dinsdag 5 juli 2011

The Chess Girls - The story of the Polgár sisters (2011 BBC)

The emergence of the Polgar sisters in the 1970s and 80s rocked the chess world. In a heavily male dominated game, the three Hungarian girls broke record after record. The youngest, Judit, was talked of as a potential world champion.

The Chess Girls is the story of their parents, Laszlo and Klara Polgar, and how they defied the Communist authorities to conduct a remarkable educational experiment. Laszlo Polgar, convinced that any healthy child can be trained to become a genius, set out to prove his theory with his own children.

This is a drama-documentary with excerpts from an interview with Laszlo and Klara Polgar recorded for the play. The writer, Lavinia Greenlaw, takes their account and re-creates the lives of the young Polgar family in their tiny Budapest flat. The fictional Laszlo is played by Kerry Shale, and Klara by Sally Orrock.

Director: Chris Ledgard.


The marvellous photograph of Judit Polgár playing a simultaneous match against multiple opponents in 1992 was taken by Ed Yourdon and has been used under this Creative Commons licence.

The original title and caption reads:
"Simultaneous chess exhibit v. Judit Polgar, 1992
These pictures were taken during a simultaneous "exhibition" match that Hungarian chess prodigy Judit Polgar played against roughly a dozen local chess kids in the spring of 1992."

The Chess Girls - The story of the Polgár sisters

"Yes? Yes? You like?"

I'm sitting in a big, airy flat in a fashionable bit of Budapest. Next to me, the extraordinary László Polgár is slapping chess pieces down on a star shaped board (his latest invention), then fixing me with his stare and demanding yet again, drawled and emphatic "Yes? Yes? You like?".

I, meanwhile, scrabble for the schoolboy chess skills to show that yes, I understand, and yes, yes, I like. Definitely.

Then, perhaps, László and Klara will tell me their story.

And they did, a story which began more than forty years ago in a much smaller flat in the same city.
Defying the Communist regime and open antisemitism, they educated their three daughters at home to prove László's theory that any healthy child can become a genius. His experiment was built around language teaching, but he also introduced each of the girls at a very young age to chess, and then coached them intensively.

At the highest level, chess is a man's world, but the Polgár sisters went on to smash records and win international fame. It's an astonishing tale.

László did most of the telling, Klara the translating. You can hear extracts from the interview in The Chess Girls, in which the writer Lavinia Greenlaw weaves the voices of the real László and Klara into her fictional vision of life in the Polgar household. Listening to the force in the voice - of both the real László and his fictional counterpart played by Kerry Shayle - you can hear why even an impromptu twenty minute lesson in Starchess is never forgotten. If you want a look at how László's game works (and a look at László), his site is here.

Lavinia's favourite description of the Polgárs comes in a piece by the International Master and chess writer William Hartston for The Independent in 1992. Recalling family celebrations after the Hungarian team (ie the Polgár sisters) had triumphed in the Chess Olympics, he wrote, "With the three girls of various sizes, a plump mother, and László, gnome-like, with a cloth cap covering his balding head, they looked like the happy scene at the end of a fairy story."

Like all decent fairy stories there's conflict and darkness - László Polgár's methods were unheard of and attracted a good deal of criticism. But, Klara explains very firmly, the girls' happiness was never in question and the family were - and still are - a close, loving one.

At the end of our interview in Budapest, László and Klara's dog, keen for a walk, started barking. So at the end of the play, the real dog barks on the tape, the fictional László calls it to the studio/flat door, and off they all go.

Chris Ledgard is a radio producer based in Bristol and directed The Chess Girls


MP3 - 40 MB

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