Week 4: Today, I was introduced to the chess club, which now meets on Fridays (during the time which chess occurs in the classroom). I taught the chess club by myself this week, and my friends went to 3 other classes. In the chess club, I went over the chess principles and the basics of an opening I had taught previously, mainly because some of the kids in the club were students I hadn’t taught before. After I reviewed the basics, I introduced the concept of checkmating with a king and queen versus a king. Finally, near the end of the session, I showed how to checkmate on the demonstration board and encouraged the students to try the checkmating technique at home.
Week 5: This week, three of us taught the chess club and my other friend was teaching a second grade classroom. In the chess club, we spent the majority of the time making sure that the children were learning how to checkmate with the king and queen (versus a lone king). This included demonstrating the concept on the board and then having the children practice the technique on their boards. We concluded the class by going over the checkmating pattern on the board and by engaging the students as we practiced the checkmate on the demonstration board.
From writing and playing to consulting and teaching, International Master Jeremy Silman has explored many facets of chess. He has not only authored over 35 books and numerous articles, but has also won large tournaments such as the US Open and National Open. Furthermore, Silman has coached the US Junior National Chess team and has served as a chess consultant not only for the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but also for popular TV shows such as Criminal Minds and Monk. We asked Mr. Silman questions ranging a wide variety of topics; take a look:
When did you officially decide to pursue chess as your career?
I learned how to play chess at 12. I knew I wanted to devote myself to the game at 15 since I viewed it as a wonderfully romantic profession, traveling the world and immersing myself in endless intellectual battles. The big payoff was winning a stunningly beautiful game since, to me, it was the same as creating true work of art.
What chess books helped you develop as a player?
There are more chess books than books about all the other sports and games combined! I won’t point out any single book, but I will say that finding a book about a chess hero (Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer, Lasker, etc.) and reading about his life and studying his games is the best way to not only love the game, but also love the rich world of chess history.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a developing chess player?
Don’t look at a loss as a disaster, look at it as a learning experience.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons with how dominant computers have become today?
Chess engines are very useful tools for chess professionals. However, they have turned into crutches for the masses, who delude themselves into thinking they are finding the computer’s moves. Thus, instead of helping, improper use of the machine stunts one’s growth. A chess engine can be of great help if it’s used properly (practicing specific endgame positions or having it test your opening repertoire), but few do.
What do you think are the benefits of learning chess as a child, whether they be educational or practical?
Chess teaches a child several things: how to think logically, that hard work is necessary if you want to achieve anything, and how to plan ahead.
Why is chess meaningful to you? In other words, what about chess has captivated you for so long?
As a child, you revel in the fact that you can beat adults. It’s a rush. As you get deeper into the game, you fall in love with the fact that it’s a mix of art, science, sport, and even psychology (it teaches you a lot about yourself). Chess is also meaningful in that chess players are multicultural; they come from every nation and every walk of life.
If you had to choose one person to play chess against, who would it be?
Emanuel Lasker, who held the World Championship for 27 years. He was an amazing man who was not only the world’s best chess player, but also a world-class mathematician and a philosopher.
We’d like to thank Jeremy Silman for talking to us and for his many contributions to chess nationally, and internationally. We wish him well in his future pursuits!
Week 2: My friend and I both went to the same room today and went over the fundamentals of the chess with the kids, including how the pieces move, each piece’s value, and chess principles. One thing that we really stressed and will continue to do is the need to understand what a move achieves. Understanding the rationale behind a move (as opposed to solely memorizing moves) can help the kids form a better understanding and intuition for the game. Along these lines, we ended by introducing a good first move for white (e4) and by talking about what the move achieves (center control, easier development for white’s light squared bishop and queen, etc.).
Week 3: Today, five members from Invest in Chess came to Carnegie to help teach the kids chess. The five of us were allocated to four classes (containing a total of close to 100 children) so we could teach the most number of kids. I remained in the classroom that I had been in the past weeks. I started by reminding the children of the importance of chess and by attempting to inspire them that they can achieve anything they want to in life, and that chess can help them stay focused and achieve their goals. I then went on to solidify the fundamentals that had been taught in the previous class and fielded numerous questions from the children to clarify their concerns. Finally, while making sure to go over the purpose of each of the moves, I taught the children their first opening—the Ruy Lopez. This will help them play the beginning of their chess games better. Throughout the class, whenever an inaccurate move was suggested, I made sure to address why the move was flawed and what some better moves were. The other members in the other classes taught the fundamentals of the game to ensure that all the children had a solid foundation before moving forward.
Over 100 Chicago Public Schools are incorporating chess into the 2nd and 3rd grade curriculum at school to teach math, critical thinking, and a variety of other important skills. On Friday, January 23, 2015, a friend (a National Chess Expert) and I visited Andrew Carnegie Elementary School (ACES) and explored how Invest in Chess can benefit the children of this school.
Upon our arrival, we were each whisked away to one of the classes that was doing chess on Friday. I was told that the class I was going to was full of third grade students who had already been learning chess for a year. As I entered the class, I saw one teacher and over 20 kids, all sitting with chess boards between themselves. The initial plan was to simply observe and take a few notes on the program—that was not to be the case, as I soon found myself taking a leading role in the classroom, interacting with the kids, directing them, teaching them, and answering their questions. There were a few challenges we encountered, but I will not go into the details now.
After our time in the classroom, we met with the teacher of the room I was in, the coordinator of the chess program, and the principle to discuss what we noticed in the classroom. After our conversations, what we could to do to help became increasingly clear.
I believe that we can overcome these challenges. These kids need a mentor—someone who they can look up to, someone who has a solid, working knowledge of chess, someone who can make the game exciting for them, someone who can engage and inspire them. The principle and the other administrators we talked to are extremely open to help, change, and are excited to assist us in any way.
I come from this first visit to Carnegie inspired that we have the capacity to make a difference in the lives of these children. Some things need to change. And it begins with us.
We’ll be journaling our outreach on this blog; follow us to stay updated!
International Master Jack Peters is currently one of the top 200 players in the USA. Peters wrote the renowned LA Times chess column for nearly 30 years, and he is currently a professor at the University of Southern California as well as an adviser to its chess team. We spoke with Mr. Peters about his history with chess, how he’s been able to promote the sport, and much more:
Could you tell me about how and when you began playing chess?
I learned how to play chess when I was eight years old. I really became hooked in high school when I saw a book about chess. I just kept playing after that!
Can you tell me about what you do with chess other than playing in tournaments? Along these lines, it would be great if you could also talk a little about the chess column you used to write for the LA Times.
I wrote the chess column until the end of 2010. I used to write it once a week for the paper on Sunday. I’d write about a couple of games, news about upcoming tournaments, and items of that nature—it was really an ordinary chess column in many ways. Ultimately, though, it was a lot of fun to do; I did it for 28 years! Other than that, I have written pretty regularly for other publications such as Chess Life and Rank & File, and co-authored a couple of books. However, I think that my biggest contributions have been as a chess teacher. I’ve been teaching privately since 1976, and I currently teach at two elementary schools and the University of Southern California. The courses I teach at USC are called “Chess and Critical Thinking” and “Chess – Advanced Thinking Techniques,” and I’ve been teaching here since 2002. Through these courses, I hope to show students that they can be successful playing with any style, really.
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education and in life?
Well, I’ve met a lot of interesting people through chess! Also, I’ve been told by quite a few students that chess has helped them with their thought processes in other subjects and in thinking rationally.
Why is chess meaningful to you?
I like the competition. I’m also immensely fascinated by the game itself and by how one can win with only, initially, a tiny advantage. Other than that, I couldn’t really explain why I’ve stuck with chess!
What is your favorite opening?
The Ruy Lopez!
Which chess players inspire you?
Any of the world champions.
Who is the strongest opponent you’ve ever played against?
Mikhail Tal. I’ve also played against Tigran Petrosian, Bent Larsen, and Viktor Korchnoi.
In your free time, what do you like doing besides playing chess?
I’m really hooked on chess! Other than chess, though, I like sports and cooking.
We’d like to thank Jack Peters for talking to us, and we appreciate his support and recognition of what we’re doing to promote chess. We admire the ways through which Mr. Peters is promoting chess, and we would like to wish him the best of luck in his future pursuits!
Ranked in the top 100, International Master Cyrus Lakdawala is one of the strongest players in the USA. He is an active tournament player, a dedicated teacher and promoter of the game, and a prolific writer, having authored over 20 books. Lakdawala also has numerous accolades to his name; he is an American Open and National Open Champion as well as a six-time State Champion. We had a few questions for Mr. Lakdawala about his journey with chess, its importance to him, and his take on its benefits; here’s what he had to say:
Could you tell me about how and when you began playing chess?
My father taught me to play when I was eight years old. From that time I was hooked!
Can you tell me about what you do with chess other than playing in tournaments?
Due to a bad back, I don’t play in big tournaments anymore. However, I play four G/45 games each Saturday, just to keep my hand in the game. Also, I have a very heavy writing schedule for Everyman Publishing, writing about four books a year.
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education and in life?
The benefits are numerous to children: their concentration improves, they understand the benefits of engaged study, and, most of all, they learn that mistakes have negative consequences, while virtues are rewarded.
Why is chess meaningful to you?
The game is a reflection of life itself, and you are unable to hide who you really are. Your own character flaws and frailties are laid bare before you in ugly display. If you are reckless in life, you will be reckless over the board. If you are overly cautious, then on the board, you will tend to miss opportunities, due to hesitation and self-doubt. On the flip side, your character virtues are similarly rewarded.
What is your favorite opening?
All cowardly systems: Colle, London System, Caro-Kann. I also like quirky openings like Trompovsky, Scandinavian and Modern Defense.
Which chess players inspire you?
My two favorite players are Capablanca and Fischer. Both somehow mysteriously tapped into a hidden (to me, at least) harmony on the board, which I try to emulate, but somehow just don’t get right! As a person I admire Boris Spassky, who I met twice. He shocked me because he seemed like a very kind person, which you wouldn’t expect in a normally ruthless World Champion. He is a person of deep introspection; despite his immense achievements in life, he didn’t allow his ego to get out of control.
If you had to choose one person to play chess against, who would it be?
I interviewed Boris Spassky in 1987 for the San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News, and I wanted to play him as much as I wanted to interview him. Of course, when I finish building my time machine, I will go back and play all the World Champions of the past (and future!).
In your free time, what do you like to do besides playing chess?
I am a voracious reader, who reads maybe two hours a day. I also do yoga at the gym each morning. Other than that, I study and do Buddhist practices for several hours each day.
We’d like to thank Cyrus Lakdawala for taking the time to answering our inquiries, and we truly appreciate his support and recognition of what we’re doing to promote chess. It is our goal to help people discover a love for chess themselves, and by demonstrating the game’s importance, we hope to inspire individuals to personally invest in chess. Similarly, we admire the ways that IM Lakdawala has promoted chess and spread his passion for the sport, and we wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors!
John Donaldson is indisputably one of the most noteworthy individuals in chess in America today. An International Master of the sport, Donaldson has authored numerous works of chess literature, played in the US Chess Championship, and captained the US National Chess Team to much success in international competition; currently, he is the Director of the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club. We had the chance to talk with Mr. Donaldson about his personal journey with chess, his experiences leading the US National Team, his thoughts regarding the benefits of chess, and much more:
Could you tell me a little about how you began playing chess and how you’ve seen chess grown from when you started playing to today?
I started playing in the fall of 1972 in a chess club in Tacoma, Washington, and I was inspired by the World Championship match going on between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. I’d have to say that chess was extremely popular in 1972 primarily because of Fischer and that there were maybe just a fewer members then than now. The main difference is that the demographics are different—when I was playing there were more adults and fewer junior players; today, I’d have to say the opposite is true. And of course—as time has progressed, we are seeing many more people from a wide variety of backgrounds playing chess!
Keeping in mind that technology was not as advanced decades ago, I also wanted to note a few key differences from when I began playing to the present. Foremost, up until about 1990, while I never smoked, smoking used to be allowed in tournaments—at times, you couldn’t see across the room! Furthermore, there used to be adjournments [suspending play of a chess game, often until the next day]; now, while people could reference chess manuals for assistance, one positive aspect of this was that it taught people how to play endgames. That being said, largely because of the advent of increasingly advanced computers, I feel that opening play is more advanced today whereas endgame play was more advanced back then, once again because of the adjournments. I know a Grandmaster who would analyze adjournments for many hours and this way became very proficient in endgame play. Now, with regard to the computers, I would say that they’ve had a good and bad impact. I feel that computers have been a positive addition for most amateur players; they can now follow tournaments online, store games, and conduct chess lessons through the internet. One slightly negative aspect of the computers is that some of the top players these days have extremely deep opening preparation—it’s as if their games are a test of who has the better memory! Keeping that in mind, I think that for players with ratings from 2300 to 2500, it is more important for them to understand what they’re playing as opposed to solely relying on opening preparation.
The San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute, founded in 1854, is home to the nation’s oldest chess club. Would you be able to tell me about the range of players that play here and how you got involved with this historic chess club?
People of all levels come to play chess here! Even at these tournaments that are held every Tuesday night, we have players ranging all the way from ratings of about 600 to 2400! Moreover, there are many well known chess players who have played here at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club including GM Sam Shankland and GM Daniel Naroditsky. I became involved back in 1998 when two of my colleagues who were associated with the club asked me if I was interested in being a part of it.
You have been the Captain of the US National Team in numerous Chess Olympiads. What has the experience been like leading a group of elite players, including people such as Alexander Onischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Wesley So, and Varuzhan Akobian? What do you have to say about how the quality of the players on the US National Team has changed through the many years of your captainship?
First and foremost, I served as the Captain of the US National Team in six Chess Olympiads between 1986 and 1997. That said, it should be noted that the Captain is selected by a vote of the players, and because the players have a big responsibility, it is only natural that they should pick the person that serves them the best. After 1997, I wasn’t the captain until 2006, when Gata Kamsky and Hikaru Nakamura (the top 2 players in the USA) had asked me if I was available to help out. Since then I’ve been the Captain of the team a few more times and—truly— it has always been an honor. As time has progressed, I’ve always seen that there is good internal harmony on the team, that the players have pulled together, and that the US National Team has consistently become increasingly competitive amongst the other teams.
Furthermore, I would definitely have to say that the composition of the team has changed. If you look at the teams playing in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I would say they were more balanced. Players on these teams included people such as Larry Christiansen, Nick de Firmian, Greg Kaidanov, Alex Shabalov, and Yasser Seirawan, someone who was twice the candidate for the World Championship. These days, I’d say that though the teams aren’t quite so balanced, with Hikaru and Gata, the team packs a strong 1-2 punch.
Can you tell me about all the writing you do?
I’ve written over 30 books on every facet of the game—openings, middlegames, endgames, history, etc. Some of my books with IM Nikolay Minev are probably the most well-known. Writing really emphasizes why chess is interesting to me—because for me, chess encompasses coaching, the Olympiad, writing, directing tournaments, playing competitively—a little bit of everything!
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education? Any stories you’d like to share?
One story that comes to mind is that of GM Milan Matulovic. As a child, he was a slow learner who could barely read or write; however, when he started playing chess at 12 years old, he became completely enamored with the game, and soon after, his academic abilities picked up quite rapidly. Now, while I’m not saying chess is a universal panacea, I do believe it is a very useful tool. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence noting how chess helps with concentration and how it can help let off steam in a peaceful fashion. Moreover, I have seen many really bright parents who feel that having their kids play chess is a good thing, and having these thoughtful people who feel chess is important validates my intuition that chess can be a beneficial tool for kids.
We’d like to thank John Donaldson for taking the time to speak with us, and we appreciate his support and recognition of what we’re doing to promote chess. We truly respect Mr. Donaldson’s substantial contributions to the game of chess at large and the many ways he’s inspired numerous players around the world to invest in chess. We will certainly be following IM Donaldson’s journey with chess and we hope that he will be successful in his future endeavors!
Both becoming National Masters before the age of 13, James Black and Joshua Colas are nothing short of being chess prodigies. In October 2014, these chess whizzes came to the Cleveland Scholastic Open to participate in the tournament and to inspire everyone to further pursue chess. Prior to the tournament, we asked James (JB) and Joshua (JC) a few questions; here’s what they had to say:
When did you start playing chess and how did you get involved with it?
JB: I started playing chess at the age of eight. My dad bought a chess set and he wanted a partner to play with. We played several times, but I could never win. This resulted in me joining the chess team at my school, P.S. 308, with intentions to get better and beat my dad. I eventually did beat my dad, but I wanted to beat others as well, so I just kept playing!
JC: I started playing chess when I was seven years old. I wasn’t interested at first, but I was always watching my dad when he was playing. During one summer, he took me to an annual tournament in Philadelphia called the World Open – there I got to see a lot of young kids playing chess, and from that day, I asked my dad to teach me the game.
What are you most looking forward to regarding the Cleveland Scholastic Open?
JB: I look forward to meeting everyone and just trying to get others to start playing chess. I want to help others realize they can do anything and become anything, and it doesn’t have to be chess.
JC: I am looking forward to meeting the kids, making new friends and sharing my experiences.
With regards to chess, what are some of your proudest accomplishments?
JB: Some of my proudest accomplishments are winning three national chess titles from 6th-8th grade and also becoming a National Master. These are milestones that make me proud of myself because I know that my hard work has paid off.
JC: I am proud of being a National Champion multiple times, as well as a City and State Champion. I am also proud of receiving a full scholarship to Webster University for winning Susan Polgar’s chess tournament two years ago.
What do you hope to achieve with chess in the future?
JB: I hope to have a connection with chess for the rest of my life, whether I’m teaching or playing competitively.
JC: I hope to become a Grandmaster before I turn 20 and to become a role model for other aspiring young chess players.
What do you have to say about how chess has benefited you in life and in your education?
JB: Playing chess is probably the best decision I’ve ever made. Chess has taken me not only to many states all over the United States such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but also to places like Brazil, where I represented the United States in the World Youth Chess Championship. It has also helped me mentally in various aspects of my life, like school.
JC: Chess has allowed me to travel all over the world and to become friends with kids from different backgrounds. The main thing chess has done for me is make me feel that I can conquer anything that I am willing to work hard at and be passionate about. It forces you to learn to slow down when you have more than one choice to pick from. It increases your ability to visualize abstractly, concentrate, and to calculate with better precision.
We’d like to thank James Black and Joshua Colas for answering our questions and for spreading their passion for chess at the Cleveland Scholastic Open. Their presence at the tournament was greatly appreciated and we hope that all their dreams in chess will come to fruition!
And, if you haven’t seen it already, take a look at the press release we wrote on Chess Life Online for the 2014 Cleveland Scholastic Open here!
Today the chess program in Solon, Ohio is undeniably the best in Ohio and one of the best in the nation. Indeed— in the past 3 years the Solon middle and high school teams have collectively won three team state championships and numerous grade level state championships. These victories have been the result of the collective efforts of many dedicated students who have worked tirelessly to perfect their game. There has, however, been someone predominantly behind all this success—someone who has always taught and encouraged not only Solon’s chess players, but those all around Ohio. That man is Tony Dunlap. We were able to talk with Mr. Dunlap about the Cleveland Scholastic Open and his experiences with chess:
The Cleveland Scholastic Open is Northeast Ohio’s premier scholastic chess tournament. This will be the third year it’s being held—what do you attribute this overwhelming success to?
I think the unique and non-traditional awards outside of the normal trophies have added to the appeal of the tournament. See—if two chess tournaments conflicted and I had to pick a tournament to play in, I would select the Cleveland Scholastic Open over the other tournament just because no other tournament offers the winner of the high school division the opportunity to select between college scholarships, the winner of the college division many job internships, and the winners of other divisions various E-readers, gift cards, and savings bonds. Let’s take last year for instance—every single participant received something for just being in the tournament—whether it was a “Maurice Ashley” chess board and “Think Like a Chess King” software or a “Brooklyn Castle” DVD and a “Knights of the South Bronx” DVD. On top of all that, everyone was treated to pizza as well as lunch from McDonald’s. Simply put, the short answer to your question is that the Cleveland Scholastic Open is unlike other chess tournaments, and these aforementioned differences are what will continue its success.
What were some of your favorite moments from the tournament last year?
First and foremost, I immensely enjoyed having Grandmaster Maurice Ashley at the Cleveland Scholastic Open—it was fantastic to see him interact with tournament participants. Another favorite moment of mine was witnessing Jonathan Clinton, a freshman from Case Western Reserve University, become the winner of the collegiate division where he won a job internship at GE. However, my favorite moment was receiving the following message from a father of one of the participants, “Both of my children attended the Cleveland Scholastic Open this past weekend. The tournament was remarkably well run and both of my kids benefited from competing with other children their age from around the city. Specifically, my daughter, who has aspirations to use chess to help her to earn a college scholarship one day, was very moved by the opportunity to meet and hear from Grandmaster Maurice Ashley. She was also quite aware of the number of other middle school, high school and college students who had performed well and earned trophies and internship opportunities. We are grateful to Mr. Dunlap for this experience.”
Last year GM Maurice Ashley came to the Cleveland Scholastic Open. This year, we have some of the stars of the award-winning documentary “Brooklyn Castle” coming, including chess masters Joshua Colas and James Black! What are you looking forward to regarding their visit?
I think having the young chess masters from New York come to Cleveland will allow people unfamiliar with scholastic chess the opportunity to meet remarkable young chess players and see the positives for being involved in scholastic chess.
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, specifically the Delta Alpha Lambda Chapter, was the group responsible for initiating the Cleveland Scholastic Open. Please talk about everything that it is doing to promote chess in Northeast Ohio. Also, what was the group’s goal in starting the Cleveland Scholastic Open?
The Cleveland Scholastic Open was designed to be part of a supplemental scholastic chess program that is aiming to reach as many school children as possible that are not only in Cleveland, Akron, and Northeast Ohio, but also in all of Ohio. Additionally, I also wanted to note that while trophies have been typically awarded to divisional winners, our plan was provide scholarships and educational tools, such as e-readers, to our winners. We felt that adding these non-traditional awards (scholarships, job internships, etc.) would draw more interest to the game of chess. On top of that, we also knew that adding these atypical awards would increase the tournament’s appeal to the more seasoned players in scholastic events and thus make attending the Cleveland Scholastic Open one of their top priorities.
What type of learning experience has organizing the tournament been for you?
In order to be successful in any endeavor you need others to see your vision and support your dream or goal. The good hearts of the sponsors and supporters have been tremendous and have really moved me. In the first year of the Cleveland Scholastic Open many of my fraternity brothers who were business owners donated money from their own pockets. Indeed—people like Susan and Angelo Stames, Meloney Karos, Don Farris, and Dr. Safuratu Aranmolate as well as companies like RPM International are the ones that help us be successful from the start. Although many people told us no for various reasons, the aforementioned supporters immediately jumped in to help. These people told me that they were willing to do anything for the kids in Cleveland and that they believed in what we were doing. At the end of the day, organizing is undoubtedly hard work, but I consider it a labor of love. I want to provide all the kids that have the desire to play chess with the opportunity to experience a game that I love.
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education—any stories you’d like to share?
Many people believe competitive chess directly contributes to academic performance. Chess truly makes kids smart because it teaches and enhances skills like planning, visualizing, and focusing. That being said, I would like to share a testimonial to the benefits of chess from a friend of mine. He said, “In 2012, my nine year old son and seven year old daughter were introduced to chess by Mr. Tony Dunlap. Since they have started playing chess, I have noticed that their mathematical aptitude has increased significantly and that they are both more attentive and careful in their school work—I attribute these improvements to chess.” Everything taken to consideration, if the aforementioned skills are truly a benefit of playing competitive chess, then why aren’t more kids playing? Why aren’t there more chess programs in the school systems across the country? That is the question—a question that I am working to address and a question that I am sure that Invest in Chess will do its best to address as well.
We appreciate Tony Dunlap taking the time to speak with us as well as his support of what we do to promote chess. Invest in Chess will be working in association with Mr. Dunlap and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity by spreading the word/ directing the publicity efforts of the Cleveland Scholastic Open. We hope to see you at this fantastic tournament in October!
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!