Best Woman Chess Player In History Coaches Success Academy Students At NYC’s Historic Marshall Club
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Judit Polgar, the best woman chess player in history, is currently on a mission to get chess incorporated into school curriculums. According to the Hungarian grandmaster, the future intellectual growth of children may lie in the sport she has spent most of her life playing.
Polgar, who reigned as the No. 1 woman player from 1989 (when she was 12) until 2015, says “chess is an exceptional tool for modern education,” getting children to expand their intellect, logical reasoning and problem-solving skills and engaging them in playful learning at an early age. On Thursday, June 18, the 38-year-old Hungarian grandmaster coached 40 students from Success Academy Charter Schools at the historic Marshall Chess Club.
“Chess demolishes differences, whether between poor and rich or the old and the young,” Polgar said, after the coaching session. “It’s an international language that has been played over the centuries and by almost every culture.”
Like Polgar, Success Academy believes in the power of chess as a teaching tool. The students at Marshall, all top players from the charter school’s network, are attending a one-week summer camp at the Greenwich Village club, home to such chess legends as Bobby Fischer and the current No. 2 ranked player Fabiano Caruana.
“Our scholars are taking chess as a regular subject beginning in kindergarten,” said Sean O’ Hanlon, the head of Success Academy’s chess program. “So for all of our 9,000 students chess is kind of a common language. Chess is simply good for kids’ brains, and no one knows that better than chess professionals like Judit.”
Besides Polgar, Success Academy also has hosted former world champion Garry Kasparov, who worked with the schools’ coaching staff and students.
A grandmaster since she was 15, Polgar is considered the strongest woman player in history, the only woman thus far to top the 2700 Elo rating system for chess skills. After retiring from professional play in 2014, Polgar lost the No. 1 ranking to Chinese chess prodigy Hou Yifan earlier this year.
Early in her career, Polgar stopped playing women-only tournaments and is the only female player to date to have beaten a reigning world chess champion. Among the male players she has bested: Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Magnus Carlsen, and Boris Spassky. Polgar is the youngest of three sisters, all world-renown chess players.
Polgar has always been head and shoulders over the next woman competitor, making it in 2005 to No. 8 worldwide because she was willing to take on male players. Although most women players avoid taking on the opposite sex, Polgar told The Guardian in 2012 that “it felt natural” to her as she “grew up playing against adults and against men most of the time.”
She is the youngest of three sisters, all world-renown chess players. Her father, a teacher, home schooled all the girls and drilled them in chess from an early age because of his belief that “geniuses are not born, but made.”
Polgar runs a foundation that promotes chess as an educational tool and aims to boost creativity and expertise in Hungary and abroad. On her Twitter page, Polgar calls herself “the Ambassador of Chess in Education.” Her educational approach has been named the Judith Polgar Chess Palace Educational Programme and is now part of the official curriculum of Hungary. As Polgar writes on the website, “one of the oldest games in history—The educational tool of the future.”
About Success Academy
Founded in 2006, Success Academy is a free public charter school network with the dual mission of building world-class public schools across New York City and advancing education reform across the country. As of the 2015-2016 school year, Success Academy will operate 34 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx serving about 11, 000 students. Admission is open to all New York City families. Students are admitted by random lottery, held each April. This year, more than 22,000 families applied for 2,300 open seats. Across the Success Academy network, 76% of students are from low-income households; 8.5% are English Language Learners, and 12% are special needs students. About 88% of students are children of color. For more information about Success Academy, go to Successacademies.org.
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