YouTube Millionaires: Levy Rozman is the internet’s chess teacher

By 06/08/2023
YouTube Millionaires: Levy Rozman is the internet’s chess teacher

Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we–in partnership with content creator tool Gyre–profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.

Levy Rozman loves to teach chess.

That’s what he was doing the day COVID hit New York City.


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“One of my core memories is leaving a chess lesson and walking through Manhattan and going on Google before I get on the train and seeing the first reported case of COVID,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s inconvenient, it’s here.’ Then you snap your fingers and it’s 2023.”

A lot has changed for Rozman in the last three years. But before we get to all that, let’s back up. If you don’t know who Levy Rozman is, he’s the self-deprecatingly self-dubbed “just funny-man-behind-camera-who-talks-about-chess” responsible for GothamChessYouTube‘s most-watched chess channel. He’s also–no big deal–an International Master who’s been playing chess competitively since he was seven years old.

Pre-COVID, Rozman was teaching private chess lessons. Once COVID hit and shut down in-person education, he revisited a previous hobby: streaming on Twitch. Then, using footage from his Twitch broadcasts, he started making YouTube videos. That move was well-timed, because when Netflix released its chess hit The Queen’s Gambit in 2020, Rozman realized his instructional videos were being recommended to people fresh off watching the show who figured they might give becoming the next Beth Harmon a shot.

These days, Rozman has expanded to doing other types of chess content, but teaching chess is still his favorite thing to do (and the focus of his upcoming debut book, How to Win at Chess: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners and Beyond).

If you’re familiar with GothamChess, you’re probably surprised to see Rozman featured here, considering he has nearly 4 million subscribers on YouTube. This is one of those occasional occasions where we bend our own rules a bit to feature accomplishments on platforms other than YouTube. Rozman just hit a million followers on TikTok, and is swiftly closing in on a million where it all started: Twitch.

Check out our chat with him below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: Let’s get a little bit of background. I’m very familiar with you and with your videos, but if you had to introduce yourself to somebody who doesn’t know you and has never seen your stuff, what would you say?

Levy Rozman: If I had to introduce myself to somebody who never saw my videos, I’d probably make some self-deprecating joke. To be honest, it probably would not be good for writing an article. I would say the easiest way to summarize it is I make videos about chess and they are, nowadays, more angled toward probably chess entertainment a little bit more than purely being instructional.

I have a catalog as we speak of 1,300 videos. A lot of it is instructional–historical recaps of tournaments, goofy stuff, like I uploaded yesterday the mathematically worst possible chess game that could ever be played. Just reimagining, reshaping the culture and perception of the game of chess. I’ve been doing it on YouTube since mid-2020 and I was streaming a bit on Twitch since 2018. I would say that this has been my full-time job for about three years now.

Tubefilter: How did you originally get into chess?

Levy Rozman: I was a five-year-old kid and my parents had to sign me up for some after-school classes. It was a big argument because I liked to draw, like most kids. My dad was like, “We should put him into art class because it’ll keep him occupied.” My mom was like, “Well, he should play chess,” because both sides of our family were originally from the former Soviet Union. Chess is part of a kid’s upbringing there. It has benefits for the brain, whatever.

My dad was vehemently against it because I was a psychopath five-year-old. He was like, “Ain’t no way that’s going to stick.” To this day, I probably cannot properly color in the lines, and I’m okay at it, but yes, chess stuck. I played my first tournament when I was seven years old and that was it. It was like the one thing that I did my whole life.

Tubefilter: What made you get on YouTube?

Levy Rozman: Good question. Basically, I was streaming in 2018 on Twitch, and I was streaming in 2019, but it wasn’t a job. My job still was going to teach kids private lessons, group classes, and so on. Then the pandemic happened. One of my core memories is leaving a chess lesson and walking through Manhattan and going on Google before I get on the train and seeing the first reported case of COVID was, I think, an Iranian woman landing in JFK Airport. I was like, “Oh man, wow, that’s inconvenient, it’s here.”

You snap your fingers and it’s 2023. It’s just so surreal. That was my life back then. I was not thinking about chess videos or anything like that. I think it was mostly just I was streaming more on Twitch and I thought, “YouTube is a natural extension and it’s something that can live on permanently. I’ll try it and then let’s see what happens.” I think that was just it. I was trying it for a bit, like June, July, August. I would stream on Twitch for a few hours and then I would repackage it somehow as a YouTube video, or I would just make a YouTube video about something else.

Then I told people that I was teaching privately on Zoom at that time, that I’m going to give this content thing a shot. I referred to some consistent students that I kept even through the pandemic. A lot ended up not doing chess lessons online. I said, “I’m going to give this content thing a shot, here’s a recommended coach for you. If it doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll reach out.” It did work out, so it was a good decision. Obviously, there were some things beyond that, but that was how I got into it at first.

Tubefilter: Do you remember if there was a specific video that took off, or when you started gaining momentum?

Levy Rozman: For sure I remember. I was just making videos. My content from June 2020 to around October 2020 was, I’d think, “Video about an opening?” I’d go on YouTube, I’d look it up. Is there already a video? Does it have a lot of views? It’s funny, I don’t really know why I even did that, because I would make the video regardless. Essentially, it was, if it’s not out there, I’ll make it. If it is out there, I’ll do it better. [laughs] I’ll be more exciting, more fun. If they already had a million views, I’m going to have five. I studied everyone’s chess videos and went, “That’s good, but here’s something I can improve.” I was making two videos every single day.

Tubefilter: Oh wow.

Levy Rozman: Yeah. I made two videos a day. Essentially for a 7:00 AM upload I would record at midnight and then go to sleep and schedule the video. The next day, I would wake up, I would stream on Twitch from 8:00 AM or 09:00 AM until noon. Then I would record the video for a 7:00 PM release.

Tubefilter: You were on it.

Levy Rozman: Yes. That was a crazy period. It really was. It was a wild time. When I realized that this was going to be a thing, the first real spike was The Queen’s Gambit came out, and people would watch the trailer. Then, in the sidebar, it would say, “How to play The Queen’s Gambit.” My video, just because of the algorithm. That’s when I started realizing all of this stuff–discoverability, the whole, if you search up chess once, your YouTube feed will permanently show you chess.

Tubefilter: I’m familiar, yes. [laughs]

Levy Rozman: My 48-hour window of views went from 100,000 for the whole channel to a million.

Tubefilter: That’s amazing.

Levy Rozman: I kind of was like, “Oh, shit, this is real. Oh my god.”

Tubefilter: Then did you make moves to build on that traffic, or how did you–?

Levy Rozman: I made two videos a day, every day, for a year. The craziest part about it is, I guess technically, it’s been three years, 2020 to 2023. All of 2020, all of 2021, all of 2022, and now half of 2023, there has been probably 10 days that I have not made a video. For a one-week vacation, I will upload four videos before we leave and three on my laptop at the destination. Half of those 10 days that I didn’t post, I had COVID.

Now, that’s good and bad. On the one hand, it’s good to be consistent and everything, I love it and I’m constantly thinking about it. On the other hand, you sacrifice quality. Some days I would love to sit down, make a really nice instructional video that’s going to be more evergreen and edited a little bit. Some days I’m like, “All right, I’m going to share this thing, and I’ve got to do a sponsor for the month of May.”

If I put out a thing and it does poorly, I get mad and I’m like, “Why did I do that? I should have just taken today off.” Today is one of those days. I made like a video that just was shitty. It’ll be funny, but it’s not as good as the standard. That’s been my life since June 2020.

Tubefilter: Do you ever struggle for material to make?

Levy Rozman: Yes, for sure.

Tubefilter: What’s your favorite kind of material to work with, or your favorite kind of videos to make?

Levy Rozman: What’s funny is that one of my favorite things to make is something that doesn’t get viewed a lot, which is just purely going back to teaching content. I think I might be arrogant about this or whatever, but if you take a random adult somewhere in the world who wants to improve at chess, and they have a one-hour chess lesson to ask questions, find weaknesses in their game. You could sit them down with anybody, but I’m a firm believer that if you sit them down with me, they can learn in the most creative way, the most efficient way. We can hit so many different bullet points, and they’ll laugh. It won’t feel like an hour dental procedure.

The problem is, I think of many different ways, like eight different endgame concepts like this and that. It’s really hard to package that into a clickbaity YouTube product that will break the algorithm. It’s just not possible. Those videos don’t do that well historically. That sucks, because at the end of the day, if they don’t do well, I don’t make as much money, and I don’t have as many views. That is literally the one metric under which I’m operating, right? Companies are frequently trying to hit records or something. I really like making interesting instructional content with examples from my own games. I frequently get comments like, “This is my favorite type of content,” but it averages 30% to 40% less views than if I just pair ChatGPT against Google and make them play like a fake, ridiculous game. That video already broke a million views in 48 hours. I like bot content.

I really enjoy when there’s a major tournament going on, and I can be the first one to put out the recap because not only do I do it first, I will study the five different livestreams and put all their insights into one recap. I think I’m just the best at that. If you need someone to give you 30-minute breakdown of a game or a tournament, so that’s also very fun. There’s one tournament every two months, basically. I don’t get to do that very often, but there’s so much you can do with chess content, at least in my brain. I never get bored.

Tubefilter: Our whole editorial team has seen your videos and so this morning they all demanded that I ask you why you think people are drawn to your chess content specifically.

Levy Rozman: You’ve just never seen hair that looks like a dried sponge.

Tubefilter: [laughs] Yes, that’s it.

Levy Rozman: You’re just like, “How the fuck does it do that?” I don’t know. Yes. Really, I don’t know. I would like to think it’s like a mix of things. It’s like if you have a group of five friends and you wanted to add a sixth, you could consider adding me. I could fit into a friend group. But without getting too parasocial, but I don’t know, maybe I’m funny. Maybe there’s jokes intertwined. Maybe I explain concepts better, I don’t know. I’ve always been good at talking about chess to an audience that would want to listen because I had to teach kids, it’s very tough. As a 19-year-old, when I started teaching chess, I was put in front of a group of five-year-olds, and I could just do it. That’s like a nightmare. But I was able to do it, so I don’t know.

Tubefilter: If you can entertain five-year-olds, you can entertain my coworkers and me.

Levy Rozman: Yes, it’s like five up to 95, without sounding ageist. It could also be beyond or younger.

Tubefilter: Hey. Hey. What about the 100-year-old chess players out there?

Levy Rozman: Yes. Don’t print that I said it’s up to 95. You’re going to get an angry phone call.

@levyrozman insane 0.1 seconds #chess #gothamchess #streamer ♬ original sound – GothamChess

Tubefilter: We’ll watch out for it. To wrap up, is there anything you’re working on that you’re looking forward to, any projects that you’re working on, anything we should know about? I know you just signed with Night, so anything with them?

Levy Rozman: Well, with Night specifically, nothing specific yet. I would love to put on–have you seen Physical: 100 on Netflix? It’s like a Korean elimination-style show with different physical challenges. I would love to put on either a Chess Grandmaster or just regular Twitch, YouTube, TikTok streamers, a big elimination-style thing, like spend a lot of money on a production studio. I think in general, working with Night has opened, not just so many doors, but there’s just so many options to do different cool projects.

It’s just, you’re working with a group of people who you can completely trust. If you have an idea, first of all, they see the value of everything you bring and the scale of it and the opportunities. If you have an idea, you can trust them to execute on it, ideate with you, tell you something sucks and is completely impractical. You can just talk and they’ll like, “Oh yes, we know someone here,” or, “We’ve done this and maybe this applies to you.” Then you can take next steps. That’s one big idea we’ve talked about.

I think 2023 and 2024, I really want to pivot from being just funny-man-behind-camera-who-talks-about-chess to getting out there, meeting other creators, getting a bit more into the face-to-face ecosystem, whether that’s with people who are fellow YouTubers or some streamers. Just building longevity, because at some point this will probably drive me nuts if I just have to sit in a room and make different types of chess content. That’s one thing that we’ve been working on.

October, I have a book that’s coming out. It’s in preorder right now. That’s going to redefine how you want to learn chess in text form. QR codes at the ends of chapters for extra practice.

Now that I’m working with Night, it’s just like a million little things. I’m super excited. It’s nice to trust people who are fully understanding of what you do and also want to build it together.

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