ChessTech2020 conference summary

ChessTech 2020, the first conference of this type, brought together more than 500 participants to learn about new products and the latest research, debate hot topics, network and meet startups.

Arkady Dvorkovich, President of FIDE, opening ChessTech2020
Arkady Dvorkovich, President of FIDE, opening ChessTech2020 (Session recording)

The Chess and Technology themed conference was the first online conference organised by ChessPlus and the 8th in the sequence of the London Chess Conferences.

“We’re in hiring mode, we’re in expansion mode”, said Play Magnus Corporate Financial Officer Dmitri Shneider. Chesskid Chief Chess Officer Mike Klein revealed that the parent company has grown during this year from 150 staff members to 240. Half of the 26 participating chess companies were not even in business before 2020. Sessions like “What’s Next in Chess Learning Technology” or “Tournament Administration Services” gave a glimpse of how the leaders of the chess industry are doing.

ChessTech 2020 in numbers

  • participants 526
  • contributors 122
  • countries 70
  • sessions 44
  • companies 26
  • languages 4

Barry Hymer, emeritus professor of Education and Chessable Science Consultant, delivered a keynote
Barry Hymer, emeritus professor of Education and Chessable Science Consultant, delivered a keynote (photo: ChessPlus)

The conference coincided with the FIDE Congress, which was also held online for the first time, and was opened by the two highest-ranking officials: After a welcome by ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili, the first presentation was a keynote by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich. Then the conference went into parallel mode with up to four sessions at the same time for the rest of the weekend. According to the post-conference survey, attendees rated the conference an impressive 4.3/5. The three most frequent words describing the conference were “interesting”, “informative” and “inspiring”.

The programme of panels, workshops, debates and software demonstrations was developed by Programme Director and ChessTech editor Stefan Löffler. While the focus was on Chess and Technology there were also sessions on chess in education, science, gender, and opportunities like “Is Chess an Esport?”, “Queen’s Gambit Declined?”, “How to Make Chess Greener?”, “Why Sponsor Chess Now?” and a business case interview with ChessCube founder Mark Levitt. Many chess teachers valued the presentations from a range of education companies. Chessable made a major announcement about the provision of free software to schools.

One of the most important topics was anti-cheating on which there were three in-depth sessions examining different perspectives. Many attendees were impressed by Chris Callahan’s overview of the free platform Lichess. The book presentations from David Smerdon (The Complete Chess Swindler) and Noam Manella (Think Like a Machine) provided deep insights into cognitive psychology. Daniel King’s honest account of how he built up his YouTube channel PowerPlayChess attracted many admirers. Another session on streaming chess gave advice from setting up Twitch to running a successful channel. The clear presentation by Shohreh Bayat and Judit Sztaray on online arbitration was praised by the arbiter community. The gender issues from the previous conference were revisited in a lively international forum. There were three sessions on Erasmus projects: Castle, CGS and 8by8; and one session featuring the European Research Council-funded Digital Ludeme Project. Many people praised the session on new formats for chess journalism.

In addition to the above sessions in English, there were also segments of the conference conducted in French, Spanish and German which were reported to be highly satisfactory.

The time was ripe to introduce a business competition. Ten entrepreneurs pitched for Best Chess Startup 2020. Chessvision by Pawel Kacprzak from Poland won the final vote ahead of Acorn Chess by Andrew Varney and Andrew Webb from the UK. Both companies will soon be featured on ChessTech.

Thanks to a continental FIDE-ECU grant and sponsorships by Chessable, Tornelo, DGT, Chesskid, Chesslang, LearningChess, Game Ahead Consulting, Chess Stars and Szuperchess, basic admission was free for early bird registrations and thereafter a modest £20 or, for those involved professionally with chess, £50.

During a presentation on tournament services Mike Klein mentioned that’s staff has reached 240.
During a presentation on tournament services Mike Klein mentioned that’s staff has reached 240. (photo: ChessPlus)

The conference was Zoom-based with some presenters using their own accounts. The sessions were well-attended and the discussions were generally of high quality. As an innovative feature, the conference provided a networking café where people could chat in-between and after sessions. Conference Director John Foley said he was “blown away by the massive interest in the conference” and hopes to build on its success next year and expand into other languages.

The session recordings are available on the conference website for a limited period. Some recordings are public, some are reserved for conference registrants and others are reserved for those with professional tickets.