Sign in / Join

In Hungary, a queen of failures in the service of education

Ⓒ AFP – PETER KOHALMI – | Children take the place of chess pieces at a school in Budapest on June 14, 2014

Educated in Communist Hungary to be a prodigy of failures, Judit Polgar became the best. As a young retired from the plateaus, she trains children with a very different method: learning by having fun.

In a kindergarten on the outskirts of Budapest, seven-year-old Simi, blindfolded, is guided by his little comrades among the pieces of a human-sized chess set.

The piece he prefers is the pawn “because he’s as small as me,” says the toddler maliciously, a crown perched on his head.

The other pieces on the board are called “the nimble fool” or “the knight leaping”, a way for Judit Polgar to establish complicity between the child and the game, to make it a basis for “developing his Logical, creative, strategic capabilities, “explains this 41-year-old brunette with piercing eyes.

Considered the “best chess player of all time”, the one who passed away as grand master at the age of 15, breaking Bobby Fisher’s precocious record, does not have the ambition to train geniuses.

His educational method, “The Palace of Chess”, aims to “open the mind, to learn creatively and playfully”. Chess comes alive in the form of games, songs, stories, computer applications.

Optional for four years in Hungarian primary schools, “The Palace of Chess” claims the adhesion of 250 institutions. At the start of the school year, a new version will be available for kindergartens.

– No innate genius –

In the Polgar family, there are failures, education and a taste for innovation in blood.

For Judit’s father, Laszlo, with his three daughters in Hungary in the 1970s and 1980s, he realized an unconventional experience: to prove that every child, if he receives an early and intensive teaching, can develop an exceptional talent.

His goal then: to make Sofia, Susan and Judit – the youngest – chess champions.

Ⓒ AFP – PETER KOHALMI – | The former N.1 world chess Hungarian Judit Polgar during an interview with AFP in Budapest on May 14, 2017

His method: to live only for this game, to memorize with forced march thousands of parts, to learn the blows of the great masters at the age when the other children play marbles, as a documentary recently projected in Hungary on the life outside – the Polgar family.

At home, the three sisters completed their learning by studying languages, philosophy and table tennis.

This unorthodox education has earned Laszlo, a training teacher, and his wife, Klara, the wrath of the communist regime and the national chess federation, tells the film “The Polgar variant”. But the successes of the siblings have reconciled everyone.

Judit won his first international tournament at the age of nine and was only 12 when the three sisters headed the Hungarian women’s team beat the previously uncontrollable Soviets at the Olympics in the discipline.

The world’s number one female chess player for 25 years, Judit Polgar has earned the luxury of winning a game against Garry Kasparov, facing only men in major tournaments, to the point of being the only woman to Top 10 of the world’s top players.

– Other times, other manners –

Laszlo Polgar, 71 years old today, does not consider having played the sorcerer’s apprenticeship with his daughters: “If the children are brought up happy, the society will benefit.” As a humanist, I considered it my mission to do The revolution in education through failures, “he told AFP.

Ⓒ AFP – PETER KOHALMI – | Chess teacher Laszlo Polgar poses with one of his three daughters, Zsofia, in Budapest on 14 May 2017

Judit, who said goodbye to the competition in 2014, does not regret anything either: his early successes, his trips, gave him little opportunity to compare his life to that of “normal” children.

“We had a happy childhood, I was with my sisters who were my best friends, our parents were strict but loving,” she says, praising Laszlo’s “immense courage and incredible teaching skills” And Klara.

Difficult in the age of the smartphone and the digital zapping, to imagine “their investment, the attention paid to a single objective 24h / 24h for twenty years”, marvels the champion, herself mother of two children who follow Traditional schooling.

It was another era, “it was important to know a discipline well when now we have to be multi-tasking,” says the one who pursues, in her own way, the family lesson, convinced that failures “prepare children for School and life, to be the winners of tomorrow “.

Terms of service