Chess has been given a facelift in Las Vegas and is ready to battle the World Series of Poker for the title of Sin City’s most high-profile tournament. David Sheehan discusses.
Poker’s first World Series was held in 1970 with a grand total of 7 players competing in a small hotel room in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. With no cash prize at stake, Johnny Moss was declared the winner and Poker’s first unofficial World Champion when his fellow players voted to commend his skill after a weekend of play.
Fast forward to 2013 and 23-year old Ryan Reiss being crowned World Series victor, finishing as last man standing among a field of 6,352 players, each of which had paid the $10,000 entry fee. Reiss collected $8,361,570 in prize money – more than the prize money awarded to the winner of the men’s singles at Wimbledon and golf’s four majors in the same year combined.
Chess is seeking to follow the path that Poker has taken over the past 40 years with 2014 marking the first Millionaire Chess Open. Taking place from October 9th to 13th at Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas, the tournament is open to anyone who can stake the $1,000 entry fee.
With a top prize of $100,000 to the winner and a guaranteed overall prize fund of $1,000,000, the tournament will set the record for the biggest ever payout at an open chess tournament, doubling the previous record of $500,000.
Millionaire Chess is the brainchild of two US immigrants made good, both with inspirational back stories, Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee.
Maurice Ashley was crowned the first African American grand master in 1999. Born in Jamaica in 1966, Ashley’s mother left him and his siblings in the care of his grandmother aged 2 as she travelled to New York to find work. Ashley joined her in Brooklyn in 1978 and shortly after he began playing chess and developed a love for the game.
While a student at the City College of New York, Ashley took a part time job as a chess coach at Harlem’s ‘JHS 43’ public school. Incredibly, his ‘Raging Rooks’ team captured the US national championship in 1991, beating the country’s top private schools in the process and smashing racial stereotypes.
Establishing the Harlem Chess Center in 1999, Ashley published ‘Chess for Success’ in 2005, a book promoting chess as a tool for student development.
Born in Vietnam of Chinese extraction, Amy Lee’s family fled the devastation in the country in 1976 and settled in Vancouver, Canada in 1979 when she was just 8 years old. Now a self made millionaire on the back of a chain of dollar stores and a successful mortgage brokerage business, Lee has recognized the potential to grow the game of chess and sees it as her latest entrepreneurial venture.
With just over 2 weeks until the beginning of the tournament, 567 players from 41 countries have registered, grandmasters and amateurs among them. Despite a celebrity endorsement from chess fan Will Smith for the tournament, no Irish player has yet registered.
Still suffering from a perception as a game for intellectual loners, Millionaire Chess is seeking to change the perception by adding the sparkle that prize money and a Las Vegas setting can bring.
Poker exploded in popularity on the back of the Internet Revolution. Chess, a similar game of skill with even less luck, has to date missed the boat in terms of exploiting the online potential of the game. Millionaire Chess may be the first step in raising the profile of the game and bringing it to the masses.
Although, for the foreseeable future there are likely to be many people who won’t believe their partners when they tell them that all they did in Vegas for the weekend was play a few games of chess…!
Check out the Millionaire Chess website here.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Nandaro (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.