How to reach your full potential in chess in spite of lack of "natural" talent?


I am being asked nearly every single day about my secrets to become a World and Olympiad Champion, as well as a top-level coach today.

I think I answered some of these questions thousands of times (or more). But here are my answers again just in case if you never saw them.

No, I was not born with a spectacular talent in chess. I used to excel in mathematics when I was a young girl. But I love chess much more. So I decided to focus fully on the game I love.

Chess is not a job for me even though it is what I do everyday. It is my passion. So my secrets for success are quite simple:

- Outwork everyone else today (when I used to be a professional player, and today as a coach)

- Repeat the same thing tomorrow

- Then repeat again every day

- When you no longer love it, find something else to do

But it is a waste of your time and your life if you are not giving your all to whatever you love. Hard work, diligence, and discipline can make up for deficiencies in "natural" talent, especially in my case. But I also saw many incredible talented players simply throwing away their careers because of the lack of hard work, diligence, and discipline.

I became the #1 ranked female player when I was 15. In spite of facing many road blocks and obstacles, I remained in the top 3 for about 25 years.

I played in 4 Women’s World Championships and I was 4 for 4 (Under 16 when I was 12, Blitz, Rapid, and Classical Championships). In 1996, I became the first and only in chess history, male or female, to win all 6 prestigious crowns: World Classical, Rapid, and Blitz Championships, Olympiad Gold (Individual and Team), and the world #1 ranking!

I played a total of 56 games at the Chess Olympiad, all on board 1, and never sat out any game, whether I was a 100% or not. My records were 31 wins, 25 draws, and 0 loss, while winning 5 Gold, 4 Silver, and 3 Bronze.

When people used to say that no woman could ever earn the Grandmaster title (via tournament play and meeting all the FIDE requirements), I proved that it could be done and I was the first to do it in 1991.

So if I achieved all the above with minimal talent, imagine what others with immense talent can accomplish. The biggest challenge for most is they do not work hard and be disciplined all the time. There are too much temptation in life to stray to other distractions. Some simply rely on their talents and that alone is simply not enough.

After I had children, I decided to be the best Mom I could. So I decided to give up a professional playing career with so much traveling (to be more with them). When they were old enough, I began coaching, mostly scholastic level. Many of the young players who went through my Chess Center in New York became grandmasters.

About 13 years ago, I started coaching at the top college level. The reason for that is because too many talented young players simply gave up chess, especially in the US, when they reached the college age. So I felt that by creating a world-class Collegiate Chess Program, more will have incentive to stay in the game and improve. That is how SPICE was born.

And if players continue to vastly improve, they can continue to play professionally like Wesley So, Le Quang Liem, Ray Robson, Jorge Cori, etc.

I brought the same attitude as a player into the coaching world: Hard work, diligence, and discipline!

With this philosophy, the teams I coached shattered all records by winning 7 consecutive Division I Collegiate Final Four Championships (2011-2017) and a record 7 consecutive Division I PanAm InterCollegiate Chess Championships (2012-2018). Since 2012, my students at Webster University won 54 national titles (individual and teams), 2 World Championships, 5 World Open Championships, and many Gold medals at the Chess Olympiads.

After being in chess for 45+ years, I still work a minimum of 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, but usually 14-16 hours, and up to 20 hours during big competition.

This is why you see so many young players today from India, China, Uzbekistan, Iran, etc. succeed and thrive! They are hungrier for success and they are willing to work harder!

So to summarize it, if you want to succeed and achieve greatness, you need the following:

  • Hard work, diligence, and discipline!
  • Repeat this formula EVERY DAY, not on some days, and definitely NOT on just days you feel like it!

If you expect a magic solution then you have come to the wrong place.


Ask Susan