Anna Cramling is playing games with you
Through her joy-filled YouTube and Twitch channels, she is changing everything you think you know about chess.
It’s not just that Anna Cramling is really good at chess. It’s not just that her YouTube channel is full of great tutorials and advice. And it’s not just that watching her mop the board with cocky, arrogant chess hustlers who underestimate her the minute she sits down is endlessly entertaining.
It’s that she’s clearly having as much fun doing it as we are watching it.
Approaching chess with an infectious joy, Cramling—the daughter of not one, but two, chess grandmasters—is becoming a champion for the sport who is anything but stuffy or coldly cerebral. Her aim is to open the gates and invite everyone to overcome their own fears and assumptions and enjoy the game as much as she does.
“What I really want to do is improve at chess and bring all my audience with me while I'm doing it,” says Cramling from her home in Sweden. “I've brought both my live audience on Twitch and YouTube to tournaments, to follow my journey. It's been really fun to bring so many more eyes to it, and I want to keep on doing that. I absolutely love it!”
You were raised by grandmasters. Did you have tiny, plush rooks in your crib?
Yeah, being born into a chess playing family was super strange to be honest. Chess was basically the language we spoke at home. I was born in Spain actually, so I spoke both Spanish and Swedish—but what we really spoke was chess. It became like another language for me. During dinners, my parents would just start talking about chess—they'd be like, “Oh, by the way, I remember this game from two years ago. Why did you not do this move over here? Do you remember?” Then they'd start going through the whole game. I played my first tournament when I was five years old. But other than that, I had a normal life. I went to school, had friends…
Do you remember actually learning how to play? Or was it just by osmosis?
Chess always felt so natural because it was the one thing that I always had with me. One of my earliest memories was from when I was about four years old, I was playing a game against my Mom and she could have put her king into a safe position and she didn’t. And I told her, “Mom, you know you can castle, right? Why are you not castling?” And she was so shocked I knew about castling. She was just playing casually but I thought, “Am I a prodigy? Do I know something my Mom doesn’t?” [laughs]
I didn’t realize there was trash talking in chess until I saw your videos. Is there more of that going on at big tournaments than we realize?
[Laughs] No. In tournaments you have to be quiet. It’s like 200 people in one big room and everybody's quiet. It's actually awkward because you can't eat anything or you can't start coughing or something because everyone is going to hear you. It's like being in a really, really serious exam room. I went to a tournament a few months ago and—I think because a lot of people have seen some of my videos—this one guy watching kept trash talking without realizing that you're not supposed to do that there. It was pretty funny.
The Queen’s Gambit. Is it BS chess, or is it actually good?
In the past, when I’d watch movies or TV shows with chess in them, I did get annoyed at little things—but The Queen's Gambit was the first time I watched a show about chess and didn't cringe at all! I was like, this is awesome. I also got immersed in the storyline that I didn't even think about chess. I really think The Queen's Gambit was absolutely amazing, by far my favorite chess show ever created.
Based on pure aesthetics, which is your favorite piece?
Oh, the knight, a hundred percent. I love the knight; I think it's so pretty.
What regular board game confounds you the most?
Monopoly. It always takes so long, and I always lose.
How have your chess skills helped you the most outside of playing?
Concentration. Playing chess from a very young age taught me the importance of being able to sit down at a table and think for three, four hours. I think that really made me very calm when I was a little kid. I had more patience, and I was able to concentrate much better.
Do you ever get sick of playing?
Playing chess never feels like work. Chess is still my big passion, that's why I can sometimes stream for 10 hours straight playing chess—I can really play for as long as possible. I love it!
Finally, who is your dream opponent?
For a long time, my ideal opponent was [former world champion] Magnus Carlsen, but I did get to play him once, so now maybe I’ll say a big celebrity? I think that would be really good for chess as well, to get more celebrities playing it. So…I don't know…Harry Styles? [laughs]
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