Levy Rozman, the twentysomething who triumphed online with his chess advice

With 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube and subsidiaries on Twitch and TikTok, GothamChess, the channel run by this 28-year-old from Brooklyn, has become a virtual bible for amateur players

Levy Rozman, playing chess in his New York apartment.Pascal Perich

His YouTube channel, GothamChess, has more than 4.5 million subscribers and around 2 billion views. The figures are particularly striking if one takes into account that Levy Rozman, born in the New York borough of Brooklyn 28 years ago, is not a typical YouTuber, but a creator of content about chess, a game that is thought to be around 1,500 years old.

Although his is a digital emporium with subsidiaries on Twitch and TikTok, Rozman confesses to being a “fetishist” for traditional or analog chess, “the one that was played on wooden boards and was learned by attending schools and clubs or reading books on strategy, tactics, openings and endings.” As a tribute to that traditional, old and “romantic” way of playing the game, which continued to prevail until the Covid pandemic and the emergence of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, this American chess expert born to a Russian mother and Ukrainian father has even written his own book, How to Win at Chess: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners and Beyond. Although it is only 250 pages long, it provides a detailed guide for the neophyte chess player to move to an intermediate level, “the one necessary to start participating in amateur competitions,” as its author explains in conversation.

Levy Rozman in his New York apartment. He uses his online channel to instruct legions of neophytes on how to acquire sufficient skills to participate in competitions.Pascal Perich

Rozman considers chess to be “an enormous intellectual pleasure available to anyone who is interested in it,” but also, in all likelihood, “the most demanding and frustrating of all the games conceived by human beings.” Its learning curve is “very steep.” So much so that, “as you delve deeper into its extraordinary complexity and, consequently, your perimeter of ignorance expands, you may have the feeling that you are not moving forward, or even that you are going backwards.” Furthermore: practiced “at the highest level,” chess requires “very intense mental efforts, up to five or six hours of silent tension that can exhaust you, exasperate you and even depress you.” In highly competitive games, it is not uncommon “for players to lose weight, suffer tachycardia or even anxiety attacks.”

Is it worth it? In Rozman’s opinion, without a doubt: “It is a beautiful game, very complete, with a mathematical aspect that strains the brain to the limit, but also a very pronounced artistic component. Good fans enjoy the games played by geniuses of this discipline, such as Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer and José Raúl Capablanca, as if they were masterpieces of literature, painting, cinema or music.” Furthermore, it offers almost from the beginning “the feeling that you too can contribute to the creation of that peculiar beauty, because even the most modest players can enjoy from time to time the pleasure of making an exact combination, a brilliant move, an original plan.”

Rozman first encountered this ancient tradition when he was just six years old: “I was a very restless child, probably hyperactive, and my parents signed me up for two extracurricular activities that they thought could help calm me down, chess and art.” The first managed to awaken his enthusiasm. The second, not so much: “I ended up using the chess classroom as the place to hide from the art teacher.” Today he remembers anecdotes such as the “aggression” suffered in his childhood days when he was a student at the school of the Hungarian chess player Susan Polgar: “One of my rivals, fed up with my boastful comments, threw a piece in my face and made a small gash. And people say that chess is a calm sport...”

At the age of 19, while studying statistics and financial analysis at Baruch College in Manhattan, he began to earn a living as a chess teacher in local schools: “By then,” he jokes, “I had already assumed that I was not going to be the best player in the world, so I did what so many other chess players of average talent do and dedicated myself to teaching.” He was good at it: “I discovered that I am a good communicator. I empathize with my students, I think I understand their needs well. And I am able to talk to them about chess in a simple and pleasant way, with a certain sense of humor. I would say that those are also the qualities that have allowed me to stand out as a content creator.” Between 2016 and 2019, Rozman decided to dedicate himself with a certain intensity to highly competitive chess. He achieved the title of International Master, the approximate equivalent of a black belt in martial arts, and a ranking of 2420 Elo points, “respectable, but far from, in any case, the true elite.” He also discovered that competition implied, for him at least, “a perhaps excessive dose of stress, dissatisfaction and suffering,” so he chose to focus without reservation on teaching and his growing activity on social media: “My great professional success ended up being to create a channel and make it grow step by step, with consistency and method, from just 10 followers to several million.” For all of them he has a message: “Chess asks for a lot from you, but offers so much more.”

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