Hun­gar­ian chess queen moves into ed­u­ca­tion

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

In­no­va­tion, it seems, runs deep in the Pol­gar fam­ily DNA. In the 1970s, the fa­ther Las­zlo, a teacher, chal­lenged Hun­gary’s com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties by home­school­ing his chil­dren as chess prodi­gies. Now his youngest daugh­ter, Ju­dit, con­sid­ered the world’s best ever fe­male player, is us­ing “Chess Palace”, an ed­u­ca­tional tool she de­vel­oped, to equip kids for the 21st cen­tury. From “Speedy Bishop” to “Jumpy-Knight”, the pieces come alive in games and songs, build­ing blocks, stick­ers, text­books and dig­i­tal ap­pli­ca­tions, all to help kids hone their skills.

“Chess can open up a kid’s brain, and de­velop it in a play­ful cre­ative way,” Pol­gar, 41, told AFP dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “They can learn play­fully about cre­ative, strate­gic, and log­i­cal think­ing, and quick prob­lem-solv­ing,” she said. That, she be­lieves, can also help kids with stan­dard sub­jects like math­e­mat­ics, sci­ence and art, as well as in their ev­ery­day lives. Since 2013, “Chess Palace” has been an op­tional part of Hun­gary’s na­tional cur­ricu­lum for chil­dren aged six to 10, one that over 250 schools have joined, and thou­sands of kids.

From Septem­ber, Pol­gar plans to roll out a kinder­garten ver­sion, called “Chess Play­ground”. The laugh­ter and ap­plause at a re­cent pre­sen­ta­tion at the Brumi kinder­garten in Bu­dapest sug­gest it will be another hit.

Af­ter a nav­i­ga­tion game where the chil­dren di­rected blind­folded team­mates GPS-style around the chess­board, Simi, seven, told AFP his fa­vorite piece is “Tiny-Pawn”. “Be­cause he’s lit­tle like me,” he smiled, a pa­per crown perched on his head.

The Pol­gar Vari­ant

The bright col­ors at Brumi con­trast starkly with the com­mu­nist-era Bu­dapest apart­ment block where Ju­dit was taught the pros and cons of the Si­cil­ian de­fense and other chess tricks that would make her a cham­pion. Her fa­ther Las­zlo pulled her and older sis­ters Zsuzsa (Su­san) and Zsofia (Sofia) out of school, de­cid­ing that their lives would be what he called “a liv­ing ed­u­ca­tional re­search project”. “Any healthy child-if taught early and in­ten­sively-can be brought up to be ex­cep­tion­ally suc­cess­ful in any field,” he told AFP af­ter a re­cent Bu­dapest screen­ing of “The Pol­gar Vari­ant”, a doc­u­men­tary film on the fam­ily’s lives.

“I am con­vinced that the road to hap­pi­ness is if some­one is a ge­nius,” he said. The film shows home video footage of the girls brows­ing thou­sands of hand­writ­ten records of games filed in a cab­i­net. Las­zlo also taught the girls sports like ta­ble-tennis and life skills like for­eign lan­guages. “If chil­dren are raised happy, then so­ci­ety should profit from it. As a hu­man­ist, this was my task, I wanted to make a rev­o­lu­tion in ed­u­ca­tion through chess,” the now 71-year-old said.

Happy child­hood

The girls’ un­ortho­dox ed­u­ca­tion led to reg­u­lar ha­rass­ment by the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties and neg­a­tive me­dia at­ten­tion, but the fam­ily never doubted the mer­its of their un­con­ven­tional up­bring­ing. “We had a happy child­hood, our par­ents were strict but lov­ing, and I was to­gether with my sis­ters, who were my best friends,” Ju­dit said. “And we had suc­cess early, and trav­elled a lot, so we were never jeal­ous of our peers”. She won her first in­ter­na­tional chess tour­na­ment at nine and was only 12 when she teamed up with Sofia and Su­san to claim Hun­gary’s first-ever women’s Olympic gold chess medal. Aged 15, Ju­dit broke Bobby Fis­cher’s record by be­com­ing the youngest ever in­ter­na­tional chess grand­mas­ter, reached a peak world rank­ing of eight in 2005, and was women’s num­ber one for a 25-year-pe­riod. In 2014 — by then a mother with two chil­dren aged 10 and eight-she re­tired to spend more time with her fam­ily. “I also felt that I can do much more for chess away from the chess board,” she told AFP, cit­ing the global chess fes­ti­val and foun­da­tion she set up to pro­mote the game around the world. “I want to show how rich chess is and what kind of his­tory it has, through cul­ture, lit­er­a­ture, and ed­u­ca­tion,” she said.

‘Fo­cus means ev­ery­thing’

While Pol­gar lauds the “huge courage, sac­ri­fice and in­vest­ment” made by her par­ents and their “in­cred­i­ble ped­a­gog­i­cal skills”, she is cau­tious about rec­om­mend­ing oth­ers ap­ply their tech­niques. In to­day’s “very dif­fer­ent” smart­phone era even pay­ing full at­ten­tion to chil­dren at all is dif­fi­cult for par­ents, “never mind 24 hours a day for 20 years” as hap­pened with her, she told AFP. “But at least if you are with your kid in a play­ground, be there men­tally as well as phys­i­cally, even for 20 min­utes. Fo­cus means ev­ery­thing to a child”. And “Chess Play­ground”, she says, is not about the early mold­ing of kids as cham­pi­ons like her. “It’s about pre­par­ing them for school and life, that can make them win­ners later on”. — AFP

Chil­dren play chess at the ‘Brumi’ preschool in Bu­dapest, with the teach­ing method Ju­dit Pol­gar’s Chess play­ground.

Chil­dren learn to play chess at the ‘Brumi’ preschool in Bu­dapest, with the teach­ing method “Ju­dit Pol­gar’s Chess play­ground”.

Chil­dren play chess at the ‘Brumi’ preschool in Bu­dapest, with the teach­ing method Ju­dit Pol­gar’s Chess play­ground. — AFP photos

Hun­gar­ian chess teacher and ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Las­zlo Pol­gar poses with his daugh­ters Ju­dit (cen­ter) and Zsofia (right) af­ter he gave an in­ter­view for AFP in the Ura­nia Film Theater in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary af­ter a pre­miere of a doc­u­men­tary film about Pol­gar’s fam­ily.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.