When Michael Jacobs, now 15, was six years old, his father turned off the internet. Jacobs still wanted to play on the computer, but the only two games that were available without Wi-Fi were chess and solitaire.
“I never really understood how to play solitaire,” he said. “So, I taught myself how to play chess.”
Initially, the Toronto high school student focussed on learning which piece does what, but after his family noticed how much time he spent playing, his dad sat him down and taught him how to strategize.
He’s come a long way since then. About two months ago, he signed on with chess.com, the largest online chess website, becoming the second “kid streamer” promoted by the website.
While Jacobs was playing chess before the pandemic, both online and with the Aurora Chess Club, he began to spend even more time with the game once COVID hit. “Everything got locked down, so I had nothing else to do,” he said.
Jacobs also started to watch other chess streamers on Twitch, a live video streaming service. The streamers record their screen when they play, narrate their moves, and entertain their viewers with personal anecdotes.
It was when Jacobs was watching another kid, around his age and skill level, that he decided that he might want to try streaming as well: “It seemed like he was having lots of fun.”
He opened a Twitch account with the username @suprhotdoggs, which he chose because of the “old definition” that a hot dog is someone who shows off. Despite this and his impressive talent for the game, Jacobs is humble about his successes.
When he first started out, Jacobs was nervous about streaming to a crowd. “I never really liked talking in front of people,” he said. Before he garnered a following, he was just streaming to himself, and used that time to build up his confidence. Now, almost two years later, he has 5,000 followers, and his favourite part of streaming is engaging with his audience.
After about six months of streaming, Jacobs decided to apply to chess.com, but was rejected many times. Still, he continued trying until finally signing with them in September, which has increased his viewership.
He streams four to five times a week for about two hours, battling other players at a similar skill level. Jacobs plays blitz chess, which is timed.
“It’s a different game almost every single time you play,” he said. “And I also like that it’s strategic and not luck… although there’s a little bit luck involved in it.”
Jacobs makes anywhere from $300 to over $1,000 a month streaming chess, which is certainly another perk for doing what he loves.
“How Twitch works is that the people in your community give you money,” he said. “So, if the people watching me don’t want to give me a cent, I won’t make anything.”
He also gets a cut when someone buys a premium membership to chess.com under his name.
In addition to his commitment to chess streaming, Jacobs is also busy being a Grade 9 student at TanenbaumCHAT and playing hockey.
As for the future, Jacobs plans to compete in in-person tournaments and become a chess master.
Until then, he has some advice to share about what he’s learned from his experience rising through the ranks and becoming a successful chess streamer.
“I want people to know that if they try something new, they should not give up right away,” he stressed. “Because, in the beginning, I was streaming to myself for a few months. Like, no one was watching, actually not one person. And I didn’t give up [and here’s] where I got to.”