Paulson “sounded out” Kasparov over comeback

Andrew Paulson is the man who recently bought the rights to run the World Championship cycle from FIDE and hopes to turn chess into a commercially successful sport. In a new interview for a mainstream news source he again outlined his plans, with new claims including that he would soon be unveiling sponsorship deals totalling 6 million euros a year, and that he had attempted to persuade Garry Kasparov to take a wildcard place in the cycle.

                Photo of Andrew Paulson at Simpson’s restaurant | Sarah Lee, the Guardian

The article by Stephen Moss for the Guardian newspaper begins by comparing the media coverage of chess during the "glory days" of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match and the recent Anand-Gelfand match. It then switches to Andrew Paulson, who Moss talked to in Simpson’s in the Strand, originally a London chess club and coffee house and now an exclusive restaurant. It’s been suggested as a venue for the first stage of the Grand Prix that was moved from Chelyabinsk in Russia to London after a dispute with the Russian Chess Federation. In the one negative note in the article Moss mentions that “the powerful Russian Chess Federation already appears to be distancing itself from [Paulson’s] efforts”.

Otherwise, however, Paulson expresses his enthusiasm for the project. He talks about his initial impression of the chess world:

When I first dove into the chess world, I felt incredibly comfortable with these people. It was like being back in college. These were passionate, eccentric, but deeply committed. They see themselves as the keepers of the holy grail.

His new idea, though not of course something followers of chess politics haven’t heard before, is that there should be sponsorship for chess as a whole:

Then we're not selling an event, we're selling chess. We're selling chess as an idea, as a symbol, as a metaphor.

Paulson goes on to make claims for the vast potential audience for chess, and explains that the Pentagram design group has been hired to produce an identity for the World Championship cycle using the tagline, “the best mind wins”. Long-term sponsorship deals are expected to be announced soon with “half a dozen companies in different sectors”.

The mention of former World Champion Garry Kasparov is something new:

Paulson is allowed to choose one wildcard entry to the candidates tournament, and it is a testimony to the fact he intends to reintroduce some showmanship into chess that he has already sounded out Kasparov for what would be a sensational comeback. Kasparov, who will be 50 next year, has so far rejected the idea, but Paulson hopes he can be persuaded to change his mind.

Of course few chess fans wouldn’t want to see a return for perhaps the greatest player in chess history, but…

  1. Realistically it would be enormously difficult for Kasparov to get back up to speed in top-level chess after such a long break and with all of his rivals (even Anand and Gelfand) much younger than he is.
  2. The mention of a wildcard entry is perhaps a mistake, as the line-up for the 2013 Candidates Tournament is already fixed (Teimour Radjabov was given the wildcard). There are six wildcards available for the upcoming Grand Prix series, but would Kasparov be willing to play in four tournaments as required? Or perhaps the wildcard would be directly for the 2015 Candidates Tournament, but three years would be a long time to wait for someone approaching 50.
  3. There’s also the issue of Kasparov’s strong opposition to the current FIDE leadership, which would make any deals with FIDE’s new commercial partner unlikely.

In short, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath!

The article ends:

Every sport depends on having a narrative – a story non-experts can follow. That is what made the Fischer-Spassky match unforgettable – the personality of Fischer set against the backdrop of the cold war. Paulson can't recreate the cold war, but he hopes to allow us to identify with the people behind the moves, and thus rescue the game from the obscurity in which it has languished in recent years. "We have a great product and a huge potential audience," Paulson insists. Now he has to connect them.

“Chess impresario hopes to bring back the Fischer v Spassky glory days” at the Guardian website