Ashley Statement on the Millionaire Open
With four days left until the March 31st target for 1500 entrants, GM Maurice Ashley has released an important statement about the Millionaire Chess Open. After announcing the idea in December, Ashley pledged to move chess into the realm of marketability with a high-stakes format. The discussion thereafter produced a wide range of viewpoints and apparently the dissent was enough to dissuade players from supporting such a format.
In coming weeks, players will continue to analyze the Millionaire Chess Open and offer various ideas for an acceptable format. What is clear is that whatever GM is stating that investment should only go to professional chess neither understands the business of chess, nor the fact that chess is enjoyed by a grassroots of millions, most of whom are not professional.
by GM Maurice Ashley
This week, we have some very important questions for the chess community.
The list of advanced entries for the Millionaire Chess Open came out on Monday. With only 65 registrants, the possibility of reaching the goal of 1500 chess players by March 31st seems more remote. While 65 is competitive with early entrants at other major events this far from the opening date, the low total spells something entirely different for a tournament that billed itself on successful execution based on the support of a minimum number of participants.
One top player wrote to me to express, “This is a resounding statement as to the viability of super high entry fee based models for chess tournaments.” The same player insisted, “the focus should be quality and class, i.e., the top players, not trying to support the amateur chess player.” It’s seems hard to disagree with this conclusion. Or is it?
From the very beginning, on the shores of Lake George where I began discussing this idea with my partner, Amy Lee, we realized that organizing an event as ambitious as the Millionaire Chess Open would be challenging. The idea of a seven-digit chess tournament that focused on amateur backing instead of a major sponsor was risky, to say the least. We were not able to decide if it made sense for some time after, even after weeks of analysis and a poll that we conducted that was short on specifics in order to not give away our intentions. It was a hard call, but in the end our research, instinct and personalities won out. As Amy loves to say, “Go big or go home.” It is an attitude that I embraced.
In the ensuing months, the work we put in was obscene. I was spending 30 hours per week on top of a full schedule working early mornings, late nights and weekends trying to keep up with all the duties and responsibilities that came with co-running the company.
After the announcement, things got even more hectic as we saw a level of excitement in chess players that had not been tapped for many years. Our staff has been working hard to keep up with the incredible level of interest, answering every email or Facebook inquiry with patience and care. The passionate words in support of the tournament has warmed our hearts, especially when the naysayers argued that an event like this one was too bold, too ambitious, too pie-in-the-sky dreaming to work.
Does a tournament that substantially rewards amateurs and bases its participation on their support have any chance of success? Is the entry fee such a barrier to participation that there are not 1500 players on the entire planet of millions of amateur players who could make the event a reality? Is it true that the only big-time chess tournaments that can exist are those that are sponsor driven and have top player participation?
We have pushed ahead because we all collectively share the belief that the game of chess deserved it, that a game as grand as chess should have an event that speaks to that grandeur, an event that showcases its iconic stature and centuries long durability and fascination. Even during the time of heated controversy when a top player echoed the sentiments written above that amateurs simply should not be awarded high prizes, we have never wavered. The current of support for our event seemed doubly and triply as strong as we heard the distinct voices of encouragement pushing us forward to a dream of chess in the limelight.
Now, just a few days before our self-imposed deadline, that dream of the player-sponsored tournament is uncertain. While Millionaire Chess as a company has sacrificed resources and time to holding this event, it is the players who share the bold vision of a premier open chess event who can help ensure the event moves forward.
The net result of that guarantee could be huge for many reasons: the media attention, the likely increase in prize money at other tournaments, the raising of the profiles of the game’s brightest stars, the attracting of new fans, and the boost to scholastic chess.
It’s that future that motivates us at Millionaire Chess, and one that we hope the true chess fans will embrace as well. There are but a few days to definitively answer the critical questions: Does a tournament that substantially rewards amateurs and bases its participation on their support have any chance of success? Is the entry fee such a barrier to participation that there are not 1500 players on the entire planet of millions of amateur players who could make the event a reality? Is it true that the only big-time chess tournaments that can exist are those that are sponsor driven and have top player participation?
The next few days may not provide clear answers if only a few more people sign up, but it can make a definitive statement if there is a rush of last minute registrations. It is up to the players now to say whether or not chess deserves to take the next gigantic leap forward into an exciting future.
We sincerely hope to bind together to make chess history.
Millionaire Chess Partner
Thursday, October 9th through Monday, October 13th 2014
CONTACT: MILLIONAIRE CHESS
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps $350-$400 is the price point that players are willing to play for a high-stakes tournament. The HB got almost 1600 players @ $345 and the World Open charges $400 at the door for a long shot at a mere $20,000. If there are not 1500 players who will pay $1000.00 for a chance to win $40,000 (40 times entry plus 50 prizes in all) and $100,000 (100 times entry), then chess has NO commercial marketability or viability. NONE. Sixty-five entrants???
Sponsors would not be interested in such a demographic that shows no enthusiasm for their own sport. We now have another empirical lesson to show why sponsors do not support chess. No excitement…. no enthusiasm… cynicism… negativism. In addition, who would sponsor a crop of pompous GMs who think amateurs don’t deserve a chance to win money??? As a marketing professor, I would tell you that sponsors would scoff at that notion. They want mass appeal and to reach a wide array of people and chess professionals are not a big attraction at this point.
Lesson proved. QED.
I know that there is fear and skepticism for anything new, but really, has anything in this case really been proven? The most I would estimate at this point based on the facts not the complaints is that people may be reluctant to commit so much money so far in advance: entry, airfare, food, lodging, etc… Also, possible, that more perks offered by the organizers plus more time to recruit until (June) could nail down the true problems. I know it costs to advertise as well. I accept that I may be perceived as biased, but I think the tournament and idea are good but the chess cultural shift and/or transition may need a modification in
thinking to see the endpoint. Good luck to Millionaire Chess in increasing the numbers of participants in the last few days left!
There is nothing I want more for this tournament than for it to be a success. Why no top level GM’s have signed up yet, I do not know but I sincerely hope there will be a way for this to work out.
I am not sure why not being willing to spend $1000 to play some chess games (it is statistically misguided to put up money in a tournament expecting to win more back) indicates to sponsors a lack of interest in the game. Is there any other activity where amateurs need to show willingness to throw money away in order to bring sponsors in for the professionals? Not sure how many $1000 buy-in basketball tournaments for playground players there are, that doesn’t stop Nike from pouring money down the throat of NBA pros.
Chess is and will always be a niche activity, and it is kind of silly to expect the average person to have an interest in the game. And without mass appeal (not chess amateur appeal), sponsors will not come anyway. Trying to turn a chess tournament into a poker tournament won’t help.
There’s also the issue of cheating being easier than ever to do, and with FIDE’s ineptness in dealing with the obvious cheat Borislav Ivanov, I can also understand people’s reluctance to get caught in a sucker’s bet.
Chess not Poker Player,
Throw money away? Is that how you view it?? Chess is a hobby. Do we say collecting stamps or comic books is throwing money away or buying golf clubs and playing in golf tournaments is throwing money away? No. We play for enjoyment leisure. I personally do not compete with the idea that I will win. The competition, the chess conversations and the joy of it are enough. There are also goals in terms of rating and other milestones. It also keeps you mentally sharp.
Yes… chess is a niche, but there are other sports that were once niche and now mainstream. I would say that more people play chess than golf worldwide so is chess really a niche activity? You just said, you don’t need chess to be limited to attracting chess players and EVERYBODY knows the word “chess” and what it is. It just so happens that golfers support their activity (which is much more expensive) and chess players don’t… and there are many chess players who can afford $1000 for tournaments.
However, I am in 100% agreement with the “mass appeal”. It is not solely limited to chess players… especially from a sponsor’s standpoint. That is why putting money solely into professional tournaments will get you nowhere. You need to make the sport approachable and not look like you have to have a Ph.D. to play it.
Oh… there are plenty of buy-in basketball tournaments for $1000, but of course those are team events. Basketball is a mainstream game and EVERYBODY has played it whether in gym class or in the driveway. There is an accessibility of these sports that chess doesn’t have. NIKE will always get the demographics and the brand covers so many sports.
Cheating that issue will always be there, but you plan, you take measures, employ the controls and enforce them to the letter. We cannot sit around and wait for perfect conditions at a tournament. Maurice asked the question, “Why Should Chess Exist At All?” It’s a good question. If we’re going bear cynicism, then chess will continue to be where it is… a niche activity that no one takes seriously.
I support the overall mission of this project and if it does not succeed it should not be deemed a failure but a lesson learned. One obvious lesson is that to start a fire you need more than a few big logs (high stakes players). Big fires usually starts with plenty of little twigs. The existing competitive chess base both amateur and professional players must be considered to have credibility. As well as respect and utilization of the various organizational chess resources.
I challenge Mr. Ashley to continue his mission and to:
1. Take a closer look at other chess organizations and how they can partner, collaborate and be supportive.
2. Revise the tournament format to incorporate basic chess clubs all over the US and the world. Don’t go for the home run all at once
3. Unlike chess, in setting business goals the endgame must be played so that everyone wins or at least get something that they want!
I agree 100% with the comment Daaim posted to start this thread. As a business professor at FAMU, he certainly speaks with professional insight, unlike some of the uniformed statements I’ve seen made on other forums (not this one!). Compared to popular poker events, Millionaire Chess gives a hobbyist a more genuine shot at prizes. Yet we can’t even get 100 people to commit to an event, sponsored by a credible, well known chess player and leader, with a successful track record of organizing a big event. As Daaim says … this is exactly why few sponsors are interested in chess.
I expected relatively low registration numbers. I felt, and still feel, that many players will initially be skeptical of this event, and will continue to be so until one version is held and a second version is announced.
65 entries a week before the deadline, however, was not the “relatively” I had in mind. Well, if this tournament ends up not coming off because of lack of interest, players really are that would be a real shame. I would have to concur with Dr. Shabazz’s indictment of the chess community in this case.
It is insanity to have a $1,000 entrance fee for a chess tournament. To be blunt, we chess players tend towards the bohemian types and bohemians don’t generally have $1,000 bucks to throw at a chess tournament. The consumer is overwhelmingly always right. I’ve never met a chess player that could enter such a tournament. Please be very sure that you’ve crossed the “common sense” threshold before you indict the whole chess community.
If you’ve never met a chess player who could enter such a tournament, you need to get out to more major chess tournaments.
I’ve seen players drop well over $500 at the World Open, between original entry and re-entries, and that’s going after first prize around $10,000-$12,000. $1,000 for a first prize of $40,000 compares quite favorably in proportion.
And apparently, there are some players who could enter an event with a $1,000 entry fee, as witnessed by the early entry list (MC probably didn’t accept IOUs for those entrants).
The only indictment of the chess community in this discussion that I’ve seen is that it is small because it thinks small. This is an indictment borne out by the facts, and nothing more.
Bohemian? Not me and not most of the players I know. Chess players come in all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. There is no prototypical chess player regardless of the “geek” characterization.
Surprisingly you’ve never met a chess player who could afford to pay $1,000 for a tournament. Are you really serious? We throw MORE money at things that are bad for us!
Poker tournaments has a lot of luck & chances involved at least in the minds of thousands of amateur players willing to spend thousand of $$$. Chess game is mostly skill even for amateur players so a 200 elo point spread is too much. Even a 2500 GM does not have much chance against 2700 GM’s. I say a 100 elo point spread per section gives the impression that everyone has a chance for that million$$$ payday!!!.
I’m on disability $1,000.00 a month. I will be there, with my 1600+ rating.
I kindly agree with Hank, “the consumer is always right” and we should not indict the competitive chess community because they refuse to go beyond their personal and recreational budget. After all, most chess players are both intellectually and economically astute to some degree with their time and money.
If budgetary concerns were the issue, there wouldn’t be an indictment. If a player is willing to spend $350 to win $10,000, then $1,000 to win $40,000 doesn’t seem unreasonable in the least. Obviously, there’s always an upper bound of elasticity on pricing anything, but this hardly seems unreasonable. When one further considers how well HB Global ran with the same organizer – and the EF there was about $500 – it seems absurd that not even 100 people would be interested in playing Millionaire Chess.
Chess in the US doesn’t have a big enough audience to command sponsorship, so we have to do big things to generate enough viewers/fans that sponsors would see a potential for decent return on investment.
Chess and poker, of course, are completely different games. But there are some excellent parallels between the two. The World Series of Poker is a universal brand now, on multiple continents, with players-turned-celebrities, big sponsors and huge exposure. But it didn’t start out that way. The WSOP was fueled for many years solely by player entry fees – and most of the prizes these days are still generated by player entry fees. As big as the game of poker has become now, it’s easy to forget that it was not always that way. The players made it that way, by putting their support behind its biggest event, year after year. The event happened first – THEN the sponsors came along.
GM Ashley’s concept is a great one, but it may end up going to waste here. That would be most unfortunate – but given my experiences in US chess, not surprising.
What Dr. Shabazz wrote earlier in this thread is the absolute truth, as far as I can see. I concur entirely with his analysis, and stand firmly by my own comments.
I will be doing a story on Maurice’s latest press release. They plan to make a final decision on April 7th… four days.