Carlsen Plays White In Round 1; Agon's Injunction Denied

Carlsen Plays White In Round 1; Agon's Injunction Denied

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Nov 10, 2016, 9:41 PM |
94 | Chess Event Coverage

The world champion awoke today earlier than is his preference, and ended the evening about 10 hours later drawing a white piece out of a box.

It was an incredibly long day at the 2016 world championship, and the first move has yet to be made.

GM Magnus Carlsen will make that opening salvo in tomorrow's first round. He will await the reply of his challenger, GM Sergey Karjakin, who seemed to settle in to the day's events. Whereas Karjakin stuttered to find his answers in the morning's press conference, by the evening's red-carpet gala, he looked to be enjoying the multitudes of flashbulbs even more than Carlsen.

"I hope this will be very exciting, and if not, I am sorry!" Carlsen said early in the day.

You can follow the match live at Chess.com/TV Friday at 2 p.m. Eastern (GMT-5).

What did we learn from the opening statements of the players? Not too much.

Neither player laid out his complete team, except the obvious. Carlsen is working with GM Peter Heine Nielsen ("apart from that I'm not going to say") while Team Karjakin is helped by GM Alexander Motylev and fronted by GM Vladimir Potkin. Both are on site. Was Carlsen upset in the case of GM Ian Nepomniachtchi possibly switching camps to help his fellow Russian?

"If he is, I wouldn't have a problem with that," Carlsen said.

The players were asked to name their opponent's biggest strength.

Carlsen, on Karjakin: "I think Sergey is very well prepared. He is extremely resilient in defense."

Karjakin, not being as forthcoming: "I don't want to comment on the chess parts of any match."

A first look from inside the player's glassed-in playing area. This is their view -- the outside wall reflects back at them. On the other side of the glass, spectators can see through the glass at the players. Photo courtesy Dan Lucas, US Chess Director of Publications.

Carlsen downplayed any rumor that he is worried about Russian hacking of his computer files or conversations. "We are not fearing (cyber) attacks from Sergey and his team." Carlsen said.

Many Russian media are in attendance, just as Carlsen always draws copious journalists from his homeland. While accosted by a mob of media, Karjakin told Chess.com at the evening's red-carpet event that he is comfortable with the huge amount of attention.

"Chess is in Russian DNA," said Andrey Guryev, a Russian Chess Federation Board of Trustees Member and CEO of sponsor PhosAgro.

Carlsen and Karjakin at the press conference.

Then the strangest question came in, essentially asking the players to comment on who they think is the strongest player in the world today. 

Carlsen needed to have it repeated to make sure there wasn't a missing word, then he reached into the "No, duh!" file and answered: "Right now, if I may be so bold, I can say myself." Karjakin concurred, "I can basically agree with Magnus."

Chess.com asked Carlsen if he preferred the vibrant cities of some of his world championship matches (Chennai, New York) or the somnambulance of Sochi? "In general I would prefer a bigger city," he said. Previously, Carlsen said that if the Grand Chess Tour added a locale, his ideal pick would be New York.

Still, he intimated that you won't find him strolling down the street window shopping. "Even in a bigger city it is important to find your bubble."

Agon Director Ilya Merenzon reminded the attendees about all the new features to this year's championship, most notable the virtual reality.

"For chess this match is a coming-out party," he said. "Enormous changes reflect the way the world changed around chess."

Does it look like a normal game? It's not! Grab the video with your mouse and scroll for a 360-degree experience!

The interior of the venue, the Fulton Market at South Street Seaport, was constructed in an industrial aesthetic especially for the match. The area is coming back to life after the devastating floods of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The venue of the match.

Of course, Agon is not just trying to improve the image of chess for intrinsic value, it is trying to make the game commercially viable. Chess.com asked Merenzon how many of the $15 online upgrade packages he's sold, and he replied that it was "in the 10,000s." Users investing will get commentary, multiple camera angles, and of course virtual reality.

He said that in order for the event to be revenue neutral, he needs to get the number to 200,000 and thus made that his goal. Accounting for secondary revenue are the on-site tickets, which are capped at 400 per day according to Merenzon. The website shows two of the rounds are sold out. Tickets range from $75 for general entry to $900 for a family of four with unlimited food and drinks from a Top Chef contestant.

Here's Judit Polgar on the match:

Injunction vs Chess24, Chessbomb, Chessgames

Merenzon thinks that some in the chess world will undermine his efforts to make a viable business from chess promotion, and that is why a few hours later he headed to U.S. District Court to hear his attorneys argue a motion to place an injunction against three web sites that continue to broadcast the moves of the game in real time or nearly so.

Judge Victor Marrero presided in court room 11B and listened to Robert LoBue contend for the plaintiff that Agon would be financially harmed by the transmission of moves by Chess24, Chessgames, and Chessbomb. LoBue cited the "hot news" doctrine stemming from the nearly century-old case between the International News Service (INS) and the Associated Press.

LoBue maintained that other websites were "free-riding" of the economic efforts of Agon. He also said that unlike a much-cited case between the NBA and Motorola, where one party organized the entire thrill of being at a sporting event (the NBA) and other disseminated just numerical facts (Motorola), that chess was intrinsically different since it is not an athletic endeavor. 

"Chess is very different," LoBue said. "It's a cerebral sport." He explained that the moves were themselves the essence of the experience.

Also at stake was the timing of dissemination. Agon's counsel argued that they did not seek to own the moves after the game's end. "We have a right to that information while the game is played, but not a minute after," LoBue said.

Agon's Director Ilya Merenzon.

Chess24, often referred to as E-Learning or Logical Thinking, had two lawyers counter, one by phone and one in person. They contended several points, one of them being the precise timing of when the information becomes public. They maintain that Chess24 will not have a representative transmitting moves in person, or from Agon's website. Instead, when the moves are shown on television (Norwegian t.v. will cover it live) then the information becomes public immediately when appearing on the screen.

Chess24's counsel also challenged other points, including jurisdiction since it is based in Gibraltar and nearly its entire workforce is based in Europe. They also maintained that Chess24 and Agon are not direct competitors and that their websites were significantly different.

Finally, they argued that they are not free-riding since they also incur serious costs by hiring expert commentators to explain the moves. "It could be financially devastating to our business if we were not able to report (the live moves)," Chess24's attorneys said.

LoBue countered with the same argument in reverse. "If we are deprived of this revenue stream (from upgrades) then our client's business will not be economically viable."

The table, chairs, board and pieces of the match.

After about one hour of arguments, Judge Marrero sided with the defense. He said that this case was "quite comparable" to the NBA vs. Motorola case.

"The plaintiffs have not sufficiently shown damages that warrant relief," Marrero said. Injunction denied. He added that World Chess (Agon) did not prove that it could not seek relief of damages after the event. Essentially, Agon can bring the case again in trial court after the match concludes. After the ruling, Merenzon told Chess.com "there is no question" Agon will continue legal action, and worried that if this holds up then his company's promise to organize future top-level events has them "kind of taken hostage."

"When you are used to getting something for free, and you don't get it anymore, it's upsetting," he said about the three sites. "It takes a while to change the perception...it's the only model for chess to develop."

Opening ceremony

The last event of the day required a wardrobe change for all involved. A packed-house "Black and White Gala" at the historic Plaza Hotel included a red carpet, champagne, and a few celebrities.

Emcee Adrian Grenier, a chess player himself, hosted and warmed up the audience (film stars Woody Harrelson and Sienna Miller were advertised to attend but did not show up). The two players had multiple microphones hoisted at them as they walked the crowded and short runway. A short time later, Grenier gave way to the arbiters to draw for colors.

Adrian Grenier was the host of the evening.

Carlsen selected the box containing his name, allowing him to draw first. Inside his second box was a white king, and so even before tomorrow's opening move, he seems to be making all the right ones already.

The players with Grenier on the red carpet.

Also on the red carpet: chess queens: Ingrid and Signe Carlsen. | Getty Images.

Adrian Grenier gave a short interview to Chess.com.

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