the polgar sisters prodigy podcast

The Polgar Sisters

Can prodigies be created with early specialization? Laszlo Polgar was an educational psychologist who believed that they could. He experimented with his very own children and the results were fascinating.

Prodigies are children that display rapid skill acquisition in a domain. A domain is any specific area of activity or knowledge, like tennis,  or writing or psychology or chess.


Chess is a domain where mastery is associated with a superior intellect. 


It’s incredibly strategic, yet it’s simple enough that a child can play. But some children do more than just play. 


My name is Lowell Brillante, and this is Prodigy.


If you’re like me you believe that a prodigy is a rare combination of genetic talent, environment and effort.


But some people have made a lot of money selling the idea that talent doesn’t exist and that the driving force behind expert performance is just effort. It’s also called hard work, or practice. 


A common way they introduce this idea is by using the example of the Polgar sisters. Here’s their story.


Before his children were even conceived, Laszlo Polgar believed they would be prodigies.


Laszlo is a Hungarian educational psychologist born in 1946. As a university student, he studied intelligence and came to the conclusion that people who were recognized as geniuses, had early introduction to their domain.


Laszlo is quoted as saying, 

“It’s very interesting because when I looked at the life stories of geniuses, I found the same thing.” “They all started at a very young age and studied intensively.”


Mozart is a classic example because his father was a music teacher. Mozart began learning to play the piano at 3 years old. He developed perfect pitch and became so famous that his name is interchangeable with genius.


So Laszlo theorized that early, specialized education is far more important than talent. He concluded that introduction should begin at 3 years old, and intensive education should begin at 6.


Laszlo was so confident that he became determined to prove that he could turn any healthy newborn into a genius. And he decided he would do it, with his own children.


Laszlo began courting the daughter of a family friend. She was a Ukranian foreign language teacher named Klara. They wrote to each other often and in the letters Laszlo disclosed his plan with Klara. 


Klara thought he was a little strange, she became convinced. After a year and half, he proposed.


Laszlo and Klara married and had a daughter they named Susan. They considered various topics for Susan to specialize in, originally considering mathematics and language, but one day the toddler found a chess board in a cabinet and became intensely curious. Klara didn’t know much about chess so she told Susan that her father would teach her when he got home.


Years later Susan would say, quote:

“He could have put us in any field, but it was I who chose chess,” “I liked the chessmen; they were toys for me.”


Here’s an introduction to the game of chess.


The board is a square, made up of 64 squares. Each player has 16 pieces, which controls ¼ of the board. Those pieces include 6 different types. 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 king. Each type can move differently. Players alternate turns with the goal of trapping their opponent’s king.


Once the game begins and each player makes their opening move there are now 400 different possibilities for their next move. After their 2nd move, there are over 72,000. After three moves, there are 9 million. And after four moves there are over 318 billion.


To put this in perspective, the observable universe is estimated to have approximately 10^80 atoms (that’s a 10 with 80 zeros after it). The number of possible permutations of chess is estimated to be 10^123. So the quantity of possible games is nearly unlimited. This is why chess, while easy to learn the basics, has infinite layers.


Chess, Klara said, is objective and easy to measure.


Chess is what’s known as a zero-sum game. Which means, the winner takes rating points from the loser. Those points add up to your ranking in what’s known as an elo rating system, named after its creator Arpad Elo. In an elo rating system two equally ranked players facing off should win an equal number of times, thus winning and losing an equal amount of points. But if a lower rated player defeats a higher rated player then they are awarded more points than if a higher rated player defeats a lower rated player. Over the course of many games this system is designed to give players a rating consistent with their skill level.


Laszlo only had an amateur understanding of the game so how would he turn children into grandmaster level players? 


He published a book in 1989 titled, “Raise a Genius” where he discusses his method. The first thing he states is that there is no secret to his system, it’s based on the following standard educational concepts. You can’t achieve results through coercion. Too much severity will diminish the child’s interest. Allow the child to win sometimes so they are given the feeling of success. Play with a handicap, then gradually reduce it as the student becomes better. The training must be age appropriate. Use games to awaken interest because students master subjects much more quickly when they are interested.



So he gradually taught Susan the basics of chess, one concept at a time and kept her interested by making smaller games out of it. The first thing he did was teach her the names of the squares using pieces of graph paper. Since chess consists of an 8×8 square grid, the row of squares facing the player are labeled alphabetically, a-h and the perpendicular squares are numbered 1-8. Laszlo would give Susan a location. B3 for example and she would have to mark it with an x. Next he taught her the colors of the squares, which alternate between black and white.


After Susan learned the layout of the board, he introduced the simplest piece, the pawn. They would play “pawn wars” with the goal of reaching their opponents baseline. Then he introduced the next piece, and so on and so forth. Mastering the basics is a critical concept where Laszlo believes standard education fails students. Without it, you cannot master more complicated subjects.




“My father believes that innate talent is nothing, that success is 99 percent hard work. I agree with him.”

         -Susan Polgar


Susan is the first-born child of Laszlo and Klara Polgar. She played her first major tournament in an 11 and under championship at only 4 years old, and dominated with a perfect 10-0 score. The media labeled her a “prodigy.” But there were many who were critical. They believed little girls should play with dolls, not chess boards and wooden pieces. 


At 6 years old it was time for her to go to school. Her parents decided that formal education would be more harmful than helpful and decided to apply for a permit to homeschool Susan. It was a difficult process but eventually they did receive permission. The following 5 years were spent studying chess to improve tactical and calculation skills. She read books, studied famous grandmaster games, learned to play blindfolded and practiced her endgame.


When Susan was 12 she won the 16 and under world championship. By age 15 she was the number one ranked female chess player in the world and remained in the top three for the next 23 years. In 1986 she became the first woman in history to qualify for the men’s world championship.  In 1991 at age 22, she became the 1st woman in history to achieve the men’s Grandmaster title, and at 27 she won the women’s world championship. In 2003 she became the first woman to win the US Open Blitz Championship. She went on to win it again in 2005 and 2006. She became the first world champion in history to win the triple-crown, which consists of Rapid, Blitz and Classical chess. All total, she is a 5-time Olympic champion.


Susan was not an only child and when Sofia was born in 1974, chess was already taken seriously at home. When she was 5 years old, she won the Hungarian girl’s 11 and under championship. She won the gold medal in the under 14 girl’s world chess championship at age 11.


When Sofia was 14, while playing in an open tournament in Rome, she delivered one the strongest chess performances ever recorded, defeating 4 grandmaster level opponents, and scoring an elo rating of 2,879. It has since become known as “the sack of rome”


She finished 2nd at the rapid women’s world chess championship and 2nd in the world junior chess championship. Although she never reached the level of grandmaster and hasn’t played competitive ranked chess since 2010, she was at one point ranked 6th among all female chess players in the world.


By chess standards, Sofia is the least accomplished of the 3 sisters, but Susan considered Sofia the most naturally gifted of them. Susan wrote in her book “Breaking Through” that Sofia would give up fights easier, and that rather than focusing on one thing entirely, she diversified her interests.


2 years after Sofia, Judit was born. By the time Judit turned 3, both Susan and Sofia were playing competitive chess. They lived in a small apartment and her older sisters were training in the living room behind closed doors. Judit was forbidden to go into the room and as you can imagine she very much wanted to. Her parents told her she could enter, once she learned to play chess.


From an early age Judit loved challenges. She would take the stairs when everyone else took the elevator. So the challenge of chess suited her.


Judit would become the strongest female chess player of all time. She was the youngest player to break into the top 100 international chess ranking, at only 12 years old.  


She achieved the title of grandmaster at age 15, several months younger than even Bobby Fischer. Garry Kasparaov, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, once said, “She has fantastic chess talent, but she is, after all, a woman. It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche. No woman can sustain a prolonged battle.”


Judit defeated him in 2002. After the loss he is quoted as saying, “The Polgárs showed that there are no inherent limitations to their aptitude—an idea that many male players refused to accept until they had unceremoniously been crushed by a twelve-year-old with a ponytail.


Judit was the number 1 ranked female player in the world for 21 years. She’s the only woman to have ever won a game against a world number one ranked player. All total she has defeated 11 current or former world champions.


Although none of the sisters accomplished Laszlo’s goal of becoming the world champion for both women and men, Judit did reach the overall rank of 8th which was an unimaginable achievement. Chess had been completely dominated by men until the Polgar sisters broke the gender barrier and proved that women can compete with men at the highest levels of chess. Laszlo’s educational experiment was incredibly successful.


But as with any experiment, it has to be repeatable. We’ll get into that after a quick break.


Welcome back.


So I’m interested if the Polgars actually were suited for chess or if this method could be repeated with any child. I contacted a child psychologist who has worked with gifted children for decades. Dr. Spomenka Newman. I began by asking her to define what a prodigy is.


[Newman] We have extraordinarily advanced and very early domain specific skills, And then we have a child who exhibits not just potential ability to perform in that domain as though he is a talented adult. All of this has to occur for a child prodigy.


[Newman] In popular media sometimes people refer to very smart children as geniuses, but genius is an adult. That adult doesn’t just have a potential and doesn’t just have a skill in a domain, but transforms a domain in a way that is irreversible.


[Newman] As a result of a genius we start thinking differently about something that is very important and it has a lasting value. Children prodigies have early promise and they have early performance, but they might not transform the field. They just perform in the field as though they are talented adults.


I know this may be a different definition of a genius than you are used to. The word has evolved over time and psychologists seem to prefer not to base the word on an IQ test result. 


Laszlo’s ability to initiate and retain interest in his children seems rather critical. What was the significance of his method?


[Newman] We are having extraordinary talent here but we are also having a child.  You may have potential to achieve in learning chess as an adult, but you are three years old. Three year olds play. Unless learning is a play, it might not be sustained for a long time. Plays rewarding plays, exhilarating plays energizing.


[Newman] Like in every development of mastery in any field there is a point later where there is going to be a transition from play to discipline. Mastery cannot be achieved without disciplined practice, but that comes later. If that is introduced too early, it may kill the joy and so the child might lose the interest.


[Newman] Genetics sets the boundaries so we can push these boundaries. We can challenge these boundaries, but there is a set limit. That genetics interacts with the environment and personality in actually fulfilling the potential that we inherit. Parents often times were identified as gifted, siblings are identified as gifted. And so genetics does play a role.


Regardless of what I think, Laszlo did state what his plan was, and it worked. Couldn’t it be reproduced with other children?


[Newman] There is that intersection of a parent who is already having a child with exceptional potential, drive and interest that can lead that potential into realization, but I don’t think it can create a prodigy by exposing a child to a disciplined practice at an early age. Most parents who try that if they don’t have the child with a potential and interest, create very angry, resentful children who actually at the end don’t love what they are exposed to.


So Dr Newman believes that Laszlo’s success was a coincidence. And wouldn’t be as effective with the average child. And she’s not alone. Feldman and Goldsmith describe it in their book, “Nature’s Gambit,” Here is Dr Scott Barry Kaufman

Scott: [00:03:46] As Feldman noted, there’s usually a lucky coincidence, uh, coinciding with lots of different factors. You know, usually do find a parent too. Accelerates the process in some way.

Here is Dr Feldman himself. I asked him about the belief that any healthy child is a potential prodigy.

[00:24:28] that’s the behavior is belief and a lot of people bought it and still do that. You can make any child into anything. and it’s not true so that they got to chest is maybe fortunate. In their case. If they had tried something else, the probabilities are not in their favor.

[00:24:52] They probably would not be known to us as the pull guard family. They probably wouldn’t be known to us at all.



Laszlo believed that genetic predisposition was irrelevant. However if that were true wouldn’t his daughters either have the exact same skill or increasing skill as he refined his method. While the youngest sister, Judit was the most successful, the middle sister, Sophia was the least. To me this shows the influence of genetics.


Scott: [00:06:53] Genetics can indirectly influence our attention and influence our drive to create experiences for ourselves. All throughout the course of the day, we have a million little micro decisions we have to make. Do we go with this option or that option, this option, or that option, these things add up starting at a very, very young age. I think genes can help direct our attention to features of the environment that we find interesting and help us ignore features of our environment that we don’t find interesting.


Based on my research of Susan Polgar, I think she might disagree. So I reached out to her and she agreed to speak with me. I was very curious whether she applied the same strategy to her own children. I began by asking her if inherent talent was important.


Susan: [00:00:23] Well, it definitely helps. Although I think it’s very much overrated in many people’s minds. I think hard work definitely is a much more important ingredient in someone’s success. So, I certainly agree with my father’s theory that success is mostly hard work and sweat rather than talent.


Susan: [00:01:47] It took years and years of practice and experience that’s resulted in my success.


Do you believe that you might have been born with genetic traits that were suited for chess?


Susan: [00:02:07] Well it’s obviously hard to tell but I don’t think I had a very special talent for chess. I think that other types of talents that are more generic that may be more important. Like having the patience to focus on a particular subject for lengthy amount of time and having perseverance or these types of more generic human qualities, I think are more important than the specific talent for a certain activity.


Why do you think early specialization is so important?


Susan: [00:02:52] Well, I was fortunate that I was introduced to the game early on shortly before my fourth birthday. And, I fell in love with the game. I found it really exciting and interesting with all its beauty as well as the competitive element. So I think getting introduced to something early on is quite important.


And I think that children grasp certain concepts and dynamics of the various activities, whether it’s sports or music or even perhaps sciences. It becomes second nature as you grow up, you don’t think of it as study or work or anything like that, it just kind of becomes normal and natural for you.


And that’s something I think is hard to teach. And I think that’s a very important component of my father’s theories. That it’s really important to start specializing in certain areas early on, because I think as a four or five, six, seven year old things come a lot more naturally, the brain is like a sponge. It grabs so much quicker and naturally than it could later.


Often you find prodigies in families where a parent was talented in the domain and accelerated the process. Was your father a skilled chess player as well?


Susan: [00:04:25] He was not a professional chess player, or even a competitive just player. So he had very limited skills as a chess player. However, he was a teacher and a psychologist by education and profession. So he had amazing skills for patience and for asking the right questions and initially we were learning together.


I mean, he was ahead of me a bit, but we were learning together from books. And I think the Mark of a good teacher is having the patience, keeping the interest of the students. And then not less importantly, keep asking stimulating questions and the right type of questions. And he was really, really good at that. In creating my interest and then keeping my interest, which is not easy I can tell you as a mother and as well as a coach that especially with younger children who are four or five, six years old, it’s not easy to keep their interest for an extended period of time, but he was really good at and making it fun and making it very playful. I remember I couldn’t wait for the next lesson for the next discoveries in the next few days.


How exactly was he able to first get you interested in chess?


Susan: [00:06:00] He made it sound like a fairytale story, you know, like the King and the queen in the castle and the fortress. And, initially he made it sound like it’s really just a fairy tale, a game it’s not competitive.


And I think the fact that he did not emphasize the competitive aspect of chess, in the beginning was important. It was important that he emphasized the beauty of the games and, amazing, combinations and almost like jazz being an art rather than a sport. I think in my case, that was definitely an important aspect.


I think I probably would have less interest if he would have focused on the competitive aspect of chess.


Susan was monumental in breaking the gender barrier that existed in chess. She was the first woman to become a men’s grandmaster but I was curious if she resented missing out on a typical childhood.


Susan: [00:13:18] I realized that my life is somewhat different than my peers. And, You know, I certainly miss out on somethings, but, I understood also at the same time, even back then in my teenage years and advice, I am giving up on some things I’m getting good, a lot of other things that they miss out on and may never get those opportunities.


And I know that, many of, for Denver and beings my travels around the world or success or. Ability to, to meet people from so many different countries and sculptures and see places that they may only learn about the books.


Your father’s dedication to your training was an incredible amount of work. Did you use the same educational method on your own children?


Susan: [00:14:09] I definitely did consider it. it did not exactly happen, quite like that for a number of reasons. Partly because I got divorced pretty early on from that father that made things so complicated. Also it takes a lot of sacrifice from the parent’s perspective. And, I, I had to focus on my career at the time and, wasn’t in a position to fully focus on them


You were obviously born into a highly intelligent family. Do you think your father could have reproduced the success with different children?


Susan: [00:15:37] I think he could have, and I know that, he was approached by, by some people and trying to see if he can, and he was ready and willing to do it, but he did not want to do it with the children unless he was able to actually legally adopt them.


And, that was a little bit complicated and, eventually it never happened, but he definitely believed that he could have done it. It’s obviously a very long-term experiment or project.

And, you know, everybody has only one life. And basically, if you look at it in a way it’s like a 15-20 year project, and it’s a matter of having the energy to do it all over again.


In fact, he believes that he could have been even more successful because he had the experience and he would have not made some of the mistakes that he made back with us, but he could have improved on them also because of circumstances when we were growing up very poor. You know, years later he would have had much more resources to make it easier.


Since your sister Sophia displayed a very strong aptitude, I was really curious as to why she never reached the rank of grandmaster.


Susan: [00:18:03] Yeah, Sophia has a different personality and she always had a lot of interests specifically in arts and she’s quite a good artist.


She has done a lot of paintings and artwork. She basically gave up relatively early. And chose a very different lifestyle. Mostly to support her husband and raise the family and all that.


But it’s also that she had skipped at one point like a month or month and a half from chest, away from home.


And by the time she came back from that trip a lot of things changed and our younger sister Judit kind of made a humongous jump and it was kind of difficult for her, I think, to handle that she’s older and before she left on the trip, she was really ahead of Judit as she was expected to be given that she’s older and the basically the month, month and a half or so that she was away and didn’t practice at all.


It just made a world of a difference and it’s very interesting, actually, the whole concept. I remember my father always used to say that when you miss practicing one day you lose the knowledge you gained over 10 days. I don’t know how literally they should be taken but with that concept let’s say, even if it’s 30 days that she missed. It means that she lost the knowledge gained over 300 days. And, I mean, that’s maybe exaggerating obviously, but, nevertheless it really felt like it. That all of a sudden Judit was beating her. And the whole dynamic changed and her motivation level dropped.


And, it was just a whole different scenario, all of a sudden for her and on one hand, of course, she was very happy for Judit’s jump in progress, but at the same time for her own motivation, it was quite life changing, I think. And then after that, she never really quite got back, even though she showed some brilliance and she had some amazing results even years later.


But nevertheless, I think she lost the belief that she will ever be as good as Judit. It just became less important for her, I think.


Kasparov initially suggested that women by nature are not exceptional chess players, but you guys sort of changed his mind on that. Do you think women have any inherent disadvantage at chess?


Susan: [00:22:28] I certainly agree that I think statistically speaking men are more competitive in general than women are. So for that reason, we’ll probably never have an equal balance in the top hundred players between men and women. But with that said, I think, women made tremendous progress when it comes to proving that they can be great chess players. I broke the gender barrier and became the first woman to earn the Grandmaster title by the traditional requirements.


And today there are a few dozen women who have followed my footsteps. So while in the seventies, people just believed that it’s an impossible dream. I showed that it’s a possible reality.


And unlike in my younger days, when it was a sensation that I beat a master or a Grandmaster. Today it’s not news at all when a woman player beats a Grandmaster, it happens in most tournaments when they play each other. So I think we came a long way, but obviously to get to the absolute highest level and have a woman become world champion, it’s tough, but certainly not impossible.


Even if the goal is not to create a grandmaster, do you think there it’s beneficial to teach your child to play chess?


Susan: [00:24:16] Focusing on chess with your children is definitely a worthwhile endeavor if for   nothing else to develop the mind, to develop good habits that are transferable for any other field.


So I think to spend, let’s say two, three, four years, when the child is young, let’s say four to seven, eight years old. I think that. That’s definitely a win win. You’re not risking anything. It keeps the child busy. It’s developing the brain, developing good habits like focusing, concentrating, developing patience, analytical skills, just to mention a few.


And then you can take it from there, depending on the child’s passion for the game, depending on the progress the child is showing whether to take it more competitively and try to make a career of it. But obviously that would be only a very small percentage of children who want to pursue that route, just like most other things right.


Susan has retired from competitive chess. She’s currently the head coach of the number one rated collegiate chess team in the US. She’s led them to five final four championships along with dozens of national, world, and pan-american titles. 


Alright now remember those people I mentioned in the beginning that sell the idea that talent is unimportant? The reason why they use the Polgar sisters as an example is because when you look at their success first they seem like genetically talented prodigies. Once you dig into their backstory you realize the massive amount of training and practice they accrued by starting so young. This reinforces the argument that the most important predictor of performance is practice. 


One issue I see here is that the example uses the domain of chess. But is chess an accurate representation for other domains?


We’ll get into that after a quick break.


Welcome back, if you want to learn more about my guests, the research, my dog or get in touch with me, visit Alright back to the show.


To me competitive games like chess are fun but what I’m really interested in is do these lessons actually apply to other areas like your career. 


Professor Robin Hogarth came up with a reason we should differentiate domains like chess compared to others. He refers to skill games and sports as kind learning environments.


Hogarth: [00:10:27] The idea here is the following. When is an intuition going to be successful?

When will an intuition be accurate? An intuition will be accurate if in fact it’s based on the right information. So if you learned about the situation you’re involved with in the past, in an environment is what I call kind. Where you got good feedback. you’ve been able to see all the data, everything’s been clear to you and it’s well laid out, the environment isn’t going to change. Then you’re in a traditional world and that’s what we call a kind learning environment.


So in a kind learning environment the rules don’t change, feedback is immediate and all the data is clear to you. Chess is a kind learning environment so time accrued memorizing patterns is valuable and early specialization is an advantage. The opposite learning environment he refers to as wicked.


But on the other hand, you can also be in a wicked learning environment, where you are getting the wrong information, where there’s a lot of noise in the system. and perhaps even where data’s missing. So that’s the difference in a kind and wicked learning environment, and we think it’s very important to understand when you’re forming your opinions, whether you’re in a kind environment or a wicked environment.


In wicked environments feedback is delayed, inadequate or simply doesn’t exist. Data can be ambiguous and even misleading.


Hogarth uses the following example. An early 20th century physician working in a New York hospital developed a reputation for being able to accurately diagnose typhoid before symptoms manifested, simply by feeling a patient’s tongue. It turned out that the doctor was actually infected and giving the patient’s typhoid. 


It’s an extreme example but shows how in a wicked environment, feedback can teach the wrong lessons.


So if you want to improve your performance in a wicked environment, should you try and turn it into a kind one?


Hogarth: [00:11:45] Absolutely. One of the things about experience and learning is that we do it automatically. We can’t help it. We’re tuned to picking up information that we’re exposed to. And because of that, if the environment is kind we’ll learn the right things. If the environment is wicked, we’ll learn the wrong things.


Quick, accurate and abundant feedback is critically important. Chess is an incredibly kind environment. The rules don’t change. The games are easily recorded and you can track your rating as a measure of performance. Also the Polgars had the benefit of grandmaster level coaches throughout their training. 


So early specialization can definitely be an advantage, but the major value in it might just exist in kind learning environments.


Also early specialization might not actually be much of an advantage at all. Professor Gullich, director of the institute of applied sport science in Germany published a study in the journal of sports sciences that compared the training history of 83 olympic medalists to 83 olympic non-medalists. The results showed that the medalists actually started training in their main sport later than the non-medalists. Additionally the medalists accrued more time training in other sports.


This is really interesting and I asked Professor Gullich what the reason was. And the answer was, we don’t know because it’s really difficult to study but he has a couple hypotheses. The first one is that early specializers become mentally fatigued aka burnout or succumb to the increased risk of injury.


The other is something known as the gene environment correlation. We’ll get into this in a later episode but briefly the idea is that our genetic traits have an influence on what environments we seek out. A basic example is if you are very tall and lean, you may be drawn to the high jump. However a person who specializes early in basketball due to these same physical characteristics may not realize they are actually better suited for the high jump. So late bloomers have more time and opportunity to find the domain best suited for them. 


I think it’s worth noting that Laszlo didn’t actually choose the domain. Susan did. So the claim that they could have chosen any domain doesn’t hold much weight.


Here is Dr Feldman, one of the few people who has actually directly studied prodigies. 

And there is a whole movement. There was at least a whole movement making the claim that talent is irrelevant and I, and others who have actually done the work have.

[00:06:30]tried to show that the evidence does not support that claim and it doesn’t, it’s a reasonable claim if you’re arguing that effort and sustained effort and, and teaching are essential. To high-level performance. And that is absolutely true. That’s part of what I learned from my prodigies research.

[00:06:53] It’s not something that happens easily, even with the most gifted, the most extraordinarily talented kids, but to ignore the fact that they are extraordinary elite, naturally talented kids is it’s just ignoring the evidence. The evidence is very clear. And anybody within any of the fields that we’ve studied.

[00:07:20] People who actually do it knows that’s true and will assert it.


Dr Kaufman has some good advice about finding your calling.

Scott: [00:12:02] Finding something that is service from outside of yourself that you feel you can contribute to and that you love, not just that you can do, but that also makes you feel an intrinsic sense of joy and satisfaction when you are engaging in it that’s enough. That’s enough. You don’t have to be a go go on the TV circuit, uh, for your amazing ability to do one narrow thing in order to feel like you’ve lived a meaningful life  


The behaviourists who champion the power of practice don’t just use sensationalized examples like the Polgars to make their argument. Another thing they do is cite a particular study that is at the very core of their argument. 


It was published by a researcher that would come to be known as the father of expert performance. Dr Karl Anders Ericsson. 


We’re going to dig into the details of that as well as how we learn and what is physically happening in the brain when we do.  I have so many questions to answer, and a ton of really interesting topics to cover. Thank you so much for listening and please subscribe to the show, because I’ll be back next week, with another episode of Prodigy.


Prodigy was created and produced by me, Lowell Brillante. Tyler Klang is the executive producer. Without him, this show would not have been made.


If you want to learn more about my guests, the show, my dog or get in touch with me, visit


Dr Spomenka Newman performs psychological assessments and therapy in Tucker GA. You can find more information at


Robin Hogarth recently released a book titled “The Myth of Experience: Why We Learn the Wrong Lessons, and Ways to Correct Them.” 


The Susan Polgar Foundation teaches chess and gives opportunities to young people. You can find more information at


Dr Scott Barry Kaufman is host of the psychology podcast and has a new book out. Visit for details


Dr Feldman is a brilliant psychologist. He’s currently retiring but hopes that more people will take the initiative to study the prodigy phenomenon.


If you like the artwork, check out Pam Peacock on instagram @thevoyagerpeacock


Special thanks to Ben Kuebrich, Tristan McNeil, Michael, Myher, Dave Coustan, Allyson Cantor and Alex Cardinale.