Ashley: Why should Chess exist at all?

Millionaire Chess
GM Maurice Ashley sent this in the Millionaire Chess newsletter on February 20th to address responses that were part of a lively Facebook post on February 16th. The thread has generated more than 200 comments concerning the Millionaire Chess Open to take place this October. Several players chimed in including GMs Michal Krasenkow, Robert Hess and Fabiano Caruana. Below is the text from the newsletter.


Your Words & Our Vision

A few days ago, I posted a simple comment and question on my Facebook page:

I heard an opinion from a fellow GM that amateurs should not win the kind of money that the Millionaire Chess Open is giving away in prizes. Do you agree?

I was surprised at the firestorm it set off, as it really seemed to touch a raw nerve in the chess community. While most of the amateurs felt it was fair that they get a shot at big prizes, all of the GMs who replied felt precisely the opposite and vociferously said so. The responses speak to a deeper issue about how to spread the game to a broader fan base, and about just how we incentivize the existing fans to help promote chess in a way that attracts big-name sponsors.

I’ll need a much longer essay to truly explore all the relevant issues, but in this newsletter, I wanted to touch on a couple of points that I feel need to be said right away. You can look for more in the upcoming week, but you can read below or on our website for now.

Maurice Ashley
International Grandmaster
Host of Millionaire Chess Open


Why Should Chess Exist at All?

by GM Maurice Ashley

The Millionaire Chess Open is not just a new event giving away an unprecedented amount of money. At its core, the tournament is about promoting a vision for change in how a sport sees itself.

At the moment, there is a top-down structure, where the best players in the world are paid decent appearance fees to play spectacular chess at premier events. Aside from this group of maybe 50 players, the remaining professionals cobble together a living through teaching, writing, lecturing, performing simultaneous exhibitions, and the like. Below them are a massive group of amateurs who play regularly, and who eagerly follow the latest events to watch their gods create works of art. This structure has been going on for decades, and is fueled by the impression that it is the top that matters most.

While Millionaire Chess appreciates the importance and brilliance residing at the top of the pyramid, we firmly believe that the gigantic base is where the energy lies. The average fans are the ones who buy books, DVDs, software, chess sets, clocks, and memorabilia. They are the ones who pay for lessons that keep many a GM (including myself) in business. The more serious ones are also fueling prizes for the top players (at least in the US), where GMs play for free but are able to win the lion’s share of the prizes. It is through the largesse of the fans that our sport exists!

What most of the GMs who responded to my post miss is that this fan base is the only group in the world that both loves to play chess and idolizes their heroes. They are the players who go to bed thinking about how to play like Carlsen or line up to get Kasparov to sign a copy of My Great Predecessors. They are the untapped and unrecognized champions of chess, spending hours every night playing on the Internet Chess Club or playchess.com while their families wonder why they are so in love with this game. Go across any chess club in America, and you’ll find them arguing about the latest line of the Sicilian Defense or trying to solve the latest Pal Benko endgame study.

Most strategies to grow chess have either aimed at bringing more sponsorship to the top or by wisely growing the scholastic base (ideas I applaud), but no one has thought to truly incentivize the massive number of existing fans to participate in events that reward them for their dedication. Not to say there are no great events; there are some fantastic Open tournaments held every single year around the world. But most of these are really about rewarding the best players and seeing the fans play a supporting role.

Millionaire Chess wants to flatten that structure, making the average fan a star, while simultaneously rewarding the brilliance at the top. The way to do that, in our opinion, is to create amazing tournaments that excite the base, that make the average weekend warrior get up every day dreaming of winning the big event, of seeing their name in lights and walking home with a larger-than-life check. While our events will continue to respect GMs for all the work they have put in and for their talent, it’s clear to us that a strategy that reenergizes the base is one well worth trying. After all, without the base, why should chess exist at all?

7 Comments

  1. Do GM feel contempt for “average” chess players or do they feel that tournaments like this does not provide a return on investment?

  2. Excellent respond I think to the GM issue, the average club player deserve the right to try and compete to win, if the GM’s are GrandMaster then what do they have to fear from a 900-1500 rated player? Unless they also understand the reality that on even given day anybody can win if the focus is there..Chess Community as a whole has to know that we all win when the objective is to promote the game which Ashley is don’t and not to promote ourselfs….

  3. Maurice certainly made his point crystal clear. It’s hard to imagine how anyone can disagree with him. Nonetheless, it seems to me that some GMs are afraid that their status will be diminished upon seeing amateurs getting paid as much as themselves. I disagree with those GMs; every section or category has its own merits. We all have to crawl before we can walk.

      1. I usually stay out of discussions base on hearsay because there is often confusion between what is heard and what is meant to be expressed. I will say I can understand the envy of GM’s seeing the financial promotion of chess with amateurs vs. financial rewards to elite chess players. In addition, it might be the unwritten rule of social etiquette among GM’s to not promote the strictly financial incentives of chess.
        cpercy

  4. My good brother Tico, I dare say that on the contrary, I can imagine that you will always have some people who will never see the truth or reason no matter how logical and sensible it’s communicate to them. We’ve been witnessing that kind of ambiguity in the courts pretty often lately. At some point, you just have to stop giving attention to those few and move on. What will happen, will happen!

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