Maybe Teach Them Math, Science and Chess

Courtney Williams's picture
Monday, October 17, 2011

The 120 elementary school children sat so quietly and intently that you might have assumed this was a mass detention period.

But it was chess, not confinement, in an Oak Brook hotel ballroom on Columbus Day.  And the lessons learned might assist school leaders everywhere, including those attempting a systemwide resuscitation for Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s very disciplined, if impatient, mayor.

“My dream is to get in front of education decision makers and convince them to make chess part of the curriculum for K through second grade,” said Susan Polgar, the star of the show. “That’s when thinking patterns and habits are formed. It should be mandatory, like physical education.”

Ms. Polgar, 42, was a Hungarian chess prodigy taught by her psychologist father after she stumbled on chess pieces in a closet at home. At age 4, she stunned Budapest by winning the 11-and-under category in the city championships, sitting on phone books and pillows to reach across the board.

She was the first woman to become a grandmaster and the first to qualify, in 1996, for what was still known as the Men’s World Championship. She was one of the three highest-ranked female players for more than two decades, traveling the world and winding up fluent in seven languages.

I’d made my way to the Susan Polgar Foundation’s World Open Championship for Boys and Girls with an ulterior motive: to explore why boys dominate every class or tournament to which chess-ignorant me has taken my 7-year-old son.

Read more »