On Chess: Millionaire Chess offers high gloss and high risk

Oct 7, 2015

Part of any good chess player's repertoire includes gambits, sacrifices and risks. Specific player's style of play makes them take this path more often than others; this includes those who prefer a high risk/high reward situation rather than consistency.

I do not know Maurice Ashley well as a chess player as I have only played against him once in my life, and it was a rapid game. I am far more familiar with him as a chess commentator, promoter, and more recently, an organizer. His latest venture, Millionaire Chess, is one of the riskiest projects in the chess world. Alongside his partner, Amy Lee, Ashley is offering $1,000,000 in prizes in an open tournament. This makes Millionaire Chess the highest paid tournament of this format by a longshot. With strong vision toward the future, Millionaire Chess returns for the second edition Thursday, Oct. 8.

One might wonder what the purpose of having such a tournament is. And even though some tournaments are simply hosted thanks to sponsorship and people that truly love the game (such as the Sinquefield Cup, sponsored by Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield), others are a business. The model of having a big entry fee in conjunction with big prizes was first seen at the World Open, which recently held the 43rd annual tournament on the East Coast. It attracts players from around the country to participate for high prizes, although the cost of entering is also quite high.

Millionaire Chess takes this to a whole new level. The tournament charges a $1,000 early bird entry fee and $2,000 to those who want to sign up last minute. The reward? A top-tiered chess tournament with commentary, strong anti-cheating measures, and the possibility of winning up to $100,000 in the Open tournament or up to $40,000 in one of the category sections (based on rating).

Despite the fact that simple math tells you last year's event didn't quite break even for Maurice and Amy, they have the vision that taking losses in the first couple of years will validate to players that this tournament is, in fact, worth playing. This elite event is open to everyone and it is held in the best of Vegas styles; offering the chance to win more money than you thought possible for chess. They are gambling on future editions to bring them big rewards.

The action will be held in Planet Hollywood, in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Even though there are rumors that the tournament will move next year, I cannot imagine a more logical location for Millionaire Chess. 

Winner of the 2014 Millionaire Chess tournament, Wesley So, accepts his prize.
Credit Millionaire Chess 2014

The ante has definitely been upped: The top 12 players in America will be competing, including World #2 Hikaru Nakamura and World #5 Fabiano Caruana, and they will be joined by international super stars such as Yu Yangyi from China, Luke McShane from England, and the winner and runner up from last year, Wesley So and Ray Robson. And, yes, they all had to pay their $1,000 entry fee.

Production is expected to be very entertaining, with Grandmasters Robert Hess and Tania Sachdev providing commentary, supported by International Master Lawrence Trent. You can follow the event and find out more details at www.millionairechess.com