If you don’t know the difference between your Pawns and your Kings, and you think a Queen is someone who brings the life and soul to a party then you probably aren’t too familiar with chess. It’s ok because most of us haven’t a clue how to play it either – it’s like checkers, but for clever people.
Laszlo Polgar, an educational psychologist from Hungary must have thought along similar lines. As a self-confessed mediocre player and with too much time on his hands, he devised an experiment to discover if it was possible turn any healthy child into a future chess prodigy. A grand claim indeed, but an experiment is useless without guinea pigs to help test his theories.
Luckily for Laszlo, his wife Kiara was more than happy to allow their 4 year old daughter Zsuzsa to become the test subject he desperately needed.
Chess, the Polgars decided, was the perfect activity for their protogenius: It was an art, a science, and like competitive athletics, yielded objective results that could be measured over time. Never mind that less than 1 percent of top chess players were women. If innate talent was irrelevant to Laszlo’s theory, so, then, was a child’s gender. “My father is a visionary,” Zsuzsa says. “He always thinks big, and he thinks people can do a lot more than they actually do.”
Of course, one child wasn’t enough so when Kiara gave birth to Zsofia and Judit – Laszlo suddenly gained two additional subjects. Having daughters actually helped Laszlo because he was intrigued to see if they could compete in a male dominated profession. To aid their experiment, and to gain greater control over their daughters development, Laszlo and Kiara chose to home-school the girls by supplementing their daily 8 hour chess routines with Esperanto, German, English and high level math studies.
This, perhaps unsurprisingly, alerted the local police who turned up at the family home wondering what kind of lunatic chooses a glorified board game over traditional schooling. It was only after Zsuzsa won her first youth title aged 4 and a half, Laszlo found the confidence to carry on with his brain fiddling scheme.
While Zsuzsa and Zsofia were chess prodigies and won various championships, it was the Judit, the youngest that would go on to write her name in the record books. She holds the title of the best female player of all time, the youngest grandmaster in history and achieved a career high ranking of 10 for both men and women combined.
His experiment was a success. Laszlo was unable to reach the upper echelons of the game as a player so he simply came up with the idea of turning his children (whom didn’t exist at the time) into champions.
You’ll see why Laszlo’s story is useful in a minute, but first… Continue Reading