Chess, Capitalism, and

by admin on August 28, 2022

To take my mind off my recent “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” chess tournament, here are some thoughts on other things going on in the chess world…

My friend Gjon Feinstein has alerted me several times to a YouTube channel called “Chess Dojo” (, a project of GM Jesse Kraai, IM David Pruess, and IM Kostya Kavutskiy. As many of you know, Jesse Kraai used to record lectures at, and in fact he is the person who invited me to lecture for that website. I always considered Jesse to be a genius in the art form of the 15-to-30 minute chess video, and his lectures were more than enough reason to subscribe to that site. It was a great blow when he left ChessLecture in 2011, and so it’s thrilling that there is once again a place on the Internet where he is posting new videos. (And he’s been doing it for two years, so there are a lot to catch up on!)

Besides instruction, there are also chat videos or “Dojo Talks,” and in fact the first video that I looked at was a chat between Kostya Kavutskiy and David Pruess about the purchase of Play Magnus Group by This is apparently very recent news (just announced three days ago, and the deal is not really final yet). I have to say that it was quite a surprise to me. There’s so much star power around Magnus that one tends to think that everything he touches turns to gold. But not so!

I am not at all plugged in to the business side of chess, so I have to write on the basis of what David Pruess said in the video. According to David, the Play Magnus Group has been spending enormous quantities of money, and there was no way that the operation would be sustainable in such a fashion over the long run. He voiced the opinion that the most valuable asset controlled by Play Magnus Group is (another chess learning site). Presumably will work to turn that into a profitable site while reining in some of the excesses elsewhere.

David’s role in all of this is very interesting, and I for one wish that Kostya had pushed him a little bit harder on it. Frankly, Kostya didn’t seem to know what questions to ask. David has been involved with from its very beginning. I have the impression that he stepped away from it a little bit a few years ago, but he is still an insider. He definitely had advance knowledge of the negotiations with Play Magnus Group, and of course he is not at liberty to say exactly what he knew, when. The irony in all of this is that Pruess is (or was) very much against the capitalist system, and yet in spite of himself he seems to have become a rather successful businessman! That’s what I wish Kostya had asked him about. How has his thinking evolved on capitalism vs. socialism? Does it feel like a cop-out to work for a profit-making company? What would 20-year-old David Pruess think about 40-year-old David Pruess, and what would 40-year-old David Pruess say to him?

With those questions unanswered, I thought the best part of the video was the part where Kostya talked about his own reaction to the news. He talked about a sort of impostor syndrome, that he has always felt that a career in chess was not really a sustainable career. No matter what he did, someday the money would run out. He said at one point that this was a judgment passed down from his “forebears.” “You mean your chess forebears, right?” David asked him. No, Kostya said — he meant his actual progenitors, his Soviet grandparents! What an eye-opener that was for me. Even in Soviet Russia, the country where chess players had the highest status of any country in the world, babushka would still tell little Kostya not to be a professional chess player.

Here’s my thinking on the merger and what it might mean for chess. I feel as if chess has been dependent for too long on the “sugar daddy” model: find a rich patron and ride his money for as long as you can. This model is ultimately not sustainable, as Kostya’s grandparents could have told you. Eventually the sugar daddy dies or runs out of money. Occasionally a chess player gets rich enough and famous enough that they try to be the sugar daddy. (The two names on this list are Kasparov and Carlsen.) These also usually fail because they don’t have enough business acumen.

And then there is It’s a home-grown company without big names behind it, which has quietly been building its reputation and its presence in the chess world, to the point where they are now one of the largest organizers of online events. The fact that they are now able to acquire a big-name competitor for multiple tens of millions of dollars shows to me that they have a whole lot more clout in this space than I realized. In fact, one question that arises is: Will they have too much clout? Will they become a monopoly?

I don’t think so. To me, it’s a healthy sign when a company that grew up organically within the chess community, without big “sugar daddy” money behind it, is able to turn into a profit-making enterprise. That’s what chess really needs: an engine that can generate its own income. If has figured out how, that would be fantastic for the growth of the game. It would mean that we wouldn’t have to worry about running out of money. Then we could finally reach a point where little kids’ grandparents can encourage them to consider chess as a career.

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Mary Kuhner September 5, 2022 at 5:34 pm is venturing into NFTs (of your scoresheet!) which does not make me happy at all. It strikes me as an attempt to monetize weaknesses in peoples’ psychology in order to sell them no-good goods; and bitchains are proving to be a major environmental disaster, though I don’t know the extent to which that is (yet) true of the ones’s business partner Treasure Chess is using.


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