Monday, September 6, 2010

The High Cost of Chess

  The Iowa Open was held in Ames, Iowa this past weekend and drew a fairly disappointing crowd of 44 people for the Open, Reserve (Rated under 1600), and Beginner (Under 1200). To give a comparison, last year’s tournament in Cedar Rapids drew 51 players without the beginner section, 82 in 2008 with a beginner section, and 78 in 2007 with a beginner section. The 2006 edition, also in Cedar Rapids drew only 41 players without a beginner section. The tournament is mandated by the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) to be held on Labor Day weekend and regularly drew over 100 people in the early part of the last decade when held in Iowa City.

  There are a number of reasons why the attendance is trending down. The fee to play in the open section of the tournament is around $45-$50. My son Matt went to play, but I could not see spending that kind of money for me to play in that tournament. Adding to the expense is the need for a hotel room since the open section is over 2 days. The reason the fee is so high is to offer a top prize ($300-$400) large enough to entice strong out of state players to travel to Iowa and compete. That is a good idea, but on Labor Day weekend for the past few years there has been stiff competition from the Illinois Open in Chicago which has an $80 entry fee and an $11,000 prize fund.

  The attendance at the beginner section is correlated to the strength of the local scholastic chess community and the relationship of the Iowa Open organizer to this community. The Iowa City tournaments were run at a time when there were 2 school clubs in the Iowa City and so there would be 60 or more players at the beginner tournament. The organizer of the 2007 and 2008 Opens was also the main organizer of the local scholastic chess tournaments in Cedar Rapids so there was reasonable scholastic tournament at his opens. Unfortunately, the recent Iowa Open in Ames was run by an organizer from Des Moines without the permission of the very territorial primary scholastic organizer. Suffice to say, there was minimal participation from the robust Ames chess scholastic community in the 16 player beginner section. To be fair to my friend from Ames it should be noted that the beginner section participants were asked to pay $10 for an IASCA membership in addition to their entry fee, which will also tend to hurt attendance.

  Most Iowa adult tournaments have a base of a group of 20 or so hard core players who will play in most every tournament they can and the not so hard core group who might play if the travel time, prize fund, time limit, and entry fee are to their liking. There have been lots of surveys of what the Iowa chess players want and there has never been a consensus on what will get the most players. Some players want quick time limits, others want long games. Some want low entry fees and others want large prize funds. With the exception of the $5 3 round Cychess tournaments in Ames, the adult tournaments in the state this year have all had at least a $20 entry fee and the beginner tournaments start at $10. I am having an open and beginner tournament in Marshalltown on October 9th with a $5 entry fee for everybody. There will be no cash prizes, just trophies and medals. I have a group of my local blitz players that will play and I’m interested in seeing how many of the gang of 20 I’ll attract to this 'anti-tournament'.