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Jennifer on Ted X, Toys and Chess Networks Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
March 2, 2014
Although I speak in public frequently, giving my first TED Talk at Ted X Baltimore was nerve-racking. The stakes were higher, the audience larger, and bothering me most of all, there was no podium, which can disguise shaking legs or a discrete check of emergency notes. Like in many endeavors, being a little nervous is normal and perhaps even beneficial. Many of the most anxious performers in rehearsal seemed so calm and well-prepared while speaking.  

Choosing my topic took some time. I wanted an angle that a mainstream audience could digest, without oversimplifying chess too much. I focused on what chessplayers call, “sensing the critical moment.” 

I was connected to TedX via my friend Mike Le Grand, who I met at scholastic chess tournaments. Later Mike, my brother and I shared a closetless three bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My room in that apartment was so tiny I determined whether I would live in it by seeing if my queen sized mattress would fit the width. It did, just barely. I didn’t have many belongings or furniture at the time, so I just placed my chess table on the other side of the room with a single dresser in between. A simple life!   
Mike and his wife Gretchen now live in Baltimore. They were inspired by a viral video on the importance of coding and the New York non-profit Chess-In-The-Schools to create the nonprofit “Code-In-The-Schools.” That’s how they met the organizer at Ted X Baltimore, and how I got hooked in.


I played a few sets of five simultaneous chess games during the lunch break at TED X Baltimore. I also met a GM new to the United States, UMBC student GM Akshayraj Kore. Later my brother and Kore played blitz on the floor of the auditorium’s balcony between speakers. 

GM Kore with a friend from UMBC at Ted X Baltimore
A couple weeks after TED, I got a chance to fulfill another dream (this one from childhood!), to attend the Toy Fair in New York! Children aren’t actually allowed at the Toy Fair, which makes sense, as otherwise everyone’s ears would ring with joyful shrieking. I was in New York with Yamie Chess, a learning aid that promotes STEM education via an animated chess and math workbook. See a previous CLO post and an interview I did at The Toy Fair here. 

YamieChessJenS.jpgI was connected to Yamie Chess via another friend, YouTube math star PatrickJMT. I met Patrick in Amsterdam a few years ago through chess producer Macauley Peterson’s wife Isabel, who is also a strong chessplayer (and professional opera singer). 

People you meet when you’re sharing closet-size apartments in Brooklyn, or touring Europe are likely to be doing very interesting things later in life. My brother wrote a recent blog about how chess can offer more career options than many parents think. I’d add to that: the diverse and ambitious group of people that chess attracts can also expand your network to enhance your career.  

Macauley has begun an exciting new chapter of his own, as content director behind the groundbreaking new website, chess24.com. Can’t do much better for video producers than former World Champion Vishy Anand and GM Peter Svidler. Anand and Svidler will be among the eight competitors at the upcoming Candidates Tournament in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia (March 11-April 1). Svidler has a lecture series on the opening I alluded to in my TED Talk, the Grunfeld. I’ve always been a Svidler fan:  In addition to being articulate and modest, he shares my passions for poker and literature.   

After the Toy Fair, I headed to the US Amateur Team East, where I saw even more friendly faces from my Brooklyn past, including new Executive director Jean Hoffman (now splitting her time between USCF headquarters in Crossville and her native Tucson) and Brooklyn Castle star Elizabeth Spiegel. Both were featured in our US Chess Scoop video from Parsippany. 

Next up for me is a residency at the Saint Louis Chess Club (March 18-28), where I’ll do a few lectures for their popular YouTube channel. I'll also host some final programming across the street before the stunning “A Queen Within” show closes at the World Chess Hall of Fame. While on a chess and fashion note, I enjoyed the latest by G-Star RAW. Though I’m a big Magnus Carlsen fan, it’s hard for me to root against a redhead. 

In Saint Louis, in addition to classes at the Chess Club, I’ll be giving a lecture on Women in Chess at the World Chess Hall of Fame in honor of Women’s History Month.

In major social media news, our own GM Hikaru Nakamura did a Reddit AMA. For your USCF social media dose, follow us on @USChess, YouTube and facebook.com/uschess. Till next time!