30 January 2013

Agon Chief-of-Staff Robert Fontaine

Before joining Agon at the end of last summer (see GM Robert Fontaine joins Agon as chief of staff to Andrew Paulson) GM Robert Fontaine was a long time collaborateur with the leading French chess magazine Europe Echecs. The February 2013 issue of EE featured an article titled 'Interview: Robert Fontaine of Europe Echecs on the Candidates'. I took the liberty of translating portions for non-French speakers.
In the 21st century, all chess roads lead to London : from the FIDE Grand Prix to the Candidates Tournament, en passant to the London Chess Classic won for the third time in four editions by Magnus Carlsen. Rightly, Robert Fontaine now lives in the English capital. The French GM is at the forefront in more ways than one.

Q: First of all, can you remind the readers of Europe Echecs about the exact nature of your work at Agon?

A: My official title is "Chief of Staff". I have a wide enough role. I serve as interface and counsel between AGON and FIDE, the players, the media, etc. I help to develop everything that touches the game of chess.

Q: What conclusions did you draw from the first two Grand Prix at London and at Tashkent?

A: Very positive. I should point out that AGON participated only in the organization of the first Grand Prix at London. We had no experience. With a few exceptions, concerning the lodging, we had excellent feedback from the players. But one must know that hotels are extremely expensive in London. The playing conditions were excellent. The hall was on the 'Strand', one of the most popular streets, a few steps from Trafalgar Square. The coverage of the event was fantastic [...]

[Q & A: On the format of the Grand Prix cycle and on whether a French player might be invited like Adams at London.]

Q: Let's get to the Candidates Tournament... How to characterize the organization?

A: There's an enormous amount of work and we are all feeling a lot of excitement. We saw what didn't work when organizing the Grand Prix. Now everything is falling into place in tight cooperation with the players, FIDE, the partners, etc. I can already tell you that there won't be a glass cage. Andrew Paulson is totally against it. He wants a show, with the public as close as possible to the players. It won't be the same staging as at the last World Championship in Moscow : two players sitting at their table behind glass and distant spectators following the game on a big blue chessboard projected on a backdrop. We are still working on the project with Pentagram, a design agency. The idea is rather to move the players to an arena, a little like Cap d'Agde [a top French tournament].

Q: Where will it take place?

A: The playing hall will be in the heart of London, at the headquarters of IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology), Savoy Place, on the bank of the Thames. The 'Big Wheel' is just in front and Big Ben is two steps away. It's a magnificent locale.

Q: Can you tell us about the level and the motivation of the eight candidates?

A: The four best players in the world as of the January 1st Elo ranking will be present: Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian, and Radjabov. No one is really saying it, but everyone is aware that the titleholder, Vishy Anand, is no longer on the rise, so to speak. They see the Candidates Tournament as a chance to become World Champion. I sense that they are all very motivated. [Discusses the attention the players and their managers have been giving to the tournament site.]

Q: As announced, will this tournament mark the start of a new era for chess, especially in the direction of WebTV?

A: I hope that this will be the most successful event of recent years from all points of view, whether for the players, the public, the VIPs, the media. The retransmission must function perfectly, as much on Internet as in the hall. The spectators should miss nothing in time trouble, for example. It's not obvious, even more because we have developed a new type of retransmission, totally innovative. It will not, strictly speaking, be about WebTV, but more about an application dedicated to tablets and/or to PCs. If everything happens as we have foreseen, I think it will be a fantastic tournament.

This counterbalances my recent post What Is Going on Here?, where Agon was criticized by a top FIDE official. For more about the players, see 2013 London CT Player Records.

23 January 2013

2013 Candidates Tournament, Press Release

Last week, while I was preparing the crosstable for 2013 London CT Player Records, FIDE and Agon issued a press release about the event.
London, 15 January 2013 — FIDE and AGON — the World Chess Federation’s commercial partner — are pleased to announce the players, dates and venue of the 2013 Candidates Tournament. The London Candidates will be the strongest tournament of its kind in history. The Prize Fund to be shared by the players totals €510,000. The winner of the Candidates will become the Challenger to Viswanathan Anand who has reigned as World Champion since 2007.

That announcement, along with a Fide.com report from the 1st Presidential Board 2013, Armenia, ended any lingering doubt left over from What Is Going on Here. Anticipating no further issues, I added the logo and official site to my page on the World Chess Championship : 2013 Candidates Event.

16 January 2013

2013 London CT Player Records

In just two months, eight of the world's best players will meet in a double round robin to select a challenger for World Champion Anand later this year. How have these players fared against each other in the past? The asterisks ('*') in the following crosstable link to the games played by each pair of players as recorded at Chessgames.com. The players' names link to the corresponding FIDE Card.

  Ara Car Gel Gri Iva Kra Rad Svi
Aronian xx * * * * * * *
Carlsen   xx * * * * * *
Gelfand     xx * * * * *
Grischuk       xx * * * *
Ivanchuk         xx * * *
Kramnik           xx * *
Radjabov             xx *
Svidler               xx

Comparing this crosstable with the last time I posted a similar exercise, 2007 Mexico WCC Player Records, five players appeared in both events. Disappearing from 2007 Mexico are Anand, Leko, and Morozevich. Appearing at 2013 London are Carlsen, Ivanchuk, and Radjabov.

09 January 2013

2013 a Zonal Year

The FIDE Calendar 2013 currently lists the following WCC events (excluding the Grand Prix) scheduled for the coming year.

Candidates Matches London, England 14-Mar-2013
World Championship Match 6-Nov-2013
1.0 European Individual Championship 2013 Legnica, Poland 4-May-2013
2.0 American Continental Championship 2013 Bolivia
2.1 American Zonal USA
2.2 American Zonal Canada
2.3 American Zonal Ecuador
3.0 Asian Continental Championships 2013 Astana, Kazakhstan
3.1 Asian Zonal Doha, Qatar 1-May-2013
3.2 Asian Zonal Colombo, Sri Lanka 2-Feb-2013
3.3 Asian Zonal Tagaytay, Philippines 21-Jan-2013
3.4 Asian Zonal Osh, Kyrgyzstan 6-Jun-2013
3.6 Asian Zonal Suva, Fiji 4-May-2013
>> World Cup 2013 Tromso, Norway 10-Aug-2013
1st Quarter 2013 Presidential Board Tsakhkadzor, Armenia 18-Jan-2013
84th FIDE Congress Hatay, Turkey 16-Sep-2013

The C26 zonal events will eventually be shown on my pages for the World Chess Championship Zonals and Zonals : Links (and Other References).

03 January 2013

What Is Going on Here?

Just before Christmas, Chessvibes.com reported, Bulgarian Chess Federation vs FIDE at CAS: case (partially) dismissed, where CAS stands for Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The requests filed by the Bulgarian Chess Federation on 22 October against the Fédération International des Echecs [...] are dismissed.

At the center of the Bulgarian complaint was FIDE's right to award future World Championship events to Agon. If the Chessvibes' article had been about nothing more than this, I wouldn't mention it here, but there was much more. Most important was the revelation that Agon had still not paid a cash deposit to FIDE of $500.000. The article quoted Nigel Freeman, Executive Director of FIDE:-

Obviously we would like it but, you know, we're in discussions with Agon about it. But their cashflow... because Chelyabinsk was cancelled, Agon had to do London by itself. And also because the contract was still being attacked in court, there were extenuating circumstances. [...] We haven't set a [new] deadline as such but we have a Presidential Board meeting on 18 and 19 January in Armenia where it will probably be discussed and where Andrew Paulson is invited.

On top of that, Silvio Danailov, President of the Bulgarian Chess Federation, had only unkind remarks for Agon and its representative, Andrew Paulson:-

I have met Paulson & Co several times and I immediately realized that [they] are not serious and will be a complete disaster for chess after the Candidates where Azerbaijan pays the bill. So far this is their only sponsor. The London Grand Prix was one of the worse organized big chess events ever; everybody could see it. They have no money, no sponsors and absolutely no idea about chess at all.

A new angle for me was Danailov's assertion that there are other, unseen actors in the affair:-

Who is the real owner of Agon? Obviously Paulson is a simple employee which he confirmed during the CAS hearing. FIDE promised to disclose who is Agon's owner after the ratification of the contract and again silence and nothing happened. Why?

For more about the Bulgarian lawsuit, see European Chess Union NEWSLETTER 91 (17 September 2012). For more about 'one of the worst organized big chess events ever', see Silvio Danailov: "We don’t like being treated as fools!" (10 October 2012):-

I thought I had seen everything in the chess world, but…I have never seen such a way of running a tournament as that in London! I got the impression that nobody wanted this tournament at all. A bad playing hall, into which there was no entry, would you believe, constant noise from neighbouring areas (the restaurant was being refurbished), no demo boards or spectators in the playing room, and even in the press room there was nothing except a tiny monitor.

What most surprised me about all of this was the apathy of the Chessvibes readership. Where one would normally find dozens of informed comments, there was only one. What is going on here?