So you want to be a (chess) writer?

by Alexey Root
3/12/2020 – With the Coronavirus in the news, chess players may avoid in-person tournaments and seek stay-at-home chess outlets. While some may livestream or coach, chess writing appeals to others. Writing may be more egalitarian than streaming or coaching, as both titled and non-titled players are published and paid at similar rates. WIM ALEXEY ROOT share four tips for chess writing.

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ChessBase is a personal, stand-alone chess database that has become the standard throughout the world. Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it.


Work from home

Just as GM Teimour Radjabov withdrew from the Candidates Tournament, due to the uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus, you may be considering skipping your next in-person chess tournament. In addition to getting your chess-fix with sessions on Play Chess, you could become a chess streamer, coach, or writer.

Teaching online chess lessons is easier than ever, with these tips from Albert Silver. Having a chess title helps a streamer or a coach build clientele.

Whether or not you are a titled player, you can write about chess. Chess outlets are looking for writers; some of them pay for articles. For example, Chess Life Kids pays $75 per page. Non-titled children writing for that magazine get paid at the same rate as adults and titled players.

Moreover, many children and adults dream of becoming writers. For books, non-fiction outsells fiction. Chess writing can be non-fiction or fiction, but non-fiction is much more common. This article provides four tips—Find Topics, Query, Persistence, and Reader Feedback—for writing.

Chess streaming is a way to make money, if you develop a large following such as that enjoyed by Woman FIDE Master Alexandra Botez

Find Topics

Covering chess tournaments — their winners, best games, anecdotes — is the “bread-and-butter” of chess websites and magazines. But if fear of the Coronavirus keeps you at home, interviewing chess players can be done via email, text, chat, or phone. Let’s suppose you are aware of a junior player who has just reached a rating milestone. If you have the permission of that prodigy’s parents, you could interview that prodigy.

One recent example from ChessBase is an article about D. Gukesh by Sagar Shah. Shah is an International Master. Therefore, Shah could have analyzed all the chess games himself, but he had Gukesh annotate some. If you are not a strong chess player, you can ask your interviewee to annotate all the chess games in your article. In any case, some articles, like this one, don’t include chess games or positions.


The cover story for the March 2020 issue of Chess Life was written by Menachem Weber, who has journalistic credentials but no US Chess rating. 47 minutes into this podcast about Weber’s story, US Chess Senior Director of Strategic Communication Dan Lucas stated (47 minutes and 5 seconds) in:

To any aspiring journalists who want to specialize in chess writing…we’ve hired many a high school student who are writing for publication for the very first time…If you’ve got talent, and ability, and an interesting story to tell, please pitch it to us and you can find the contact information at our website on

book coverMy first emailed query to ChessBase was 784 words long. I introduced myself and asked to review Danny Gormally’s book. I outlined what I thought would be interesting in that book, from an excerpt available at its publisher’s website. I also referred to Gormally’s history by linking to ChessBase articles about him. Once I got the assignment, which the ChessBase editor modified to my interviewing Gormally rather than reviewing his book, I read Gormally’s book and interviewed him by email. Five takeaways:

  1. Read what the website or magazine you are querying has already written about your proposed subject.
  2. Show how your article will build on that already-published material.
  3. Be flexible, as the editor may change the focus of your proposed article. In the above example, I interviewed Gormally instead of writing a book review.
  4. Your first query will likely be long. Introduce yourself and provide writing samples (such as links to your previous articles, known as “clips”), in addition to querying about the specific article you want to write. Later queries can be shorter, once an editor is already familiar with your work. My query for this article was 81 words.
  5. Take your time. For the Gormally article, I spent hours reading his book, interviewing him, and then polishing that interview.


Queries are often rejected. In 2010, when Dan Lucas was editor of Chess Life, I wrote the following email to him after he had accepted my query to review the latest book by Grandmaster Andrew Soltis.

As I wrote you the Soltis query (my third one to you in the last couple days), I had two thoughts in mind:

1) If Dan says “yes” to this query, then it’s “third time’s a charm.”

2) If Dan says “no,” then “three strikes you’re out.” (Though I would have kept trying with more queries!)

The two rejections referred to above had come after I’d already written several articles for Chess Life. Even after working with an editor, there are no guarantees that your next query to that editor will be successful. Be persistent, don’t give up, and hope that the editor doesn’t think you are a pest.

One way to build your clips, and to get appreciation rather than rejection, is to write for free. In the US, many states and regions need written content for magazines and websites. Texas Knights (where I have a book review column) doesn’t pay columnists. However, Texas Knights editor Louis A. Reed Jr. promotes each writer’s work and liberally hands out compliments. On the other hand, sometimes writing at the state level pays. Texas Chess Association pays the Texas Knights editor and also pays for social media posts.

When I watch television, listen to chess podcasts, view YouTube or Twitch chess broadcasts, or peruse Facebook — all good hobbies for avoiding the Coronavirus — I stay alert for possible chess stories. I watched The Oprah Winfrey Show for years and finally, near the end of its run, got a chess story out of it.

Writing questions and emailing them to is a great way to win $50 in USCF Sales merchandise. I have won “best question” three times, and each of my three winning questions have been less than 25 words long. If more people had emailed questions to that podcast, I think I would have only won once. So, write a question!

YouTube and Twitch broadcasts of chess tournaments can be sources for chess writing ideas. The Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club’s broadcasts have inspired three of my articles including this one for ChessBase.

On Facebook, the Eade Foundation posted about its new $1000 award for Chess Excellence, which could be turned into a query that answers “What monetary awards are available for young chess players?” and then lists the Arthur Award (named after Jim Eade’s father, Arthur Eade) along with more famous awards, such as the Frank P. Samford, Jr.  Fellowship.

Reader Feedback

Comments on past articles may inspire new writing. As I wrote at the end of this article about Jennifer Yu’s result in the U.S. Junior Championship, “Thanks to chess fan ‘Leavenfish’ for his comment, which motivated me to write this article.” I enjoy and learn from the comments on my articles; part of the fun of being published is readers’ feedback (hint, hint).

The Charles Bukowski poem “so you want to be a writer?” sets a high bar for the passion needed to become a great writer, as Bukowski was. My level of passion is lower, and I am not a great writer. For me, writing, editing, and proofreading is fun; thanks to ChessBase and its readers for this outlet. ChessBase encourages freelance writers to submit queries. Email editor[at]

Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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Maskandgloves Maskandgloves 1/29/2021 06:46
This is a wonderful article. The encouragement to not give up is food for thought.
jatingoyal88 jatingoyal88 1/15/2021 03:26
hi sir i want to write a books for my own kids ..basic chess. which should i use for to use chess base sir. plz guide me
BuzzardBait BuzzardBait 3/18/2020 02:22
Wonderful article, and thank you so much for mentioning Texas Knights! I definitely would consider myself to be a fledgling writer at best. Most of my writing for Texas Knights is limited to the "Letter from the editor" and minor tweaks to content submitted by contributors via email, and only if necessary. At Texas Knights, we always need more content, so if have a story to tell or something to say about chess in Texas please feel free to send it in.
albitex albitex 3/15/2020 08:09
The danger is: writing inspiring others, working for third parties without earning anything.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 3/13/2020 12:13
And no, I was not interested in the job, so my point of view is not coming from that angle. :)
PhishMaster PhishMaster 3/13/2020 12:12
This article gives me a chance to bring up something that I thought about when reading the recent ChessBase article regarding their open position for a chess journalist: Why do they feel the need for the person to live and work in Hamburg? The person should be able to live virtually anywhere as long as he/she can get to the tournament, and write about it. It seems like an old-fashioned requirement.
Phillidor Phillidor 3/13/2020 10:24
I think people quite often comment on dubious statements from the article or, in the country where I come from, they also rarely forget to correct grammar mistakes. It's often seems far more popular to criticise rather than give compliments, especially if the article is copy-paste translation of half-truths found somewhere.

National media where I come from, what they did is, they enabled to give "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" to comments (the latter option was later disabled though) and sometimes it even seems people compete a little bit to find the most funny or otherwise likeable comment. Some time later the editors started to pick witty or smart comments and then publish them into a new article where people vote for the best comment on a certain topic (e.g. "Should candidates tournament be cancelled?". That why practically every article (and there's tons of them daily - probably even too much) gets comments, critics, etc.

All this may look a bit childish from time to time, but still, it's easier to find out whats the general opinion. Also, people tend to think a little more about what they write in comments (no one likes to get zero likes).