The Candidates' in London; is FIDE selling its World Championship cycle?

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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0 | Chess Event Coverage

This week there were rumours about the next Candidates Tournament being held in London, as a result of a tweet by the assistant of the FIDE President. These rumours seem to have been confirmed now by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. In their own report on the recent Presidential Board meeting, FIDE only mentions that a decision on the bids should be made before February 29th. What they don't mention is their negotiations on a possible sale of marketing rights for the whole World Championship cycle, including the Grand Prix Series, the World Cup, the Candidates Tournament and the World Championship match, to a Russian-based business man...

Rumour mill

The FIDE rumour mill is working overtime as the organisation is in another muddle over where to stage the Candidates Matches.

This is how Malcolm Pein started his chess column Wednesday, to be found here at TWIC. As you probably know, Pein is the organizer of the annual London Chess Classic, and tried in vain last year to work together with FIDE in getting the 2012 World Championship to London.

The rumour Pein is talking about concerns the new FIDE Candidates Tournament, which should be taking place some time this year. As you might remember, it was decided that this time it will be an 8-player, double round robin. The winner will be the challenger for the winner of the Anand-Gelfand World Championship match, or in other words: the new opponent for the 2012 World Champion.

We already mentioned recently that the chess calendar is completely out of balance, with a huge number of important events scheduled for the second half of 2012. In fact there's a lot of shuffling going on in the background, as both FIDE and tournament organizers are trying to squeeze in their events. From a number of tweets by certain key figures we can learn a bit more.

Have a look at the following tweet, sent on February 7th by Berik Balgabaev, the Executive Assistant of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:

Translation:

Ilya, why give false info? If you hadn't rushed away from the Presidential Board meeting you'd have learned the dates and location of the Candidates Tournament: London, 23/10-13/11.

The tweet is directed at Ilya Levitov, President of the Russian Chess Federation and FIDE Vice President. When we read this, we decided to fire an email at Mr Balgabaev. Unfortunately, he couldn't provide details:

Dear Peter,

Wait for the official announcement within a few days.

Best regards,
Berik

Meanwhile, it seems that FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has confirmed everything, but not by publishing an 'official announcement'. See the end of this report.

Candidates in London?

'Wow, London, that would be awesome' is what many people probably thought, when they read this tweet. And... surely Malcolm Pein is involved, isn't he?

Well, no. Pein was one of the people who read the tweet, and in fact tweeted himself soon after:

Well, that couldn't be stated more clearly. In the column mentioned above, Pein added that he was in fact approached to do it:

Your correspondent received an approach to run the event instead of the London Chess Classic at the end of this year, but the idea did not appeal.

Presidential Board meeting

So where did 'London' come from, then? Well, let's first rewind a bit. We already knew about the existence of bids from Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, and apparently there is a third, unknown party from London involved as well. This was also mentioned in ECU newsletter 62, sent to journalists and others on Tuesday, February 7th. It includes this sentence about the recent 1st quarter FIDE Presidential Board meeting in Al Ain, UAE:

During the Presidential Board were presented the three candidatures of Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and United Kingdom for hosting of the 2012 FIDE Candidates Tournament.

Is FIDE selling its marketing rights?

So, London. Who's behind that bid? Well, we can learn more from an article on the Russian Chess Federation's website. It expresses the feelings of the aforementioned Ilya Levitov, who was present during the recent FIDE Presidential Board meeting and reveals something very interesting that wasn't mentioned by FIDE itself: their negotiations on a possible sale of marketing rights for the whole World Championship cycle, including the Grand Prix Series, the World Cup, the Candidates Tournament and the World Championship match, to a company called Agon. Here's our translation of Levitov's remarks (we added paragraph markers):

At the Meeting we also discussed the proposal from the company "Agon" to buy the rights to the whole cycle right to redeem the whole cycle - holding the Grand Prix, the World Cup, the Candidates Tournament and the World Championship match. They guarantee prize funds and promise to take on responsibility for organising everything.

"Agon" was founded in January of this year in some offshore centre. It has nothing to do with chess, or with sport in general. It was founded by Andrew Paulson, one of the founders of the company "Afisha". The agreement itelf is very profitable for FIDE, but the complete lack of experience in organizing chess competitions raises concerns.

Mr. Paulson was present at the Presidential Board. His presentation was disappointing. No specifics, just general words about lifting chess to a new level. He seems ready to invest a huge amount of money in chess. His motivation for these investments remains unknown, as you can't accuse him of a love of chess.

The Presidential Board decided to sign an agreement with him if it turns out that it doesn't conflict with the existing agreement with CNC (which is, in general, exactly the same). For now the Candidates Tournament is in limbo. There are two bids - from Azerbaijan and Bulgaria - and the "virtual" one from "Agon", if an agreement is reached with FIDE.

In any case, after signing the contract all the tournament rights go to the company "Agon," which will determine the time and place. Of course, the whole situation is a concern. I believe that Mr. Paulson is obliged as soon as possible to clarify his ideas and plans to the general chess public.

The whole story, and the fact that FIDE doesn't even mention Mr Paulson or his company Agon in their report, makes a very poor impression. It's very similar to the radio silence we've had in the past few years around the CNC project, which, by the way, has a new website that's suddenly being updated regularly. Another sign that FIDE actually intends to breathe new live into it?

Andrew Paulson

Naturally we googled 'Andrew Paulson'. He's a 53-year-old, successful American entrepreneur working in Russia. He founded several magazines, such as Afisha, an entertainment and listings magazine which became the cultural touchstone of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Bolshoi Gorod, a free bi-weekly lifestyle magazine and Afisha MIR, a monthly glossy travel and lifestyle magazine. He also co-founded the online media company SUP which now consists of huge websites such as LiveJournal, Championat and Gazeta. According to Businessweek, Paulson "has a knack for spinning chance encounters with the rich and famous into business opportunities". But indeed, we haven't found any link to the chess world thus far.

We can only express our deepest concern about the Agon/CNC story, and we have to conclude with an ominous 'to be continued'. For now, it's safe to assume that FIDE has at least decided one thing about the Candidates: that they want to organize it in October/November this year. Why? Because the dates of the Tal Memorial were suddenly changed.

Tal Memorial: already in June

On Wednesday, the following could be read on the website of the Russian Chess Federation:

This year the tournament will be held from 7 to 19 June. The Tal Memorial 2012 will be the seventh edition. Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik have already confirmed their participation. The names of the other participants and the venue of the tournament will be announced later.

(On a side note, 'have already confirmed' should be taken with a grain of salt. At the moment these players have merely replied to Levitov that for them, these new dates would be fine, but no contracts have been signed yet.)

This was obviously related to FIDE's plans with the Candidates, as could be derived from these three tweets by Levitov on Thursday morning:

Here's the translation (please note that the tweets were written in reverse chronological order):

"The Candidates could have been held in March 2012, when the schedule's absolutely empty! But no..." "It's incomprehensible that they don't respect the organisers of the tournaments in Russia and China, where two major tournaments are traditionally held on these dates". "This year the Tal Memorial was deprived of its usual dates. The tournament will take place from 7-19 June. The Candidates Matches [sic] have been designated for October-November..."

That more or less sums it up. Levitov is annoyed, and rightly so. FIDE lacks a clear policy for its World Championship cycle, and in the meantime deals with businessmen like David Kaplan and now Andrew Paulson, without properly informing the rest of the chess world about it. Sigh.

Ilyumzhinov confirms London, invites Radjabov as wild card

Just before we pressed the 'publish button' for this report, we read an article by the usually quite reliable Russian journalist Yuri Vasiliev in Sport-Express. To Vasiliev, Ilyumzhinov apparently confirmed the whole thing: the next Candidates Tournament will be held in London from October 23 to November 13 and it will be organized by Andrew Paulson's company Agon. Vasiliev adds that FIDE indeed transfers all the rights to hold the next World Championship cycle for men. Moreover, the wild card goes to Teimour Radjabov, which completes the list of Candidates:

Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk (all Russia), Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and the loser of the match between Viswanathan Anand (India) and Boris Gelfand (Israel), which will be held in May of this year.

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