Chess Olympiad
10:06 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

On Chess: Millionaires And Missed Connections

This is the busy season of chess, with lots going on in the scene. Scattered thoughts, like pawns, need attending:

Maurice Ashley is in town, looking for millionaires.

GM Maurice Ashley is the promoter of the Millionaire Chess Open, the upcoming tournament with the largest prize fund ever.
GM Maurice Ashley is the promoter of the Millionaire Chess Open, the upcoming tournament with the largest prize fund ever.
Credit Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

The first and only African-American GM is at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis handling duties as the Resident Grandmaster, giving lectures, teaching lessons -- and no doubt polishing up anyone who likes both chess and money, as he continues to promote the Millionaire Open, set for Las Vegas in October.

The tournament guaranteeing the largest prize fund in history -- with a $100,000 top reward headlining a cool million in total prizes -- may have run into a bit of wait-and-see hesitation initially from participants, but enthusiasm seems to be rolling along just fine now. Many speculated that the $1,000 entry fee was sure to derail the event before it even got off the ground, but today the Millionaire’s registrant list is up over 500 players with more than 35 countries represented -- and still with two months to go.

That number will be at least one player higher after next weekend’s Millionaire Satellite tournament at the Central West End chess club. The satellite will give away a free entry to the Millionaire in Las Vegas, as well as $10,000 in class prizes -- a fraction of what Ashley will give away in October, but that’s the idea: Entry fee for the satellite is only $100.

I’m just saying: Ten years ago, a poker amateur named Chris Moneymaker won a satellite tournament that gave him a seat in the World Series of Poker -- which he went on to win, along with millions of dollars, single-handedly setting off the “poker boom.”

Could we be on the edge of the chess boom? Where  is Johnny Pushinpawns?

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Grandmaster Conrad Holt just booked his reservations for St. Louis next summer. Holt won the U.S. Open last week in Orlando, Fla., in which the top prize features a guaranteed seat in the 2015 U.S. Championship, annually held at the Chess Club. It will be Holt’s second appearance in a national championship, after an impressive performance here two years ago when he finished fifth out of 24 competitors, despite entering as the 18th seed.

Now a senior at the University of Texas-Dallas, Holt was a crowd favorite for obvious reasons in that 2013 U.S. Championship, where he actually entered the final round tied for second place. There, he passed on an opportunity to draw by perpetual check, instead chasing the full-point win that would have tied him for first place and forced a playoff.

It was a poor decision, however; he lost the game, and thousands of dollars in prize money with it after dropping to fifth place. But he won mad respect.

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Team USA arrived at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, last weekend -- like a ton of bricks.

There is no defense against mother nature, as our fearless board-one leader GM Hikaru Nakamura discovered after inclement weather grounded the first of a series of flights set to whisk him across the globe to Scandinavia. I’m not certain “sweet-talking” is listed on Nakamura’s resume, and I definitely would have liked to hear his conversation with those emotion-deaf airline representatives.

It set off a headache-filled weekend of delayed flights and missed connections for America’s king and, when it was all said and done, Nakamura did not appear in Tromso until late Sunday night, missing the first two rounds of the Olympiad. It’s understandable that these things happen from time to time, but this lack of coordination has developed into an unfortunate theme for this year’s Olympiad.

America’s number-three, Timur Gareev ,was left off of the U.S. roster because he could not work out details with his native country of Uzbekistan to field his travel visa in time for the Olympiad. And the women’s team suffered similar problems, as Lindenwood’s Anna Sharevich was literally left behind just before the Olympiad began, because of visa difficulties of her own.

Such distractions to our team, yet none of these problems had anything to do with chess. Let’s get it together, Team USA.

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, a student of the game himself, and the communications specialist for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. He is a 2001 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and has more than a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other ways to relax. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess.