Street | Cover Story
Chesscademy, a free website designed to teach users how to play chess, has garnered praise in the media and now sees between 10,000 and 15,000 unique visitors a month. But what many people do not realize is that Chesscademy launched a mere six months ago — and that its creators are two college students and a high school senior.
Chesscademy, the brainchild of Andrew Ng, originally from the Class of 2016, and cofounders Francis Hinson and Sabar Dasgupta, was born of a desire “to provide a fun and free, easy way for people to learn how to play chess,” Ng said during a recent phone interview. Hinson is a student at the University of Rochester, and Dasgupta is a student at Princeton High School. Both Ng and Hinson are currently taking time off from school to work on Chesscademy.
“When I was in high school, I volunteered at a local elementary school chess club once a week for all four years,” Ng said. “But I found that I couldn’t really teach all of them as well as I would’ve been able to teach one of them, one at a time.”
Chesscademy is currently divided into two distinct components: the “Learn” section and the “Train” section. The website’s current target demographic is beginner and intermediate-level players. The ultimate goal is to integrate the two sections, in part by personalizing each user’s experience based on past performance.
“We’re trying to get that qualitative feedback really down-pat so all of our users can have a really personal learning experience,” Ng explained. He later added, “That’s really an issue that a lot of people have been talking about recently: how they can introduce technology in a way to form a premium adaptive learning experience.”
Beginning in March, Chesscademy will be based for three months in the New York office space of start-up accelerator Techstars. Though they are not officially part of the program, which provides participants with seed funding and mentorship, Techstars’ administrators liked Chesscademy so much that they invited Ng and Hinson to join them in their Greenwich Village office.
For the future, Ng is considering expanding into school districts interested in providing structured chess instruction to students.
“[Chesscademy] can also be extended to other subject areas and as a result have a larger adjustable market. Instead of people only interested in chess, it can be anyone who’s generally interested in math, computer science,” Ng said of Chesscademy’s adaptive approach toward teaching. “Education isn’t really cookie-cutter; you can’t just throw a bunch of information at a group of 10 kids and expect them all to retain the same amount of information.”