This weekend in Minneapolis, a chess tournament is being held with a prize larger than any other chess open ever held. The prize fund is five hundred thousand dollars. A key promoter of the tournament is
Maurice Ashley, the first African-American grandmaster in US history. Thousands of players will descend on the Twin Cities for the largest United States chess tournament in history.
Last Friday, at the Dallas Chess Club, one of the fellows was speaking of paying the three hundred seventy five dollar entry fee to enter the three day tournament. The website for the event lists many dozen chess grandmasters, a number of international masters, and scores upon scores of ordinary national masters. Even players of lowly rating have a chance at large prizes, as the "class" prizes themselves can amount to tens of thousands of dollars each.
An impressive list of corporate sponsors support the event, whose net proceeds benefit, if I am correct in my understanding, a local foundation promoting chess in schools. Chess for kids has become a very big deal, since chess teaches patience, something the post-Sesame-Street generation appears to benefit from obtaining.
I note with amusement the marked difference between this chess tournament and my own recent efforts.
The prizes in Minnesota? Half a million dollars. The prizes offered by the North Texas Blitz Hegemony?
Kazoos, kaleidoscopes, and twenty dollars or so. The attendance matches the finances. The expected attendance for the HB Global chess tournament? 4,000 or so. The actual attendance at the Plano kazoo quad: 4.
I'm tempted to write some screed about how everything nowadays is about bigger, better, more money, more prizes. But I remember how much fun I used to have when I was 17, or 20, and won a modest cash prize at a chess tournament. Besides, sometimes, when morality is not compromised, it's better to do the things that bring players than to sit and curse the mercenary darkness. So perhaps I will run a real Swiss chess tournament, with real prizes.
I read an article in a publication available over the 'net about how Howard University was the only historically black college or university to field a college team at the Pan American games, the annual college mega-chess tournament. College chess is a big deal in my area, in which the two national powerhouses are the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Maryland at Baltimore; both, I believe, commuter universities which get to be really great at something. It's hard to me to imagine why every small school, HBCU or otherwise, doesn't have its own cool chess team.
I thought to myself how cool it would be if some small university arose to field teams just because it was noble to do so. I love quixotic ventures, particularly when Quixote actually skewers, topples, and politely pillages the windmills in question. I had a brief daydream about one of our local universities--Paul Quinn, say, or Austin College, could field teams. It would be great to see tons of college kids fielding teams in the way that now we see thousands of Texan kids playing in the scholastic tournaments.
I am not a born organizer of people for things like tournaments. But it would be fun to make a difference by promoting that kind of chess. I enjoy that through eBay sales and various minor self-promotional things, I can sometimes sell people on buying, say, a bit of merchandise. I can market for business with relative ease. Yet I find that I am not so skilled when it comes to promoting chess tournaments. That is a good thing for me to learn. I will learn whether I need to offer real prizes, and how much, how to write an ad that works, whether to do mailers, and the whole thing. It just seems like a good thing to know and do--an experiment in multiple person dynamics.
In the meantime, I am standing on the sidelines, 1200 miles or so away, and wishing Mr. Ashley and the x,000 players well. I hope the tournament runs without incident, and is a huge success. This is the kind of thing that can bring chess back in a big way. I am excited, and in awe, and yet very curious, all at once.
It's funny, because what I love about chess is playing polite people under serious conditions, with the exchange of rating points as the main incentive. But in order to attract more people to the game, it may take newer models and methods. More players would mean more tournaments. More tournaments would mean more fun. So we'll see how it goes, and I'll be prepared to cheer if it goes well.