Chess Festival Plan

Below is a plan I have for a new idea in Australian Chess ... the Victorian Chess Festival!
Yes, its rather long, rather involved & will not be to everyone's taste ... but try to stick with it if you can ...
I've come up with this idea after various thoughts about chess and chess events, and in particular how they are organised & run in Australia & around the world. I've also thought about what has worked in other sports, games & events & tried to bring the ideas that I think would work in a chess setting to this plan.
The starting point can be seen in the Australian Open Ideas page, along with the associated Australian Open Images page, but I have developed the idea a little more & thought about how it could work as an actual festival of chess, rather than simply a one-off event.
One big advantage I see with a Festival of Chess, rather than just a special event or two is the additional possibilities it opens up in terms of marketing & sponsorship that might not be available otherwise. Consider things from a potential sponsor's perspective. Would you rather have your company brand associated with an event that might have 200 participants, 50 live spectators & 200 online spectators (such as an event like an Australian Championships, Doeberl Cup or other big Australian event) over the course of a week, or have something that lasts for a few months, has potentially thousands of participants, a website that is active & being viewed for months, as well as potentially hundreds or more live spectators?

Still with me on this? ...

So how does this idea compare with other things that may have been tried before?
Let's look at things that didn't really work ...

The Hornsby Series of Chess was an ill-fated attempt at a weekend 'chess festival' by the guys who used to do Chess Crazy Talk. There were a number of reasons why this event failed (event one on Friday night was run as a 6 player double round robin, after which the remaining events were cancelled):
Sponsorship seemed to be non-existent. The only thing that may have been included as 'sponsorship' was potentially a rent-free venue at Asquith Leagues Club.
Advertising seemed to be done solely online, although there may have been some flyers distributed in Sydney, so there was a limit to the potential audience who would know about the event (those that liked their Facebook page & those on ChessChat & OzChess).
Events on offer were much better suited to online play (eg: bughouse with promotions, but promoted pawns/queens return to pawns when passed to partner)
Prizes were not announced, so players had no idea of what they were playing for
In short, the event was destined to fail from the outset.

2005 Australian Open & Australian Junior at Mount Buller.
This was one of the most controversial events in recent memory in Australian chess. In principle, it was a  fantastic idea - an area which is a seasonal holiday destination being utilised in the 'low' season to host a chess tournament - which has been used in a number of major events overseas.
However there were various issues which plagued the tournament almost from the moment the idea was created, and it has left a bad taste in the mouths of many chess players in the Australian chess community.
Advertising & Publicity was a major issue, particularly when added to the change of organiser after the event was first announced. Many players were unsure if the event was going ahead, if it was, who to contact in regards to it & there was a general level of uncertainty amongst the chess community before the event began.
Broken Promises were an issue from many sides, with people often saying that something would be done or made available, but then changing their mind. This was partly responsible for the change in organiser & seemed to be a general concern throughout both the planning & running of the tournament. I think a simple philosophy of only promising what you can definitely deliver, and following through on things that have been promised is an easy way to deal with this issue, but it seems that many involved in the Mount Buller events were more concerned with talking up their ideas & expectations rather than keeping them in the realm of reality.

Let's compare this with how a chess festival has worked well overseas ...

Wijk Aan Zee is a tournament held each year in the Netherlands in the small seaside town of Wijk Aan Zee. It has had a storied history, running in most years since 1938 & featuring a number of the world's top players of the day. So what makes this event so special & successful?
Sponsorship The tournament is run with major sponsorship from mining company Tata Steel (previously known as Corus & Hoogovens, which were names given to the tournament), as well as a number of other minor sponsors. This allows the tournament to attract the top players in the world, which attracts plenty of others in the chess community, as well as a level of media coverage which is rare for chess tournaments (albeit largely restricted to the chess community).
Location The tournament has been held in the same part of the Netherlands (north-west of Amsterdam) since it began. It may have moved physical location a few times over the years (initially being run in the town of Beverwijk in its early years before moving to its current home in Wijk Aan Zee), but it is in the same country, in the same area, year in & year out. Players from around the world know where the event will be held, as well as that the top players will be attending, so you have an interested audience & group of participants before the event has even begun!
Format The format of the tournament is one that appeals to a range of chess players. The top divisions are round robin events, which is the general preference of top players, as they can prepare for their opponents before the tournament, rather than having to forego preparation altogether, or do some the night before a game once an opponent has been identified. Alongside the 'Masters' events, there are other rating-based round robin event or large swiss events, which cater to the average chess player, giving them a chance to play a range of opponents, as well as having the opportunity to see their chess heroes playing in the same hall.
Playing hall at Wijk Aan Zee:
The London Chess Classic is a relatively new festival on the chess calendar, but it has already established itself as an outstanding event in its relatively short history.
Location & Venue The event has been held at the Olympia Conference Centre in Kensington, which is within 30 minutes from the centre of London, one of the world's great cities! London itself is a wonderful tourist destination all year round & the venue is a magnificent facility which is extensively utilised during the festival.
Variety of Events One thing that sets the London Chess Classic apart from many other chess festivals is that it truly is a festival of chess, with a range of events & activities for chess players & enthusiasts of all ages & levels. This gets a range of people interested & involved in the event, as well as making it a more media-friendly event, which attracts further interest.
Internet coverage The online coverage of the event is simply outstanding & features live video commentary, other videos & photos, as well as the usual range of coverage including results, games, reports & the like. This is fantastic for those who are unable to get to the venue, however the range of events & activities at the venue itself makes it well worth attending live.
Innovation The organisers of the London Classic are not afraid to try new things, including modifying formats & adding new events. The main event has been a traditional round robin, a round robin with a bye (which has allowed the player with the bye to be involved in the live commentary), as well as a rapid play event. The festival has also seen activities such as celebrity events, simultaneous displays, schools events, seminars & a number of other activities which are not always standard fare at chess tournaments.

Pro-Celebrity Challenge at the London Chess Classic:

Main auditorium in London used for Masters events, with plenty of room for spectators:
Playing hall for other events in London:

The Gibraltar Chess Festival is another overseas event that has become the standard for a chess festival which is based around a large open event, again in spite of it only being on the chess calendar this century.
Location The chess festival at Gibraltar is another example of a summer holiday destination being used during the 'off season' for a chess event. It has also been held since its creation at the Caleta Hotel, giving players a familiar destination for their tournament each year.
Internet Coverage Given the similarities in appearance & layout, I wouldn't be surprised if the same team were behind the website for both the Gibraltar & London Classic tournaments. The website features videos, photos, reports, plus the usual results & games that one would expect from such a chess tournament.
Prize Money This is what attracts many top Grandmasters to the event, which in turn attracts many non-grandmasters to the event. There are a number of open prizes, as well as many rating groups, meaning all players have a chance of winning a prize if they perform well in the event.
Format The large open format gives all players an opportunity to play against Grandmasters if they win enough games. This can be a big incentive for non-master players to attend the tournament. The Swiss format used (standard for large open events) is very good at determining a tournament winner, but also allows players to recover if they have an early setback, so has some appeal to the higher rated players who are in contention for the overall prizes.

Playing hall at Gibraltar:

Internet coverage at Gibraltar, with live games, video commentary & sponsor logos:
Of course chess is not the only activity that ideas can be drawn from. Some other areas include tennis, with events such as the Australian Open having more than just the tennis itself on offer. There's activities at Melbourne Park away from the tennis courts themselves, merchandising, excellent website coverage of the event, television coverage (which I wouldn't expect to see for chess), mobile phone apps & plenty more on offer - it attracts sponsors & spectators & is generally very successful.
Poker is another game that has developed a huge following in recent years, with the World Series of Poker growing enormously in size since its creation in 1970. This is another event which to some extent is held in a holiday destination off season, being held in Las Vegas in the summer. It is a true festival of poker, with a range of poker variants being played over the course of the month & a half of the series. There is also television coverage, online coverage (both official & authorised), merchandise, seminars, promotional opportunities & plenty of other things related to the series - and in fact multiple casinos in Las Vegas host poker tournaments during this time of year.
Plenty of other sports utilise the ideas of merchandising, additional activities, online promotion & the like to further establish their product & a connection to the product with fans. Obvious examples of this are cricket, with the development of T20 in competitions such as the Big Bash, IPL, etc, and motorsport, with its range of sponsorship options on display in particular, from sponsor patches on driver uniforms, to logos on car livery, to merchandising & cross-promotional activities.
Turning back to chess, one person who is involved in many of the best chess tournaments & their internet coverage is Lennart Ootes. I met Lennart at the 2013 Australasian Masters & he has been involved in the internet coverage at a number of top level tournaments, such as Wijk Aan Zee & Gibraltar 
Below is a picture of Lennart (in the red & black on the right) at work in the commentary room in Gibraltar, while Stuart Conquest, Elizabeth Paehtz & Nigel Short present a Master Class.
He also has a website with some interesting ideas about the presentation of chess generally: He also has particular ideas about chess websites which is also an interesting read:
All of this goes to the importance of the Website & Internet coverage. How can this be enhanced?
The use of small webcams can bring the action online in ways previously unseen to the normal viewer. This sort of coverage can be used to enhance the online coverage of an event
Additional cameras unobtrusively placed at tables in Wijk Aan Zee:  

Cameras also at top boards in Gibraltar. Also note the placement of sponsor signs:
Original Image:

An example of this in action is the website commentary & coverage from Round 10 of the 2014 Wijk Aan Zee - there are cameras in the commentary room, at some of the individual boards, as well as movable cameras that can give viewers a picture of the entire playing hall. These cameras add to the coverage provided & can be complemented by analysis from the commentators.

Player patches for sponsorship & endorsements are starting to be used more in top level events these days, but this rarely translates below the elite in the chess world. Below we can see Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand & Sergey Karjakin with various sponsor logos & patches on their clothing:

Magnus Carlsen at Bilbao in 2011:

Vishy Anand at a press conference in 2013:

Sergey Karjakin at Wijk Aan Zee in 2014:

Another logical place for sponsor logos is in the commentary or Press conference area. In addition, the backdrop of tables provides another opportunity for sponsors to have their name advertised.

Sponsor logos on display in the live commentary area at the World Championship in 2013:
Another consideration is the current rotational policy for ACF tournaments. Personally I don't like the policy, particularly for the Championships & Open Events (there is more logic in rotating the Juniors & Schools events), however the rotation is an aspirational aim rather than a forced thing, but it does still need to be taken into consideration.


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