May 3, 2001


The financing problem in chess has become so keen for the last years that now we hear more and more frequently about a possible lethal outcome. There are less round tournaments, and even in the biggest of them organisers are far from being lavish. Sometimes matches are held, short ones more frequently, longer ones much more seldom, the latter fact seems to distress the amateurs of the “classics” especially. The knock-out system was tested on all levels, still it’s hard to speak about its prospects so far (I think that the future belongs to it, but it’s only my private opinion). The basic form now is a Swiss open which is in principle meant for amateurs: players pay their fees themselves. Discussions about comparative merits of the mentioned systems are of a purely theoretical character, as the modern practice shows that grandmasters are ready to play any system, only to be paid for their play. Still, there is no money both for “good” and “bad” systems.

By the way, should there be any money in chess and where from should it come?

Now this question is just the key one. Theoretically, the answer is simple: money can be given by the audience only. And not by those who come to the tournament hall: sportsmen used to earn badly while they were “fed” by the visitors of a stadium only. Every active fun, the audience of an Internet live translation should pay. It’s very good if a rich sponsor gives some additional funds. Still, this depends on the audience, too, because a rich sponsor will give good money for the showing of his ad banner during the event only if he will know that it will be seen by many solvent visitors. Now if we agree that chess has no audience then champions can continue begging at the church-porch, calling this process “looking for a sponsor”, but after all we shall have to declare chess a purely amateur game to be played while relaxing in the park. Such a prospect is evidently unacceptable for us, therefore we must prove that chess has its audience and make them pay.

Since it is so, let’s look whether chess always was supported by philanthropists or did the audience ever pay for it? Now it turns out that they paid! In the old days matches were played at a stake, and stakes were guaranteed with a subscription. A subscriber took the chance: in case of his favourite’s defeat he lost his money. But in case of his success he returned his stake plus 50%. The rest 50% made up prize funds. This method is applicable not only to a match, but to any contest. A standard stake for every participant should be collected. The simplest way to organise this at present is via Internet. The model is evident: organisers “design” a contest, arrange it with participants and open a site where subscribers make their stakes, paying through their credit cards. Naturally, stakes for favourites will be collected sooner. The problem will be how to guarantee the participation of outsiders. Now if all stakes are not collected by a set time, the contest should be cancelled, and organisers (holders of the funds) keep their interest. But if stakes are OK, then games of the tournament will be translated right on their site (nowhere else!), the site being accessible for subscribers only.

Unfortunately for chess, most of funs are residents of Russia, a country with a predominantly poor population, an underdeveloped banking system and bad Internet access. Probably this is one of the reasons for the present decline of our game: it turned out so in the twentieth century that chess became actually a part of the Russian culture, and when a nation suffers a crisis, its culture grows weaker too. Nothing can be done about this, we only can hope for better times.

I live in America, and I used to pay 20$ per day to see matches of the Europe Football Championship. This is called “Pay-per-view”. Am I ready to pay for a live translation of chess contests (and play in an original totalizator, at the same time)? If not, then I have other priorities and should not complain about the hard times of the chess world. By the way, chess is of course cheaper than football, and a minimal stake for a subscriber will be less.

It cannot be excepted that the offered method would gradually attract new supporters to chess, those who like different totalizators. They won’t be “real admirers”, but they should not be disregarded: they won’t destroy anything, they will only add new features to the image of chess and pay in additional money.

Probably even hopes of numerous worshippers of match duels will come true (this kind of contest is surely suffering a crisis). In the new market their favourite formula will be preferable, as organising a match for stakes is much easier than any other contest: only two stakes are required.

Are you ready to place your bets, sirs? Do remember: in the final analysis the audience should pay for any show.

"Chess is so interesting in itself, as not to need the view of gain to induce engaging in it;and thence it is never played for money."

Benjamin Franklin, "Chess made easy", 1802

"It is one of the insights of modern players, and especially of the best ones, that one has toplay the position itself, not some abstract idea of the position."

John Watson, "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy", 1998

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