The question of the week is can I point to a single experience in my life, which I can define as having contributed to who I am or what I do today?
The answer is I can probably point to at least three different occasions that greatly impacted my life. The first one was when I was around 4 years old. That was when I discovered the game of chess and my life has never been the same since. Here is what my husband Paul Truong wrote in an article for a major chess website a few years back.
“Since Susan is too modest to talk about herself, I was asked to do it. I have known Susan since we were teenagers. She is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. The same goes for her two sisters, Sofia and Judit. This is from my personal knowledge…” — Paul Truong
Susan took up the game quite by accident. One day, when she was not even 4 years old, Susan came across a chess set in the family house and developed a curiosity for it. At the age of 4, Susan won her first “official” tournament, the Budapest Championship for girls under 11, scoring a perfect 10 wins in 10 games.
Susan’s father, Laszlo, a chess enthusiast, understood his daughter’s special potential. He helped her with her chess, but his knowledge was very limited. Therefore, he hired trainers to help her. The Polgars, an average Hungarian family, had to work very hard just to survive. So, they saved as much as possible and gave up everything to give their daughter this opportunity.
Due to the logistical situation and financial hardship of the family, it would have been awkward for her two younger sisters to afford to develop a major interest other than chess. So in a way, Susan paved the road for her two sisters. Susan had to put in a lot of hard work. The more success she had in international competitions, the more financial rewards the family received. Eventually, her parents gave up their jobs to help Susan’s career on a full-time basis. When Sofia and Judit were old enough to learn chess, Susan helped to train her sisters.
Susan speaks seven languages. This is a great help when she travels abroad. These languages have also played a big role in getting her published as a chess columnist worldwide. Her first book, published by a German firm, was released when she was only 16. Right after Susan turned 15, she became the No. 1-ranked woman in the world, higher than Gaprindashvili and Chiburdanidze, legendary women’s world champions, even though she was the youngest player among the top 25 women players in the world. But success did not come easy.
There were many pitfalls (such as having to face religious, gender and age discrimination, and much more) on the way to the top. But Susan worked hard to overcome each and every one of them.
At 16, Susan’s rating was higher than Anatoly Karpov, one of the greatest world champions of all time, at the same age. The following year at age 17, Susan became the highest-rated player for men or women younger than 18 years old. That in itself is an incredible achievement.
With a stellar career that includes four World Championship titles (1981 World Champion-Girls under 16, 1992 Women’s World Rapid Champion, 1992 Women’s World Blitz Champion, 1996 Women’s World Champion), 10 Olympic Medals (five gold, four silver and one bronze), becoming the first woman to ever qualify for the Men’s Zonal for the World Championship as well as the first woman to “earn” the overall grandmaster title, Susan could not have done it alone.
She was fortunate to have the unconditional love and support of her family. Laszlo and Klara basically gave up their lives for Susan and her two sisters. Susan, Sofia and Judit not only are close sisters, they are also each other’s best friends. They supported each other through the good time and bad.
The second life-changing moment occurred on Sept.11, 2001. Paul and I were supposed to have an important business meeting near the World Trade Center in New York City around the time when the planes by the terrorists struck the Twin Towers.
A day or two before the meeting was supposed to take place, the other party requested to have the meeting pushed back by a few hours. If this did not happen, who knows what would have happened to us.
That was when my perspective and goals changed. I knew in my heart that I had to do more to make a bigger positive impact for future generations. Shortly after that, I founded the Susan Polgar Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, to promote chess with all its educational, social and competitive benefits throughout the United States, for young people of all ages, especially girls.
Because of this life-changing moment, I made it my personal mission to help kids do better in the classroom and in life, the best way I know how. I want to give them a head start, a positive start in their young lives. Since then, my foundation has awarded over $1 million in chess prizes and scholarships to young chess players, on behalf of our many sponsors and supporters.
The third life-changing moment in my life took place in November 2005 when I got an invitation from Hal Karlsson, Ph.D., a chess enthusiast, a student adviser to the Knight Raiders, and an associate professor of geosciences at Tech, to come to Lubbock to give a lecture and conduct various chess exhibitions. I have done hundreds of these events in my life and there was no way that I could have known that less than two years later, I would relocate to this wonderful city with my family to start SPICE.
I have been to more than 50 countries and most states in the U.S. But I could not be more proud to call Lubbock home. This city still maintains the small-town hospitality, West Texas charm and friendliness, while it offers big-city convenience. It is a wonderful place to raise a family.
There are other life-changing moments but these are the three that stick out in my life the most.
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– GM Susan Polgar