If you’ve ever watched chess on the internet, the odds are Macauley Peterson was behind it. Peterson, a serial entrepreneur and Princeton alumnus, has been at the forefront of a new, digital era of chess—an era where technology plays a crucial role in the playing, broadcasting, and promoting of chess. And he’s on a mission to change the face of chess as we know it. We had the chance to speak with Mr. Peterson; check out our interview with him to learn about his take on the benefits of chess, why chess is important to him, and more:
Could you tell me about how and when you began playing chess?
I started playing chess in Hunter College Elementary School; the school began incorporating chess in its curriculum in the late 70s. Chess was my main sport in school. I started playing tournaments in first grade, and I went to Nationals in second grade. I played every year up to senior year, and then I coached for the next 10 years after college. I also launched several after school programs while I was at university and taught privately as well—it was my alternative to a campus job. I was teaching probably six or seven hours a week. The school that I started teaching at while at Princeton was Little Brook Elementary. Initially it was just one after school class that I supervised—soon after, it expanded to three classes, two days a week. We won the New Jersey State Championship after I had been there for a few years. After graduating, I had started working and was teaching a bit less—my first article for Chess Life was in 2005. Prior to studying film at the University of Amsterdam from 2006 to 2007, I went to the Corus Chess Tournament (now called the Tata Steel Chess Tournament) and did a feature on Gata Kamsky who was making his return to chess in 2006. After that, I was sent to Mexico where I did a freelance assignment for the ICC— I started full time for them in January 2008. I was mainly traveling and reporting from tournaments for the next 3 years until I started my own company which specialized in live webcasting of tournaments. After that, I joined chess24 during April of 2013— it officially launched during February of 2014.
Why is chess meaningful to you?
Chess has always been an interest and a passion of mine. It’s something that I’ve done. The thing that’s kept me in the chess world is the people and the personalities. There are many interesting characters, and it’s a good vehicle for stories about human nature. Personally, I haven’t competed much—I’m actually going to play my first tournament in four years in August of 2015. Also, I feel that chess has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to mass media. It’s such a key feature of pop culture and history—it’s been played by millions of people over centuries; despite that, it’s never quite made it as a sport. I’m on a mission to change that. I’m hoping to make it more feasible as an outlet for sportsmen. It really pales in comparison to other sports with regards to one’s ability to make a living at it. I started teaching chess when I was 12 charging 50 cents an hour—instead of babysitting, I was teaching chess. Additionally, one thing that is missing from chess is a big fan base. So many kids who play give it up when they get into their high school years. We need to have these players retain interest in those who compete.
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education and in life?
I think it has a lot of benefits—it helps teach patience, critical thinking, and self-criticism for instance. There are a lot virtues that can be developed through studying and playing chess. A big difference for me with regards to the conception of chess is that chess is not an isolating game, but rather a team sport, a social activity. One reason I got into it initially was because it was something I did with my classmates. We competed together. That said, all the benefits we associate with team sports can be true with chess, and while it’s not a magic bullet, it can be a very effective tool and a very cost effective game to learn.
How optimistic are you that chess will become much more popular in the near future? What do you think of the work that Grandmaster Maurice Ashley is doing with Millionaire Chess?
I’m pretty optimistic. The traction in the mainstream that Magnus Carlsen has gotten is good grounds for optimism. Expansion is very good for chess. Now, Millionaire Chess is its own animal—there’s nothing like it. chess24 actually provided the broadcast of the live games for the event. I’ve followed a lot of Maurice’s work, and I know him from scholastic coaching. I am in favor of trying to make entertainment content to play up the drama of the competition to focus on characters and personalities. That said, I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive to do that while still reflecting the complexity, beauty, and artistry of the game. Some people embrace the SportsCenter, high-octane style that Maurice has, and it’s important that we in the chess world continue to show how exciting and cool chess is. The old stereo types are hard to kill, but are quite outdated.
Tell me a bit more about chess24.
I am full time here. We have a comprehensive chess platform that we are actively developing; here, one can follow professional chess and play chess as well. I think the two aspects of the site that are the most notable are our broadcasts of live tournaments, which has become the de facto market leader for chess broadcasts, and our video learning platform. chess24 offers a lot more interactive content—for instance, when watching a live tournament, you can play moves on the board. If you want to understand something, just go ahead and move; you can have what you do evaluated by the engine right away. We have constructed a platform that is quite advanced. Additionally, Anand did our first course in the school. We have a studio here in Hamburg so we can produce the series and we are regularly adding to our library. We have hundreds and hundreds of videos and are continuing to iterate.
What is your favorite opening?
I have a soft spot for the King’s Gambit because I played it for much of my scholastic life. I played it through much of high school and in college. I enjoyed reading David Bronstein’s books that featured King’s Gambit games.
What chess books helped you develop as a player?
I don’t think I’d single out any one book. Over the years, though, you read a lot. You learn by playing, competing, and analyzing games, more so than books. There’s also quite a lot more video content today.
Which chess players inspire you?
There are a lot of players that I respect. I always liked the aspect of chess teaching sportsmanship as well. I appreciate players who are generous towards their opponents—people who are humble, nice people. Chess has all the same things other sports have, it just doesn’t get its due as a sport.
In your free time, what do you like doing besides promoting chess?
I read a lot and follow politics; nowadays, I spend most of my free time with my family. I used to watch a lot films; as a matter of fact, when I was doing my Master’s, I was seeing 6 films a week—now it’s 4 a year. I would like to be able to keep up more on film!
We’d like to thank Macauley Peterson for chatting with us; we immensely appreciate his support and recognition of how we’re making a difference through chess. The way he’s taught chess to children in New York and New Jersey is a huge inspiration to us, and we’re grateful for the advice he gave us on how we can more efficiently teach chess and help our students imbibe the benefits of chess.