When Chess Meets Gambling: New Tournaments to Allow Chess Players to Compete for Money

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The world’s best players will be competing for a top prize of $100,000 in the Millionaire Chess tournament.

This October, hundreds of chess pros from all over the world will gather at the Planet Hollywood Casino to compete in the biggest chess tournament ever organized. The $1 million guaranteed prize fund has lured more than 500 players to Sin City, each of them paying at least $1,000 in entry fees. The best of them will walk away with $100,000.

The event is financed by Amy Lee, a 43 year-old entrepreneur from Vancouver, who is expecting to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars with the first edition of Millionaire Chess. Why is she still doing it, then? Because she is hoping that the event will grow in a few years, bringing the game to mainstream.

According to recent gambling news, the previous record for a chess tournament was established in 2005, with the $500,000 HB Global Challenge in Minneapolis. Maurice Ashley, who was the driving force behind that event, is now one of Amy Lee’s partners.

“If we only lose $200,000, we’ll be dancing in the streets,” he told reporters.

Chess goes mainstream

Millionaire Chess prizes:

• 1st place – $100,000
• 2nd place – $50,000
• 3rd place – $25,000
• 4th – $14,000
• 5th – $8,000
• 6th – $4,000
• 7th to 20th – each $2,000
• 21st to 50th – each $1,000

A huge fan of the game, Amy Lee thinks chess deserves much more attention. “It has a 1,500-year history and it has not been recognized at the level that I believe it should be,” she argued.

According to the tournament’s website, players from 39 countries have signed up for the event and they will all be treated like stars at the Planet Hollywood Casino, where they will receive the best treatment. Perks include a fancy opening night with a free show, a complimentary breakfast, gift bags, a red carpet photo shoot, VIP room, free limo pickup, and other discounts.

The treatment is similar to what poker players are getting whesn they sign up for a major competition. In fact, organizers are hoping to create the same buzz around chess that poker now enjoys. They even offer a Millionaire Chess mobile app, arguing that “the profile of chess needs to be elevated in the digital age”.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, USA, and Zimbabwe will all be represented at the Millionaire Chess.

High-stakes chess

Since chess is a game of skill, American gambling laws have no specific guidelines regarding the game or hosting such competitions. But supporters of the tournament believe there is no reason why smart players shouldn’t use their skills to compete for huge prizes.

On the other hand, organizers have also received a lot of criticism from chess pros, who said that playing for money would ruin the game’s reputation. But regardless of what critics have said, it looks like chess could be the next game of skill to mix with the world of gambling.

On the event’s blog, Amy Lee wrote: “As we anticipated, we did receive an overwhelming response (both positive and negative) from the chess lovers all around the world. Though we cannot say the same about the number of entries received, we still see enough numbers that have encouraged to us keep going.”

The event will be the highest-stakes open chess tournament in history, beating the previous record held by Ashley with his $500,000 prize pool tournament organized in 2005. Considering the $100,000 guaranteed first prize, organizers expected more players to sign up.

“The US Chess Federation alone has 80,000 members, and half of that are adults, which means 40,000 rated players,” Lee wrote. “Surely 4% of that population should be interested in a tournament that could change chess history.”

Organizers expected 1,500 chess players to sign up, but the optimistic target was not met.

Mixing poker and chess

However, it looks like chess players have much more to look forward to, because Amy Lee is not the only one who wants to bring the game out of the shadows. PokerStars recently said it was adding a chess-themed event to its UK and Ireland Poker Tour this year, on October 3rd. The information was announced via the company’s online poker site in the UK, as well as on international news sites.

Players who want to join are required to pay a GBP200+GBP20 fee to enter, and professional chess players like Maxim Vachier and Supernova Elite, Radoslaw “radoom” Jedynak have already confirmed their attendance.

Participants will compete in five blitz chess matches. Every win will get them an additional 1,000 chips to their 8,000 starting stack. Once the chess part is over, players will continue with a turbo poker tournament. All in all, it will be an interesting new feature at this year’s UKIPT.

It looks like chess is gaining in popularity, but only time will tell whether this game of skill and logic can be successfully mixed with gambling.

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