11 Child Prodigies and the Amazing Things They'd Done by Age 11
Enjoy being humbled (or humiliated?) by these 11 amazing child prodigies, who achieved incredible feats in art, mathematics, and more before they were teenagers.
1. Judit Polgar // Chess Grandmaster
Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgar, who was born in 1976, began playing in tournaments at the age of 6. By 11 years old, she had defeated her first grandmaster, Vlatko Kovacevic. She became the best female chess player in history and was named a grandmaster at age 15 in 1991—at the time, the youngest ever. That record is now held by New Jersey tween Abhimanyu Mishra, who was 12 years, four months, and 25 days old when he became the youngest grandmaster in history.
2. Willie Mosconi // Billiards Champion
At the age of 6 and standing on a box, Willie Mosconi played an exhibition match against the reigning world billiards champion in front of a packed house. He lost, but it earned him some major attention. By the time Mosconi turned 11 in 1924, he was the juvenile champion and regularly held popular trick shot exhibitions. He picked up the nickname "Mr. Pocket Billiards" and won more World Straight Pool Championships (15) than anyone. He was also Paul Newman's pool mentor as the actor prepared for his role in The Hustler (1961).
3. Priyanshi Somani // Human Calculator
Indian mental calculator Priyanshi Somani, born in 1998, took home the overall title at the Mental Calculation World Cup in 2010 when she was just 11 years old. Her specialty? Square roots from six-digit numbers up to eight significant digits (Somani placed first). She excelled in other events at the tournament as well: addition of 10 numbers of 10 digits each and multiplication of two numbers of eight digits. She placed second in both. And yes, her competitors were adults.
4. Blaise Pascal // Mathematician
French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote a treatise on vibrating bodies at 9 years old and scrawled his first proof on a wall with a piece of coal when he was 11. He is probably best remembered for Pascal's theorem, which he threw out there at age 16. Oh, and he also invented the mechanical calculator.
5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart // Composer
Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is the poster child of child prodigies. He began playing the harpsichord at age 3 and learned to play his first piece of music three days before his fifth birthday. He began composing his own music at 5 and, at 6, embarked on a three-and-a-half year European tour with his father and older sister Anna Maria (known as Nannerl), who was also a musical child prodigy on the harpsichord and piano.
6. Kim Ung-Yong // Actual Genius
Korean mega-genius Kim Ung-Yong, born in 1962, could have full conversations at six months, read in Japanese, Korean, German, and English by the age of 4, and perform complex calculus by the time he was 5. Between the ages of 3 to 6, he audited university physics courses. At one time, Guinness World Records recognized Kim as having the world's highest IQ, which was estimated to be over 210.
7. Pablo Picasso // Artist
Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) showed his talents for art at a very early age. His mother claims (as mothers often do) that his first words were piz, piz—short for lapis, Spanish for "pencil." But there is also non-mom-derived evidence of his prodigious talent: Picasso drew Picador when he was just 8 years old.
8. Anna Paquin // Actor
Anna Paquin, born in Canada in 1982, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her debut performance in The Piano when she was just 11 years old. Since then, she's won numerous other awards, including a Golden Globe for True Blood.
9. Wayne Gretzky // Hockey Player
Ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, born in 1961, was playing against 10-year-olds when he was only 6. The uniforms intended for the older kids were far too large for the undersized Gretzky, who tucked his sweater into the right side of his pants, a tradition he continued throughout his hockey career. When he was 10, he scored an incredible 378 goals and added 139 assists in just one season.
10. John Stuart Mill // Economist and Philosopher
British thinker John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), after mastering Greek at age 3, had read all of Herodotus's Histories and was quite familiar with Plato’s Dialogues by 8 years old. He was also more than competent in Latin and had read most of the major Roman philosophers' works (in Latin, of course) by age 10.
11. Gregory Smith // Nobel Peace Prize Nominee
American genius Gregory Smith, born in 1990, could memorize and recite books by the time he was 14 months old and could add sums by 18 months. He went from second to eighth grade in one year and began high school at the age of 7, graduating with honors two years later. He entered Randolph-Macon college at 10 and majored in mathematics with minors in both history and biology before pursuing his masters at the University of Virginia. As a pre-teen, he advocated children's rights throughout the world. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at least five times.
A version of this story first ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2022.