Dennis M's Chess Site

This is a blog for chess fans by a chess fan. I enjoy winning as much as anyone else, and I've had a reasonable amount of success as a competitor, but what keeps me coming back to the game is its beauty. And that, primarily, is what this site will be about! All material copyrighted.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Master Prizes: What do Organizers Have Against Them?

Grandmaster, role model, sometime ESPN chess commentator and organizer Maurice Ashley is sponsoring what I assume is by far the most lucrative open tournament in U.S. history, the HB Global Chess Challenge in Minneapolis, Minnesota from May 18-22, 2005.

How lucrative? The guaranteed prize fund is $500,000. The Open, U2200, U2000, U1800, U1600 and U1400 sections all have 50 prizes. If your rating is from 1001-1200 or under 1000, you're at least eligible for five rating-restricted prizes in addition to the 50 in the U1400, and even unrateds have 10 special prizes as well. In short, it's serious money, and it's safe to say that players of all levels will flock to the event - including, of course, titled players (grandmasters and international masters). I wouldn't be even slightly surprised to find at least 40-50 GMs and about that many more IMs in the event - and this doesn't even include all the "civilian" masters who will participate in this event.

Now for the problem. If your rating is exactly 1600 and you're competing for U1800 money, you'll have your work cut out for you, given that you're at the bottom of your rating pool. Even so, you won't have to face anyone more than 199 points higher rated than you are. Difficult? Yes. Inconvenient? Sure - but the rating gap isn't that big.

But for masters, the situation is radically different. A 2200-rated player will be competing with 2750-rated players for the same prize pool and this, ladies and gentlemen, is nuts. (Any 1500s out there want to compete for expert money?)

To be fair, I haven't told the full story yet: there are also three special prizes for those between 2300-2449 and another three for those under 2300. They're pretty good prizes, too, equivalent to the first-third prizes in the U2200, U2000, U1800 and U1600 sections. But still: only three? There will be plenty of 2200s, and since their chances to outdo the GMs, IMs and all the rest above 2300 are exceedingly slim, they're essentially playing for just those three prizes. And things aren't much better for the 2300-2449 crowd: their gap to the top players is a bit smaller, but on the other hand, they're in a larger rating pool.

I know that there aren't as many masters as there are experts, and the prize money has to come from entry fees. But even with that understanding and the three token prizes (why not more prizes, even if at the cost of reducing their amount?) to ameliorate the concern, it's not enough, at least for me. Tournaments like this are expensive (and most of the big tournaments are alike in offering only a very few, generally token prizes to ordinary masters), and since I've already enjoyed the big tournament experience on many occasions, I think I'll pass on this one. I wish the tournament well, but I don't think this is an equitable situation.


  • At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It all comes down to the purpose of the tournament. If the organizers want to make a profit (or at least break even) then they need to focus the prize money on attracting the maximum number of participants. Master-level players just don't have the volume in that case to justify giving them much prize money. See the USCF ratings distribution for numbers.

    If the organizers, like the HB Foundation, want to use the tournament not for profit but to spread interest in chess among the general public, then again there is no reason to reward masters, as they obviously are already very interested in the game.

    Only if you are interested in things like rewarding quality/excellence or just a general notion of fairness/equitability should you have more master prizes. But how often does fairness figure into real life?

    I agree with your position, but I don't think the real world will ever walk that path.

  • At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've never liked how the prizes were spread out over the rating classes. I've never based my decision to go to a tournament based on the prize money. Perhaps I'm in the minority. I would like to see the bulk of the prizes go to the higher rated players. (I'm only rated 2009 USCF.) I like to see strong players able to make a living by doing exclusively chess activities. I would prefer tournaments that aren't divided into classes and prizes are only given to the top scores. (Of course an upset and brilliancy prize are nice too.) No one is going to sandbag in tournaments using this method.


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