In Conversation with International Master John Watson!

In Conversation with International Master John Watson!

Apr 30, 2015, 7:34 PM |

(This interview was initially published in April 2015 on our blog; view it here!)


International Master John Watson is currently one of the top 400 players in the USA.  Watson has written over 30 books on the many dimensions of chess; one of his books, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, even won the USCF (United States Chess Federation) "Book of the Year" Award. Watson, also a renowned chess coach, has won a litany of prestigious chess tournaments, ranging from the very first National High School Chess Championship to the American Open. We asked Mr. Watson about his history with chess, his thoughts on why chess is beneficial, and much more:

Could you tell me about how and when you began playing chess?

I learned the rules from my father. The first time I played "seriously" was when we formed a high school team at my school. I was 14. I had no idea what I was doing, but after the school year ended, I got some chess books and studied them. Apparently you can learn from chess books, because I became an expert after my first rated tournament.

Can you tell me about what you do with chess other than playing in tournaments? 

I have taught chess on and off for 40 years, and I write books, articles, and book reviews. Over the years, I have given many lectures and taught chess classes. Since the Internet arose I have conducted classes online, and I also had an internet radio show dedicated to interviewing chess personalities (including several of the people interviewed on this blog!).

What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education and in life?

Well, I’ve met a lot of interesting people through chess! Also, I’ve been told by quite a few students that chess has helped them with their thought processes in other subjects and in thinking rationally.

Where do you hope to see chess in the future, especially in terms of its popularity and its implementation in schools?

There seems to be a lot of very good elementary school programs around the country, and excellent participation. That’s been due to some dedicated local organizers. Up until recently, kids seem to have moved on to other activities in high school and college. Perhaps more leagues and tournaments on those levels would help; my guess is that teachers are more interested in developing beginners, perhaps because they aren’t advanced players themselves. It’s encouraging that after a dry spell we have some amazingly talented young players in this country. The programs in the San Francisco Bay Area have been exemplary.

What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education and in life? 

Every activity claims educational benefits, but I think the ones from chess are too obvious to be questioned: concentration, problem-solving, discipline, patience, and sportsmanship, among others.

Why is chess meaningful to you?

I think it remains a very creative and aesthetic activity which never seems to grow stagnant, even on the top levels. The game is more wide open than ever in terms of original play and intellectual content. On a basic level, it gives me pleasure and I’m a great fan of the leading players.

What is your favorite opening?

The French Defense and King’s Indian. Arguably they are the most instructive openings as well.

Which chess players inspire you?

Currently, Aronian, Topalov, and Nakamura. Carlsen is of course brilliant, but I can’t get a handle on his style. In the past, nearly every World Champion and elite player has been inspiring. Probably Tal and Petrosian the most.

Who is the strongest opponent you've ever played against?

I played against Larsen, Polgar, and Kamsky, among many leading GMs. Probably Kamsky was the highest-rated, but I never checked.

In your free time, what do you like doing besides playing chess?

Reading, listening to music, and going for walks.

We’d like to thank John Watson for talking to us; we admire the ways through which Mr. Watson is promoting chess, and we would like to wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!