December 11, 2019

Webster head chess coach inducted into U.S. Chess Hall of Fame

Fifteen years after Susan Polgar retired from professional chess, she became the youngest woman at 49-years-old to be inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Polgar started playing chess in Hungary when she was 4 years old.

Polgar entered and won the girls Budapest Championship Under 11 at the age of four defeating girls nearly three times her age with a 10-0 score. She had to sit on phone books and pillows to reach across the board. Polgar said that was an awakening moment for her, her parents and the chess community.

She said she faced gender discrimination through her entire chess career but persevered to pave the way for all future competitive women chess players.

Polgar said her father, Laszlo, was a psychologist and author. Laszlo homeschooled his children and taught them chess. He wrote a book before his children were born called, “Raising A Genius.”  

Susan Polgar retired from chess 15 years ago and now helps train new chess masters at Webster. She was the first woman to qualify for Men’s World Championship and has won 12 Olympic medals.

“He had this idea that once he had children, he would try to prove that any healthy born child can become a genius,” Polgar said. “He was pleased that I discovered chess because it was more of an objective way to measure success than many other fields in life.”

Laszlo took Polgar to chess clubs for practice. Polgar became so good at chess, she often beat the middle-aged men at the clubs. Polgar said they would say abusive things and some would throw the chess pieces off the board.

“I remember when I was just six years old, the men would make fun of each other for losing to me. If I would beat one of them, they would be the laughing stock of the club for the next few weeks, until I beat one of them,” Polgar said. “The good news is, they eventually got used to it. They too got to become part of the club that lost to Zsuzsa (Susan).”

Polgar became the No.1 ranked female chess player in the world when she was just 15 years old.

Polgar said she can play five games simultaneously in her head. She broke the record for most simultaneous games played against 326 players with 309 wins, 14 draws and three losses. The feat took 16-and-a-half hours. She has won 12 Olympiad medals including five gold, four silver and three bronze. She was undefeated in 56 games all played on board one.

Polgar was the first woman to qualify for the Men’s World Championship Cycle, so they had to drop the word ‘men’ from its title. She was the first woman to become a grandmaster. In 2003, she earned Grandmaster of the Year award. She won U.S. Women’s Blitz and Rapid Championship and won the Women’s World Chess Championship, making her the first to win the triple crown. Polgar said generally, it is now okay for men to lose to women in chess.

Webster University President Beth Stroble said Polgar is an asset to Webster’s global mission and is proud of all the accomplishments of Webster’s chess team.

“Susan has been a great ambassador for chess, women in chess and for Webster University,” Stroble said. “The tournaments she holds in other countries increases opportunities for children to get to play competitive chess and to be valued as chess players. That is so true to the message that Webster wants to convey about opportunity being available to all students who want to work hard. We want to be door openers.”

When students graduate high school, Polgar said they no longer can just focus on chess, so she formed Susan Polgar Institute of Chess Excellence  in 2007. Polgar first opened S.P.I.C.E. at Texas Tech University in 2007. She is the head coach of seven consecutive Division I Collegiate Final Four championship teams from 2007 to 2017. Five of those were Webster teams along with seven consecutive Pan-Am Chess Tournament wins.

Polgar is now immortalized at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri. She now wants to  focus on what she can do for the world of chess and young children of the world who want to learn the game.

Polgar said the game teaches children crucial life skills like time management, strategy and balance. Just like you move a chess piece, in life there are no take backs, Polgar said.

“[To succeed] you need pattern recognition that’s developed through practice. You need to develop your chess intuition through learning from your own mistakes,” Polgar said. “How you deal with the disappointment of bad moves and how you come back from losing or winning determines success.”

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