"Pushing Wood", an IndieGoGo project

by Albert Silver
1/6/2015 – The idea of turning chess into a grandiose spectacle, and players into household names with paychecks to match, is the Caissa version of the American Dream. A new documentary in the making, "Pushing Wood", is precisely on this topic. They are listed as the latest IndieGoGo project, and are seeking help to fund it. See what you can do, and don't miss the impressive trailer.

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Pushing Wood is a documentary about today's culture of competitive chess, a culture unlike any other in sports, one that demands endless preparation, induces endless psychological stress, and pays very little.  What's it like to try and make it as a professional chess player in the 21st century?  Why is it that a game played by 600 million people worldwide has been unable to break out of its nerdy bubble?  And is it possible that a promoter from Brooklyn with some big ideas -- and some unabashedly American showmanship -- might finally rebrand chess as the next great spectator sport? 

The trailer of the documentary, showcasing the talent and technical proficiency of the filmmakers

Maurice Ashley has been called the Don King of Chess. He's charming. He's brash. And he's unafraid to rock the boat. He'll tell anyone who will listen that he thinks chess needs a makeover. It's a stance that has fueled resentment in certain circles. Some of the old guard cringe at the thought of corporate sponsors and television deals.  

The broadcast production of the Millionaire Chess Open

Some believe that chess shouldn't be played for money at all, but Maurice is charging in the opposite direction. He wants to shake off the game's high-brow image and appeal to the masses. His proof of concept: a $1,000 buy-in tournament held in the most American of locales: the Las Vegas Strip. The format worked wonders for poker, turning The World Series of Poker into a phenomenon complete with an ESPN deal. Ashley is banking his Millionaire Chess Open can do the same for chess.

Filming on the Strip in Las Vegas

What's life like as a professional chess player? In short, it's a grind. In Vegas, we hear firsthand from some of the tournament favorites: Cristian Chirila, Alejandro Ramirez, Wesley So, and Timur Gareev. All four grandmasters are promising young talents, yet all are considering careers beyond the chess world. They have to. There's no money in the game. That's what drew all of them to Vegas. They're eager to fight for a piece of that $1,000,000 purse and they're desperate for Maurice's grand vision to become a reality. Why wouldn't they? He wants to make them wealthy, household names. 

The dream: fame and fortune, and sponsorship deals with big brands

As the filmmakers explain, if you've watched their intro video, you know they've already shot the first part of the story. They want to raise $50,000 so they can finish shooting the planned project. That would mean spending more time with Maurice to explore his formative years in Brooklyn and following him on his roadshow of pitch meetings (to corporate sponsors, television networks, and chess clubs) in the run-up to his second Vegas event. In addition, continue shooting with some of the key figures from the Vegas event, such as the players: Wesley, Timur, Alejandro, as well as some of the commentators, and finally shoot at the US Championships in the second trimester.

The money raised would also help cover other production costs, too (expensive ones) such as licensing archival film from the Fischer-Spassky showdown in '72, which ushered in the last (and only) chess boom in America.

Click here to see more on the "Pushing Wood" project, and make your own contribution

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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