Meet The Chess Player: Ben Johnson

Meet the Chess Player: Ben Johnson

The tables turn as we make one of chess’s most dedicated interviewers our interviewee!

Meet the Chess Player: Ben Johnson

Meet the Chess Player: Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is a chess teacher, former professional poker player, father to two young kids, and the creator of The Perpetual Chess Podcast. If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s basically a weekly podcast of interviews with chess players and other industry personalities. Every Tuesday, an episode is released featuring a new interview with interesting person in the chess sphere. Past guests include Judit Polgar, Nigel Short, Nils Grandelius, Jennifer Shahade, Hikaru Nakamura, and many more! There are about 100 episodes now, so you’ll almost certainly be able to find at least one with a guest star that captures your interest.

Why a Podcast?

The idea for this podcast was borne out of three things – first of all, Johnson’s love for the podcast format. Secondly, the lack of audio only chess content that one can listen to while driving, taking care of children, or otherwise engaged. The third factor spurring Johnson to make this podcast was the overall lack of personality in the world of chess. It’s not that it wasn’t there, of course, but it just wasn’t being published. The majority of chess content was either starkly educational without much of a personal spin, or coverage of live events that never seemed to touch on the uniqueness of each player and presenter.

The Perpetual Chess Podcast puts an end to all that by giving listeners a chance to get to know some of chess’s most prolific personalities in an easy to consume medium they can listen to anytime. It’s all about getting up close and personal with players and presenters, and you may learn some valuable tips and tricks along the way.

But that’s all about business – in the spirit of The Perpetual Chess Podcast, let’s get personal!

The Perpetual Chess Podcast

Chess Beginnings

Ben Johnson is now a strong chess player and teacher, but everyone has to start somewhere. His first experience with chess came when he was 6 years old and staying at a family friend’s summer home. Reflecting back on that time, he has this to say about the experience: “I immediately loved the game, but did not discover tournament chess or chess literature until 6 years later, when a great scholastic teacher, Steve Shutt, was starting a chess club at my school, J.R. Masterman, in Philadelphia.”

Ben with his young daughter

Johnson’s children have gotten an earlier start than he did, which is to be expected when your dad’s a chess teacher! His 5 and a half year old son knows how all the pieces move across the board, and his 2 and a half year old daughter is not far behind. She knows some of the names of the pieces, and is actually quite an avid chess consumer. The proud father says that she has, “recently moved past the stage where she tries to eat the chess pieces.”

Inspirational Chess Personalities

Chatting with notable chess personalities every week sounds like a pretty sweet gig. Of course, there are also times when it may be almost too much to handle! There are times when Johnson gets a bit starstruck, like when he interviewed Judit Polgar. He’s a big fan of her playstyle and considers her to be a great role model in the chess world, so dialing her up was understandably a bit intimidating.

Speaking of great chess role models, we asked Johnson about chess players he felt inspired by, to which he replied, “In terms of high profile chess GMs, like everyone else, I am a fan of the way that Peter Svidler and Mickey Adams present themselves. In order to continue to grow chess, it is important to combat the somewhat deserved image of the loner/eccentric chess champion and those two, among others, do a great job of that.
At the more grassroots level, I am also quite inspired by the initiatives my friend Greg Shahade has undertaken with the US Chess School and Pro Chess League, and I have admired from afar the work that Carl Portman is doing to promote chess in prisons in Great Britain.”

An Intersection of Interests

Ben Johnson has held many different jobs and fulfilled many different roles so far in his life, including a stint as a professional poker player. We were interested to know his thoughts on the similarities and differences between the two games, which he happily shared, saying, “Well of course, the main difference is chess has “perfect information” and poker imperfect, so some chess players have a hard time dealing with the luck element in poker. On the other hand, chess players are used to thinking a long time about the best course of action before moving, and to studying a game as if it were a science, so overall they have had great success in the poker world.”

Chess and Poker

Chess has “perfect information” and Poker imperfect, so some chess players have a hard time dealing with the luck element in poker

Professional poker players who also happen to be very good at chess may be a rare breed, but at least according to Johnson, the two very different competitive games have more overlap than most people realize, even if the culture surrounding each game is radically different. Perhaps playing a little poker could help more rigid chess players loosen up and see things from a different angle, whereas the discipline of chess may give poker players a hands-on lesson on the value of patience and long-term calculation. It’s worth a try!

The Future of The Perpetual Chess Podcast

As the name implies, the podcast is going strong and has many, many more episodes yet to come. When asked about any big plans for the future of The Perpetual Chess Podcast, Johnson was a bit coy, saying only, “I am working on a project to make some older interviews with chess personalities available to Perpetual Chess’ most loyal fans. That is all I can say for the moment, but an announcement is coming soon.”

We have no idea what that could mean, but keep your eyes peeled, because something new is on its way and it will be here very soon!


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