Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Looking for a Few Good GMs

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At a time in which you hear of GMs retiring or threatening to retire because of a lack of income, you would think it would be easy to find contributors of chess content. Not exactly. I spent two years as editor-in-chief and VP of content at KasparovChess Online and started ChessNinja in December, 2002. In that time I've learned that trying to pay Grandmasters can be like herding cats.

No disrespect intended, I'm not exactly the most organized person in the world myself. There is also the matter of fair pay. Many GMs simply don't consider it worth their time to annotate games or write articles when magazines pay so poorly. (The flip side are the pack of Brit GMs who have all but become full-time writers, churning out an endless supply of books, most of them written in less than a month and showing it.)

Where I'm going with this is that I'm looking for IM/GM contributors for the Black Belt newsletter and I thought I'd take the search public. I'd like to do my part for US chess by giving work to American chessplayers if possible, especially since 60% of my subscribers are American. I'm not looking for charity. ChessNinja has been profitable since its inception and it growing steadily thanks to a great community and a phenomenally low cancellation rate. If a Grandmaster spends a couple of hours to nicely annotate a game, adding insightful commentary instead of just variations and symbols, and if the readers enjoy it, he should be fairly compensated.

Moreover, if I get more and happier subscribers because of the GM's contributions, the rewards should be shared, either by more work offered or by profit sharing the money from new subscribers. ChessNinja's business model is predicated on low price, many subscribers. Black Belt is $5/month for four issues, each around 10 pages. If I pay a GM $200 for a game each month I'll need 40 new subscribers to make up the expense. A GM title isn't essential, but I am well aware of the prestige factor it can lend.

Our readers won't be fooled by a big name or a title, it's got to be quality goods. That's another reason for this open call. Who are your favorite annotators, particular American ones who are based in the US? Barring favorites, who would you like to hear from? Personally I'd also like to go after young, active players who can delve into their own games. Nakamura, Shahade, Akobian? Or seasoned veterans? All suggestions welcome.


I wish Boris Kogan were still alive. I had him as an instructor in the early 1990s. An amazing man. I miss him. He would have been perfect for this.

I've had a hobby for many years now (decades, really) of translating annotated games from Russian-language sources. Some of them get published in the APCT Bulletin, a small bi-monthly publication of a great small American correspondence club. But I have wondered for years if there couldn't be a forum for English-language translations of these excellently annotated games, mostly from "64", the chess monthly out of Moscow.

Tal was my favorite annotator, of course, when he was alive; but I look forward to my "monthly dose" of Morozevich, and especially Bologan, each month. Do you suppose an arrangement could be worked out with them, to have the translations of their "64" pieces reprinted in CN?

I'm not suggesting that CN become 64-in-English; but if you're going to have at least 60% American content, that still leaves 40% non-American. And heck - our boys could use a standard to measure their output against.

Just asking,


Yasser Seirawan does annotations for ChessCafe.com. Perhaps he'd be willing to do some for Black Belt. Obviously you would want him to do a different game than the one he does for ChessCafe.

I believe the Seirawan material at ChessCafe.com is material recycled from his old magazine, Inside Chess. Plus, he lives in the Netherlands now. Yasser is a great annotator and still does a great deal for American chess, but my first choice is to work with someone based in the USA. I actually had a long talk with him about becoming a regular contributor back in November 03 when we were both working on the Kasparov-Fritz match.

As for translated Russian articles, I know it's much easier and cheaper to get Russian material and I did so for several years at KasparovChess.com. Perhaps one of the reasons some American players don't write well is that they have so few opportunities to do so. And when they do, the don't have an editor who will coach them and help them improve their writing.

There is a common feeling of "well, he's a GM so his annotations and commentary must be great" that is completely wrong. Many strong players have no idea how to annotate, and I don't even mean being entertaining or instructive. Useful annotation means looking at what didn't happen, predicting the questions of the readers, and providing insight into WHY certain moves were made, not just whether or not they were good or bad. Informant-style symbols are fine for GMs, but the rest of the world would like some human contact and a feeling that the writer is trying to communicate more than the truth about the position. This is especially true now that an amateur can get very close to the truth by booting Fritz!

Anyway, while there are of course GMs who can write well, I know too many non-GMs who annotate fantastically well to discriminate automatically. But it's remarkable how many titled American players just blow off a steady $200/mo. I don't doubt they are busy, or fear that they won't be paid, but I have a 99% track record of paying promptly. (That 1% is my old friend Sofi Polgar, who I STILL owe because I have no way to send her payment!)

Why not have a blind taste-test on the forums? Post a game from Annotator A and a game from Annotator B and have people vote on which one they like better? Annotation Idol!

I suggest, if you haven't already done so, contact Mr. Pete Tamburo of Morristown, NJ. He heads an incredibly popular forum at the NJ State Chess Federation web site www.NJSCF.org. He also ran an extremely popular series of on line video lectures for Chess.FM, which is now integrated with the Internet Chess Club (ICC).

Those who discovered this gentlemans talents will gladly tell you that he has a natural gift for teaching. He explains things very well without going on with endless analysis.

It couldn't hurt to give him a call, even though I believe he is on vacation for the next two weeks.

I don't know about young American GMs, but I've always enjoyed GM Christansen's sense of humor and teaching style. Just a thought.

Craig's comment that Pete Tamburro, "has a natural gift for teaching," is odd since Pete, in real life outside of chess, is a teacher. :-)

Yeah, Christiansen is indeed entertaining. I've had the chance to watch a few lectures by him at MIT.


That's hysterical! ... :) I had no idea what Pete's profession was outside of chess. How funny is that?... :) I'm still cracking up about it. No wonder he is so good.

Of course he would be great, but last time I talked to Larry he said he was busy and way behind on his book. It wasn't an encouraging comment considering I prefer to work with people who understand, as an old professor of mine used to say, "the operative part of the word "deadline" is "dead."" I'm telling you, it can be hard to give these guys money! (Edit: After receiving a virtual smack I will clarify that this remark was intended to say Larry was busy, not to cast aspersions on his promptitude. I promise to read my own comments before posting them!)

Okay. So GM Christiansen is out. I know I'm sounding like a broken Canuck but I've read a number of very interesting annotations recently by IM (GM elect?) Pascal Charbonneau in what was formerly known as En Passant magazine. He is lucid, comprehensible to your average chess geek, and probably within your price range. Also, you might be able to work out a combo 2 for 1 deal with Charbonneau and Irina Krush, thereby appealing equally to the better-half demographic.

Again, just a thought.

Why not Walter Browne?

He is one interesting character. Up here in Iglooland, we Canucks trade Walter Browne rumours. One famous story was when his opponent queened a pawn using an upsidedown rook, Walter picked it up and throw it across the room! Now that's the kind of character I want to read about. Annotators should show a little character, in addition to instructive material.

Another interesting character is WGM Elena Donaldson. I once saw her wear a baseball cap and imitate the mannerisms of her opponent, who always wore a ballcap, during a game. She's not a GM, but I notice those with lower titles often work much harder to prove something.



Elena Donaldson (or is she going by her original, Akhmylovskaya, again?) - NOT a GM?!?! Not possible! Well, OK, so she never did the "Polgar-thing" and got the men's GM title; but she WAS one of the strongest women players in the world. Heck, she still is. Question is, of course, if she can write for the educational market. Sigh.

And as for Browne - I remember his annotations, too well. If you don't mind an amateur's viewpoint, the guy was just recycling his Informant notes. Period. Colorful, yes; educational, nope.

Besides, I shudder to think what price negotiating with HIM would be like.

And finally - Wow, making the ACP the conduit for royalties to Russian players would give them something useful to do! Since obviously they carry no weight at the moment with the FIDE administration...



How about Dan Heisman? He's not a GM, but he's a great teacher!

Just to set the record straight re Williams-Browne, Toronto, 1971.
As they grew short of time Leo Williams fished the Queen out of captured pieces and put it close at hand in case his advanced pawn went through. Young Walter, very short of time, reached over, grabbed the Queen and threw it over his shoulder.

In another game in the same event Walter suddenly addressed his opponent Paul Janicki with:
"If you resign now, I will give you a free analysis". Unperturbed, Paul made his move and said: "If you resign now, I will give you a free psychoanalysis."

Although I'm strictly White Belt at this point, I've always enjoyed the annotations of Joel Benjamin (who as a former editor himself should understand your quandry, Mig). As for an up and comer, I was impressed with the egalitarian comments of David Pruess at the U.S. Championships a few years ago.

I always enjoyed IM Bill Paschall's commentary on Chess.fm. I believe he's currently traipsing around Europe at the moment though (judging by the latest TWIC updates to Chessbase 8).

the person i most apreciate as a game annotator is Sofia Polgar, as u should know as she was your partner at kasparovchess. Shes very serious about teaching and scanning deep with good remarks not just games and symbols. I followed many of her lessons there and got the newsletters and yes i must say i liked her works very much.
Shes "just" IM...but her name is good factor to make people look at. So my best "offer" is indeed Sofia Polgar.

Hasta la vista Miguel

I would love to see Proīs writing, analyzing and talking about their art. If I were you, I would do like ChessNews, who pays for the masters themselves to comment on their games, write about the chess events. Gena Sosonko, Timman, you get the idea. USCF magazine, apparently, follows the same idea. BCM is a bit too local, if you will. Mig, go for the real Proīs. Thatīs what we fans want to see!

I just listened to an excellent analysis by GM Akobian on the Chessfm website. Perhaps he is a good choice?

I also think Akobian would be an excellent choice. It seems he has become one of the best players on the U.S. circuit(winning the World Open clean) and also from his interviews and annotations in chess life seems like a hard worker, who would not just do a cut and paste job for his annotations.

I don't subscribe to MIG's Ninja material. But I do agree with the last couple of posts that Akobian does a good job explaining games. His analysis of his game with Shabalov from the World Open, which you can get off of the ICC Internet site, is as good as any I've seen from an American GM.


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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on July 20, 2004 11:08 PM.

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