Meet Daniel Naroditsky, The New York Times Chess Game Puzzle Columnist

Meet Daniel Naroditsky, The New York Times Chess Game Puzzle Columnist

Daniel Naroditsky is a great master of chess, the highest title given to competitors by the International Chess Federation, and he used this talent to tap into a career. In addition to working as a commentator, author, and chess teacher, he will publish his first chess puzzles on Monday in The New York Times.

Mr. Naroditsky adjusts his 6-foot-2 frame to a chair at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, so we can chat on Google Meet. He is sipping iced tea and eager to talk, especially if the conversation is about chess.

We talk for a while about mundane topics to get to know each other, and I know he loves spicy foods and horror movies. He is also a sports fanatic, especially when it comes to basketball. He is loyal to the Golden State Warriors and says he never misses a match.

The first thing you notice about Mr. Naroditsky is how friendly he is. He smiles easily and loves to explain the topics we are talking about accurately. It is important for him to communicate effectively, so that I can get out of our conversation with everything I need.

One of his chess students, Ryan Amburgy of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said this characteristic is what made him a good teacher. Mr. Amburg, aged 18, has been studying with Mr. Naroditsky since 2019.

“His knowledge of chess is incredible and he is able to explain concepts in ways that are easy to understand and put into practice,” Mr. Amborge said in an email. “He also has a great sense of humor, which makes the learning process fun.”

All of the people interviewed for this article—including Mr. Naroditsky’s mother, Lena Shulman of San Mateo, California—agreed on this point: He has a unique ability to break ideas into pieces that are palatable to those who want to know more but see the game as impenetrable. .

He insisted in the interview that it’s not that vague, but that there are some personality traits that help the player improve the game.

“You need a lot of patience,” he said, “because, more than any other game, you’ll suck for a while.”

Perseverance also helps when someone is in training. Mr. Naroditsky continued, “I don’t know if that’s a character trait, but if you want to get good at the game, you have to have the desire to do the same thing over and over again.”

“You have to be very focused on the goal because of that,” he added. “Sometimes all that supports you is knowing where you are Wants to be.”

Mr. Naroditsky said that the best players have very analytical and logical minds. Skilled chess players can see many moves forward, and that’s where the logic comes in.

“My opponent went there,” he explained, looking up at the ceiling as if he was really calculating his next move. “That means I have to go here because of this, this and that.”

But the most important is the love of chess. “Even at my level,” Mr. Naroditsky said, “I can still discover beautiful things about the game every time I train, teach, play or be suspended in a tournament.”

This quality comes across strongly others. “Dania unabashedly exudes love for the game,” said Robert Hess, senior fellow and commentator at Chess.com, using Mr. Naroditsky’s nickname. “You can’t fake it. This originality is a magnet for chess fans who consider Danya’s commentary as a must-watch TV. When a variation evokes him, he shows the line enthusiastically (even if it contains a critical error) and viewers hold on to that enthusiasm.”

“It’s the perfect blend of edutainment,” Mr. Hess continued. “Dania distributes nuggets of information that will help you improve while also entertaining audiences with his topical impressions of Garry Kasparov.”

Mr. Naroditsky first encountered the chessboard at the age of six, when his older brother, Alan, brought a variety of board games to a birthday party to help entertain the other children. Adept at the rules of the game but still a rookie, Alan taught his younger brother to play, and for at least the first six months he crushed him regularly. The future great teacher was picking things up as he walked, but, at first, there was no great epiphany about the game and its place in his life.

“I think a lot of people want to imagine that it was love at first sight and that my brother couldn’t walk off the chessboard,” said Mr. Naroditsky. “It was a gradual process, as chess slowly entered the collection of things we did to pass the time. A lot of my best memories are doing things with my brother.”

With the help of his father, Vladimir Naroditsky, who played a large role in teaching his sons the game, and a few coaches, Mr. Naroditsky’s Elo number, a method of calculating the relative skill of players, jumped nearly 500 points in less. of a year. His family recognized that he had a great talent for the game, but their son, who was nine at the time, remained unfazed.

“As far as I was concerned, I was just playing with my brother,” said Mr. Naroditsky with a laugh.

His mother said in an interview that he is modest. When he was nine, he was already number one in the United States. That year, he placed fifth in the boys under ten category at the Junior World Chess Championship in the United States. By 2007, he was the world champion in the boys under 12s category.

Advance fast through thousands of games and many miles of travel to tournaments. Mr. Naroditsky, who was awarded the senior title at the age of 17, landed at Stanford University. By then, he was fully committed to the game.

There weren’t many opportunities for anyone at his academic level to play, but chess wasn’t far from his mind.

His parents, who strongly supported their sons’ early interest in the game by leading them to countless tournaments and paying coaches for their youngest son, wanted him to pursue his studies in business administration. While chess was a respected hobby, they felt that working for the company was much more promising.

While at Stanford, Mr. Naroditsky found a summer job as a teacher at the prestigious Castle Chess Camp, set up at Emory University, where he met Peter Giannatos. The two young men were among the camp’s youngest coaches, and formed a bond.

“I already knew he was one of the most talented young players in the United States,” Mr. Janatos said in an interview. “I’ve never met him in person, but he was very friendly and easy to get along with.”

After Mr. Naroditsky graduated from Stanford University in 2019, the question of a paid job remained.

Mr. Janatos, who is a few years older than Mr. Naroditsky, had founded the Charlotte Chess Center in North Carolina a few years earlier.

Mr. Naroditsky moved from his mother’s home in the Bay Area – his father died in December 2021 – to Charlotte. Mr. Janatos offered Mr. Naroditsky a position as Resident Senior Manager at the Chess Centre, which was expanding to include clubs at all levels, school outreach and hosting national events.

Now, 26, it makes Mr. Naroditsky worry about his parents. When he’s not teaching at the Charlotte Chess Center he deals with students from the private sector, he said the coronavirus pandemic has inspired many to take up new hobbies, and now people want to improve their skills.

However, his largest audience is online. “He’s been one of the best blitz and bullet players online for several years,” said Mr. Amburgi.

Mr. Naroditsky is also a respected commentator for high profile tournaments on Chess.com, and has a large following on social media due to his down-to-earth nature and ability to analyze and explain chess games to other players. His channel on Twitch and YouTube – which has over 200,000 followers each – guides viewers through high-profile plays.

Mr. Naroditsky is intent on making sure readers of his Times column feel as if they are getting something, just as he does on his social media channels.

“I feel that this is my responsibility that God has given me,” he said with a laugh. “I have resisted pulling off the use of clickbait and catchy video titles. No matter how entertaining they are, I also want them to be useful.”

The focus is on learning and building interest in the game.

“I also want my readers to feel that they can’t go online and search for this puzzle,” he added. “I really want them to feel that this enriches their day, whether they are beginners or advanced players.”

To underscore the fact that he speaks to players of all levels, Mr. Naroditsky said that his favorite quote about chess was known as the Italian proverb but most likely can be traced back to the 1629 collection of writings by John Boyce, who was Dean of Canterbury in England:

At the end of the game, the king and the pawn both enter the same chest.


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