From the Board to the Boardroom: There are So Many Reasons to Love Chess

On December 17, chess enthusiasts will gather for Tactico’s first virtual chess tournament.  The competition offers a chance for players of all levels to compete and includes an invitational featuring top competitors from across the country, like Quebec’s own WGM Maili-Jade Ouellet.


Organized by Rick Ness and Ellis Steinberg, the competition is as much about nurturing connections as it is about revelling in the competitive spirit of this timeless game — one that has experienced a surge of popularity during this unprecedented year.


The disruption of the COVID pandemic cancelled most sporting events and left many people stuck at home, bored. Chess offers a welcome opportunity for healthy competition and human interaction, even in isolation. And people are picking up the game at record rates.


As of March of 2020, had 1.1 million new subscribers — up 6.54 million from the previous year.  The streaming platform for gamers, Twitch, has also seen a steady rise in chess viewership during COVID, even making for a new kind of chess-celebrity in online spheres.


And then there is the popularity of the Netflix Original, Queen’s Gambit.  Featuring the perfectly quirky yet fashionable heroine, Beth Harmon, the binge-worthy series adds a touch of glamour and romance to a game all-too-often associated with nerdy reclusive-types.


“Chess has a great and wonderful community,” says national chess master Nicolas Soudre,  “During this pandemic, the game has given us the chance to connect together again. ”


Played by kings, queens, and IBM machines, its players must be forward-thinking, agile, and reactive, all at the same time. Studies show that chess helps cultivate the kind of aversion to risk, and cognitive abilities that are helpful in other real-world situations, including the realm of business.


“Chess is a game with endless possibilities.  There are clear paths to success, but you need to pick the right path in the right situation. It’s like this in business too,”  says tournament co-organizer and Tactico’s Managing Partner, Rick Ness,  “Exploring this process through chess nurtures a mindset that will help you in business. It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about this tournament.”


The parallels between chess and the business world go beyond strategy.  Like traditional business environments, the world of chess is often criticised for its lack of diversity, especially when it comes to women’s roles.


There have been many well-known chess masters assert that women are incapable of playing chess to male standards, most famously, Bobby Fisher.  Some research supposedly backs this up, highlighting that women lack the competitive nature to navigate the aggressiveness of the game.


Chess Grand Masters, like Judit Polgar, hotly contest this idea, asserting that there are cultural and structural biases within the chess community that has prohibited women’s rise to elite levels in the game.


Although Polgar’s observations came from personal experience, academic research backs her up.


In 2007, researchers matched players of equal skill in online chess games.  When female players were unaware of their opponents’ gender, they performed just as well as their male counterparts. Highlighting what Polgar aptly points out, the study found that women’s performance in chess is the result of complicated and nuanced factors that go well-beyond biology and brain chemistry.


Other academics and grandmasters have observed that when playing against men, women will often give up their first move. This practice indicates a more culturally determined behaviour rather than a biological predisposition.


The good news is that chess organizations are beginning to understand the nuanced biases that women endure.  Like France’s one-woman per team rule, new affirmative policies have led to a rise in female involvement.


In Canada, the rising stars of chess include two young women. Qiyu Zhou is a 20-year-old U of T student and one of the first online chess players to be signed to an e-sport contract. Zhou’s vibrant personality and insights about the game has created a loyal following of chess fans.


And then there’s Quebec’s Maili-Jade Ouellet. Still in CEGEP Ouellet is making a name for herself on the international stage. An exciting competitor, her skills will be on full display at the Tactico tournament.


The rise of women’s participation and success in chess mirrors that of women in business.  Like chess, business is about brains, intuition, and guts.  There is no physical advantage needed, so ambitious women rise to the occasion when you create opportunities and breakdown barriers.


“Similar to poker, chess has shifted a lot to online play,” says national chess master Maroun Tomb (GameOverBro on Lichess)  “Nowadays, players get much more practice online than they used to. Upsets are just an everyday story – you could be a grandmaster and still get outplayed in an online blitz game versus an untitled player.”


And that’s what the Tactico tournament is all about — building connections through healthy competition.  A virtual contest, everyone is welcome to attend.


The Tactico Tournament will include play-by-play commentary from Ellis Steinberg, Tactico’s Head of Business Development and avid chess enthusiast, on Twitch (tacticotwitch), and interviews with the one and only Maili-Jade Ouellet, and International master and superstar Yaacov Norowitz.







Tactico is a hands-on venture capital firm specializing in implementing strategic and tactical solutions for curated, early-stage investments. Along with providing capital, Tactico’s partners get involved in helping business stakeholders establish the future strategic direction of the company. Its leadership team has extensive experience building and operating successful businesses and navigating dynamic corporate climates. Tactico has broken down the barriers so that accredited investors have the opportunity to invest alongside us through targeted special purpose vehicles (SPVs) as well as our Tactico Strategic Finance debt fund.