Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Women to Russia

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FIDE announced a women's world championship for next year in Ekaterinburg. We've been talking a lot about women's chess in the US and in general. A world championship only for women is the similar effects writ large around the world. It gives an incentive and generates interest, but unless Judit Polgar is playing, and she's not, an all-women tournament means nobody over 2600 and only a handful over 2500.

Of course most of these elite women play in open events much of the time, so a few ghetto events against the same players in the same range doesn't hurt development much. It's more a matter of whether or not they would have more incentive to excel if there weren't big paydays like this one for being 2500. Not that they are living easy, of course. But it's likely that with those extra two or three invitationals, the top women can earn as much as the second tier of men rated 2650-2700.


" ... a few ghetto events against the same players in the same range doesn't hurt development much. It's more a matter of whether or not they would have more incentive ..."

Mig, this is the second time in a week you've described all-women events as "ghettos". Given that there is no shortage of open events for everyone to participate in, would it not be better to let women decide for themselves what is appropriate for development and incentive without patronizing them or insulting them with needless pejoratives? No wonder more women don't play chess ...

I use the term broadly, obviously, and have done so for years. How this can be interpreted as patronizing I've no idea and you don't explain. I don't much care for them, that said. Professional women-only events are bizarre. Exhibitions, whatever. Kids, may make some sense to encourage girls to discover the game. But having pros who can compete equally with men playing each other is simply strange.

Obviously they aren't forced to play in these events, but they are golden cages and I don't think the term inappropriate. As for events, there is certainly a shortage of invitationals, the subject at hand.

Hello Mr. Greengard,
I find the term "ghetto events" unfortunate. I don't understand what you are trying to promote by using the term. The world is already awash with events that are literally open--anyone can join in. I don't see a handful of women's events as segregationist.

I am sure there are some women who like these events for a variety of reasons. I can think of two: first, women may not like to confront men who are competitively absorbed. For some male players the competition comes first, the game second. I'm sure there are some women who find this off-putting, just as there are men who find it off-putting. If some women prefer all-women events so they can avoid this well, let them have it.

The second reason has to do with distinctions. Why are there so many titles besides world champion? I think the proliferation of titles (right down to the club championship of an obscure town) stems from the desire for distinction coupled with the awareness of one's limitations. Why try to win a title you know you will never win? Why not try to win something you can win? For some women the women's title is something they can win, and it is in their circle of friends, peers and fans.

I remember that Ulf Anderssson deliberately chose to avoid the world championship cycle because he found the investment not worth the reward. I imagine that some women see the world championship the same way, but don't feel that way about the women's title. Sure, the reward is less, but the investment may be much less.

Ed Yetman, III

I view these events as unnecessary and potentially, if mildly, hazardous to the greater chess community.

I don't question why women like them. Why wouldn't they? It's good money against weak competition. The first reason doesn't hold water here. I'm talking about professionals who play most of their games against men and for whom that mentality isn't a factor, or shouldn't be.

As for titles, I'm not in favor of their proliferation either! Again, that people want them shouldn't be the deciding factor in whether or not they exist. A competitive sport doesn't have to follow supply and demand. As long as "best woman" is being held up as an achievement, achievement takes a hit.

I don't think the few big women-only events do real damage, but I would posit that if they didn't exist there would be at least one or two more women in the top 100. When you are 2500, playing against other 2500's simply doesn't improve you as much as playing against 2600's. And you aren't going to get to 2600 playing 2500s unless you are a super-talent. Most would be better served at this point by diving into the big opens to sink or swim. Some have done this, with the usual mixed results.

It's quite simple: why should women be treated differently in the chess world?

Of course ultimately it's just the sponsor's prerogative to decide who he wants to give his money to. If some sponsor decides he wants to organize a tournament where only left-handed, red-haired, minus 2500 rated players can participate, that's his decision.

PS: Now that I think of it; is this really true? Do sporting events need to be open to anybody? Can an organizer be accused of breaking the law when he refuses certain participants?

I'm also not a fan of these single-sex tournaments. I'm thinking the best that can be said about them is they attract attention from beyond the chess world.

On the other hand, of course "ghetto" is a pejorative. Who thinks it's a neutral word, no matter how broadly it's used?

I also think it's specious logic that tossing some 2500s more cash is somehow making them weaker players by removing incentive to do well. If it were possible to be a millionaire at 2500, then maybe yeah. Here's the opposite logic: if 2500s in general had a higher standard of living, then we'd have more 2600s, because more chess players would stick around in the sport.

A pragmatic point of view:

Wouldn't it be very difficult to explain the
need for gender-specific chess tournaments to a
broader public ? Now I know there are valid
reasons, and some can be found on this pages.
All very sophisticated and well-thought.

Now imagine you're on Larry King Live and you
explain all of this to a million people who are
eating their hamburgers in front of the TV.

Maybe we're just happy they treat us as exotics
and don't ask that way.

All women tournaments are not so bad. Atleast they provide some publicity for the game, and women chess players get a chance to win. Since they have no chance of winning in the Opens, these kind of events provide some hope.

> How this can be interpreted as patronizing I've no idea and you don't explain.

Ok, I will explain. You wrote, "... a few ... events against the same players in the same range doesn't hurt development much ..."

You clearly think these events hurt development (even if it's not much). In this you are asserting the superiority of your judgment over the judgment of the players. That is patronizing. It is easy to imagine that participating in the European Women's Championship would be a fine development opportunity in the careers of most female players, and also that they are capable of judging the appropriateness of this opportunity on their own, without your approval.

You also wrote, "It's more a matter of whether or not they would have more incentive ...", and again you are substituting your judgment (on what is an incentive) over that of the players. Patronizing.

The insult, at least, should be obvious: Ghettos are occupied only by the underclass, and by characterizing women's events as ghettos, you are saying they are the underclass. That's insulting.

Eh? Expressing the belief that you are right about something, and the other is wrong (aka asserting the superiority of your judgement) is somehow "patronizing?"

So much for op-eds, opinion articles, etc.

People forget that this is a blog. If they want unbiased coverage, they can go somewhere else. When you come here, you are effectively asking for exposure to one person's opinions -- Mig's -- for better or worse.

"Ghetto" is a fitting, if provocative term that is sure to rankle some thin-skins.

Back to the topic, the question is whether it's preferable to have a number of women who can pursue chess full-time (or relatively close to that) thanks to women-only events, or if it's preferable to apply the same criteria to everyone, and watch some women drop out of full-time chess, in the hopes of cultivating more 2600+ heroines. The answer is not obvious.

They must need all woman events because woman can't compete with men??? That's the conclusion i read from such a setup.


Note the following is meant to be satirical:

HB Foundation announced a $20,000 prize next years U1600 winner. We've been talking a lot about weak chess in the US and in general. A prize fund that big only for FISH is the similar effects writ large around the world. It gives an incentive and generates interest, but unless the next Garry Kasaprov is playing, and he's not (he didn't spend any time U1600), an all FISH tournament means nobody over 1600 and only a handful over 1550. Are we trying to send a message that these players will never be GMs so they should make their money here and stop trying?


So it's okay to pay for a lottery among sandbaggers and life-long C players to have a chance to make more than any IM made and over 50% of the GMs made?

When I was a teenager, i used to play in women's events with a lot of mixed feelings. I felt the events were sexist, yet played in them because they were fun/free exotic trips/lucrative.
After thinking about it a lot, especially in conjunction with the writing of Chess Bitch, it occured to me that my viewpoint was based on a very negative foundation. I had assumed that playing in separate women's events was some sort of admission of inferiority. However, there is no need to look at women's events through this lens. Now i see women's events more simply: as a collection of strong female chessplayers choosing to play amongst each other. Why not if the women are strong competition for each other? Why on earth would this hurt anyone's chess? Are we assuming that the existence of a women's world championship or WGM title deludes her into thinking this is the highest honor in chess? I think this is not giving females enough credit, who in my experience DO understand what a GM is and a WGM is. Just ask Irina krush if earning the WGM title diminished her ambition for the real GM title....
Especially now, with so many more women playing at the GM level or close to it, i find no harm at all in these events.
Judit of course is too strong for them, but i think if there were three other women 2650+, Judit would agree to play in say an all female double round robin.
There is a lot of pressure being one of the only ladies in a mixed events- people see you as the token female, men are sometimes intimidated or contemptuous... Therefore, it is very understandable that some women, not only girls, may find them a fun break from coed competition.
One argument I sympathize with against women's events is that they are unfair to male players rated 2300-2500 who have worked at chess for years and years without any similar carrots or sponsorsed tournaments. In response to this, i would just say that I too, really wish there was more money for chess and that the years of dedication it takes to become an IM or low-rated GM was paid off to all, not only women. However, I do believe that eliminating separate women events and prizes would result in an even smaller male:female ratio at tournaments. In my opinion, that would be bad for the development of chess in general as well as women's chess and hurt all players.
Jennifer Shahade

There is an interesting point of view why women events can be even more attractive than the men ones:


Thanks for your comments. I agree with Mig's position on this with regard to national events, but as you know, you were the one who convinced me that occasional women-only events, provided they are not official national events, are not in and of themselves a problem, anymore than an event just for Texas residents or just for left-handed players would be.

With regard to Irina Krush, it's a bit different, as she herself did not want the WGM title, and uses only her IM title.

I am curious about one thing, if it's not too personal. Do you think if there had been no women-only activities you yourself would have had an IM title by now, as Greg does? You obviously have the talent, and you certainly come from a family that is supportive and knowledgeable about paths to the title.

If you had had only the IM title to shoot for, do you think it would have made a difference in how you pursued your chess career?


A female world championship is harmless. It certainly gives female players a social outlet, which can only encourage them to play.

Jen makes many interesting comments. no surprise, as she has as much insight into these issues as anyone. I certainly cannot blame her for playing in certain events- as she points out, they are fun and profitable and have given her opportunities to travel etc. I am glad she points out that male players 2300-2500 (like myself) have worked hard and have little to show for it.

I have never been bothered by (or even really thought about) the opportunities a player like Jen or Irina gets from being a strong female chess player. Jen and I are of similar ratings, but she gets to travel abroad, play in special events, etc. The world isn't always fair and I never felt the least bit of animosity due to these circumstances. However, when a 1600 player gets into the US Championship, it makes me nuts. It makes a mockery of the whole event. I have worked hard at chess (ok not too hard) for almost 2 decades. The idea of a relative beginner playing in the country's most prestigious event because of their gender is ridiculous. I thought women wanted equality. Or is it only when it's convenient?!

TO answer with brutal honesty, I don't think I would be playing chess at all right now if i were not a woman.
As a girl, I played chess only occasionally, mostly tagging along to tournaments with my brother and father. At the age of 13, I was rated only about 1400-1600. My brother was already a master. My dad, at that time, was a 2400. I almost quit as it was at age 13, because i felt kind of silly playing in U1600 sections when Greg and my Dad were in the top section. I went to theater camp, started a middle school magazine. But somehow, when I went to the Chicago Open at age 14 I somehow fell in love with the game, and increased about 200 points a year for the next few years! Why this happened, I do not know but I am sure that part of it was realizing that as a woman i could enjoy more tournament invitations and also gain entrance into an elite sub-culture of respected female players. I did always like attention! For instance, I remember being enthralled by Martha Fierro's stories of world travel and photo albums, which she graciously shared with me when I was 14 and playing in an U1600 section in the Eastern Open.
Also, as a young woman, I was able to see my brother and father as teachers as well as competitors. However, if i was a male, I'm pretty sure my ego would have been too big to be "the weakest link" and i would have taken a different path entirely...Actually, I could talk about my hypothetical male personality all day, but I fear that might be a better topic for a science fiction novel or a therapist!
I appreciate the sincerity of your inquiry Duif.
All the best,


People can sincerely disagree as to whether a women-only "world championship" encourages or discourages women players.

But please remember that there are a fair number of women players who don't play for gender-restricted titles or invitations. There is not a single "women's opinion" on these issues. So it might be best to recast your question to apply specifically to those who support the separate invitation system.


Com'on guys!

Keep up behaving that way. And then we'll all have to wonder why some women are droping out from competitive chess. As a result we might also have more 1600 players fighting for championship title.


P.S. By the way some men are also droping out of competitive chess because of the way some gentlemen are behaving.


Thanks for the honest and straightforward answer! Very interesting, and not a perspective I had considered (that it was something of "the family business" for you).

We all have talents. We all have interests. They often overlap, but rarely coincide perfectly.

In a book I read (well, listened to) recently, the author commented that the chess community provides the same range of humanity as any community. There are extroverts and introverts, faithfully married and socially promiscuous, those with advanced degrees and high school drop-outs, the musically gifted and the completely tone deaf--people, in all their infinite variety.

And there are probably as many different things that inspire individual players as there are individual players!



what I mean is that if someone wants to run it and people want to play in it, there should be a women's championship. whether is encourages or discourages women in the grand scheme, I do not know. I also believe men are not bothered by the fact that they are excluded from the event. It does bother me that the current system in the US made it easy for Christiansen (Natasha) to qualify (chances were 2/3+ 4/29)for the US ch while Larry (chances were 4/29)did not. Whose games would the chess world rather watch?

I think we may actually be on the same page here. I find your sponsorship ideas very interesting too. Maybe you should be the world's first chess superagent!


Thanks, but I think Carsten Hensel already has that title. :)


It seems to me that Ms. Shahade's comments are supported by Mr. Greengard's observation in "The Kelly Rule." There he says that qualification is not a sufficient incentive for women to play to enter the U.S. Championships.

Perhaps the very format of the U.S. Championship defeats the purpose of a women's title. It is one thing to win the women's title in a special event, it is another to get the title in return for a mid-range result in a much larger event. It seems to that the latter is more "patronizing" than the former.

But I am doubly disqualified from speaking, being neither a woman nor a strong player. I would be interested in reading Ms. Shahade's view on this.

Ed Yetman, III

I wish I had considered the traveling aspect when I was younger. I might have considered it more then a serious hobby that I beat the local guys with and gotten my rating above the mere 1600 it is now. Certainly would have had much more time to study then I do these days.

What exactly are the lucrative rewards denied to the male chess player rated 2300-2500? Is there a 2600 rated grandmaster with a mansion in Miami Beach? Did I miss an episode of MTV Cribs?

In chess, women get more opportunities and money for the same "work". To be fair, this could be seen as compensation for the situation in nearly every other occupation.

All this talk of helping woman in chess makes me laugh. What about all the years when woman were denied access to tournaments? Where were all you guys who care so much about woman’s chess back then? Back then all chess tournaments were “all male” because men wouldn’t let woman play. That’s why woman’s tournaments were started. Things are much better today, but I think that woman are entitled to have the choice of exclusive tournaments for at least as long as men had them. But I think that the real underlying argument against woman only tournaments is jealousy by men. “Why should she have a title (and appearance fees and travel opportunities ect.)? and not me when we’re the same rating?” Bla, bla, bla. Come on guys stop whining and get a life.

I think Andy Morris-Friedman has hit the nail on the head.

Andy Morris-Freedman,

I'm female, and have always been opposed to official female-only events.

I can find no evidence that women were ever denied a chance to play in "men's events" with the exception of a few issues involving the Polgars and the Hungarian Chess Federation--and that was AFTER the Polgars had begun playing in open events. In fact, the indications are that they were being punished for refusing to play in the already existing women's events, because the HCF wanted them to win medals for their country.

When Vera Menchik began playing against men, there was no Women's Championship.

Although sometimes chess clubs were associated with men's clubs in the 1800s (and consequently women were rarely allowed to play there), there's no question that by the late 1800s and early 1900s (again, BEFORE the establishment of the Women's Championship), women were already playing in the same events as men.

The August 1886 magazine edited by Steinitz includes a mention of an integrated chess club in Italy, and encouraging other clubs around the world to follow the example. Again, all well before any official women-only titles.

The first Women's World Championship title was not awarded until 1927, and was in conjunction with the Chess Olympiad, not a special event. The winner for almost two decades was Vera Menchik, who also played against men in regular events.

The first US Women's Championship does not occur until 1938.

So men's events were not closed to women prior to the establishment of these events.

They may have been intended to encourage more women to play, but they were not a response to exclusion.


I have not heard any men whining about women getting to play and travel and appearance fees etc. Sounds like straw man to me. I've been playing tournaments for almost 20 years and certainly don't recall any mens only tournaments. So when were these women "oppressed"? Another straw man argument.

I have not heard any men whining about women getting to play and travel and appearance fees etc. Sounds like straw man to me. I've been playing tournaments for almost 20 years and certainly don't recall any mens only tournaments. So when were these women "oppressed"? Another straw man argument.

it's actually the 2199 players who have the mansions. look at any prize fund in the US. a 2300 really has no chance at top prizes in the Open facing 2700's while an expert (or A,B,C,D player) has a shot at real money playing no one over 200 points higher than himself. Look at the world open prize structure - 2300-2449/unr $3000-1500, while Under 1600 Section: $10000-5000-2500-1200-800-600-500-400-400-400, 11th-20th each $300. Which section would you rather play in if you're shelling out $1k+ to play....
On the other hand, a female 2300 is a big star. That's just the way it is. It's pormotional, and I really have no problem with that. But a 1600 being a big star....

One more thought about the use of resources...

As I've mentioned before, Jennifer Shahade convinced me last year, during a discussion of her book, that there's no intrinisic problem with a private promoter setting up a women-only event, just as they're free to set up an event just for left-handers or just for citizens of a particular city.

But I remain opposed to official gender-segregated titles and events, such as US Women's Champion or Women's World Champion.

I am opposed on three grounds.


I have three kids, a daughter and two sons. One of our family mottoes is "hard work pays off."

If my kids took a multiple choice history test and my daughter scored 15 points higher than one brother and 15 points lower than the other, and a teacher offered ONLY my daughter a trip to San Diego for an advanced forum on US History based on her score, I would be appalled.

Not only would it be unfair to the brother who scored higher, but it would be teaching all three that hard work isn't what pays off.

Beyond that, if my daughter went to the forum, she would inevitably feel a little guilty about the brothers who didn't go, and that would erode her self-confidence rather than build it. She wouldn't see her participation as the result of her own efforts, but rather of some arbitrary nonobjective standard.

It would add a bit of pain and embarassment to what should be a high honor. I don't think she would feel lucky.

So right there you see two of my reasons for opposing such activities. They destroy the implicit connection between hard work and reward for all players. And for many women, the awareness that more qualified men were passed over to give the woman a spot adds pain to what should be a joyful accomplishment.


I have a third reason as well. Tournament chess organizations are almost uniformly absent when it comes to promoting the fans--pros--sponsors triangle. It's not that they do it badly--they don't do it at all. (Probably the heritage of a sport that was dominated by Soviet players for generations.)

They don't provide resources to sponsors for selecting and reaching pros.

They provide very few resources to fans to learn about their heroes.

They don't provide resources to pros and top amateurs for learning how to find their own personal sponsors.

If we took all the money and energy devoted to official gender-segregated activities and put it instead into a program to help masters and above of both genders find and work with sponsors, I believe the entire sport would benefit, including the nonplaying fans.

Yes, I know there's not much money spent on gender-restricted activities. But it wouldn't take much to start building a program that supports our pro players in a fan-friendly fashion.

So in addition to the more subtle issues of fairness and message, I believe there is a very practical reason for shifting the resources to another area, which I think would benefit the entire chess community.


p.s. Although I am one of the top 100 women players in the US based on the USCF lists, I'm only a 1700 player. So of course there are quite a few women rated much higher than I am. Perhaps I am not qualified to discuss the "self esteem" issue (#2 above).

But any member of the chess community can speak to the questions of meritocracy and best use of resources.

And I have in the past declined women-only prizes (even a trophy), and will continue to do so. Even if offered $2 million, let alone $2,000, I would not accept a gender-segregated invitation to the US Championship.

So, no, it's not a question of being locked out. Women-only activities are available to me, and I still believe the resources could be better used elsewhere.

Oh, I also wanted to say that of all the fan resources provided for official chess events, last year's www.uschesschampionship.com (webmaster Mig) was one of the best I've ever seen. Really well done (and the ChampBlog was a brilliant touch). :)

Further proof I think that often we can do things much better with just a few more resources, if the mission is clear.


First I made a comment about amateurs makig too much money, then fluffy makes a post about it, and the combined response is nothing. Why should anybody be more offended by a 2300 making money because of her gender than by a 1600 making money because he's a low rated player. If you look at eligibility for a large tournament, a 1200 player if perfectly eligible for the open prize, while unlikely to win, I can tell you a 2350 player will find the U1200 prize impossible to win and the Open prize almost as unlikely, this is because there are fewer players at the top. A 2350 can have the tournament of his life in the open section and will still walk away with less money than each of the section winners in a large tournament. Consider a 2550 USCF performance from a 2350, this means in so againt an average rating of 2430 in a 6 round event that player scored +2, certainly nothing strong enough to net him first place money against 2650 players, but some 1799 who played an average rating of 1720 with a +4 score and a performance of 2000 has a shot at splitting the first place prize? The relative performances are about the same, but in some tournaments the 2350 won't even get paid.

Josh this is very true. the "tournament of my life", World Open 1997, I beat 3 GM's in a row and drew Smirin with black. Almost a GM norm. I won a little over $2k, nothing compared to $10k, $20k class prizes for a 1500 player performing at 1700 level.

I mentioned this same problem in an earlier post. And its not just 2350 or 2200. Consider HB, where the master prize was fantastic($20G). What upset me about HB Challenge was the long list of strong GMs who walked away with a loss, while amateurs walked away with $20,000. The prize structure was not very good. But we all know that if you don't get the amateur prizes, you can't support a tournament at all without corporate sponsorship. You would think that companies like IBM, Microsoft or Intel would be happy to support chess players. This is the only solution to this obvious injustice.

There are very few individual sports where pros make their living from prize money. It's almost always from sponsorships and endorsements.

Big class prizes were designed simply to make big tournaments more profitable by attracting more players. They succeed at that.

The individual tournament promoter doesn't owe the 2300 player anything more than he/she owes any other participant.

However, our official organizations do have some responsibility in seeing that pros can find enough resources to play, to improve the overall quality of the game.

It's just a question of numbers. It can never be profitable to try and provide "adequate" prizes for the top 1% of players solely out of entry fees.

But that's exactly the group that should be able to attract individual sponsors. And they don't have to be on the level of IBM or Intel. Local sponsors are common in all other individual sports.


If you modify your statement to be there are few individual sports where pros make their money from prize money BASED ON ENTRY FEE, then I agree, but I do believe there are ways to redistribute the prize fund in a responsible fashion. And the organizers do owe something when they love to advertize how many GMs and IMs came to their tournament that those GMs and IMs have a legitimate chance at some money. I believe this is the reason why the US has so much trouble developing strong chess players. A lot of talented players in the US are 2400-2500, around the time they need to decide what career path they are going to take, since there is no short term money (or any guaranteed money for the long term since improvement is not a guarantee) for players at that level, a lot of them choose alternative careers. Coaching and authorships are available, but this is difficult for young players looking to make the best effort to improve as this significantly takes time away from study and playing. Maybe prizes want to be given to low-rated players, there should be most-improved rating prizes (or some kind of fish grand prix points) that earn some money for making effort to improve from section to section, but to me it makes no sense to give an E player $10000 for 5 days work, might as well, have a coin flipping tournament for the same prizes, I could make the same point for as high as expert, but I believe being a "better" player or playing "better" during a game starts to mean something at that point. I remember being class E, those games are stupid, you don't outplay someone, you just hang less pieces and hope everything works out. Currently the incentives are to keep your rating low until you can cash in taht big prize which seems silly.

Right, chess is so strange in that there is an incentive to go lower. I remember when I went over 2200, there was a part of me that was pleased, but the other part of me wanted to tank back down to take a stab at the U2200. I definitely think the prizes could be reapportioned. i.e E players can make 2000 D 4000 C 6000 B 8000.... and A+X 10000. There would be far more money for the open available. But, on the other hand, once you have set a precedent for nearly even prizes, by reducing the prizes, you risk a significant downturn in turnout for the tournament, which in turn could have a negative effect for the CCA. The bottom line is that Goichberg, god bless him, wants his profit and revenues but he has no reason to care much about how the prize money is distributed. From his viewpoint, the best way to distribute is that which attracts the most number of participants, namely appealing to the masses as opposed to the top 1% of all players. This is the problem at the root, and I don't blame him. He is looking out for himself. The problem is that the professional players live in their own world and are too disorganized to look out for themselves. I really think that if professional chess is to have a shot in the US, someone, like maybe Susan Polgar or Yasser Seirawan, who have time and skills to do these project like things, needs to form a union of professional players in the US, where membership rules could be determined as it happens. The USCF is too disorganized to help out. Only then can chessplayers talk about attracting sponsorship. For serious sponsorship pleas to made, you need organization. Solutions like the ones that Duif talks about seem like short term possibilities, but the real problem is the incompetence of chess politics, both at the national and international level.

I am not one of those really low players, so when I say they deserve the money they get, I do it with no bias. They pay $300-$500, not including expenses, to play the big open tournaments. They deserve to have chances at big-money prizes. They also subsidize those GM's playing in the open section, so you need to give them the incentive to come and play or you better start looking for more corporate sponsorship.
I am not saying there isn't something wrong with how the 2300-2500 players are being left out, but you better not kill those golden-goose class players or there won't be any big-money opens.

Josh..I agree with most of what you have to say..but I guess the big question is, where do you draw the line when it comes to amateur section prizes at big opens? How much attendance drop off would organizers experience if a $10,000 prize were cut to $2,000 for class "E" players....or "B" or "A"'s? Should the "D" section prizes be lower than the "B" and the "A" prizes be lower than the "expert" section to provide incentive for future improvement? To complicate matters, if class prizes (and entry fees too of course) were slashed for a big annual open how many lowly duffers addicted to high class prizes from over the years would simply travel to other tournaments that still offered big money for players of their level?

Talking about "prize distribution" (at least in the USA opens) in chess is quite ridiculous, because there are no real prizes in open tournaments. Since the "prizes" come from the entry fees, it follows that these tournaments are just organized gambling. A game of pot, as called by Washington Square hustlers in NY.


Now, lost in all the discussion is the simple fact that chess is NOT a profession. Strong players who dream of making a living from their tournament earnings are just deluding themselves. Chess is a beautiful game and that's how it will stay.

It's about time we accept chesss for what it is and expect no miracles: chess is not a sport (Anatoly Carpov is not exactly what I would call an athlete), chess is not a science (Tigran Petrosian was no scientist, was he?), chess is not popular (check the nearest playing hall of any tournament in the world), chess is not art (Reshevski was not an artist).

Let's accept chess for what it really is: one of the most wonderful games ever created.

Chess has passion, drama, tragedy, comedy, suspense. Chess has a tradition and it has a history.It has many more wonderful qualities. But, ultimately, it just a game. A nice one.


Very well stated. If there is an incentive to go lower to make more money, something is very wrong.

Mathematically, this can't be solved via prize money based on entry fees. But it can be solved with sponsorships, even smallish local ones.


Also very well stated. I agree absolutely that someone like Susan or Yasser could set up a pros' organization that could address the
fans--pros--sponsors link. The trouble has been that in the past people have always gone for the big sponsor for the big contract. But the best model is local sponsors for local players, which requires educating the pros themselves on how to work with sponsors.


L Bacan,

True enough, it's a game. But other national organizations for games at least make an attempt at finding respectable sponsors.

British Scrabble PLayers lists two hotels, a building society, a books publisher, a games company, and others among their sponsors.


Because of the partnership structure, bridge sponsorship tends to work differently, but it definitely exists.

And billiards, go, and oher games attract some individual sponsors. Even the Alaska Darts Association has sponsors.

Remember the four reasons why sponsors sign up:

1. They want to sell something to your peers
2. They want to associate your image, or the image of chess, with their business
3. They think it's cool to be associated with a top competitor in something (often the reason why individuals like doctors and dentists help sponsor competitors)
4. They like you personally and want to support your efforts.

Any of these can apply to chess.

And remember that sponsorship doesn't mean they cover all your expenses! A sponsorship can start as small as $50 to help with an entry fee. But everything helps, right?

So while you are absolutely correct that chess is not a sport, an art, a science--it IS definitely a respected competition. And that's really all you need to pursue some level of sponsorship for the top 1%.


Sponsorships are definitely the most effective answer, but I think only sponsors for entire events are going to be financially effective (look at HB Global Chess Challenge). However, first let me discuss the issue of prize money. People keep claiming that if we restructured the prize money to be more reasonable, then weak players would stop coming to tournaments, the question needs to be asked would more strong players START coming to tournaments. The same total money is still there, if an E player is only willing to play in a tournament that has a chance at big money and he has no intention to be able to move up classes to win higher levels of money then why should there be an effort to give him money in the first place? I believe that over 60% of the field in the national tournaments believes they have next to no shot at money, in addition, I believe the increase to the open section would bring stronger players to more events which would in turn make the events more worthy of sponsorship and also more appealing to spectors (which also brings more appeal to sponshorship) which would eventually allow for there to be increased prizes in all sections.

Here's an interesting question: how much money do you think the HB foundation made from the HB Global tournament? I can't say for sure, but I imagine it was around $500,000 because I bet the sponsorships almost completely covered the prize fund and then they brought in $350/ person over 1600 people which is approximately $560,000. I really doubt they paid much if anything for the playing site since they sold tons of hotel rooms, but anybody who has more information, feel free to correct me? So that money is out there, it's just not for the pros. Also that blitz playoff, while exciting for the fans, is completely rediculous. If they're going to require blitz for a clear first winner in the open, why not for every section? Once again a way which it was more difficult for a professional to get paid than it was for an amateur.

I agree with you, Duif.

I hope you didn't get the impression I was trying to put chess down. I love the game (I'm a rated master - so I have done the work) and nothing would satisfy me more than seeing the top players making real money from their play.

My point was that, for some reason, "professionals" and the whole chess establishment expect prizes, fans and sponsors to appear out of nowhere. That's the attitude I find puzzling. As you say, chess needs some work at the local level before anything major can happen.Unfortunately, I don't remember the last time I saw chess "professionals" analyzing their game's marketing problems in a fashion even remotely close to the way you have suggested in many posts. Until then, our tournaments will continue to be organized gambling operations (like the HB Open) and our top players will not make any significant money from their efforts.

Sadly, I can't even imagine a change in attitude, so more of the same should be expected. I have been around tournament hall for over 20 years now (most of them as a very interested spectator! -a few as a tournament player), so I'm intimately familiar with the average "pro" and his behaviour. Dzindzi, not Seirawan, is the rule, if you know what I mean...

JE Gutman,

We discussed the HB Global challenge on a previous thread, but I think they either broke even or lost a little. I don't know any of the exact details, but at one point I did list typical costs. (And the event was held at the conventoin center, so there wasn't the usual hotel rooms = free ballroom space equaiton).


L Bacan,

Regarding Roman, he has always been very kind to me.

In addition, I worked on two different children's charity events with him, under some very trying circumstances, and he was wonderful with both the kids and the sponsors, even when we went through a number of technical difficulties.

So I can only say that my experiences with him were always very positive. I would be happy to work with him again anytime under similar circumstances.


Regarding costs of putting on a big event, we discussed this on the MinneMania thread in the May archives.


the idea of JEGutman's staggered prize fund makes some sense. It's ridiculous for a 1400 player to be winning 10k while a 2400 is trying to win 2k. The 1400 is probably playing because he likes to play, and wants a chance at some money. People pay money to play golf every day at golf courses. Maybe not as much, but they play for the sake of playing.

Chess may not be the easiest profession, but it can certainly be a profession. To make a living of any kind you have to be at the very top, but others can make a living teaching, writing, etc. It doesn't mean it's easy, but people do it. I just think it's kind of sad that a class D can be shooting for 10k while 2400 is hoping to win 2k. It's only this group that is right near, but not at, the very top that gets the shaft in the prize fund.
Oh, and a 1600 player should not win $2k (lowest prize in US ch) for just entering the National Open. :)

Imagine a player rated 2460 (this is the case for a friend of mine), who cannot aim at the typical under 2450 prizes (which in general are not that big anyway, except at HB) and who therefore has to compete with many players 200-300 points(an even worse situation than the 1401 rated guy) higher than him for any kind of prize. When hell freezes over maybe.... And yet this is a guy who knows how to play chess very well, but he cannot support himself by playing chess.

First, I am very good friends with IM Fluffy, but I have to disagree with him. That 1400 pays to have that chance to win 10k, and without him, those GMs in the top group will make a lot less since there will be no one entering to susidize them. If a 2300 player doesn't like what he can win, don't enter.
Second, I have been playing a long time now, and I have never met an IM that makes his living from just playing tournaments. Even with changes, I still doubt it can be done.

I'm not convinced staggering the prize fund would hurt entry, however, the problem is just point of view. Only 3/100 people in the class sections win any substantial prize in these tournaments and some people don't have any ambitions or fantasies about winning big prizes yet they still travel to national events.

Another point: clearly the participation among higher rated players is higher!!!!!, if this weren't true, there would be significantly less players in the expert section than in the C section, and that just isn't true, so it means the relative participation of higher rated players is higher so logically a larger prize in a higher sections will get more bang for your buck. As for the comment "If a 2300 player doesn't like what he can win, don't enter." that is absolutely the wron g attitude, why don't we give money to the 2300's and tell the E player that if they don't like what they can win, don't enter. Also, if you know anything about those big tournaments, those low class sections aren't won by people who are truly in the section, in fact, the money tends to go to the least active players, players who didn't play and just got a lot better in the mean time, once again, backwards incentives. If a player is trule 1350, he has no chance of winning the U1400 prize at the world open, it will be won by some player who kept his rating low and is probably over 1800 strength, but even that guy isn't guaranteed to win because there are 10 other players just like them. So what you're really saying is if we don't have $10,000 prizes for fish we won't have these rediculous sandbaggers. But if we don't give money to 2300's we won't have strong masters who can afford to develop their talent, I wonder which way that scale should lean...

I am not persuaded that big prize money does anything for promoting chess. Winning prize money is a gamble, always a gamble. Except for the very top players there are many easier ways to make a good living. I'm sure Ken Rogoff can testify to that.

If we want to use money to promote talent, it would probably be better to provide professional positions at chess clubs for a fixed rate of pay. That way the players would have security and a decent living. Golf clubs do this all the time.

This brings us to the nub of our problem. Sponsorship is a great idea. But how can we get sponsors with such a small market? Someone mentioned the Alaskan Dart League. Well, how many people are in the league and how much money do they get?

Unless there is a dramatic expansion of the chess market sponsorship is unrealistic. As we do not have the money to lure people in to tournaments we need some other incentive. Women's tournaments, junior tournaments, senior events, all of these could bring people in.

We would be better off working on the base than trying to generate chess stars, hoping they will bring people in. Trying to recreate the Fischer Boom is doomed to failure.

Ed Yetman, III


I had sponsorship on a small level throughout my playing career. Not large amounts, but certainly it helped, and multiple sponsors. It's entirely doable.

I'm not in any way trying to recreate the Fischer boom in that sense. I'm just saying that almost all niche sports get sponsorship today. It's how everything from ice dancing to pro bridge players support their professional efforts.

That the chess community thinks this is odd or unrealistic I believe is the result of two things: Fischer's refusing almost all sponsorship offers he received, and the dominance of the highest levels by players from former Soviet countries.

As Mig has pointed out, chess is ALREADY used as a marketing icon in the United States. It's just that there's no particular connection to individual players. That can be changed, but it gets changed by thinking locally first.

The larger clubs already have pros (GM Yermolinsky at Mechanics, for example). But that's the same problem with prize money--you're relying on the very small pool of amateur tournament players to support the pro players.

Golf in fact does NOT do this. Players who make the tour are NOT also country club pros. (Club pros are the ones who don't make the tour.) Instead they get their support through sponsorships which connect the players with a large group of NONPLAYING fans, via sponsors.

Kraft macaroni doesn't sponsor LPGA players because it's only trying to reach golfers. Instead, it's trying to reach people who associate women's golf with health, excitement, and positive stories.

There are many different things that can be tried, and I imagine it will be a collection of several that make things work.


Hello Ms. Duif,
I am not confused about the golf pros; I do not mix the two in my original post, if you will look back you will see that. Let me reformulate my original point.

We lose chess masters because it is too hard to make money playing chess. I think this has more to do with resource allocation than anything else. The big money tournaments rely on a gambler's mentality. That's bad in the long run. A few players will make big paydays but most players will just quit out of frustration. Losing active chess masters deprives our game of its intellectual leadership.

If we gave a few generations of masters decent livings that would strengthen and expand the chess market. Eventually there will be a large enough chess community to make it worthwhile for larger business to provide sponsorship.

Sponsors are not interested in charities. Their sponsorship is a business decision. Right now supporting chess is a bad business decision because of the size of our chess community and because of the general population's attitude towards chess. Just look at the ads on this page posted by Mr. Greengard. What is the more effective prop, the chess set or the pretty woman's legs?

Ed Yetman, III


This is a little off-topic, but...

Just for fun, I did a little unscientific research into the rating progress of the winners of the 2005 World Open, top three places. Here's what I found:

The top class sections (U2200, U2000, U1800) saw very little sandbagging. A few winners were provisional and a few had all-time high ratings greater than the section limit, but nothing suspicious.

In the U1600 and U1400 sections, most of the large prize winners had suspicious "rating progress".

I won't name names. If you're interested, please look for yourself and come to your own conclusions. Some of this funny-business could be eliminated with more frequent supplements. A few of these "suspects" suspiciously lost games right before the effective supplements came out for the WO.

Howard Goldowsky


comparing golf and chess is quite a stretch. Golf has a REAL following, while chess doesn't (and it's not just in the USA).

Chess should be compared with Backgammon, Bridge, Poker, etc.; all very marginal activities where people make meager livings. And, sad to say, chess is even worse than Backgammon or Poker: the element of luck is non-existent in chess.

On the prize structure:

I don't know why IM Fluffy feels bad seeing a 1400 making $10.000 while he doesn't make a penny (and yes, I agree with those who say that life is hardest in the 2300-2400 range). After all, they are not taking money away from the higher rated players. Their prizes come form their own pockets, so why should IM Fluffy or anyone object?

As it is today, if top players want top money, they should eliminate the middleman (Goichberg, HB Foundation) and organize their own tournaments. At $1000.00 per player, a 50-player tournament can have any prize structure these players deem best. Easier said than done, isn't it?

The bottom line is quite simple: as long as chess lacks real sponsorship, the expectations of chess "professionals" are just a delusion.

The question becomes: can chess get real sponsorship? I seriously doubt it. Why? Because chess does not reward spectators. I have never played basketball in my life, but I'm an avid fan and I can see the beauty in a well-played game or an acrobatic move to the basket. The same can be said of most other competitions. Chess, on the other hand, can't be appreciated by non-players. Hell, a good game of chess can't by appreciated by 80% of TOURNAMENT players!

Why would any non-playing person go to a chess tournament? I'm a master and still find tournament watching extremely boring. I go as frequently as I can only because it's nice way of seeing some old friends.

That's the reality of chess. Sad? Not at all. Bad? Not at all.

The only problem with chess is that many chess players frequently forget that chess is no more and no less than a game with a very, very tiny market and a very, very tiny user base.

Make chess more popular and the money will appear (but I'm afraid chess can't be made more popular for the reasons stated above).

Let's just accept the game for what it really is: a nice way to kill some time.

"a nice way to kill some time." just an opinion, and probably not a popular one at that. please don't state it like it's fact.

The only reason I "feel bad" that a 1400 player can win $10k is because I can't. Isn't it strange that the players that have a shot at $10k are 1400-2199 and really 2550-2800? You have beginners and pros, but if you are very strong amateur you don't get to play in this lottery. One little group is basically being excluded. A lot of Masters didn't go to MN because of this. The Open section is essentially the 2200-2800. All other sections are 200 point groups. Why not have a 1400-2000 section and have low under-1600 prizes? Doesn't sound fun?

"Chess is just a nice way to kill some time". Yes, it is an opinion. But it's the opinion of 99.999999% of people. After all, only a handful of people (the players who consider themselves "pros") think of chess as something other than a very interesting game.

Isn't that true?


In feeling bad about the prize structure, you're overlooking what I have stated several times: you want more money in your rating bracket? Invite a bunch of similarly-rated opponents, pool the money and give prizes out in a ny fashion you deem convenient.

Don't take offense in this, but, honestly, you talk like tournament organizers owe something to players in your range. That's just unfair.

If anything, you should be happy that the 1600 players are gullible enough that they enter the tournaments, buy the books and pay for the lessons that support the top players.

The key here, for you to get my point: the 1600 player who makes $10.000 is making money from his 1600 peers, not from you. You'd have a point if the prize money were coming from sponsors and not the players themselves. But that's not the case, so you have no right to resent what others do with THEIR money.

I'm sorry L Bacan, but you're sadly mistaken, if fluffy is paying the same entry as the 1400, why shouldn't have the same chance at prize money. He doesn't, in fact, since lower sections tend to subsidize the higher sections, he should have a chance at MORE money. I would say a large percentage of tournament players wouldn't put it as "a nice way to kill some time", but rather some phrase describing a passionate hobby that enriches their lives. As for the under prizes, I realize there is a lot less luck in chess than in poker, but tons of players in the world series of poker have no chance of winning but they pay entry? Why? Because they believe there is some remote chance that they get incredibly lucky? So is the solution to give amatuers no money and bundle 100 entries or so into 10 or so "lottery prizes?" They could just pick names out of a hat and give money to random players U2200. Ah, but this doesn't give the dellusion of skill being involved, alright, we'll give them an extra ticket for every win they get, doesn't matter what section you play in. Look at major tournaments, look how many people play up sections, clearly there are pleanty of people there that have no ideas of prize money. As for chess not being able to find sponsors, this seems only to be a serious problem within the United States, big money sponsors seem to be out there in Europe. It's my understanding that in some of the nations of the former soviet union, the strong chess players are basically celebrities, unfortunately chess seems to do best in very poor countries since it is both cheap to play (I'm not talking about tournaments) and still intellectually stimulating.

All very interesting comments, and I think good points on all sides.


I did just want to mention that, as a media analyst, I did several media surveys over my career and chess ALWAYS turned up as a powerful and common marketing motif in the US and Europe--unlike bridge, go, and backgammon. The positive concept of dispassionate strategy is already associated with chess. That's why the "make the right move" tagline is so often used.

So while I appreciate the people who say that chess is such a "small market," and that's true when you consider only tournament players, it's already a mass market advertising icon. That work is done. :) It's just a question of how to connect that with individual players. And that, frankly, requires work on the side of the chess community.


As long as it makes sense to us, as a community, not to feature individual players, then we're telling sponsors that they won't get their money's worth out of trying to use individual players rather than generic chess images.


The idea of giving a few generations of masters a decent living sounds great, but I've no idea where that kind of money would come from. I can't see a practical way to start that. If someone else can, more power to them.

But I CAN see a very practical way to start helping masters find sponsors for, say, half their entry fee at the World Open, or a new chess bag, or $100 towards travel expenses to the state championship. Or their USCF membership. Or a NIC subscription.

Not enough to make a living from chess, but something to help defray the costs of being a professional. That's where you start in almost all niche sports, including Olympics training.

So I apologize if my use of the term "sponsorship" was confusing. I agree absolutely that no international corporate sponsors are going to appear out of nowhere and bestow buckets of money on pro players (sorry, fluffy!). But that was never what I meant.

Spoinsorship can be local, small, and specific and still be of great help.


L Bacan,

You asked "Why would any nonplaying person go to a chess tournament?"

My point is that in most competitions, sponsorship has little to do with television ratings or the number of spectators. Seriously.

For example, any episode of FEAR FACTOR has television ratings about 3 times higher than an LPGA event, even a championship.

Yet sponsors sign up LPGA players, not Fear Factor Champions.

As a retail analyst, I was always intrigued by the fact that about half of NBA merchandise is bought by people who have NEVER seen a complete game, even on television. (Yes, really.)

The San Jose Sharks, a hockey team, sells around 1/3 of their merchandise to people whose only exposure to hockey is a Disney movie.

Chess isn't used in advertisements for banks, car dealerships, insurance companies, the US marines, and realtors because the advertisers think they're reaching people who go to chess tournaments.

It's used because chess as an image is already associated with positive traits like strategic thinking.

Think about the movies. If you want to show that someone is smart, the fastest way is to show him playing chess. (Think BAD COMPANY, for example, where Chris Rock was a street hustler.) Or if you want to show that someone is a successful businessperson.

The scriptwriters for BAD COMPANY didn't assume that most of their audience went to chess tournaments. They DID assume that chess had an association that they could use to communicate a character trait to a mass audience.


Everything from Oscar-nominated dramas to horror films and kids' movies.

LPGA sponsors are not just trying to reach people who actually go to golf tournaments, or even just people who watch golf on TV.

Instead, they're using the positive associations of golf to communicate a message to a much wider audience.

In America, at least, that's how sponsorships work. Money comes into the activity because of its associations for the mass market.

Like most things, chess has both positive and negative associations--but the positive associations are strong enough that it is frequently used in mainstream advertising.

So it's not about how many people come to a tournament. It's about how many people would find fluffy an interesting person because he has been successful in tournaments. :)



>>>But I CAN see a very practical way to start helping masters find sponsors for, say, half their entry fee at the World Open, or a new chess bag, or $100 towards travel expenses to the state championship. Or their USCF membership. Or a NIC subscription.

Not enough to make a living from chess, but something to help defray the costs of being a professional. That's where you start in almost all niche sports, including Olympics training.

I agree with all your points, but it should be mentioned that there's a great, major contradiction in your statement above:

"Not enough to make a living from chess, but something to help defray the costs of being a professional."

Why would you consider this person a "professional", when the very definition of "professional" implies being able to make a living from it?

To me, the whole thing is a matter of unrealistic expectations. Chess has NEVER provided "professionals" with enough income to make a living out of it. Only a handful of players in the world can make more than $100.000/yr from chess. And that's during their few peak years! I bet that, when everything is said and done, a top player likeMozorevich or Ivanchuk or Gelffand or Elvhest will average less than $30.000/yr over a 20 yr. career. And I'm being overly generous, I'm afraid.

So it's not about how many people come to a tournament. It's about how many people would find fluffy an interesting person because he has been successful in tournaments. :) >>>

It's about how many people fing WHAT FLUFFY DOES (ply chess or play gold or box, etc.)interesting.

I'm sorry to say, VERY FEW find playing chess interesting.

So it's not about how many people come to a tournament. It's about how many people would find fluffy an interesting person because he has been successful in tournaments. :) >>>

It's about how many people fing WHAT FLUFFY DOES (play chess or play golf or box, etc.) interesting.

I'm sorry to say, VERY FEW find playing chess interesting. You can tell by counting the spectators.

I disagree..I think A LOT of ordinary people who know the rules but aren't "serious" about the game enjoy watching chess when it's presented to them in a fun, pleasant setting. Lunch hour chess at work can draw a decent crowd. Coffee hangouts and taverns have developed huge followings of casual fans and players over the years in various cities. People love to watch blitz games in parks..especially when some trash talk is involved. I remember being invited to invitational events in the 70's held in a book stores display windows. It attracted lots of casual spectators. A huge number of normal people walking the streets know the rules (well, most of them) and will watch and happily play too in the right situation. I don't think the "right situation" for average people to watch is a quiet ballroom in a hotel. I don't think we should look down our noses at folks who know the rules but only play with friends and relatives. Lots of those people would even watch chess on TV if presented in an entertaining manner (a chess reality TV show covering an "insanity" tournament??). Fischer electrified the American masses...it can be done.

I realize this is a particularly large group of players (who don't continue playing into adulthood), but scholastic players turn out in tremendous numbers for many scholastic events over the course of the year, the travel costs are still high and there is no chance of winning money.

I would like to refine my idea of staggered payouts, in addition to paying out more money to higher sections, pay it out to more places. So like maybe payout 1-2 prizes class E, and increasing by 1-2 prizes at each class so by the time the open section shows up, it's paying out significantly more people than the lower sections. This would still allow for reasonably sized first prizes in the lower section, but would give a lot more money to higher sections. People seem to be of the opinion that organizers could make more money by only having U2200 sections and below. They could afterall just pocket all that subsidized money from the lower sections. Players come to both play and see the top sections, and it makes sense to top end the money. A class E player hasn't done anything. This is the equivalent of awarding another championship in the NBA to the team that had most wins and was top 5 in turnovers. If this means combining and making larger sections so there is "more money to win" for these lower players, let it be. It's ass backwards as it is right now, there's no correlation between skill and attanable prize money, name one other competition where that's true? This case is especially extreme because it is a large fraction of the money. I mean if a tournament waned to attract more class H players they could have a U600 section and give away $10,000 to them too... This problem can't be solved with such a narrow minded view. The question can't be how do I make more money in this tournament as an organizer, but how do I do what's necessary so I can secure sponsorships and continued enjoyment of this event for these events and make even more money in the future.

L Bacan,

I agree absolutely that the number of people who want to sit and watch an entire chess game is very small.

But chess as an icon IS interesting to large numbers of people, or it wouldn't continue to be used in mainstream advertisements and movies.

Remember--corporate sponsorship isn't about the number of people who watch the pro in action. It's about the number of people who are positively attracted to the pro's image when used in mainstream advertising. Totally different issue.

NBA players aren't hired for McDonald's ads because of the number of people who watch NBA games (a relatively small number).

This year the NBA all star game drew a 4.9 ratings share, with about 8 million people watching. Couples Fear Factor had an 8.4 share with about 19 million people.


And LPGA players certainly don't get sponsorship deals because of the number of spectators or TV watchers (a miniscule fraction of most TV shows).

TV networks look at the size of the audience when deciding what to put on the air. But sponsors look at the value of the story when deciding who to sponsor. That's why LPGA players get sponsors and Fear Factor champions don't.

And personal sponsorship is even less about the size of a typical audience. It's simply about wanting to be involved in some way with a rising competitor.

So, yes, I agree with you--not that many people want to go to a tournament or watch a game. But that doesn't mean that sponsors won't find it valuable on either a business or personal level to make a connection to chess pros.



Why don't you provide some numbers of what you have in mind? I don't see clearly what you have in mind.

If you decide to do so, take the HB Tournament as an example and show us how you would re-distribute the prize money.



Once again, I think you're confused:

NBA players aren't hired for McDonald's ads because of the number of people who watch NBA games (a relatively small number). >>>

Nobody is saying that. On the other hand, NBA players ARE HIRED for McDonald's ad because of the number of people who FOLLOW NBA action and basketball in general.

Sponsorship is tied to market potential. As you have stated previously, the potential sponsorship for chess amounts to an entry fee or a few dollars. That's only because the public at large is completely uninterested in chess.

I mean, we are not the only people who understand or discuss marketing issues. Media coverage reflects an activity's popularity (audience size): more journalists are sent to cover Tiger Woods' exploits than Kasparov's exploits. Why? For the simple reason that there are more people interested in Tiger Woods and Golf than Kasparov and chess.

No matter how we squeeze it, chess is very marginal activity that can't be marketed beyong the few dollars you mentioned in a previous post.

Is it sad? Not really.
Unfair? Not at all.

I think that the public in general is attracted to different things/activities to different degrees. Chess - like ball juggling, dart throwing, decathlon, strongest man competitions, poetry contests, etc. - is just not very popular.

After all, there are things than can't be marketed. Chess is one of them.

The attraction of scholastic events is that the entry fees are relatively low and they tend to be locally organized tournaments (Maryland States etc). Supernationals excluded. If a master wants decent competition, he needs to enter one of these big tournaments(in the local ones there will be at most 3-4 competitors, and you will meet maybe 2 of them max) Amateurs, however, can find events like this all over. Where they will play the same competition(in many cases stronger competition) so if they are going to shell out 300+ hotel and food they are going to expect something big in terms of prizes. I do believe that significantly reducing the prizes( especially the number of prizes!) for these players would be a bad decision from the perspective of the organizer. Like you say, it is essentially organized gambling. Lets take class E. By my one handed calculation, the organizers gave back 54% of the entry fees in that section in prizes. 46% is already a pretty big cut for the house (and GMs). How much further do you want to go?

Running similar quick calculations for the U2200 you get 65% given away and roughly 75% in the open section(remembering that various players get free entry). There is some clear staggering going on here.

I question the effectiveness of big prize money. Compared to the payout, what are the odds of winning? Also, in big events such as those run by Bill Goichberg, if you win big in your class you get bumped up to the next class, thus making your chances of a second payday even more remote.

The costs of playing, however, are not slight and they cannot be gambled away. I think most players who play in these big events do so only rarely, say once a year or so. That hardly seems like a solid basis for building a chess community.

Ed Yetman, III

DP, my point is that they chess tournaments shouldn't be forms of lotteries, why not base the model around a tournament should make money for the organizers and the professional players and some money left over to keep it interesting for the lower groups. It's especially stupid in small open tournaments where they give out 10 class prizes and 3 open prizes like they often tend to in blitz tournaments, the prizes for the classes end up smaller than the entry fee (again the solution is less prizes) and a disproportionate amount of money goes to the amateurs.

Perfect idea LBacan, here are the HB Foundation Prizes: (I just copied the website and edited)
I did this fairly quickly, but I'm pretty sure the total is still the same, if I had more time I would tweak it still a little more, clearly there is some fan motivation in these events with the huge disparities in prizes between first and second in these sections, maybe that was to promote "fighting chess" or whatever they call it. Anyways, I managed to redirect over $50,000 towards the open section, I'd do more, but like I said, it's a real pain in the ass to tweak, I got rid of paying out $300 period, nobody left satisfied with that pay day, seems stupid to advertize a payout less than your entry fee, let alone how it ends up happening sometimes anyways. It might be a good idea to take out some money and guarantee anybody who ties for those places that get the last payouts actually gets at least that amount, 50th place probably gets less than $1000 in the open as it is because he could tie below, this would also allow you to reduce the number of places paid out though since essentially some extra places will get paid too.

Open Section:
1st place $50,000
2nd place $30,000
3rd place $18,000
4th place $10,000
5th place $5,000
6th place $4,000
7th-20th $2,000 each
21st-50th $1,000 each
1st place $20,000
2nd place $10,000
3rd place $7,000
4th place $6,000
5th place $3,500
6th-10th $2,000

Under 2300
1st place $15,000
2nd place $10,000
3rd place $5,000
4th-7th $1,000

Under 2200
1st place $15,000
2nd place $9,000
3rd place $4,000
4th place $2,000
5th-22nd $1,000

Under U2000
1st place $13,000
2nd place $8,000
3rd place $4,000
4th place $2,000
5th place $1,500
6th-18th $1,000

Under U1800
1st place $11,500
2nd place $7,000
3rd place $3,500
4th place $2,000
5th-16th $1,000

Under U1600
1st place $10,500
2nd place $6,500
3rd place $3,000
4th place $1,750
5th-14th $1,000

Under 1400
1st place $10,000
2nd place $6,000
3rd place $2,750
4th place $1,500
5th-14th place $900

Top Under 1200
1st place $8,000
2nd place $5,000
3rd place $2,000
4th place $1,000
5th place $800
Top Under 1000
1st place $3,000
2nd place $1,500
3rd place $1,000

1st place $2,000
2nd place $1,000
3rd place $500
4th place $400

Hello Mr. Gutman,
Interesting prize fund. How much would the entry fee be?

Ed Yetman, III

Well done, Jegutman.

The only problem I have with that (and this is a problem for organizers, not players) is that by eliminating the $300 prize in the intermediate sections - U200, 1800, 1600 - an organizer runs the very real risk of discouraging a large number of players who enter the tournament with the idea that, at worst, they can minimize their losses by earning a minor ($300) prize.

I also doubt that giving top players more money will benefit the tournament, chess or players in general (but I'll be the first to admit that this is just my guess).

The NY Open - a tournament I'm very familiar with - died a natural death when weak player s finally realized (it took them 4-5 years, but the tournament lasted longer) their chnaces of making significant money were slim-to-none.

I'm generally opposed to big-prize tournaments where those big prizes come from the players' pockets. It's a fool's game, even for GM's. I remember the sad faces of top players in the NY Open after losing a couple of games in the first for rounds. It was really bad.

I mean, spending $1000 in the hope of winning $10.000 against all sort of opposition (legal and illegal) is not the smart way to spend money. This type of tournament takes advantage of the average player's gullibility, to put it mildly.

In any case, I sincerely appreciate your effort in working out those numbers.

L Bacan,

I promise you--running studies like this (including some involving NBA products) was my career for 20 years. I'm not confused.

NBA players aren't hired because of the number of people who follow basketball. I've already given you numbers. Very few people actually "follow" basketball relative to other activities. (A lot more people watch The Bachelor than an NBA game.) NBA players are hired as endorsers because of the power of their stories.

I did a study in 2000. Most Americans could not even name 8 NBA teams, but they could name 10 NBA players. Everybody knows Kobe, Shaq, Magic, MJ, Larry Bird, Dennis Rodman, even if they've never seen a game.


I'm not talking about chess being as big as anything else. (Why do chessplayers only think on a grand scale?)

All I'm saying is that we as a community make it really really hard for sponsors to make what should be a very natural connection.

To be honest, this whole conversation is an example of it. It's as though if we can't get some Global 2000 company to drop $50,000 each on our titled players, there's no point in pursuing sponsorship. Or if we can't dramatically increase the number of tournament players, we're failing.

I just don't get that.


Say we found 3 personal sponsors each for each US player above 2300 (that's about 550 players). Each sponsor gave between $50 and $250 in the first year, averaging $500 per player. That would bring in $275,000 into US chess to help top players keep playing. That's something like 6 months' worth of dues from the entire adult membership!

I do appreciate what you're saying about the relative degrees of interest in golf (and remember, my examples have always been LPGA, not PGA) vs chess. Or anything else vs chess. But that's really not the point I'm trying to make.

Some states have only 3 or 4 players above the 2300 level. (New York is a different issue.) If you are organized, specific, and local, you can find 3 or 4 sponsors. Would a local dentist contribute $100 to help an IM in her city go to the State Championship? Would a local car dealer contribute $150 to pay part of the cost of a World Open entry fee? Would a local bank give $50 to cover the cost of a New in Chess subscription?

The answer is...maybe. But surely it's a practical and straightforward strategy to consider.


Tiger Woods is one of the top 100 most recognizable celebrities in the world. He's obviously on a different plane.

But consider Pamela Kerrigan. She's made only $3,000 as an LPGA pro this year. It took her six attempts to even qualify for the Tour. Yet she still has two sponsors, DSW (a shoe store chain) and Fiskars (who make gardening tools and those famous orange handled scissors).

In the US, she's probably the equivalent, celebrity-wise, of, say, Jairo Moreira (2355, NC). But she has two national sponsors, and additional local ones.

If I bring up the subject of sponsors for someone like Moreira outside of the chess community, everybody thinks that makes sense.

If I bring it up WITHIN the chess community, everybody thinks I'm crazy. ;)

It's our legacy culture, I guess. And probably unchangeable. So it goes.



I (and I'm pretty sure others here) would love to see some sources for your claims (that most people buying NBA merchandise have never watched a basketball game, for example).

With all due respect, I seriously doubt that's true.

The reason a lady golfer get sponsorship faster than a 2300 chessplayer is quite simple: there's more potential in a lady golfer to become a celebrity/star than there is in a chess player. As simple as that. That's the same reason Lebron James got those early endorsement deals.

Sponsors ALWAYS look at the potential returns for their investment. Chess offers none. That's a marketing fact you certainly know.

Yes, "stories" attract sponsors. But those "stories" must be attractive to a large amount of people. Sadly, chess "stories" attract no one.


I find it very revealing that you assess the potential amount of sponsorship for chess players at a few dollars. That speaks volumes, and fully supports my view that chess is unmarketable. $100 from a dentist is not sponsorship. It's charity.

The one nice thing about giving money to top players is that you then have happy people who represent your event, rather than a bunch of bitter GM's who took a loss for the event. (There were no free entries at HB Global without doing something to earn them.) Plus, the Open section wasn't playing under the same terms as the other sections, if an U1200 player wants a quick draw, it was free to him, a player in the open section had to play 30 moves, these players recieved nothing extra for this, unlike the no-draw plan in Sofia, nobody got appearance fees here.

And for the record, I was using HB Global CC as an example, I don't believe there should be so many expensive tournaments. I also believe that the placing of this event really took a lot away from National Open (my favorite tournament) since it has much smaller prize funds and is sandwiched inbetween HB and world Open, not to mention Chicago open is also in there, but I guess the schedule is pretty crowded.

L Bacan,

I'm just saying that's a reasonable and easy place to start in the first year for an 1800-2400 player. And those amounts are typical in niche competitions like cycling, ice dancing, skateboarding, etc.

If "chess stories attract no one," QUEEN'S GAMBIT would never have become a best seller. IBM would never have sponsored the Deep Blue match, nor Intel the PCA.

And Susan Polgar wouldn't have been one of several people featured on the cover of Parade magazine last week. :)

I've mentioned before that people sponsor niche competitors for one of four reasons:

1) They want to sell something to your peers
2) They want to associate your image (or the image of chess) with their company
3) They like the idea of being associated with a top level competitor
4) They like you personally

3) and 4) aren't charity--lots of golf pros have those kinds of sponsors as well. It's just a different kind of return on investment. And the IRS doesn't consider it charity:

I suppose you could consider it philanthropy, like what Madame Ojjeh does with the Paris NAO club, but even if it is, I don't see anything negative about that. People like to help, and it does help. Surely that's a good thing? The process for working with this type of contributor is essentially the same as for working with a local business.

But I am curious, and I ask this sincerely--you seem either uncomfortable or perhaps even hostile to the whole idea of a 2400 player raising $500 or $1,000 a year to help with tournament expenses.

Would you feel the same way about, say, an archer who was trying to prepare for the Olympic trials? Or a cyclist? Or a musician preparing for an international event?

Is there something in particular about chess that you find antithetical to this type of local sponsorship? Or is it just that the whole thing seems too small to be worth the trouble to you?

I think I've mentioned that in the past when I've discussed this with some players from former Soviet countries, they became very uncomfortable. They thoroughly approved of the idea of state sponsorship, and could somewhat accept the idea of a really, really big company (like an IBM) setting up a whole program. But the idea of "retail" sponsorship on a small local level was literally foreign to them.

The United States is, I believe, the only country where the government does not sponsor the Olympics delegation. So this type of small scale sponsorship has been practiced for deades, ever since the ruling was made that individuals COULD accept direct funds (vs the Dwight Stones Track Club loophole).

To me, it alwasy seemed natural that it would apply to the top 1% of chessplayers. But I know there are others who feel differently. I just don't yet understand why.



Because it's NOT sponsorship. It's charity.

Raising 500/yr does not make a professional. And even if a 2400 players goes that route, then what?

I have no personal/emotional stake in this dialogue, given that I achieved what I set out to achieve in chess: to become a master. I have no regrets when it comes to chess, as I never invested more than a few spare hours learning and enjoying this wonderful game. I never played with prize money as the motivation. I never had expectations of a chess career and my interest is purely out of sympathy for the hard-working, low-earning average GM/IM. I'm a true chess fan.

That said, I honestly think that the issue is quite clear and simple: if you manage to get a lot of people interested in chess, the money will flow in. If you can't, the money won't be there.

So, before anyone starts splitting the pie, we must make sure that there's one to begin with. As it is, there's no pie in chess and nobody has ever come up with a credible or realistic plan to make people interested in chess.

If you can put your knowledge and experience into solving that problem, I'll be the first to sing your praises. Until then, it's just $100 pipe dreams mixed with marketing-speak.

I sincerely wish things were different, but at some point we must put our feelings aside in order to deal with reality.


you can be my agent. I am an well spoken (even if you don't like what I have to say) International Master, and I am tall, handsome, and charming. hehehe. Maybe and Nutella has a spot available because they dropped Kobe.


I'd be interested in seeing Duif's idea put into practice. I'd also vote her in as next USCF president if I could.

L Bacan,

Thanks for your answer. That does help my understanding. I see the concern about splitting a small pie into splinter-like pieces, and that's definitely something to take into account.

I honestly don't think it's a pipedream, because it was something that I did for several years, and without it, I wouldn't have been able to go to the tournaments I did. But I'm sure you're right it's not something that will work for everyone.

Thanks again for the direct response.



You are far too kind. They are many people much more qualified than I for any USCF office. Perhaps an occasional idea may be helpful, but that is true of any member.

Thanks again,


I'd be glad to pass along any specific ideas if you're interested.

Let's see...you just became an IM in the last year or so, yes?

Step 1: get your FIDE profile updated with photo and birthdate. (There are some other sites to update, too, but that's the first one.)

You've got a clear next career goal: making the top 100 US players. So that's good.

Start thinking about your two year calendar (for playing and training) for 2006 and 2007.

Start collecting links to stories about yourself:


and we can see what your path might be. :)

Suppose a business like Playboy Magazine or Virginia Slims cigarettes wanted to sponsor some top women players; would that be acceptable?

Ed Yetman, III


Acceptable to whom? That same question comes up all the time in sports.

There are three issues:

a) are there any individual players who would want that sponsorship?

b) will the event managers allow those sponsors' logos to be shown during the event?

c) will other sponsors stop offering support to a player associated with controversial sponsors?

The answer is frequently yes to a (some, not all, not a majority, but some) and no to b. c varies.

But it usually means that a sponsor like Virginia Slims has to pay more (to offset the other sponsors who drop out) and gets less (less logo work, at a minimum).

There were some people, as you probably recall, who questioned whether it was appropriate to have a world championship (Kramnik-Leko) sponsored by a cigar company.

All the same issues apply.



Hello Ms. Duif,
I was throwing it out there to try and stimulate some discussion. If we sell chess as an "image" that goes both ways; the sponsored person becomes associated with that company's image.

Chessplayers have the positive image of being intelligent, and the negative one of being anti-social, for lack of a better term. Playboy has the image of being exciting yet explotative of women. It seems to me that Playboy sponsoring women chessplayers would allow Playboy to acquire an intellectual patina, while women chessplayers could dispel the image of chessplayers being anti-social nerds. But is this desirable? That's the question.

Ed Yetman, III

I think Playboy has always cultivated something of that "man of the world" intellectual aspect (as opposed to, say Hustler or even Maxxim). That's why they did the interviews and published some significant fiction from top short story writers. It's that whole Scotch vs Beer demographic.

That said, personally, I would think it would in general be a mistake for a female player to accept Playboy sponsorship. But Maria Manakova would probably disagree.


Why a mistake? and who is Maria Manakova?

Ed Yetman, III

Hello canuck,
Thanks for the links. I can't keep up with this stuff.

I admit that I prefer Miss Manakova's photograph to that of Sonja Graf, if that is indeed Sonja Graf.

Ed Yetman, III


I actually was ranked #50 years ago. A lot of good it did me. I dropped and got pushed down. A link collection hmm. Ooh I can google myself

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