Maurice Ashley has always been one to make history. Whether it was becoming the first African-American Grandmaster or organizing a chess tournament with the largest prize fund ever, Ashley has consistently been a trailblazer. We had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ashley about his latest business venture called the Millionaire Chess Open, his experiences teaching chess, and his vision for chess in the years to come:
1. The Millionaire Chess Open is the highest stakes open chess tournament in history that guarantees one million dollars of prize money. What is your overall vision for Millionaire Chess and what you hope it can do for the game of chess at large?
The hope is that the Millionaire Chess Open will contribute to making chess more prominent in the eyes of the public, the players can make a decent living playing chess, and that kids can benefit from chess and pick up the game they love.
2. When did the idea for the Millionaire Chess Open arise?
The idea for the Millionaire Chess Open is actually over 10 years in the making—I’ve been thinking about it since 2002 or 2003. As a matter of fact, I initiated something half as large called the HB Global Chess Challenge in 2005; it had 1600 participants, $500,000 dollars in prize money—it broke history. However, it wasn’t really satisfying because it was only half a million! So, after the HB Global Chess Challenge, I left the tournament organizing scene—now I’m back organizing the Millionaire Chess Open!
3. What has it been like working with incredible people like Amy Lee and amazing organizations like the US Chess Federation itself?
Amy is the greatest force and an ideal business partner. In the past, she has literally gone 48 hours without sleep and is the life force of the company—nothing would happen without her. It is also great to have the support of the US Chess Federation and we really appreciate their efforts to help promote the Millionaire Chess Open.
4. What type of a learning experience has organizing the tournament been for you?
The amount I’ve learned in organizing the tournament has been mind-boggling. I’ve learned about human nature, psychology, leadership, and handling negativity. Organizing this tournament has been the biggest challenge of my adult life—if not my entire life—period. Carrying out this task has been a big responsibility. I’ve found out that while there will always be people who speak badly of something, it’s all about making those tough decisions, staying true to a vision—true to a sport. This is what I’ve learned and assimilated into my character and personality.
5. What has the response been to the tournament from the chess community at large? We heard that Will Smith has stated his support for the Millionaire Chess Open!
As of now, we have 27 Grandmasters signed up to play in the tournament, and Grandmasters have routinely given their support. Also, Will was very kind to say something nice about the tournament—he’s a chess fan as well. Now, when asked about chess today, only Bobby Fischer might come to mind for most people. However, we want people to think of a chess tournament, and that too a million dollar chess tournament—a high stakes chess tournament. Our hope is to have the public to look at chess in a different way.
6. What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education—any stories you’d like to share?
I’ve been a chess instructor since 1989 and it is my passion to bring the benefits of chess to students. I’ve had students who got bad grades, didn’t like school, and came from tough areas transform themselves and ultimately graduate from top universities. This is the touching part of chess, and while I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with great players, teaching kids chess has always been really meaningful to me.
We’d like to thank Maurice Ashley for taking the time to talk with us, and we appreciate his support and recognition of what we’re doing to promote chess. We admire Mr. Ashley’s efforts and his immense enthusiasm in spreading the game of chess, enhancing its image, and making the game so exciting for everyone. We wish him the best of luck with the Millionaire Chess Open and his future endeavors!