Susan Polger, a child chess prodigy at the age of four and a half, the first female grandmaster and an Olympic and World chess champion, will provide us tips on how we can teach and inspire our children to play chess at a very young age.
In this interview you will learn:
• 0:37 – At what age you can successfully teach your child chess (and how you know when they are ready)
• 1:48 – Specific techniques unique to young children
• 3:47 – How to inspire young girls to play
• 6:35 – Benefits of learning chess young
• 10:21 – Biggest mistake parents make when teaching chess
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Susan, I’m so excited to have you here because you, your story is an inspiration and I’m just really excited to learn more and how we can teach young children to play chess.
Susan: Thank you. My pleasure to join you.
Kelly: I thought I’d just dig in. how young can you teach your child to play chess?
Susan: I think anywhere between three and six. It depends on the child individually, each individual child’s maturity. I personally learned the basic stuff, chess before my fourth birthday. While there are others who are not ready until five or five and a half, six. So, I think each parent needs to kind of feel out their own child, how mature in general they are.
Kelly: how do you know if they’re ready?
Susan: Well, it’s about the patience, let’s say to sit in one place and like to do things for an extended period of time. You know, like some kids like to just run around, cannot sit still for more than a few minutes at a time or focus on any one thing for very long. So, I think when that maturity level kind of grows to, at the reasonable amount of time then you can passively do anything productive in chess, I think, that’s the time.
Kelly: You don’t teach chess the same way to a child as you do an adult. What are some of the things of how you learned and what you recommend for other parents?
Susan: Yeah, I was very fortunate that my father taught me the game. He made it like a fairytale and he made it a lot of fun and he made a lot of little games within the entire game and that’s the thing in chess is a very complex game, when you talk about it on a professional level, but it can be a very fun game and a very enjoyable game at all levels and at all ages. He was very, very good in breaking it down to little parts of the game that even a four-year-old could comprehend and enjoy. I think the reason why I fell in love with the game at the tender age of four was because my father was very good in showing me the beautiful aspects of the game.
Some are very obvious even to a beginner player, but others are more hidden, more delicate, more complex but that to show that the beauty that – that can happen, Let’s say my side may have all the pieces on the board or almost all the pieces and the other side, with only less than a handful pieces can win and how the less pieces can outsmart the other side with all those, all the pieces on the board. I think showing examples of, of those type of things, I really impressive that it’s (Inaudible) the size or the quantity, but it’s about the delicacy and the finesse of, of what you do.
Kelly: My daughter loves the princesses and kings and queens. What are some other examples that you could give that would inspire like a young girl?
Susan: It’s called the Royal Game for a reason, right? Because it has a King, it has a Queen, it has horses, it has the towers. So, it has pretty much all the element of a real King and Queen Fairy Tale Story. And I think there are raised to put it in that perspective for a young girl, that can be really attractive. And then of course the other aspects of the beauty of the game is when you make sacrifices in order to win the game. And, and those can be amazing that sometimes it’s a series of sacrifices of giving up pieces such as the bishop or even the Queen even that may be a pawn. So, I think, on one hand it can be very amazing and impressive and at the same time it can be very important life lessons to be learned. And from my perspective for society actually chess can be a very important tool to be used to teach young children about different, life situations or life skills that are hard to demonstrate to a young person in real life, right? Because you don’t sound to make those real-life sacrifice is (Inaudible, 08:09) it can be injuries or monetary huge sacrifices and so on. But on the chess board, at the end of the game it’s, it’s a game, so even when there are casualties in the chess pieces that still kind of a fantasy world, but yet the message can be very easily and clearly demonstrated and without any casualties, or expenses.
Susan: And I think that’s really important to be patient and not to be in a rush to be able to play with all 32 pieces. even the game, even violence, the child is familiar with all the pieces. It’s important to break it down and go from the end backwards to do practice a lot of different checkmate situations, a lot of different checkmates patterns and work your way back. How do you get there? So, make a game out of the game that make it a competition,Its puzzle solving
Kelly: What are some of the benefits that you felt that you received learning chess so young?
Susan: I learned a tremendous amount of life skills. For example, oftentimes in life, like in chess, you need to make temporary sacrifices in order to achieve larger, more important, bigger goals that, for example, one of the important lessons or another could be that you have to be patient. You cannot beat the game in two moves, right? If the game can take 20 moves, 30 moves, 50 moves, a hundred moves, right? It puts things in perspective, and you need to be patient, then the you need to build up and we keep getting, making good moves one after another. They don’t have to be spectacular moves every time. In fact, only, it’s once in a while that you need to make a spectacular move
But making study, good moves, improving your position a little by little by little, just like in life, right? You’re not getting your degree overnight, but you’re not getting the job over nights you have to go through the school system and got an education and then it takes patience. It takes perseverance, it takes a discipline. So, that are so many skills that are so obvious and so concrete when you play chess, that can be carried over to real life.
The difference being that I think chess perhaps is even a better tool and the more cost-effective tool to use to teach anybody. Regardless of size or height or religion or race or, or, or even socioeconomical circumstances like to play tennis. Okay, you need access to a tennis court, right? You need a tennis racket, just nothing expensive. You need the sneakers that, that it’s very, can be very costly. Chess on the other hand can be very obtainable to anyone and everyone. It can be played in your home, it can be played online, it can be played with friends, it can be played within the family, you can compete, you can play it, you know, while you’re traveling. So, it’s so practical compared to many other activities.
Let’ssay if you want to learn the piano, it’s not a simple thing, like every family has a piano in their home or can afford one.
It’s important though, how the children are being taught and so, and that’s kind of thing (crosstalk) my travels around the country and around the world. I’ve, I’ve seen a good number of wonderful coaches who understand the right way to teach, but unfortunately I’m seeing also a good number of coaches that, even though having the best intention, they simply don’t know what the right way to teach
Kelly: Right. What are some of those mistakes that parents and other coach make then when teaching?
Susan: One of the typical mistakes are when coaches or parents with focus on the, on the opening part of the game and how to win quickly because it kind of gives the wrong message both for chess and I think for life as well, that that are easy shortcuts and look for the quick gain instead of actually put in the effort and the hard work and, the real results and lasting results come. While it may give a child a temporary quick win over another child who knows even less than he or she, but at the end of the day, it’s not the right way to play chess, to go for a quick trick as swindle, you know, and if it doesn’t work out, oops, it didn’t work out.
Kelly: How much should they practice, especially at a young age, what do you recommend in terms of the amount of time they should put into it?
Susan: Well, I think what’s most important is the parents or the coaches, but especially the parents and the child, of course, they need to understand what the goals are. Is it just to have a fun family activity to kind of kill time on a Friday night or a Saturday or is it to be competitive within your school or all the way passively trying to become a grandmaster or national champion or world champion? The scale can be anywhere and that there’s no right or wrong answer to that. for those few who dream to become a professional player or grand master, therefore needs to be quite substantially more than others who just use chess as, as one of the enrichment activities to make friends, to have a reason to travel, let’s say different chest tournaments or, or even just use it locally a social activity.
So it really varies, and I think that’s kind of a first challenge for most the families, they don’t even kind of think of it. They just get started and they don’t exactly know where they are going and then at the same time, in many cases they have unrealistic expectations because there are always the kids who, who and their families that are serious about chess and they thinking anywhere from four, six hours a day in practice.
Kelly: I’m wondering for parents do they really need to know a lot about chess to teach our children chess?
Susan: Well, it’s obviously helpful if a parent likes chess, at least not saying at club level, but it’s not necessarily at the same time. For example, my mother didn’t play chess at all. She didn’t even know how the pieces move.
Kelly: Oh, is that right?
Susan: Yes. Along the way, she learned a little bit. She’s still not a good chess player, but she knows how the pieces move. The development of the technology and Internet that can aid parents or coaches who are not even chess players or just very basic level chess players themselves. Like for example, I also have a different video series for beginners, intermediate to advance are excellent (Inaudible).
Today, regardless where somebody lives pretty much as long as they have Internet access, they can play chess online 24-7 and that’s huge. And then there are plenty of people who want to play and then are many platforms where they found the games and the rate the games. So, based on the higher someone’s rating, the better player, theoretically they are. And therefore, eventually they are getting matched up with similar level skills players. So, as they keep improving, they’ll get more and more challenged than the get to play people that they can always be challenged by. So that’s huge (inaudible) and most of these platforms are free, some are have minimal fees, like $20, $50 a year or such. But there are plenty of free opportunities to get the practice games in online without even needing to go anywhere.
I can play people all over the world from Russia to China to Australia, you name it, you can play different people. It’s a great way also to learn about the world then the make friends around the world through chess, right? The online play and that also the other aspect is the software. There are a number of software’s, most of them developed or distributed by a company called Chess Phase.
And that software basically you can play against them on one hand, that’s even if you don’t have Internet, but more importantly they have the feature that’s a kind of a troubleshooting. So, basically if you play a game and then you enter those moves into the software, it tells you where the mistakes were.
Kelly: Oh Wow.
Kelly: That’s very cool.
Susan: The most important thing is to understand your goals and they’d be patient to get there. And I think how we work and perseverance, everybody can achieve anything they want to and sky’s the limit.
Kelly: I love it. It was a real honor to have you here and learn from you directly and the best way to inspire other people to play it too, and the benefits. So, thank you so much.
Susan: Thank you. My pleasure joining you. Yeah. So, yeah, thank you.
About Susan Polgar
At 4 years of age, Polgar won the under-11 chess championship of Budapest with a perfect score of 10–0. Although she was only 12 at the time, Polgar won the girl’s under-16 section of the 1981 FIDE World Youth Chess Festival for Peace, held in Embalse, Arg. Polgar attained the (men’s) International Master (IM) title in 1984. Susan Polgar became the first female Grandmaster at age 15. For more information, visit www.SusanPolgar.com.