‘Do they think Tallulah Roberts is Magnus Carlsen?’ How Anna Cramling and Tallulah chess streamed their way to stardom


A herd of young adults flock to Tallulah Roberts, or lularobs as she is more famous in the chess streaming circles. Selfies, photographs on the backdrop of a tourism hoarding or the giant chess board on the courtyard, phone numbers, autographs, their requests are endless. Patiently, Tallulah fulfills their demands. Only to witness another group barging in. Her teammate and friend, watching all these with a bewildered smile, quips her: “Do they think she is Magnus Carlsen or what?”

Tallulah is no Magnus Carlsen. Or anywhere among the elites of the games. She is ranked 84216th in the world, or in her self-deprecating assessment, “back of beyond.” Her ELO rating is 1565 and she has not imagined picking up the various FIDE norms. Yet, the 24-year-old from Jersey, a British island near the north coast of France, is a chess celebrity, instantly recognized in most chess playing countries.

Her twitch stream is the 18th most watched on the platform with a following in the region of 60,000 people. These are not mind-spinning numbers, compared to someone like American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who has a Twitch (the Amazon-owned site where people usually broadcast themselves playing video games) with a following of nearly 15 lakhs and a monthly earnings of several millions . But unlike Nakamura, who became a world-beating chess virtuoso in his teens, Tallulah learned chess in her early 20s.

Before the pandemic, she could not even differentiate between a king and queen on the chessboard. “I was a complete stranger to chess, and picked it just to beat the boredom of lockdown, inspired by the Netflix show, The Queen’s Gambit. Then after I started playing, the idea of ​​streaming hit me, and I was already aware of the scope of streaming and I wanted to start streaming because it’s something I always thought was really cool.”

Her profile intro reads: “hey, I’m bad at chess. We could be bad at chess together. wanna play?” Having leapt onto streaming, deciding content was her next step. “Serious chess would be boring. So why not some fun content? Some fun with games. You need the viewers to be entertained as well as enlightened. And people always look for diverse content, especially on the web where you have thousands of options,” she says.

Here content is humor-rich. Like one episode was titled Chess Tinder: Twitch Chat Swipes Yes or No on Chess Celebrities. Another one: How Chess Players Would Behave at My Birthday Party. There are more serious ones too like Learning the Polish Opening with Lula. Thus she has built a brand around humour, banter and some chess. “Stick to your strengths, be natural,” is her advice.

For Anna Cramling, a Swedish Fide Master with a 2065 rating and 13th most streamed in Twitch with 137k subscribers, her prerogative is chess education through simple methods. Anna wanted to create her own content on the internet and began doing commentary for some time before Panda TV, a channel on Twitch, handed her a contract for streaming. “I love being able to explain chess to people, and I also love that chess can be so many different things. It could be a competitive sport, entertainment, a fun thing to do when you want to relax, etc. Creating different types of chess content was something I realized I was very passionate about. and that was why, when I discovered twitch and the fact that you could live stream chess there, I decided to do it,” she says.

Her latest stream—published on Tuesday—is The Pawns Kept Pushing, in which she furnishes a gist of her matches at the Olympiad, besides the mood and melee of the tournament. Another features her mother, Pia Cramling, a Grandmaster herself. There are academic ones like How to Play the Queen’s Gambit, pure fun types like Fighting with Samay Raina (the stand-up comedian) and off-the-beat interviews with top Grandmasters. She streams some of her matches too—an exhibition match against Magnus Carlsen garnered 2.1 million views. “I look for diversity in content, and to package it aesthetically. I would say content is queen. Why always the king,” she says.

The USP of online chess, and a reason streaming became so popular, she says, is that online chess has a lot of emotion and adrenaline. “A lot of people realized that chess players are emotional and witty, and chess is fun to play,” she says.

The Godfather of chess streaming is the American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, known for an attacking style and a brash, arrogant manner, and hence a figure of controversy in the chess circles. Ironically, these were the same virtues that made him a Twitch sensation. “For much of my career, much of my life, I’ve sort of been the bad guy. I’m not someone who’s been liked. I’ve always been perceived as the person who people don’t want to root for, who people don’t like,” he had once said.

But now he is the darling of the swelling online stream community. His interviews with fellow GMs are all humor and banter, insights and intuitions. His spontaneity and expressiveness make him a natural. When he streams online games, he keeps interacting with the audience. “Do I play solid” Or do I go for broke?” he asks his audience. He berates himself, “aaah this can’t be happening.” He eggs himself on: “I can’t lose”, and even applauds himself: “I win again — there you go, guys. Wow.”

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For a locked-down world, Nakamura (Naka’s PogUniversity) and the streamers like Alexandra and Anna Botez, Gotham Chess offered an escape from boredom and loneliness. Nakamura had begun streaming in 2018, but it was during the pandemic that the viewership and subscription numbers began to skyrocket. Shortly, one of the world’s top professional video game teams, Team SoloMid, beat several e-sports rivals to sign him to a six-figure contract so it could pair him with advertisers and merchandise. On his Twitch channel, Nakamura rarely stops talking. His lively commentary and chatter are reasons fans have flocked to him.

“He draws people because he’s so good, engaging as and in tune with the sort of Twitch culture,” points out Tallulah, who is also a “down-to-earth memer and jokester”. So much so that she is called the Grandmaster of chess memes

Most non-match streams don’t last longer than 30 minutes. But the effort that goes behind it is longer. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job, there are no fixed hours. I brood several hours over an idea, then think, rethink, refine, it might take anywhere between a couple of hours to days. Then fixing the ambience, shooting the videos, it’s not as simple as you see,” Tallulah says.

But it’s all worth the hard work, says Anna Cramling. “The effort behind the content is the fun part for me. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Obviously I like to get good numbers for the show, but it’s about my satisfaction and my effort to spread the beautiful game.,” she details And has given them identity beyond chess players.

Although the pandemic curves plunged and restrictions eased, people began to migrate to outdoor sports, and streaming has plateaued. Tallulah logics: “That’s true. The streaming graph won’t shoot like it did during the pandemic, but it wouldn’t drop.” The reason: “Chess is an addiction. Once you start playing it, you keep coming back,” says Tallulah, who was about to be bullied by another group of youngsters. And her friend chortles: “Here goes Magnus.” You don’t need to be a Grandmaster to be famous in chess.

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