All he did was play a game of chess.
“My older brother and my dad taught me to move the pieces,” says Evan, the founder of Manhattan-based Premier Chess, which teaches the game to adults and children in five states. “A month later, I played in my first tournament. Two months later, I played in the nationals.”
There was nothing extraordinary about his rapid advancement, he says, adding that despite what you may have heard about the brain-breaking difficulty of moving kings and queens across the checkered board, most players can master the rules of chess rapidly.
“It does, however, take a long time to get good at the game,” he concedes.
Evan, who is tall and lean and dressed in black, not only liked the game, but he also liked socializing with the other players.
“I always had friends who were a couple of years older,” he says, as he moves chessmen in an online game as practice for a tournament later in the day. “And there’s a whole community around chess.”
Evan, who grew up on the Upper West Side, joined the chess teams at his private schools, Churchill and Dwight, and continued to play while he was at Brandeis University earning a degree in business and international studies.
As the years progressed, so did Evan’s game: By the time he was 20, he had made master.
“I’ve played all over the world, including Spain, France, Israel and Argentina,” he says, adding that he’s also coached at top schools around the country. “And I’ve been in more than 900 rated tournaments.”
He’s won some, lost others. “The most I’ve ever won is $2,500,” he says. “It’s really hard to make your living by playing.”
After Brandeis, he taught chess for several months then took a full-time job selling hardware for Oracle Corp. Three years later, he became a salesperson for Rapid7 security programs.
“In every job interview I’ve had, chess was a huge element,” he says. “Everyone told me, ‘Oh, you’re a chess master, of course you can close deals.’”
And he did – during his first three months with Rapid7, his sales totaled $700,000.
So successful was Evan that he decided to start his own sales company.
Premier Chess, which he founded in the summer of 2017, is his second venture.
“It started as an experiment,” he says, adding that within the first two months and after several cold calls, he had lined up teaching gigs in 14 schools.
Today, Premier Chess has 38 instructors who teach the game in corporations and in 56 schools in five states. St. Demetrios Prep, P.S. 85 and P.S. 166 in Astoria and P.S. 78 in Long Island City are among them.
In addition, he teaches a group class at Gym-Azing.
Evan, who is 28, says that the game has across-the-chessboard appeal because it helps with decision making and critical thinking.
“The important thing is to just get going,” he says, adding that some of his clients are high-profile litigators. “My biggest pleasure is getting adults back into it.”
Although Premier Chess is still new, it’s growing at an astounding pace. Evan says that its six-figure revenues have doubled in the past year.
Which puts Evan in the enviable position of having many choices. He’s pondering his options before making any moves.
He talks about buying a competing chess company and expanding his roster of clients.
But whatever he does, he’ll be in the chess game for the long term.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.