Charity Chess: Using Chess to Help Others

by Vanessa Sun
6/1/2017 – When fifteen grandmasters pledge their support to a chess tournament, chess players pay attention. The first Charity Chess Championship promised a tournament of epic proportions: a typical quad tournament, a tandem simul with GMs Robert Hess and Marc Arnold, a Grandmaster Blitz tournament, raffles, and silent auctions. Organization costs aside, all the proceeds went to a nonprofit called Band of Parents, which funds treatments and therapies for neuroblastoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the tournament was truly a charitable cause. | Photos: Vanessa Sun

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Raising cash for cancer research

The tournament was the brain child of ten-year-old Daniel Mero, a fourth grader at Columbia Grammar & Preparation School, who learned chess in kindergarten as the school curriculum mandates. After he asked the school coach, a tournament organizer named Sophia Rohde, and received support from his coach, NM John MacArthur, the effort was soon joined by Danny Rohde, GMs Michael Rohde, Joel Benjamin, and Marc Arnold, after which the tournament took form.

Seventy players showed up to play in the quads, including some top scholastic players in the USA. There was a good mix of adults and children, as there always is at tournaments. As those happened, several chess DVDs and books were raffled off and silent auction bidding was underway.

Chessboards signed by Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen were raffled off in a silent auction

It wasn't only chess items though, and here one can see two tickets to see a New York Knicks game

The top quad was a stiff competition between FM Hans Niemann, NM Brandon Jacobson, NM Nico Chasin, and Sophie Morris-Suzuki.

NM Jacobson won it all, enabling him to play in the Grandmaster Blitz

Happening at the same time as the quads was a twenty-eight board tandem simul with GMs Hess and Arnold.

Expert Nate Shuman drew the grandmasters along with one other simul player

The simul lasted around three hours, yielding two draws and the rest wins for the grandmasters. “I thought this tournament was a great idea and that they should get as many people here as possible to support a great cause. It’s been really fun so far,” said GM Marc Arnold about the experience. “Robert was the first person I wanted to do my first ever tandem simul with!” After three hours of simul play, though, the Grandmaster Blitz would surely not be an easy task for him. That’s the sacrifice you make as a generous grandmaster sometimes, I suppose!

The Meros pick lucky winners

The next big event was the picking for the remaining spots to play in the Grandmaster Blitz tournament and the results of the Silent Auctions. One spot to play in the blitz was up for grabs by raffle, three were by silent auction, and one of the other quad winners was also randomly selected to participate. Announcements were made a grand affair, with Daniel Mero and his parents, Scott and Nora, picking the names on a stage.

Scott Mero (middle) with GMs Robert Hess (left) and Marc Arnold before the simul

FM Alisa Melekhina was the proud winner of a basketball signed by Stephen Curry, but many walked away with cool prizes such as a Play Magnus chess set signed by Magnus Carlsen and lessons from a select few grandmasters.

Then the time came for an ultimate blitz challenge that was fun for the spectators and the players alike

15 GMs played in the GM Blitz: Marc Arnold, Oliver Barbosa, Joel Benjamin, Anatoly Bykhovsky, Pascal Charbonneau, Max Dlugy, John Fedorowicz, Alex Fishbein, Robert Hess, Mackenzie Molner, Magesh Panchanathan, Mark Paragua, Arun Prasad, Michael Rohde, and Vladimir Romanenko. (click image for full-size)

GM Joel Benjamin vs Magesh Chandran

The USCF blitz rated tournament was a fast paced, brutal competition that lasted seven rounds. Spectators came in droves but observed in silence, thrilled at the opportunity to watch such a show.

GM Maxim Dlugy was a slight cut above the rest. His reward was a giant wooden king that resembled the Sinquefield Cup trophy.

GM Maxim Dlugy with his trophy, Sophia Rohde, Scott Mero and Daniel Mero

The day ended with smiles as the organizers wrapped up the charity fun. Underneath it all was the satisfaction of having run a charitable tournament successfully, excitement at the mystery amount raised, and hope for the next installment, which will raise money toward breast cancer research or treatments. This year’s Charity Chess Championship yielded almost $20,000.

“We thought it was an exciting, unique, and meaningful event,” concluded Scott Mero about the event. “It was a wonderful exhibition of chess and generosity.”

Daniel Mero takes on GM Mackenzie Molner in the GM Blitz

Daniel Mero added, “I thought the event was a lot of fun… I’m glad we were able to use chess to help other people. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my parents, the incredible tournament staff, and the grandmasters, who all volunteered their time, as well as all the people who came to support an important cause. I look forward to doing this again next year.”

To donate or learn more about the event, go to

Vanessa is an avid chess fan and freelance chess journalist. She writes for Chess Life, Chess^Summit, US Chess, and more. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter | Photo: David Llada


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