Saturday, July 31, 2010

Interview with IM Daniel Rensch


Interview with IM Daniel Rensch, President of American Chess Events, co-Director of Content for Chess.com and Chesskid.com, and Assistant Manager of the Arizona Scorpions

EV: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us (me). I want to start with talking about your websites, because I’m a big fan. Tell us about your involvement with chess.com and chesskid.com: how long have you been working there and what’s it like?

DR: I have been working for Chess.com -- and by extension ChessKid.com -- since March of 2010. Chess.com has been around for a few years now, and has grown to become the World's #1 Chess Web Site. The extension of ChessKid.com was part of the reason I was hired. IM Pruess was the sole "Director of Content and Professional Relations" -- But now we are "Co" Directors. ChessKid.com was started to create an educational, kid friendly, and most importantly -- SAFE place for kids to learn, play and have fun online with chess.

EV: Was there a particular reason you were hired to do the scholastic bit? Have you had lots of scholastic experience? Or were you brought on to share both tasks?

DR: I have contributed to the site in efficiency -- as now there are two Danny and Davids :) -- But although I don't think I was hired ONLY because of ChessKid.com, it has kind of worked out naturally, because I am more affiliated with the scholastic chess community (via by business American Chess Events LLC) than David is. Nowadays I am spending a significant amount of time trying to make people aware of how wonderful ChessKid.com is, as well as the features and safety functions that separate our site...

EV: Tell us about the safety features. If I’m a sexual predator, how do you stop me? Or is it a no chatting site?

DR: Well, that is EXACTLY the point! Our site is loaded with tons of tools -- videos, articles, tactic trainers, computer play, live play between the kids, etc -- BUT the main thing is that there is no "chat access" with children on our site. No Guardian/Adult account can ever become friends or relate with children that are not his/her own in some way (either because they are the parent or the coach of that child)... Our videos do NOT have comment threads, our articles do not have the ability to post rude notes or even polite compliments, there is no "kibitzing" during live chess play... And those points are huge in regards to a child's safety and learning experience online!

EV: Wow, no comments; that's a great idea. But if kids can chat while they play, why can't I pretend to be a kid?

DR: No. There is no kibitzing during games, even amongst “kid accounts”. However, I guess you could still pretend to be a kid, which if you think about it, isn't possible to prevent on ANY site. ID Fraud is impossible to stop; however, we have one more GREAT feature for parents to help monitor this:

EV: You have an automatic warning system if they play endgames well?

DR: :) …On our site a parent can actually login into their FREE Guardian account (note that a parent can have a free guardian account even if the child's membership is Gold/Paying) and the parent can actually "Impersonate" his child's account to see EXACTLY what the child is up to: How is the child doing on tactics, who is friends with the child, what kind of messages are being sent, etc. The parent can do this without even knowing their child's password. In other words, the child can't block his/her parent out even if the child wanted to... I have kids, and so I know that is cool!!

EV: What are your five personal favorite parts of the site?

DR: #1 -- The safety features
#2 -- parental/coach access and guidance over their child's progress and activities

#3 -- Computer Workout (I LOVE this)!!! Computer workout is a VERY practical tool, and the key word is practical. Basically, it’s a series of positions we have built into a database, which we are adding to all the time, that the kids can play against the computer. So instead of starting out from a new game (and getting killed) or trying a position where most computers will say "wrong -- try again," this lets the kids practice for themselves. This tool has the intuition to always announce what the best way is, but also let the kids practice King and Queen vs. King checkmate for as long as they need to.

#4 Videos-- Videos are great, short, to the point, and really fun!

#5 -- Tactics Trainer, and the ability for kids to see their rating improve on it and get trophies for their hard work! They solve positions, the database NEVER repeats, always moves forward dynamically, challenging them on new tactics and rating levels
I would add a 6th: the articles. They have lots of pictures, and our "Chess Glossary for Kids makes it AWESOME" Any chess word, lingo, is defined for the kids in our Glossary in "Kid Terms" -- which is cool.
(click here to go to www.chesskid.com)
EV: What ratings levels are the articles/ lectures aimed at?

DR: Articles are aimed from starting out all the way up to roughly 1500-1600 level. The computer positions go all the way up to trying to convert a one pawn advantage against a 1600+ level computer, and we can and maybe will make it stronger in future.

EV: How many people do you have online playing chess on average? Getting a big pool of players is a big critical mass issue, I'd imagine?

DR: On Chess.com -- over 2 million members and thousands playing ALL the time! On ChessKid.com, the numbers are still in single hundreds, but we are growing right now.

EV: That’s a lot. How would you compare yourselves to ICC?

DR: ICC is still, for now, a better place to play against strong competition. That is the main thing. ICC has had a hold on the market of serious chess players for a long time; however, along with ChessKid.com -- our other main focus right now is making improvements to our Chess.com Live Chess. When those improvements are made and continue to get better, we will be very happy with Chess.com.

EV: You have a good website name, definitely. And what are your favorite five parts of chess.com? What should the first time visitor go see?

DR: #1 -- Chess.com/TV -- Cutting edge in online chess education. Interactive Live Broadcasts, and getting better all the time! MY PERSONAL favorite! Live Video/Audio/and Screen broadcasts-- they are awesome. Participants chat and see their questions answered in real time.

#2 -- Chess.com Videos -- The best online as far as I am concerned. We have a great list of video authors from GM Khachyian, GM Dzindzichashvili; IM Shankland; IM Pruess; GM Bojkov, IM Rensch, and many more -- We are about to release a GM Kaidanov Series, which I am really excited about.

#3 -- Chess Mentor Courses -- These are "walk through" chess lessons that explain not only the right answers, but the wrong answers too.

#4 -- Our Community. Chess.com is the “chess web site that never sleeps” because we are international, always active, and just a lot of fun. Get to know a lot of people!

#5 -- Our Tactics Trainer -- The MOST dynamic database of tactics out there...
click here to go to chess.com

EV: Do your kids play chess? What are your feelings as both a strong player and a parent about the effects of chess and competition on children?

DR: My kids are 4 and almost 2. Nash (the older one) loves chess and is actually learning to move pieces. He has a hard time with me telling him how to play. He says things like, "OK Dad, but I play like this." But he is starting to warm up to playing by the "same rules" as everyone else. Warner, the younger one, also likes chess. When I am traveling, my wife Shauna will let Warner watch my videos on Chess.com -- and he thinks it is funny -- pointing at the computer saying "Dad Chess?? Dad, Chess???"


EV: What do you think is the ideal amount of chess for a kid? Is there such a thing as too much? What I´m really asking is how many hours a night would they have to play online before you would say something?

DR: Good question. I think each kid is different; it depends on that child's temperament. I know with my own kids, I am not going to necessarily push them to do chess over anything else, but once they do decide (even at a young age), "Dad, this is what I want to do" regardless of what it is, I will push them to be excellent, focused, and responsible about it. From chess, to karate, to piano -- I think each kid is different, and should be handled differently.
I can already tell that certain things work with Nash that don't with Warner,
and vice versa. But I am a young father; I will make many mistakes, I am sure.

EV: Tell us about the Copper State. How did you get the funding, how did you decide who to invite?

DR: The Copper State came along because my Grandpa, family and I always wanted to do something like this when we started American Chess Events LLC -- Grandpa is retired now -- and so I was able to bring our dream to life in 2009. The help of Abstrax, Inc was instrumental -- they are our main sponsor.
I invite people I know and like. I am a titled player (only IM but still), so I know these guys, almost all of them personally, so it wasn't hard to invite them, and this year, they invited themselves.

EV: And how did you get Abstrax involved?

DR: John Lalonde -- the owner -- has a son who is roughly 1900 rated. I have known them from the "Arizona Chess Scene" for some time, and it kind of came about naturally. I asked John if he would be interested in supporting something like that. He said yes, and he went above and beyond what I was expecting each year, so I can't be more grateful for that.

EV: What's the current prize fund?

DR: Roughly 6.5 K last year.

EV: The Copper State is held under the auspices of your business, American Chess Events, is that right? What other kinds of things do you do with ACE? How large is the company?

DR: My company is really just me -- my Grandpa helped to create it, my brothers and other local chess players have helped run things, and my wife helps when she can, but basically that is it.

EV: It’s a chess teaching business primarily?

DR: ACE Chess does group classes (Strategy Sessions) Master Treks tournaments, Grand Prix series where we send KIDS TO NATIONALS ON OUR DIME, and the company acts as an umbrella for me to do private lessons. Unfortunately, my sponsor for the "Grand Prix Cup" which sends kids to nationals, dropped out. So, we are funding the trips ourselves this year -- which means we might not be able to do it next year. Too much of a loss. However, we hope to bring it back in the future...

EV: Nice. What's a Master Trek tournament?

DR: Master Trek tournaments are our tournaments -- scholastic -- but paired by ratings instead of age. This helps stimulate growth and challenges the kids. It is called the Master Treks because only kids "On the path to Master" will want to play – they are much more serious than the average scholastic event. We guarantee that there will ALWAYS be a Master playing in the top group to challenge the best kids. The Grand Prix Cup is a running point system during the Master Treks.

EV: What’s the time control; how often do you have them; what’s the average attendance?

DR: 4 Games on a Saturday once a month; Game 60 minutes; roughly between 55-85 players max, averages around 65 players.

EV: Let’s talk about the USCL. You had a bad start in 2008 and then a much more decent performance in 2009. What changed? Does Arizona have any new players for 2010? I think you lost Ramirez maybe? Do you have any general thoughts on the USCL? What you like the most about it? What you would do differently?

DR: Well I didn't do that much better in 2009 :) Our team made the playoffs in large part due to Alejandro Ramirez -- and David Adelberg being under-rated on board 4. No new players right now for the team, but we are likely losing Alejandro. Perhaps this is what baseball teams refer to as a "rebuilding year" for the Arizona Scorpions :) My general thoughts about the USCL are that it is great for chess. I am a non-stop thinker and schemer (to my detriment) so of course I have some "other thoughts" about how to make things even better, but it isn't my business :) and it is still great as is... NO, let's leave it that way. It might get Greg wondering what I think... Although I doubt it. Nothing like a good teaser...

EV: It seems like you juggle so many things: companies, organizing, playing, playing in the USCL, being a parent. What percent of your time do you spend on the different bits, and how’s it going?

DR: Yeah, and when you list them like that it sounds even crazier :) Well, I balance them by prioritizing. Chess.com and ChessKid.com are all the time, and I can work online so it is convenient. American Chess Events LLC (The Copper State International and Master Treks) come in seasons -- so those parts of the year are naturally busier. USCL -- Well, I haven't given it much time which would explain my results :) and being a parent is simply non-stop, but it isn't like there is a choice, so you just do what you gotta do. You forgot that I still want to be a GM. So to answer the last part "how is it going?" -- the answer is that it is too much. I am trying to rethink some things right now and really decide what I love and can't live without so that I can add studies and work (as far as my own chess) back into my schedule.

EV: We finish with two great questions from Gurdonark, a blog reader.
G: The truism/cliche is that teaching chess is the "death of" one's own ability to advance one's own rating or achieve a title. What impact does teaching chess have upon Daniel's play of the game?

DR: Well, like all cliches and stereotypes -- They are there because there has to be SOME truth to them, even if the truth isn't as big a factor as one might first think. From my personal experience, I would say that this has been true to a certain extent, but it is irrelevant for two reasons:
1 -- I have a family. Providing is first and foremost. And
2 -- (and perhaps just as big a factor) is that I love teaching. I didn't fall into this category of "those who can't do, teach." I have been teaching since I was 16 (I was rated around 2300) and at 19 I was still one of the highest rated players in the nation for my age (2444 I think). I lost some time because of a few medical problems... long story... but from my personal perspective, I love teaching as much as I do playing. Sometimes you have to do one more than the other, but that is life. I am still trying to improve and I do believe that I will become a Grandmaster someday...


G: Daniel has seen tournaments from the player perspective and the organizer perspective, and has helped set up a tournament which has resulted in FIDE norms being achieved by players. What are his thoughts on how we could have a more vibrant tournament scene in the USA, including both more FIDE norm tournaments and more events for the casual player.

DR: We need to try our best to make chess an exciting and appealing game. We can do this! We don't have to change the game by speeding it up or anything, but simply by our best players “putting the game out there”. Being more personal. Social. Outgoing. Steering away from some bad habits of "intellectual elitism." Open the doors and LOOK for sponsors and they are there. They will come and support the game we love. We have to find people interested in supporting the game because of all the great things chess can do for a child's cognitive development, as well as the LOVE of the game. I think things are looking up for chess in America actually...

10 comments:

Peppermint van Corduroy said...

I'm glad to see that Danny is taking my advice and improving his life based on my heartfelt words. Hopefully many others will follow his example.

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Anonymous said...

Nice infomercial!

Elizabeth Vicary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Vicary said...

I agree it´s a bit of an infomercial, but I´m doing this because I think both chess.com and chesskid.com are great sites. As a point of principle, I don´t commercialize my blog; I don´t ¨monetize¨it and make you look at stupid ads; I don´t post crap I don´t believe in. I was happy to help Danny out with this because I truly believe it´s worth your time to visit his site.

Bionic Lime said...

My son tried to sign up for ChessKid.com, and was rejected. It was very odd, and I wonder whether it was growing pains or not. Nevertheless, I was put off by the rude and impersonal email we got. Hopefully they have gotten better, and I wish them good fortune.

Daniel said...

@BionicLime --

Please let me help you with your registration issue. If you could forward me the email confirmation you received (assuming you received it, as kids should not receive any emails regarding account activation) I can help determine if it was an email sent during our "beta" stages, or afterward. Also, if you would tell me what part of the language you found rude or offensive, I can take the time to change or adjust our direction. Obviously these emails are designed to speak to adults (so they can activate the kids account), which means the language will naturally be more direct... Thanks and your feedback would be appreciated!

Daniel said...

Email for contact regarding ChessKid.com feedback, questions, or anything -- ACEChess@gmail.com

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

this is the most absurd informercial ever, especially as it starts out talking about child molesters in great detail and other filth. What the f..k does it have to do with uscl, which is where the link was first posted. Some people just totally lack common says, how can a guy who so incoherent in his thoughts run a successful chess website. JEsus P

Elizabeth Vicary said...

hahaha weirdo. I talk about child molesters, and I´ll talk about whatever I feel like, so @$&% off.