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