Webster University chess team with Wesley So. (Lenny So Facebook page)
By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Grandmaster Wesley So leads a powerhouse Webster University chess team that will compete in the richest-ever chess tournament, Oct. 9-13 at Planet Hollywood.
Called Millionaire Chess, the tournament offers a total prize pot of $1 million, with the champion of the Open division receiving $100,000.
Other Filipino chess players from NorCal Chess of Fremont, California, are also participating in the tournament, which now requires a hefty $1,500 registration fee.
“They have to learn how to win in all types of events: RR invitational, team, big open Swiss, etc.,” said Paul Truong, a Webster University coach, who has guided the team to a NCAA championship together with his wife Susan Polgar.
“When so much money (is) on the line, some players do “chicken out” or “choke”. This is a learning experience for them if they want to get better. Susan and I will be there to help them.”
Together with So are Webster students Le Quang Liem, Ray Robson, and Ashwin Jayaram. Robson and Liem are grandmasters while Jayaram is an international master.
The tournament offers prizes for competitions in various categories base on the players’ EL0 ratings.
For the Open, the first prize is $100,000 with the second place getting $50,000; third place $25,000; fourth, $14,000; fifth, $8,000; sixth, $4,000; seventh to 20th, $2,000 each and 21st to 50th, $1,000.
About 500 players from 39 countries, including 29 grandmasters, are expected in the tournament conceived by Maurice Ashley, the first African-American grandmaster and business entrepreneur Amy Lee.
“Chess is a very exciting game, it’s been around for 1500 years for a reason,” Ashley said in a recent interview with a Canadian radio station.
“Chess is in the mind of the players, and so it’s kind of difficult when you’re watching a chess game to understand exactly what’s going on. The intrigue, the drama, the psychological tension. It’s up to the commentators to bring that out.”
Ashley thinks that Las Vegas is the perfect venue because of the city’s tradition of high-stakes, all-in tournaments.
“Millionaire Chess wants to bring the game into the mainstream, : said Lee, Ashley’s business partner. “Chess is already becoming more and more prevalent in pop culture. It’s time to move this impression of this game into a new light.”
“When you think that more people play chess than all sports combined it’s hard not to see the opportunity to do new and exciting things with chess.”
Ashley and Lee expect to lose in their first venture, but believe they will steadily recover and make money with more tournaments in the future.
Also competing are Ted Castro, who owns and runs the NorCal House of Chess in Fremont, California and international master Ricardo de Guzman.