February 10, 2012 11:14

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

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

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:


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,

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.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Jamie's picture


Steve Giddins's picture

I put something on my blog about this a couple of days ago: see http://stevegiddinschessblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/london-candidates/ .
Despite today's "confirmation", I remain as sceptical as I was earlier.

Szoker's picture

what ?

Thomas's picture

Not saying that all is fine with FIDE, but this article is extremely negative. At the other extreme, it could read about like this: "FIDE found a new sponsor to organize the candidates event in a major western city (as many people want or prefer). Thereby they also avoid the problematic venues Azerbaijan (impossible for Aronian) and Bulgaria (not appealing for Kramnik)."

True, this London organizer doesn't yet have a chess connection - but experienced ones were contacted and not interested. What is the chess experience of the Stavanger organizers, other than having a Norwegian top GM? What was the chess experience of the Nanjing organizers before their first event? Reportedly, one of the organizers wondered why Steinitz wasn't invited ... .

Which leaves the chaotic information policy, in part sort of inherent to the Internet and Twitter age: just a few years ago, everyone would have waited for an official press release.

Peter Doggers's picture


If you read carefully (in fact the end of the article suffices) you'll see that I criticise only these aspects: FIDE's lack of a clear policy towards the WCh cycle, and their lack of communication about their deals with Kaplan and now Paulson.

Thomas's picture

Hmmm, if one has to read very carefully to find out that "only these aspects" are criticized ... . It isn't just the end, but also giving lots of room to Levitov who may be understandably frustrated. However, at least his "The Candidates could have been held in March 2012" is just nonsense: one participant, the loser of the Anand-Gelfand match, isn't known yet!

There was the following situation: the two other bids were problematic. Aronian openly stated that he (still) cannot play in Azerbaijan, Kramnik may have acted behind the scenes against the Bulgarian bid - which I would fully understand. Then FIDE approached well-known London organizers who weren't interested (maybe because their earlier bid had failed?). Then another sponsor appeared, I can understand that FIDE didn't reveal details while negotiations were still underway. FIDE was criticized for not finding sponsors, now they are criticized (basically) for keeping things confidential until everything is finalized - and a bit longer while rumors were already circulating.

Paulson may be unknown, but his background in cultural and online media isn't the worst possible one for a chess organizer. And even if he doesn't love chess at all but has purely commercial interests, it could become a win-win situation for both sides? Why not give him the benefit of doubt?

frogbert's picture

I'm surprised about your lack of perspective here, Thomas.

Btw, there's a chess club in Stavanger, and Carlsen is a member of that chess club, and the Norwegian Chess Federation - and surely our (Norway's) seasoned IAs and IOs will take care of the technical organization of the event in Stavanger, and it's "only" a single (if it fails) privately organized chess tournament, not the World Championship of FIDE.

Thomas's picture

I was a bit provocative but didn't want or mean to insult the Stavanger organizers. What I meant is that the sponsors - a real estate and a kitchen equipment company - don't have previous experience with organizing chess events, and don't have an obvious chess connection. Maybe there is a "hidden" one (some of the bosses are hobby chessplayers), maybe they just want to somehow benefit from Carlsen's popularity, both would be perfectly fine. I was just puzzled that that article is at least neutral, while another new sponsor is greeted with lots of skepticism.

BTW I hope and expect that the Stavanger event will also have non-Norwegian arbiters, to avoid potential or perceived bias if Carlsen is involved in a dispute. Tata Steel had a Czech and a Swedish arbiter (and maybe others whom I don't remember) - they would probably have stayed out of the decision process if there had been controversies around Navara or Tikkanen, respectively.

anish's picture

Did you ever hear of the expression "The pot calling the kettle black", frogbert?

mishanp's picture

I think he probably meant March 2013, or at least that was how I was reading it until I read your comment! Kramnik had also suggested having the Candidates in early 2013, and Levitov would probably have discussed it with him.

Thomas's picture

Yep, March 2013 might make sense, but then "2012" in his tweet is a very careless typo to say the least. But March 2013 might open up other cans of worms:
- FIDE would be criticized that the cycle takes too long. The rating spots probably won't "expire" (the edge of Carlsen, Aronian and Kramnik over everyone but Anand is unlikely to fade away), but the World Cup spots might be considered outdated.
- Some players may already have made certain plans for a candidates event this coming fall, such as hiring seconds.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

I got the same impression as about the tone of the article until I read Peter's response. Well in general ChessVibes has been critical of FIDE. But to a general public view (such as me) FIDE was worse before and they have improved significantly in the last 5 years. They are definitely trying albeit not taking principled steps.

noyb's picture

Much ado about nothing. This event will never come off in this fashion. We are talking about FIDE, after all...

Harish Srinivasan's picture

In the last few years FIDE has been able to hold the wch cycle as per what they have said. Atleast nothing has been cancelled. This includes the womens cycle as well. All the grand prix's took place, the candiates, the world cup and the wch matches themselves. Nothing has fallen apart and so to atleast that much extent one can rely on FIDE to do what it takes to organize the cycle.

frogbert's picture

"In the last few years FIDE has been able to hold the wch cycle as per what they have said"

I'm sorry, but that's bollocks. The previous cycle was dramatically changed midway, when they abondoned the roles of both the FIDE Grand Prix 2008-2009 (was supposed to produce on candidate finalist) and the WCC 2009 (was supposed to produce the other candidate finalist). If need somewhere to start getting up to speed on reality, one possible starting point is here: http://chess.liverating.org/protest.html

By making this change now, they also violate the regulations of the *current* cycle, producing yet another tainted cycle, by (for reasons not explained and not part of any regulations) giving a "wild card" to Radjabov. The regulations never had any "wild card" - it had an organizer nominee, a 2700+ player that the organizer would select. If FIDE doesn't organize the Candidates, they can't select the organizer nominee WITHOUT changing the rules of the wc cycle. Like they did also in the previous cycle.

FIDE is utterly without directions when it comes to the World Championship of Chess, and the lack of predictability for the future has hardly ever been worse.

"one can rely on FIDE to do what it takes to organize the cycle"

No, one can rely on FIDE to do something unpredictable midway in any cycle, changing rules and disrespecting signed contracts with players and sponsors. That's what happened in the 2008-2012 cycle that culminates with the Anand - Gelfand match. Why is it so hard to keep track of reality?

Harish Srinivasan's picture

When I meant you can rely on FIDE, is that the wch cycle will not fall apart and get canceled. The inclusion of Radjabov cannot be argued with. If the organizer is happy with Radjabov being the 8th person, the FIDE nominee is as good as the organizers nominee. Whats the big fuzz about that. Bottom line was that the 2010 match was held, the candidates for 2012 were held and we have Gelfand as the challenger. Ok, the grand prix winner was to play world cup winner. That got changed and hence Carlsen dropped out. But previously Morozevich, Kramnik etc. dint want to participate in grand prix as they thought it was long winded. To accommodate that FIDE changed it to the 8 player format. But since it was a change mid way Carlsen dropped. So how many people can be satisfied. One of them was always going to be unhappy. Finally, fide made sure all the grand prix were held. lets give credit when it is due. there were many suspicions whether the grand prix will fall apart and not be held because it was fide. One can always criticize fide for several things, but hammering them for every little excuse is also not right.

frogbert's picture

"But previously Morozevich, Kramnik etc. dint want to participate in grand prix as they thought it was long winded. To accommodate that FIDE changed it to the 8 player format."

*sigh* Yes, *after* 21 other players had signed a contract for competing for 1 of 2 places in the candidates *final*. And *after* the first of 6 competitions had been played.

It's not like FIDE (read: the president and the presidential board) can change whatever they like, whenever they like, because "someone is unhappy". When Kramnik and Moro didn't want to play the WC Qualifier(s) because it was long-winded, then tough luck for them. They should've played the 2009 World cup or worked through proper channels to change the regulations of the *next* cycle.

The argument that "someone will be unhappy" simply doesn't apply - it's irrelevant that someone will be unhappy. What's relevant is that 1) *first* one makes a set of rules for a competition, 2) *then* one goes through with it according to the rules. If they turn out not to work so well or according to expectations, 3) one changes them the next time around.

Btw, who's the organizer of the candidates? So far I have the name of a sponsor, some guy with money. It will be interesting to see who will take on organizing the event in London, without being able to nominate e.g. Adams or some other player of their own choice. So far the only thing we know about "the buyer" here is that he supposedly has resources.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

I am not saying that that changing the cycle mid way was correct. It was done due to the reason that some people were unhappy. Ok, so as you say then it should be changed next time around and not that cycle. But where I am coming from is that still they did manage to find the money and playing conditions for finishing the cycle. And this time around they have managed to find a sponsor for the candidates and have so far stuck to the format they told it will be. In spite of that, pointing the small difference between "Organizing nominee" and "FIDE nominee" as "changing" the rules is uncalled for. In the past, they did change it mid way. This time around they have not and have found (or trying to find) a sponsor. So it is a step in the right direction. Why should we still point at what they did in past and continue to malign any good measures taken at the present.

Septimus's picture

A lot of nonsense just to promote your little site and your meaningless "protest" against FIDE.

Thomas's picture

Generally I consider the chaos of the previous cycle unpleasant history, it's time to move on. I agree with you about Radjabov's spot, strange that the wildcard again goes to Azerbaijan. It may be a consolation prize that their bid wasn't honored (a spot for Topalov would have been even harder to justify, and IMO he already had more than enough privileges).
It would have been more logical to give the last spot to a runner-up of the qualifying process, either Karjakin (next on the relevant rating lists, even if he has now fallen a little bit behind) or Ponomariov (for the second consecutive time, one match short of qualifying via the World Cup).
But for me that's the only flaw in the recent turn of events, and a relatively minor one.

Aun1's picture

I agree with that. radjabov probably got that spot more than likely due to the fact that he is azeri rather than because he is currently #5 on the list (what was his spot on the other relevant list?). i don't particularly like it.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

My concern is about the dates .. it is too close to the Bilbao masters (that ends Oct 13th 2012). Just 10 days after and there is this candidates. So I am not sure if the players (especially Carlsen, Aronian) who are already scheduled to play at Bilbao will agree to play the candidates just 10 days later.

Gert's picture

As a chess fan this is fantastic news. A candidate match in a neutral environment.

Anonymous's picture

malcolm pein is probably just throwing his toys out of the pram cus he likes to be the big boss in london

renumeratedfrog's picture

"As a chess fan this is fantastic news. A candidate match in a neutral environment."

London is hardly neutral. There's a great deal of political animosity between Britain and Russia, and as we know from past experience (ex. Armenia and Azerbaijan), this can spill over to chess. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly what chess needs to make headlines.

Parkov's picture


Harish Srinivasan's picture

Thatrs rubbish. Kramnik is a Russian but he has mentioned on more than one occasion that london chess classic is his favorite tournament.

Anonymous's picture

I agree this statement is quite obviously ridiculous. You can hardly compare England-Russia to Azerbijan-Armenia. Between Russian and England the diplomatic relations are frosty but this hardly spills over to the general populace to create an unpleasant atmosphere as it does in the afore-mentioned countries.

test's picture

I am generally suspicious of these "entrepreneurs" who skyrocket out of nowhere to the top of huge imperiums. Very often they will also skyrocket back down eventually, usually in a cloud of scandal and corruption.

FIDE also has a track record of going into bed with shady figures & shady deals where a lot happens under the table. Win win for FIDE & their "sponsor", but a loss for chess when it all comes crashing down again.

Maybe it's all good this time, but enough reasons to keep a wary eye on these proceedings imo. (Not that the chess world will be able to do anything about it.)

bayde's picture

In the short time he has been on the scene, I've come to have a grudging respect for Levitov. Of that horribly unprofessional bunch in FIDE, he seems the least unprofessional.

If Levitov doesn't like it, this thing probably smells.

noELO's picture

"The Candidates could have been held in March 2012, when the schedule's absolutely empty! But no..."
I don´t understand this quotation (by Mr.Levitov) - however, match Anand - Gelfand is scheduled on May 2012. Candidates on March 2012 (sic!) - i.e. before the WC match?????

Bartleby's picture

If he has bought the whole cycle does that mean the Presidential Board doesn't have the right to mess with the rules from now on? Hope.

bayde's picture

Guys, it's actually worse than this! Reading Vasiliev's announcement, it says that Agon is receiving the rights to upcoming CYCLES (plural)!!

"Организатором выступает вновь созданная американским бизнесменом Эндрю Полсоном компания "Агон", которой ФИДЕ передает все права на проведение ближайших циклов розыгрыша первенства мира среди мужчин."

This is Artyom Tarasov all f*****g over again! Do these idiots not ever LEARN?!?!?

Steve Giddins's picture

More news on why Radjabov got the wild card - see my new blog update http://stevegiddinschessblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/london-candidates-...

Excalibur's picture

Radjabov deserves it. Lets not forget he nearly knocked out Kramnik if not for the clock incident.

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