EXCLUSIVE Q&A with CEO Erik!
You'll FIND HIS ANSWERS HERE…
It was a little more than a decade ago that founder and CEO Erik and his friend, Jay, got together and decided the world needed a better chess site for players worldwide to play, learn, share and communicate. At that time there were very few places to play online chess. ICC had already been around since 1995 and Chessbase's "playchess.com" had been in existence since 2001. But they seemed to lack that certain "pow" we chess players would expect from a site today. They saw that need, and so began the walk down destiny's road, its first step being what to name the new site.
After graduating from Stanford Business School and Erik having turned down lucrative career prospects including Facebook, the domain name "Chess.com" was coming out of a bankruptcy auction, so Erik and Jay jumped on it. They founded what would become the biggest interactive and competitive chess site in the world. In 2010 when we (Donna and I) joined this site, membership was around the 4 million mark, give or take. Membership has steadily grown exponentially. As of this blog posting, membership is nearing 15 MILLION MEMBERS! That's just amazing.
Even with the typical demands of family life, having a wife and four children (3 girls, 1 boy), Erik has found time to virtually “sweat and bleed” Chess.com, having put together a great team of programmers, Masters, and coaches to help build their original vision for the site. That work never stops, as we can see with the many additions and updates over the years, making this site that much more intense. It makes one wonder if Erik ever sleeps!
Along the way, the natural offspring was Chess.com’s “kid brother”—"ChessKid.com," the younger, kid-friendly version, but it’s not just a site for kids to learn and play. It is a powerhouse chess resource for schools, coaches, and parents, its Safety Policy enabling a worry-free zone, too.
Naturally, Erik is a chess player himself, preferring semi-open and closed positions that blow up tactically (like the Closed Sicilian, King’s Indian, Glek), but as CEO, Erik does an occasional Chess.com/TV Broadcast called “State of Chess.com” through which he fills us in on updates, helps us understand the workings of Chess.com, and expresses his desires for the site and its members. He even answers viewers’ questions (which you can also do here). We, as members, get to enjoy this amazing site and reap its many benefits due to what Erik and Jay created. We wanted to know a bit more about this exceptional man, so we asked him some “Lighter Side Up” questions—and we got some great answers So here we go!
Chess.com/TV “Lighter Side Up” Q & A:
Getting to Know CEO Erik Allebest
Naturally, with this being a Chess site and our hosts being chess players, whether a host is a novice or pro, members are interested in hearing their chess-related answers to chess-related questions. And we have them here, BUT—we also want to know a bit more about the person behind the chess; about the lighter side of their personalities and lives. That’s why we’ve included a few of those questions, too and Erik has graciously agreed to let us in on some of those fascinating chess and chess-less facts :) You can also find out more about Erik through the links posted at the end.
So now that we’re settled in and comfy, let’s begin…
How and at what age did you discover chess?
Age 8. My mom tells the story that she taught me the rules and I promptly beat her. I choose to believe her, even though we all know moms like to tell proud stories! I do remember that day though, sitting on green shag carpet with sun coming through the sliding glass door, looking at this small wooden game with fascinating characters…
Chess fans, in general, would likely agree that chess should be as commonplace and encouraged as other extracurricular activities such as sports and dance at a young age. Going a step further, do you feel chess should be included as part of school curriculum/recreation?
I don’t like the idea of almost anything being compulsory on any level and I think most countries are out of control with making laws, so philosophically I would be against mandated chess in the schools. That said, I believe that any school looking to add a fun, but deeply educational outlet for their students would be silly not to offer chess to some or all of their students. Kids need more entertaining ways to learn new concepts, and chess teaches so many of them in a way that can reach kids.
When you study chess, which tools and resources do you prefer (e.g., books, videos, coaches, computer software, chess sites, etc.)?
Just my handy Chess.com iPhone App!!
Do you enjoy playing bullet and/or blitz chess? If so, do you have preferred blitz time controls? Do you play as enjoyable changes from standard chess, as learning tools, or both?
I’m a 3|2 kind of guy. Fast enough for my busy life, slow enough to not be insane, and with an increment so I don’t get simply out-moused (I play on iPhone, or touchpad… slower than mouse!)
What moment in chess history is your favorite?
I’m going to answer this a little out of the box and say that my favorite moment is probably thousands upon thousands of years ago, when the first person created the first board game. Imagine being that person who first created a specific board – on stone or wood – and then placed pieces on it, sat on a rock, and challenged someone to a game. That is my favorite moment – when humans discovered what has now become such a huge part of our lives.
On a personal level, what moment in your chess life is the most memorable?
National Open, 2009. Some embarrassing videos in there….
Speaking of memories, as a child, what were some of your favorite pastimes—e.g., games, TV shows, movies, books, sports, etc.—other than chess, that is J
How about as an adult? How do you enjoy spending time aside from playing chess?
Video games!!! (Minecraft with my kids, Hearthstone). Oh, and CrossFit. I am obligated to say that I do CrossFit. :)
Seeing as you’re a father, in what ways do you or will you incorporate chess into your children’s lives, if at all? And if so, do any of them show potential?
We always have a chessboard out and I leave an open “1. e4” all the time!
Does your wife share an interest in chess? And in what ways does that play a part in your relationship?
She loves that I love chess, and loves that I get to do something I love for a job!
When you founded Chess.com, we’re sure you had hopes of its success, but highly doubt you could’ve dreamed it would become as successful as it is. Can you share of few thoughts and feelings about that journey as CEO of Chess.com?
I really don’t know what to say here. There are no words to express how crazy and wonderful this journey has been. I could have NEVER predicted this level of growth with Chess.com. I’ve learned so much as a person and as a chess player.
Considering the demands of being CEO of Chess.com, also being the father of four, how do you balance work and family life? And what activities do you typically try to fit in as a family?
I wake up at 5am and do 30 minutes of work before I go to CrossFit. I am obligated to mention CrossFit :P I get home, get kids out the door, then work work work. I then greet my kids, work more. Dinner, work more. Time with family. Kids to bed. Show with wife. Few more emails. Collapse into bed. Rinse. Repeat.
For anyone who’s had exposure to cartoons, whether through television, movies or comics, we can’t help having one or more favorite cartoon characters. Which were—and are—your favorites?
I really enjoy The Simpsons and the spotlight it shines on our culture. Very interesting. Other than that, not really into cartoons…
If you could have one super power, what would that be and why?
The power to help other people be nice. I believe that kindness is the answer.
What would you consider your ideal vacation?
Hahahahaha. I need a vacation so badly. ANY vacation would be ideal at this time. Ummm…. Trail run around the perimeter of every island in Hawaii with my wife? Riverboard down the South Fork of the American River with my bros?
Though it can be difficult to narrow down a list of favorites, which musical artists and songs often rise to the top?
There’s something very satisfying about sandwiching something between two pieces of bread. Which sandwich/es do you eat most often?
I almost never ever eat bread. But when I do, I’ll take a TON of sharp-ish cheddar and crispy bacon!
When that sugar craving strikes, which candy bar/s would you storm the convenience store to buy?
Not a candy guy really. I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, honey, and berries. And 85% dark chocolate. But once a year, on Halloween, I eat a TON of Butterfingers!! (I’m so ashamed….)
It’s common to be drawn to more than one profession. Other than yours, which profession would you like to attempt? Never attempt?
Try: Movie producer maybe? Never: Anything dealing with kids under 5. (I barely survived my own!!)
There are countless famous quotes, from silly to poignant. Do you have a favorite or two you’d like to leave us with?
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Dalai Lama
To close out this interview: what do you enjoy most about being a chess player?
There is something to be learned about myself in every single game.
Thank you, Erik, for taking the time to share these thoughtful answers with us. You’ve helped shine a brighter light on who you are as a person and chess player, and added a bit more color to the décor here at Chess.com/TV :)
Where you can find Erik:
Mike Rucker’s Playground: Interview about Web Entrepreneurship
We hope you enjoyed the interview and thanks for reading!
Co-Founders and Managers of The Chess.com/TV Group
***For a variety of info, some in relation to Chess.com/ TV, its programming and its hosts, you can also visit: