Chess Coaches Should Stop Taking Credit for Their Students Achievements 

It happens almost every time an American kid does well in anything:

1. There are Facebook posts by one or many coaches who have been part of this child’s chess life, always making it clear in some way, perhaps with just a passing sentence, that they coached them.

2. An article gets written on USChess

3. One or two coaches aren’t mentioned, or aren’t mentioned as the “main coach” and they start freaking out and sending annoying emails and making comments at the kids parents or other places online.

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The whole situation is weirder given that so many of the top kids literally have five or more coaches that they work with from time to time.

Here is my advice on what to do when one of your students wins anything:

Congratulate them privately for sure, and even publicly if you want. It’s natural to be excited about the success of one of your students! But when you congratulate them don’t mention that you had even the slightest role in their successes by coaching them. If you are truly such a great coach, they will tell everyone for you.

Famed author and coach, Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard said this about the subject:

“I personally don’t take credit for the success of my students, but I also understand that people have families and need to get more students”.

I don’t want coaches to cost themselves business by being “too polite”, although I don’t think publicly declaring that you are someone’s coach has any effect on whether you will get more students. At the same time I’m not saying that you never have to mention to anyone that you coached some strong and accomplished players. What I’m saying is right at the moment when they’ve had one of their greatest triumphs, don’t do anything to draw attention away from them, and don’t use their success as a prop to build your name.

I’d suggest posting something like “Congratulations to XXX, an amazingly hard worker who deserves all of her success!” Don’t write “Congratulations to my student XXX! We have been studying hard for the last year, he totally deserves this victory, and I’m honored to be part of this journey”. In one case you are praising only the student. In the other case, you are praising yourself and the student and it comes off as incredibly tacky.

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I have coached a lot of kids and run a program called the US Chess School, in which hundreds of top American kids have come through the program.

I admit that when kids who have attended the school do well, I publicize their achievements on our Instagram page, as we are loyal to our campers and want to make sure their successes are heard far and wide. It’s an added bonus that while we never specifically mention our program in these congratulatory posts, it still makes us look good.

But my honest opinion is that my efforts coaching at the US Chess School have had a relatively small effect on any individual student. Sometimes they win something right after a camp and their parents send us an email thanking us, perhaps thinking that our camp was to reason for their success.

It wasn’t. Kids don’t magically get better during a one week chess camp. The kids who come to our camp are already extremely strong and very capable of winning major titles without us. It’s not hard to just pick out the top rated kids, invite them to a camp, and then start taking credit when they do well. Of course they did well, they are the top rated kids in the United States! I’m not going to say it’s completely impossible that something stuck with a kid that happened during one of our camps and indirectly led to a win here or there, but most of the time it’s just a total coincidence.

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An example lesson from the U.S. Chess School

A longtime personal coach is likely to have more influence than a coach at a one week training session, but I still believe that almost all of the credit should go to the student. When a kid wins something it’s the hard work that this kid has put into chess for so many years of their life. It’s the energy and nerves that they expended during the tournament. It takes a strong character and work ethic to win a major chess championship.

In most cases these kids were probably going to be really good with or without their coach. Maybe the coach helped a little and maybe in some cases they even helped a lot, but who really knows? The only thing we do know is that the kid worked very hard for their achievements and that a great coach lets their student take all the glory.

At this time I would like to thank the following coaches who I believe directly helped my chess development and for whom I remembered various lessons they taught me decades later:

Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin: He taught me the Dragon, which I played for a large part of my career. He also guided me towards the Tarrasch French which is probably the reason why my favorite move to face when I play 1.e4 is 1…e6. I was only about 1700-1800 when we worked together, but I believe he helped me to form a good foundation for the future.

Steve Shutt: “Mr. Shutt” was the coach at Masterman high school and his major sacrifices allowed me to play in many tournaments and matches that I may not have been able to otherwise. He would literally drive us home from matches at 10-11pm on school nights. His chess program also allowed me to spend time on chess during school every day, which was obviously very useful.

International Master John Donaldson: I had only a few lessons with him but he taught me a lot of really useful opening ideas that I still use today and used a lot when I was younger. Most memorable are the ideas in the Panov Botvinnik. He also is the main driving force behind the Mechanics Institute, where I have played many memorable events.

GM Mark Dvoretsky: I’ve learned a ton from him and have had one or two lessons with him in person, but in reality I learned the most from his books. I love his scientific approach to chess that leaves room for psychological factors as well. In my opinion his chess books are the absolute best ever written. I’d be remiss to not mention his weakness of taking too much credit for the success of his students.

GM Gregory Kaidanov: He taught me lots about practical chess which I still think about today. For instance the idea that you should never spend more than 15 minutes on a single move. He also taught me some lesser known rules of thumb that I find very useful, but they are top secret so I can’t share them here.

And of course I have to mention the best coach of all, FM Michael Shahade. Without the various lessons he sprinkled throughout my childhood, I would never have been close to as strong as I am today.

I probably forgot someone, so please send your angry letters about how you didn’t get the credit you deserve in the form of a comment on this blog.

I Just Want to Watch Grown Men Give Each Other Brain Damage Without All This Political Crap!

Is it too much to ask that I can’t just sit on my sofa while a bunch of grown men destroy each other’s brain cells for money and entertainment, without subjecting me to one minute of watching them kneel during our national anthem?

They are paid to slowly kill each other so that they are vegetables when they reach old age. They aren’t paid to make patriotic Americans like me think about annoying stuff like racism and police brutality.

First of all if you want to protest, you need to do so on your own time, not at your place of work. Now I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure this remains true even if your bosses specifically tell you that you have the right to protest at work.

Secondly, wouldn’t it be appropriate for these athletes to make their statement in a more respectful way? I can think of at least hundreds of other ways they could make the same point, and get maybe 1/1000th of the media coverage. That way they could say all they wanted about racism, police corruption, inequality and the school to prison pipeline, without anyone actually having to listen to it.

Yes, I agree that there actually is racism in this country, but there is no worse time to discuss that than right before a football game. As a white man, who is therefore a major expert on this subject, racism seems like the kind of thing we can just talk about whenever it’s convenient. But definitely not before a football game or right after an innocent black man is shot and killed by a police officer that will be acquitted of all charges six months later. These are all definitely the wrong times.

Also why is Colin Kaepernick protesting when he so clearly lives a blessed life? He is a millionaire athlete and is living the American dream, what does he have to complain about? We all know that when someone protests something, they are specifically protesting only the effect it has on them personally. For instance I only donate to organizations that help end World Hunger when I’m really hungry and all the pizza places are closed.  Therefore shouldn’t it only be the poorest Americans protesting inequality so we can safely ignore them like usual? I just don’t get it.

As you all know, our National Anthem is not a song in which we celebrate to show pride in our country. No, the National Anthem is actually a tribute to our military forces, and if you don’t do exactly what you are supposed to do (stand tall with your hand over your heart), you are specifically disrespecting the military. What could be more American than a song in which everyone has to behave exactly the same way while it’s playing or they will be ostracized! The main exceptions to this rule are obviously if you are at home watching a sports game, in a bar watching a game, or literally anywhere except at the stadium during the game. The anthem actually doesn’t really count unless you are physically there when it’s being played. It’s a weird rule I know, but I didn’t make it! Check out more about how insulted all veterans are here. Or here. Or here. God they all hate him so much, it’s painful to read!

Now I know what you’re thinking: “The guy who made the Anthem was a slave owner and even included verses about slavery in the Anthem itself! So why should we be surprised when black Americans are hesitant about honoring the anthem?”

Well there’s an easy answer to that: Slavery was a long time ago and almost everyone owned slaves, so it was kind of normal. Or as they say these days: NBD.

I know I’d gladly stand to salute a song that was written by someone who thought it was normal to enslave my great grandparents, it’s just too bad that one of those songs isn’t our anthem and I haven’t had the chance to experience that reality. Oh well!

Honestly, if you think our country is so bad, why don’t you just leave! It’s obvious that if there is something wrong with your nation, the brave and honorable thing to do is to leave right away. As an added bonus I’ve found that it’s really easy to just pack up your life and move to another country. It’s a win win for everyone!

Past protests such as the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Riders, or many of the other nonviolent actions in the 1950s and 60’s, led to massive changes to help Civil Rights in the United States. It’s interesting that at the time of those campaigns, all of them were wildly unpopular among white adults! The people in that era thought these methods of protesting were extremely inappropriate and ineffective. Of course those critics have all been proven wrong as time has passed.

What I’d like to tell you today is that this time, we are actually right! This time the systemic racism that the black community is experiencing, is actually not worth protesting, especially in a way that makes me think about it for more than 5 seconds when I’m just trying to watch people who will probably get brain damage while entertaining me. It’s going to be so great in thirty years when I’m an old man and I read the history books and they say:

“Non Violent Protests at NFL games made people aware of structural racism and helped mobilize the nation to confront these issues and make major changes to our laws and legal structures, but it should have been done more respectfully”.

Then finally Colin Kaepernick and all you snowflake SJW’s will have learned your lesson.

Random Pairings Make Chess Players Go Crazy

At the Chess.com Isle of Man International, which is taking place right now, the entire chess world’s brains exploded when the first round of the Open used a random pairing system, and Caruana and Kramnik got paired.

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All of this shows me the lack of imagination in the chess world.

How many open chess tournaments do we have each year? Hundreds, maybe thousands even? How many of them use the exact same pairing system? It’s pretty close to all of them.

So we have every single tournament in the world, doing the exact same thing every time. I’m going to admit that the Swiss System is a great system, and works perfectly fine as the standard pairing system for an open event. However the problem with the chess community is:

Almost any change causes everyone to freak out

Is a random pairing system unfair? Absolutely not. The results of the random draw for one particular event may be unfair, but over the long run it will turn out to be pretty fair. Everyone worries so much about Carlsen, Kramnik and how important their pairings are, but there are hundreds of players in the tournament and they matter too.

If there are 100 players, why should player 51 automatically have to play the top seeded player when nearly half the field is lower rated than her?

Why should someone ranked 70th have to play a tougher opponent than someone ranked 100th? Is that objectively fair?

This is not a closed event, and I think it’s reasonable for every player to have equal rights from the start of the event. There is nothing more equal and fair than the pairings being randomly determined in the early rounds of an event (within a scoregroup).

The Swiss System is inherently slightly unfair. Over a short sample of tournaments it will likely be MORE fair than the results of randomized pairings, but over a long sample of tournaments the randomized pairings will be fairer to all players in the event (not just the top ones).

The issue is that chess players cannot see past the one individual tournament, and therefore they are happy to accept some small degree of inherent unfairness in order to assure that any one tournament isn’t too affected by “lucky pairings”.

Let me emphasize that once again I agree that the Swiss System is a fine system, and I’m not suggesting that it gets thrown into the trash heap. It’s completely normal that most Open events should continue to use it. But while I have your attention, let me try to improve upon the Swiss System:

Computers are pretty smart these days. It shouldn’t be difficult to set up a tournament so the first round or two is random, and then the computer could go out of it’s way to “equalize” the strength of opponents that people within a score group have faced throughout the tournament. So for example, if Kramnik and Caruana play in Round 1, then the computer will do what it can to slowly make their pairings easier during the remainder of the tournament. Something like this could be even more fair than the typical Swiss Pairings. Instead of using a system that ignores any luck of the draw from the previous rounds, this new pairing system would check to see who has had easier or harder pairings, and then alter the later pairings to make it more fair for those who had the tougher draw.

So imagine you have 4 players, two who have an average opponent’s rating of 2600 and two who have an average opponent’s rating of 2500, the computer would aim to give the ones who faced a 2500 average the higher rated opponents. If you’ve had easy pairings all tournament and are tied for the lead in the final few rounds, this system will try to give you the toughest pairings they can. Can you tell me any reason why something like this would not be more “fair” than the Swiss System?

What I’m suggesting is that when someone tries something different, and one which has obvious logical merits, that everyone doesn’t freak out because maybe one of the top players in the world got an unlucky break. In an open tournament everyone matters, not just the top 5 seeds. And by trying new things, we could experiment and perhaps find a way to improve upon the way things have been done for so long, such as my idea of a pairing system which specifically tries to equalize every player’s strength of opponent as the tournament progresses.

And lastly, the players all knew what the pairing system was and they agreed to play in the tournament. At the time of this writing, Caruana and Kramnik are playing an exciting chess game.

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They are possibly taking more risk than they would have if the game took place at the end of the tournament. Why are we complaining about this!

Should We Talk About the Differences Between Men and Women?

This morning I woke up to about 15 messages on Facebook messenger. They were sent to me by one of the top chess players in the world, who I have never truly met, and never really spoken to, but who was frustrated with the tone of the discussion that followed from my last blog post. This player is well known to be extremely gracious and friendly, so it is important to make it clear that the messages were very civil and polite, but that at the same time something that was bothering him.

The issue was simply that he felt there are obvious differences between men and women, yet anytime someone took the step of speaking about these differences, they would be immediately branded a sexist, and therefore it stifled any intellectual discussion on the topic. Because I have always held this player in the highest regard, I felt that it would be a great idea to try to write about this topic.

Let’s start with something that I think we all agree on. When you take large populations of people that have some kind of clear difference between them, regardless of what that difference may be, it’s likely that these people as a whole, won’t be identical in all aspects of life. This can be for many reasons, such as their upbringing, how the world reacts to them, or in some cases maybe there may be genetic differences.

One of the problems I see when people try to have a public discussion about these differences, is that in almost every case in which someone publicly states that “X and Y groups of people are different in Z way”, the person making this comment falls under the category of X, and then attributes the most socially desirable traits to X, the less socially desirable traits to Y, and they are often doing so without the necessary background to make such claims.

For example, Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short once claimed that men are “hardwired” to be better at chess than women and said the following:

“I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do,” he said. “Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to maneuver the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills.”

“It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”

The reason that the above was troubling is because Nigel who is a man and a world class expert in chess, is putting down the ability of women to play chess well. To make up for that slight, he is then comparing that to the fact that one woman, his wife, has better emotional intelligence than he does.

My sister, 2 time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion Jenn Shahade has this to say:

“The obsession with gender difference in fields like chess is repetitive, negative and self perpetuating. Unless you have some mind blowing new point to make, I’d rather hear your thoughts on Hou Yifan’s games in Biel or a book you recently enjoyed by a woman.”

So why is James Damore also receiving criticism? It’s because he is doing a similar thing. I took a look at his manifesto and to me it reads clearly as someone who is painting women in a less positive light, and using this to explain why Google should be less focused on including women in their workforce. He is sneaky about how he does it, and he is careful to include many disclaimers along the way, but there’s a reason women are upset and it’s because it comes off as derogatory. One part in particular that seems offensive would be when he describes women as being more neurotic than men:

“Women, on average, have more neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”

Also Google seems to be doing just fine with the practices they’ve been using. Maybe if a company like Google, which is one of the biggest and most well known companies in the world, is championing diversity to this degree, there’s some merit behind it?

So how can we talk about the differences between two large groups of people in a constructive way? My advice: Just don’t do it

Let’s be honest, have we ever really gained anything from having this discussion? Has it ever been great for our population to discuss how men are more logical thinkers and women are more emotional thinkers? Every woman is different and every man is different. There is always a danger that when we stereotype people, that those who hold power will use these stereotypes to keep other people out of power. You see it time and time again in politics with the laughable idea that “women are too emotional”. I find that this is a problem because:

  1. It’s created a negative connotation of emotional women, and emotion in general. Therefore some politically motivated women may feel the need to behave as unemotionally as possible, which may end up making them less likable. Emotion is a normal part of being a human being and showing natural emotions should be celebrated, not derided.
  2. Given our current president, it’s hard to take this idea seriously.

On a much more serious note, completely fabricated “natural” differences between races were used as justification for evils such as slavery or the holocaust.

So yes, I believe there are clear and obvious dangers when trying to have discussions about these topics. I know that intellectually this is a bit of a cop out. It should be possible to responsibly discuss the differences between men and women without coming under fire. But another important question to ask is “Is a discussion of this topic productive?”. If the answer is that it’s actually a detrimental discussion to have, that could lead to harmful consequences, I believe that it is reasonable to discourage the entire line of thought, and to fight back against those who engage in this type of discussion.

There is almost no example you can look back upon and say “stereotyping these people really helped us”, while at the same time it’s clear that stereotyping people has led to some of the gravest injustice and evil throughout human history. I think it’s a mistake to ignore this.

 

Can we stop listening to liars please?

Recently James Damore, was fired for a memo he wrote while working at Google. I didn’t read it as I really don’t have time to read more pseudo science about the differences between men and women from random guys. The content of his memo is not the purpose of this blog.

The point of this blog is to expose James Damore is a liar. And not only is he a liar, but he’s the type of liar who lies for sport about extremely minor things.

On his resume he listed himself as a FIDE Master of chess, which is a lie. FIDE is the International governing body of chess, and FIDE Master is the third highest title you can achieve. Based on his easy to find playing history, James is not even remotely close to this title. I admit that he’s probably not the first person in history to lie on his resume, but what he did next is astounding.

He hosted an AMA on Reddit, which is short for “ask me anything”. In that AMA he received the following question:

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Since his lie was now exposed, he could have done a number of things. For example:

  1. He could have ignored the question completely. This would be a normal response given that there are hundreds of people asking him questions and he can’t reply to all of them. If he did this I would have just chalked the whole thing up to him lying on his resume.
  2. He could admit that he told a lie. (Liars don’t usually do this)

What did Damore do instead? He doubled down on his lie!

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His response includes even more lies and complete fabrications. Literally not a single thing in his reply makes any sense. I don’t want to bog this down with chess details, but 2300, not 2200, has always been the requirement get the FIDE Master title and you can easily check the records of any player online (you can download old rating lists here). There is no such thing as “FIDE membership elapsing”. Anyone who played even a single rated FIDE tournament can easily be looked up online.

Think hard about what type of person would do this. Think about the type of character this person would possess?  He’s decided consciously: “I lied about this and now someone is calling me out on it, let me think of a further lie that may satisfy them”.

This is the behavior of a lying narcissist who is used to getting whatever they want in life, and is also used to there being no consequences for his actions. Given the fact that no one seems to care that he’s a liar but instead is more concerned on his uneducated opinion of the differences between men and women, he’s being proven correct.

When someone is willing to tell a blatant and calculated lie about something so inconsequential, what are they going to do when they have the chance to lie about something with real importance? Of course they are going to lie, because that’s what liars do. They lie, and lie and lie again, if they think it will help them.

As a community we need to do better at this. People weren’t asking Richard Nixon for ethics advice or his various opinions on things after he resigned in disgrace. If you think about the people in your life that you respect and look up to, none of them will just lie to you about petty bullshit. But James decided he would. And because of that, his voice is no longer relevant. He has shown himself to have a low moral character and shouldn’t be taken seriously about anything.

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

I am sure this will be one of my most unpopular blog posts ever. Even though it’s widely agreed upon that alcohol tastes disgusting the first time you try it, almost everyone you know drinks, and drinks regularly. In fact some people would say that it’s impossible to truly have fun without drinking alcohol. I’ve never understood any of this.

They say that alcohol is an acquired taste, but why exactly is this a taste I want to acquire? Nearly everything about drinking seems illogical to me:

  • It’s one of the leading causes of death in the United States (1 in 4000 people die because of alcohol every year! That’s an insanely high number)
  • We all know at least one person who is generally pleasant but turns into a raving asshole as soon as they drink. Let’s be honest, we probably all know at least a dozen.
  • We almost all know at least one person who is dead because of alcohol (or drugs). I know plenty more than one. I mean these people are dead and if they never drank alcohol they would be alive. That’s a pretty big deal!

Now it’s obvious that alcohol has plenty of positives as well. People don’t do something for hundreds and even thousands of years, unless it feels good and makes them happy. And most drinkers you know are probably doing so responsibly and safely. But I also think that the very idea of abstaining from alcohol is absent in today’s culture, and it shouldn’t be. It’s just an absolute given that all kids will go from sober to drinkers once they get into college or turn 21.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that you drink alcohol. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because there are a lot weird misconceptions around alcohol and how you “have to drink it”. For example:

  • People will think you’re weird if you don’t drink: No they won’t. If they do, and I haven’t encountered this yet, then they aren’t worth your time anyway. Anyone who seriously judges you because you don’t drink something, is a ridiculous human being.
  • You won’t be able to have fun if you don’t drink: Also not true. I went the first 20 years of my life scared to dance. I absolutely refused to do it. Eventually I started dancing and I had to learn to do it without drinking. I think that so many people start drinking at such a young age, that they never had to learn to do certain things while sober.
  • You won’t be able to have fun with your friends if they are drinking and you aren’t: Also not true. Drunk people can be fun, sober people can be fun, this isn’t really rocket science. I’ve had lots of amazing nights while being the only sober one in the group.

Why is it that I’ve never had alcohol? I honestly don’t know. I did have a few sips when I was fifteen and the fact that I didn’t like the taste probably helped. If it tasted like donuts I’d probably be too drunk right now to write this blog.

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I also think I’ve always been pretty immune to peer pressure. The fact that everyone else does something almost never has any affect on me if it seems that it would be undesirable to do that thing.

Throughout my life, including my childhood and teenage years, I have seen the most vile and disgusting behavior from drunk people (but who hasn’t)? A man almost died in my bathroom from alcohol poisoning when I was 12 years old.

At the closing ceremony at the recent U.S. Chess Championship, in no surprise, a few people got unbelievably drunk. At this ceremony there are also some extremely young girls, who just played in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship. One of them in particular was complaining to me about how drunk some people were, how they were behaving, and how it was scary. What’s weird is despite this normal reaction that most children have around very drunk people, society still finds a way to get them to start drinking. Young kids find drunk adults to be completely ridiculous.

Another secret benefit to never drinking: It will save you a ton of money over your lifetime. When I was 22 years old, living in Brooklyn and didn’t make a ton of money, I would hear adults with regular full time jobs complaining about how little money they had. Meanwhile I would see them routinely drop $50 in a single night on alcohol. To me, $50 was the amount of money you’d spend on a super special occasion. For them it was Tuesday night. You have to understand that for someone who didn’t drink at all, and therefore spent $0 on it, this seemed completely insane. I just wanted to yell at them “of course you have money problems, you spend all your money on alcohol and drugs!”

I had lots of friends who made a ton of money playing poker. I also had a lot of these same friends who lost all the money that they made. In nearly every case alcohol and drugs were involved.

I have fun pretty much all the time, so it’s hard to even imagine what personal benefit there could be to alcohol or drugs. But I’m sure that if you have a different personality than I do, there may be lots of reasons why you in particular should drink alcohol.  I’m not saying that no one should ever drink. What I’m saying is that more young people should think more critically and independently about their decision to try drinking in the first place.

I know a lot of kids read my blog, so I’m going to make this conclusion pretty clear for them:

You do not have to drink or do drugs to be popular. Literally no one important cares. You can go your entire life without ever trying it and you won’t be missing out on something important or special. If you do decide to drink, you’ll probably be completely fine too, but you increase the chance of some terrible alcohol related thing happening to you. 

Sexist Reading Lists

I’ve gotta be honest: I’ve enjoyed books by Tim Ferris, Ryan Holiday and all these other modern day “self help gurus” or “lifehackers”, which is what they’re being called by the Internet. I mainly enjoyed reading them because they fit into my way of living and so it was reaffirming, since the general tone of the books celebrated the type of life I’ve always lived.

But I noticed something while looking at a list of “reading recommendations” suggested by a CrossFit coach. This reading list was more of a spiritual reading list from a well known Track and Field coach, Stu McMillan. On this list he gives his “best books of 2016“, in which he starts by going into painstaking details of the four different types of reading. Then he lists a grand total of 31 books and it doesn’t take long to notice a pattern:

Every single one of these books was written by men

On the top of this page McMillan is shown with three of his athletes, all of whom are women, and many of the athletes he trains are women. Yet somehow of the 31 books he recommends, he can’t find a single book in 2016 that’s worth reading that was written by a woman. Think about how crazy that is: 31 to 0! These are not books about some kind of athletic endeavor that is heavily filled with men, they are mostly spiritual self help books. Apparently only men are capable of giving good spiritual advice.

After noticing this I wondered how common this was, so now I specifically check the male/female ratio on any of these lists. After seeing enough of them it’s become clear to me that whenever one of these “self help gurus” gives you one of these giant reading lists, I can tell you before looking at it that it’s going to be approximately 90% of stuff written by men.

Let’s start with Tim Ferris. This guy is a genius at self marketing and definitely has a lot of interesting things to say. But somehow on his podcast, he managed to have 27 male guests in a row? Admittedly he’s doing a better job of including women lately, but 27 in a row is pretty blatantly informing your audience that “men are just more interesting than women”.

Then if you take a look at his massive reading list, tell me how long it takes you to find five books written by women. Honestly I’m not even sure that there are five out of the hundreds of books on the list, but I gave up at some point.

Then you can check Ryan Holiday, who has written a best selling book on “stoicism”. I felt pretty confident before I looked that 90% of his recommendations would be books written by men, and of course I wasn’t surprised. When I did finally find books that he recommended which were written by women, here’s what he said:

“It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women.”

Try to find a description of any of his 95%+ book recommendations that were written by men, where he feels the need to immediately point out that the authors were men.

Let’s take a look at it the other way around. What about Oprah Winfrey? Oprah has a much larger fan base of women who follow her compared to someone like Ferris and Holiday. Does that mean she will present nearly all female authors? In her 51 recommended books in 2017, 27 were written by women, 24 were written by men, a fairly even distribution.

Do I think Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday are terrible people? Of course not. In fact I can imagine myself mindlessly doing the same things in their situation, without even realizing it.

What does all of this mean? While this is something that struck me as incredible, it may be just a normal part of everyday life for women, one in which I never noticed until recently because it doesn’t affect me. I hope that the people I mentioned above, and anyone else who has interest in inspiring women, working with women, or simply demonstrating to men that they believe women have valuable things to contribute, works harder to fix these disparities in the future.

 

 

 

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.