From Turtleneck Trauma To Chess Success: An Adult Learner Story

From Turtleneck Trauma To Chess Success: An Adult Learner Story

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Hale Grande is an actor, streamer, and confessed lover of all things nerdy. He also shares a common addiction with many people reading this: chess.

In roughly two years, Hale has gone from a beginner to an 1800-rated player. Over 16,000 people are following his chess journey on Twitch, where his high-energy streams bring a level of contagious enthusiasm and excitement to the game.

Hale took some time out from his opening studies (“How am I not supposed to be studying this very second?!”) to talk about his passion for chess, picking up the game as an adult learner, and which obscure Star Wars character would be the best chess player. You're not going to guess who it is.

You've got a tattoo of your five most precious things, and chess is one of those. What does chess mean to you?

I started really playing chess 2.5 years ago, and something triggered inside of me, just like this insane love for it. I've always been a video gamer and board gamer, so it kind of made sense to go to something that was so competitive and so beautiful. I had played chess, but then realized: wait, this is an actual intellectual sport.

It’s like a brain battle, a 1v1 where it’s all on you to be this bad b*tch and fight over this amazing battlefield. I just connected with it so much to the point where it became a core principle for me; I’m dedicating the rest of my life to chess. I’m going to put in as much time as possible and try to be this amazing chess player to the best of my capabilities.

It really just triggered me so much. I don’t know why, but it did.

A picture of Hale Grande's tattoos, including a chess pawn.
Permanent proof of Hale's passion for chess. Source: Instagram.

Has chess helped you in some way? 

Generally, it’s been such a good thing for me. It’s given me something to focus on and something I can really dedicate myself to. It’s awesome because I have a life goal and passion I can follow through for the rest of my life. I have something to do always; you can play anywhere you want, at any time.

It’s given me—I don’t want to say ‘purpose’ because it’s not like I was purposeless before—but, you know what I mean? It’s given me something I can continue to play until I’m 100 years old. There’s no age limit to it. 

It’s crazy that a board game is this universal language we can all speak; I got the chess stats that get sent to us every year, and it said I played people from 100+ countries or something like that. That’s insane!

In terms of streaming chess, I just really do it because I love it, love being a gay chess player, love bringing crazy energy to the sport, love being an 'adult learner', and I think I offer something different as a chess player.
— Hale Grande

What does it mean for you to be a gay chess player? 

It’s really cool. So I don’t know if there are a lot of gay chess players out there. I’m sure there are, but in terms of people who are out publicly, I feel like there might not be a lot—which doesn’t make any sense. But it’s cool to be a part of that and to represent that community.

I used to play Dead By Daylight a lot, and I always loved it. Sometimes when you’re playing super-homophobes and they lose to gay people, they don’t vibe with that, so there’s always that fun energy where you get to kick someone’s ass and go hehehe. That sounds so evil, but it’s only against the homophobes, so it’s fine!

But it’s cool to have a place where people can be like “Hey, a gay chess streamer, I can bond with this.” That’s the general thing in life: there are no limits, anyone can do these types of sports. It’s just a love of chess that we share over anything else.  

I don’t typically talk too much about LGBT stuff, because it’s also just so universal; I don’t want that to be the focus, I want the focus to be: we love chess, we love learning, we love studying—that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Note: The following clip has some spicy language. 

We love chess, we love learning, we love studying; that's what it's all about at the end of the day.
— Hale Grande

How about being an adult learner? 

I am so jealous of every child out there that decided to take up chess, because I didn’t! My parents tried to put me in soccer… My first soccer match, they made me wear a turtleneck and I literally cried off the field. I don’t even know why—I didn’t want to wear the turtleneck, I didn’t want to play soccer, and I just had to leave!

But it’s fine. As an adult learner, I’ve gotta accept that these are my challenges now and I have to just go for it and love what I’m doing—and I do. 

I had a chess coach for like two weeks. He was a really nice dude from Germany. I was around 29 at the time. But he told me that I was at my peak. I was like… B*tch?! What do you mean I’m at my peak?! That’s crazy!

So that gave me a lot of fear: Am I screwed? Am I too late to the game? Am I capable of this, or is my brain just gonna naturally degrade and I won’t be able to handle this? It scared me! But you can’t think like that: just keep playing, enjoy your love for it, and even if that was the case, who cares? Even if I was stuck at 1500 for the rest of my life, I’m still having the best time ever, so what’s the real difference? But I’m not gonna limit myself: 2000 is my goal!

I am so happy my best friend said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me! Playing games and making me laugh forever!
— Frankie Grande, Hale's husband, after announcing their engagement

You and your husband are both gaming enthusiasts. Have you played chess together? 

When I first started, we would play chess together, just a little bit... But as I became a psychopath and started studying, he hated losing! It’s not his thing. I don’t care if I lose, I literally never tilt, I just enjoy it. But my husband hates it, and he refuses to play chess with me now! He’s like “You’re too freaking good, there’s no point, if I lose I’m just gonna get mad at you!”

I’ve asked him things like “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we went to tournaments and stuff like that together?!” Maybe one day I can convince him, but our level is just too different, and he doesn’t really have the time to dedicate to studying. 

But our foundation is games: video games, board games, basically everything nerdy—and Star Wars! 

Frankie and Hale Grande at their Star Wars-themed wedding.
Frankie and Hale Grande's Star-Wars themed wedding ceremony, wookie included. Source: Instagram.

Do you think that the cultural perception of chess or a ‘chess player’ has changed in the last few years? 

Oh, hell yeah! Obviously, the Queen’s Gambit TV show created this amazing boom of chess, which then allowed so many different types of people—different looks, ages, demographics—to really experience chess and allow themselves to see the love and potential within it.

I would have never thought of doing chess, ever, when I was younger. We didn’t even have a chess club at my school, it was too nerdy! It’s crazy to think of it; nowadays, nerds are hot, and everything about them is amazing. 

It’s crazy the perception of chess now, and also just the appreciation of ‘nerds’ out there. It’s so different now. It wasn’t the coolest thing to be a little nerd back then, but now I feel like everyone embraces it more. I love it. 

I want to ask the question on the mind of everyone who sees the above picture: Where did you get that giant outdoor chess set? 

Haha! I don’t really know where I got it—it was a gift, to be honest! It’s one of my pride and joys in my backyard. I’ll tell you my biggest struggle in life: friends. I have no chess friends, still! I am redoing my entire backyard right now, and the only reason I’m really doing it deep down inside my heart, is that I am going to make chess friends this summer, I am going to have chess friends over at my house, I’m gonna lay out tables and have chess games going and everything. I’m gonna do it this year and someone’s gonna use that giant chess board!

It feels like you engage with people in your chat on a very personal level. How would you describe your Twitch community, and what do they mean to you?

I’m really blessed with these amazing people. They’re really there for me. My community is small but so beautiful and full of genuinely amazing people. I dunno, I feel like I can count on them, which is crazy because obviously this is all internet-based! And slowly and steadily, as I’m doing more chess streams, I’m getting real chess players that are coming in and hanging out. 

My goal is to bring more chess people in, because when I can talk chess to people, it makes me so happy. So now I’m getting some really strong players too, and I’m wondering, like, am I entertaining you? I’m literally losing my queen every other match, are you sure about this?!

But I’m so honored that people would give me this type of attention, and I have this amazing core of people. I feel really blessed. A lot of them have picked up a little bit of chess, and some secretly did love chess already and we found that out afterward! 

Hale Grande playing chess at a tournament.
Hale at his first over-the-board tournament, ready to blitz out some moves.

You've been going to real-life chess tournaments too, and almost won your last one! What's that experience been like?

I was so nervous, oh my gosh. My first match I was sh*tting myself, I was so nervous. It’s an interesting environment. I love it, but coming from primarily online blitz, I didn’t really grasp what it meant to do an 80-minute match plus increment, so I was moving quick, playing risky… My first tournament messed my ego up a little bit!

I definitely made some gross blunders and just moved so fast. So I had to really reconstruct my brain and how I know to play chess, and really allow myself to think through each move, which is a crazy concept to me that I’m still continuously working on.

I played a lot of kids, which is a common thing. I only lost to one kid... Let me tell you about this kid real fast. This kid was wearing a full-blown suit and—I don’t think is actually legal—had noise-cancelling headphones on. What if his mom was in the background feeding him information?! It was a great game, but he ended up beating me. Something about his aesthetic just stuck with me. 

But the tournaments have been great, and I’ve gotten so much better since. The last tournament I was neck-and-neck with the winner. It was the last match, and if I won that match I would have won that tournament. It blew my mind to even get to that point.

I was moving quick, playing risky… My first tournament messed my ego up a little bit!
— Hale Grande

Finally, the most important question of all: Which Star Wars character would be the best at chess, and why?

Aw man! I don’t wanna say Obi-Wan because that’s so boring... I’m trying to think of something more interesting here, but that guy is so into being a spiritual force master—that’s his thing, you know? He literally sacrificed himself, he understands sac-ing the queen! I guess Palpatine makes sense too… but I’m thinking of the leader of the Gungans. I feel like he wouldn’t be, but I just wanna make him good. We’re gonna go with him, why not? Bad b*tch at chess. He’s the adult learner. That’s the one.

A Star Wars character laughing with a message displaying that they won a chess game.
Pictured: The Gungan leader defeating his foes.

Check out Hale's content on Twitch, Instagram, YouTube, and more. May the force be with you.

Previous Streamer/Creator of the Month articles
Mick Murray

Mick is a writer and editor for and ChessKid. He enjoys playing the Caro-Kann and Italian Game to varying degrees of success. Before joining, Mick worked as a writer, editor, and content manager in Japan, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

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