By CEO National Master Evan Rabin
When National Master Jesse Lozano, National Master Bob Holliman, Shelby Lohrman and I won “Best Team Name” at the United States Amateur Team East last February with “Caruanavirus”, I had no idea the virus would have a major effect on my life.
Shortly after, one-by-one, all of the 80+ schools we serve closed their doors. While this year most certainly had lots of challenges, I took a key lesson from Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder of Manhattan Jewish Experience, shared last spring: “Use the coronavirus as an opportunity, not a problem.” Some of my highlights of 2020 have been pivoting the virtual world, our new school programs that started since the pandemic, my podcast and our rise in public relations:
Pivoting to the Virtual World:
In mid-March, I got plenty of emails and calls from all our schools, telling us that they were shutting down. At first I thought some of our schools would operate, in particular our programs outside of New York, but one by one, they all shut down, especially after the New York City Department of Education announced the closing of all its schools. I quickly realized we would have to drastically pivot our business if we wanted to keep it alive. I had an in-person meeting with my friend Greg Magarshak, owner of Qbix to see what he could do for us in building a community platform. As I did not know what our cash flow would look like for several months, I ended up looking for more cost-effective solutions.
Working with Brian Wilmeth, our Director of Virtual Programs, we ended up building a simple solution for virtual group classes with a combination of Zoom and Lichess.org. Before COVID-19, we did do some private lessons virtually but we did not run and group classes online. Since then we have converted many of our school programs and corporate classes to virtual classes, have had 300+ students in our camps and 100+ students in our group classes for all ages and skill levels. Thanks to the abolishment of geographical boundaries, we have also had the honor of working with students all over the nation and beyond, including one student from The Netherlands, a few in Israel and several in Canada.
Not only were were able to convert our programs to virtual learning but we have also started several new programs since the pandemic, including:
Technically this program started a week before the pandemic but Brian Wilmeth only taught one class in person. I honestly thought this was the first school that would stop chess for the year since we just started but the school’s Director of Teaching Olawa Gibson was enthusiastic as could be about chess and would not let the school’s doors closing stop the chess program kicking off with full-steam. Since then the school’s chess program has grown to 40+ kids, the students have been frenzied in classes, tournaments, ChessKid practice and more. We have also been in constant communication with Olawa Gibson and Lisa Watkins, the school’s Marketing Director, and we look forward to seeing the school’s progress.
In October, we started facilitating a virtual intergenerational program for 25 Westchester high-school students and senior citizens. Each week I do a short lesson and hop around between breakout rooms as the seniors are playing against high schoolers.
We started our program at The Yeshiva of Flatbush earlier this month after one of my private students, who is a senior at the school, introduced me to the principal. We have started several of our school programs thanks to parent referrals but this was the first time we got warm introduction by a student. Every Tuesday afternoon, I teach a 1-hour after-school program for their Yeshiva League team, which has 20 players, including 1 female student. Will she be the next Beth Harmon? That is too be determined; meanwhile, read my Queen’s Gambit review.
It feels like it was yesterday when my good friend Adam Shuty, the owner of Atomic Total Fitness, encouraged me to start a podcast; however, it was December of 2019 when that happened. On the contrary, in 2020, I recorded 121 inspirational podcast episodes about business, life and chess. Some of the highlight guests include National Master Bruce Pandolfini, Grandmaster Susan Polgar, Business Networking International’s Founder Ivan Misner, and Metro World Child’s Founder Bill Wilson. Stay tuned for many great episodes in 2021 and beyond.
Rise in Public Relations:
We have organically built our public relations and online presence through our blog, Facebook page, Twitch stream, podcast and more. However, we also definitely got a lot of outside help! Check out these plethora of articles and podcast episodes were featured in:
Thank you to all of our clients, partners, and others who have helped 2020 be a a successful year for Premier Chess, despite its challenges. While COVID-19 will still certainly be a nuisance in 2020, I am going to do what Michael Deutsch, owner of Hands on Hoops Skills, often suggests: “Control the controlables.”
Here are my business and personal New Year’s resolutions:
1) Partner with four new monthly corporate clients for lunch and learns.
2) Record at least 1 podcast episode each week.
3) Create bigger work life balance; stop working each night at 9:00 PM.