An Evening of Chess with John Bartholomew (and friends!)

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

First things first, happy thanksgiving everyone!

With the occasion of Chessable’s second birthday, and IM John Bartholomew’s hunt for a GM norm in London, we are organising an awesome evening of chess at the Battersea Chess Club on Wednesday, the 29th of November from 17:00 to 21:30 PM.

This blog post is a reminder for you to RSVP, but also a special update. We now have some really awesome guests coming to take part, and we might just tell you who it is in the next couple of days 😉

The event is FREE to attend, but please RSVP early if you want to be guaranteed to play some chess and have a potential crack at John. And remember,  get your study sessions in and keep your streak up, as we might have a surprise or two in store for those with their activity calendars up to date and streaks on fire.

See you there.

Unlocking a premium feature: Advanced Line Study for all!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

Have you ever tried to make or import your own custom Chessable book? If you have and you aren’t a PRO member, chances are you’ve run into our “Advanced Line Study” limitation. Guess what? Hurrah! It’s gone for good. Now everyone can enjoy making their own book.

Here is how one of our users described feeling before and after the change.

This limitation was for custom/private books only. Regular members were limited to the study of the first few moves and required an upgrade to study more. If you don’t know what I mean, don’t worry, you probably were never affected by it. Purchased, and freely published books have always been fully accessible. Nevertheless, this change is going to make many of our free members happy, so we thought we’d write this up to let you know. Just in case you were thinking of making your own book! 😉

As Chessable has grown and we have added more PRO features (move depth, soft fail for custom books, etc.), the PRO list has grown more impressive, and rightly so. In this manner, we show our appreciation for the many people who support us financially and save some server resources. However, it’s been a while since we’ve upgraded our regular members to something special, and since we love you guys just as much, today is the day.

So what are you waiting for? You can now enjoy using this part of the site without any limitations whatsoever. Why don’t you give making or importing your own Chessable repertoire a try? If you do, let us know what you think. We are always looking to improve.

Bringing chess books to life: introducing the new features that make it possible.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

Today is a special day that marks a massive milestone for Chessable. We have taken a remarkable print chess book on openings and made it available on Chessable as a fully interactive online course. This has been part of our vision since day one, and it is now a reality. Our first release is Vincent Moret’s “My First Chess Opening Repertoire for White“, and there will be more to come.

So many great chess books written are often only found in print form. Sometimes they have an electronic copy, PDF or PGN. However, nothing quite compares to having them on Chessable. Here they are imported and curated into an interactive lesson that allows you to dig in and start studying at your maximum potential straight away.

On Chessable, beyond reading, not only do you get to drill the recommendations of highly regarded trainers such as Moret, but you also get to quiz yourself on the material. With the help of spaced review, you maximise the chances you will retain what you have learned. Confused? You can also ask the in-house chess master, or the community, questions about any position in the book. You are not alone.

We aim for this to be the start of a series of exciting Chessable releases, where we take classic and acclaimed print books and release them here to help you maximise your learning potential. What’s your favourite opening book? What would it mean if you could have a second copy here on Chessable so that you could drill the things that matter most? Let us know!

Tell us what chess book you'd like brought to life next.Click To Tweet

We are so excited about the possibilities, and of course, to make it happen, we have had to address some challenges and come up with a few new things.

Here are some new things you will notice around the site that will benefit every book on the platform:

Soft error/alternative moves calculated by an engine.
Even though 4. Nc3 is the text move, you are now free to try other engine approved moves.

Previously, we had this working for endgame books. For endgames, we checked the tablebases and allowed you to play any of the winning continuations. Now, every book can tap into one of the world’s strongest chess engines and check every single opening and middle game position for equivalent moves (eval difference up to 0.20). Therefore, if you play something other than the text move, you will not be penalised with a mistake. Instead, you get to try again. In this manner, you will not only learn the main line recommended by the book, but easily start to recognise and remember viable alternatives. We are testing this out with a few books on the site, before rolling it out to every single book.

Interactive tactics/puzzles can now be included in Chessable books
An example of some puzzles in Vincent Moret’s “My First Chess Opening Repertoire”

For instance, the Moret book offers 64 puzzles that test the knowledge you have acquired. These mini quizzes fit in perfectly with the Chessable format. Moreover, now you do not have to turn a book’s page to find out if you have answered correctly, you can simply get solving! We will soon port this new addition to the 100 Endgames You Must Know book, which has some problems suited to this new format.

Fully explore a position by clicking on the sub-variations where necessary
An example of how the new in-chapter navigation looks

This not-so-new, but now refined feature, allows you to click on a move and change the board position during learning, review and view modes. This has been a long overdue feature that became essential when converting variation heavy print books into Chessable format.

Informational lines (read-only) learning flow changed

Most of us like to learn a book on Chessable simply by clicking the Learn Next button. Previously this would skip all the informational lines, which sometimes are very important. With this new change, the informational lines will be presented to you as part of your normal learning flow. If you do not feel like going through them, you can click Skip and move on.

Remember to tell us what chess book you'd like brought to life next.Click To Tweet

As always, there have been many other changes around the site, big and small. We have fixed bugs, written new features, simplified parts of the site and more. We’d bore you if we wrote about it all. So to summarise, taking a book from print to fully interactive online course has been a great challenge! It has helped us shape Chessable for the better. As we continue to bring you more of these books, we are sure Chessable will keep getting better and better. We cannot wait for the next one. Stay tuned 🙂

Making all of our interactive chess books better than awesome.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

In his best-selling book Zero to One, billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel said that:

It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. Every new creation goes from 0 to 1.

Boy is he right! Many of the things we have done at Chessable have been taking us from 0 to 1. When we started, we had some idea of what we wanted to make, but we could not foresee everything. The more we listened to our community and used the product ourselves, the closer we got from 0 to 1.

These inherent difficulties of creating a new product, combined with bootstrapping and a lean approach, meant that some of our first chess books were lacking just a tad of love. Some features were developed months after the release of these books. While many of these features get automatically rolled out when we write them, some require a bit more human touch.

Because we want every single book to feel like the best chess learning experience you have ever had, today we are announcing our plans to revamp many of Chessable’s oldies. We have begun by completing a new quality assurance of John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian, the classic #teamscandi book.

With John’s book, we have checked all comments for accuracy, added missing comments in some locations, got John to clarify certain positions, improved annotations, re-ordered variations for better study order and more. We have added informational and alternative lines where appropriate, and all in all made sure that the learning experience is up to today’s higher standards.

We plan to work on Chessexplained’s books and GM Alex Colovic’s books next, to allow for the same awesome experience in all of these excellent books. This is not to say they are not great as they are, as the many 5-star reviews will attest. These books are already awesome, but we want to go beyond that!

If you have already bought the book, as always, you will receive all the updates for FREE. However, to reflect the extra work that goes into making exceptional interactive eBooks, some of them may have to have a slight price increase. John Bartholomew’s book was a steal at $9.99 and from today on it will cost $14.99.

However, to give you a chance to jump on board #teamscandi we’ll run a 5-day sale at $7.49. Half price. How’s that? Enjoy (and don’t miss out!).

You can grab John’s book here: https://www.chessable.com/opening-book/im-john-bartholomews-scandinavian/79/

What’s new in Chessable this summer ’17?

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Chessable is always improving and evolving. Building it has always been a product of passion and love for chess and chess education. Moreover, listening to our users is one of our top priorities, and as a result, we have a product that might change all the time!

Therefore if we were to release an update every time there was something new, you might just get tired of hearing from us! However, this summer many awesome things have happened so I thought I’d write a quick post showcasing the latest features. Let’s start with the newest.

Opening Explorer
https://www.chessable.com/explore/

opening explorer

The new opening explorer will show you winning and drawing percentages based on a database of millions of quality chess games (thanks to TWIC for building up such a collection of valuable PGNs). You can see this information for the first five moves, beyond that its fully unlocked if you are a PRO member. The opening explorer is in v1, and we already have planned improvements for v2 which will allow you to sort by variations in Chessable or Games in Database, whichever you want. As a bonus, the performance and speed of the explorer have been improved for everyone, and you will notice it is now much faster and better than before.

E-mail notifications

We have improved our e-mail notification system so that now you will also receive an e-mail if you people respond to a comment of yours (including book authors). To make it even better, we allow authors to opt-in to notifications on comments on variations or books they have published, so that it is easier for them to respond to your comments or queries. Of course, you can disable these notifications any time via the subscription settings page here.

Analysis board
https://www.chessable.com/analysis/

After the release of 100 Endgames You Must Know we had multiple requests for an analysis board where you could check out various moves and analyse them. We listened to your feedback and released a first version of our analysis board a couple of weeks ago.  As a slightly technical note, this allowed us to start using Vue.js as a technology on Chessable. Vue allows for a better user experience and we hope to soon implement it in other key areas of the site.

Import a PGN Revamp
https://www.chessable.com/import/

We’ve also had a chance to improve the import a PGN page which desperately needed a face lift, together with some functionality improvements. You can now copy and paste your PGN text, or drag and drop a file to the field selector.

We try and keep a list of updates in our FAQ, you can find it here, however, not everything we do makes it on to it. One thing is for sure though, you can expect more and more updates and Chessable should get better and better as time goes by. Stay tuned and thanks for using Chessable!

Endgame training with 100 Endgames You Must Know

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

At the end of last year, I admitted that to improve my own game I needed to learn things beyond the opening. I promised all of you that Chessable would release something to make this possible. However, chess is such a complex game that there will always be many things to learn. We had to narrow it down. We wanted something not yet out there and that would be really useful to chess players of all ratings.

In one of my favourite books, Think Like a Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov writes that “playing the ending well is a mark of the good player, and it is no accident that all the world champions have been noted for this ability”. While this classic book is now perhaps a bit dated, things haven’t changed all that much. The current world champion Magnus Carlsen is well known to outclass most of his opponents during the endgame. Despite this, as De la Villa noted in 2008, there is a tendency for players to neglect this important part of chess. I’ve been guilty of that and lost many half and full-points both online and over the board. Therefore, it seemed logical that we needed to change how improving chess players go about their endgame training. Enter Jesus de la Villa, New in Chess, and their wonderful book 100 Endgames You Must Know.

Playing the ending well is a mark of the good player, and it is no accident that all the world champions have been noted for this ability.Click To Tweet

So what’s new? Why is learning endgames with Chessable better than with a print book and a chess board? Well, De la Villa listed many excuses on why players neglect endgames. It seems appropriate to start with these concerns, and how Chessable changes the picture:

Excuse #1: ‘Studying the endgame is boring.’
No longer does this have to be the case. Endgames are perfectly suited to the Chessable learning method. You can compete in the leaderboards, gain awesome badges, and build up your streak. By making learning fun, we hope to help you gain the motivation necessary to “pay your dues to the endgame as all the greats have done” (De la Villa).

Excuse #2: ‘Half (if not 90%) of the endings I look at are quickly forgotten.’
Chessable’s spaced repetition algorithm will make sure you review at optimal points backed by learning science. Once you’ve started to retain the material, our system will quiz you less and less. Once you know them, you won’t have to review more than once every few months, if at all. Quickly forgotten? More like forever remembered!

Excuse #3: ‘I can’t find a book with good explanations’
De la Villa’s book is one of the most recognised endgame books out there. It’s extremely well written and organised content resonates with many. The author just has a knack for explaining endgames. All the original explanations have been imported with the Chessable digital format. Of course, you can also use our new version alongside the print book. If you choose to do so, for the first time be able to keep track of your progress other than via bookmarks!

You can compete in the leaderboards, gain awesome badges, and build up your streak.Click To Tweet

Other than addressing these typical excuses, we’ve also made sure to go above and beyond that. Now, there really should be no reasons why someone doesn’t study the endgame:

The Book is Supported by 6-men Endgame Tablebases
This allows Chessable to know all possible solutions to the endgames presented by De la Villa. We’ve taken certain alternative variations and common blunders and added them as their own endgames. In this manner, you can commit everything that’s important to memory.

Alternative Moves Feature Released
We made and released a special feature. Alternative moves allow you to play a different move to the text move without penalising you. This means that if Re2 and Re8 achieve the same thing, and you play the alternative, the system will recognise this and refresh your timer so that you have enough time to recall the text move.

Aside from everything we have already done, as always, we will be listening to your feedback and improving things to make it all even better. Enjoy!

PS.- To celebrate International Chess Day, tomorrow, New in Chess have been very kind to run a one-week sale for $14.99 instead of the retail price of $19.99. Don’t miss out. Check out this awesome book now.

Updates to the terms of use, privacy policy and payment gateway.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

While this may not be the most exciting of updates we have had, we are nonetheless quite happy to announce it! We have new and shiny: terms of service, privacy policy and a checkout/payment gateway. Now that they are finally here, they will facilitate the growth of Chessable to achieve our next set of milestones. Spoiler alert: we want to treat you with great chess content made easy to learn by using the Chessable learning system!

For the terms and privacy, we kept our users in mind at every step of the way. We also followed the best practices listed at https://tosdr.org/ to make sure we were doing the best we can for you. Our lawyers understood our concerns, and we think our new terms reflect that we care about our users first and foremost. What’s more, we’ve provided a running summary in plain English! We know some of us may feel a tad overwhelmed by the language of the law. Please do review these documents as they apply every time you access the site. If you have any questions or concerns, please e-mail us at hello@chessable.com

Today we’ve also released a new payment gateway. We partnered up with Stripe as our new primary payment partner. This allows us to give you the best customer service possible, even better than with our previous partners. For some of you, it may be that some payment methods you have gotten used to (e.g. bank transfer) may temporarily be unavailable. We are sorry about that, and we do plan to increase our payments accepted in the future. Initially, we are launching with Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Paypal. Another big plus of this update is that we can now accept payments in British Pound Sterling (GBP) and Euros (EUR). Shortly, we may support more local currencies. In the shopping cart, simply use the currency converter at the top right of the page. US dollars remain our primary currency. For all other currencies, there may be a slight mark up due to exchange fees. You are free to switch back to USD if it works out cheaper/better. Our system will remember your preferences. We wanted to give you more choice, more flexibility.

Now that these important updates are out of the way, we are going to crack on working on something more exciting. We promise you’ll love some of the stuff we’ve got coming up!

 

The One and Only: The Very First Chessable Legend!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Congratulations are in order for user Bumblebee! Over the weekend, he became the very first Chessable member to get the awesome “Legend” badge. The badge is awarded to members who reach 10,000,000 points (whew!).

This is quite the achievement. To put it in perspective, I am the very first Chessable member and had a couple of years head start. I am still about 5,000,000 points behind Bumblebee! Incredible.

To celebrate the occasion, we made a very special one of a kind badge. We called it “The One and Only” and Bumblebee is the proud owner of it. Since we truly love all of our members, there might be another badge or two, but they won’t be quite what this one is.

First Legend Badge

I briefly caught up with Bumblebee, and I can share with you that he is a casual chess player who purely plays unrated games. He loves studying chess openings on Chessable as he enjoys outplaying his opponents from the get-go. It was a bit surprising to me that he doesn’t play chess competitively. Instead he just enjoys learning what Chessable’s masters have to teach in their books. Presumably, he then plays an unrated game or two like a PRO! Therefore, while we don’t have a rating to share with you, this is what Bumblebee had to say about his progress:

“My inaccuracies, mistakes, blunders, and centipoint loss have fallen. I do think I have improved my feel of the game with a better understanding of undermining, pawn breaks, and weak squares.”

Bumblebee is indeed thinking of joining a chess club soon and getting a rating. We look forward to that day (please do write to us with an update Bumblebee!). We think you’ll absolutely rock your local chess club. Keep going!

Our first round of funding is in!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding.

Last year John and I took the decision to fundraise to accelerate the growth and development of Chessable. A whole year and two crowdfunding campaigns later, I am very happy to announce that we have finally done it! We’ve raised nearly £100,000 from private investors. These funds will immediately be put to good use, supporting our mission of making Chessable the go-to source for chess improvement and education.

Paradoxically, investing time in fundraising would always delay many of the things we want to achieve. Our roadmap and backlog have always been overflowing with things we need to do. I often had doubts, should I be working instead of trying to raise funds? However, I think the following story told by Stephen Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes why fundraising was always the right choice:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

We didn’t want to be too busy sawing. We wanted to make sure we deliver an awesome service as quickly as possible without compromising on quality. While we have been consistently improving the site, which is now unmistakably better than during our humble beginnings in February last year, there are still a lot of things we want to do! With a two-man team this has been a slow process and while we’ve had a helping hand from some awesome volunteers it just hasn’t been enough to work on everything we’d like to deliver. This is why we chose to fundraise and sharpen the saw.

Now that the process is complete (hurray!), we will immediately start growing our team and bring you more great features and content. We’ve already recruited one of our volunteers to be our first full-time hire (welcome Simon!) and have concrete next steps to bring you more great things that we know you will love. Stay tuned.

Seedrs vs Crowdcube Part II – Key lessons for UK crowdfunding campaigns.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding.

Back in October of last year, I wrote Part I of my take on Seedrs vs. Crowdcube. It was a short and sweet post promising more detail down the line. In part II, the goal is to share a little bit more of Chessable’s story and also try and help other UK entrepreneurs considering the same issue.

If you are an entrepreneur, you may ask what lessons can a failed campaign offer you? Plenty! While crowdfunding did not work out for us, our investment bid is not over yet, and we are in the last stages of raising an angel round privately. We are also one of the very few companies to have been listed both on Seedrs and Crowdcube (not an easy feat!). As a failed crowdfunding campaign, I can say that I wish I knew a lot of what I am about to write before the journey. I certainly Googled around for such a post; there was none to be found. Here it is.

First things first, do you really need crowdfunding?

We opted for crowdfunding for multiple reasons. First, we had many enquiries from our users about whether they could invest. This may sound like a no-brainer then, but be careful! If like us, you have a lot of international and U.S. users, you may find that getting U.S. individuals to participate is next to impossible. Confront the platforms on this issue straight away, as despite what members of their team may tell you, it may just be impossible. For instance, we couldn’t get a £10k accredited US investor on board, and we only found out when it was time to make the payment. Initially, we were told by the crowdfunding platforms we’d find a way to make it work, it didn’t. We wasted the investor’s time, and we wasted our time.

This might change as the field matures and certainly if we were able to let our US and international backers participate, crowdfunding may have been the way. As for us, we then hoped that our UK and European supporters would help us pull through, but we really did miss the rest of our user base. Moreover, considering we had trouble getting German and Swedish users on board, the situation is just as likely to get harder as Brexit looms over our heads.

Lesson: If you opt for crowdfunding and have a large user base outside the UK, be sure to check, double-check and triple-check exactly how your international users can get on board, if at all.

Another reason we choose crowdfunding was that despite the high fees charged by the platforms (nearing 10% when tallied up), it appeared to offer us a better deal. The market seemed to offer higher valuations. The crowdfunding companies promised introductions to exciting investors. The platforms said they would make everything easier than raising money privately. “How will you ever raise money from a crowd without us, they’ll say”!

In reality, I’ve found it so much easier to conduct our private investment. We did have to pay a solicitor upfront to draft up some documents and consult with us, but it has been easier than preparing for the crowdfunding platforms. In the UK, the crowdfunding platforms are FCA regulated; which protects people from “financial promotions”. This adds a lot of overhead and makes things harder and longer than they should be. The crowdfunding companies also work pretty slowly, drawing things out for a long time.

If you think you won’t find investor introductions without the platforms, think again! Our most promising investor leads, U.S. and U.K. based, were already part of our mailing list. Consider that perhaps there are other ways to get these same introductions.

Lesson: Hiring your own solicitor and dealing directly with a few angels, may be a more cost and time effective option to raise finance for your business. Crowdfunding takes more time and effort than it initially appears or promises.

Our most promising investor leads, were already part of our mailing list.Click To Tweet

We also saw crowdfunding as an exercise in marketing and branding. Let’s make some noise, and more people will find out about us! We spent a considerable chunk of our bootstrapped revenue on this, but in the end, we think it was worth it. In particular, our London events worked out really well. We promoted them via our mailing list and more than a few people joined us. New chess book authors partnered with us. We got invited to present at chess events. I even got a chance to once again appear on the BBC! It was thanks to these efforts that we met some of our private investors who will soon be part of Chessable. There must be some magic to meeting prospective investors in person, rather than having your first interactions with them online. In the end, this became the most important reason of them all.

Lesson: The marketing and branding you can get out of crowdfunding can be very successful. However, do not underestimate its price and how much time and energy it will take. We’ve met companies that have spent £5k just on their crowdfunding video. As a young start-up, you may be surprised by how quickly all the fees add up.

Certainly, if in the future I am ever considering the issue of crowdfunding again, it would be a good idea to consider other financing options in a bit more detail. But if I were to crowdfund again (and due to the marketing and branding, I would!), why would I opt for Crowdcube instead of Seedrs? Here is why:

Key Takeaway #1: Crowdcube’s algorithm is transparent, Seedrs offers you a black box.
Let’s cut to the chase. The big one. To get investment you need introductions to investors. To get introductions to investors via the crowdfunding platforms there is only one way. You need to rank above-the-fold on the platform’s main investment opportunities page. Just like in Google search results, the top three results get all the clicks; the rest is left forgotten. The platforms may not admit it, but it’s not too hard to come to this conclusion yourself.

In one week with Crowdcube, we received ten times the number of introductions than we did via Seedrs. On Crowdcube every single investment gives you exposure at the top of their page. Being at the top of the page leads to further introductions and further investments. Social proof, it’s basic human psychology! In contrast, Seedrs maintains a secret sauce for their top rankings. Raise more money they said, and you’ll get there. The truth was, even a £5,000 investment was not enough for page one! What’s my motivation to get another £5k investor on board if it will lead to no introductions? On Crowdcube, a £10 investment is sufficient.

Lesson: Crowdcube offers a clear strategy for you to follow. Watch the Seedrs and Crowdcube homepage before making your choice. See if you understand their success metrics. What do you need to do to get above-the-fold exposure? Don’t take my word for it, and definitely don’t just assume a good investment opportunity will rise to the top by itself.

Key Takeaway #2: Crowdcube offers more guidance and support through the entire process.
Even if you think you don’t need it, it is good to know that it’s there. During my entire interaction with Seedrs, I heard a real person’s voice once. This was when I was chasing Seedrs down and had to call them to get a major issue fixed on launch day. In contrast, simply to get an application in with Crowdcube, I spent at least two hours on the phone with real people who showed an interest in what we do. Ivan, who would become our campaign manager, researched our business and asked critical and important questions that you rather answer before investors ask them! Mike, their marketing guy, helped us with some of our best marketing and branding ideas. It was awesome to have a real partner in our funding efforts.

Many other little things help Crowdcube have the edge over Seedrs. For instance, the actual interface and web platform used to create your campaign, their support documentation, investor rewards, and more. However, since Seedrs may very well evolve and improve I will leave you with the details only on the key takeaways. Certainly, if Seedrs became a more transparent platform, things would change. However, until they do, at the very least I hope I have encouraged you to scrutinise this choice with a bit more care before making such an important decision. Good luck!