The Candidates Tournament 2016, together with the Chess Olympiad in Baku and the World Chess Championship in New York, is one of the top tournaments of the year. The event is traditionally followed by millions of viewers worldwide, all looking forward to the challenger who will face the reigning champion for the highest merit in the sport of chess.
However, just two days before the start of the competition, there are practically zero mainstream media covering or even mentioning the event. The general awareness has been reduced from “millions” to “thousands” cutting anywhere between two and three orders of magnitude from the traditional interest figure.
All this is due to AGON’s new policy towards journalists. Clearly unaware of the global mechanics in chess journalism and largely ignoring the desire of the chess community, AGON have managed to alienate themselves while putting the whole FIDE World Chess Championship cycle in jeopardy
The multi-level blunder of AGON
The Candidates global coverage was going well on track. Small and large media around the globe were frequently reporting on the venue, the players, and the tournament preparation. All were hungry about the tiniest detail of the event. This was going on for months, right until March 4th, when everyone suddenly stopped covering the Candidates. The reason was the late Friday night press release by AGON titled, “Live moves and video to be shown exclusively by WorldChess…” followed up by a disproportionate and aggressive explanation titled “And now a word from our sponsors”
AGON, this is a huge blunder. And we are not talking about the video part. The detail in question is the chess moves, the very essence of the game itself. It is an element loaded with historical right of freedom, public domain value, and global availability. You cannot ban its spread in any form, as it has been proven in courts in USA and EU (Germany, Bulgaria). The problem is not that you will try to repeat the same mistake again, rather that this try is actually ruining a fantastic chess event on all levels
1. Ignoring the chess fans desire
The chess fans are the number one moving force behind the game of chess. They are the basis of the pyramid, the engine that pushes the sport. Are you sure you can satisfy the coverage desire of the majority of the chess fans on the official site? Are you sure you will have more services than the global collective of journalists, commentators, and producers? Will you hold the spikes of traffic in the key moments? Rhetorical questions of course, and every experienced chess fan knows the answer. Just see their reactions in social media. There is no approval for your plans.
2. Stomping the journalists moral
You place a ban on live games coverage by defining the live as the duration of the game and a short period after. Even football (soccer) does not do that, as text covering of a game is free for all – on websites, livescores, commentaries, analysis, twitter, facebook, etc. With lawyer white paper threats you have cut any journalist’s right to properly cover the Candidates. While being with the law on their side, no sane journalist will risk losing time and/or money arguing with an organization. Worse, they will most probably try never to enter in this pitfall again by simply ignoring top level competitions. This is not just supposition, it is backed by actual letters from mainstream media partners of Chessdom that we received in the last several days.
3. Ignoring the information flow mechanics
The information flow mechanics in chess is specific due to the nature of the game in recent years – the online games and presence of the sport has grown dramatically. The collection of the largest chess portals in the world has 50 million annual users. Yet, this is a smaller number than the collection of all small online chess blogs, websites, forums, and communities with their local versions.
All these online users are entangled in a global chess information network that has a dynamic character.
The ban of transmitting chess moves will not stop the information flow, but it will slow it down and weaken it, making the news unavailable for many of the branches of the complex information engine.
The result is a global problem for chess, spearheaded by you, AGON
4. You have failed in your communication, both with the chess community and the journalists. The fans voices have been largely ignored. Emails from us and other journalists requesting information on the new policy have gone unanswered. Chess is a game played by individuals, but the world of chess is moved by the community.
5. With creating WorldChess and showing games there you go directly against FIDE and are in breach with their regulations https://www.fide.com/FIDE/handbook/regscandidates2016.pdf point 4. 7. 3. 6. 4. 1 “The organizer will be responsible for managing, updating and reviewing the official web domain which will be used for the event: xxxx2016.fide.com where xxxx refers to the city where the event is being held. All content will be reviewed and approved by the FIDE Press Officer. All live images, live broadcasting (Internet TV) pictures and all the other content for the full event details will be carried on the official domain. The organizer shall not develop any other website.”
AGON, you not only make a legal fuss about an issue well established in Western courts, but you also base this on a breach with FIDE itself.
Chessdom will still have live coverage
We love chess. For nine years we work in a hostile political environment, in a world of uncertainty, fighting regressionist ideas. We will continue doing it for a “selfish” reason: we adore the 23 million unique users that have visited Chessdom since its creation. We are amazed every day by their passion, their love for the game, and their dedication.
That is why we will keep investing thousands in servers, tens of thousands in software, and even more in human resources including GMs and IMs.
The Candidates will have live coverage on Chessdom. Not the one that will allow you to bully journalists with lawyers, but the kind that will bring the daily LIVE chess fun for the fans.
And now a word to your sponsors…
Millions of fans will not learn about this year’s Candidates matches because of AGON’s policy. Many will miss the live coverage and only learn about the games after the tournament is over, when Carlsen’s challenger is known. What is the commercial value of that? Can you calculate how much are the lost benefits for the sponsors of the event? And for the hosts? And for the players? And for the sponsors of the players?
The opening blunder AGON committed is a fact. From Chessdom, and we believe from all modern chess media, we are ready to extend a hand and help the organization, in the name of the game of chess itself. But if the same line is continued, we will be forced to take the opposite stance and defend the historical right of chess and its multitude of fans.
CEO of Chessdom.com , ChessArena.com and TCEC