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)

For Chess Parents, There Is No Endgame.

Prodigal Sons
The search for the next great chess prodigy—the next Bobby Fischer—is constantly underway. And the candidates are getting younger and younger.
By David Hill Dec 20, 2017, 10:00am EST

A most disquieting Chess article was published recently at The Ringer, “An SB Nation affiliate site.” David Hill is a “Chess dad.” His seven year old son, Gus, plays Chess in New York city.

https://www.theringer.com/sports/2017/12/20/16796672/chess-prodigy-misha-osipov-bobby-fischer

The article begins:

Anatoly Karpov, the 66-year-old former World Chess Champion, was comfortable playing chess underneath the bright lights and in front of the cameras on a television studio set. His opponent, Mikhail “Misha” Osipov, had never played on quite so big a stage before. In this case, before a studio audience on the Russian television program The Best, broadcast on the state-run Channel One. Nevertheless, Osipov looked comfortable. He greeted Karpov warmly, and complimented his showdown with Viktor Korchnoi, which Osipov had studied to prepare. (“It was a beautiful game!”) Osipov played the Nimzo-Indian defense, and played it well.

But Osipov took a long time to consider each move, while Karpov played quickly. Their game was timed, with Karpov playing with two minutes on his clock to Osipov’s 10, in consideration of Karpov’s superior skill and experience. That time advantage dwindled as Osipov spent precious minutes thinking.

Fourteen moves into the game and they were equal in time, with Karpov up a single pawn. Graciously, Karpov offered Osipov a draw.

“Nyet,” Osipov responded, and continued to move.

A few moves later, Osipov’s clock ran out.

“You’ve lost on time,” Karpov told Osipov. “You had to accept the draw. Be more realistic about time.”

Osipov shook Karpov’s hand, but his face tensed up and fixed itself into a frown. He got up from his seat and wandered toward the studio audience, no longer able to hold back tears. Osipov sobbed wildly and looked into the bright lights and the audience before him, bewildered.

“Mama!” he shouted as the cameras continued to roll. “Mama!” His mother bounded from the audience onto the stage and picked up the 3-year-old boy into her arms and held him tightly, wiping the tears from his round, cherubic face.

Despite the disappointing result, Misha Osipov remains a media sensation in Russia. His favorite player is Magnus Carlsen, the current World Champion and himself a child prodigy. According to Yuri, Misha found the games of former Russian World Champion Vladimir Kramnik to be a little boring. By contrast, young Misha found the games of Bobby Fischer to be exciting.

The now-4-year-old from Moscow has already beaten a grandmaster (albeit one with poor eyesight and not exactly in his prime at 95 years old) and has won a number of youth tournament titles. Osipov already has two coaches and a corporate sponsor. He’s helping revitalize Russian interest in a game that was once a source of national pride, a revitalization that began last year when Russian Sergey Karjakin played Norwegian Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship. Both Karjakin and Carlsen were chess prodigies themselves, and Karjakin holds the record for being the youngest player to become a grandmaster. Neither of them could play chess at the age of 3.

I asked Yuri Osipov how he felt watching his little boy cry that day, after he’d lost to Anatoly Karpov. Yuri said it surprised him. It was very unlike Misha to cry. After all, it wasn’t his first time losing a game. But after speaking with Misha after the show, he realized that his son had never played with an analog clock before, only digital. Misha didn’t know how to read the time on the clock and had no idea he was so short on time. When Misha’s clock ran out of time, it surprised him. “He was upset and cried because he didn’t understand why he lost,” Yuri said. “He cried because he didn’t understand that the time was over.”

After Misha lost to Karpov and bawled his adorable eyes out on television, the video went viral. I found it on YouTube with my son while we scrolled through videos about the Philidor position in the endgame. It affected us both. Me because my heart broke for the little boy, calling out for his mama, confused and afraid. Gus because he felt jealous that such a little kid could get to play chess against a former World Champion. If Gus had been there, he assured me, he would not have cried.

He adds a coda to the Nicholas Nip story:

In the months following Nip’s achievement, he went on Live! With Regis and Kelly to play a simultaneous exhibition—he’d play 10 opponents at the same time. The young boy in a too-large green polo shirt won nine and drew one. Afterward Regis Philbin pestered him with questions about whether he wanted a girlfriend. Kelly Ripa asked him if it was too late for someone her age to learn to play chess. Nip replied, “No, it’s not too late.” “What if we are not smart?” Ripa responded. “No, you can still play,” he said, nervously, looking side to side as if trying to find a way out.

A few months after his television appearance, Nicholas Nip told his parents he no longer wanted to play chess. He retired from the game in the fourth grade. He hasn’t been seen at a chess tournament since.

And the story, with which I was unfamiliar, of, “a 5-year-old boy named Ernest Kim.”

Fischer’s rise as a young player gave the Soviet Union chess machine fits. During the years that Fischer came up in the United States, gaining international attention for winning the U.S. Championship at the age of 14, the Soviets recruited thousands of new children to attend their chess schools. One of them was a 5-year-old boy named Ernest Kim. The USSR claimed Kim was defeating adults in his home of Tashkent and had climbed to a “third category rating,” the first rung on the ladder to becoming a Soviet grandmaster, within six months of learning the game. Photos of Kim appeared on magazine covers, newsreels circulated with footage of him playing against adults, sitting up on his knees with his tiny head in his hands. In 1958, when Fischer visited Moscow on invitation from the USSR chess authority, he declared that he was eager to play Kim. The government kept the child under wraps.

One Soviet chess player, Vasily Panov, railed against the chess centers in general, and the treatment of Kim in particular. He felt that too many young people were being put through the Soviet chess farm team, possibly sacrificing some future doctors or engineers in the process. In an interview with The New York Times, in speaking about Ernest Kim, who Panov said was being “dragged off to training sessions, away from playmates and school,” Panov quoted Lenin: “Do not forget that chess after all is only a recreation and not an occupation.”

In addition the author writes about Josh Waitzkin. I urge you to read the whole piece.

“My son isn’t as good at chess as Misha Osipov or Josh Waitzkin, but I still see Fred and Yuri as my brothers. Being a chess parent is full of moments like this one. As I sit and wait for Gus to return from a tournament game, where parents are wisely not allowed to sit and spectate, I grind my teeth and pace the floor. I wonder—If I can’t handle the pressure, if I’m this nervous, then how must he feel? And why do I put him through this? Could he possibly be enjoying this, or is he just doing it because he thinks it will please me?

Jerry Nash has been a tournament director at scholastic tournaments throughout the country. He sees kids crying all the time. So what? “My wife teaches elementary school. She’ll tell you, they cry in class, too.” More often than not, the children deal with losses against tougher opponents by getting excited, rather than discouraged, he tells me. This is how you can tell apart those who are right for the game and those who aren’t. “Sometimes the parent is the only one that’s nervous.”

In my case, it’s pretty much all the time. I stare at the door waiting for him to return, hoping to be able to read his facial expressions for a sense of whether he won or lost before he makes it down the hall so I can mentally prepare for my own reaction when he reaches me and gives me the news.

For chess parents, there is no endgame. There are few opportunities in America for college scholarships for chess players, and almost all of them are snatched up by grandmasters from other countries. There is no way for most grandmasters to make a decent living as professionals, save for the very few at the top. The top five chess players in the world earn millions from tournaments, but the earnings fall sharply once you get outside of the top 10. For the vast majority of adult chess players who stay committed to their study and pursuit of the game, the only way to earn money at chess comes from doling out lessons and taking home a few hundred bucks from the occasional tournament. There is nothing glamorous about it.”

Arguably, the most profound Chess article of the year.