COMPASSIONATE, FRIENDLY, WELL-ROUNDED, INTELLIGENT, LOVING, EASYGOING, INSPIRATIONAL.

Those are seven words I would use to describe our beloved instructor National Master Lev Khariton, who tragically passed away on Monday, November 18 from a stroke. In addition to teaching for us in Jersey City and Manhattan at Jersey City Global Charter School, Waterfront Montessori, Embankment School and Grace Church School, Lev was a jack of all trades, as a father of 3, beloved husband, translator, poet and much more.

My friend Steve Eisenberg, founder of JICNY, emphasizes how one should not judge another person as he has no idea what the other is going through. On Thursday, November 15, Mr. Lemuer Perez, the principal at Jersey City Global Charter School called me, asking if Lev was coming in. It is against our company policy for an instructor to “no-show” to a class so my first reaction was “Oh-no; how can this be?”. Lev did not pick up his phone; I tried calling him several times and by Sunday night I haven’t heard from him. I then checked his daughter’s Facebook page and was shocked to see “Please pray for my father, Lev Khariton” and knew some thing was wrong. When I messaged her, she said “My father had a stroke. He had brain surgery. He is in critical care…” The next day, he passed away.

In February 2018, I needed a replacement Jersey City Instructor so our mutual friend Expert Fedor Khrapatin referred Lev to me. While he obviously has a great knowledge of chess and teaching experience, I was frankly hesitant to hire him at first since he was older and I didn’t think he’d relate to some of the younger children. I knew he would be great for adult classes or private lessons but not necessarily beginner students under the age of 10. However, since he came as a referral from someone I trust more than most people in the chess world and we had a nice interview, I decided to give it a shot. The students at each of the schools he taught, including some Kindergarten and 1st graders, truly loved working with him. When I told the Middle Schoolers at the Grace Church School Elective the other day that he passed, several kids became emotional and said they would be serious in chess in his honor.

I have had the privilege of watching Lev teach a few times in the classroom at Jersey City Global Charter School, Grace Church School and Embankment School. In each class, Lev would instantly grasp the attention of every student, abiding by David Macenulty’s declaration that every single student in a class should be learning. Two years ago I had the privilege of co-teaching a a kindergarten class with David at Dalton. One day he called on a boy to answer a question and the child said “but I didn’t raise my hand.” I laughed when David replied” Is there a rule that a teacher is not allowed to call on a student when he doesn’t raise his hand?”. No child left behind!

In addition to being a loyal, empathetic teacher, Lev was a fascinating guy. I will never the forget the time I agreed to have lunch with him at the local Mexican joint near Jersey City Global Charter School, a few hours I was to present at the Open House. I thought we’d grab lunch and I would have a few hours afterwards to to do some work before going to the school; I was wrong! I was too intrigued learning about his poetry, travels in Russia, Israel, France and the United States ( he’s lived in all four countries), books and experiences teaching former World Champion Mikhail Botvinik English. I had new clue that the guy I hired was so famous.

14 months later, I unfortunately found myself in Staten Island at his funeral, showing you can not take life for granted. To show my gratitude for living each day, I recite the “Modeh Ani” prayer, which thanks Hashem for being alive. His son, brother, college roommate, other friends and I spoke about different aspects of his life; however, we all expressed how he loved teaching and was always compassionate. The rabbi spoke about how it says in the Talmud that a good person is one who controls his anger. Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder of Manhattan Jewish Experience, shares how the Ramban suggested that we can all become as good and righteous as Moses. While Lev easily could have went into depression after many hardships, including having to work in a dirty hospital for little money, he always realized the glass full. While he may have not passed away with millions of dollars to distribute in his will, (talk to David Weiss of Matt Nolfo and Associates if you need one of those), he was a happy man, who made a difference in the lives of his family, friends, colleagues and countless students.

As we continue to grow company, we will always miss Lev, who was an integral part of our team; I am forever grateful to Fedor Kharaptin for introducing the two of us, as Lev became a great colleague, friend and mentor. I will always remember our lighthearted conversations when he’d laugh when I’d throw in random words in Hebrew and Russian. These are three ways to commemorate Lev:

Lev Khariton
(NM) Lev Khariton playing Chess

Act Naturally.

They are going to take me to the movies and all you have to do is act naturally! On Friday, November 1, I was doing a hike to the Griffith Observatory before the Los Angeles Open began. As I approached the Hollywood sign I couldn’t help but start singing the Ringo Starr song “Act Naturally”. This made me start thinking about the importance of going with one’s instincts and not overthinking it. The portion Lech Lecha says “Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” There, G‑d says, he will be made “ While it is important to calculate for every move you make on and off the board, one should strongly consider his instincts.

One exercise I have done with students several times is showing them certain positions. Once I would show a position, I would ask the student what move he would play on the spot. While he would hesitate to give an immediate answer, I would ask him to pretend he had only 1 second left on the clock. Often the answer he would give would not be any different than the move he suggested after thinking for a few minutes.

The day after the Los Angeles Open, I went outside my comfort zone, paddle boarding in the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Monica Pier. While I have paddled several times before in Boston, Seattle and elsewhere, it was the first time doing it on the Ocean in the waves. I had difficult standing up on the board, not because I could not do it, but only because I kept overthinking the process and kept telling myself I had to remain kneeling on the board. Sometimes you need to abide by Nike’s suggestion and just do it.

In that vain, we should get inspired by the famous words of Hands on Hoops Skills CEO Michael Deutsch: “Say yes and figure it out later.” While one most certainly need to do some preparation before agreeing to do something, one needs to be confident and move forward without too much thought. I constantly remind students that I rather them be confident about incorrect answers and then I confident about an incorrect answer. One expert student constantly finds himself in time pressure. While he often does get good positions out of the opening and middle game, he almost always has to blitz out his remaining moves, not giving him much of a chance. When I’ll ask him why he spends so much time in relatively common basic opening positions, he will say that there were all these complications. However, he generally just wastes time just second guessing himself.

To the contrary of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote “Failing to Plan and planning to fail”, one should not go overboard with precautionary measures. I know too many entrepreneurs that spend way too much time preparing their corporate collateral, fancy logos, documentation, team, etc. Many businesses will take 1-2+ years to get off the ground before they generate revenue. To the contrary, I did not incorporate Premier Chess until we had a check we could not deposit because it was written out the company name. Then through a ton of emails, calls and networking, after 2 months in business in September 2017, we were in 14 schools and had 10 instructors on our team. Now we have 43 instructors on our team and run programs in 69 schools and several companies, including the law firm Kramer Levin. While its most certainly important to maintain a high level of product/service, for a business to grow, it’s also important to remain confident and not waste too much time doing non-revenue generating activities.

While it is important to conduct blunder checks to make sure your instincts are sane, you shouldn’t necessarily over think every thing you do, whether that be in life, business or on the chess board. While an attorney knows the law in and out, at the end of the day when he is on trial, he needs to make quick decision! In the words of Guitar Guide Guru CEO Mike Papapavlou, “Pame” (let’s go)!

CEO of Premier Chess in Los Angeles
(NM) Evan Rabin at the Los Angeles Open

Unity- On And Off The Board.

When a principal asks me “Why set up a chess program in my school?”, I answer “Within 2-3 months you will see students making a name for their school in tournaments.” Whether we do curriculum classes, after-school club or professional development in a school, we always love to instill a chess culture. We want chess to be what all the ‘cool kids’ in the school are doing. Psychologist Nava Silton shares how unity is one of the main three pillars of happiness. Whether it be at a the pre-school Thistlewaith Early Learning Center, the law firm Kramer Levin, the nursing home Village Care or Uri Secondary School on our Annual Make a Difference Teaching in Africa trip, we love building communities for students ages 3-100.

Often students of all ages are overwhelmed and do not want to play in chess tournaments because they feel they need years of practice and are not ready. I frequently tell them how they should not overthink it as they will never be ‘ready’ if they keep waiting. A few day after my brother and father I taught me how to move the pieces in second grade, I joined Women International Master’s Shernaz Kennedy’s chess club at the Churchill School. A month after that I won first place in my quad at my first tournament at the Manhattan Chess Club. Two months later I was off to the Nationals with the Churchill team. While I wasn’t the most popular kid at school, I enjoyed becoming good friends with all the folks on the chess team. One of those, Fabio Botarelli, owns Chessability, which specializes in programs for special education schools. On that note we also have the privilege of running curriculum classes for 4th-8th graders at one special education school, Summit.

In order for a school to develop a strong chess community, you need four fundamental players:

  • Administration
  • Faculty Advisor
  • Chess Parent
  • Student Ambassador

While you can get a program started with one one or two of those players bought it in, it is imperative to have all four to get it to grow and have a strong number of students playing in tournaments.

To instill chess cultures, we often get creative. One of our instructors Brian Wolff, who also owns a wellness business, decided to create a chess dollars system at Summit. He hand designed dollars with images of famous chess players- Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen, etc. Kids now have extra incentive as they try to earn the most and win fun prizes.

While chess has given many benefits, including critical thinking skills, judgement training, and healthy drive for competition, likely the most substantial one has been the community aspect. I have played chess tournaments in 10 countries and have chess friends all over the planet. Next week I am leaving to Rome to play a tournament in my 11th country. Learn more about my chess travels around the globe here.

Off the chess board, community plays a key role in Premier Chess’ Business Development. Many chess companies stick to their own; however we fine the need to have close partnerships with other chess companies, including:

  • Our Official Equipment Vendor, American Chess Equipment
  • Our Preferred Vendor for Online Playing and Practice: chesskid.com
  • Top Level Chess, who we co-host tournaments with

Check out a full list of closest partners, on and off the chess board, here. If you’d like to meet some of them in person, come join me at one of 3 New York networking groups I am part of:

  • Business Networking International Manhattan Chapter 54, Meets every Wednesday from 7-8:30 at Society of Illustrators.
  • Astoria, NY Entrepreneur Club, Meets on one Tuesday and one Thursday each month.
  • Jewish Business Networking, Meets in Midtown East third Thursday of each month.

Email evan@premierchess.com for more information or to visit any of the above networking groups.

Chess Class at The Grace Church Middle School
Discovering new strategies with students

Dr. Nava Silton’s three ingredients to happiness

Two and half years ago Dr. Nava Silton posted in the UWS Mommas Facebook group that she was looking for a chess camp for her son. Several people recommended ours and after a demo lesson and some back and forth, she signed up her two kids Judah and Jonah. Since then, Nava has become a good friend and inspiration. Last week she did an insightful talk about happiness during The Camp Girls’ Shmini Atzeret lunch. According to her, the three main ingredients are unity, giving and fun, which are three fundamentals we abide by.

With few barriers to entry, chess provides unity among age, religion, socioeconomic class, etc. We teach students ages 3-100 of all backgrounds. Whether it be a preschooler at Chabad of Stamford, a lawyer at Kramer Levin or a resident at Village Care, we teach the same business and life values through the game.
Furthermore at our monthly tournaments at Asiam Thai Cuisine, we will often get a mix of students, young professionals and adults. While during the day, we all live very different lives, we come together in the evening due to our mutual passion of chess. I have had the privilege of now playing tournaments in 10 countries; soon that number will be 11 as I play a tournament outside of Naples during Thanksgiving week.

Stephen Spahn, the headmaster of my Alma Mater Dwight, shares how each student should find their “Spark of Genius” and utilize to make a difference in the world; for me it was pretty obvious chess was it. While chess has proved to be a great source of income, it has also been a great way to give back.
There are currently four ways we are doing that:

  1. If you have a fundraiser, please email us as we’d love to donate a chess lesson to silent auction/raffle. If event is in New York City, we will donate a 1-hour group class with CEO National Master Evan Rabin for up to 10 children or adults, valued at $400. If event is anywhere else in the world, we’d love to donate  a 1 hour online private lesson, valued at $90.
  2. Next Thursday, November 7th, Evan Rabin will be one of the co-hosts at the Christodora Gala. In addition to getting a chance to help raise money, you can meet Evan and bid on many great silent auction items, including a group lesson with Evan himself.
  3. At our 1st Annual Premier Chess and Top Level Chess Grand Prix Tournament #2 on November 16, we will be hosting a silent auction to raise money for esteemed chess teacher Juan Sena, who is unfortunately currently suffering from ALS. Email us if you have a product or service you’d like to donate as auction item.
  4. We are actively recruiting for volunteers for our 3rd Annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess in Africa trip; if you are enrolled in high-school, college or adult, consider applying today!

Giving back allows us to be grateful for all that we have. In New York, we do teach in some relatively poor Title 1 public schools; however, they have many more resources; than the private catholic school we teach at down in Tanzania, which lacks simple items like toilet paper. It is also not uncommon to see kids as young as 3 or 4 taking care of their younger siblings.
While we exceed in our professions and give back, it is also important to have some good clean fun. While hard work is crucial, it is important to have a work-life balance and enjoy everything you do. A chess player should not play a tournament purely because it is going to help his career; he should also enjoy it. Likewise, while chess is obviously our main focus at camps, we make it a point to do some other exciting activities, such as a basketball lesson with Hands on Hoops or field trips to The Brooklyn Museum and Janam Tea. While you may think that hour away from work or study is a distraction, the hour spent enjoying yourself having fun will make you be more productive later on.

Everyone on this earth should be happy! While happiness is certainly not an exact science, we should strongly consider following Nava Silton’s three suggestions: unity, giving and fun. If you put a smile on your face, people will notice it and it will have a domino effect.