The luminaries there were pretty amazing:
Prof. Raymond Smullyan, now about 90-91 and still going strong.
GM Jonathan Rowson, who then proceeded to tie for first at the World Open, and win the British Championship
IM John Donaldson, chess historian, player, and traveler
IM Malcolm Pein, publisher, and owner of Chess & Bridge (in London), and
Michael Fisher, chess player and Shakespearean actor (great fun too).
It wasn't our first, that would have been 1998. Others were 2000 and 2004.
It wasn't the first Chess Festival in name. I think Italy or some European place used that title. But at what we did I would like to think we were first and that was to invite audience participation, sales, workshops, and only at the end, a chess event such as the Triple Hammer where those who paid (80% of the attendees) played three masters simultaneously!
It was a hoot and the best of the four. I think 54 people paid $75 or so (an insanely small amount) to fly all those personalities here (except for Michael Fisher), put them up for 2-3 days and pay them. Clearly $4000+ wasn't going to pay for that. This is where SPONSORSHIP came in. It was sponsored by Thinkers' Press and that was done through sales of merchandise, t-shirts, etc. My staff was small: Rita, Nate, Diana, and my wife Sarah. You might include the KITCHEN staff as when Michael Fisher was doing his bit upstairs in the loft for 50-60 people, they all stopped working to watch him amaze and amuse (and he did).
As I said, it was a hoot. One of the evenings, probably Saturday, my wife and I hosted a free get together in a 3-room suite at the Castle Lodge. I think it was for "friends of Thinkers' Press. There was food of all kinds and a chance to get more intimate with our special guests in conversation, photo taking, etc. Everyone had a great time.
WHAT CAME NEXT?
The next day, Malcolm Pein (pronounced Pain) told me he had been to chess parties all around the world and "this one was the best!" Maybe he said that in the heat of the moment BUT it was a pretty good time wasn't it? And it came AFTER the tragic 9/11 event the year before. While others were hiding in their basement, we took the RISK of doing something really cool for chessplayers, collectors, lovers, etc. They loved it. We're all ten years older now.
Now the Big Deal is the London Chess Classic, sponsored by whom? Malcolm Pein of Chess & Bridge. Everyone of note will be there. But more than that, there are all kinds of side events, not just a GM or IM annotating some games like in American tournaments, but special concoctions such as John Nunn and Vishy Anand taking spectators on an astronomical tour of the universe, a screening of "Bobby Fischer Against the World," etc.
I'm not jealous or envious--we did it first. I'd like to think it planted the seed in Malcolm's head. Would be fun to do again, but before I do that, I would rather write a book about the labor and expense involved because the mere thought would give those with a small staff a brain calamity. It could be done though picking new celebrities would be a monstrous job. I have one in mind who would electrify chess people, but not only does it take "Two to Tango," it take 3-4 or more. Ticket prices would probably be $250. At this time there are those who, no doubt, would think it was worth it, but not enough of them unfortunately. The cost of marketing could be the biggest expense. TPi would need some additional sponsors as "only a fool spends his own money" they say.
So as you read ChessBase.com today, for you who came to that Festival in 2002, you might remember we were the Grand Daddy of the plush chess event.