Do you know the incredible story of Laszlo Polgar?

Episode 13 of Part 1 of our Introduction series: Setting the stage for success.

Habits:  Little and regular | Growth mindset

Skills:  Practice | Repetition

Description:  This episode introduces the incredible story of Laszlo Polgar, and his three daughters, Susan, Sofia and Judit. We outline Polgar's belief that genius is not something you are born with or have as a natural talent, but is educated and trained over time with practice.This story outlines the results of Polgar's experiment to make his three daughters into chess geniuses.


How this lesson might be applied in the classroom

This episode raises the question "is genius born or developed?" and outlines the unusual and extreme lengths that Hungarian educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar went to to prove his belief that 'A genius is not born but is educated and trained'.

The topic suggests to students that they are capable of achieving anything they set their minds to at a world-class level. This view may be somewhat confrontational for some students, especially those with low self-esteem, or with fixed-mindsets combined with a belief that they are not smart, or talented in any way. Polgar's theory is based on the need for hard work, and well conceived training and practice in order to achieve high levels of achievement, so even the most cynical of students has the ability to test this theory simply by following the same approach in whatever field they seek to excel in.

Prompts for classroom discussion include:

  • Do you believe that you can learn to become a genius? Why/Why not?

  • Assuming for a moment that you believe it's possible, do you think all the work would be worth it?

  • Do you think it's possible to do lots of work in an area and still end up being not particularly good at it?

  • If you could be guaranteed to be the best in the world, would you be prepared to do the work?

  • What would you want to be the best in the world at?

  • When you think of the areas you are best at, how much more time have you spent on them compared to other areas that you're not so good at?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss levels of hard work, natural talent and passion. For example, again thinking of prominent sports stars like Tiger Woods or Serena Williams – we can ask how passionate about golf or tennis they were likely to have been when they first started playing as small children? How did their parents know they would grow up to love the game? 

Some possible questions may include:

  • If Polgar's experiment worked for his own children, what does that tell us about passion? Polgar could not know that his children would love chess, does that mean we can be taught to be passionate about anything?

  • Do you think Polgar's experiment with his children proves his theory?

  • If no, what more do you think would need to be done to prove it?

  • Do you think the stories of Tiger Woods, Serena & Venus Williams or Andre Agassi support Polgar's theory?

  • When we talk about a lot of work to become world-class, how much time do you think you need to spend working to get that good?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"A genius is not born but educated and trained... when a child is born healthy, it is a potential genius." — Laszlo Polgar

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you agree with this statement? Why/Why not?

  • Do you think that you are a potential genius? Why/Why not?

  • What would you need to do to become a genius?

  • Is it possible to become a genius without education and training?

  • Why do you think Polgar included 'when a child is born healthy'?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


My Brilliant Brain: Make Me a Genius (featuring Susan Polgar)


Or you might like to read:

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success.
by Matthew Syed, 2010.

Please let us know how we could improve this episode?

We're always keen to hear how our work can be improved. If you can think of anything we can do to improve either the delivery of our content, the content itself, the exercises, or our guides to how the lesson can be applied in the classroom, please let us know.