Celebrity chess tournaments

by Alexey Root
10/17/2020 – In 1988, eight Hollywood celebrities, including Erik Estrada and William Windom, played in a Los Angeles chess tournament. Although Michał Kanarkiewicz had never heard of that 1988 celebrity chess tournament, he created the 2019 “Chess Championship of the Stars” in Poland. WIM Alexey Root tells how both celebrity chess tournaments, 31 years and thousands of miles apart, promoted chess. | Pictured: Michał Kanarkiewicz with Anatoly Karpov at the airport in Warsaw

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Stars play chess too

Erik EstradaIn 1988, Erik Estrada [pictured] was a celebrity, having portrayed highway patrol officer Frank Poncherello in the highly-successful television series CHiPs from 1977 to 1983. Estrada and seven other celebrities played in a three-round, game-in-30, one-day chess tournament, alongside the three-day-long Memorial Day Classic. The latter drew 413 chess players, including a 155-player Open section led by four GMs and five IMs. As John Hillery reported for Chess Life (September 1988 issue, download here), “Between rounds? Something for everyone: a lecture by Walter Browne, the ever-youthful George Koltanowski with his tall tales and Knight’s tour, a magician, a celebrity tournament, a blitz tournament and a demonstration of the new ‘Chessbase’ computer program.”

The 1988 Memorial Day Classic was won by GMs Larry Christiansen and Walter Browne and IM Jack Peters. About the side-event celebrity chess tournament, Peters said, “I think this kind of thing is good for chess; it’s good to let the players know that stars play, too.”

Celebrity chess, Polish edition

As of 2019, ChessBase is no longer a new computer program but in its 15th edition. Although organizing a celebrity chess tournament is also not a new idea, having one with Polish stars is novel. Michał Kanarkiewicz was born in 1995 and had never heard of the 1988 celebrity chess tournament. Yet, like the 1988 Los Angeles organizers, Kanarkiewicz wanted to show that chess has something to offer everyone, including stars. Moreover, it’s exciting for chess players to realize that their favorite celebrities love chess, just as they do. 

The “Chess Championship of Stars” received a lot of attention in the Polish press, including this article. The tournament took place on November 27, 2019, at a prestigious venue, the PGE Narodowy in Warsaw. Participants included a television weather forecaster and a champion ballroom dancer. The tournament was won by actor Sławomir Doliniec. International Arbiter and IM Andrzej Filipowicz, better known as the chief arbiter at the 2014 Anand-Carlsen World Chess Championship match, was the tournament director.

Poland, chess

The “Chess Championship of Stars” took place in Warsaw

Interview with Michał Kanarkiewicz

AR (Alexey Root): How did you come up with the idea for the “Chess Championship of Stars”?

MK (Michał Kanarkiewicz): There are a lot of events for celebrities, for example in football, tennis, and golf. But there are not so many celebrity activities revolving around chess. Therefore, I decided to create and organize the first Chess Championship of Stars. I started with no prior experience in such events, and with no budget and with few contacts. But I knew that chess is a game that is interesting, valuable, and very ennobling for the stars in question.

AR: How did you decide on which celebrities to contact, and how did you convince them to participate?

MK: From researching on Google and on social media, I found 100 celebrities that have some connections with chess. For example, they played with friends, or they were playing chess in their childhoods, or their children are playing chess. Then I contacted them. Of course, with no budget, I was sure that it would be hard to invite them. Especially in 2019, before COVID-19, the stars usually attended events only if they received some remuneration. Moreover, some of them had conflicts on the tournament’s date. In the end, there were 12 stars ready to play.

AR: How does “Chess Championship of Stars” fit with your goals?

Michał KanarkiewiczMK: I invested my own money to create this event, because I truly believe that this kind of project will help popularize chess in Poland. However, the Chess Championship of Stars also made me more popular. In the last few months, I was able to give chess lessons to Polish sportsmen such as Karol Bielecki and Krzysztof Ignaczak.

Nine months after the Chess Championship of Stars, I had the huge pleasure of being a co-host — with FIDE Vice President Lukasz Turlej, President of Silesian Chess Federation Andrzej Matusiak, Mokate CEO Adam Mokrysz, and the CEO of BNP Paribas Bank Polska Przemek Gdanski — of former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov’s visit to Poland (Ustron and Warsaw). In Karpov’s simultaneous exhibition in honor of Mokate’s 30 anniversary, mentioned in ChessBase’s article on Chess and Coffee, I drew Karpov after a tough fight. That game will stay with me forever. 



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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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MABER MABER 10/20/2020 09:14
Congratulations! "Chess Championship of the Stars" it's a great initiative and Michał is a person who is doing a lot for popularization chess.
Sajmon Sajmon 10/19/2020 10:42
Good Job Michał :D
wiktorjodlowski wiktorjodlowski 10/19/2020 11:31
Well done, Michał! :)
Aneta Opala Aneta Opala 10/19/2020 08:59
Fantastic project in which I had the pleasure to participate. As it turns out, movie and sports stars have been playing chess for years. I strongly believe that the mass popularization of the "game of kings" will bring tangible benefits to the society in the form of strategic thinking. Michał - great job. Congratulations on the idea.
graand graand 10/18/2020 07:15
I have no idea who these people are... Ah, yes - so called celebrities ...
MatthewInkwell MatthewInkwell 10/18/2020 03:50
I feel that it is crucial to integrate people and elements of pop-culture into Chess. Many people will not get engaged with a thing unless someone 'well-known' e.g. a public figure, introduces it to them.

Splendid work Michal, hope to hear about your next moves in the future!
MichalKanarkiewicz MichalKanarkiewicz 10/18/2020 12:44
Thank you ChessBase and WIM Alexey Root for inviting me to cooperate! :) Dear Readers: You are welcome to ask questions. I'll be happy to answer :)

Best regards from Poland
Michal Kanarkiewicz
Marzena Marzena 10/18/2020 11:51
Congrats Michał! I belive its just a beginning and there is more initiatives like that coming . Well deserved success, resulting from passion and hard work.
LeszekB LeszekB 10/18/2020 11:39
Great project and really creative way to promote chess among wider audience. I think that these kind of ideas can make chess more popular and trendy. Good work!
JoannaS JoannaS 10/18/2020 11:36
Congratulations Michał, great initiative! I keep my fingers crossed for your next successes.
Barbara DK Barbara DK 10/18/2020 11:01
Bardzo ciekawy artykuł i interesująca inicjatywa. Brawo Michale. Trzymam kciuki za kolejne niesamowite wyzwania.
Apot Apot 10/18/2020 10:56
Congratulations Michał, Great article 😀
Aghb Aghb 10/18/2020 10:35
Congratulations to Michał, we're waiting for more
ChesslessMess ChesslessMess 10/18/2020 10:25
Great initiative, congrats to the organizers!
Pawel K Pawel K 10/18/2020 10:07
Interesting article. Congratulations Michał :)
Gracjana Gracjana 10/18/2020 09:26
I remember Michał telling me about this idea for the first time. Bravo. I keep my fingers crossed that the next editions will be as big as the one from 1988!
TheBan TheBan 10/18/2020 12:58
Great article!
PhishMaster PhishMaster 10/18/2020 12:17
If you are not from Poland, you have no idea who these people are, so a listing under the picture would be in order.
Dawidw11 Dawidw11 10/18/2020 12:00
The chess event in Poland was a really bold idea. Congratulations on your success!
SlawoCzu SlawoCzu 10/17/2020 11:21
The ammount of the fantastic work Michał puts to promote chess in Poland is very much impresive. And he does it in modern, gentle and classy manner. Does not matter if this is an event, his chess related book or speach - he is a true professional. Thanks for the story!
Marta Wojtera Marta Wojtera 10/17/2020 10:50
I am impressed and happy to see it, but not surprised at all. Everything Michał Kanarkiewicz puts his time into, turns into a success. Passion for chess and brain for business, simply!
Sylwia_K Sylwia_K 10/17/2020 10:38
Congratulations Michał! Hope soon we are going to meet during second edition "Chess Champinship of Stars"!