Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky Is The New York Times New Chess Columnist

Meet The Times’s New Chess Columnist

For Daniel Naroditsky, a career in the royal game may not be as lucrative as one at a hedge fund, but he is exactly where he wants to be.

Daniel Naroditsky at his home in Charlotte, N.C.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

By Deb Amlen
Published June 12, 2022

Daniel Naroditsky is a chess grandmaster, the highest title given to competitors by the International Chess Federation, and he has used that talent to parlay it into a career. In addition to working as a commentator, author and chess tutor, he will be publishing his first chess puzzle on Monday in The New York Times.

Mr. Naroditsky settles his 6-foot-2 frame into a chair at his home in Charlotte, N.C., so we can chat over Google Meet. He is sipping an iced tea and is eager to talk, especially if the conversation has anything to do with chess.

We chat for a while about mundane subjects to get to know each other, and I learn that he loves spicy food and horror movies. He is also a sports fanatic, particularly when it comes to basketball. He is devoted to the Golden State Warriors and says that he never misses a game.

The first thing you notice about Mr. Naroditsky is how amiable he is. He smiles easily and likes to explain the topics we talk about thoroughly. It is important to him that he communicates effectively, so that I can come away from our chat with everything I need.

One of his private chess students, Ryan Amburgy of Tulsa, Okla., said that this quality was what made him a good teacher. Mr. Amburgy, who is 18, has been studying with Mr. Naroditsky since 2019.

“His knowledge of chess is incredible,” Mr. Amburgy said in an email, “and he is able to explain concepts in ways that are easy to understand and put into practice. He also has an amazing sense of humor, which makes the learning process fun.”

All of the people interviewed for this article — including Mr. Naroditsky’s mother, Lena Schuman of San Mateo, Calif. — agreed on this point: He has a unique ability to break ideas down into palatable chunks for those who want to learn more but see the game as impenetrable.

It’s really not that opaque, he insisted in the interview, but there are a few personality traits that help a player polish the game.

“You need extreme patience,” he said, “because, more so than in any other game, you’re going to suck for a while.”

Mr. Naroditsky set up a position on a chess board in his home office in June.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

Persistence also helps when someone is in training. “I don’t know if this is a personality trait,” Mr. Naroditsky continued, “but if you want to get good at the game, you have to have the willingness to do the same thing over and over and over again.”

“You have to be very goal-oriented because of that,” he added. “Sometimes, all that sustains you is knowing where you want to be.”

Mr. Naroditsky said that the best players had highly analytical and logical minds. Skilled chess players can see several moves ahead, and that’s where the logic comes in.

“My opponent goes there,” he demonstrated, looking at the ceiling as if he were really calculating his next move. “That means that I have to go here because of this, this and this.”

Most important, however, is a love for chess. “Even at my level,” Mr. Naroditsky said, “I can still discover beautiful things about the game every single time I train, teach, play or am a commentator at a tournament.”

That quality comes across strongly to others. “Danya unabashedly oozes love for the game,” said Robert Hess, a fellow grandmaster and a commentator for Chess.com, using Mr. Naroditsky’s nickname. “You can’t fake that. That authenticity is a magnet for chess fans who regard Danya’s commentary as must-see TV. When a variation excites him, he enthusiastically shows the line (even if it contains a blunder) and the viewers latch on to that enthusiasm.

“He’s the perfect blend of edutainment,” Mr. Hess continued. “Danya dispenses nuggets of information that will help you improve while also entertaining the masses with his spot-on impressions of Garry Kasparov.”

Growing Up to Be a Grandmaster

Mr. Naroditsky first encountered a chess board at age 6, when his older brother, Alan, brought a variety of board games to a birthday party to help entertain the other children. Alan, who was proficient at the rules of the game but still a beginner, taught his younger brother to play and, for at least the first six months, thrashed him regularly. The future grandmaster was picking things up as he went along, but, at first, there was no great epiphany about the game and its place in his life.

“I think a lot of people want to imagine that it was love at first sight and that my brother couldn’t pull me away from the chessboard,” Mr. Naroditsky said. “It was more of a gradual process, where chess slowly entered the battery of stuff we did to pass the time. A lot of my best memories are just doing stuff with my brother.”

With the help of his father, Vladimir Naroditsky, who played a big part in teaching his sons the game, and a handful of coaches, Mr. Naroditsky’s Elo number, a method for calculating the relative skill of players, jumped approximately 500 points in less than a year. His family realized that he had a considerable talent for the game, but their son, who was 9 at the time, remained unfazed.

“As far as I was concerned, I was just playing games with my brother,” Mr. Naroditsky said, laughing.

He is being modest, his mother said in an interview. When he was 9, he was already ranked No. 1 in the United States. That year, he came in fifth in the Boys Under 10 category at the World Youth Chess tournament. By 2007, he was the world champion in the Boys Under 12 category.

Mr. Naroditsky at the desk where he records his videos and live streams.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

But Can You Make a Living at It?

Fast-forward through thousands of games and many miles of travel to tournaments. Mr. Naroditsky, who earned his grandmaster title at 17, landed at Stanford University. By then, he was fully committed to the game.

There weren’t many opportunities to play anyone at his level in school, but chess was never far from his mind.

His parents, who had strongly supported their sons’ early interest in the game by driving them to countless tournaments and paying for coaches for their younger son, wanted him to pursue a business degree. While chess was a respectable hobby, they felt that a corporate career was far more promising.

While he was at Stanford, Mr. Naroditsky found a summer job as a teacher at the prestigious Castle Chess Camp, held at Emory University, where he met Peter Giannatos. The two were among the youngest of the camp’s instructors, and they formed a bond.

“I already knew that he was one of the most talented junior players in the United States,” Mr. Giannatos said in an interview. “I had never met him personally, but he was superfriendly and easy to get along with.”

After Mr. Naroditsky graduated from Stanford in 2019, the question of a paying job remained.

Mr. Giannatos, who is a few years older than Mr. Naroditsky, had founded the Charlotte Chess Center in North Carolina a few years earlier

Mr. Naroditsky moved from his mother’s house in the Bay Area — his father died in December 2019 — to Charlotte. Mr. Giannatos offered Mr. Naroditsky a job as resident grandmaster at the chess center, which was expanding to include clubs for all levels, school outreach and hosting of national events.

Now 26, Mr. Naroditsky is making that living his parents were concerned about. When he is not teaching at the Charlotte Chess Center, he takes on private students.The coronavirus pandemic has inspired many to take up new hobbies, and now people want to improve their skills, he said.

His largest audience, however, is online. “He’s been one of the top-rated online blitz and bullet players for several years,” Mr. Amburgy said.

Mr. Naroditsky is also a respected commentator for high-level tournaments on Chess.com, and he has a considerable social media following because of his down-to-earth nature and ability to analyze chess games and explain them to other players. His Twitch and YouTube channels — which have more than 200,000 followers each — guide viewers through notable plays.

When he is not teaching at the Charlotte Chess Center, Mr. Naroditsky works from his home in North Carolina.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

Teaching Chess for The New York Times

Mr. Naroditsky is intent on making sure that readers of his Times column feel as if they are getting something out of it, just as he does on his social media channels.

“I feel like that’s my God-given responsibility,” he said, laughing. “I’ve resisted the pull of using clickbait and appealing video titles. However entertaining it is, I also want it to be instructive.”

The emphasis is on learning and building interest in the game.

“I also want the readers to feel like they couldn’t just go online and search for that puzzle,” he added. “I really want them to feel like this enriched their day, whether they’re beginners or advanced players.”

To emphasize the fact that he speaks to players of all levels, Mr. Naroditsky said that his favorite quote about chess was one best known as an Italian proverb but most likely traceable to a 1629 collection of writings by John Boys, who was the Dean of Canterbury in England:

“At the end of the game, both the king and the pawn go into the same box.”

Chess Replay: You Versus Frumkin

Take on Edward A. Frumkin in a recreation of a tournament game in New York, 1987.

By Daniel Naroditsky
June 13, 2022

White to move

Today’s puzzle features Josh Waitzkin, an international master and the protagonist of the 1993 film “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” Based on a memoir written by Josh’s father, Fred, the film depicts and dramatizes Josh’s meteoric rise. Josh Waitzkin is often overlooked, and today’s puzzle, in which he defeats a national master for the first time, is one of many scintillating wins in his long chess career. (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/13/crosswords/chess/chess-replay-you-versus-frumkin.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article)

Vishy Anand Dances With The Devil

Evidently former World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand has lost his mind. This writer was stupefied after seeing this headline at Chess24: Vishy Anand joins Dvorkovich’s bid for second term as FIDE president (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/vishy-anand-joins-dvorkovich-s-bid-for-second-term-as-fide-president). Since the article was dated April 1, 2022, April Fools’ Day, I assumed it was some kind of sick April Fools’ joke. Unfortunately it was not a joke.

Of all the living former World Champions, Vishy, as he is known in the Chess world, had the best reputation of the small, select group. That reputation has been incontrovertibly tarnished. Russia has become a pariah country. Russia has committed, and continues committing, unimaginable atrocities in Ukraine, and will continue so doing until Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is deposed. The aftereffects of the needless war will linger for decades, if not centuries, especially when the truth of what kind of monster is the Russian state is revealed. Why would Vishy Anand smear his own reputation by aligning himself with FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich? What’s in it for Vishy?

Who is Arkady Dvorkovich?

Arkady Dvorkovich once served as a deputy prime minister and is currently chair of the International Chess Federation, or FIDE. He criticized the war with Ukraine in comments made to Mother Jones magazine on March 14 and came under fire from the Kremlin’s ruling party. (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/03/chess-grandmasters-putin-russia-ukraine-war/)

“Wars are the worst things one might face in life. Any war. Anywhere. Wars do not just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections. Including this war,” he said.

Putin shakes hands with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during a meeting at the Kremlin in April 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

Dvorkovich added that FIDE was “making sure there are no official chess activities in Russia or Belarus, and that players are not allowed to represent Russia or Belarus in official or rated events until the war is over and Ukrainian players are back in chess.”

FIDE banned a top Russian player for six months for his vocal support of Putin and the invasion.

Two days after Dvorkovich’s comments, a top official in the United Russia party demanded that he be fired as chair of the state-backed Skolkovo Foundation. Last week, the foundation reported that Dvorkovich decided to step down. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/prominent-anti-war-russians-1.6398505)

In an article at Chess24, Vishy Anand joins Dvorkovich’s bid for second term as FIDE president, one reads: “Indian great Vishy Anand has made a dramatic entrance into chess politics by joining Arkady Dvorkovich’s campaign to be re-elected as FIDE President, it was announced today. The five-time World Champion was pictured alongside Dvorkovich at an event in Delhi today to sign the contract for the 2022 Chess Olympiad, which will start in Chennai this July. Dvorkovich later said India’s most decorated chess player will be a “huge part of our team”. It follows FIDE’s decision to strip Russia of its flagship international team event on February 25, one day after Russia invaded Ukraine. The Olympiad was subsequently awarded to India at a meeting of the FIDE Council on March 15, following a swift bidding process. (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/vishy-anand-joins-dvorkovich-s-bid-for-second-term-as-fide-president)

No doubt former World Chess Champion Anand will “…be a “huge part of our team”. The Russians will use Vishy Anand as a “showpiece.” Vishy will become the “face” of FIDE. Everyone admires and respects Anand, so what’s not to like, especially if you are a Russian.

In an article by Peter Doggers, at Chess.com, Dvorkovich To Run For 2nd Term, Supported By Anand,

Dvorkovich (left) and Anand on Friday in New Delhi. Photo: FIDE. (https://www.chess.com/news/view/dvorkovich-to-run-for-2nd-term-supported-by-anand)

one finds: GM Viswanathan Anand is supporting FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich in his bid for a second term as FIDE President. Both were present at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday, where Dvorkovich announced that he will be running for re-election.

The decision to run for a second term is somewhat controversial in light of Dvorkovich’s recent statements on the war in Ukraine and his background as a Russian politician. Initially, the FIDE President seemed to be holding an anti-war point of view, saying to the American website Mother Jones on March 14: “Wars are the worst things one might face in life… including this war. My thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”

A day later, however, a different and rather nationalistic statement was published, and Dvorkovich said he was “sincerely proud of the courage of our soldiers” and that there is “no place for either Nazism or the dominance of some countries over others.” He made the latter statement as the chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation, a position Dvorkovich no longer holds.

The Ukrainian Chess Federation and some Ukrainian top players have called for a full ban on Russia and expressed a desire for a new FIDE leadership, but they seem to have received little support for their—however understandable—point of view.

“Yes, I am committed to run for re-election and Anand will be a huge part of our team,” said Dvorkovich today.

Anand said he would be actively supporting the FIDE President, but at the moment it’s not exactly clear how. “We have had a good discussion, but we haven’t decided yet in what role or capacity I will be involved,” said Anand.

“I am willing and determined to work with this team. It is a wonderful team led by Dvorkovich, and they have done a lot for the sport. As and when a decision is taken, I will let you know.” (https://www.chess.com/news/view/dvorkovich-to-run-for-2nd-term-supported-by-anand)

Reading the above almost caused me to hurl…especially the part about there being “no place for either Nazism or the dominance of some countries over others.” It is more than a little obvious Dvorkovich will say and/or do anything to stay in power at FIDE. The Dork, as he is known in the world of Chess, talks out of both sides of his mouth. It is difficult for Dvorkovich to express what Anand will do because how does one say, “We want to use the good reputation of Vishy Anand because the recent damage done to the Russian reputation is irreversible.”

In another article, Statement by Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation Arkady Dvorkovich,

https://sk.ru/news/zayavlenie-predsedatelya-fonda-skolkovo-arkadiya-dvorkovicha/

which had to be translated by Google translate, one reads:

“Today, Russia continues to live under harsh but senseless sanctions. But we will rise to this challenge. We are ready to respond with technological breakthroughs and our own development. It has always been so.

While working in the government, I did everything to ensure that sanctions were not an obstacle, but an opportunity to create our own economy. And the results of this work in many sectors have made it possible to create the springboard for ensuring national security that we have today – in agriculture and construction, in energy and petrochemistry, in infrastructure development.

I cannot respect foreign companies that have left the Russian market. Some of them lost him for a very long time, perhaps forever. Our main task is to get rid of technological dependence. This can only be achieved through teamwork, in which everyone who is capable of being a leader will be involved – each in his own place.

Skolkovo has always been at the forefront of innovation in Russia, and today it is ready to make every effort to build its own competitive economy in our country.” (https://sk.ru/news/zayavlenie-predsedatelya-fonda-skolkovo-arkadiya-dvorkovicha/)

The Russians in Chess are like termites in the woodwork of the House of Chess. They, and all of their fellow travelers, like Vishy Anand, must be eradicated from the Chess House, known as FIDE. The Russian infestation of Chess must end and it must end NOW! All Russians, and those who support them, must be cast out of the House of Chess for the good of the game. To allow the nefarious, genocidal Russians to remain involved with Chess will end the recent Chess boom and send it to where one now finds Checkers, if Chess is fortunate. It will be ironic if a former World Chess Champion began the down hill slide into oblivion for Chess. What the hell could Vishy Anand have been thinking? Maybe Vishy will attempt an explanation in the near future. Vishy, my man, if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.