Make Chess look like a Million Bucks!

Dear chess community,

GM Maurice Ashley
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The buzz of the Millionaire Chess Open (MCO) has persisted since GM Maurice Ashley and Canadian entrepreneur Amy Lee announced the idea in December and confirmed the event in early April. This tournament has at least initiated a debate about chess promotion going forward.

Known these days as a commentator par excellence, Ashley has been at the forefront of a number of issues including scholastic chess, zero-tolerance for quick draws and now chess promotion. His initial foray into international chess promotion ended in a rousing success at the HB Global Chess Tournament. Unfortunately, the sponsor chose not to reinvest despite the organizational success of the tournament.

The idea of a million-dollar tournament was a bit ambitious and the criticism was swift. With a $1000.00 price point, many complained that the entry was simply not feasible. Of course that is a main concern, but perhaps there are other reasons such as the dates, cheating threats and Las Vegas’ reputation as being less than a child-friendly place. Nevertheless, those who will attend will do so and be a turning point for chess. Ashley has conveyed to me in not one, not two, but three interviews that this is a grassroots campaign designed to build the brand of chess. Ultimately, it’s up to chess players to make chess look like million bucks!

In my view, the Millionaire Chess Open is a novel event that may cause sponsors to ask the big questions pertaining to the value proposition of chess. Chess is widely respected and has worldwide loyalty, but the formula on how to market its value has not been discovered as it has in other sporting genres. Through all the criticism, no one will argue against the many cogent suggestions and ways that the MCO could be improved. Nevertheless, the effort has been laudable. I will be in Las Vegas taking photos, conducting interviews and being a beast on the chess board. Hope to see you there!

~ Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Get your camera and strike your millionaire chess pose!

The 2014 Millionaire Chess Open

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


email address:




  1. Hi Daaim, where do you get the time to do all these things?
    Mixing academic life with your love for chess.
    It is astonishing.
    On a different note, I think that Maurice is an extremely good commentator. I really enjoyed listening to him during the Sinquefield Cup.

  2. Pingback: Daily Chess News Links September 18, 2014 |
  3. haha, Wonderful Pictures but if ur gunna play fITCHER’S move 1e4 i must respond in an uLTRAMODERN wAY and play 1 e5!!! lol

  4. I believe there’s a boatload of players who have abandoned the idea of playing right after the entry fee was increased to $1,500. If there’s another MC, perhaps they should make an early announcement that the price would go up but actually increase it, two to three weeks before the tournament. This way it would give players enough time to come up with the money. If three weeks before the tournament you hadn’t come up with the entry fee, than in all likelihood, you didn’t really plan on playing. Of course, you always have last minute entries, but that will be a few. I am putting this out there, because I’ve spoken with some of my friends who have told me, Guy, “I was planning on going, but once the price went up , I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to come up with the extra 5.” In a major tournament of that scale, you have to figure that most players are not going alone, so in essence it will be more than a $500 increase for a lot of players. I won’t be there because of school conflict, but I wish all the players good skill and luck.

    1. One may argue that the entry is already high so someone who struggles to come up with the money has to pay $500 more than those who may have the means to pay earlier. I understand the incentive to pay earlier because you need to cover expenses for venue and other amenities, but perhaps a longer period of $1000 would have bagged a few hundred more entries.

      Perhaps $500 vouchers and coupons could have been earned/won (by accumulating “MCO points” from tournaments) or given to those expressing need. They had need-based vouchers for the Olympiad. Definitely “price elasticity” at work here. We’ll see how many go for the $2000.00 fee at the door. With a few weeks left, it may be too late for have another marketing discount since air and hotel needed to be reserved already.

      I didn’t see a campaign for donors or patrons either (i.e., an ad book). Some may give to the effort, but not be able to afford to play. In all fairness, hard to get the right formula on the first try. I believe it will be successful if MCO franchise is willing to make the sacrifice in the long run.

  5. When the idea of MC first came out, there were a lot of frowns about the $1000 fee, but as people started to learn more about it, they gradually started to accept the idea of paying $1,000 . But to suddenly ask to pay $1,500 on a rather short notice, in my opinion, was a turn off rather than an incentive for players to sign up. I agree, on first try it’s difficult to come up with the right formula, but getting as many players to play should be the priority. Based on Greg Shahade’s piece about the tournament, MC Inc. would be in awe if it broke even . Since the announcement of the price increase, I doubt there was a huge increase in the number of players who rushed to sign up. There have to be some incentive to keep any business running.

  6. I believe we understand the issues with the entry fee. There has been a lot of discussion on this. If you have such high fees, then you MUST create opportunities for discounts and/or increased incentives… and they must be constant so that there is always a chance. Unfortunately, increased price will lower demand, if substitutes are present. This a well-known economic principle.

    Given this principle, it would be good next year to get a donor program. This would work for non-chess players and those chess players who merely want to support the effort, but who no longer play or can’t afford the full expense. They would get an MCO gift bag with lots of goodies including a souvenir t-shirt they can wear at tournaments in their cities to increase awareness. T-shirt marketing would also be good if the MC group developed marketing teams to simply wear an MC t-shirt at any tournament they play in around the country… or t-shirts for the first 100 entries to get the buzz going. That is very, very cheap advertising which amounts to a walking billboard.

    Saying this… here is the reality. The MC franchise will most likely not make money in the first year and they are aware of this. I’m certain they calculated a breakeven-point. If they can weather a minimal first-year loss, but pull off a fantastic event with 600 players, they have built a successful brand and they could tweak it. At the HB Global, everyone had a great time and were surprised when there wasn’t a second. The investor didn’t weather the loss. At next year’s MC, you’ll get 1000-1200 players and then in year three 1200-1500. These are forecasts, but of course Maurice and Amy will have a list of enhancements the day after on October 14th.

    In my view, the MC must build a team… even now! Enlist eyes and ears for the tournament. These people will report back what they hear from people around the tournament so they can make adjustments as they go. There is a lot riding on the success of this tournament. If MCO hits a homerun October 9th-13th, then perhaps it will draw at least one sponsorship and funds from individual donors.

    I feel it will be a success, but it is quite an undertaking. I would imagine that MC has a strong team ready to deal with snafus. While at the World Open, rounds were sometimes an hour late and they still had the tacky wall charts. That absolutely cannot happen here… EVER… not for $1000.00. Let’s hope the MC group and the PLAYERS can make chess look like a million bucks.

  7. I think there is a misunderstanding of the entry fee. It needs to be high! That is the goal of the tournament, to demonstrate to outsiders that money can flow into chess.

    One objection that I often hear is that “I” don’t have that kind of money. True, not everyone does. But if that is your situation, ask yourself this … can I raise the money? Please pause, and seriously consider this question, because it is at the heart of the behavior that MC is designed to drive.

    Perhaps it is too late for you for MC I. But assuming the tournament is as spectacular as Maurice & Amy advertise (and I trust that it will be), you will have lots of lead time to nurture sponsorship for MC II. Get friends and family to pitch in. Put your “portfolio” together, make that list of prospects — business owners who you know or patronize, neighbors, colleagues, social organizations, etc. In WSOP, some players sell sponsorship interests, where the sponsor gets to share in prize winnings, if any.

    You guys probably have a lot more creative ideas than I do — but you have to put on your thinking cap.

  8. It needs to be high! That is the goal of the tournament… not sure I can agree with that. Entrepreneurship is tough business and we know that on average it takes about 3 to 5 years before a business start to see some profits. I think getting enough players to register at an acceptable entry fee that is sufficient to cover operating and other expenses should be the goal of the initial years of the business. Already, there’s some obvious indication that not many players are willing to pay a thousand buck to play in a tournament, regardless of the prize and other amenities that’s being offered. If this holds true, then how can the goal of MC be to make the entry fee high?

    1. Guy – I am not saying that you are wrong, just that your goal is different than Maurice’s goal. He has stated many times that they are willing to lose money, at least on this inaugural event, to make a big splash. Your approach is legitimate for what you would want to achieve. In fact, I encourage you to do it! More organizers willing to create events is what we need in the chess world, of whatever size, as long as they are run in a quality manner.

  9. Maurice has already had a $500,000 tournament before so he can’t go down that road again. The idea is of “high stakes” and raising the profile of chess. Again… there is a price elasticity. What is the price point for such a tournament at such a venue? If you make it $500.00 you may get more players, but it is doubtful that you can hold a million-dollar tournament (which is the goal) with a much lower entry. We saw 1507 players pay $395-$445 at the HB Global. That is only $600,000-$700,000 tournament. MC already has $600,000 in revenue with a bit less than 600 players and may have had 100 more if he kept the entry at $1000. They’ll have to tweak the formula.

    The thing about pricing is that you can always lower the price to increase entries, but you can’t start $400-$500 and raise the price. What they are executing is an entry strategy to sell the value of a prestige item. They will have to deliver the value… or bust. If they do, more people may be willing to play $1000 next year. It is better to start high to see what players are willing to pay. Who would have known that hundreds of players would be willing to pay $1000.00?? This has never been done before.

    Approximately 600 players paid $1000.00 which is impressive though falling short of the goal of 1500. The key thing here is to make it successful with whatever number you’ve got. If it is wildly successful and you can absorb a minimal loss, MC can make adjustments in the system and either increase the incentives or sweeten the tour package. I would not lower the price though next year, but I’d keep it until the tournament starts and pay a higher price at the door. You enlist a sponsor and you can offer more goodies and tournament packages.

  10. I agree with the overall content of your message, and totally agree with your last statement.What about having a MC tournament with a starting entry fee of $700 and slowly increase it to $2000 with a million dollar prize/b on some useful # of entries. I think it would still have the same appeal and also raise the profile of chess. Now, I am assuming that they are trying to get the attention of mainly the public at large and potential sponsors who probably would be concerned w the million dollar prize.

    1. Really not sure Maurice is trying to build up from a $500,000 to $700,000 to a million. He is trying to build a millionaire brand from the outset. The branding of “Millionaire Chess” has attracted a lot of attention and ignited discussion. People now know that there are hundreds who will pay $1000 for an entry fee. I believe people are looking more at the entry fee than the prize fund. It’s sticker shock. They will sit on the sidelines and wait for another World Open style tournament and have even less of a chance to win.

      I believe Rodney raised a very good point… the $1000 may be an issue, but the real question is could a player raise or save $1000? You would think that they could if given the full time. The question is whether people have it in their hearts to do so. MC was announced in December 2013. Those who are not playing have very specific reasons. Some people I know HAVE the money, but are not playing because they don’t like the idea. It’s crazy.

  11. RJT- If you’re willing to be a sponsor I’d be willing to give it a try. You say Maurice wants to lose money to make a big splash. Very interesting! I think Maurice would encourage ideas that are different from his and pick out what he likes and disregard what doesn’t fit his plan. I am not saying you’re wrong, just saying it’s hard to believe that his goal is to lose money to make a statement. HB Global was a success in many ways, it was a splash, but it didn’t last. Do we want a repeat?

    1. Guy –
      I did not say Maurice WANTS to lose money. Please don’t misrepresent my position. Maurice and Amy boldly made the decision to go froward with MCO, even though the revenue won’t cover their expenses. They are simply willing to consider the money an investment, that will pay off down the road. Look closely at what they are doing, especially the other entities involved, MIT Media Labs, Sinquefield’s team. These people are serious about this event, and what it may demonstrate.

      Regarding your willingness to sponsor an event, I will take you up on that! I’ll get your number from Daaim, and give you a call.

      1. Ive noticed many traditionalist like to use the word,SERIOUS, the chessbookwriter eRIC sCHILLER uses it on me all the time on the facebook, does anyone KNOW what they really mean by that? oR is it just par for the course with them?

  12. RJT- This hindsight response interprets and clarifies your previous comment with precision. Based on the email I received from you, I believe we’re on the same page. I will give you a call regarding the sponsorship for an event.

  13. oH i just read an article on chessbase where this young lady wrote an article there about chess in St.Louis and she says the word Serious, what does that mean? dO any chessdrummers KNOW?

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