Wikipedia Wednesday: Judit Polgár
Judit Polgár (born July 23, 1976) is a Hungarian chess grandmaster. She is by far the strongest female chess player in history. In 1991, Polgár achieved the title of Grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 4 months, the youngest person ever to do so at that time.
An impressive feat made more interesting by the fact that she and her sister were “were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained in a specialist subject from a very early age.”
“Geniuses are made, not born”, was László’s thesis. He and his wife Klára educated their three daughters at home, with chess as the specialist subject. László also taught his three daughters the international language Esperanto. They received resistance from Hungarian authorities as home-schooling was not a “socialist” approach. They also received criticism at the time from some western commentators for depriving the sisters of a normal childhood. However, by most reports the girls appeared happy and well-adjusted.
This type of stuff is fascinating, as it’s nearly impossible to separate nature and nurture. It seems that László was correct about the “making” of genius. However, given that he and his wife were the type to conduct an educational experiment in the first place, it’s likely that intelligence was a hereditary trait to some extent.
Trained in her early years by her sister Susan, who ultimately became Women’s World Champion, Judit Polgár was a prodigy from an early age. At age five she defeated a family friend without looking at the board. After the game the friend joked, “You are good at chess, but I’m a good cook.” Judit replied, “Do you cook without looking at the stove?” However, according to Susan, Judit was not the sister with the most talent, explaining “Judit was a slow starter, but very hard-working.” Polgár described herself at that age as “obsessive” about chess. She first defeated an International Master, Dolfi Drimer, at age 10, and a Grandmaster, Vladimir Kovacevic, at age 11.