Chessbase, ICC haven't leveraged the social networks

Aug 2, 2009, 8:18 PM |

Mark Levitt has won the SA chess champion four times. Two years ago, wanting to do something for himself that combined his love of chess and business, he founded ChessCube has over 6,00,000 registered users! He has founded or been an early investor in several businesses, including the magazine Chess in Southern Africa, online auction company, mobile payphone company Saicom and search engine marketing company Clicks2Customers.

In this interview with Mark Levitt, he talks about the first online FIDE rated event, his transition from playing to businessman, success story of ChessCube website, strengths of Chesscube over Chessbase and ICC, popularity of chess in South Africa etc. Interesting interview with pictures.

LatestChess :- Hello Mark, We are glad to have you on LatestChess. Could you please tell our readers about the 2009 SA Open Chess tournament? Did you face any problems while getting approval from FIDE for the online FIDE rated event?
Mark Levitt :-
Thanks for the chance to chat to you!

ChessCube does not normally sponsor chess events, but we were very interested to test the concept of multi-location events. When I was at the Fide Congress at Dresden 2008, I had the opportunity to propose the concept to Stewart Reuben. Stewart explained that it was not FIDE policy to rate Internet-based games. He raised a number of issues that we would have to deal with, such as FIDE-mandated arbiters at each venue; methods to deal with disconnections of players; server downtime; touch-move and mouse-slips, amongst many others. Nevertheless, Stewart was incredibly helpful and introduced us to the key people in FIDE that would advise us.

we were interested in the concept of multi-location events ...

We also had to make a number of changes to our systems to ensure the success of this event. We changed a number of rules for these types of game, such as no automatic threefold repetition or 50-move-rule draws; a call arbiter button that logged the timestamp of any claim for all players and spectators to see; controls for arbiters to reset settings such as time during the game. FIDE would have preferred us to integrate into a sensory board such as the DGT system, but due to the lack of time we used a standard board next to a screen where the players first make the move on the board and then on the screen. In time trouble the players could switch to screen only. We also had a few helpers available, under the guidance of the arbiter, to make the moves for any players unwilling or unable to use the Internet system.

Ultimately FIDE agreed to rate the event, but they said that for now such an event can not be used for any FIDE norms.

Ultimately FIDE agreed to rate the event ...

Mark Levitt

LatestChess :- Do you see Online FIDE rated tournaments being played consistently in near future? It can save a lot of time and money, also thousands of players can participate from all over the world.
Mark Levitt :-
While our event was a great success for us and the players, this was an exception for FIDE and not yet a new rule. We have collected a lot of information for FIDE in this event, in terms of the steps we took and how we dealt with key issues. We also will be making a number of new changes to our software systems to improve the administration of this type of event.

This was an experiment for FIDE and ChessCube, but I am not sure how quickly FIDE would authorise multi-location events. We would like to present our findings to FIDE and to cooperate with them to debate the final rules on this type of event. In my opinion it is inevitable that FIDE would eventually open the way for many such events - I am just not sure how quickly they would do it. I am hoping soon. The opportunity to save money on air travel is the driver of this type of event.

not sure how quickly FIDE would authorise multi-location events ...

ChessCube will be undertaking another event in early 2010 where we run an African team tournament via the Internet. Africa is a less affluent continent than, say, Europe, but the cost of air travel within Africa is often five times the cost of travel in Europe. We want to find a way to lower the costs of African events and to see if, within that process, some African cities will set up centres that can be used to play satellite tournaments. The cost of sending a team of five to an African event even once could instead be used to setting up a permanent infrastructure.

We want to find a way to lower the costs of African events ...

LatestChess :- How come you started playing Chess and who influenced your chess career?
Mark Levitt :-
I started playing relatively late at the age of 12. I was immediately fascinated and spent hours every day poring over books. My second book was Larry Evan's Fischer-Spassky 1972 match, a move-by-move book which did not require a chessboard to follow. The drama of the match captured my imagination and I became a Fischer fan. I bought his complete games book and must have gone through each game 10 times by the time I was 14. After that I became interested in many grandmasters such as Capablanca, Nimzowitch, Alekhine, Petrosian, Tal, Spassky and of course Karpov. Later I loved the dynamics of Kasparov games.

and I became a Fischer fan ...

LatestChess :- In the Chess world, we see a lot of praise/appreciation for Chessbase and ICC for providing excellent interface for online chess playing. In your opinion, If you compare ChessCube with other online Chess playing websites, what are the strong and weak points of ChessCube ?
Mark Levitt :-
ICC has been around a long time and they have a very established following as well as a rich offering to their users. They have tens of thousand of paying customers which is very important. ChessBase is more than an online site. It is a great company that has really established itself as an icon in the chess community.

Both of these companies have good online communities, but neither of them have yet leveraged off the social networks. I have no doubt that they will move in this direction in the future.

Chessbase, ICC haven't leveraged the social networks ...

Another website is Their name gives them an advantage in that search engines list them first. They are also very good at marketing and have leveraged social networks to grow.

Strong points of ChessCube over ICC and PlayChess is that it is a free service that has the ability to deliver on the web itself. Their strength, though, is a time-tested and bug-free system, with a number of top players and good revenues.

Free service with ability to deliver on the web itself
is the strong point of ChessCube over ICC and PlayChess ...

Read the complete interview on

Here's the direct link - Interview with Mark Levitt, CEO of ChessCube