2014 Millionaire Chess Open (Las Vegas, NV)

The time is here! The widely-anticipated inaugural Millionaire Open is only a few days away. GM Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee have invested in the future of chess by organizing what will be a historic event! A $1,000,000 chess event has never been attempted and there will only be one FIRST event of such… this is it!

GM Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee
Photo by millionairechess.com.

In past weeks, there has been a healthy debate on what the future of chess should look like. The MCO idea has started this discussion and while there was immense skepticism there are a number of key supporters both inside and outside the chess world. Will Smith, a long-time Ashley supporter and chess enthusiast, has given his support. The Chess Drum will be in Las Vegas providing coverage of the historic event.

While there are no top ten players competing, GM Wesley So of the Philippines will headline the event as the #14 player in the world. He will be joined by approximately 35 GMs seeking the $100,000 first prize. World #3 GM Veselin Topalov gave his endorsement during the Sinquefield Cup and many top GMs will be following the event with great interest. There are already exploratory plans for a second event.

Following are the top 21 players and their affiliation.

2014 Millionaire Chess Open
October 9th-13th, 2014 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
OPEN Section (FIDE Rated)
1 Wesley So GM Philippines
2 Bu Xiangzhi GM China
3 Le Quang Liem GM Vietnam
4 Yu Yangyi GM China
5 Alexey Dreev GM Russia
6 Varuzhan Akobian GM USA
7 Evgeniy Najer GM Russia
8 Timur Gareyev GM USA
9 Ray Robson GM USA
10 Sam Shankland GM USA
11 Sergei Azarov GM Belarus
12 Daniel Naroditsky GM USA
13 Giorgi Kacheishvili GM Georgia
14 Ehsan Ghaem Maghami GM Iran
15 Aleksandr Lenderman GM USA
16 Zhou Jianchao GM China
17 Julio Catalino Sadorra GM Philippines
18 Ruben Felgaer GM Argentina
19 Alejandro Ramirez GM USA
20 Sabino Brunello GM Italy
21 Rauf Mamedov GM Azerbaijan
Standings, Games (TWIC)


email address: contact@millionairechess.com
official website: https://millionairechess.com/

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  1. As the players were milling about in the dining area for breakfast you could tell there was something different about this event. Everyone present seemed to be in a good mood as players from around the U.S. and 41 other countries assembled in Las Vegas for The Millionaire Chess Open. The event started with a bang as GM Maurice Ashley opened the historic festival by effusively thanking everyone for their support and hoping that this would be the beginning of a new era in chess.

    GM Maurice Ashley and IM Lawrence Trent

    Daaim Shabazz and Adia Onyango, two early supporters of MCO

    Ashley introduced his business partner Amy Lee who recounted the 408 days since the idea was hatched and likened it to a child being born! She spoke of how the idea unfolded and blossomed into a quest to revolutionize chess. The crowd was certainly appreciate that Lee, a self-made entrepreneur has made such a sacrifice despite being a chess “outsider”.

    Amy Lee and staff working hard!

    The red carpet treatment for chess players!

    Ashley introduced Dan Nainan, an Indo-Japanese comedian who took pride in self-deprecating humor. Nainan made perhaps the greatest comedic faux pas when he asked a mostly American audience if we remembered Boris Spassky and not Bobby Fischer! His performance covered a range of topics ending with impersonations of several Presidents. It was a rather lukewarm reception by the audience with scattered laughs and polite applause at the end.

    GM Maurice Ashley going over the tournament rules. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    After Ashley gave a lengthy breakdown of the tournament regulations he continued to build up to the opening of the first round. He invited participants to take pictures by the red carpet with the backdrop board of sponsors. Everyone appeared to be in a good mood as they lined up on the red carpet to pose with Ashley or any combination of people they desired. This was something not seen at chess before at an open tournament and it appeared to be Ashley’s way of saying that chess players were deserving of red carpet treatment.

    The first round started after announcements and instructions by Francisco Guadeloupe the Chief Arbiter. As the players were positions at the boards, there were a few introductions. Now the players were ready to make history and were told “start your clocks”. The Millionaire Chess Open had begun.

    On the first day, there was already a big upset as FM Justus Williams took down GM Sergei Azarov. The young star goaded the Belorussian GM into a murky tactical mess. Azarov sacrificed an exchange but Williams had tremendous compensation and gobbled pawns in gluttonous fashion. With an exchange to the good and an armada of pawns, white scored a knockout and immediately sent a buzz around the playing hall. First major upset of the Millionaire Open. I asked Williams who he had beaten and he did not know the opponent’s name! Maybe it is best to be naive!

    FM Justus Williams upset GM Sergei Azarov in the first round!
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    In the second round, there were a couple of more upsets as GM Le Quang Liem was upended by Chinese national IM Wan Yunguo. Le inexplicably blundered a piece in a better position. IM Jeffrey Xiong beat GM Alexy Dreev when the All-American scholastic player kept prodding in the drawn ending.

    Round #1 (Full Broadcast)

    Round #2 (Full Broadcast)

  2. Yu Yangyi on 4/4 after Day Two… Five GMs on 3.5/5

    Webster University: Susan Polgar, GM Le Quang Liem, GM Ray Robson, GM Wesley So, IM Aswin Jayaram

    Webster University came in full-force to the Millionaire Chess Open with several players including world’s #14 Wesley So, Le Quang Liem and Ray Robson. Susan Polgar is in Las Vegas with the team and after today’s action all were in the thick of things. However, Yu Yangyi who had to find space in his trophy case for his Olympic gold medal ended the day on 4/4 with wins over two players from the other collegiate powerhouse, University of Texas-Dallas. Conrad Holt and Giorgi Margvelashvili went down against Yu.

    Varzhan Akobian and Zhou Jianchao were in a serious time scramble!
    Notice the expressions.

    WIM Alisa Melekhina was among the several strong women in the open section.

    There were a few celebrities in the crowd… FM Ylon Schwartz, poker superstar.

    There is some serious equipment in that room!

    The directing has been first class apart from a few pairing glitches. Frank Johnson directing India’s Sandhya Goli.

    So the $100,000 prize is going to be hotly contested in the last three days with a number of players in the hunt. There are a couple of perfect scores still running in a couple of sections. Aderemi Adekola (under-2000), Zhiji Li (under-1800), George Terarakelian (under-1600), Christian Silvestre (under-1400). One nice feature of the tournament layout is seeing all of top boards in each section at one table. It also makes sense to ensure there are no improprieties at the top boards where there is so much at stake.

    Standings: https://millionairechess.com/the_standings/standings-open-section/

    Round #3 (Full Broadcast)

    Round #4 (Full Broadcast)

  3. Six-way tie for first in Open… perfect score in under-2000!

    Everyone wants to be an millionaire… and even a few thousand dollars richer. Aderemi Adekola of Chicago was happy to win his game over Jones Murphy on the top board of the under-2000 section putting him on 6/6. There are also perfect scores in the other sections with Zhiji Li (under-1800), George Terarakelian (under-1600) and Christian Silvestre (under-1400) all running the top table. All are staying on course for “Millionaire Monday” where the top four of each sections will battle for the top prize.

    Aderemi Adekola analyzing with Jones Murphy after winning their encounter. He is now on 6/6 in the under-2000 section!

    In the Open Section, there is now a six-way logjam with tournament leader Yu Yangyi being caught after being held twice. Wesley So, Ray Robson, Timur Gareev, Daniel Naroditsky and David Berczes all are jockeying for positions in “Millionaire Monday” clash. All are on 5/6.

    Standings: https://millionairechess.com/the_standings/standings-open-section/

    Round #5 (Full Broadcast)

    Round #6 (Full Broadcast)

  4. Wesley So wins 1st Millionaire Open and $100,000!!

    Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley present
    a triumphant Wesley So with the winner’s check.
    Photo by Paul Truong.

    GM Wesley So told The Chess Drum that he was skeptical about the tournament a month ago, but decided to play at the urging of Webster coach Susan Polgar. He asserted that as a full-time student, he had little time to prepare for the tournament, but was able to use the services of his coach with great effect. He was pleased with the outcome.

    I give the tournament five stars!
    ~ GM Wesley So

    When asked about the method to his success, he mentioned his physical training as one of the main components. He also gave credit to his coach and his team which consists of 10 Grandmasters. It has been a whirlwind year for So who is completing the federation transfer to the U.S., but still remains a proud Pinoy.

    After this historic victory Wesley So moves to the #10 position on the LIVE rating list. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    So played the most consistent chess with 6/7 performance in the preliminaries and 3-1 win over Zhou Jianchou and a 1½-½ verdict over his friend Ray Robson in the finals. Thus, he becomes the first winner of this historic tournament and will go down in the annals of history as having won the biggest prize in chess open history. In addition, he has done it while reaching the top ten. What a day for a deserving young player!

    Listen to Wesley So!

    Replay Millionaire Chess Open!

  5. first and foremost, thank you for your in-depth coverage of a historical event. no 1 could have done better than you. thank you once again for all your hard work, patience and dedication .Dr.

  6. …secondly thanks for the coverage, Professor, however I must agree , I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER THAN THE 2 of YOU!!! hahaha.

  7. Drum Interviews @ Millionaire Chess Open

    The Millionaire Chess Open has come and gone, but will not be soon forgotten. The four-day festival culminated with an exciting playoff and in the end GM Wesley So came out victorious. The 21-year old Filipino was expressive at the closing ceremony and could be seen milling out in a jubilant mood.

    GM Varuzhan Akobian helping Wesley So celebrate. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.Varuzhan Akobian (right) helping Wesley So celebrate.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz unless otherwise stated.

    GM Wesley So (Manila, Philippines) – The Chess Drum had an opportunity to chat with the Webster University student and he proceeded to give most of the credit to his coach, Susan Polgar. The Hungarian legend has built an Olympiad-strength program since leaving Texas Tech University. It consists of players from every corner of the planet and So is the latest example of how successful Webster has been. Listen to his impressions after winning the Millionaire Open. 6:09 minutes

    Amy Lee (Vancouver, Canada) – This event would not have come to fruition without the largess and energy of Amy Lee. This energetic and dynamic woman certainly put on a event that will be talked about in the coming years. Combined with the charisma and chess acumen of GM Maurice Ashley, the two staged the first US$1,000,000 tournament in open history.

    Amy Lee and Daaim Shabazz

    The event was a rousing success and put shame to all the naysayers who speculated that the event would fail. Certainly there will be a number of improvements Lee was able to clarify some of the issues and some of the 11:31 minutes

    FM Ylon Schwartz gave a very insightful interview.

    FM Ylon Schwartz (Brooklyn, NY, USA) – One of the celebrities mentioned in the Amy Lee interview was FM Ylon Schwartz, World Series of Poker (WSOP) professional. He came in 4th in 2008 WSOP winning a hefty $3,774,974 and four years later was the winner of bracelet in the 2012 WSOP. It was refreshing to see the Brooklyn native competing and he seemed to enjoy it immensely. He gave a very insightful interview and discussed his views of the Millionaire Chess tournament, the format and spoke on the chess/poker analogy.

    Poker star Ylon Schwartz lost in the playoffs to NM Jimmy Canty. Photo by lasvegasvegas.com.

    What is shocking is that after the interview he expressed how the mentality of top players in both games are totally different. Top poker players, he stated, are used to losing and the loss rate is 83%. Conversely, top chess Grandmasters rarely lose. However, 17% of the time, a top poker player may win a large amount and nullify the other loses.

    He also mentioned after the interview that he feels much more passionate about chess than poker. He is still seeking IM norms and was disappointed that he was forced to compete for a higher prize rather than vie for an IM norm. His interview gives quite a lot of food for thought. 10:30 minutes

    Frank Johnson (Atlanta, Georgia, USA) – Right before the blitz tournament, The Chess Drum grabbed one of the tournament directors charged with keeping the players happy, basically. Apart from a couple late starts, the staff did a wonderful job in running the tournament. Johnson runs two locations of the 64 Squares Chess Club in Atlanta, Georgia and is a coach and promoter through chess-coach.net. 2:13 minutes

    The directing was first class apart from a few pairing glitches and a couple of late starts. Atlanta’s Frank Johnson (right) directing India’s Sandhya Goli. Check out chess-coach.net!

    IM John Bartholomew (center) on route to 5/9.

    IM John Bartholomew (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) – This Minnesota native was a standout high school player who won a scholarship to the famed University of Texas at Dallas. After a year of law school in Denver, he moved to New York for a short stint to focus on chess. Later he returned to Minneapolis where he is now a successful coach.

    A long-time supporter of The Chess Drum, Bartholomew came to vie for his second GM norm. He ended with 5/9 playing six GMs (2/6) and 2378 performance rating. John talks about the ebbs and flows of his life and how he has now found his passion. 9:15 minutes

    GM Isan Reynaldo Suarez Ortiz (Cuba)

    GM Isan Reynaldo Suarez Ortiz (Holguin, Cuba) – This Cuban national comes from a strong chess tradition. A member of the Cuban Olympiad team, the 25-year old from the city of Holguin has an ELO of around 2600. This was his second tournament in the U.S., but the Cubans have recently been making regular trips to compete in America.

    Ortiz scored 6.5/9 and stated that he enjoyed the event. He showed me a scintillating game against FM Li Ruifeng, shown below. He will compete in the Pan-American Zonal in Brazil which is a world championship qualifier. This interview had the help of translation by IM Joshua Ruiz of Colombia. 9:16 minutes

    Amina Sherif and Daaim Shabazz

    Amina Sherif (Dusseldorf, Germany) – An enchanting 15-year old girl is of Egyptian (paternal) and German (maternal) heritage and came with her parents to the Las Vegas as part of a family vacation. This talented girl has been representing Egypt for a couple of events after being approached by one of the chess officials during a visit to Egypt. Her father is from the Nubian province, Aswan. The aspiring economist has such a sweet personality and her parents beam with pride when watching their tall and stately daughter. The family stays near Dusseldorf, Germany. (Note: We actually played in the blitz tournament splitting a pair of games.) 6:23 minutes

    Dr. Jones Murphy (Dominica) – This brilliant physicist comes from the small island of Dominica, but spent his formative years in New York City. He attended City College of New York helping to win the Pan-American Collegiate Championship. This was his first tournament in more than 10 years. While Jones was pleased with the turnout, its diversity and the organization, he was critical of the naysayers who he found to be illogical in their rationale for not supporting the historic event.

    Jones Murphy (right) analyzing his game with Aderemi “Remi” Adekola. This was the sixth win in a row for Remi who Jones called “talented”. Remi would come in 2nd overall in the under-2000 with 6.5/7 and then go on to playoffs to take 2nd. He won $20,000.

    Jones gave some interesting suggestions for the next MCO including having playoffs after the nine rounds so that one can vie for norms as well. He also articulated why sponsors would be interested in such an investment in MCO and ends with what it means for the impact of chess around the world. Excellent interview!14:10 minutes

    New York stand up! Jones Murphy with FMs Ylon Schwartz and William Morrison. All three have known each other for more than 25 years.

    Dr. Maria Carolina Blanco (Venezuela) – Certainly one of the players who may have been mistaken for a celebrity or model is incidentally an orthodontist from Venezuela. A 15-time national champion of Venezuela, the Women’s International Master (WIM) and has represented Venezuela in several Olympiad, but left the country 10 years ago. She has now resided in Atlanta, Georgia for eight years and has a number of chess students. She mentioned that her students were watching result. She emphatically expressed her love for chess and has decided to work in orthodontist office only on a part-time basis. Check her website at https://www.drcarolinablanco.com 9:51 minutes

    United Nations! IM Carlos Perdomo (Argentina), GM Robert Hess (USA), WIM Dr. Carolina Blanco (Venezuela), WIM Arianne Caoali (Australia), IM Lawrence Trent (England) at the Millionaire Open.

    Mbugua Githoro (Houston, Texas, USA) – This player of Kenyan ancestry was born in Texas, a place where everything is big. With his third place showing, “Bo” would win big as well. With his $10,000 haul, he will have an opportunity to expand his Dark Knights (http://www.DarkKnightsChess.com) chess organization. When the question came up about his Kenyan ancestry, he stated that he was unaware of the chess community, but would love the opportunity to play for his ancestral country in future events. 10:01 minutes

    Mbugua Githoro analyzing his 7th round game which he won.

    Daaim Shabazz with Kenyans at Millionaire Chess Open. Pictured from left to right are: Akollo Odundo, James Apiri, Adia Onyango, Daaim Shabazz, Mbugua Bo Githoro and Collins Apiri. All photos by Daaim Shabazz unless otherwise stated.


    email address: contact@millionairechess.com
    official website: https://millionairechess.com/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/HighStakesChess
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millionairechess
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MillionaireChess
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/advancedphoto/sets/

  8. Since the Millionaire Chess Open ended, I have read several accounts of the historic event. Most were favorable; some were mixed; some were critical. As is custom in my coverage of major tournaments The Chess Drum covers live, I do a reflections piece. It recounts my overall experiences along with an assessment on some specifics. Let me begin.

    I learned of the Millionaire Chess Open a couple of weeks before it was announced. GM Maurice Ashley called me with the news of… “a million dollar tournament”. The words I remember going through my head were… shocking… unprecedented… revolutionary. Of course, I remember a similar phone call when he told me about the HB Global Chess Challenge in 2004. Like before, he told me to hold off on announcing it until there was an official press release going out.

    Venue of the 1st MCO!
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz unless otherwise stated.

    On December 12th, the announcement was made and after a few articles were in circulation, there was an immediate reaction. Most of it was in reference to the $1000 entry fee. In fact, a thread on chess.com has reached 2300 entries… most of the early ones showed intense skepticism by a couple of antagonists. Other antagonists included one high profile player with objections about Amy Lee’s experience… the hybrid format… the large prize. There was so much misinformation, that another press release had to be released to clarify. In fact, there were three interviews (#1, #2, #3) conducted by The Chess Drum of Maurice to clarify issues at various points of the project’s evolution. I had also written perhaps a dozen articles about the event.

    A week prior to the Millionaire Chess Open, Maurice and Amy released a statement titled, “Letter to Participants” which stated, “…we are absolutely looking forward to October 9th when the excitement will begin in the Celebrity Ballroom at Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.” It was surreal when I saw the players at the opening breakfast. It had begun!

    The Millionaire Chess Open Begins!!
    CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

    I started recognizing various faces while I assembled my Canon 60D camera. Maurice was greeting tables as the co-host and interacting with those who had come from overseas. The excitement was reaching a fever pitch. Maurice came on to welcome everyone and talked about his 12-year old vision. He gave effusive praise to his partner and set the stage for her to come forth. Amy likened this event to having a baby since it had been 408 days. (Read speech here!)

    After the opening ceremony and everyone had eaten breakfast, the Millionaire Chess Open would join the annals of history. Despite this, there were very few chess sites sending representatives. ChessBase had Sabrina Chevannes and photojournalist Lennart Ootes was in the building as well as a professional team that was charged with capturing the tournament as none had been covered before. Since I was playing, I saw very little of the broadcasts, but I had gotten mostly positive reviews from word-of-mouth. Regardless, the tournament had begun and the months of anticipation were past us.

    GM Maurice Ashley and IM Lawrence Trent

    Daaim Shabazz and Adia Onyango show that purple is the color!

    One of the most touching events of the MCO was the red carpet promenade. Each of the players would be able to take a professional photo with a backdrop of sponsors. It was a beautiful touch and good to see Maurice greeting each person. It was apparent that MCO was ramping up the customer service and Amy refused to allow anything (on the administrative side) to fall through. Throughout the event, there was the ubiquitous presence of Amy and Maurice addressing concerns. I was able to see them conferring on problems and was amazed at the mutual respect exuded in those interactions.

    In the next four days, each person would etch their own special memories of the Millionaire Chess Open. There was an excitement not seen in recent years and there was the impression that no expense was spared to make this a wonderful experience. Amy was seen walking briskly throughout, but was always upbeat with a smile. Maurice commanded a presence and presented himself as a consummate ambassador of the game. The entire experience was first-rate and while each person has memories they will cherish, I had my own.

    My five best memories were…

    1. …meeting Amy Lee. For several months, I had communicated with this enigmatic Canadian woman with an ambitious vision. While not a chess player, I saw a dynamo of a mind at work. I didn’t appreciate this until I saw her in action. Maurice stated that she hardly sleeps and I began to believe it when I observed her. She seemed like she had motors in her legs as she scurried about. I noticed her endless cache of spreadsheets, forms and documents with every conceivable permutation of data. What really impressed me were the checks… all organized with the W-9 forms ready. It was quite an organizational marvel to watch. We should be grateful not only for her largess, but for her energy and effort.

    2. Dr. Carolina Blanco (Venezuela)
      Photo by Billy Johnson.

    3. …the red carpet. I enjoyed this touch as it made the players feel special and at the same time it gave the impression of a special event. What I found interesting was how Maurice took a photo with each and every participant. When have you seen a GM give that much access to fans? It simply doesn’t happen… at least not very often. Some GMs are so unapproachable to fans and amateurs at tournaments that a schism is created. This was apparent when GMs asserted that amateurs should not win big money. Maurice seems to be sending the message that amateur players (who generally carry the financial load of U.S. tournaments) deserve a tournament of the highest standard and will be treated in a royal fashion.

    4. …ambiance and positive vibe in the playing hall. The purple monogrammed clothes were a nice touch to the playing hall and established the brand of Millionaire Chess. There were portraits of every world champion in the modern era from Wilheim Steinitz to Magnus Carlsen. There were the national flags of 43 nations and in an unusual touch, the National Anthem of the United States was played. The playing hall was comfortable and spacious and had adequate lighting. The beautiful young ladies serving water to the players was a simple, yet powerful gesture. It was a nice touch of class and contributed to the “special treatment” of the participants.

    5. Purple accents made for an elegant appeal!
      Photo by Billy Johnson.

    6. …conducting interviews and taking photos. With each major event that I cover, I usually get several good interviews for The Chess Drum audience. This event would be a bonanza for my photography and for my interviewing opportunism. Generally, I’ll compile a list of people I want to pursue and then adjust as the event goes on. When I found out that poker star FM Ylon Schwartz was playing, he was on my list. What occurred was one of the most interesting interviews I had conducted.10:30 minutes One of my biggest interview coups was GM Isan Ortiz of Cuba who I had an intention to interview since the Olympiad in Turkey. This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated by Colombian IM Joshua Ruiz. The second such interview I have used a translator. 9:16 minutes All of the interviews, including the ones with MCO winner GM Wesley So and Amy Lee) can be heard here! As for my millionaire photos, you can see them here!

      Favorite Photos at the Millionaire Chess Open
      CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

      * * *

    7. … the VIP room! I would be the first to admit that I took advantage of this perk… particularly the free massages. I understand that the location was rather suboptimal, but perhaps the privacy and seclusion from the ruckus of the casino downstairs was fortuitous. I visited twice and received massages both times. I also went over to the boards and sulked over my incredible loss. Knowing I had a draw after blundering a slightly better position didn’t comfort me, but the “Doll Lounge” was a good place to heal. The massages were great! I also observed a group of players (including William Aramil) showing puzzles from their games. There was a nice one offered by one player with a queen sacrifice ending with a beautiful mate. Unfortunately, the VIP lounge did not get many visitors and after the first day Amy had to encourage players to visit.

    While I will not give a letter grade on this event, I will touch on five areas that some have been mentioned in other reflection articles.

    The five areas of focus are…

    1. Security… In my view, the security seemed to work well from a logistical standpoint. When you have 600 players and guests to scan, then it becomes a balance between thorough searching and delays. Players were told to allow ten minutes and it seemed as if the lines moved smoothly. As a journalist, I had clearance, but since I was also a player I checked my phone and digital recorder at the booth. This operation worked extremely well as each person’s belongings were deposited in a plastic bag and a ticket given.

      There were no “in-and-out” privileges meaning that once you entered, you could only leave when you finished your game. If you had to go to the restroom, you had to walk through the scanner. You could only leave the playing hall if you had a stamp indicating that you had finished your game. Thus, you had to bring your own snacks in the playing hall since you could not go to a vending machine. Perhaps some small refreshments would have been a nice touch… a very nice touch.

      The floor directors were clearly distinguished by purple shirts and in general, appeared to have a sense of professionalism.

      In a two-part review written by GM Alejandro Ramirez on ChessBase (#1 and #2), he cited one of his friends mistakenly brought a cell phone into the playing hall, but quickly exited to check it. I was told by Frank Johnson, that while there were no cheating incidents, they investigated some suspicious behavior. If you listen to my interview with FM Ylon Schwartz, he felt the security was too “militant” but understood the necessity. Personally, I thought the security did a good job and arbiters seem to be alert while walking around watching the hall.

    2. Playing conditions… One of the common issues was the positioning of the top players and the stage. I will concede it was very difficult to take photos and follow the action since the boards were above eye level for most. There were no demonstration boards or no way to follow the top games in the playing hall. Thus, it was not spectator-friendly in that regard. Perhaps it is just as good with the players on the floor behind a roped area.

      The purple accents were a nice touch!

      What I did like was the top boards of each section were featured near the front row. This, I would imagine, is also done so these crucial boards could be monitored. I enjoyed watching the class players in battle and I believe they felt some encouragement to be recognized in that way. However, there have been widespread complaints that no attention was paid to these games. This can be easily corrected in the future. Spectators may be interested in watching people at various levels to note the contrast. There was also the issue of the 8th and 9th rounds. Those playing two extra rounds did not use the wooden DGT boards they were used to and the attention shifted 100% to the Millionaire Monday which was in the adjacent room.

    3. This was the best part of the VIP lounge.

    4. Side activities… some of the events had great intentions like the red carpet, best dressed contest, GM lectures and the blitz/bughouse tournaments. They were enjoyed and carried through in the spirit of the event. OK… both comedy shows were abysmal, but in my view, activities like the daily lectures were a success. The red carpet was a smashing success. Players were giddily approaching the carpet to take personal photos with GM Maurice Ashley and then one solo photo. Photographer Billy Johnson did an outstanding job and these “celebrity” pictures immortalized this historic event.

      Comedy… uh no. I had heard of this comedian, but it appears he had an off night. His jokes only evoked polite laughter throughout. 😕

      The youth-only activity was a bughouse tournament with plenty of pizza! Sorry no adult buggers allowed. 🙂

      I decided to wear my Millionaire Chess theme. It was nice to see players divert from the usual t-shirt and blue jeans and there were some very creative expressions. Well… Adia Onyango and Dr. Carolina Blanco stood out the most!

      The best-dressed contest was an interesting and well-received for those who decided to “look like a million bucks” but there was no idea of how people were to be seen, who was judging or where we could find photos of who had won each day. It would have been nice to see the various outfits. I would also suggest a small prize each day for both male and female. The kids’ bughouse tournament looked to be a lot of fun with hot several pizzas for the kids and the raucous atmosphere that bughouse is. All adults were told to excuse themselves from the room as it was a youth activity.

    5. Tournament format and prizes… With me winning $67.00 in the under-2200 section, it came as a shock. I played decent chess, but I had a -1 score! It showed me how deep the prizes were. However, some had issue with the distribution noting that there was a huge different between 1st ($100,000 and 5th ($8,000) in the open section. Perhaps that can be adjusted. The issue of the entry fee brought about some bizarre arguments about return on investment. For most chess players, chess is a passion. I personally do not view a chess tournament as an investment where I have to achieve an ROI, or return on investment. Some people play golf… some collect expensive art… some sail boats… we play chess and spend lots of money on it.

      Top board of the under-1600. This gentleman was getting into the zone.

      Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley present a triumphant Wesley So with the winner’s check. Photo by Paul Truong.

      Of course, there are chess professionals who have to consider these issues more carefully, but there are also those who want other opportunities besides the money payoff. When I interviewed poker professional FM Ylon Schwartz, he expressed some disappointment because he was unable to vie for an IM norm. As one of the top four players under-2350, he had to play in the rapid tiebreaker and playoffs, thus forfeiting any chance of a norm. He stated that if a player is doing well, he should be able to compete for a norm. Ylon also found going from classical to rapid was a bit drastic. However, no one can deny that the format brought immense excitement and perhaps there can be a way to accomplish both. The last complaint was those playing the 8th and 9th rounds for norms felt that they were forgotten since the focus was on “Millionaire Monday”.

    6. Boyd Reed (right) had some tough spots, but was diligent at resolving issues.

    7. Customer Service… Of course there were some pairing issues and some of the rounds started late, but overall the staff was outstanding! The MC staff was willing and in most cases, able. I want to personally thank them for their time, energy and effort. Everyone working the registration desk, cell phone check desk, TD booth and the water attendants were cheerful and professional. Amy and Maurice were diligent at addressing the many concerns and in some instances, I was standing right before them as they discussed these issues… albeit bleary-eyed. It was inspiring to see their passion at work.

    Synopsis… All in all, the Millionaire Chess Open was a fantastic showing despite some of the flaws that would naturally occur in a debut event. In my assessment, the tournament succeeded at providing an excellent playing venue and the decor was elegant and appealing.

    Small aesthetic touches like the water service and the purple runners on the tables were nice. However, I did not assess the tournament as an A+ in all categories (as one article did). Such reviews are not as helpful to the MC brand as those with at least some critiques. We need to provide objective feedback if we ever want to see MCO as a marquee event.

    The MC app was very active and the players seemed to enjoy this social networking tool… thoroughly. On the down side, there was not nearly enough daily news coverage to generate the desired buzz. Chess sites barely gave MCO any consistent attention. Most settled for doing the post-tournament report. The tournament is generating some sustained buzz and hopefully this will create interest in the MC franchise.

    Amy and Maurice were up early and worked hard to put on a successful event. I also came to this desk late after everyone had left. Yes… they were there.

    I was glad to finally meet Maurice Ashley’s daughter, Nia Ashley. I used to always ask Maurice about her. Nia is an ambitious young lady attending Barnard College at Columbia University aspiring to run a production company. She is especially adept in the social-networking platform and was giving Amy tips on how to promote the MC brand.

    I could not find a flower shop nearby, so I bought Amy some Chicago famous Garrett’s popcorn…almond caramel crisp and cheese (mix)! As a Chicagoan, I wanted to share one of our city icons.

    I want to personally thank Amy Lee for her belief that chess deserves its day in the sunshine. You gave it to us! Kudos to GM Maurice Ashley, the floor general who some days operated on little or no sleep. Thanks for your vision. I am most certain that improvements will come in the second installment of the Millionaire Chess Open. Thanks for a wonderful tournament. See you for MC2!!


    email address: contact@millionairechess.com
    official website: https://millionairechess.com/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/HighStakesChess
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millionairechess
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MillionaireChess

    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/

  9. Jones Murphy, Jr. decided to come out of a long hiatus to compete in the Millionaire Chess Open. In fact he was one of the more vocal supporters of this event and took and active role in extolling its importance. Despite being out of tournament chess for 12 years, Murphy played in the under-2000 and won 5th overall winning $3,000. After the tournament there have been a lot of evaluations of MCO. Murphy decided to weigh in on the debate in an essay. Enjoy!

    Exciting New Format Brings Amateur out of Long Retirement
    by Jones Murphy, Jr.

    Jones Murphy, Jr.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    After briefly reaching 2200 plus while a student well over 20 years ago, I quit playing tournaments actively due to work and kids, like many other players at that age and stage of life. I almost never went to chess tournaments without my kids, and their well-being and play was far more important to me than my own. My rating drifted lower and lower and my tournaments grew further and further between. I shifted into chess tournament sponsorship and philanthropy far more than actually playing. After playing in the Vermont Open in 2002, and ending up with a rating of 1985, I unwittingly entered into what would become my longest period of inactivity since I started playing in chess tournaments. I found the old tournament formats uninspiring, and I wasnâ??t very motivated to play.

    When Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee announced Millionaire Chess, I was very intrigued. As a businessman (trader and portfolio manager) for over 20 years, I’ve always felt chess to be exceptionally poorly organized relative to its status and prestige in the minds of the general public. The administrators and organizers of this sport do an absolutely incompetent job of monetizing chess’ fan base. This situation badly hurts the earnings of the most talented chess players, compared with talented practitioners of poker and many other games and sports. Millionaire Chess promises to make a positive change toward fixing that. I was one of the very first people to sign up, though I was quite pessimistic of being able to win money even in the U2000 section because of the years of rust.

    Amy Lee and GM Maurice Ashley embrace before she addressed the audience at the opening ceremonies.

    On the first morning of the tournament, I was at the gym at 6AM, and spotted Maurice Ashley bustling around getting things ready. Throughout the tournament, GM Ashley and Amy Lee were visibly working extremely hard to make the event a success. I enjoyed the Millionaire Breakfast event, and started what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable features of this tournament for me: meeting so many old and dear friends from the days when I was a very active chess player and philanthropic sponsor of tournaments. I loved the souvenir bag, which is perfect for taking equipment to play in chess tournaments. With my interest in playing rekindled by this tournament, I definitely plan to use that souvenir bag many times in the future. I found checking in very brisk and efficient.

    My most lasting impression of the tournament was the constant, building sense of drama, from the opening moments. This peaked during the playoffs. I got unprecedented feedback from friends and family, including their watching my one game which was broadcast live as a top board in the U2000 section. Thereâ??s no question that this enormous fan base will be extremely attractive to advertisers and sponsors seeking to put their name and products out before a big audience.

    I thought the security was a good feature, though it could stand some improvement. Nevertheless, it was far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m hearing a lot of vocal complaints from players about the low level of security at the bigger money tournaments in chess these days. I look forward to even tighter security at Millionaire Chess and other big money tournaments in the future. A big part of why this issue looms so large to me is that for example, on ICC, my slow rating is barely above 1800. I imagined therefore that my skills were deteriorating with age and inactivity, which is pretty normal.

    Dr. Jones Murphy, Jr. with Dr. Kimani Stancil, two physicists!

    Dr. Jones Murphy, FM Ylon Schwartz and FM William Morrison…
    …chess memories built in Brooklyn, New York!

    I was surprised when I played in a Swiss at the Marshall Chess Club the weekend before Millionaire Chess, and came a game away from outright 2nd, losing only to IM Marta Fierro in the last round. My results at Millionaire Chess were consistent with that, and I only lost one and drew one game while winning 5. Alas those results were enough to just keep me out of the playoffs, and I finished 5th in the U2000 at Millionaire Chess. That was a far better result than I expected from my online play. Iâ??m now convinced that there is substantial cheating of various kinds online. Iâ??ve reported some very suspicious episodes to ICC administrators with no success.

    I was a little disappointed by the lack of demo boards for the top boards in the Open section. It would have been nice to catch up on what was going on at a glance, instead of either having to walk over and scrutinize the boards closely. Going outside of the playing area while playing games was prohibited, for obvious security reasons. I definitely hope for demo boards in the next edition of Millionaire Chess, which Iâ??m very keen to attend.

    I was very pleased by many features of the tournament, including ones not available to me like limo rides for GMâ??s. The VIP room was very nice, with the massage feature quite appealing to people of my age group who are now eligible for the US Senior Open. The opponents I played were extremely courteous and sportsmanlike, though they fought very hard for the exceptionally high stakes. The casino setting, and Las Vegas in general, were amusing, and reminded me of many National Opens in the distant past that I’d participated in. I definitely am keen now to play in more National Opens as well as Millionaire Chessâ?? future editions.

    I would strongly encourage businesses looking to display their products to potential buyers to consider advertising with and sponsoring Millionaire Chess in various ways. Players and online viewers/followers wield substantial purchasing power. The event itself was exceptionally classy by chess tournament standards, and one businesses would be proud to associate themselves with, compared with other sporting and gaming events which attract business sponsorship and ads.

    Nice touches!

    Nice touches!

    Top Boards

    Top Boards… where high stakes chess was played.

    Jones Murphy (right) analyzing his game with Aderemi 'Remi' Adekola. This was the sixth win in a row for Remi who Jones called

    Jones Murphy (right) enjoying analysis with Aderemi “Remi” Adekola. This was the sixth win in a row for Remi who would come in 2nd overall in the under-2000 with 6.5/7. He qualified to go onto playoffs to take 2nd and a $20,000 prize. Jones came in 5th. All photos by Daaim Shabazz.


    email address: contact@millionairechess.com
    official website: https://millionairechess.com/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/HighStakesChess
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millionairechess
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MillionaireChess

    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/

  10. Great Article. Thanks for the info, super helpful. Does anyone know where I can find a blank “W-9 Form” to fill out?

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