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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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)