At 4 years of age, Polgar won the under-11 chess championship of Budapest with a perfect score of 100. Although she was only 12 at the time, Polgar won the girl's under-16 section of the 1981 FIDE World Youth Chess Festival for Peace, held in Embalse, Arg. Polgar attained the (men's) International Master (IM) title in 1984. In a much criticized move, FIDE added 100 rating points to every female chess player except for Polgar at the end of 1986, which had the immediate effect of keeping a Russian atop the January 1987 women's rating list instead of Polgar and a long-term effect of causing a noticeable inflation in all chess ratings.
Playing first board for the Hungarian women's chess team, along with her younger sisters Zsófia (Sofia) and Judit Polgár on the lower boards, Susan Polgar led Hungary to gold medals at the 1988 Chess Olympiad, held in Thessaloníki, Greece, and the 1990 Chess Olympiad, held in Novi Sad, Yugos. Susan Polgar earned the (men's) International Grandmaster (GM) title in 1991 and, after her sister Judit, is generally considered the best female player of all time.
With Judit slated to make a run at the men's world championship, Susan Polgar pursued the women's championship by winning the 1992 Women's Candidates Tournament, held in Shanghai, China, to determine a challenger to Xie Jun. Polgar finished ahead of two Georgians, the former champion Maya Chiburdanidze and the runner-up Nana Ioseliani, with whom she was required to play a match for the right to face Xie. Their eight-game match, which was played in 1993 in Monaco, ended with two wins apiece and three draws, forcing a two-game extension that was split, leading to yet another two-game extension, which also was split. At that point, FIDE decided to determine the winner with a lottery, which Ioseliani won.
Without Judit, who was playing first board for the Hungarian men's team, Susan and Zsófia, on first and second boards respectively, led Hungary to the women's silver medal at the 1994 Chess Olympiad, held in Moscow.