Monday, February 9, 2009
Interview with 9Queens Founder and ChessPark/WuChess GM Jean Hoffman
EV: So let’s start with you. Can you give our readers the short version of who you are, where you are, what you do, and your relationship to chess, Chesspark, and the Wu Tang?
JH: I am a former scholastic chess player turned chess enthusiast/teacher. After college, I taught chess for three years in New York City before going back to school to get my master's in education. A little over a year ago, I moved back to my hometown Tucson, Arizona and founded the chess nonprofit 9 Queens with Jennifer Shahade. In September, I started working as the general manager of Chesspark.com and WuChess.com - an online chess and hip-hop community co-founded by RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan.
EV: Those seem like very different jobs: running a nonprofit teaching organization and a hip-hop themed chess server?
JH: I see a lot of overlap between the mission of 9 Queens and goals of Chesspark/Wuchess. I mean there are obvious differences between working for a nonprofit vs. a for-profit venture, between teaching in public schools vs. managing an online community. But Chesspark, WuChess and 9 Queens are all organizations that working to popularize chess beyond its current population. 9 Queens extends the benefits of chess to low-income youth and women and girls through chess education. Chesspark and WuChess make online accessible and appealing to nontraditional chess players. When I tell people about either organization I often find myself talking about "giving chess a makeover."
EV: How is Chesspark different from ICC? What are the coolest things you can do?
JH: I think of Chesspark as the Facebook of online chess. Chesspark combines the features of social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace with the chatting capacities of AIM. Chesspark makes online chess fun and accessible to everyone, not just serious chess players. Chesspark has a modern and easy to understand user-interface. You don't need to download anything in order to play on there. And it is really easy to chat with friends or people you are playing games with, or engage in group chat with multiple people.
Take a look at this link, it’s the official Chesspark page for the New York team in Chesspark’s College Chess League. Anyone can make their Chesspark profile look like this, or make a group page like this.
EV says: That’s fantastic, and awesome that it’s Shawn and Angel (two of my former students!)
JH: I know - I love that slideshow. I'm proud of it. This type of thing is so easy to do on Chesspark. And I think it’s what chess needs.
EV: How else is Chesspark/Wuchess trying to promote chess / help its image / attract new players?
JH: We attract new players by promoting different images of chess and by depicting a new generation of chessplayers. Whether it's RZA as a spokesperson for WuChess, or the players from the Chesspark College Association, Chesspark and WuChess show that chess can be fun, exciting and cool. In our press releases for the Chesspark College Association, we have been describing the CCA as the NCAA of chess. It's similar to what the USCL has been doing by treating chess leagues like a sport, but we want to take it one step further. The CCA makes it possible for anyone to watch the matches live, for free, even if they have never watched an online chess match before.
EV: So let’s talk about your college league. How’s it gone so far?
JH: Great. I have been blown away by how excited and enthusiastic the college players have been about the CCA. I remember the first person I pitched the league to was FM Elliott Liu from Stanford. I was really nervous, trying to explain the concept for the league and the benefits of Chesspark. But as soon as I stopped talking he said "I have been waiting for this. I will do whatever I can to help out and am so excited about this type of chess league." Since then we've convinced five teams from around the country to participate. It’s been really rewarding working with all these younger chess players who also see the need and have the desire to change the image of chess in the US.
EV: Could you briefly describe the format and the teams?
JH: It is a round robin tourney with matches twice a week (usually on Sunday and Wednesday). Two teams of four players face off against each other. The time control is game 30, with 2 second delay between moves. All matches start at 6 pm PST.
EV: Do you need a Chesspark account to watch games?
JH: People interested in watching just have to create a free account. Then they can play on Chesspark for free and watch all the matches live for free. There are also PRO memberships available that have other advantages - like the opportunity to chat with players after the CCA matches and go over the games.
EV: So the teams you have are Arizona, Stanford, UTD-B, Miami, and New York? Who's winning so far?
JH: UTB beat Miami on Wed, 3-1 with NM Ernesto Alvarez beating IM Dan Fernandez in an exciting match.
Stanford beat Arizona 3-1 on Thursday. On Sunday, Arizona beat New York 3-1 but NM Mac Molner from NYU ended the match with 12 seconds left on his clock and this really cool win against NM Leo Martinez. The teams are really strong, and so far the matches have been really competitive.
EV: Can new teams join? What are your goals for expansion?
JH: New teams are welcome to join the CCA for future tournaments and events. I am hoping to have at least two more tournaments in 2009, including a team blitz tournament and an individual blitz tournament.
EV: Are you thinking about doing an online high school or grade school league?
JH: Yes I am. Glad you brought that up. I was really influenced by the advice that you and Greg Shahade gave me a couple weeks ago when we were discussing the CCA. Greg brought up how there is currently no online high school or scholastic chess league. He said if Chesspark could create one, it would fill a need and activate a lot of scholastic coaches and teams to get involved in online leagues. We are working on creating a scholastic team league next fall as well.
EV: I know I talk a lot to other coaches about organizing online matches, but it never actually happens. If schools wanted to play a match over Chesspark right now, could they do that?
JH: Sure. If two schools wanted to organize a match online they could set up free accounts and host a match. But we also offer reduced PRO memberships, club rates and scholarships for schools that want to have PRO accounts for their teams.
CCA Match Schedule
Watch your favorite college chess players face off in a round robin, game 30, online tournament. All matches are played live on Chesspark. Don’t miss out on the excitement. Create your free or PRO account today!
Feb 4, 6pm PST UTB vs Miami
Feb 5, 6pm PST Stanford vs Arizona
Feb 8, 6pm PST Arizona vs NYU/BMCC
Feb 11, 6pm PST Stanford vs UTB
Feb 17, 6pm PST NYU/BMCC vs Stanford
Feb 18, 6pm PST Arizona vs UTB
Feb 22, 6pm PST Stanford vs Miami
Feb 24, 6pm PST NYU/BMCC vs UTB
Feb 28, 6pm PST Arizona vs Miami
Mar 4, 6pm PST NYU/BMCC vs Miami