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Good chess players are master strategists and problem solvers. Alexandra Botez has one more unlikely skill in her arsenal: insults.
“My dad is a huge troll,” the chess influencer, 25, told The Post of her father and former coach, Andrei. “He would always trash-talk me when we were playing so I had to survive and learn to trash-talk him back. I think he gets very disappointed if I am not good at it.”
Alexandra’s withering repartee — like ripping Norwegian grandmaster Jon Ludvig Hammer’s hokey Hawaiian shirt between moves — has helped her attract 450,000 followers on the gaming platform Twitch, where she livestreams games and personal content with her sister, Andrea, 18.
Her numbers have shot up this year — in January, she had just 61,000 fans on Twitch — as the pandemic forced people indoors without many competitive sports to watch.She also has more than 250,000 followers on Instagram and more than 25 million views on her Youtube channel BotezLive.
“I think everyone in the chess world agrees that this is the best-ever portrayal of chess on the TV screen,” said Botez, who holds the prestigious International Chess Federation title of Women’s FIDE Master. “Chess-set sales on eBay have soared over 130 percent. It’s had a big impact on girls’ interest in chess.”
The same could be said for Botez herself. Born in Dallas, she’s the daughter of Romanian immigrants who fled communism and sought political asylum. The family moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada, when she was very young, and her father, an engineer, began teaching 6-year-old Alexandra to play chess on a wager.
“My mom only plays a little. So he made a bet that he could teach me to play and that, in only two weeks, I would be able to beat her,” Botez said.
She did, and her dad realized he had a special talent on his hands. Two years later he began taking her to local parks to hustle old-timers (albeit with no cash involved).
“He’d say, ‘Is it OK if my daughter tries a game?’ They would make room for me to play but be annoyed,” Botez recalled. But annoyance would turn to confusion once she beat them. “They would say, ‘Who is your daughter?’ ”
After the family moved to Texas, she won the US Girls National championship at age 15. At Stanford, where she studied international relations with a focus on China, Botez was the first female president of the university’s chess club.
She also co-founded CrowdAmp, a now-defunct social-media company that utilized artificial intelligence for more personalized communication.
The self-described workaholic began streaming chess matches on Twitch and in 2019, when her startup folded, she decided to make the game her main gig.“
Some of my advisers said things like, ‘You should go work at a startup and try to start a company again. You aren’t going to learn much being a chess streamer.’ It wasn’t the best reaction, so that’s partly why I moved to the East Coast. I wanted a fresh start, Botez said.
She moved to the East Village in September 2019 and devoted herself to streaming and producing content for chess.com. She also didn’t have a backup plan: “I was really determined to make it work.”
Then COVID hit.
“Chess exploded on Twitch, and I was one of the top streamers. I remember being so excited, I couldn’t sleep. I was so high on adrenaline,” Botez said, comparing it to the Eminem song “Lose Yourself,” about seizing the moment.
She even won over her parents, who initially didn’t understand her pivot to streaming.“When people asked what I did, my mother would say I worked in venture capital. Now my parents watch on Twitch. They sometimes stream with us,” Botez said.
For high-ranking influencers and streamers, the earning potential is thrilling: Twitch’s No. 1 streamer, the video-gamer Ninja, has 16 million followers and is reportedly worth $15 million. Most streamers earn money off sponsorships, but their primary income comes from subscription and advertising revenue.
Botez and Andrea, who is taking a gap year after graduating from high school this past spring, are soon signing with an agency that represents top e-sports athletes. They also just moved to Austin, Texas, where “the income tax is a lot better,” Botez noted.
“I want to make the game more accessible to the average players. I think my sister and I have done a good job of explaining ideas clearly,” she added.
And while being a female streamer in a male-dominated world does come with drawbacks like online sexual harassment, Botez handles it with her trademark cool.
“There’s always going to be some bad actors. I am tuning that out at this point,” she said. “Their opinions don’t matter.”
Photos by: Yvette Velasquez; Hair/Makeup: Kylie Sallee