30 August 2017

Magnus in the Race to Challenge Magnus

Just after the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, Peter Doggers of Chess.com interviewed the World Champion.

Magnus Carlsen On Playing The World Cup (6:37) • 'Magnus Carlsen, World Chess Champion, discusses his participation in the FIDE World Cup in September in Tbilisi, Georgia.'

According to my records, Carlsen has played in knockout tournaments in three previous World Championship cycles:-

  • 2004 FIDE Knockout World Championship • Lost rd.1 to Aronian. This was the last title tournament using the knockout format; Kasimdzhanov won.
  • 2005 World Cup • Lost rd.4 to Bareev, but qualified for the Candidate matches, where he was eliminated in the first match by Aronian.
  • 2007 World Cup • Lost rd.6 to Kamsky, who went on to win.

If he reaches the final of the 2017 World Cup, he will have prevented all 64 players in his half of the elimination matches from qualifying into the Candidate tournament.

23 August 2017

'The Best Mind Wins'

Last month brought the unexpected news that Andrew Paulson had passed away: Andrew Paulson, 1958-2017 (chess.com; Mike Klein):-
Andrew Paulson, the founder of Agon Limited and the man with a vision for the growth of top-level chess, died Tuesday from cancer. He was 59.
For more than a year, Paulson played an important role in the development of the World Chess Championship. His first mention on this blog was almost five years ago, when I critiqued the first announcement from Agon.
  • 2012-08-29: Evolution of a Press Release • 'The chess world has cut Paulson a lot of slack, hoping that maybe, just maybe, Ilyumzhinov has finally discovered a worthy commercial partner.'

I received a response a few weeks later.

Sent: September 15, 2012
Subject: Recent Blog
From: Andrew Paulson

I read (with interest and pain) your comparison blog from August 29th. It's an uphill battle trying to bring up to speed our PR agency in chess terminology and establishing for them the tone I feel appropriate for communicating with a wide range of media outlets. Where they got 'fixture' instead of 'tournament' is a mystery to me!

However, we are working to try to find more interesting formats for staging chess than a proscenium stage with a couple of cafeteria tables and a plastic backdrop cluttered with logos of never-before-heard-of sponsors. You may have seen on various sites a rendering of a purpose-built arena Pentagram has been working on. And we are (for the moment) calling it the cockpit as this alludes both to 'cockfight' and to the knobs and dials and gauges that one finds in the cockpit of an airplane (with which we will be adorning the status screen in the playing hall from March).

We didn't 'buy' the commercial rights, per se, as our relationship with FIDE is a revenue sharing agreement; I felt that this should be corrected. And, although the deal is exclusive, I thought that it was a bit 'in your face' to boast about it so I toned it down.

I do recognise and appreciate the slack being cut!

Agon had been in the public eye since the beginning of 2012. I backfilled the gap in the next post.

There was a flurry of activity around Agon and Paulson in the following months, during which I documented Agon's first event in 2012-2013 Grand Prix, London (October 2012).

I summarized posts about the Candidates tournament in London Candidates - Wrapup (April 2013). The next mention of Agon was negative.

  • 2013-07-17: Catching up with FIDE • 'To approve the proposal of Mr. Makropoulos to authorize the FIDE President to take the personal decision as to whether to terminate the contract with Agon.'

Agon went into eclipse and there was little news.

It took me nearly a year to come back to that letter in 2016 Candidates, Moscow (November 2015), where I quoted it:-

It was the company's responsibility [Agon] to appoint two individuals to represent the Company on the Interface Team referred to in the Agreement and that following the change of ownership of the Company, and the resignation of Mr Andrew Paulson as a director of the Company, it was suggested that Mr Paulson should be removed as a representative of the Company on the Interface Team and that Mr Ilya Merenzon and Mr Maryey Shekhovtsov be appointed as the Company's representatives with immediate effect.

The story had already assumed the qualities of a soap opera, which I followed on my main blog.

  • 2014-02-06: Chess Leaks Like a Sieve • 'A few days later, Tim Rayment (TheSundayTimes.co.uk) brought news of a 2012 deal between Ilyumzhinov and Andrew Paulson of Agon'
  • 2014-11-20: Carlsen - Anand II : Rumblings • Livemint.com: 'Andrew Paulson, the founder of Agon, who until about a year ago was the principal promoter of the sport and described himself as the chief executive of world chess, has sold the firm to an associate, Ilya Merenzon, for £1.'

Another obituary, Andrew Paulson, Chess Impresario and Serial Entrepreneur, Dies at 58 (nytimes.com; July 2017), reported,

[Agon's] first major event, the 2013 London Candidates’ Tournament, was widely considered a success on the basis of the sponsors who underwrote the costs and the audience it drew. After that tournament, though, Mr. Paulson, reportedly already ailing, was unable to generate the sort of buzz that might have transformed the game into a profitable venture with pizazz, technical wizardry and marketing slogans like "The Best Mind Wins."

If Ilyumzhinov had indeed 'finally discovered a worthy commercial partner', the time was too short to make much of a difference. RIP, Andrew Paulson.

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.