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How Chess Master SimplyDevina Rediscovered Her Love Of The Game

How Chess Master SimplyDevina Rediscovered Her Love Of The Game

Mick
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SimplyDevina is a titled chess player (woman FIDE master), coach, and streamer with a following of almost 10k fans on her Twitch channel. Known for instructive and entertaining chess streams with a laid-back atmosphere, Devina has also recently tried her hand at organizing online tournaments.

We spoke to Devina about how she rediscovered her love of chess through streaming, navigates the psychology of losing and improving at chess, and overcomes the perils of her pet rabbit chewing through microphone wires. Read more below! 


You began streaming chess during the pandemic. What made you decide to start?

I was still in college and actually didn't know about the Twitch side of chess that was blowing up around that time. A couple of my friends had jumped on the train of streaming chess though, so I tuned into their streams and thought it was kinda cool to see people talking and interacting with them. 

At that time I didn’t have any interest in playing chess again, but I thought I’d give it a shot. After my semester was over, I booted up my first stream and tried it out together with a friend. There were some people coming in, and it was kind of fun! It was the first time I was really playing chess without pressure and just for fun. I kept doing it and didn’t think anything was going to happen, and then it just became a part of my normal routine.

Who are some of your own personal favorite chess streamers? Is there anyone you take inspiration from?

Before I started streaming, I had literally no idea this was a thing at all... I know the Botez sisters and GM Hikaru Nakamura were streaming before then, but I didn’t know it was a thing yet.

Fast forward to today, I do enjoy a lot of different streamers. I’d probably say my favorite one that I draw inspiration from is The Chess Nerd! I’m literally one week older than him, so we’re the same age and on a similar journey. I look up to him because he’s farther along in the journey and trying to make it full-time. His work is really inspiring to me. If he can work and grind every day to put out really cool content, I want to try to follow that.

In the Twitch streamer world, everyone is on a totally different path in life, so finding someone so similar to you is really cool because you can connect on a different level.

I feel like a lot of streamers have different combinations of what they can bring to the table, and this whole content world outside of competitive play shows you don’t have to be the top of the top to bring value. It brings everyone opportunities.

You played competitive chess when you were younger before experiencing a loss of love for the game. How has your relationship with chess changed over the years?

I started playing competitively around nine years old. I played in competitions literally almost every week. There was traveling, a ton of studying… it was a main, daily part of my life until I was almost 18.

Almost 10 years of that constant pressure with rigorous studying and expectations really just burned me out. It wasn’t about the enjoyment of the game anymore, just results-oriented. Most of that came from parental expectations. I felt like I wasn’t even playing for myself.

I had been wanting to quit the game for a while by the time I was around 17, but it was hard to because I was expected to play every week. I slowly kind of removed myself from the scene... until my first stream. I had kind of thrown away most of my memories with chess and studying. I really never wanted to go back to the game, actually!

When I started playing chess on stream, I felt like I didn’t have that pressure anymore. I was in a different chapter of my life, and I was able to approach chess with a fun perspective where there was no pressure. People watching in the chat didn’t care if I won or lost or blundered a queen; they were all there for fun and entertainment and to connect. That was something I had never really felt before. It has really made me enjoy the game again. Now I can play for hours on end, and I enjoy trying to teach and help people the best I can. It’s a huge flip in the right direction.

You recently organized a pretty amazing tournament featuring lots of other streamers, including grandmasters. Can you tell us more about that? 

I really like coming up with unique themed types of tournaments; I find that it’s just really fun outside of all the amazing events that are already held. I had one in mind during the holiday season last year, so I decided to pitch it to the Chess.com staff to see if they’d help support me. They were kind enough to support and sponsor the event, which was really cool.

The theme was SimplyDevina's Sadie Hawkins Hand & Brain Jingle Ball 2022... probably the longest name for an event! Sadie Hawkins was a dance back in the day where girls asked boys to dance with them. I decided to turn that into an event where female streamers would ask male streamers to pair up for a hand and brain event, so one person is the hand and one is the brain.

A banner advertising SimplyDevina's Sadie Hawkins-themed event in 2022

I did my best to spread the word, and we actually got 14 teams (or 28 players) which was crazy to me. We had a minimum rating of 700, and it went up to 2600 which was really amazing. People like GM Jeffery Xiong, FM James Canty III, GM Benjamin Bok, and more joined. 

I wanted some chaos, so added a blitz time control just to make it fun. It seems like the participants and the audience both enjoyed it, which is all an organizer can really hope for. It was really cool because Benjamin Bok was paired with VelcroDot who was around 1200 blitz, so it was interesting to see the outcome if they faced someone else who was maybe rated around 2200 and 1900. It does kinda balance out, and it’s cool to see how games play out differently when the lower-rated player is the hand or when the higher-rated player is the hand.

In addition to the recent tournament, what’s another memorable or exciting moment you’ve had on stream?

There’s definitely been a lot of very special moments. One that I remember very vividly is when I hit 2600 bullet on-stream. It was really memorable for me just because I never thought I could get that high in any time control.

I was on a win streak, it was late at night, I was tired and playing an IM… It was a crazy endgame and I managed to win! The second I crossed 2600, the chat went crazy. I think sharing those special moments with my community there to support me, and me proving to myself that I can do this and see people there being happy for me... it’s like a core memory unlocked. 

Imagine you could do a chess-based collab on your stream with anyone in the world. Who would it be, and why?

Honestly, I feel like it would be Ludwig. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I discovered him through the first PogChamps, and I instantly loved his humor. I watch all his storytelling YouTube videos because I think he's just the best storyteller, and I love that he still plays chess and enjoys the game. What he’s done recently, especially with the chessboxing event, is amazing. I just think it'd be really fun to have him on stream.

You also have a podcast that focuses a lot on mental health. Mental health and chess intersect a lot, sometimes in positive ways and sometimes negatively. What are your thoughts on the psychological aspect of chess and how it can impact mental health?

I’d say chess can definitely affect us in good and bad ways, depending on the person. I can connect it to the fact that I teach mainly adults. Some of them are beginners, some are intermediate players, but a lot of them are newer to the game and when they lose, they get upset at themselves: "I was so close to winning. Why can’t I improve or win?!"

I always try to remind them that for every loss that they’ve had, someone else has also lost just as badly, or even worse; it’s definitely part of the game. And that’s not to invalidate their loss, but just about learning how to deal with losing or when things don’t go their way. Chess is a great sport for that because it happens so many times.

... for every loss that you’ve had, someone else has also lost just as badly, or even worse; it’s definitely part of the game.

There were so many instances where I was one game away from winning a tournament or a title or something, and I lost it all in one game. My whole world seemed like it caved in at that moment. I try to look up at the top players and realize that they’ve had even more things go wrong for them, and look at them now... they get up, they learn from their mistakes, and they move on to the next tournament.

One thing I’ve learned from doing taekwondo is when you get knocked down 10 times, you get back up 11 times. That’s something I’ve used a lot at chess—being able to focus on clearing your mind, especially mid-tournament after losses happen, realizing that you’re human, not beating yourself up, and taking it game by game.

Some tournaments are going to be up and down, some will be amazing, and some are going to go poorly. That's part of the game. Chess is unfortunately not based on linear or exponential progression.

As well as a streamer, you’re a titled player and a chess coach. Do you find that you use some of that coaching experience on-stream when talking to your audience?

I’ve definitely realized over the past couple of months that there’s been a huge influx of newer players coming into my streams, asking a ton of questions regarding improvement, openings, and other stuff. So I’ve definitely been putting on my coach lens more these days on stream!

In general, I like to play viewers a lot and try to throw out some instructive things here and there if I can while playing them. I definitely feel like through having a lot of adult students and seeing a lot of newer adult players come into my channel, I’ve been able to pass on advice that I would give to my students as a coach.

I probably repeat myself a lot on stream because a lot of people have the same questions, but if it helps even one person that’s enough for me. For me, it’s one of the happiest moments when someone says something like, "That video helped a lot!" 

You've said that it took a long time to get comfortable with things like listening to your own voice. Do you have any tips for people reading this article who want to start streaming but feel uncomfortable or anxious?

I was exactly in that boat when I first started. I still have some clips from when I began my stream, and my webcam size was tiny. I was all the way in the corner in the back, and the board was huge, and there was nothing else on the layout. It was like I wanted to be as small as possible.

I was always a very shy and very introverted person, so doing something like that was very uncomfortable for me at first. My layout stayed like that for a while. It’s hard to look back on now. I very slowly increased the pixel size every few months or so.

With my voice, if I didn’t have to listen to it on recordings, I would never do it unless I really had to. A lot of people would say they liked my voice, and I would always say thank you but never believe them.

At some point, I had to increase the professionalism of my layout, and that included hearing myself more than I wanted to. I slowly started to realize that I enjoy streaming and told myself that the fear or discomfort is not greater than my passion for this. I wouldn’t want to hold myself back because I’m afraid of things like not liking how I sound. I started to branch out a bit more and people were very supportive, and that all slowly helped me get to where I am now. I’ve come a long way from where I was, but it took a long time. 

A picture of a very cute rabbit.
Luna the rabbit. Photo courtesy of SimplyDevina.

Lastly, and very importantly, can you tell us about your bunnies?

I have two: Luna is a Netherland Dwarf who turns two this month. And then Zoe who is turning five this month; I got her from a shelter in July. She’s a Harlequin mix, but we don’t know what with. Luna is the little devil that gets away with everything because she’s small and cute, and Zoe is a more gentle and curious, playful bunny. They’re a handful but I love them. Luna has broken my microphone on-stream before, chewing through one of my cables. I’m on my fourth pair of headphones after she chewed through the last ones.


Catch Devina live on her Twitch channel, or follow her content on YouTube, Discord, TikTok, and Twitter. Want to see your favorite streamer here? Let us know in the comments!


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