I’m 38 Years Old and I’ve Never Had a Job

I never have and never will have a job. Maybe it’s because I’m unbelievably lazy, or maybe because from the time I was young I put an extremely high value on my time, but ever since I graduated high school it was clear that I thought about things a lot differently than most people.

Before I go on I need to preface this by saying that I was in a much more fortunate position than most. My parents had plenty of money and were extremely supportive. If I was ever broke I knew I wouldn’t be begging for change on the streets. I could go on about the different types of privilege I have and have had, but that’s probably a completely separate blog, and I understand that not everyone will be able to follow my path.

Most people in high school have some vision of what they want to be. I had no vision. I never was once able to even imagine having a job. The idea of being a teacher, lawyer, or any person who had to show up somewhere in the morning and stay at that place all day never once entered my head. I’m not sure how my impressionable young brain managed to dodge the constant messages that society sends that tell you that “you are supposed to get a job and become a productive member of society”, but somehow it did. I literally never once, including when I was in college, envisioned myself doing anything in the professional world. I knew it was something people did, but the whole concept didn’t make sense to me.

For some reason I went to college for two years and even did pretty well, but eventually realized it was a waste of time and I dropped out to move to New York to “follow my dreams” and play chess. This was the one time in my life when I really had to worry about money. My favorite memory is winning a chess tournament for $200 and being so excited that I could finally afford to splurge and buy a $20 Carvel Ice Cream Cake. Eventually I got some jobs teaching chess, and I worked about 8 hours a week, making $40-$60 an hour (for a 19 year old in 1997, that was a lot of money). That was all I needed, so I had no desire or incentive to look for more lessons.

This last sentence is the key to everything. While most people who could be capable of earning that money would look for more and more opportunities to give chess lessons, I had absolutely no interest. I wanted to work a little bit, make a little bit of money, and then go on doing whatever the hell I wanted the rest of the time. I’ve noticed that this quality is extremely rare, and I feel pretty fortunate that it has been my approach in life.

One of the main goals of moving to New York was to work hard to win something called the “Samford Fellowship”. This is a Scholarship given to the “most promising young chessplayer in the United States”, in which they pay you a bunch of money (about $32,000 a year for two years) to just play chess all the time. Miraculously I won the Fellowship, and my lifestyle of never having a job was completely safe for the next two years.

Sometime while I had the Fellowship, when I should have been studying chess 24/7, I got into poker. I spent a decent amount of time playing, and while I wasn’t THAT good, I was building the skills that would put me ahead of the curve once Online Poker took off. I spent the first year or so of the Online Poker Boom being a small winner, but nothing too spectacular. However after a little bit something clicked, and it got to the point where I could basically print money.

Once again my philosophy reigned supreme. The large majority of poker players who I talked and played with spent maybe 6-12 hours per day, every day, playing poker. They wanted to make the absolute maximum amount of money. I on the other hand was very careful with how much I played. I allowed myself to work 2.5-3 hours per day, and this was pretty much my regular schedule throughout my entire poker career. Once those 3 hours hit, regardless of whether I was up a ton of money, or getting completely crushed, I would stop.

My poker friends warned me “Hey Greg, you realize this isn’t going to last forever, people are going to get better, the government might crack down, etc etc blah blah”. While I had my doubts, my friends were all completely right, as the days when I could make money with minimal effort eventually dissapeared. I could have easily made 3-4x as much money as I did by simply playing poker all the time during those golden years. However during that time I also used my free time to do the following:

  1. I created a weekly chess tournament in New York City called the New York Masters, which became well known around the world.
  2. I created the U.S. Chess League, which has recently morphed into the PRO Chess League, in which many of the top players in the world competed this year
  3. I created the U.S. Chess School, which has run 40 camps in ten years to some of the top talents in United States Chess

There are probably lots of other little things I did during that time that I would have never done if I just played poker all the time. Maybe I would have more money in that case, but would my life be better? I strongly suspect the answer is no, especially since I easily have more than enough money now. My life would honestly not change if I had twice as much money as I do now, nor would it change if I had half as much money as I do now.

A fundamental question I often asked myself was: “Would it be a big deal if you lost half your money overnight?”, meaning, would it drastically affect my lifestyle. The answer was usually “no”. When the answer to that question is no, and it would take me years of inactivity for that money to slowly dwindle away, it became hard for me to see why I should work more than I wanted to. In fact it required serious discipline on my part to work the 2.5-3 hours per day that I did, and I probably only went 2 years where I was able to stay consistent with that. Near the end of online poker I was working an hour here, taking a day or two off there, and so on. But none of this mattered because it was obvious that I didn’t need to work. I was also in an extremely enviable position because at any time I could just decide to become a professional chess teacher, charge pretty high rates, and get plenty of work. *Note to parents* If your kid is really good at chess and not that interested in school, you should realize that being a professional chess player is actually an amazing job, and that your extremely young child has more immediately marketable skills than nearly anyone her age.

Eventually Online Poker ended (meaning that it became very difficult to play in the United States), and I originally planned to keep playing by using some kind of VPN setup. I had already planned a month long trip to Europe (something that’s really easy to do when you work whenever you want to), and during my month of traveling I managed to score a few chess lessons back in Philadelphia (don’t worry, just about 4-6 hours worth per week) and decided that I’d just not play poker for a bit. I figured I could probably go 3-5 years without working at all, and be completely fine, so why worry about it.

Another key point needs to be made about the idea of “going 3-5 years without working at all”. I hear a lot of people talk about how one million dollars isn’t nearly enough to retire on. These people are all idiots. If you have a million dollars or even anywhere close to it, and you have no children, you are unbelievably filthy rich. The idea that you will literally never earn any more money for the rest of your life, simply because you are “retired” or don’t have a regular job, is ridiculous. You’ll make some money here and there, enough to keep you afloat as you sit around watching your million dollars in index funds grow slightly every year. In fact if you invest it all and it makes 4% per year, that’s $40,000 right there. Then if you do maybe a few part time odd jobs that you enjoy, you have easily made enough money, without waking up for someone else at 7 AM every single weekday. Even if you lose 5% of your money per year, you’re going to be fine for a very long time. Maybe once your net worth gets down to $200,000 or $300,000, you can start worrying about what to do, but unless you are extremely irresponsible or experience some catastrophe, that’s going to take a very very long time. In the meantime just chill out, have fun, travel, enjoy life, don’t throw all your money away like an idiot, and you probably will never really have to work again.

There are so many people I know who are so much richer than they realize. Yet they complain about their jobs, they go to work every single day, every year for five to ten years. These people could easily just quit right now, never work a regular job again for almost a decade, and be totally fine. In those five to ten years they will almost certainly come up with some less restrictive way to make a bit of money. If not then whatever, you had a nice five year vacation, and if you’re really desperate you can go back to work again.

The idea that a million dollars isn’t insanely rich is a disease that causes people to stay at jobs, doing things they don’t enjoy, because they constantly need more and more money. The endless obsession with having more and more never ends. When I got my bank account to $10,000 for the first time, I was like “wow, I’m probably never going to have to work again”. It turns out I was right.

 

 

 

The Top 10 Reasons You Should be Watching the PRO Chess League

In just a few days, on January 11, the biggest chess event that I’ve ever been a part of is starting on Chess.com.

The PRO Chess League is a worldwide team competition, played online between teams of four, with a rapid time control. It’s hard for me to even begin to describe what a spectacle this event is going to be, but I’m going to try my best.

Here are the top ten reasons you should be watching the PRO Chess League every week:

  1. We have 5 of the top 7 players in the World playing in the league! World Champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway Gnomes), #2 GM Fabiano Caruana (Montreal Chessbrahs), #4 GM Wesley So (St. Louis Arch Bishops) #5 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Marseille Migraines), and #7 GM Hikaru Nakamura (Miami Champions), are all playing. Other big names are #13 GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (San Jose Hackers), #21 GM Leinier Dominguez Perez (Miami Champions) and #29 GM Li Chao (Montreal Chessbrahs). Overall we have 143 Grandmasters’s signed up on various teams thus far!
  2. There are 48 teams from 5 continents competing. We have 20 teams from the United States, 16 European teams, 4 Indian teams, 3 African teams, 2 Canadian teams, 2 South American teams and 2 Asian teams. You can see all of the teams and their rosters here.
  3. Every Wednesday throughout the January-March, we will have games running from around 11 AM ET all the way until midnight.
  4. We have four – 12 team divisions, each of which start at different times (approx 11 AM ET, 2:30PM ET, 6:30PM ET, 9:30PM ET). For each of these divisions there will be a separate dedicated live broadcast with high level commentary that covers all of the games. The hosts include stars such as GM Simon Williams, IM Anna Rudolf, GM Max Dlugy, IM Lawrence Trent, GM Max Dlugy, GM Irina Krush, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM David Pruess, GM Jesse Kraai, GM Dejan Bojkov and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni.
  5. The league follows a similar format as typical American sports leagues. There is a seven week regular season, after which half of the teams qualify for the playoffs. The playoffs are then single elimination contests until we reach the Championship Weekend. The Championship Weekend will take place on March 25/26, and will include the Final Four teams. The Semifinals are scheduled for Saturday March 25 and the Championship Match concludes on March 26. You can see the full schedule here.
  6. The league is going to be ultra competitive. We have instituted a rating cap of 2500 FIDE each match, so that there will be as many competitive teams as possible. I am looking at these rosters and while there are quite a few teams that stand out as being very strong, I have no idea how it’s going to play out as this is a brand new type of event that has never been seen in the history of chess.
  7. Each match uses an all play all format. This is super exciting because each team will bring four players to the match, and they will all play everyone on the other team. So instead of seeing someone like Magnus Carlsen or Wesley So playing the same top GMs every game, you’ll also get to see what happens when they play someone a bit lower rated. You’ll also see some lower ranked players getting the chance to score big upsets every week.
  8. Chess.com is taking Cheating and Fair Play very seriously. A lot of how the league is handling cheating is done behind the scenes and without my knowledge, but anyone who is playing especially well on Chess.com will be susceptible to increased supervision requirements such as requiring a proctor to oversee their games and to include a webcam for remote supervision from our staff. Note however that none of these requirements will be made public. Also Chess.com has one of the most robust anti-cheating teams I’ve ever seen, with high level statisticians and mathematicians working around the clock to detect anomalies.
  9. It’s great for local chess communities all over the world. It’s true that Magnus Carlsen is on a team, along with over a hundred other Grandmasters, but that’s not the only purpose of the PRO Chess League. We want to bring high level chess competition to places that may not have the high density of Grandmasters that are available in other cities. We love that we have teams that will be full of GM’s each week, and also teams that are filled with more local stars. Maybe those teams won’t be able to win it all, but it gives their local fans a chance to see their heroes go head to head against some of the best players in the world.
  10. This event is going to revolutionize chess. I’ve never felt that any event has the chance to change the game of chess more than this one. It’s going to be fun, action packed, and an all day spectacle every single week. When we created the rules for this league I asked myself “What is the most exciting possible event that we could create that would also encourage the top players in the world to play?”. I think we’ve come up with a good answer in the PRO Chess League. Everything about this event is built to grab your attention and never let it go.

In Chess, the Truth is Overrated

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’m currently writing a chess book about the top 25 games from Bobby Fischer. In my research for this book I have referred to quite a few other books, and it helped to remind me of the reasons why I want to write this series. I see quite a few problems with modern chess books, and they mostly fall under the same categories:

  1. There is too much reliance of computer analysis
  2. There are too many variations that are completely irrelevant to the point of the game and that provide no instructional content or learning moments
  3. The authors are unable to accurately judge whether a human being is capable of finding a move that the engine’s suggest
  4. They are too long.

Let’s talk about these points one at a time:

First, the reliance on computer analysis is mostly a bad thing, and this is closely related to point #3. When an IM or GM writes some computer analysis variation and starts giving the moves “!” and “?” based on this analysis, the weaker player is often going to be unable to discern whether or not the lines are realistic or not. While looking through a lot of recent analysis of Fischer games, I see moves getting all kinds of random annotations due to computer analysis. In many cases my first instinct is: “No human being in the world would ever find that move and it’s completely impractical”. However I am an International Master, while most readers aren’t. Instead they will come away from the book with a misguided feeling that this is important information. My belief is that when you write an instructional book, you should try to explain the key moments of the games as succinctly as possible. If you need to point out a line because it involves human patterns or human calculations, you should go ahead. But if it’s just a 15 move line of computer analysis, including it detracts from the book (unless it’s an opening book of course).

Secondly, I mention that there are too many irrelevant variations. My favorite series of books are Mark Dvoretsky’s School of Future Champions series. Why is that? These books are transcribed from actual chess camps held in Russia, for some of the top young players in the country (and world). What you notice about these transcripts is the very fact that there are not endless streams of pointless variations, because this is not an effective way to teach. If I’m going to hold a class and demonstrate a game to talented young players, and not include these endless variations and computer lines, why should they then be included in a book? Just because I have more space I need to use it, even if the information I add to the book distracts readers from the real lessons to be gained? Dvoretsky and Yusupov feel no need to do this in an actual class or in any of their wonderful video lessons that can be found online. What you need to do is nail home the most important lessons and concepts of the book, and not muddy the issue with the objective “truth” of a position. What matters more, in the large majority of cases, is the “practical truth” of a position. What I mean by that, is that if you play a certain way in a game, it will be likely to lead to success, and whether it is a pattern or concept that can be repeated and understood.

That doesn’t mean that there are no such thing as good long variations, there are certainly many moments where they should be mentioned, but I find that most authors overdo it. If you want to include a variation it must be logical and practical, and if it isn’t, it should be pointed out that it’s not.

Thirdly, it is extremely important for an author to understand what a human being is actually able to understand instead of just spitting out computer lines. If a computer tells you that one move is correct for some insanely complex reason, yet 10/10 top Grandmasters would choose a different move, it’s probably more instructive to understand why the Grandmasters chose that move, then to pretend that we can analyze like an engine. Gregory Kaidanov has a very wise method of dealing with “computer” moves. Sometimes while analyzing a game, a computer would suggest some move. He wouldn’t even pay any attention to it and would instead say “That move doesn’t exist”. His point is that the move is so impractical and illogical, that even though it may objectively be the best move or best defense, in a practical sense you can behave as though the move doesn’t exist, because there is no realistic possibility of playing or noticing this move under game conditions.

In many cases in my book I will reference these lines, and specifically point out why I believe that they are impractical and that there is nothing concrete to be gained from exploring them.

My last point is that many books are too long because people have this feeling of “getting your money’s worth”. The point of a book is not to make it really long. If you are reading this, I can almost guarantee you that you’ve started to read more chess books than you’ve ever finished. At my U.S. Chess Schools, a lot of kids are an expert on the first chapter or two of the latest books. However if you throw in a few chapters from the middle or the end, they suddenly “didn’t get that far into the book”. I too have finished very few chess books in my life, but I have read the first quarter or half of many of them.

My goal is that the reader reads the entire book, and in order for that to be true, it should aim to be condensed with only the most critical and interesting information. Every time I add a line just to demonstrate some objective truth about a mostly irrelevant sideline, I sidetrack the reader and lower the chance they will finish the book. I don’t want any lines to be skipped and I don’t want any words to feel irrelevant.

As Grandmaster Arthur Yusupov said in a recent video on Chess24, which was taken from a famous Albert Einstein quote: “It’s best to explain something as simply as possible, but not simpler”. That will be my goal with this book and therefore I don’t care whether the book is 150 pages or 300 pages.

I’m in the middle of annotating the final game of the book right now, but while referencing other annotators, the above points struck me so many times that I felt it was important to address it. These books will be written in a similar format that I would use if I was demonstrating the game to a group of the most talented young chess players in the United States.

How to Create a Vibrant Chess Universe

For those of you who know me, you know that I think the future of chess is in faster time controls. However I want to be quite clear that I don’t think that classical chess should be completely eliminated, despite what some of my past blogs said (although I do think it should be sped up a little bit).

However my main issue is with the lack of respect and development that rapid and blitz chess receive. In order to have a complete and vibrant chess universe, there needs to be an official rapid and blitz champion.

“Wait a minute Greg” you may say. “There already is a rapid and blitz championship, held every year.” But in my view, just because you slap the title “World Championship” in front of something, doesn’t make it a serious World Championship level event.

What if we just had some random 11 round Swiss and called that the Classical Chess Championship. No one would take it seriously of course, because this is not how you determine a champion if you are trying to take it seriously.

What the chess world needs is as follows:

  1. A World Classical Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we already have this)
  2. A World Rapid Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we don’t have this)
  3. A World Blitz Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we don’t have this)
  4. A Worldwide team event in which clubs and cities from all across the world can compete (We haven’t had this until now, as the PRO Chess League, with nearly 50 cities competing around the world, is starting on Chess.com in January)

We absolutely need to fulfill #2 and #3 on this list and stop pretending that a 20 round Swiss is a reasonable Championship tournament. It’s just one fun tournament, nothing more.

How would I envision the “perfect” chess world?

1 – Every one of the above titles rotates on a 3 year cycle. For instance: the Classical Championship happens in 2018, the Rapid Championship Match happens in 2019, the Blitz Championship Match happens in 2020.

2 – Every 3 years there is a Candidates Tournament for each of these events. The format can vary a bit for the faster events, as because you can fit in many more games, you can use all kinds of more interesting and exciting formats

3 – Every 3 years there should also be an Interzonal Tournament, in which players from around the world compete in order to get the last few spots in the Candidates tournament

4 – Every year the PRO Chess League takes place (this is already slated to happen!)

For those who love Classical chess too much, I’m also fine with it continuing to occur every two years, and the rapid and blitz both taking place in the off year. Because those can be run in fewer days, and require less intense preparation, it should be less of an issue on people’s schedules.

How could the World Championship work in these new formats?

World Rapid Championship: Time control of 25+5, 4 games per day for eight days, for a total of 32 games. I am of course fine with a longer event, or even slightly shorter (24 games would be ok). But this would be the general idea.

World Blitz Championship: Time control of 5+2, 10 games per day for six days, for a total of 60 games. This seems like plenty to determine a definitive champion. But anywhere from 48-80 games seems acceptable

How could the Candidates work in each format?

Rapid: 8 player double round robin (14 games) played over 4 days

The top 4 finishers get seeded into brackets with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. They both play four game minimatches, with the players who did better in the Round Robin stage advancing on a 2-2 draw. The two winners meet in the finals for eight games over two days, and again the player with the better record advances on a draw. The total event time is 7 days, or 8-9 if you add a rest day. The top 4 finishers also automatically qualify to the next Rapid Candidates and the other four spots are up for grabs in the Rapid Interzonal

Blitz: 16 player double round robin (24 games) played over 3 days

The top 6 finishers qualify for the playoff rounds. 1+2 get byes to the Semifinals, 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 in 10 game matches, both held in a single day. Better performance in the Round Robin earns draw odds

Then they get reseeeded again into the Semifinals for another 10 game match, and then the finals will be a 20 game match to be held over two days with the remaining two competitors. This also takes seven days, or eight to nine if you include rest days. The top six finishers would all automatically qualify for the next Candidates Tournament, and the other ten spots would be up for grabs at the Blitz Interzonal.

Of course the above is just a quick outline of how it could work. There are many different ways to go about it, but the point is that there should be an organized, consistent and seamless cycle in place for both of these time controls.

If anyone out there who has lots of money and resources wants to make this a reality, I’m very happy to help organize. The chess world needs to drastically raise the prestige of rapid and blitz chess, and this is the way to do it. Single one off tournaments are pointless endeavors and will do very little for the prestige of any time control. Until an organizer actually takes these time controls seriously, which in my opinion no one ever has, they have no chance for real success.

How to Make the World Chess Championship Games Less Boring

For anyone who’s following the World Classical Chess Championship it’s obvious that some of the games are incredibly boring. Sure there have been quite a few interesting games as well, but there is one thing that is generally clear in nearly all of the games:

The players take very little risk.

This, just like the Candidates Matches that no longer exist, can be attributed to one thing. The existence of the rapid tiebreak matches.

I think that just one relatively controversial rule adjustment could make the matches drastically more interesting.

Just as in the 20th century, the Champion should retain the title on a drawn match.

There should be no rapid tiebreak. If you want the title you need to beat the reigning champion. All of the most deserving World Champions throughout this game’s great history have managed to do so, and I don’t agree with giving anyone the chance to become World Chess Championship by tying a Classical match and then winning some rapid games.

Here are the reasons why I think this should be the rule:

  1. At every moment in the match, someone will be behind on the scoreboard. When someone is behind, that player cannot play the most boring openings and moves imaginable game after game. Instead every single draw specifically hurts someone and there is incentive for them to fight harder every game.
  2. It is much fan friendlier to put the players in a situation where they have to fight. No one is happy to pay a lot of money for tickets to this final game, and see the game fizzle out into a 30 move draw.
  3. I just find it unseemly that any player could join the ranks of the great past champions without winning the Classical Match. I’m going to say this, and it’s not going to sound nice, but Sergey Karjakin does not deserve to be World Champion.He does not belong in the category of Alekhine, Capablanca, Kramnik, or any other of the number of the great champions who had to knock off someone who was thought to be nearly unbeatable. Even Euwe, who is considered one of the weakest World Champions, beat the great Alekhine. If Karjakin wins the rapid playoff, which he probably won’t, I personally consider it a bit of a farce. Yes he has played solid and good chess, but holding someone to a drawn match over 12 games does not mean you should be the World Champion of chess. You could say the same thing about Magnus Carlsen, but Magnus has clearly earned his right to be considered one of the elite players of all time. He has beaten Anand decisively in two matches. If you want to be a chess legend, you need to beat the Champion.

The counterpoint is that this gives too big of an advantage to the defending champion. But what is wrong with that? The title of World Champion carries such major historical importance and in nearly all cases was achieved by decisively defeating the current champion. I don’t want this title lineage marred by someone who clearly hasn’t been able to achieve what the previous World Champions have.

I know this may sound like an odd viewpoint coming from someone who is a big supporter of rapid chess, but I take the World Championship and the history of the title very seriously. Kasparov didn’t get the title on a tie, he had to win a match against Karpov, and he worked his ass off to do that.

I am rooting hard for Magnus Carlsen tomorrow because I think that allowing Sergey Karjakin to become the Classical Chess World Champion by winning one single game out of twelve is a mockery to the title and the great lineage of Champions.

But no matter who wins, please bring back draw odds for the Champion. It will guarantee more interesting chess and also a more deserving World Championship title holder.

New Book Series: Lessons from the U.S. Chess School

I’ve always felt that I should write books on chess, but I’ve typically been too lazy to do it. However after the 37th United States Chess School, held in New York City a few weeks ago, that all changed.

This camp was a special one, as it was held in New York at the same time as the World Chess Championship match. We even had a special theme for this camp: We went through all of the World Champions one by one, and I presented a lesson themed on each of them.

This work helped me to realize just how much I love chess history and studying the games of specific players. I enjoy it so much that I had an idea for a book series, and wanted to share it here. The books will probably be titled: Lessons From the U.S. Chess School – Learning from the Greats

First off, let me preface this by saying that I believe Mark Dvoretsky to be the absolute best game annotator in the business. Most annotators either use too many concrete variations without explanations, or they use too many ridiculous and superficial explanations that don’t really help a serious player get to the heart of the position. In my opinion, for an annotation to be most useful, there has to be interaction. Therefore there must be many moments for the reader to stop, think, and solve some problem. Dvoretsky uses this method in nearly all his annotations. My goal is to emulate the annotations of Dvoretsky as closely as I possibly can. I am sure that I have my own style, and I don’t think I will ever be able to be as thorough as he was, but I’m hoping that people will like it.

Here is the general theme of the books. Each book will take one great player from history (or in some cases even from modern chess). I will then go through all of their games, and rank them in order from #1 all the way to #25. I will present these games with detailed annotations, and with many moments for aspiring students to stop, think, and come up with a solution. At the end of most games, there will be supplementary exercises based on important themes from the games.

Why is this something I really want to do?

1. No book specifically like this has been done before. What is Kasparov’s best game? Fischer’s best game? Capablanca’s best game? This type of format is guaranteed to start discussion, and I’m sure some people will be miffed if their favorite games don’t make the book, or get ranked too low. It will interest not only serious chess players but also chess history buffs.

2. This series will help instill chess culture into aspiring players. They will have it laid out to them exactly which games are the most important to understand, and the most important ones will be right at the front of the book. This is important because I can’t tell you how many chess books I have read the first 25% of and then put aside. I intend to make books like this for basically all famous players, and therefore by buying these books every young player will be able to absorb the most important historical games and concepts in the most interactive and fun environment a book can provide.

3. I hope that these books will be extremely useful for chess coaches and make their jobs a lot easier!

4. Because I intend to eventually do this for all strong players, I plan to get the community involved. After each book is released, I will let the public vote on who the subject of my next book will be.

I can tell you already that I’m starting the series with Bobby Fischer. I feel like he’s modern enough that everyone has something to learn from him, and I personally really wanted to know more about his games. I felt there was a danger that if I used a much older player, top younger players may find the work not quite as valuable and may be less likely to purchase the book. I hope that the first book will be good enough that in future volumes people will gladly buy them whichever player I write about. If you look at Dvoretsky’s annotation of the famous Zukertort – Blackburne game (from School of Future Champions, Volume 1), you can see how possible it is to provide instructive commentary to even the oldest games.

I have already ranked my top 25 games of Bobby and have started annotating and creating lesson plans for the highest ranked 13 games. The rankings are still fluid though, as after annotating one of these games, I decided it didn’t even belong in the top 25! I have no idea how long it takes to finish something like this or when it will get released, but right now I’m working pretty hard so hopefully it won’t take forever. What you can do to help me right now is the following:

  1. Tell me which games of Fischer are your favorites. Are there are any lesser known Fischer games that you like, that haven’t been covered in many other works? If so, why do you love those games?
  2. There will be a more official vote at some point in the future, but who would you love to see as a subject of this kind of book?

Thanks!

 

 

 

The Women’s World Championship in Iran

Both Jacob Aagaard and David Smerdon, recently came out with opinion pieces that supported the Women’s World Championship in Iran. These two outspoken chess players join the voice of Susan Polgar, who also is in support of the tournament.

David’s piece is well thought out and articulate as usual, and I usually agree with his thoughts on various chess related issues, but I find this one troubling. First off, let me state that I’m sure it’s fun for all the women in the chess world to see lots of prominent men giving their opinions nonstop, but unfortunately, with the approximate 95-5% male to female ratio in chess, it’s going to be hard to avoid this.

Here’s David’s main point:

Too-long-didn’t-read version:  I don’t support a mass boycott of the upcoming women’s world chess championships in Iran, or removing Iran’s right to host. My reason is that it will hurt, not help, gender equality, particularly in Iran. This will probably make me unpopular.

Here’s why I find this troubling: Imagine for whatever reason the Candidates Tournament was being held in a questionable place. Then imagine that two or three out of the eight participants refused to play for reasons that had some degree of validity to them. Would we then turn around and say “I don’t support a boycott of the Candidates because the tournament will help, not hurt, the general conditions in whatever country we are talking about”? Of course not, because people take something like the Candidates or the World Chess Championship, too seriously.

What people seem to be doing here is taking the Women’s World Championship, and making it more of a question of whether it’s good for gender equality in Iran, and forgetting the point that we are talking about the freaking Women’s World Championship!

Whether it’s good for gender equality or human rights in Iran should not be the main concern. We should instead recognize that the Women’s World Championship is an important tournament, and place our concern towards ensuring that the participants in this tournament feel comfortable and safe playing in the tournament.

Some of these authors have pointed out the numerous other chess tournaments that were held in questionable locations and which also involved boycotts by certain players. Jacob Aagaard specifically pointed out chess tournaments that were held in brutal dictatorships in which none of the players had any qualms about playing. I agree that in many of these cases, it would have been really nice if the tournaments weren’t held in the locations that they were. I don’t believe that failure to protest or be concerned about one thing, means that you shouldn’t be taken seriously when you are concerned about another thing. I also believe this is the first time the concern/suggested boycott is specifically gender related.

If one or two of the participants out of sixty four have a problem wearing the hijab or feel threatened being in Iran, I’m not sure what the correct course of action should be. However if a significant percentage of them don’t feel comfortable playing there, they should not have to. This is the World Championship; it’s main purpose finding the strongest female chess player in the world, it’s not about doing whatever we can to fight for gender equality in Iran. And when we base our main arguments around anything other than the competitive aspect of the Women’s World Championship, I think that we are showing that we don’t completely respect the event and the players involved.

Note that I actually have no idea just how many of the invited participants have an issue with playing in Iran. My main point is that if many of them do, then there is a serious problem and we should not be trying to coax these women into playing for the good of Iran or for the advancement of gender equality.

So while I think I agree with the basic tenet that women playing in the Women’s World Championship would be good for Iran and gender equality, I also think it’s unreasonable to treat this as a priority when we are talking about an event as important as the World Championship. This is a tournament these women have worked their whole lives to earn the right to play in, and they deserve to be able to play in it without having to go against their values and without fearing for their safety.

I can certainly understand how it might be objectionable for women to feel forced to wear a hijab. I’m sure as hell not going to start listing all of the logical reasons why I think they should go ahead and play anyway.