Reflections of the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open

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.
    Interview!

  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!!

CONTACT: MILLIONAIRE CHESS

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/

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

25 Comments

  1. Photo Albums from the Millionaire Chess Open

    OPENING

    DAY #1

    DAY #2

    DAY #3

    DAY #4

    DAY #5 – “MILLIONAIRE MONDAY”

  2. Great article!
    Yeah, I had some of the same thoughts. Sometimes felt a little “trapped” in the playing room. You couldn’t go smoke, or get a snack, or a cup of coffee, or stuff like that.

    I was the one who gave the tournament so many A+’s. Maybe I am an easy grader 🙂 But it was an outstanding event, and one I will always remember. I have played in hundreds of tournaments, and this one was amazing.

    Yeah, there were probably some misses. I didn’t see the comedy show, but not too surprised by your comments. I didn’t think it was really necessary for the tournament to try and provide entertainment, when Las Vegas is OVER FLOWING with entertainment. You could walk 300 yards and go see Britney Spears perform if you wanted to. But it was a nice thought.

    I thought that GM Ramirez’s comments about security were too harsh. I believe he said it was “a joke”. Compared to what? Baghdad International Airport? The security was 100 times more sophisticated than any other open tournament. What did he want? Anal probes?

    I liked your point about ROI as well. I flew to Spain this summer, and spent $1700 – just for the plane ticket! I looked at the trip as a vacation, and it was a blast. There were people in the casino spending 1000 dollars on one hand of blackjack.

    I didn’t think about the norms dilemma. You could be having the tournament of your life, about to get a final GM norm, that you have been chasing all your life, but you can’t play the last 2 rounds, because of the playoff. lol

    Anyway, great stuff! Really enjoyed it!

  3. OK. So you’re the culprit… giving out all those A’s. If you were my university colleague, we’d really razz you a bit.

    Certainly the problems did not detract from the overall experience. Some of Alejandro’s was indeed harsh in some areas, but of course all players attending the event will have some valid points. It is the people who did not attend whose comments have no credibility. I’ve read that some suggest it was a failure because the MCO did not get 1500 entrants. We knew that long ago.

    The entertainment attempt is a very good point, but even a talent show would have been better than outside comedians who don’t know better than to try to tell chess jokes. Nainan also told a lot of ethnic jokes which rattled some people including Amy. In a room where you have 40+ nations represented, humor is not going to be universal.

  4. I was talking to Sandy Jenkins of Washington, DC and she found it difficult to talk off the time from work. They are now polling Orlando, Miami and Vegas for months April and October. Of course April would be a very small window. If they held it in Vegas, they get to do another run. Is this tournament better rotating or establishing a base in one place? Not an easy decision.

  5. Nice reportage. Very good stuff. Excellent work. Thanks very much for sharing. Maurice and Amy have done wonderful things for the game we all love. Here’s to the both of them, and to all involved in this memorable event!

    1. Thanks Bruce! It was a good showing by the MC franchise and staff. We are all hoping for a new frontier and to put behind us the uninspiring tournaments that we are used to. They will have to expand slowly, but we have to figure out a way to sell chess as a marketable sport. Sponsorship will be needed going forward.

  6. Excellent work Daaim. We expected nothing less from you! That is what happens when the bar has been set to very high standards.

    Those people filled with negativity are an inevitable part of life – chess-wise or otherwise. This is different, of course, from receiving constructive criticism. The good thing is that those persons filled with “positivity” usually outnumber the “naysayers”. Examples of these “positrons” (:):)) were the players who turned out in their numbers to support the event.

    As was famously said, and I paraphrase, – it is impossible until it is done. I can recall many instances where people have tried to deter me from doing things with negative energy and pessimism and I would not have progressed had I allowed them to influence my decision-making etc.

    One has just got to move on and do what has to be done. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step and Maurice and Amy have made not just that proverbial first step but a quantum leap forward. The future for chess continues to be exciting and the chess world owes these persons a huge debt of gratitude.

    1. It was a huge step mi brethren and I really hope you and Shawn can make the next one. That would really be a good thing! 🙂

      We owe Maurice and Amy a debt and it may not be realized until we look back a few years from now.

  7. I applaud your objective outlook on this event Daaim. I understand that chess players are enthusiastic about this venture as they should be. After all, more money is usually a nice incentive. There’s been a topic that has not been addressed though, and I’ve waited to see if someone would mention it, particularly the organizers. Of the top ten finishers in the U2200 section, six of them were either unrated or provisional. It makes little sense to me that the organizers would go to such great lengths to ensure fair play yet they would allow for unestablished players to play in a section. If Millionaire Chess truly wishes to set the standard for fair play in tournament chess, then they really need to look at this issue. I came away with the impression from GM Ashley’s comments on facebook prior to the event that he did not expect the unrated and provisional players to perform well. Clearly, this was not the case. My personal decision to play in future Millionaire Chess tournaments will largely be based on this topic.

    1. I’m not clear whether these “unrated” players had foreign federation ratings or not. They have a rating listed which means they either have a FIDE rating or foreign federation rating. I’m sure there is a reason for this.

      I personally don’t worry about these rating issues. If I am playing people in my own section, it is not as if they are 200-300 points higher than me. I have a chance at beating any of the players in my section. If they are unrated without a USCF, FIDE or foreign rating, it would indeed be unusual for them to win a prize.

      Note they added 100 points to the FIDE ratings.

  8. Ryan – I understand your concern based on the data you presented. But aren’t you omitting a critical data point? The clear winner of the 7 round Swiss portion of the U2200 section (by 1/2 point) was Bo Githoro , who is a legitimate U2200 player. I remember Bo from his days as a student at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is not a foreign IM masquerading as an Expert. In fact, he is doing what most of us aspire to do, improving his strength as the years go by. You can verify his progress by looking up his tournament history on the USCF site. So if a legitimate U2200 won the section, whatever rating gamesmanship you fear occurred, didn’t result in any grossly underrated sandbaggers sneaking in and overrunning the section. Wasn’t there a 5 player playoff to determine the remaining 3 Millionaire Monday slots? If that’s what you consider sandbagging, it wasn’t very good sandbagging! I’m sure improvements will be made in future tournaments, but my conclusion is that the competition was at least as fair as any other big money Swiss.

  9. Based on Ryan’s point and RJT’s response, are we overplaying the sandbagging issue? On the one hand, you wonder how out of so many players , the top seven runner ups are unrated. On the other hand, you wonder if sandbagging is really a concern because, as RJT, pointed out, in the end, the clear winner was not a sandbagger. I guess Daaim 2nd paragraph is in fact the truth!

  10. I am not convinced by this line of reasoning. Simply because the winner of the section had an established rating, does not mean we should dismiss the high percentage of unrated and provisionally rated players finishing in the top 10. After all, there were not that many provisional and unrated players in the section. I also want to be clear that I am not accusing anybody of sandbagging. That is not my argument. My argument is that if the tournament wishes to maintain the credibility that I believe it aspires to, ensuring that entrants have an established rating seems like a reasonable idea. There is no disputing that the unrated and provisional players did extremely well in the U2200 section. To address Daaim’s point, some of the players are now rated over 2300. If you are in the bottom of the section rating wise, then you are 300 points below them. The tournament went to such great lengths to ensure fair play that this is a glaring hole in the product. I mean my criticism to be constructive. I did play in the tournament, so I have shown that I’m willing to support the tournament. It does become worrisome to participate again with the knowledge that the unrated and provisional players might be underrated in relation to the 2200 rating maximum though. I believe the organizers need to address this issue prior to the next event, but perhaps they do not view it as an issue at all.

  11. Good point Ryan.The question then becomes in what section should unrated players be placed? They did well in the U-2200, but not well enough to win the section. So, would it be fair to put them in the Open section? I agree that its not something we should dismiss,but given the outcome, I don’t think anyone whose good enough to play in the U-2200 should be worried about few unrated in the section. U-1400 thru U-2000 would give me more cause to worry.

  12. Ryan – Understand your concern, just felt that the point I added is also an important part of what happened. What should have be done with the players that you identified? Placed in the Open? Denied entry?

  13. Ryan,

    Realize that the provisional rating is used for pairing purposes and are not official ratings yet. So they are not 2300. The players with the provisional are mostly international players who have played in a few events in the U.S. or none at all. Sometimes they use provisional or FIDE (Millionaire Chess used FIDE +100). There are also unrated and provisional amongst those in the lower scores. One player had a 2303 provisional rating and finished 25th. His provisional is now 2233. The winners simply had a good tournament. All tournaments have a similar issue over what to do with foreign players. Some use FIDE or foreign ratings (if no FIDE).

  14. The tournament’s original design just didn’t take unrated or provisional players into (what I would consider) proper account. The tournament’s structure was advertised well before most anyone else was brought on board.

    It seemed obvious to me that UNR/P players could not go lower than U2200, and even there, it was questionable. However, as I pointed out, if they were all put in the Open, that would make more than 10% of the Open field FIDE-unrated – which would make it very difficult to achieve norms. This assumes they would all have stayed in the tournament – my suspicion is that many would have simply dropped out.

    The eventual decision reached by the organizers was to give those players a choice between U2200 and Open. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all such players chose the Open.

    I anticipate that future editions of this event, if held, will have an unrated/provisional section, with a much lower EF and prize pool. I further anticipate that players who do not wish to play in this section will be offered the alternative of playing in the Open section.

    (PS: I wonder what inducements I can offer Dr. Shabazz to not take pictures of me at tournaments. I tried to hide in my office the entire event to avoid cameras, but I failed.)

    1. Boyd,

      You don’t want to show your debonair personage? 🙂

      I tell people, if they see me with a camera, be on guard because I’m shooting everything that moves.

      I’ll keep that in mind, sir.

  15. More memories from MC#1 (not included before)

    • … spending time with GM Isan Suarez Ortiz of Cuba. Covering Olympiad tournaments, I see practically all of the top players. However, I take an interest in unheralded players as well. Cuba is quite a marvel because this nation of 11 million has such a rich culture in chess. Having traveled there on an educational tour, I have experienced the chess culture of Cuba first hand. So I noticed Ortiz on the Olympiad team back in Istanbul and then in Tromso. I introduced myself and requested an interview. We agreed it would take place during the event.

      A couple of days later, I run into him with Franklin Arosemena of Panama. They were going to lunch, but we all ended up going to Chipotle Grill where I treated both to lunch. It was nice to be able to chat about various aspects of Cuba and Panama, two very important countries in the western hemisphere. Later, we arranged to do the interview, but we lost track of Franklin so IM Joshua Ruiz of Colombia helped us with the translation. Before the interview he showed his game against Li Ruifeng, a dazzling sacrificial attack. I enjoyed this immensely!

    • …new and old acquaintances. Met several people such as Davetta Range, Ashik Uzzman & family, Amina Sherif and Atusa Pourkasiyan. The latter is an Iranian national whom I introduced myself to. We ended up playing in the blitz and both games were two competitive Sicilians. She won both games. I have admired Atusa from afar for many years and thinks she has a regal persona, but she was low key in her cap and hoodie. Although she did not speak much, I enjoyed playing her those blitz games. It was an interesting experience. Davetta Range was a breath of fresh air with her positive vibe and pleasant demeanor. She came to the MCO simply to help it become a successful event. We had exchanged e-mail previously. Of course, I was glad to see FM Kazim Gulamali win 1st in under-2500. I’ve known him since the age of seven.

    • …walking through the mall and discovery of Garrett’s Popcorn. After Jones Murphy and I returned from eating dinner at Meskerem, I wanted to find Amy some flowers. I marveled at the painted ceiling which gave the affect of being outdoors. I had seen this in a Qatar mall as well. When I could not find any flowers, I settled for buying Amy an icon from my hometown of Chicago, Garrett’s Popcorn. I had not realized how many flavors they had expanded since the cheese, caramel and butter that I remember from 25 years ago. I bought her a large bag of Almond Caramel Crisp and cheese mixed. Amy told me she enjoyed it! 🙂

    • …support of Black players. While many of the legendary Black masters are no longer active, there was a large amount competing in several section including a delegation from Nigeria. IM Farai Mandizha, FM William Morrison, FM Justus Williams, NM Tony Davis and NM Jimmy Canty (who won $20,000 in under-2350) represented in the open section, but the other sections saw many of the Black players competing for top prizes. Mubugua Githoro took 3rd in under-2200 and Aderemi Adekola took 2nd in under-2000. Fred Williams took 2nd under-1800 while Pierre Damis took 3rd. It was good to see the excitement of players even those who did not win. Justus’ win over Sergei Azarov was also cause for excitement. Many of the brothers came in support of Maurice and his vision just as they did for the HB Global. He has been a trailblazer and role model in the community for long before achieving GM status and 1999. Now as a successful promoter of chess… and probably the player who has done the most to actively promote the game, his Millionaire Chess franchise has the potential to engage more people in the African Diaspora.

    • …sharing meals with friends. One of my most joyous memories of tournaments is when I share meals with my player/friends. It is in this time that I learn more about my friends than the fact that we are chess players. I have known Kimani Stancil since 1989 when he was competing at the Denker Tournament of High School Champions. We were at the U.S. Open in Chicago and I was analyzing one of my games with R.O. Mitchell (who won the U.S. Junior in 1990) along with Maurice Ashley. Throughout the years, Kimani and I have keep in contact and have become friends on different levels. He is one of the persons I look forward to seeing at tournaments. We went to Chipotle Grill together and caught up on life challenges. It was a good vibe.

      I also enjoyed my outing for Ethiopian food with Jones Murphy, someone whom I met in 1990 and who has been instrumental figure in the support of Black chess development. It is interesting that both of these friends have Ph.D. degrees in physics and finally met at this tournament. With Jones… we reflected on the important meeting at the 1990 World Open where I was launching the idea of a Black chess network… which would become The Chess Drum. Some of the memories stand still in time and you can reach back and grab them. It was good catching up with Jones since the 2001 National Open also held in Las Vegas

    • …the interview with FM Ylon Schwartz. This was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever done. Poker professional and 2012 winner of golden bracelet, Ylon was first known to me as a hustler in Washington Square Park. He has quite a story including the time when he cared for his ailing mother. Anyone that does that has to have a good heart, right? Well… in our interview he gave some candid insight into the mind of a poker player and revealed a dynamic that I had not considered. You can listen to the interview here, but suffice it to say, it was intriguing to listen to a chess/poker player give such a comparison. 10:30 minutes

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