A Tale of Three Women

This is the story of three women: Susan, Sofia and Judit and how their lives could affect yours and the lives of your children.

Susan is 46 and a writer. She lives in the United States.

Sofia is 41 and a teacher. She lives in Israel.

Judith is 39 and a coach. She lives in Hungary.

Apart from all being female and all being mentioned in this article, Susan, Sofia and Judit have a few other things in common.

They are married.

They each have two children.

And they are all quite good at playing chess.

Lots of people play chess. I wasn’t too bad myself. I even won the school chess trophy one year – which I was very proud of at the time. I thought that was quite good.

You could say that Susan is quite good, too.

On the July 1984, at the age of 15, she became the top-ranked woman player in the world. That for me is quite good.

Sofia is quite good, as well.

In 1989, at the age of 14, she stunned the chess world by her performance in a tournament in Rome. She won the tournament, which included several strong grandmasters, with a score of 8½ out of 9. Her performance was one of the strongest in history by a 14-year-old.

And of course Judit is also quite good.

In fact she is generally considered the strongest female player in history of chess.

Another thing these three women have in common is that they are all sisters.

Their father is the Hungarian educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar. Born in 1946, Laszlo believed that geniuses are not born but made.

This was a radical belief at the time. Laszlo was living behind the Iron Curtain and the idea of choosing to be a genius didn’t fit comfortably with the Soviet ethos. In fact he was considered mad by some of his colleagues. He was recommended to see a psychiatrist to cure him of his madness.

But maybe this was for the better because without support or funding he decided to embark upon what is now referred to as “one of the most amazing experiments in the history of human education”.

He decided that, before they were born, his children were going to be geniuses.

And how did he intend to do this? By using drugs? Hypnosis? Brain transplants?

No. His plan was to follow three simple steps: practice, practice and practice.

Susan, Sofia and Judith played chess for about 6 hours a day most days.

Now leaving aside the dubious ethics of making your children spend half their waking life doing something just to prove a point, the important thing here is that Laszlo and his daughters proved that anyone can excel in a field if they practice enough. It’s not a question of some innate skill or inborn talent. Whether it’s learning chess or to speak a new language or to speak in public every single one of us already has what it takes to succeed. Namely, a healthy human brain capable of growing and adapting to whatever tasks we choose to give it.

So I’m afraid you can’t say “Oh, I’m not very good at learning languages (or mathematics or whatever). It’s really not for me.”  To use a scientific term used from where I come from, you are ‘talking bollocks’. Laszlo proved this not once but three times.

Our brains are capable of amazing things given enough practice. And it’s not just during childhood. Consider the London Taxi-driver test: The Knowledge. Investigations have now shown that the hippocampi of candidates who successfully pass the gruelling test (involving memorizing 50,000 streets, landmarks and buildings which can take 3 to 4 years of relentless practice) have dramatically increased in size. Their brains have developed to make them London A-Z geniuses.

So for all you who are wanting to improve your memory, your chess, your typing or coding skills or your Chinese or your public speaking then the good news is that whatever you want to become good at, you can. However the bad news is that the only way to do it is to practice, practice, practice.

So what are you waiting for? Take example from the Polgar Family and start practicing your way to perfection today!

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