Forty grandmasters are playing in an international tournament at the Penta Hotel in New York. The tournament began Sunday and will continue through March 28.

And the highest-rated female player in the world is included. She is 12-year-old Judith Polgar of Hungary. Judith is one of three chess-playing sisters.In the past 15 months or so, Judith has played in eight tournaments and won them all. She shared first - with her sister Susan - at a strong competition in Iceland.

She was first, Harold Schonberg reports in the New York Times, and she was also first and undefeated in Varna, Bulgaria. At Hastings, England, where she also won, she scored 8 out of 10. In London, she took first. At the Chess Olympiad in Thessalonica, Greece, she won three gold medals.

Her International Chess Federation (FIDE) rating ascended to 2550, which put her on a level with very strong grandmasters, and it is higher than Maya Chiburdanidze, the current women's world champion.

She is among four supreme chess prodigies in history. The others are Paul Morphy, Jose Capablanca and Samuel Reshevksy. "All were astounding the world before they were teenagers," notes Schonberg.

"Judith is running ahead of Bobby Fischer at an equivalent age. She is an international master, and Fischer was not an international master until he was 14. He became grandmaster at 15. Judith should make grandmaster this year."

Her sisters are also competent chess players. Susan, 19, is a veteran of the international arena and at 2510 is the third-highest-rated female player.

And Sofia, 14, who had not been doing very well, came to life in Rome last month. She took over a strong tournament, winning eight games and drawing once, toppling four grandmasters in the process.

In another report of the Polgars being in New York, Robert Byrne, chess editor of the Times, wrote this week:

"I believe that these girls are going to lose a good part of their quickly acquired image in the 28th Olympiad. Maybe now they can experience some surprises, Anyway, afterward we are going to know if the Hungarian sisters are geniuses or just women!"

This attempt to laugh off the prowess of the three marvelous Polgar sisters from Budapest came from the Soviet grandmaster and the Soviet women's team coach, Eduard Gufeld.

They ran roughshod through the Women's Olympiad to take the gold away from Gufeld's Soviet squad for the first time since these competitions started in 1957.

And now every time they score another triumph it must cause the otherwise good natured Gufeld to choke on his caviar.

The latest exploit was Judith's victory on Jan. 6, with an 8-2 score in the challengers' tournament in Hastings, a 102-player, Swiss-system event. This qualified her for the Hastings premier tournament next Christmas.

And it gave her an extra chance to gloat, because the field she topped included four grandmasters, one of whom was none other than Gufeld. Oh yes - he finished in a big tie for eighth place.

Back to Schonberg: "All three are here for the New York International, the annual Easter event put on by chess impressario Jose Cuchi. About 40 grandmasters and many more international masters will batter each other, hoping to get the first prize of $18,000 - enormous by chess standards.

The contest is stronger than any Judith has participated in. How did Susan (Polgar) believe the sisters would do?

"Realistically," said Susan, after conferring with her sisters, "we should score between 41/2-61/2. That would put us in the middle. A score of 61/2 would be very gratifying. It would give us a grandmaster norm and that is what we are trying to get."

"I will try my best," Judith said in her only contribution to the conversation. "I would like my first grandmaster norm."

A grandmaster norm is the first of several steps before becoming a grandmaster. Susan has one norm; her sisters have none.

They are mavericks in the Hungarian Chess Federation. They have consistently refused to play in women's tournaments claiming they are just as good as men. By now they have proved their point.

-CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SOLVERS! - Covert Copier, Edwin O. Smith, Dr. Harold Rosenberg, Hal Knight, Prof. Ardean Watts, Raeburn G. Kennard, Kay Lundstrom, Joan Nay, Jean Schoen, Raymond Linner, Allan Nicholas, Jack B. Friend, Keith Flower, Paul R. Lindeman, Robert Tanner, Mark H. Timothy, Ted Pathakis, Brian Griffith, Alan E. Brown, Hal Harmon, John H. Nielson, Eric L. DeMillard and Mark Stranger.