Work4Chess

Inside Chess.com

How is work in a fully remote company that runs the biggest platform in online chess? Tatiana Flores profiles Chess.com.

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More than 300 professionals work at Chess.com, and they work from 35 different countries. All their profiles are online. There are plenty of developers, producers, editors, writers and translators. Product, event and community managers. You even find a customer happiness engineer and an abuse manager.

The pandemic has given the company a tremendous boost. According to its CEO Erik Allebest, Chess.com has grown “five times bigger than the year before.” It’s no surprise then that the company needs a lot of qualified people to fill positions. Speaking of which, there are about thirty at the moment that are also listed here. How does it get the right candidates? By advertising their jobs on their own site and mailing them out to their millions of registered members, they often get thousands of applications for a free position.

“I think it’s a little bit of an advantage for us that we have such a large community. When we hire chess players – which we do! –, they bring in a lot of passion, drive and energy”, says Allebest. For the same reason, the retention rate is very high: “Very few people leave our company – almost never – because you get to work in an area you love.” Employee evaluations confirm high rates of job satisfaction.

CEO and founder Erik Allebest during an interview.
CEO and founder Erik Allebest during an interview. (photo: Chess.com)

When we hire chess players, they bring in a lot of passion, drive and energy. Very few people leave our company – almost never – because you get to work in an area you love. Erik Allebest, CEO of chess.com

Although most of the staff are chess players, it’s not everybody and it’s not a requirement. “A couple of things just happen”, says Allebest, “one is that they get into chess and get excited about it and progress with it. The other is some people are not interested in chess necessarily, but they come to us because we are not only the largest chess company, but one of the biggest websites in the world.”

While the staff are from all parts of the world, Chess.com has one big diversity challenge. “We try to have a diversity of hiring, but it’s somewhat representative of the applicant pool that we have”, says Allebest. “The heartbreaking thing for me is that the percentage of women applying is so low. If I have a list of 2,000 applicants for an engineering position, there’ll be like three women in the entire list.” In Allebest’s opinion, the root cause is the gender disparity among the players and will change as more girls and women get into chess. “We have a ton of girls playing, who will turn into women playing. We try to promote more women playing in the game. We have to do that in order to get more applicants, because the ratio of male to female applicants is so unbalanced.”

Among 300 professionals at Chess.com you even find a customer happiness engineer and an abuse manager.

The beginning of Chess.com dates back to 2005, when Erik Allebest and Jarom “Jay” Severson met at college and became friends thanks to the passion they both had for chess. Out of his wish to create a site “where people could build their chess home online and all in one place”, Allebest turned down job offers and convinced Jay’s wife to let his friend join, to devote themselves over the next years to the build-up of what has become the biggest platform in the game with more than ten million chess games played every day and more than seventy million accounts. [Update:] Google Cloud Next is featuring Chess.com as a power user of their services and global success story.

Over the years Chesskid and the PRO Chess League were added, Komodo and Chessbomb acquired. Besides its 300 fulltime employees, Chess.com supports more than 50 coaches and players by paying them for the content they create. There is also a support programme for streamers in line with the strategic investment in Twitch presence with projects like Pogchamps.

The next annual meet-up will be at the beach again and much bigger since Chess.com has grown a lot. In the foreground is Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch.
The next annual meet-up will be at the beach again and much bigger since Chess.com has grown a lot. In the foreground is Chief Chess Officer Danny Rensch. (photo: Chess.com)

Chess.com started out as a remote company and still nearly 100% of the work is done from home. “Just when everybody else started to do the same as a consequence of the ongoing pandemic, we felt the need to be closer to each other (at least a bit) and thus, they now have a little office”, explains Allebest. The office and studio are in Salt Lake City, where he lives. A family-friendly working environment and a supportive community are core values at Chess.com, says Allebest. “We also try to get everyone together once a year for a one-week meetup to put faces to the names. We’ve been to San Francisco, New York, Miami, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.” The next meeting, again on the Caribbean beaches of the Dominican Republic, is only one week away.

Tatiana Flores is a chess journalist based in Germany. She has a monthly column, blogs and tweets.
Tatiana Flores is a chess journalist based in Germany. She has a monthly column, blogs and tweets. (photo: private)

Erik Allebest’s quotes are from the session “Employment in Chess” of the Work4Chess conference. With a free registration the recordings can be accessed until 10 October.