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The New York Times

She’s a Chess Champion Who Can Barely See the Board

Have you heard this story before? Girl has rough start in life, discovers chess. She becomes a United States champion. She studies Russian. And now she needs to find a way to get to Russia to play chess, because she can’t afford it.No, I’m not talking about Beth Harmon, the fictional hero of the Netflix megahit “The Queen’s Gambit.” Meet Jessica Lauser, the reigning three-time U.S. Blind chess champion. You can call her Chessica — the nickname her math teacher gave her in eighth grade.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesLauser, now 40, was born 16 weeks prematurely. Like many infants born that early, she needed oxygen, which damaged her eyes, a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. One eye is completely blind; in the other she has 20/480 eyesight. Her visual field is limited, and the chess pieces appear blurred and distorted. She can tell when a square on the board is occupied, but she can’t always tell which piece it is.When she’s playing against a sighted player in a tournament, she will explain all of this. The biggest problem is the touch-move rule in chess, which says that if you touch a piece, you have to move it.”If I need to identify a piece during a game, I will lightly touch the top of it and say ‘identify,’ not grasping the piece, but just brushing it,” she says. Aside from that, says Michael Aigner, who was recently her teammate in the first Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities, “Nobody can tell that Jessica is blind.” Blind chess players often use a tactile set, a special board with pegs that allows them to feel the pieces without knocking them over. She does not. But she does have to remind herself of where the pieces are (unlike Beth Harmon, she doesn’t have a photographic memory, but she does have strong pattern recognition abilities), so identifying them by touch is sometimes useful.Chess has been Lauser’s refuge for a very long time. She learned the game at age 7, when she transferred from the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind to a mainstream school. At that age, she says, “it was just a game like Monopoly or Parcheesi.” But by seventh grade, when she started at a new school in California, she had begun to take the game more seriously.”When I walked into class on the first day, the first thing I saw at the back of the room were waist-high cabinets with chess sets on top,” Lauser says. “I knew that the kids were going to call me ‘Four-Eyes,’ and I said, ‘Hey, maybe if I beat them, then they will finally shut up.'”Lauser, who now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and works for the Internal Revenue Service, has lived in a staggering number of places, as her blindness has made it difficult to secure a steady job. She has been homeless within the past year. It’s a very sore subject with her. “What frustrates me most is not getting a fair shot at life, because of how I was born,” she says. In order to maintain her eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance, she cannot make more than $2,110 a month.”The limit is hard and fast,” she says. “It has kept me in perpetual poverty, my entire adult life, even though I have always worked. That’s why I play chess, because it helps me cope with all the things I cannot change, that especially.”She later added: “I don’t want pity, but rather opportunity. I just want to be equal.”She has honed her chess game on the streets: Market Street in San Francisco, Santana Row in San Jose, Dupont Circle in Washington. Her favorite place was the student union at San Francisco State University, where she got her undergraduate degree at age 36.”I would set up multiple sets at a time and take on all comers,” she says. She drew a crowd, not so much because she was blind or a woman, but because the struggle of one person against many never fails to fascinate. The nearby stores noticed that their sales increased when she was there, as people stopped to watch. “The coordinator of the building told me, ‘I hope this won’t offend you, but we’d like to adopt you!'”Because she has played so much on the streets, she plays very fast, using openings that are often considered unsound for tournament chess. In blitz, or five-minute chess, her peak rating placed her one category below master. Getting a master title is still her goal, although she is aware that the odds are against her: Not many players have achieved this in their 40s. “I am not giving up this dream of mine,” she says.In October, Lauser won her third consecutive U.S. Blind championship — a tournament that was held in person, in spite of the pandemic. It had been postponed from July. Before the pandemic, says Virginia Alverson, the president of the U.S. Blind Chess Association, she had hoped to attract 20 participants. (Normally about 10 players come, out of about 100 members.) But with the pandemic, they had to settle for three: Alverson, her roommate, Pauline Downing, and Lauser. “We felt that if Jessica was willing to travel from Kansas City to New Hampshire to defend her title, we should have some sort of tournament,” Alverson says. “It says a lot about Jessica that she wanted to come. Jessica loves to play chess. And truth to say, I wanted to see Jessica.”This year’s Olympiad for People with Disabilities, held over Thanksgiving weekend, was a much higher-profile event. Originally scheduled for Siberia in August, it was moved online, and attracted 60 teams from 44 countries. The U.S. team, led by Aigner on first board, tied for 10th place. Lauser started slowly but won a key last-round game against a player from Brazil. And she was arguably the most important player, because each team was required to field a female player. Without her, there would not have been a U.S. team.”In the middle of the tournament, after she lost the first three rounds, we played about an hour of blitz chess, just for fun,” Aigner says. “She was playing all of her gambits against me, and in some of the games I got in trouble. When she finally won in round four, my reaction was thank goodness someone else gets to see how good you are. She was playing the style she played against me in blitz, and of course she won.”Currently (subject to change), the next Olympiad is scheduled for Russia in 2022. Lauser would like to go, but she is not sure how she can. This year, before the event in Siberia was canceled, FIDE, the international chess federation, offered to pay accommodations plus 1,500 euro for travel — or about $1,800. “Whether that would get people to Russia and back is debatable,” says Chris Bird, FIDE events manager of the U.S. Chess Federation. Until the pandemic is over, the federation is not giving financial support to teams for international events.For Lauser, it’s a familiar story. She has also qualified for the world blind championship six times, but has never been able to attend.In the short run, Lauser hopes to keep her job in Kansas City, as well as her current apartment, from which she can hear the trains rumble by on their way to and from Union Station. Long term, she says, “My dream situation would be to make enough money to live on, to not be struggling with debt, maybe to have a home at some point. To be able to use Russian every day, to be able to compete, to be able to help others. Maybe live in Russia, teach English and play chess.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

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Exclusive: India plans foreign investment rule changes that could hit Amazon –



By Aditya Kalra and Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is considering revising its foreign investment rules for e-commerce, three sources and a government spokesman told Reuters, a move that could compel players, including Inc, to restructure their ties with some major sellers.

The government discussions coincide with a growing number of complaints from India’s brick-and-mortar retailers, which have for years accused Amazon and Walmart Inc-controlled Flipkart of creating complex structures to bypass federal rules, allegations the U.S. companies deny.

India only allows foreign e-commerce players to operate as a marketplace to connect buyers and sellers. It prohibits them from holding inventories of goods and directly selling them on their platforms.

Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart were last hit in Dec. 2018 by investment rule changes that barred foreign e-commerce players from offering products from sellers in which they have an equity stake.

Now, the government is considering adjusting some provisions to prevent those arrangements, even if the e-commerce firm holds an indirect stake in a seller through its parent, three sources said. The sources asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

The changes could hurt Amazon as it holds indirect equity stakes in two of its biggest online sellers in India.

Amazon, Walmart and Flipkart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yogesh Baweja, the spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, which is working on the issue, confirmed to Reuters any changes will be announced through a so-called “press note,” which contains foreign direct investment rules. He did not give any details.

“It’s a work in progress,” Baweja said, adding an internal meeting on the subject last took place about a month ago.

“Of course Amazon’s a big player so whatever advice, whatever suggestions, whatever recommendations they make, they are also given due consideration.”


The 2018 rules forced Amazon and Flipkart to rework their business structures and soured relations between India and the United States, as Washington said the policy change favoured local e-tailers over U.S. ones.

India’s e-commerce retail market is seen growing to $200 billion a year by 2026, from $30 billion in 2019, the country’s investment promotion agency Invest India estimates.

Domestic traders have been unhappy about the growth. They see foreign e-commerce businesses as a threat to their livelihoods and accuse them of unfair business practices that use steep discounts to target rapid growth. The companies deny they are acting unfairly.

“The way the government is thinking is that marketplaces are not doing what they are supposed to do. The government wants to tinker with the nuts and bolts of the policy,” said one of the sources who is familiar with the talks on the policy changes.


India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal has been critical of e-commerce companies in private meetings and told them to follow all laws in letter and spirit, Reuters has previously reported.

In the face of growing trader complaints and an antitrust investigation, Goyal last year said Amazon was not doing “a great favour to India” by making fresh investments.

Among other changes, the government is considering changes that would effectively prohibit online sales by a seller who purchases goods from the e-commerce entity or its group firm, and then sells them on the entity’s websites, two of the sources said.

Under existing rules, a seller is free to buy up to 25% of its inventory from the e-commerce entity’s wholesale or another unit and then sell them on the e-commerce website.

A boom in e-commerce in India accelerated last year when the COVID-19 pandemic drove more shoppers online. Flipkart, in which Walmart invested $16 billion in 2018, and Amazon are among the top two players.

“Ecommerce has already made its mark for itself in the country, particularly during COVID-19,” Commerce Ministry’s Baweja said. “They are bound to grow and a conducive environment should be there, which is good for the brick-and-mortar as well as e-commerce.”

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Krishna Das in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Euan Rocha and Barbara Lewis)

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Salesforce's First India Investment is Cloud Startup Darwinbox – BNN



(Bloomberg) — Inc. is making its first investment in an Indian company, a developer of human resources software that serves several of Asia’s largest tech startups.

The U.S. giant’s venture arm is leading a $15 million financing round for Darwinbox, its first in India and its only investment in Asia outside of Japan. Headquartered in Hyderabad, the startup has already raised $35 million from backers including Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital and 3one4 Capital among others.

Darwinbox counts some of the world’s largest brands and Asian startups among its customers including Puma, Nivea, Indonesian online mall Tokopedia and Singapore’s Zilingo. It develops touchless attendance systems and provides hiring and onboarding and employment engagement tools to more than a million employees of 500 customers across 60 countries. The startup last raised funds in 2019 and has grown 300% since then, co-founder Jayant Paleti said.“Adoption of cloud-based services by enterprises was double the global average before the pandemic,” Paleti said in a phone interview. The former investment banker cofounded the startup in 2015 along with a colleague and a childhood friend, a former McKinsey consultant. “Since the pandemic, we are seeing a shift to the cloud within a few quarters that would have otherwise taken three or four years,” he added.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Securities Commission shares investment red flags for 2021 – St. Albert TODAY



The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) has released a list of top investment risks in hopes of helping Albertans avoid falling victim to scams in 2021.

“We want to protect people from the scammers and fraudsters that unfortunately exist out there,” said Hilary McMeekin, director of communications and investor education with ASC.

McMeekin said fraudsters capitalize on people in any way they can, even if that means committing scams during the pandemic.

“They prey on our vulnerabilities,” she said. “We have seen an increase in activity when it comes to fraud services or products around the pandemic.”

In early January, the ASC released a list of six tips that McMeekin said will “arm Albertans with timely information to stay vigilant and protect their finances as we enter 2021.” 

The first red flag on the ASC’s list involves investments related to COVID-19. According to an ASC press release, a common way fraudsters take advantage of global events is through “pump-and-dump schemes,” which promise an opportunity to invest in new products or services that will prevent, detect or cure COVID-19 – or otherwise aid in the fight against the virus. 

These pump and dump schemes usually involve artificially inflating the price of a penny stock shell company through issuing false and misleading positive statements, according to the release. The price of the stock rises as people invest. However, the wrongdoers cash out their stock at a high price before the truth is revealed, and the price of the stock then falls dramatically, leaving investors with nothing.

Another scam ASC warns about is any investment that promises great expectations. According to McMeekin, the ASC has seen an increase in situations where investment is encouraged with the promise of high returns resulting from a proposed deal involving a letter of intent.

“Proposed deals can fall through, so if it’s being promoted as a sure thing, investors should be wary,” she said.

Affinity fraud, according to McMeekin, is another scam people should be on the lookout for this year. McMeekin said affinity fraud happens when victims are introduced to scams by someone they know, such as family members, friends or co-workers.

“Fraudsters will often target ethnic communities, religious organizations, social clubs or professional groups, taking advantage of the trust and relationships that exist within,” she said. “The fraudster becomes part of – or pretends to be part of – the community, flaunting their success or wealth and often enlisting unsuspecting ambassadors to spread the scheme to make it seem credible. Friends and family may unknowingly fall victim and encourage others to invest, too.”

Also on ASC’s list is a scam that promises quick profits by trading stocks at home. McMeekin said a lot of trouble can be avoided by just properly researching these promises.

“Research the company, research whatever the investment is for,” she said. “Really look into and understand what that product or service is all about. Learn as much as you possibly can.”

Particularly during a recession or pandemic, people can be interested in earning additional income. According to McMeekin, taking the time to research the validity of various money-making opportunities can save people a lot of hardship down the road.

“Take that time,” she said. “Our hard-earned money is worth taking the time to do the research.”

Quite often, McMeekin said, when scams are reported, the companies or persons involved have not been registered with ASC.

“The first question isn’t ‘are you registered?’ but it should be,” she said. “If they are not registered, that is a red flag.”

The ASC has a website,, which McMeekin said can help people find out if companies they plan on dealing or investing with have taken necessary steps to register with the commission.

“It’s a website that is full of unbiased and free resources for investors,” she said. “No matter what stage of investing someone is in, it can be helpful.”

Jordan Stricker,
Follow me on Twitter @Jay_Strickz

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