Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Meeting Bobby Fischer In Iceland: One Year Later
Shown here is Grandmaster Fridrik Olaffson of Iceland, then a youthful 71 years old, holding in his hand the "$20,000 Archbishop" that Bobby Fischer indentured him to retrieve, forcing him to drive across town to pick up what I had inadvertently left out of the Gothic Chess set I had given to him.
As promised, today I will disclose ALL of the events leading up to the match we had planned between Anatoly Karpov and Bobby Fischer himself... stay tuned for updates...
How it all started...
It was shortly after Garry Kasparov announced his retirement from chess on March 10, 2005, that the thought crossed my mind: "Wouldn't it be cool if I could get him to take a look at Gothic Chess?"
I called the United States Chess Federation and spoke with Joan DuBois, who I had known as the friendly woman who was in charge of the Correspondence Chess Department back in the 1980's when I used to play chess by mail. Not email, we would actualy write moves on postcards and send them to one another! Anyone, I swept one section with a perfect score one year, and she was nice enough to congratulate me on one of the result cards I would get in the mail. Joan was friendly on the phone as well, and she actually remembered my name from over 16 years ago, so I was very much impressed. While she did not know how to contact Kasparov, she knew someone who did know and she put me in touch with him.
It may have been Phil Innes, or maybe Glen Peterson, the sands of time have blurred this memory for me over 2 years later. Anyway, one of them suggested that I get in touch with Owen Williams if I wanted to reach Kasparov. Owen was Garry's Business Manager, who had an office in Florida. They did offer me some advice: Have something tangible ready for Owen, or be prepared for a "No" independent of what else followed.
Originally I was just wanted Garry to mention Gothic Chess and GothicChess.com in any upcoming interview he might give. My proposal was "money for mention." No commitment to play the game of Gothic Chess, no endorsement, no strategic alignment of any kind: just something simple.
So I called Owen William's number. I reached voicemail about half a dozen times before I finally spoke with him. He was very pleasant on the phone, and he had a Londoner's accent. Before I could fully describe my proposal, he did interrupt me a few times. I took this in stride and remained patient, although I could tell this was more "posturing", as if he wanted me to conclude "I am way buiser than you" or something to that effect.
Before I allowed this puerile power struggle to go too far, I interjected that I "had to go" and he immediately grew quiet. My impression was that he was stunned that somebody elected to put him off. He stammered something, and I said "I'll call you when you seem ready to acknowledge the legitimacy of my offer." and I abruptly hung up.
This was probably not "good business sense" but it may have had a psychological payoff. He called back an hour later and apologized for all of the interruptions. I simply said "Will you be able to talk tomorrow at 8 AM sharp?" Again, dead calm. He said "Yes, I'll make sure of it."
This accomplished two things.
1. I was in the driver's seat in terms of his own attempt to make me feel somehow less important with his interrupt-driven communication style. I have met countless people like this during my consulting days in Manhattan. People just love to answer their cells phones as if the caller is in dire need of information only they have, and everyone within earshot must pay homage to them by insisting the call is of greater importance than their present company. This is one reason why I never carry a cell phone.
2. I just bought myself 16 hours to think about what I wanted to offer. Fortunately, I had just sold my oversized house in an upscale Montgomery County neighborhood a few months prior and I still had some surplus from that. A quick check of the savings account and the Gothic Chess bank account and my share of the profits revealed I probably couldn't dump more than $50,000 into this project without upsetting the applecart, so I decided to put my 1981 DeLorean up for sale.
I called Owen at 8:01 and he picked up on the second ring. I told him I only had 3 minutes to go over my offer, so I needed him to let me finish uninterrupted. I spoke quickly, and said something like: "Owen, I know Garry has been inundated with requests to come back to chess, guest appearances, and things of this nature. This is what I want: Should he ever be asked a question such as 'What will you do next?' or 'What are you doing now?' I would like him to say: 'Well, I am looking at the game of Gothic Chess for the time being, which I saw at the wesbite GothicChess.com ...' and then let him segue into whatever he wishes to say next. Notice this is no endorsement, it doesn't even say he likes the game or has any connection to it. I will pay him $75,000 if that quote makes it into the New York Times and Time Magazine."
I paused. Owen paused. Then he said: "I see. So what is this game then?"
I went on to explain it in very curt sentences, yet he still managed to find a means to interrupt. It was his turn to get in a few tugs in this tug-of-war.
He was non-commital in general. Always polite, sometimes talking at great length, he would mention this to Garry if I would put it in writing. I asked for his fax number, and he laughed, responding:
"You are telling me your offer is not too serious if you just want to fax it to me. I would expect a formalized proposal on company letterhead, signed by your Board of Trustees, at the very least."
I grew slightly ill-tempered for a moment. I said: "Owen, there is a 72 hour halo that surrounds Mr. Kasparov. Beyond this time, the media will stop the obsequious quoting of his every utterance. I want to get something to you quickly to put in front of Garry. He can make $75,000 within a 10 second window, what will your cut of this be?"
He got the point, but I was too brutal with my barbs. I could tell. He merely said "Let me get back to you on this one."
And with that, the conversation ended.
The call back...
There was no call back for 2 days. What should I do? I knew Owen was testing my "72 hour halo" remark. I began "parallel processing", trying to discover if there was any other way to reach Kasparov...
I was about to call him at noon of this second day, when the phone rang. It was Owen. Pleasant, and cheerful, I really thought he was going to accept. Then came the: "... but Mr. Kasparov has informed me that his current schedule, which includes completing his books for the On My Great Predecessors series, coupled with his intended political aspirations to unseat Vladimir Putin, leaves him with no time to verify that your quotations will make it into the media outlets you have suggested."
I remember thinking: "You could have just said 'No' and consumed much less of the atmosphere."
I politely thanked Owen for considering my offer, and I invited him to call me back whenver he felt like chatting, or if Garry ever changed his mind. Again, he was very polite, rather wordy, and signed off.
I saw Glen Peterson's AOL screen name pop up while I was waiting for Owen to call me back. I decided to pose the question to him: "How else might I get in touch with Kasparov?" He said, as an off-the-cuff remark: "Well, have you thought about approaching Karpov? I know he is friends with Grandmaster Roman Dzindzichashvili, who produced the "Roman Forum" chess video series. Here is his phone number..."
So I thought, "What the heck." I'll contact Roman, to see if he says that he will contact Karpov for me.
The first time I called, he answered. I had met him once back in 1990 at the Pennsylvania State Chess Championship held in Lancaster that year. I decided to use that as an icebreaker. He had his entire family with him, and he was showing up at the last minute. The hotel where the tournament was being hosted was completely booked. Now, at the time, he was very highly ranked. He was #10 in the world on the FIDE list at one point. He tried to say to the girl at the desk: "But don't you know who I am? I'm...I'm...." and she said "Sir, I am very sorry, but we just don't have a single room left."
After I explained that to him, he still did not remember. I remembered because I was there with my computer program, The Sniper, and I had my Macintosh on the desk counter and I was filling in the registration card next to his exasperated wife.
Anyway, Roman said, in his accent and deep voice: "The way to get Karpov interested is of course to mention Fischer." And he went off on a tangent, came back to his point, and finished with "So you think this you can do?"
I didn't think so, and I said: "Well, there's about 1,000 things that need to get done before I would even suggest that!"
Roman said he would contact Karpov anyway, whom he said travels a lot, and then he joked "Karpov is capitalist now!" and he laughed pretty hard at his own joke. I thought it was hilarious as well, since my earliest memories of Karpov was as the Poster Boy for the Communist Party.
So now the seed was planted... Could I possibly interest Karpov in a Gothic Chess match with Bobby Fischer? This was such a long way from my original idea, and I had maybe 1% of the cash I would need to pull this off, how could I possibly manage?
Ship Of Gold
Quite serendipitously I was reading the book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea at this time. This was one of the greatest, most expensive, and most complex salvage operations in the history of treasure hunting. Can you imagine locating a sunken ship full of immaculate gold coins, and not having enough money to recovery the wreck? Even worse, you have other people trying to beat you to the punch, lawsuits being filed trying to stop your salvage operation, and a barrage of other things working against you.
This made my attempt to raise money for a would-be Karpov vs. Fischer Gothic Chess match seem rather trivial by comparison! And that is what motivated me to start believing it was possible.
Nothing great ever gets done without it first being believed possible.
My first idea was to borrow from the high risk takers guide to fundraising: contact casinos. After all, what could be higher risk than operating a casino? Sure, the odds are in the house's favor, but at any instant in time, EVERY casino is required to have the sum of every bet still in play available to be paid out in a vault in their basement. Furthermore, look how expensive it is to build, own, and operate a casino. One bad flick of randomness, and they teeter over an abyss.
If I would be taking the "high road" of getting respectable financiers involved, I needed a polished proposal. So, I slaved away in Photoshop, QuarkXpress, SuperPaint, and Expert Color Paint, working on computers using three different operating systems, to make the killer proposal.
But something was missing.
The Cost Recovery Model.
How was this thing going to make money?
I needed to chat with some of my people. I individually contacted my most trusted colleagues: Brian Colgan, Robert Colanzi, Len Harac, and Kevin Brosious. I made one statement to them, and asked them to focus on one goal. The statement I made was that we needed a minimum of $15 million dollars. The goal was that we must make about double this to satisfy any investors that we bring on board. I then let them each come up with a "solution", with no immediate pressure or timelines.
I received back four completely different plans, which is what I had hoped for secretly. None of the plans were satisfactory stand alone. But blended together, we might have something that could make this thing happen!
Brian's idea centered on selling out the hotel. If you have a hotel with 500 rooms, and you charge $15,000 per person for an all-expenses paid week-long trip to Iceland, you have $7.5 million dollars in revenue per week. If the event lasts a month, you basically have $30 million from "ticket sales" alone.
Rob's ideas came from merchandising. Have Fischer and Karpov signed a fixed number of items: books, promotional materials, whatever. Sell them on eBay LIVE while the match takes place. Have Fischer and Karpov pose for only one photo together. Have them sign only 10 copies of it. Let Fisher keep 1, Karpov keep 1, we keep 1, and you auction to the world the only 7 copies of a photo signed by both Fischer and Karpov. This was good once we have the match going, but it did not help us get there. Plus, it was an indeterminant amount of money (although the auction would no doubt fetch a tremendous price.)
Len offered an outsourcing/concert promoter's perspective. He said ticket sales for Rock Concerts rarely contribute to the overall bottom line, but selling overpriced soft drinks to a thirsty throng puts everybody in the black. We needed to hire a group of such promoters who would figure out what the "soft drink equivalent" for us would be, and, quite simply, "make it their problem."
Kevin comes from an aquisition/merger background. He suggested that we bundle it up as a "Propsectus" of sorts, and sell the whole thing to the highest bidder. His plan was very involved with specifics points of contact, containing both "broad and deep" levels of detail.
All good ideas, all a good start. But something was still missing from the equation.
Months went by before I made my first pitch to the Montgomery Business Group in Ambler, Pennsylvania. They consisted of local Angel Investors who were part of other Angel groups that funded startups in the range of $500,000 to $2,000,000. By this time, I had six different models that balanced out and made a profit on the $15,000,000 ten ways till Sunday. I had run Microsfot Excel simulations with varying parameters, deliberately tanking one column to zero to measure the impact on other financial dependencies. I thought I was fully prepared.
"Where are the costs for the film crew?"
The question shot through me like a lightning bolt. Ummm....what? Did I completely overlook something? I must have turned pale. The five people flipping through the pages of my plan all stopped and looked up at me. I had to think of something quick.
"That's the good news. We're profitable without even broadcasting the event. Think of how much money we would make if we televise the whole show."
I swallowed hard. I had completely omitted this one, colossal detail. My knees went weak. I could tell by the raised eyebrows that this presentation was now sunk.
Now what was I going to do?
The questions droned on for another twenty minutes. I felt I answered them all extemely well, but it did me no good striking out at that first at-bat. Had they asked me all of those questions first, then the TV broadcast one last, things might have gone differently.
Even I could tell that I was not answering them with enthusiasm anymore, so one of them did me a favor and ended the ordeal with a "Thanks for coming" remark.
It was time to go back to the drawing board.
The Boomerang Effect
From the Montgomery Business Group, I went to the Central Pennsylvania Angel Investors, the Go Big Network, Kugarand Holdings, the Octogon Group, the Gartner Group, a few Microsoft stock millionaires, and, through some strange twist, a guy named Tony Jenson who was a sound engineer for Mark Burnett, the Executive Producer of "Survivor". Tony knew someone named Kevin Harris who knew someone who knew George Ross, who was Donald Trump's right hand man. Kevin gave me the telephone number of the guy who knew George Ross's telephone number.
So I called, talked my way into getting George Ross's number, then called him. Amazingly, there was no secretary intercepting the call, it was the man himself. I decided I would state my case as briefly as possible. "Mr. Ross, my name is Ed Trice. I invented a game similar to chess that is gradually demonstrating a level of appeal that may eventually overtake it as the preferred intellectual board game. I have a proposal to bring two World Chess Champion archrivals together that is a high risk/high reward deal. I'd like to get it in front of Mr. Trump."
The response he gave me was shocking. "You mean Karpov and Fischer?"
Apparently all of my presenting to all those different groups over the course of the prior several months had boomeranged its way into the Trump organization somehow. The deal would make it as far as "The Donald", but would he go for it? It turns out, he was interested, but he could not meet with me right away. He liked what he had seen outlined "on paper" but now he needed a complete Project Plan before he would commit 100%.
Word must have been "getting around" the chess world also. People were contacting me, and I did not know who most of these people were. Through several levels of indirection, I was put in touch with a company called Chess Masterminds.
I don't remember much about the first few conversations with the Chess Masterminds folks, except the very first conversation I had with them. I do remember that Rob Mitchell was a soft spoken, very polite southern gentleman, and Mike Cowger seemed to be a subordinate of his. I must say, Rob was very nice. Always calm, and seemingly knowledgeable regarding things that were happening in the chess world.
Rob asked me about who the match financiers were. I told him all I could say at this point was: "The persons involved are from a well known casino organization, and while the capital outlay is not in question, a detailed plan needs to be submitted before final approval would be guaranteed."
Mike Cowger, listening in on the other line, blurted out: "As long as it's not Donald Trump, we don't have a problem."
I was shocked into total silence. I did not know what to say. The silence lingered on before Rob spoke up. "I think Mike was just joking about that." Mike immediately replied: "Yes, I was kidding, I was kidding, of course."
I still didn't say anything. Rob asked: "Ed are you there?" I replied: "I'm here, but I'm about to pull the plug on you guys. Tell me why I should deal with you after that ridiculous remark."
I was livid. Why would anyone "joke" about a multi-million dollar project? After I was already bound not to disclose the identity of the Principal Financier, why would they probe to try and figure out who it was? And, being the poker player that I am, I should not have tipped my hand the way I did. Technically, I was fully compliant with the Non Disclosure Request, but I did implicity give it away.
Rob spoke at length about how Chess Masterminds was involved in a complex project that was filmed in Russia. A film crew was brought over there, it was a USA versus Russia match, there were tons of details needing coordination, and he was the Project Manager of the whole affair. It was supposedly broadcast here in the USA.
I hadn't heard about it.
Whenever Rob called, he had Mike Cowger on the other end. Every now and then he would interject something that would just seem.... well, to be nice about it.... very odd. He would go off on a tangent and would end up repeating a catch phrase of his sometimes two and three times. I got the impression he was "shooting from his hip" and didn't know what he was talking about on occasion.
Then came the "Street Chess" conversations. Apparently Chess Masterminds was working on a reality-TV show where they literally looked for street chess hustlers from town to town, and they were organizing a big blitz tournament pitting the winners against one another to crown a "Street Chess King" of sorts.
What did this have to do with me?
Rob said something like: "Well, you know how reality TV shows always seem to have some sort of twist in them? Like Survivor has a merge of the tribes and those dating shows introduce some attractive people right before someone has to be voted out, stuff like that? Well, we decided that the final match between the two players for the champion will be a Gothic Chess match, not a regular chess match. What do you think?"
At first, I was confused, and my first reaction was: "They're not going to like that." Rob said it wouldn't matter, contestants would sign some sort of contract saying that the producers of the show have the right to have them play "chess or a chess-like game" to determine the overall winner. I was still not "on board" with the idea, but I said "It will definitely let a wider audience know about Gothic Chess, for sure."
Rob said doing this before the Fischer-Karpov match would "smooth out" the transition from chess to Gothic Chess in the public's mind.
"Huh?" was all I could say. I did not see how the public would care if they have never seen Gothic Chess before Fischer dukes it out with Karpov. The "selling point" of Fischer vs. Karpov was the fact that Bobby Fischer was playing Anatoly Karpov, not the actual game I had invented. At this point in time, if Fischer played Karpov a game of checkers I think people might tune in!
Over the next few weeks, I was occasionally drawn into one dull conversation after another, seemingly Rob and Mike trying to "sell me" on the Street Chess project. I didn't understand why they kept coming back to this.
Finally I said: "Look. We need a project plan to show to the Trump Organization before we get distracted by anything else. It would be an impossible task to try and coordinate two projects of this size simultaneously. When can I see your detailed plan regarding the Video Production aspect so that I can integrate it into my own plan to show to George Ross?"
I heard Rob say: "Can you hold on a second Ed?"
He must have covered the phone up, because all I heard was what sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher talking in a phone booth, underwater.
After a while, I set my phone down, walked to the upstairs refrigerator, got a protein shake out, walked downstairs, picked up the phone, and they were still muttering away.
Finally Rob said "Yeah, Mike can have that whole thing for you in a week or two."
"Great," I said, "I'll get on the phone to New York right now and set a date."
Well you might think I said I was going to come over and ransack his house by the way Cowger reacted. He was like "Don't do that... this is just an estimate... can't hold us to anything.... we won't sign this or that... blah blah blah" and Rob finally had to just cut him off.
"Mike has a few irons in the fire." he said. I asked for no elaboration, but I had to get off of the phone and get back to work.
My gut instinct: Something fishy was in the works.
Arrival of the Deal Memo...
It was not too long after, that, by some miracle, they had reached both Anatoly Karpov and Bobby Fischer. Or, so they said.
"What ?!?" was all I could say. "This is great news! How did you pull that off??"
I forget what the answer was. I was not focussed on what was being said, I was too excited. I was pacing the floor practically jumping up and down. Now it was time to get down to brass tacks. Rob said it was time for us to sign a "Deal Memo" and start framing the constructs of a contract.
"Fine, fine, send it right away."
The first version of this memo was too one-sided. Talk of money being paid to them without any delineation of responsibilities associated with this figure. I was too happy to be picky, I just worded my concerns, Rob was polite and gracious as ever, and then came iteration #2 of the deal memo.
OK, this one was much better, but the initial dollar figure had risen, no costs were tied specifically to this increased number, but it had greater accountability on their end, so it was moving in the right direction.
Finally, "Revision 3" had arrived.
If you click on the photo of that letter, you can read items #7 and #8 as follows:
7. CMM will be paid a one-time $35,000 stipend as an initial infusion of capital to be used for the general operational budget of the current project.
8. CMM, in good faith, will be responsible for obtaining initial player contracts and maintaining player participation but will not be held liable if the participants, for whatever reason, failed to agree of perform. The players who have initially agreed to participate are Mr. Robert James Fischer and Mr. Anatoly Karpov. In case of default by the above named participant, alternate players will be sought by CMM and agreed upon by GCF.
Two things should jump right out at you.
THEY ARE CLAIMING THEY HAVE FISCHER AND KARPOV'S AGREEMENT TO PLAY.
THEY WANT $35,000.
Now, look closely at the date on this deal memo. It is January 5, 2006. This date would come back to haunt them, big time. You see, it was a little more than one month later that I found out from Anatoly Karpov that he never heard of Rob Mitchell or Mike Cowger, had no offer from Chess Masterminds, and was unaware of the game of Gothic Chess.
How was it then, that Chess Masterminds had the agreement of Karpov, let along Fischer????
But, we are getting ahead of ourselves... on with the Trump story...
Dropping Dead on the Drop Dead Date
As we got closer and closer to the Cowger deadline, something very unusual was happening. Mike Cowger grew more nervous with each phone call. I asked him, rather casually, "How are things going?", and he snapped back "What do you mean by that?" I answered, "Well, I mean, how is the process you are undertaking to provide me with details to present to the Trump organization proceeding, given that we will have to meet with them very soon?"
He hung up.
I took that as a sign things were not going well. Less than one minute later, I got a call from Rob Mitchell. "Hi Ed, this is Rob. Mike wanted me to tell you that your last sentence you said to him was garbled, and then, somehow, the phone got cut off."
I replied: "That's a load of crap."
Rob tried to downplay my remark, and was spinning some sort of story, and I just wasn't buying what he was selling. I cut him off, mid-sentence, and said: "It's Monday. We're due in New York on Thursday. What hotel did you book your reservations with?"
If this was a Saturday afternoon cartoon, you would hear crickets chirping.
I forget what he said, but I do remember that he did not have a hotel booked. I said "Well you must be on a very early flight then to make it into midtown Manhattan by 10 AM. What flight are you taking?"
No flight was booked.
"Rob, you guys are going to be present to discuss all of the costs Mike has carefully researched for the Video Project, right?"
He said he would call me back.
He did keep his word on that. And, it only took about 15 minutes for the two of them to get their story straight.
Cowger spoke first.
"I have a deposition to give on Thursday, and ..."
OK, and this point, I was livid. "You have a deposition scheduled the same day we have to present to Trump and you're telling me this less than 72 hours before our presentation?"
Cowger said "Yes, somehow I got the dates mixed up."
I said: "Dude, you get notices for depositions well in advance. I know, I had to give one for a dispute over my patent rights. I had about 2 months' notice. You expect me to believe you just remembered this now?"
This time Rob Mitchell answered for the stammering Mike Cowger: "He does have to do what he said Ed, I can assure you of that."
I decided to call their bluff.
"OK, that's fine, email me what you have so far for the presentation, I'll finish the rest."
More crickets. More uncomfortable silence. My suspicions were confirmed. These clowns had nothing.
Rob was first to break the silence. "I think it's too big to email." I can just imagine Cowger must have been thinking "Good answer!" when I replied: "OK, well what software program did you use to make the file, and how big is it?"
I was listening to another dial tone. Amazing how telephone communication breaks down when you ask these guys some poignant questions. As expected, my phone was ringing within 20 seconds, with the familiar battle cry: "Garbled message, then disconnect, blah blah blah."
"OK, I think I may get my head cut off for this, I will try and push the meeting back. What day CAN you make it up to New York?"
They'd call me back. Great. I'm cancelling on Trump, they're going to talk amongst themselves and figure out how they are going to provide a detailed accounting of the production costs to run an international broadcast for the Fischer-Karpov Gothic Chess match, and they haven't even started it yet. I was not even sure if I could get the Donald to reschedule. It took me many tries to get this meeting established. Time to eat some New York crowburger, for sure.
I spoke to Mr. Ross the next day after failing to reach him that day. I spoke very, very briefly. I merely stated: "Thursday has become logistically impossible. I am open for other dates." His reply....
"Thursday is looking bad also. The next Monday at 11:30 would be best. Can you swing that?"
I was thinking "Hell yeah!" but I said: "That is the best date and time for us. Sure thing."
I called the Chess Masterminds back. I was extremely curt in my manner. I said:
"Monday, 11:30, New York, or it's going to be somebody's funeral. We understand each other?"
Rob, polite as always, answered: "Well that is good news that they did not totally cancel on you. Sure, we can do Monday."
I said: "Mike? I want to hear from you that this will be a done deal by Monday."
Mike's reply surprised me. "I'm not saying anything. I work for Rob."
I was thinking... "O-----K, what the hell did that mean?"
I left them with one final remark: "Call me only if there is a problem. See you Monday." Of course, they called.... they called...
Wire us $30,000 and we'll be there
They called Thursday night. Mike spoke up. No hello, no pleasantries exchanged. Just this: "So far all of our costs and research for this has set us back as least $30,000 of that $35,000 we had budgetted for. And we realize you are going to make millions out of this deal, so if you want us in New York by Monday morning, we need that $30,000 wired to us tonight or tomorrow."
I could not stop laughing.
"Yeah~~~~~ right!" was all I could say.
Rob Mitchell said: "Well what's wrong with that number?" You know, I think he actually believed he was making a legitimate request. I said "Rob, out of the blue, you're tagging me with this ridiculous sum? I haven't seen ANY of your work, I have no idea you guys are even going to be there on Monday, and you expect me to pay? We talked about having Trump make this allocation, when did this become my responsibility?"
Rob was more than a little defensive. "We've done all of this work..."
"What work???" I said angrily. "What have you done except filled up most of my phone calls with bullshit and nonsense?"
Rob went into this excessive diatribe about the cost of researching a project like this. Hello? They were doing the COST part of the COST/BENEFIT analysis, how could they have burned through the equivalent of $30,000? Is their research valued at $2500/day? And where is it? What was I to be in receipt of in exchange for $30,000? Had he forgtotten that one of the objectives of the New York visit was to get such an allocation so we could all breath a little easier? It wasn't long before I got to the bottom of it all.
Enter, Titus Keiningham
The Trump meeting was postponed for a second time. That basically sunk the ship in my mind. My calls to George Ross were being unanswered. I couldn't even get through to apologize. In the meantime, I got a call from someone who identified himself as Titus Keiningham.
One of the first things I heard him say is: "I'm on the phone here with my partner, Mike..." and I rudely interrupted with "Not Cowger!!!"
I heard two sets of laughter echoing on the phone. "No, no, no...." I was assured, "Mike Carnes. He works with me here in Tennessee." I found out later that Titus knew Mike Cowger, and knew of his incompetence. For the time being, Titus went on to describe some of his projects, like the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Games, the European Figure Skating Championship, managing tours for Country Music Celebs, the list was quite impressive. I was just so relieved that his partner was not Mike Cowger that I did not tune in to everything.
He explained that he got several calls from Mike Cowger, asking for deatails and estimates for the Fischer-Karpov project.
"What?" I was incredulous!
Apparently Cowger had no clue how to estimate the scope of such a project, so he called Titus, someone who had actually done a great deal of video production work for them before. In fact, they still owed Titus over $50,000, mostly from that USA-USSR match that Rob Mitchell was touting as "his project", and Titus speculated this may have been the source of the $30,000 request.
Titus recounted how Cowger was calling him, repeatedly, asking for more details, more data to put into a plan for estimating the project scope and breadth. Basically, he would not leave Titus alone. Finally, Titus called him on the carpet and said: "OK, I'll give you some more info, but who is it you are doing this for that it's so important?"
Cowger was backed into a corner, and he had to give up my name. So Titus used Google to do a search on "Ed Trice" and he found my contact information easily enough.
I liked talking to Titus. He spoke quickly about things he was very knowledgeable on, and he was obviously a "Type A" go-getter kind of personality. And, he did not seem pushy. He was very respectful in his word choice. He kept saying "Yes sir" and "Ok sir" and I finally had to say to him: "Titus, you sound like you are talking to my dad. Please don't call me sir." And, true to a Hollywood sitcom punchline, he said: "Sure thing sir."
Titus understood the opportunity. He let me know what his schedule would be like, and we set up a time and date to have an informal gathering between himself, Mike Carnes, and I. I suggested that we also include National Master Dan Heisman in on the initial meeting. I would run into Dan at his Main Line Chess Club now and then. Dan was aware of the Fischer-Karpov project because previously I had asked him if he would care to be a commentator on the match. Dan was skeptical that the match would ever take place, as most people were, but he was enthusiastic about the prospects, and he offered his initial acceptance.
The Meeting With Dan Heisman
I picked up Titus and Mike Carnes at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Dan's house wasn't that far of a drive from there, so we went out to lunch, chatted some chess, then returned back to his house to talk business.
As is typical with the initial steps taken in any important business meeting, we took turns orating our own resumes. Dan was the experienced National Master with many book titles and other accolades to his name, Titus and Mike were the expert Video Crew and Production Managers, I was, of course, the inventor of the game and the match organizer.
The one big question on the minds of Titus and Mike was: "So what is this Gothic Chess game all about?"
Dan was actually the first to chime in, and he could not have given a better explanation. He recounted, from his own experience, the conundrum facing the high percentage of draws that gradually creeps into the tourament player's experience the higher up your rating goes. Most games feature 50% or more of the move count being in just Rook and Pawn endgames. That is: Half of your game contains many of the other pieces, but half is reduced to just these remnant few. So, to get really good in chess, you had to be a maestro of Rook and Pawn endings.
This necessary evil tends to stifle the interest of the purely creative players, or, sadly, if you do not advocate this study, your rating reaches a plateau and never goes higher.
Not so in Gothic Chess. In Gothic Chess, even though there are more pieces on the board, the game tends to be played more quickly (in terms of total number of moves). So, a game lasting 40 moves in Gothic Chess would be considered rather long, with most ending on move 35 or sooner. In chess, by move 40 you are ready to begin your long and dreadful Rook and Pawn ending!
I made a few remarks about the new tactical possibilities that the Archbishop and Chancellor introduce, as well as the strategic mystery associated with the value of the pieces. For example, should you trade your Queen if you could win your opponent's Archbishop and Knight? Is a Rook and pawn able to overpower an Archbishop? Which is better, Queen or Chancellor plus one pawn? Rook and Archbishop or Chancellor and Bishop? The possibilities go on and on...
They both understood the potential attraction for the new game.
Dan Heisman was able to talk at length about Gothic Chess, which left me pleasantly surprised. I was used to Dan being quiet and somewhat reserved when speaking about the game. You see, Dan has a radio program where he hosts a "call-in" show, and occasionally when Gothic Chess comes up during that broadcast, he has to make sure the "true blue" regular chess players don't feel like their feathers are being too ruffled. So, he keeps the disucssions "short and sweet" for the most part, which I understand, and agree with. So hearing him elaborate on some of my fundamental precepts in front of Titus and Mike Carnes brought an inward smile to my face.
Dan's house was undergoing some renovation work at the time, so occasionally he had to excuse himself and address some pressing matter for a minute or two. During one of these "sidebar sessions", Titus disclosed some more information about CMM that made me regret getting involved with Calger and Mitchell.
At the end of the day though, it was more than apparent that Titus and "the second Mike" were the people to be dealing with, not CMM. But still, I did not rush to any actions. I wanted to see how this all played out. I asked Titus what his "plan" would be. He stated it very clearly.
1. Attempt to contact Karpov first.
2. If Karpov seemed interested, send him a preliminary contract.
3. Contact Fischer.
And we could go from there.
I gave Titus the go ahead.
The Contract That Wasn't A Contract But Was A Contract
For the first time I felt I was truly part of a "parallel processing" function. Titus was getting back to me with updates. He got some information about an address for Karpov, Karpov's secretary's cell phone, all kinds of good stuff. In the mean time, the Trump door closed, but another one opened. I had been talking to someone with some contacts at the MGM Grand Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas, owners of the Bellagio, the richest casino in the desert.
I allowed CMM to continue spinning its wheels and offering excuses that rivaled "the dog ate my homework" metaphor. I didn't tell them anything about the meeting with Titus, no matter how many times they asked.
I did continually say to them: "You definitely have Fischer and Karpov on board with this, right?"
They always said "Yes" to this.
Then finally, Titus delivered the bomb.
ANATOLY KARPOV NEVER HEARD OF GOTHIC CHESS, NOR CHESS MASTERMINDS.
While I must admit I was not 100% shocked because I had a feeling this was going on, I just could not get my mind to wrap around the monumental level of B.S. these guys where shovelling. It made those earth movers on The Discovery Channel with the 10 foot high tire diameters look like Tonka trucks by comparison.
I called them. True to form, Mitchel answered, with Cowger in the background.
"Guess who I heard from today?" I said, very energetically.
"Who?" they said almost in perfect unison.
I paused for effect. Then I allowed them to remain uncomfortable in the silence.
"I said, Anatoly Karpov."
Rob was the first one to break the eerie silence. "Well, what did he have to say?" was all he could spit out.
I said "He never heard of Gothic Chess."
I sooooooo wanted to elaborate on it, and rub it in their faces, by why bother when simplicty does all the work for you?
Cowger tried to speak. It was hilarious.
"Well, we spoke through his secretary, who has been known not to deliver messages."
After I stopped laughing I said:
"That's a good feature in a secretary isn't it? But I just have three questions for you. One. How the hell could you possibly know that? Two. If you did know that, how the hell could you assume she contacted Karpov and then tell me Karpov wanted to play? Three. What are you going to do after I beat the shit out of the both of you?"
I made sure they heard the dial tone first.
So, the CMM "contract" wasn't a contract at all. It didn't exist. The whole thing was a charade to bilk me out of $30,000 which would go towards paying off Titus.
I called Titus back. I said to him: "You are now the Project Lead. CMM is out. Tell me, what next?"
And without a pause, came his answer.
Titus told me to work up some informal contract, that was not a contract, that had no "teeth in it", so that we could get the players interested in the concept of thet match. If we could get them both to sign it, we could reassure the Match Financiers.
Oh yeah. I had to firm up the new commitment. We had dipped down to $9,000,000 and we would need another $6,000,000 for the prize fund and a few million to put on the show.
Time for another trip to Vegas.
So I sent a writeup to Titus, which he Fedex's to Karpov, and on March 10, 2006, Karpov signed the preliminary agreement to play.
The Vegas Meetings: A Trip To The Twilight Zone
For the first time I am feeling real pressure. We had one large financier back out at the time that Karpov has already signed on for the $14,000,000 prize fund. We were $5,000,000 short of this amount at this exact moment in time.
Plus, Titus had convinced me to up it to an even "$5,000,000 for the loser" which means were were $6,000,000 in the hole.
The door opens on the top floor of this amazing casino, and out walks a babe of amazing beauty. She said something. She could have been telling me a wrecking ball just hit the building and it was about to fall down, I would not have understood.
I did what any many would do when she starting walking away from me, I followed her.
As soon as she went through the doorway, she vanished like a wisp of smoke. A moment later I was in the grip of one of the firmest handshakes I ever had to endure.
He was all of maybe 25 years old, about 6'2, had "G.Q." looks, a cigar in his hand, an ornate crystal flask with some rare brandy or whiskey of some kind on his huge horseshoe shaped desk, and the lad could not stop smiling.
Nor could he stop talking about himself and "his climb" to the top as VP of This-That-And-The-Other-Thing.
I noticed the golden name plackard on his desk had the same last name of the owner of the casino.
Nepotism is a great substitute for hard work.
Just as if on Hollywood Cue, he would "buzz" his secretary, and is she would strut, a perfect "Jessica Rabbit" strut, and we both would forget what we were talking about until the moment she was gone again.
"What was I saying?" he said to me.
"Fischer. Helioport. Here in Vegas."
"Oh yes, that's right. You see, what we can do is, secretly fly Fischer from Iceland to here. We can keep him under all kinds of hotel security. Let me tell you, the Marines could land outside our revolving doors, and they ain't getting to where we don't want them!"
He congratualted himself by relighting his cigar and smiling as he puffed a smoke ring.
I tried to explain to him.
"But you don't understand. Bobby Fischer is a fugitive, a wanted criminal, here in the USA. If you try to fly him into this country, a squadron of F-14s will escort your craft to the nearest landing strip and Fischer will be behind bars before you can say snake eyes."
He looked at me. The smile faded. His eyes shift left, right, left. It's like he is looking for his car keys on his desk.
He immediately stands up, puts the cigar down, snaps his fingers, gives me an "I got it!", complete with an idex finger practically in my face...
...and he recounts another hairbrained scheme to have the thing on an Indian Reservation, which is technically not US Territory...
The only good thing was I had two of the best non-Montecristo cigars I had ever smoked in my life, I got to have two meals in Vegas with this gorgeous secretary sitting directly across from me, and they gave me $5,000 in chips to play in their casino.
But this guy was not the guy to talk to. He's too young, too inexperienced, and if it's not the remote control to the TV, he's out of his league.
I didn't get the money commitment at this meeting. He didn't have the authority to allocate it.
I felt like saying "Then why am I talking to you?" but instead, out came:
"Who do you suggest I present to in order to affirm our commitment to the players."
He'd get back to me.
And that was that.
Fishing for Fischer
Titus had good news when I got back. He had talked to Fridrik Olafsson on the phone. Fridrik thinks Bobby might be interested. I tried to sound enthusiastic, and I was, but Titus must have sensed something was up.
"I don't know, I must be tired from the Vegas trip," I said.
"How'd it go?" Titus asked.
"I met the greenest kid ever spawned to sit at a desk in the business world" was all I could think of at the time.
Titus laughed pretty hard.
"You'll have to tell me about it sometime, but I am backlogged with edits I have to get done, so we will have to talk later."
Thankfully Titus pulled the plug on the conversation for me.
I dragged myself up to the computer and logged on to get my email. I had 116 new messages.
Open, read, delete. Open, read, type response, next.
After an hour of that, I hit the sack.
Titus called back. I didn't know what time it was. It was 9:30 PM. I thought it was about 3 in the morning, I was so sluggish. I had been asleep all of 2 hours.
More Fischer news. Fridrik asked when we could come to Iceland to discuss things with Bobby.
"Say that again."
Now I was awake.
All Titus had to do was tell Fridrik that Karpov already signed the contract. Now Bobby was "reacting." It was 1975 all over again. Titus was chatting up a storm over the phone, I was mostly saying "Yeah, yeah.... uh-huh... sure.... yes... yes" to whatever was in his stream of consciousness discussion.
When I woke up the next morning, I was unclear if this was dreamt or real. In checking my email, I rediscovered that it was reality.
Show Me The Money
It was now the beginning of May. Fischer communications had been pouring in from Olafsson. I raised $4,000,000 but we still needed $2,000,000 for the prize fund and about $6,000,000 to put on a World Class show.
Either I had a firm resolve one day, or I was just sick of all the back-and-forth, and I decided to call one of the investors on the carpet.
I said: "Look, I understand you put in $500,000 to the project, but if we don't raise another $6,000,000 by Friday I am calling the whole thing off...... Why? ...... I put 18 months of my life into this thing and we're not there yet.... Oh?...... Oh really?.... . Yes, I can do that...... yes...... OK. Done. Thank you."
Wow, I would have my $6,000,000 in 2 days. He was not the biggest investor but he had some people who were interested, and he is sure he can get the money in short order.
He just needed to see the financials again.
OK. The deal was, we would be given $15,000,000 but we would have to pay back $22,500,000 within 10 months, start to finish, come hell or high water.
The match financiers did not want a "percentage of the profits." They did not want anything except pure green.
So how were we going to guarantee this kind of return?
The answer: By licensing the broadcast, mostly.
Titus had all kinds of contacts with TV stations and people who knew people, not just people who knew people who knew people who knew people.
The average hour of edited footage we would provide would be sold to networks for about $700,000. We thought with a 12 game match we would have 12 hours of footage, one hour per game, with lots of those "biography channel" style documentaries: we'd show the town, the country, travel hotspots, info about the birth places of the players, interview people who knew them... blah blah blah, and have 4 hours of stuff covering the opening and closing ceremonies and additional items of interest.
16 hours of footage, worth 1,120,000,000 if a TV station bought the whole deal. Get more than 20 stations to carry the whole thing, and we are all in the gravy. Let them run hour-long segments, or half-hour segments, whatever they wanted. Sell sound bytes and "blips" to news stations around the world.
So how would the TV stations to be able to afford shelling out this kind of money?
Commercials. People don't realize this, but the commerical segments that run during Prime Time viewing can fetch upwards of $4,000,000 per hour. Even on "back channel" shows, $1,000,000 per hour is not uncommon. So, the stations would clear at least $300,000 per hour when showcasing the Fischer-Kaprov match, probably even more since it would be "big news."
We did the math. Then we added "super-rich" deals, like buying a ticket to see the event live for about $15,000 per person. It would cover one week's worth of expenses, everything paid for, travel, hotel, meals, spa treatements, the bar, you name it. How many hotel rooms could we book for this unique event. No more than 500, so there is another $7.5 million in gross receivables for this alone.
Everything was looking pretty good. It was time to get the money in motion.
[more to come]
Thanks to Titus Keingham and Robert Colanzi for contributing to the creative content of this article.