Ashley interview on Millionaire Chess, Part 1

The Chess Drum conducted an interview on March 2nd (via Skype) with GM Maurice Ashley concerning the Millionaire Chess Open. The tournament earned its moniker due to its $1,000,000 prize fund and is scheduled to take place in the electric atmosphere that Las Vegas offers.

GM Ashley at the site of the Millionaire Chess Open!

However, the tournament has created a firestorm of discussion due to its trailblazing nature. Ashley discusses the inspiration for the tournament, the entry fee, the sandbagging and cheating issues. He also addressed the criticism leveled by an anonymous Grandmaster that amateurs should not be capable of winning such a large prize. The controversy generated nearly 250 comments including a few chess luminaries who weighed in.

“So as much as I thought on the controversy, I think it really settled around this particular point… the strongest point of all. The amateurs have to be mobilized as a base… get them excited… get them wanting to play more… get them wanting to pay for lessons because they’re wanting to play in more events like this one… get them wanting to buy more books, more DVDS… and who makes that? The GMs. I think that’s the point the GMs missed.”

~GM Maurice Ashley

Of course the grassroots, bottom-up method has been used in revolutions throughout history to exact change. Ashley sees this as nothing short of a revolution and makes an impassioned plea for support. The tournament is scheduled for October and hopes to gain momentum for a March 31st tournament assessment. It is often said that one must become a part of the change they want to see. Perhaps $1,000,000 is a lot of money, but is a small amount for chess players to invest for the future of chess.

Listen to GM Maurice Ashley interview!


presents the
The 2014 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 9th through Monday, October 13th 2014
Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino


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  2. Controversy? Did you expect anything less? There always is “controversy” when great minds advance new, creative and exciting ideas! That is a given!! I fully support GM Maurice Ashley’s vision and effort. Even if this tournament never happens, it has already changed the paradigm i.e. professional chess in North America. The sport of tournament chess cannot grow and prosper based on such a small, narrow minded base. It must expand! The sport of tournament chess cannot grow and prosper without chess organizers making more money and bringing more money into the “chess arena”. Locally, you should hear some narrow minds complain about the high entry fees and why there should be higher pay-outs regardless of the fact locally based organizers would lose money (much less make any profit). Sorry, fellas, before our sport can grow we need to follow the courageous leadership of men like GM Ashley, get out of our comfort zone, and go boldly where we must go to truly make the sport of tournament chess popular and prosperous.

  3. I believe that the Millionaire Open needs to expand the time for Cancellation closer to June as the tournament came out of no where and costs a lot. I believe that the cost should be reduced to $500 and 3000 participants registry by then would be good or very high. I like the idea as Western Chess is too limited and a new tournament with these stakes will really attract more chess players and expand the game.

  4. Terrific interview. Grandmaster Maurice Ashley is one of the most exciting forces in the world of chess. I think he has done much to advance the cause of chess for professionals and the general populace. In his presentations, Maurice consistently brings to life both the game’s practical value and its appeal to high art. He is one of the game’s great ambassador’s, and the vision he has for the game’s future is right on the money.

  5. First I would like to say that I owe Maurice a lot going beyond the respect of his chess accomplishments . I am not speaking negatively but would like to share a business perspective. I think like all businesses ideals you either must build on an existing models or create a totally new concept. The millionaire chess project is revamping an old model (regional chess tournaments) using a small portion of existing customer base (highly competitive but not necessarily great overall tournament players). It seems that the essential formula for success is the buy in or cooperation of all stakeholders. Stakeholders like the USCF, existing tournament sponsors, the great network of existing chess clubs and potential sponsors who may gain financially. Getting stakeholders buy in or support might take tough negotiations but having it would have made this project a “lead pipe cinch”.

    1. I believe these ideas are laudable, however, if you wait to get buy-in from the USCF or sponsors, you’ll be waiting for a long, long time. The USCF had a hard time holding its U.S. Championship before Erik Andersen and Rex Sinquefield stepped in. Perhaps the roll-out could have been done in a way to gain a groundswell first. That is, to tantalize the chess community and gradually roll-out the idea. This would include “million” tournaments in all 50 states. Of course this would take a couple of years in planning and execution. Sponsors are hard to come by, even for FIDE. However, I believe if you have a fundraiser where chess supporters (not necessarily players) would donate to a fund, you’d be able to raise additional funds. All of this is hindsight because we didn’t see this coming.

      1. Daaim I believe the USCF could be very supportive in several ways. I do think USCF’s primary purpose is to promote scholastic chess and the general chess community and potential conflicts would have to be considered and worked around. Regardless of what happens with the tournament I hope this is only the beginning in filling a niche in the competitive chess arena.

        1. The USCF’s primary purpose is advancing the game of chess in the United States. It is true that players under the age of 18 account for slightly more than half of current USCF members. However, USCF absolutely relies on its adult members (as they pay higher dues, and are more likely to pay them longer, than the average scholastic member). USCF has been trying to figure out how to retain more scholastic members into adulthood, while also stopping a decline in adult members. In particular, the adult membership decline is a problem facing many membership organizations these days. USCF doesn’t ignore one class of members for another, simply because it can’t afford to do so.

          That said, USCF has not been very active in promoting major for-profit tournaments by independent organizers. There’s a simple reason for this. There isn’t much money to go around, and there are other, more immediate priorities.

          USCF has, for the past few years, run at roughly $100,000 profit on revenues of $3,000,000. Sounds like a lot of extra money, right? Not so much. Let me give two examples of areas that will take priority for USCF over promoting independent events like the Millionaire Chess Open.

          USCF’s website is probably its greatest communications asset. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly out of date. It’s a pastiche of four different major sites all “smushed” into These sites run on different content management systems, different password systems (in the case of secure areas), and different databases. There’s a tremendous amount of information on the site, but due to its poor infrastructure, that information is often impossible to find for someone who’s not experienced enough to instantly know where to look. The site needs a lot of work on organization and restructuring. This, of course, will require money. USCF has started the process of revamping the site without investing money by installing a volunteer committee to study the site and recommend changes. Those changes were recommended last November, and the Executive Board will look at budgetary options for implementing those recommendations at its May meeting.

          USCF has just now about finished climbing out of the hole created when it successfully defended against the Polgar/Truong lawsuits of the previous decade. Further, USCF has a massive unfunded liability due to its woefully underfunded Life Members Asset Trust. This trust is what USCF counts on to help finance services provided for life members, who (of course) do not pay annual membership dues. The problems are that (1) USCF sold life memberships for about 30 years before even establishing such a reserve fund, and (2) past USCF administrations raided the LMA to finance operations. (Think “Social Security”; it’s the same concept.) Fortunately, there are now measures in place to prevent this from happening again, thanks to several in current leadership. However, the big hole from prior mismanagement still exists and must be filled.

          Additionally, USCF is in the final stages of seeking approval to become a 501(c)(3) charity under the Internal Revenue Service. If USCF achieves this, then the up side is that it becomes much easier to solicit donations from many different sources. The down side is that any expenditure that does not directly serve its non-profit mission must be carefully evaluated in advance, because it could cause a serious problem with the IRS.

          Boyd M Reed
          Chair, USCF Web Site Advisory Committee
          Member, USCF Finance Committee

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