Chess Goes Podcasting: Listen To Your Favorites
In a recent interview, the man who's a perfect five-for-five in writing New York Times bestsellers explained that he now has to chase his audience. And that means podcasting.
Fittingly, renowned author Malcolm Gladwell explained this during a podcast. (He also explained his love of board games, so he's an honorary chess player at the least.)
In recent months, chess is adapting to this Gladwellian world, too. Several new chess-themed podcast are available. Below we break them down. As you can see, most everyone scores these podcasts "five stars," so pick out some favorites and begin listening! (For his efforts Gladwell's "Revisionist History" has earned a 5-star rating from nearly 10,000 reviews, so his audience seems to have followed him.)
1) The Full English Breakfast. User ratings: 10 "5 stars" and one "1 star." Length: usually 30 minutes.
Started in 2010 as a three-person project, this chess variety show was the forerunner to all chess podcasting. It ended in 2012 and also followed up with a two-part "reunion show" in 2013 and 2014, but not before host Macauley Peterson and titled players IM Lawrence Trent and GM Stephen Gordon racked up 27 episodes.
Deep discussion of opening theory this was not. Instead, the trio could be seen as a kind of audio precursor to Chess.com's "ChessCenter" -- high production-quality episodes were equal parts current events, goofy joking, and riffing about the oddities of professional chess. One review called The FEB "funny as hell...the perfect chess combination!"
Peterson's use of quick sound bites, background song clips and punchy quotes from chess celebrities (even GM Anatoly Karpov) was similar to other mainstream podcast favorites like Radiolab.
A typical episode: the sound of a beer being cracked open leads into a discussion of FIDE politics, listener feedback, an interview with GM Magnus Carlsen, and recent tournament results.
2) Perpetual Chess Podcast. User ratings: Six "5-star." Length: usually 45 minutes.
The is one of the newer podcasts to hit the market and is solely produced by NM Ben Johnson, who delves into the lives of those who make a living from chess. Instead of short, snappy segments, this podcast is the long-form, non-fiction lover's dream. You can think of it like "The New Yorker" of audio interviews, but always with chess as the theme.
"As a chess teacher I am constantly driving between schools and lessons so I listen to tons of podcasts," Johnson told Chess.com about the genesis of his podcast. "I was bothered by the lack of chess podcasts since there are many podcasts about many other subjects that interest me. Chess podcasts provide me a way to consume chess content when I am not at my computer, which since work and I have kids, is frequently."
So far Johnson has produced five episodes, with the goal of maintaining the pace of one new podcast per week. Given the long-form nature of the questioning, he's able to get his guests to start all the way back at their beginnings in the game and lead the listener through the subject's entire career.
How did IM Nazi Paikidze learn the game in Georgia and why did her brother's talents cause her to move to Moscow when she was young? What does IM Greg Shahade think is the best indicator of peak strength between two equaled-aged, equal-rated junior masters? Like The FEB, Johnson also dips into the mainstream to have some fun. We learn, after some equivocation, what television show GM Jan Gustafsson thinks is the greatest of all time.
Johnson said his goal is to give chess enthusiasts a glimpse into the lives, backgrounds, cultures, and career choices of movers and shakers in the chess world.
"I don't have a single dream guest," he said. "I really want to cover careers in chess from every angle, so ideally I'd like to have a top-10 player who makes all income from playing chess, but also chess YouTube teachers, chess reporters, chess agents, etc."
3) Chess Chat With Coach Jay. User ratings: One "5-star." Length: usually 30-40 minutes.
"Coach Jay," better known as Expert Jay Stallings, has expanded on his highly successful California teaching academy and app. Like Johnson, Stallings was inspired to fill his own dead periods of media consumption.
"I found myself searching for podcasts for my hikes and long commutes and, after being pleasantly surprised to find The Full English Breakfast, I realized there were no more aimed at chess fans," he told Chess.com.
Chess Chat is mostly current-events based, and it often recorded "guerrilla style" in the field (a virtual must for the peripatetic Stallings) rather than in a serene room. (When Stallings had this writer on his podcast as a guest, he preferred the ambient noise of a room full of hundreds of kids playing blitz rather than in a quieter setting.)
Stallings focuses on whatever is hot at that moment, from chess movies in the theaters to the world championship to GM Timur Gareev's record-breaking blindfold exhibition.
"I hope that my podcast will share information that only a small percentage of the chess world knows," he said. "I want the names of the top players to be household (well, chess household) names, but also, I know that the average tournament player/parent/organizer/coach/fan knows so much less about chess than the average baseball/basketball/football/etc. fan knows about their respective sports. And, that is easily remedied in an easy, fun, free podcast."
Who would be his ideal guest? "Magnus [Carlsen] is the obvious answer, but I'd love to cross over and have chess players who are better known for other things: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Vlad Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Deion Sanders, Bernie Sanders, etc. All of the above are over-achievers, and I want people to see that connection -- that chess attracts those who want to push themselves to their intellectual limits of calculation, planning, creativity, psychology, and much more."
4) Across the Board by BBC Radio 4. No user ratings. Length: 12 minutes.
This podcast is sometimes tangentially related to chess, but often the guest is in the chess world too. Dominic Lawson, who is 2000+ Elo, interviews his subject while playing them in a chess game.
Unlike some of the podcasts which are clearly current or clearly dormant, "Across the Board" tends to release episodes in bunches (five we released on consecutive days in 2015, but nothing in 2016). The episodes are not necessarily based on current events and therefore don't decay quite so quickly.
The actual moves are broadcast, or at least the general description of the game, and GM Daniel King intermittently chimes in to discuss and analyze them. Ambitious? Yes, but this is about the only podcast with talk of real chess positions (albeit one game at a time) and "secular" topics co-mingling.
Among Lawson's guests from the chess arena include GM Hou Yifan, GM Magnus Carlsen, Deep Blue programmer Murray Campbell, GM Garry Kasparov, and philanthropist Rex Sinquefield.
The podcast is succinct but Lawson's questioning technique gets his guest to open up. We learn that Sinquefield didn't learn to play chess until after he left his childhood orphanage, and that he originally studied to be a priest. We also learn the derivation of the 13th world champion's last name: from Weinstein to his mother's Gasparian to the Russified "Kasparov."
You'll have to tune in to hear which guest Lawson calls a "chiseled specimen of the male form." Hint: When Lawson and this guest discussed the story of the "ugly duckling turning into the beautiful swan," the interviewee corrected him that "that is actually a Danish story, not a Norwegian one!"
5) Other podcasts. Much of the other podcasts centered on chess are defunct, or are restructured other content, often from YouTube.
GM Alexandra Kosteniuk used to do short segments about her current exploits in "Chess Is Cool Podcast with Alexandra Kosteniuk." Hers took off way back in November, 2005 (!) but ended four years later. A more instruction-themed podcast ran from 2007-2009: "Chess Killer Tips Video Podcast with Alexandra Kosteniuk."
If you really want to cringe about the early days of Chess.com and podcasting, have a look at our only foray into the medium about seven years ago. The presenter did just fine, but eek, look at that older interface!
An actual screenshot from Chess.com's video podcast in 2010. Just be glad you aren't hearing the sound quality from back then!
Tell us in the comments which chess podcasts are your favorites, any ones we missed, and any podcasting ideas you'd like to see someone create. Or, just get in touch with the current podcast presenters, give them feedback and topic ideas, and hopefully for them leave a good review!