Friday, March 7

Silicon Valley Executives Play Chess

Many scholastic chess educators promote the royal game as a tool to develop future leaders and entrepeneurs. Supposedly playing chess improves the kind of strategic thinking necessary in the business world.

Thanks to Susan Polgar's blog, I came across a recent article in the Filipino online newspaper Sun Star that lists Silicon Valley executives who play chess outside their busy professional careers. Here is just a sample; read the entire article for even more names.
  • Paul Allen is an avid chess player and co-founder of Microsoft together with another chess player, Bill Gates.
  • Larry Ellison (see photo) is the co-founder and CEO of Oracle. He used to play tournament chess and says he puts a lot of time on his game.
  • Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and was its CEO. He was at one time a promising chess player (rated 2287). I faced him six times from 1996 to 2001, scoring 4-2.
  • Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar was fascinated by chess. One of the first web-based programs he wrote was chess-by-email service.
  • Roelof Botha is a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital. He plays master level chess.
  • David Cowan of Bessemer Ventures is a self-admitted "chess nerd" who says that he is addicted to Yahoo! chess.


Kura the Shiba Inu said...

David C. is really passionate about chess. I had a call with him and at the end of call we then played a bunch of games on Yahoo! chess. We had a follow up business meeting and I was prepared - I had my chess set in the car and we played for a while after the meeting.

He is a great player but it was his enthusiasm which was really great.

qxpch said...

This is great news, but there is clearly a next step that needs to be taken. Can we attract any of these businessmen as potential sponsors for a big chess tournament in the Bay Area?

A few years ago, when Bill Goichberg started his term as president of the USCF, he put out a call for sponsors for a variety of tournaments. At that time, I had the idea: "Hey! Google sponsors a programming contest, the Google Code Jam. Maybe someone could talk them into putting up money for a chess tournament -- the Google Open, or the Google Invitational!" I actually contacted their PR department, and talked with a guy there who was somewhat interested. But I don't have the organizing background or expertise, so I passed his name on to Goichberg, and I think that nothing ever happened.

My point is that instead of sponsoring golf tournaments and the like, some of these Silicon Valley companies really ought to be interested in sponsoring chess tournaments, as an intellectual activity that will make them look good. If we could bring them on board, we could have events that would make California the capital of U.S. chess. Imagine a big European-style invitational, with people like Anand and Kramnik and Topalov, right here in Silicon Valley. Why can't we do it?

I would be glad to do anything to make this a reality, but organizing tournaments is not my expertise. Is there anyone with TD experience who can step up?

Dana Mackenzie

jolly said...

Indeed, for relative miniscule (compared to their net worth) sponsorships, these execs could provide a real boon to Bay Area and American chess in general.

BTW, Susan Polgar had posted some time back about Karpov being a billionaire!

If accurate, he's surely the strongest 'rich guy' in terms of chess strength!

fpawn said...

I totally agree with Dana that it is disappointing that local chess can't attract some sponsorship. I wonder why? Perhaps American chess suffers because of various political disputes: controversial remarks by Fischer; toilet scandal during the Kramnik-Topalov match; lawsuits involving the US Chess Federation. To the outside world, chess players are stereotyped as social misfits not worthy of praise or sponsorship.

But is this true? If you go to a chess tournament in the Bay Area, do you see a bunch of older guys who can't interact with society? No! In fact, most local tournies are dominated by a new generation of children and young adults. The membership of the USCF and CalChess are now both well over 50% children. Chess has in many ways become a symbol for the future generation of America's leaders.

I wonder if Silicon Valley companies would be more interested in supporting scholastic chess than adults? For these companies, the kids who play chess represent potential scientists, engineers or business leaders in 10-20 years. Certainly these children have no interest in the politics of old--they're too naive to be tainted by the stereotypes of chess.

Has anyone tried recruiting local corporations on the scholastic angle? I know the economy is bad this year, but even a contribution that is small for a company can go a long ways to support the future of chess and the spirit of Silicon Valley.

Kura the Shiba Inu said...

Dana...stay tuned. there is an idea that I am incubating on this.

I disagree with Michael's comment about the perception of the players (besides "geeks" are cool now). The feedback I have been getting is that it is hard to get a broader audience to appreciate chess. Think of golf where it easy to appreciate and get excited by seeing a 30 yard for-the-money putt even though you may never have been on a golf course. Now how do you get an audience excited about chess accomplishments?