16 August 2017

Agon Calling ... Corporate Sponsors

Received from newsletter@worldchess.com...
Subject: Would you like to see your logo on the player's jacket? Now you can!
From: World Chess Team
Sent: August 14, 2017


If you ever wanted to see your company's logo on the top chess player's jacket, now you can make it happen! (or at least learn how much it might cost)

...You got my attention. What's the deal?...

World Chess, the organizer of the World Chess Championship cycle events, has launched an online store where one can buy a sponsorship contract with the world’s strongest chess players.

Probably for the first time in sports, a top-level sports sponsorship contract can be purchased online with a credit card. This is a step by organizers of the World Chess Championship to bring chess into the marketing mix of companies worldwide.

Chess had become increasingly popular in the last few years, helped by wider adoption of smartphones and rise of new young chess stars, including current World Chess Champion, 26-year old Magnus Carlsen from Norway (who is also a fashion model). Recent Championship Match that was held at the Fulton Market in New York City, reached an audience of over 1bln people and was attended by movie stars and tech moguls.

...One billion people? Movie stars and tech moguls? Almost sounds too good to be true...

A sponsorship contract for the Grand Prix Series, a qualifier for the 2018 World Chess Championship, will allow companies to become 'national partners' of such chess stars as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France or Peter Svidler of Russia, to position the company logo on players’ uniform and get exposure to over 600 million people who play and follow chess globally.

Ilya Merenzon, World Chess CEO says: "Chess players are a phenomenal marketing asset. Considered some of the smartest people on the planet, they are admired by nations. We are bringing this asset to companies who perhaps never thought of adding chess players to their marketing mix.

Championship level sports marketing has very high entrance barrier and we are changing this by introducing a store where companies can choose a player and buy a sponsorship contract in one click", -- adds Merenzon.

For $20,000, companies can buy an individual sponsorship contract for a Grand Prix Tournament which will take place in November of 2017 in Palma de Majorca, Spain. The event is a qualifier for the World Chess Championship and will feature chess superstars, such as Hikaru Nakamura, the US Champion, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, recent winner of the prestigious Sinqfuild Cup in St. Lois, Peter Svidler, 4-time Russian Champion, Levon Aronian or Armenia and more. There can be only one sponsorship contract per player and the arrangement is regulated by FIDE, chess governing body and International Olympic Committee.

Online store is available at agonlimited.com/store.

The embedded links in the email message went to Store — AGON (agonlimited.com), with pictures of the Grand Prix participants. Here's an example showing the first six players.

The link for GM Aronian in the upper left corner went to Corporate Sponsorship of Levon Aronian's participation in the 2017 Grand Prix cycle:-

Levon Aronian: For many years in the top-3 in the world and consistently believed to be the biggest threat to the World Chess Champion, Levon Aronian is hugely famous in Armenia, his home country, and well-known around the World. Winner of several World Chess Championship titles (Rapid, Blitz) and numerous prestigious tournaments, Aronian is one of the top world’s chess players and has a cult following around the world.

Major benefits include: Sponsor’s logo sized 15*3 cm on the left side of player’s jacket is always in sight and in the frame of official online broadcast and official photography supplied to accredited media.

Will Agon/WorldChess manage to attract this type of sponsorship? For a previous Agon success (and a history of corporate chess sponsorship), see World chess secures sponsorship of Russian anti-malware firm Kaspersky Lab (telegraph.co.uk; February 2017).

09 August 2017

Grand Prix Boycott

A few weeks ago, while I was adding the Geneva Grand Prix tournament to my page on the 2017 Grand Prix, I learned of a controversy with the Grand Prix series that I hadn't encountered before, although it had been public knowledge since the Moscow Grand Prix event a few months earlier. Here is a Peter Doggers report from Chess.com.
Because of Agon's attempt to limit the live transmission of the games to its own website, one of the major Russian sites, ChessPro, has not covered their events since the Candidates' Tournament last year. Now Chess24, the number one site for watching live games online, has decided to boycott the Moscow Grand Prix altogether: no news reports, no tweets and no live transmission. • Hou Yifan Sole Winner In Moscow GP Round 1 (May 2017)

I reported on the Agon tactics last year in World Championship Broadcasting (November 2016), and World Championship Bullying (ditto), where the issue seemed to have been resolved against Agon's interests in a U.S. court, but the dispute went from bad to worse. Here are Doggers and Chess.com again.

By trying (and, thus far, failing) to limit the live transmission to the WorldChess website, Agon has alienated a number of well-established chess websites. One of the major Russian sites, ChessPro, hasn't covered Agon's events since the Candidates' Tournament last year. Chess24, who have been involved in lawsuits with Agon, decided to boycott the Moscow Grand Prix altogether and also did not cover yesterday's first round of the Geneva GP. • Agonized Grand Prix Resumes In Geneva (July 2017)

What did Chess24 have to say about the boycott? Other than the tweet embedded in Doggers' two reports, the site was silent. I did, however, find a few semi-official statements in a Chess24.com forum, Coverage of Moscow Grand Prix? (May 2017). The question was,

I'm curious why there is no coverage or discussion about the Moscow Grand Prix, which started today. It's an important event. Does anyone know why?

A few messages into the discussion, Chess24 editor Colin McGourty weighed in. In response to the question, 'Is chess24 prepared to sit out the next two World Championship cycles to "protest" AGON?', he answered,

The Candidates and World Championship match are an order of magnitude more important and I think it's 99% certain we would cover those, regardless of Agon's approach. For this tournament we decided against putting time, energy and money into manually adding games and reporting on the event and thereby giving publicity to Agon. Of course it wasn't an easy decision for us and we may make a different choice in future. On how long Agon will stick around - we'll see. They currently have numerous unpaid debts and have completely failed in their alleged aim of bringing commercial sponsorship to chess. The patience of many within and outside FIDE is running out. • May 16, 2017 | 15:18

The dialog continued: 'A commercial site boycotting another commercial site for making money with chess? How ridiculous is that?'

No-one is boycotting Agon "for making money with chess". Agon are free to make their video broadcast pay-per-view, just as you can in any sport, and no-one has the right to that content but them. They can also refuse to provide the live PGN file that any tournament that wants as many people to follow it as possible provides, though we're just as free to choose not to cover or support the event.

The main problem with Agon, however, is that they're trying to claim copyright of the fact that e.g. Magnus played 14.Nd5. Courts in the US, Germany and Russia have upheld that you simply can't do that, just as you can't prevent the reporting of Messi scoring a goal. Agon continue to waste money (their own and that of others) on lawyers over an issue they can't win and a policy they can't implement in practice even if they somehow found a judge to support them (try to stop people sharing the moves of the World Championship... even if in another reality you manage you'll simply have killed off interest in the event).

We'll have to agree to differ on Agon being a commercial company - they're attempting to justify their actions that way but there's nothing commercial about the way they operate or found themselves in the position they are now. Instead they're trying to kill off competition from genuinely commercial sites, which is a destructive policy in what is already a very tough industry. We have every reason to boycott their events, though as mentioned, we won't necessarily do so in future. • May 17, 2017 | 15:09

'You won a court trial and decided "against putting efforts" into this very high level event? [...] Such decision of Chess24 will only make people to buy Agon subscription instead of Chess24 subscription.'

You talk about it being possible given our court win, but although the US case is over Agon's second appeal is still active in Russia (they've lost twice so far), and in fact there was a hearing two days ago in a Moscow court. A decision was postponed for two weeks. In Russia Agon have a young lawyer working for them - Merenzon seems to own 90% of "his" company - and he probably has little else to do but submit frivolous lawsuits for his boss. It's very likely they would have sued again in Russia simply as a PR ploy, since it would cost them very little and us a lot (to date we've probably spent 6 figures on lawyers) - if we chose to defend a new case. Of course completely ignoring lawsuits as ChessGames & Chessbomb have done is a very valid option, but again, that plays into Agon's PR goals.

That's just one factor, but as you can see, it's not an easy decision. As I said, we will cover the most important events (and luckily most big chess events have nothing to do with Agon), but in this case we took the decision we thought was best. • May 18, 2017 | 10:15

'I'd really like to see Chess24 declaring up front that the event is going on and that they are not covering it for legal reasons etc, rather than just ignoring it as seems to be the case.'

You may well have a point, though it was decided that if we were going to skip the broadcast it would be better to go the whole way and completely ignore the event. It's a shame another major chess site that seriously considered a boycott ultimately decided against, since if more joined in Agon really would have a problem. If the legal case had been decided there would probably have been a statement about that (and the tournament in passing), but I agree - putting out some kind of statement in any case would have made sense. • May 21, 2017 | 01:18

Nearly three months later, the situation hasn't budged. Agon got half of what it wants, a halt to transmission of moves; Chess24 took a principled stand; and chess fans got the shaft. The fourth and final Grand Prix is scheduled for Palma De Mallorca in November. At least two tickets to the next stage of the World Championship, the Candidates tournament, will be up for grabs. Will the face-off continue?

02 August 2017

2017 World Cup in September

I added a new page for the 2017 World Cup, which is scheduled to start in a month at Tbilisi (Georgia). I also added links to FIDE news articles that relate to this World Cup.

Compared to the page for the 2015 World Cup, which I created for a post titled 2014-2015 Grand Prix, Khanty-Mansiysk (June 2015), the 2017 event has had fewer FIDE announcements leading up to its start. One of the announcements, the 'Final List of Participants' has created far more buzz than I have seen for any of the previous World Cups.


a) World Champion and World Cup 2015 semi-finalists
01. M. Carlsen (NOR)
02. S. Karjakin (RUS)
03. P. Svidler (RUS)
04. P. Eljanov (UKR)
05. A. Giri (NED)

World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, Carlsen's challenger in the most recent title match, 2016 Carlsen - Karjakin, New York, will both be competing in the forthcoming World Cup. If both players reach the final round of the event, the FIDE rules are not clear about who else qualifies to the next stage of the World Championship, the Candidates tournament. I'll look at this in another post.

26 July 2017

2017 Grand Prix, Geneva

I added the crosstable and PGN for the third leg of FIDE's Grand Prix to my World Chess Championship page 2017 Grand Prix. For the schedule of the last event, see my previous post, 2017 Grand Prix, Moscow (May 2017).

Since my crosstables are always built from the corresponding PGN file, one of the steps I go through is to compare my final version against the official version. For the FIDE Grand Prix, there are no official crosstables; there are just final totals for the players.

For the Geneva event I noticed mismatches for two players and, thanks to Chessgames.com, discovered the reason. In Ernesto Inarkiev vs A R Saleh Salem; FIDE Grand Prix Geneva (2017), two CG members mentioned,

Jul-10-17 Willber G: The score is wrong, black resigned at this point. 1-0.

Jul-10-17 tamar: DGT gremlins took away 1/2 point from Inarkiev because King on e5 signals draw once arbiter puts White King on e4.

I corrected the PGN, rebuilt the crosstable, and compared the results again. Although everything matches, my experience with this sort of glitch is that there are always consequences downstream.

05 July 2017

FIDE Congresses

Every year on this blog I prepare a post titled 'Whither the World Championship?', where the most recent was 2016 FIDE Congress : Whither the World Championship? (January 2017). It's one of a series of posts stemming from minutes of the FIDE Congress, mostly on my main blog, 'Chess for All Ages'.

A few days ago FIDE published an article, Interview with FIDE Administrative Manager Polina Tsedenova, with some useful background on the organization of the FIDE Congresses. Here are some excerpts.

Q: How many Congresses have you organized so far?

A: I started officially working for FIDE in 1997 and my first Congress was in Chisinau (Moldova) in September 1997. Of course I very clearly remember that one because we did it with a previous administration jointly. Their experience was very helpful but I`m sure we improved a lot. Since 1997 we had annual Congresses which mean there have been 20 Congresses already.


Q: How difficult is it to organize such an event as FIDE Congress?

A: We have clear guidelines which we share with the organizers. We try to do it well in advance. First of all the organizers get pointed with the guidelines, second, they find a proper Congress manager, third, they find the adequate number of volunteers and fine facilities. I usually travel before any Congress for an inspection to see what they propose to us and they cooperate and collaborate in 95% of the guesses let’s say.

Neither chess players nor organizers really understand what kind of event is the Congress and many people mix FIDE Congress and let’s say a General Assembly or an Executive Board. Congress is the general term for the whole globe of the meetings which are under this umbrella. FIDE Congress today consists of several parts: General Assembly, Executive Board, commissions’ meetings, continental meetings and other meetings.

We have 188 national federations’ members of FIDE, who can delegate one person to represent their federation and vote on behalf of a federation and the meeting of these delegates we call a General Assembly. This meeting is organized every two years and it occupies the last three days of the FIDE Congress.

The Congress starts with the meetings of FIDE commissions. FIDE has more than 20 commissions and we separate the meetings during the duration of 4 days from morning till evening. When I started working we used to have a Central Committee of FIDE which was about 50-60 people and it was very bulky and it was not very convenient to have both the central committee meeting and the General Assembly. In 1999 it was decided to abolish it.


Q: What are the common problems which appear in the process of the preparation and organization of FIDE Congresses?

A: We try to put strict deadlines according to the FIDE Statutes but many federations don’t follow the terms. In several federations the administrative problems exist. People don’t read FIDE Statutes, people don`t follow the information we sent them. We send them all the information on the deadlines on the specific dates when they have to provide something. I don`t know why it`s happening, maybe because some federations are relaxed or have lack of the personnel or staff but then we have to deal with it.

More information on the Congresses can be found in 'Handbook :: A. Administrative Subjects :: 07. FIDE Congress Regulations' (fide.com). Thanks, FIDE!

28 June 2017

Spassky: 'The Dr. Zhivago of Chess'

In a recent post on my main blog, Sports Illustrated 'On the Cover', I showed that a prominent American sports magazine ('SI') once demonstrated a keen interest in chess. Through the series of Kasparov - Karpov clashes in the 1980s, SI had regular, multi-page features on top World Championship events. Here, for example, are the first two pages of a five-page spread on the Korchnoi - Spassky final in the 1976-78 Candidates Matches.

Sports Illustrated, 12 December 1977

The article started,

With the notable exception of Bobby Fischer, who won the world championship from Boris Spassky in 1972 in a memorable Icelandic psychodrama, Soviets have dominated world chess for 30 years. And their reign is not about to end. This week, in the shabby elegance of the Dom Sindikata Theater in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, two Russians, Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi, are meeting for the right to play still another Russian, 26-year-old world champion Anatoly Karpov, for the title.

Spassky is now 40, and his figure, which was trim in Reykjavik, is a bit fleshier, his dark hair longer and more styled. But the same calm green eyes study the board, and the same long artistic fingers are placed along his cheekbones. The world champion from 1969 to 1972, Spassky remains the gentlemanly, dignified, poetic grand master, the Dr. Zhivago of chess.

Across the board sits the volatile, daring Korchnoi, 46, the world's No. 2 grand master. In further contrast to Spassky, the formerly chubby Korchnoi has lost a great deal of weight recently. His brown eyes glitter, his shoulders hunch as he lunges forward to advance a bishop into dangerous territory. Korchnoi seeks the dangerous position -- in life as well as at the chessboard.

That's the sort of colorful sports reporting that is seldom seen outside of the mainstream press. Here is a list of all SI articles on the World Championship that I was able to locate.

  • 1960-04-18: A New Moscow Revolution • 'Mikhail Tal's brilliant and bewildering victories in world championship chess stunned the Russians'
  • 1960-05-30: A Nod for a Title • 'Sports Illustrated's correspondent in Moscow reports on the new world chess champion Mikhail Tal and on the new chess era that opened with a smile'
  • 1961-05-08: The Young Botvinnik • 'An aging champion created a new training technique to recover the fire of youth -- and his title'
  • 1967-11-20: The Further Adventures of Terrible-tempered Bobby • 'Bobby Fischer played like a champion at the international tournament in Tunisia, but he ended by forfeiting his way out of the competition'
  • 1971-08-02: Maybe You Can Win Them All • 'Bobby Fischer has pitched 19 no-hitters in a row'
  • 1971-11-08: Bobby Clears the Board for the Title • 'The young U.S. master, after Tigran Petrosian smashed his 20-game streak, closed strong to earn a shot at the world's chess champion'
  • 1972-07-10 A Sudden Stalemate in Reykjavik • 'The world championship was plunged into check when Bobby Fischer decided that a better game was hide-and-seek'
  • 1972-07-24: Boris in Wonderland • 'Russia's Spassky played Alice to Bobby Fischer's Mad Hatter in Reykjavik last week'
  • 1972-08-14: How to Cook a Russian Goose • 'First, catch a Russian -- and at long last Bobby Fischer apparently has, dominating Boris Spassky so completely...'
  • 1974-01-28: Memo from Moscow: don't get byrned • 'Hot on his world chess championship comeback, Boris Spassky faces a scholarly and unintimidated American'
  • 1974-09-30: A Case of Beauty Before Age • 'Two Russians are meeting to see who will take on Bobby Fischer...'
  • 1977-12-12: Taut Duel for Two Old Comrades • 'They grew up together in Russia and meet again for the right to face the champion, but one is a defector, the other an √©migr√©'
  • 1978-01-30: They Couldn't Zap the Viktor • 'Korchnoi came out of his match with Spassky smiling and ready for world champion Karpov, but in Belgrade he was grimly convinced that the Soviet KGB was bombarding him with rays'
  • 1978-07-31: Back to Drawing Old Board • 'The Soviet champ and a vocal defector drew the first three games of what could be a drawn-out world championship'
  • 1985-02-25: A Dubious Gambit In Moscow • 'Just when chess champion Anatoly Karpov seemed to be weakening, the challenger was abruptly checkmated'
  • 1986-11-13: Beating Back A Game Challenge • 'Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship'
  • 1987-12-07: Duel Of Two Minds • 'Opposites Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov battle for the world chess title'
  • 2016-11-12: Chess Pieces of History • 'Board in 1972 battle up for auction'

The reports aren't always perfect. There is sometimes confusion between the concepts of 'game' and 'match' that is irksome to many chess fans, and the 1971 baseball analogy...

Maybe You Can Win Them All • 'Bobby Fischer has pitched 19 no-hitters in a row'

...is clearly an exaggeration. Even with those nitpicks, I'll gladly accept a slightly flawed report that promotes chess to a non-chess readership. For some reason, the World Championship reports stopped after the 1980s. Was it because of a changing perception of chess as a sport, because of the political turmoil in the chess world, or because of something else? I would really like to know.

21 June 2017

Early Women's World Champions

The blog post originally scheduled for today has been postponed due to extreme heat. As a filler post, but fully deserving in its own right, here are photos of the first six Women's World Champions.

Top row: Vera Menchik, Ludmila Rudenko, Elisaveta Bykova (Elizaveta Bikova)
Bottom row: Olga Rubtsova, Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze

For more about the events in which they won their titles, see my index page World Chess Championship for Women. The photos were in a set that included the male world champions, Steinitz through Kasparov (although Capablanca is missing from the set I'm looking at), thereby dating their publication to no earlier than the mid-1980s. The description of the set said,

From the U.S.S.R. Ideal for framing and display in chess clubs and chess study rooms.

I'll be back in a week with the regularly scheduled post.