NORTH EDGEBROOK — Like most of Las Vegas' visitors, Sam Schmakel hopes to hit it big at one of the city's casinos.
But the 18-year-old Whitney Young graduate has a different plan of attack from the usual craps tables, slots and sports books. Instead the North Edgebrook resident would like to win tons of cash at the Millionaire Chess Open from Thursday to Oct. 13 at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
The event, organized by entrepreneur Amy Lee and chess Grand Master Maurice Ashley, is being billed as having the biggest prize fund in chess history.
"It’s a lot of fun playing in tournaments with giant prize funds, especially one where I think I can win," Schmakel said. "There's a big incentive to win in this tournament. Everyone will be playing well, on top of their game."
Justin Breen says Schmakel could come back with $100,000:
Schmakel, who paid $1,000 to enter the tournament, will be competing in the Open Division against some of the world's best players from 42 different countries. That includes 20-year-old Grand Master Wesley So, of the Philippines, who has the event's highest rating of 2855. The victor will claim $100,000, with the runner-up earning $50,000.
"He's definitely not one of the top guys, but he hopes to be a spoiler," said Schmakel's mother, Eileen.
Schmakel, who has the rank of FIDE Master — one notch below the top-ranked Grand Master — has a rating of 2435. That also slots him in the event's 2350-2499 rating competition, which runs concurrently with the Open Division and has a first prize is $40,000.
"Sam definitely has a chance for a prize. How big? I don't know," said Dmitry Gurevich, Schmakel's chess teacher since he was 6 years old.
Schmakel, who has accrued five national championships and helped the Dolphins win three state titles, learned about chess in preschool after watching older children play the game at nearby Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles.
In kindergarten, Schmakel started to hone his skills in a chess program at the Edgebrook Library, which led to lessons from Gurevich, a Grand Master from Moscow who now lives in University Village.
"Sam is very talented. You can't call him great, yet. ... I am not great yet, either," Gurevich said.
Schmakel saved the money for the tournament's entry fee and plane ticket to Las Vegas by doing tuckpointing and other brick repair all summer for his father Art's company.
Schmakel is leaving Wednesday after his school day at University of Illinois at Chicago, which he entered as a sophomore because of all the Advanced Placement credit he earned at Whitney Young. The bio-engineering major is taking a 6 a.m. return flight on Oct. 14, so he won't miss his classes that day.
Schmakel, whose biggest prize was $12,000 in a 2012 tournament, hopes his time away from school pays off.
"Hopefully I can represent Chicago well," he said.
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