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.

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