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Chess Championship Fails to Move City

By Ted Cox | June 5, 2014 8:15am
 The city appears to have little interest in playing host to the world chess championship.
The city appears to have little interest in playing host to the world chess championship.
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Flickr/Dan Zen

CITY HALL — If it's Chicago's move to bid for the world chess championship, it appears the city is content to simply let the clock run out.

The Tribune suggested in a recent editorial that Chicago aspire to become a "chess mecca" by bidding $5 million to play host to the title rematch between Magnus Carlsen of Norway and former champ Viswanathan Anand of India, scheduled to take place in November.

Yet Choose Chicago, the city's designated tourism driver, says it has no plans to pursue the match.

"I wouldn’t categorize it as a ridiculous idea, but I can assure you that it is not an event we are currently bidding on," Choose Chicago spokeswoman Meghan Risch said.

"Chicago has a strong and supportive chess community," added Catherine Turco, spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "While the city is not currently pursuing the chess world championship, we are always looking for new opportunities to showcase our world-class city to a global audience, increase tourism and boost the local economy."

Choose Chicago recently backed an international rugby match between the USA Eagles and the New Zealand All Blacks set for Nov. 1 at Soldier Field, but the logistics of organizing a world-title chess match over three weeks would be relatively complicated by comparison — at an estimated cost of $5 million, with about three-quarters of that going to the purse to be divided up between the two competitors.

It is also unlikely the city would recoup that investment, as tickets for chess would likely not sell as well as a single rugby match at Soldier Field.

"It's not a good thing for the city. It's a terrific money loser," said Jerry Neugarten of the Illinois Chess Association. He added that the ICA board hadn't met since the editorial proposal, and wouldn't meet until later this month, but there appeared to be no ground swell of support for the idea.

"It isn't the way I would spend the city's money," Neugarten added. Better, at what would certainly be less cost to taxpayers, would be the chess program proposed for Chicago Public Schools, which Neugarten said was still under consideration.

"The City of Chicago still to this day cannot put together a CPS-wide chess program to introduce chess in the schools," said Sevan Muradian, founder of ChessIQ in Skokie, which routinely holds top tournaments, including the 2010 World Amateur Championships. "So they cannot address a matter that is in their own backyard much less going out onto the world arena."

Muradian said that because "there is no easy mechanism to identify routes for monetization or recouping costs," it would take a private or corporate sponsor to provide the funding.

The leading world chess organization, known by its French acronym FIDE, requested bids on the title match by the end of April, but no city volunteered to meet the estimated $5 million in costs. FIDE last said that "a further announcement will be made ... in due course."

Carlsen won the title from Anand last year in Chennai, India, which put up 1.85 million euros, or about $2.5 million, for the prize money, plus a 20 percent contribution to FIDE and paying all organizational costs.

And for those contemplating the economic impact of the match, how many people — chess fans or not — are now vacationing in Chennai because of it? "There aren't tourists by the boatload" following chess, Muradian acknowledged.

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