In a previous blog post I announced that I had some hard questions for GM Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee, the two leading partners organizing the Millionaire Chess tournament in Las Vegas, in October. Amy Lee did an interview for AfricaChess.net, which left some unanswered questions about sponsorship and ant-cheating preparation. To recap: Millionaire Chess is the first $1M prize fund chess tournmanent. Maurice Ashley organized the first $500,000 chess tournament, the HB Global Chess Challenge, in 2005, and this is his curtain call. The HB had some critics, and these critics would like to know what lessons were learned. I emailed Ashley to ask him some still unanswered questions, and he graciously replied. His answers are copied below. He encourages more questions and is happy to participate in more Q&A in the comments.
If MC succeeds, this could be a financial opportunity for professional chess players, a marketing opportunity for potential sponsors, and a boost to the game.
Ashley's comments are in bold italics.
I sincerely appreciate all your questions, and I love it when I get a chance to answer good folks like you who want to see chess elevated in the public eye in the classiest and most effective way possible. At Millionaire Chess, we have a huge vision for the game, and you know that I personally am totally vested in seeing chess make it to the big stage. Please keep your questions coming. You give us a chance to serve you better. Here are my answers and comments.
1. How is this tournament different from the HB Global?
First, I would like to say how proud I was of the HB Global. It was a rousing PR and marketing success that got the sponsor more than his money's worth of global attention. Though he decided, for personal reasons, not to continue the event, it met and exceeded a lot of people's expectations. The mere fact that you and others still remember it clearly shows how lasting an impression it left. I really wish we would have had a chance to continue the effort, but I certainly am proud of what we did to this day.
That said, the Millionaire Chess Open is going to make the HB Global look like a weekend Swiss! We are adding so many amenities that our players will feel like rock stars: opening breakfast, gift bags, red carpet photos with GMs, 24-hour answering service, VIP suite, high-tech security, extensive TD staff, and more. This is not going to be just a chess tournament; it will be an experience. And, like the HB Global, our winners will be getting those big checks promptly.
2. Are you pursuing sponsorship?
We would be irresponsible not to pursue sponsorship, and we have some promising leads. However, the event is 100% player driven. That is a novel idea, one that other promoters, despite their sincerest efforts, have never tried. Actually I have heard statements that the amateur players (who stand the gain most of the prize money from this event - almost $600K!) can never support chess enough to make it succeed. Maybe that is true in the long run, but for the near future, I believe we can hold a couple of spectacular events that excite the chess base so profoundly that key sponsors will take notice. The more we beg for the sponsor, the less likely they will come. They have to be shown the way, so it's the task of us as chess players to be the change we want to see in the world.
3. Will there be a list of registered players to motivate folks?
We will put up a list once the numbers get a bit more substantial. However, chess players should realize that a "wait and see who else comes off the fence" attitude is a recipe for disaster! There is absolutely no risk in registering early because they will be refunded in full if the event doesn't happen. In fact, there is potential reward since there will be at least 20 winners of free hotel stays and airline tickets. But the main point is that this is a commercial enterprise that will succeed because the true chess fan wants it to succeed. Imagine a future with lots of events like this, going beyond my company to others who decide to emulate it. The chess fan who enters will be able to say 5, 10, 20 years from now, "I was one of the pioneers in making this all happen for chess by jumping into the water and leading the way." It's with the courage and vision of those people that chess will turn into the prominent sport we all wish it will become.
4. Have you thought about anti-cheating procedures?
As I mentioned before, we will have high-tech security at this event. Part of the entry fee is devoted to just that measure. I am not going to reveal everything we have planned, but people should recognize that we are in a casino where these kinds of things are taken very seriously. And we will have obvious and not so obvious measures firmly in place to deal with people who cross the line. It would be a shame if someone spent all that money only to be kicked out of the event and have their reputation scarred for life. I don't imagine anyone would want to come to our event to be put through that sort of humiliation, so I trust that all those players interested in having good, clean fun will attend. Just know we will have our eyes open to make sure that happens.
Thanks again and Happy Holidays!
Thank you, again, Maurice for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope that MC proves a success!