It wasn’t easy to grow up as a young Jewish girl in Hungary

My dream was to become a chess grandmaster

By Trish Muyco-Tobin

Susan Polgar did not get to be a trailblazer without doing the work – hard work.

“There’s too much with cell phones, video games and texting … many kids in America today are not used to rolling up their sleeves and doing the work. As a child in Hungary, for me, there was definitely more respect and expectation for hard work,” she said. “Back in the ‘70s, when I was growing up, our living conditions were very modest. We had no phone, no car, we lived in a small place without luxuries, like having a color TV or air conditioning in the summer.”

Polgar’s parents were both teachers. It was her father who fostered in her and her two younger sisters a love for the game of chess. And for Polgar, who would grow up to dominate the game and shatter stereotypes, coming of age in Budapest was – in many ways – being in the right place at the right time.

“Chess was very popular. There were dozens of chess clubs in Budapest – it was the second-most popular sport after soccer,” she said.

With her father’s guidance, Polgar earned her first title within months of being introduced to the game.

“I won the championship in elementary school at age 4,” she said. “I was fortunate. My father was extremely good in showing me how to play. He made me fall in love with the game.”

But the young prodigy is quick to add she was not handed the world on a string.

“It wasn’t easy to grow up as a young Jewish girl in Hungary who wanted to play chess,” Polgar explained. “The game was very male-dominated, and little girls and women were discouraged from playing. There was an attitude that women weren’t as smart as men – and being Jewish was an additional obstacle.

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