Thursday 16 June 2011, 16:38
"Yes? Yes? You like?"
I'm sitting in a big, airy flat in a fashionable bit of Budapest. Next to me, the extraordinary LÃ¡szlÃ³ PolgÃ¡r 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, LÃ¡szlÃ³ 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 LÃ¡szlÃ³'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 PolgÃ¡r sisters went on to smash records and win international fame. It's an astonishing tale.
LÃ¡szlÃ³ 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 LÃ¡szlÃ³ and Klara into her fictional vision of life in the Polgar household. Listening to the force in the voice - of both the real LÃ¡szlÃ³ 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 LÃ¡szlÃ³'s game works (and a look at LÃ¡szlÃ³), his site is here.
Lavinia's favourite description of the PolgÃ¡rs 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 PolgÃ¡r sisters) had triumphed in the Chess Olympics, he wrote, "With the three girls of various sizes, a plump mother, and LÃ¡szlÃ³, 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 - LÃ¡szlÃ³ PolgÃ¡r'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, LÃ¡szlÃ³ 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 LÃ¡szlÃ³ 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
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."