YouTube Is the New Chess Club

Influencers like Levy Rozman are becoming the new face of the game
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2023 5:30 AM CST
YouTube Is the New Chess Club
Levy Rozman filming a video for GothamChess in his NYC apartment.   (GothamChess YouTube)

Levy Rozman ranks 6,689th in the international chess world, but on YouTube, he's No. 1. His GothamChess channel has accrued over a billion views, ranking first on YouTube in chess, according to the New York Times. Rozman's status eclipses the world's No. 4 ranked player (American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, whose channel has 2.2 million followers to Rozman's 4.4 million), showing there's some cachet to being able to talk the talk to wide audiences interested in the game. "I'm probably the second-biggest entity in chess behind," Rozman tells the Times. "When it's all said and done, I will probably make top three of anyone who has ever been involved in chess professionally. Of all time."

This new type of ranking reflects a shift in chess as it booms in popularity. Elite players are in a class of their own, but influencers like Rozman, an international master who clearly knows his stuff, can reach people by making chess a little more accessible. He tells the Guardian that trying to capture the attention of young kids while teaching them chess helped him develop his voice as the game's everyman. He launched his site in 2018, but during the pandemic, when chess became a way for people to connect remotely, things took a turn. After Netflix debuted its chess series The Queen's Gambit, the algorithm promoted his video teaching the opening move, boosting it to 700K views.

"That's when I realized, wait a minute—this is a whole ecosystem," Rozman says. He shifted his channel's strategy to respond to YouTube's feedback loop, creating videos as entertaining as they were informational. Rozman plays bots on, opponents easy enough to talk trash on, while also reporting on some of the spicier news in the chess world, like cheating scandals. The Times notes that chess is more popular currently than it ever has been before—with an estimated 605 million adults playing. Rozman, who gave up his ambition to become a grandmaster after the training began breaking down his health, is satisfied with the new role he's taken, per his YouTube tagline: "the Internet's chess teacher." (A high-profile chess feud has been squashed).

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