Inspired by this excellent Mr. Cranky Old Chess Player (er, Reassembler) (EDITED: That should be Crabby Old Chess Player) post and cheered on by the comments there, I hereby get back to blogging with my explication of:
The Corrosive Effects of Money on Good Chess, or, Why I Never Went Back to the World Open, Wherein I Observed a Most Remarkable Phenomenon.
The "corrosive effects" were actually brought to my attention some years before the World Open discovery, around 1982-3. In those days the New York Open was as big or bigger than the World, and Chess Life had an article with a last round game from New York where one GM "played to lose" in a drawn Rook ending--the explanation was something like "a win was worth $6,000 to GM X, a draw put him in a 14-way tie for 5th place and $98.17, and a loss was worth nothing." So "game theory" said to play for a win, I guess. However, it certainly made for ugly, awful chess.
I attended the World Open in Philly back in 1990, and actually had a pretty good time, though as I recall my score was moderately terrible at 2.5 out of 9 games. What was very noticeable was that the winners of the big pots in all the "class" sections were guys with very "foreign" names. In other words, sandbaggers from other countries, Experts playing in Class B, who had beaten out our homegrown sandbaggers, who had merely dropped a few games at the club to go from 1850 to 1794. I understand that various and sundry methods have been devised to prevent this over the years, but I had seen enough.
The tournament was fun, the chess was fun, the people were fun, but I never played in another really "big money" event. I did play in several of the "Weikel" tournaments in Reno, great family-run events with pretty good prizes and plenty of GMs in the Open, but with money for top ten or so in every class, not so skewed to 'first place or nothing." Little sandbagging, little pressure.
Nowadays my ideal of a weekend tournament would be a $20 entry and the opportunity to win $100 for first, or maybe a $7 quad and winner takes all minus ratings fees. The funny thing is, for me rated games are serious, regardless of the money, and any big money just distorts the chess. If I was playing one game for thousands of dollars not only would it be tense, it would be work. The result would be all, the chess, nothing. The joy of sacrificing a piece for a speculative attack...are you kidding?!
Going to the big Opens is, for most, just gambling. If you are willing to just drop the entry fee and play chess, have at it--that's the only way to have fun in a casino. If you go into it calculating what you could buy with first money, well you may possibly walk away with something, but don't expect to have a whale of a good time.