, if he wants to be among the top 5-10 best in the world, he has to be willing to work with a competent trainer to help him with other phases of his game. If he does not, he will not be able to keep up with the progress of Carlsen, Radjabov, Mamedyarov or Karjakin. I am rooting for him and I would of course help him if he asks.

Krush and Zatonskih both have the ability and talent to be Grandmasters. The question is IF they are willing to continue to improve? Anna just had a baby. That will make things more difficult for her.

If Irina continues to improve and play, I expect her to become a Grandmaster and become one of the 5 women players in the world in the near future. But she has to work hard to get there. She has the talent to do it.

I am hoping to be able to help the younger generation of girls and boys excel in chess through my foundation and the Texas Tech SPICE program. This is my goal. I have accomplished all I want on a professional level. Now it is time for me to share my knowledge with the next generations.

How is the preparation for the USCF election going?

I do not campaign the traditional way. I do my campaigning through my blogs. I do not accept endorsement from anyone. I do not want to become a chess politician. I decided to run in this election because I owe it to my sport to make things better.

The USCF is in bad shape. It has been run for years as an amateur hobby organization instead of a business or professional one. We have board members who like to micro-manage and make political policies instead of sound chess or business policies for the best interest of the game. There is too much waste and it is operated very inefficiently.

Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the problems and creating plans to improve, we have people who will do anything and everything to hold on to the status quo to maintain their power. This is not a problem with just the USCF. Some other federations face similar situations. Even FIDE recognizes that it cannot successfully do everything. We need experienced and professional people to run the business end of things. This is why I am glad to see the creation of Global Chess.

The USCF lost millions of dollars in recent years and it is losing money in 9 of the last 11 years. This is completely unacceptable but the leaders of this federation still refuse to bring in the professional people to raise this sinking ship. If this is any normal company, every single board member would have been dismissed long ago.

I am hoping to make serious changes to help US Chess and the USCF. I have some of the most qualified people willing to help me including my husband who is a premier chess marketing, promotion and PR person in the United States. Several other professionals such as Dr. Mikhail Korenman (a major organizer and promoter) and Randy Bauer (a very experienced and successful financial person) are also willing to help. But it is not an easy task when your political opponents are willing to go to any length to destroy the reputation of anyone standing in their ways. This board lost 3 potential million dollar sponsorship deals in the last 6 months alone and no one wants to talk about this.

When I spoke up, I received anonymous physical threats to me and my family. I also received legal threats. I am being attacked, insulted, ridicule and trashed every single day for the past 5 – 6 months. And the board members just sit back and not say a word or do a thing to stop it. This is politics at its worst. They claim this is what people do in an election.

I disagree. This is wrong and this is unproductive to chess. It is not in the best interest of chess to continue electing incompetent people while chasing the best talents away. This is why good people do not want to be involved. Very few are willing to subject themselves to this kind of abuse.

Just look at GM Yasser Seirawan. He tried so hard to change many things for the better for the USCF and they did the same thing to him. Imagine how much more he could have helped US chess and the USCF if he was allowed to. He was not the only one.

I am willing to work with everyone for the best interest of the USCF. I welcome the cooperation of other chess leaders. But I am not willing to compromise my personal integrity and the welfare of this federation. The best interest of chess should always come first and before personal interests and accolades.

Some of the things that you would change in the USCF?

a) Improve its respectability, integrity, efficiency, professionalism, image and reputation.

b) Set up a state of the art marketing, promotion and PR system. This will help bring in additional revenues and sponsorships.

c) Establish a sound and balanced budget to ensure the viability of the entire federation.

d) Increase the cooperation and support for adult, scholastic, collegiate, correspondence and military chess which in turn will raise the membership level which equals to more revenues.

e) End of chess politics. Every decision should be made in the best interest of chess and the federation and not for political reasons.

The achievements of the Polgar sisters are really amazing. Will Polgar sisters be the only ones to break the men’s monopoly of top 100?

I hope that others will eventually do even better than us. This would be good for chess. But no one will get there unless they are willing to work as hard if not more. Our secret of success is our willingness to work harder and be more diligent. There is no short cut and there is no miracle. Natural talents can only take players so far.

We recently saw the 13 year old Hou Yifan win the national chess title. Is she the future star of women chess?

Hou Yifan is the real deal. She is very talented and it seems that she is fearless. She reminds me of the young Judit. It is nice to have early successes but her game still has some weaknesses. The key is what she is willing to do in the next 5 years. If she is willing to continue to work very hard on her game, she has good chances to be the best. But it will not come without hard work.

Do not count Humpy Koneru out though. She is also very talented and diligent. In my opinion, they will be two of the top female players for years to come.

How do you manage to keep updated your blogs and prepare for the USCF election at the same time?

I approach it the same way as I approach my chess career. My blogs are very important to me. It is my gift to the chess world. I want people to see how chess should be positively promoted EVERYDAY! They are maintained and updated by my husband and me.

I believe in positive promotion. I believe in promoting all the players, organizers, supporters and sponsors. If players, organizers, supporters and sponsors get the proper promotion and recognition, it will help the entire sport. It is good for chess. There should be no jealousy. We must work together to help our sport. We will fail if we work against each other. I am sure and countless other groups can testify for this. All people have to do is send me the info and I will do everything I can to promote them if it is good for chess. There is no charge for this.

This is one of the dozen things my husband and I do each day. But we can manage everything because we work very efficiently. We are also very mobile. We can check messages, post or update things from just about anywhere in the United States. This is what I try to bring to the USCF. Imagine what the USCF can do with 30 people instead of 2. The same goes with other federations.

I also hope that this will inspire others to do the same. With the incredible technology today, there is no reason why chess cannot be better promoted. If someone with no technical or computer training can do it, why not others. Again, it all comes down to hard work and diligence.

Tell us about Tommy and Leeam. Can we expect to see them winning junior competitions soon?

I have no interest for my children to be world champions or top players. That has to be their choice and not mine. I wanted to teach them chess because it helps develop their minds and various skills for school and life. If they want to proceed and be the best, my husband and I will help them all the way. If they just want to be hobby players, it would be fine too. It is more important for them to be happy, wonderful and productive human beings.

Let’s talk about the upcoming World Championship in Mexico City.

I believe that it will be a fantastic event. We have a combination of the experienced ones such as Kramnik, Anand, Leko, Svidler and Gelfand, the young guns such as Aronian and Grischuk, and the always unpredictable Morozevich. It is a wide open event and it should be very exciting.

I also know the organizer Mr. Jorge Saggiante personally. He is very professional and generous and I am confident that this will be one of the best promoted World Championships ever.

How do you see the future of chess?

If FIDE continues to run the main structure and Global Chess runs the business aspect, I see a bright future. Chess has the potential to be a major sport but in order to get there, we have to run it as an efficient business.

I know Mr. Bessel Kok for many years and with the experience and expertise of Geoffrey Borg, Ali Nihat Yazici and others, the future of chess is bright. I am always willing to help and cooperate in anyway I can if they need me.

I am looking forward to seeing the days when chess can compete for the headlines with other major sports.

Useful links:

Susan Polgar blog for girls

Susan Polgar Foundation

Susan Polgar chess photography