Monday, December 13, 2010

The incredible Polgar sisters

IF YOU have not heard of the Polgar sisters, then you are not a chess player.

Former Cepca president Nicnic Climaco of negative ion fame lent me a book “Talent is overrated” by Geoff Colvin and it is an eye-opener. The author described partly the chess achievements of the sisters—Susan,Sofia and Judit—and how they did it.

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Susan became the first woman to become a grandmaster and was the women’s world champion several times.

Judit became the youngest GM. She is also considered to be the greatest and strongest woman chess player in history.

Sofia, an International master, scored an amazing 8.5/9 in a tournament in 1989 known as the “sack of Rome” over a phalanx of GMs. And that is considered one of the greatest performance ever by a chess player-- male or female.

Why do they excel? Most people will say because they are talented, but that is not exactly the right answer.

Research now shows that the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret? Painful and demanding practice and hard work.

For one thing, Colvin said, “You do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don’t exist.

You are not born a chess grandmaster, swimmer or pianist. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years. And not just any hard work, but work of a particular type that’s demanding and painful.”

Bobby Fischer devoted 10 to 14 hours of intense chess study everyday that would kill an ordinary person (at least me).

Understand that talent doesn’t mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits.

It’s an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well.

British-based researchers Michael J. Howe, Jane W. Davidson and John A. Sluboda conclude in an extensive study, “The evidence we have surveyed ... does not support the (notion that) excelling is a consequence of possessing innate gifts.”

In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly and then stop developing completely.

Yet a few do improve for years and even decades, and go on to achieve greatness. Why? How are certain people able to go on improving?

The answer? Deliberate practice.

Lazlo Polgar, a Hungarian educational psychologist, believed that great performers are made, not born. He wanted to prove it by doing it himself.

He made it known that if a woman would marry and have children with him, he would conduct an experiment that would make his children extraordinary achievers.

Amazingly, he found such a woman, a schoolteacher, named Klara who agreed to
cooperate with him.

Why he choose chess was because his first child was female—Susan--and the prevailing view then was women couldn’t compete with men at the highest level. Also, the improvement in chess can be easily monitored. Thus this would be the ideal realm to
prove his theory.

The couple devoted their lives to teaching Susan and her two sisters, starting at age 3. All three daughters studied at home.

The parents quit their jobs to devote full time to teaching them hours and hours of chess instruction.

Lazlo bought thousands of chess books as the children progressed. They also learned other subjects as insisted by school authorities and had to pass exams and all the children speak several languages.

One can only wonder at the results if Laszlo had boys instead of girls as chess is a man’s game.

Susan said, “My father believes that innate talent is nothing, that success is 99% hard work. I agree with him.”

This story illustrates how the principle of deliberate practice,when carried to an extra-ordinary level ,produce extraordinary achievement.


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