Agon and the spiritual home of chess

by ChessBase
8/1/2012 – Agon, the company that was recently accorded the commercial rights to the World Chess Championships by FIDE, says that the game is to "return" to Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, which it claims is the "spiritual home of chess in Europe". Simpson’s will be the setting for the Grand Prix event between 20 September and 3 October. The tournament will have a prize fund of 240,000 Euros. Press release.

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Text of press release

The event, the first Grand Prix in the new World Chess Championship Cycle, was originally scheduled to be played in Chelyabinsk in the Russian Ural mountains, but unresolved issues between FIDE and the Russian Chess Federation led to Agon’s decision to transfer the event to London.

Andrew Paulson, the Chief Executive and Founder of Agon, said: “I am delighted to confirm that Simpson’s-in-the-Strand will be the venue for the September Grand Prix. As possibly the best-known chess venue in the world, it is the perfect place to kick off the new Championship cycle. However, the requirement to transfer the event to London from Chelyabinsk at this relatively late stage means that it will be a smaller, invite-only event. “Agon’s stewardship of the World Chess Championships really only starts with the London Candidates tournament in March 2013, but I felt compelled to support FIDE when it became apparent that Chelyabinsk wasn’t going to work.”

CJ de Mooi, the President of the English Chess Federation (ECF), said: “I am delighted to welcome the Agon Chess Grand Prix to London in our Olympic year. The ECF looks forward to a long partnership with Agon, an innovative company that has proven itself on both the world stage and the chess board.”

Simpson’s originally opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house and soon became known as the “home of chess” after attracting the patronage of such chess luminaries as Howard Staunton – the first English world chess champion.

Raymond Keene OBE, chess columnist for The Times newspaper and The Spectator magazine and one of the world’s most respected commentators on the sport, said: “I am relishing the return of the World Chess Championships to Simpson’s. It is the home of the immortal game and the Grand Prix in September represents the start of a long journey to restore chess to its rightful place in the public imagination after decades in the media wilderness.”

The announcement of Simpson’s as a venue is indicative of Agon’s ambitions for the World Chess Championships. Agon will be bringing the World Chess Championships to European capital cities, as part of its commitment to bring a sustainable business model to the sport.

Mr Paulson added: “We will shortly be announcing a number of illustrious and historic venues for the World Chess Championship cycle. We are also in discussions with a number of global companies that want to be associated with the pinnacle of this wonderful game.”

In 2013, the Championship cycle will be hosted by London, Lisbon, Madrid, Berlin, Paris and Tromsø.

The confirmed players for the London Grand Prix are:

Sergey Karjakin
Hikaru Nakamura
Alexander Grischuk
Veselin Topalov
Wang Hao
Boris Gelfand
Peter Leko
Shakriyar Mamedyarov
Ruslan Ponomariov
Leinier Dominguez Perez    
Anish Giri
Rustam Kazimdzhanov

About Agon (Press release)

The World Chess Championship Cycle is the pinnacle of chess and consists of nine events over two years. The 2012-13 Candidates Tournament will take place in London in March and is a double round-robin tournament among eight players; the winner will go on to play the reigning World Chess Champion, Vishy Anand, in the World Championship Match in November 2013. Overlapping, the next cycle will begin this September with the Grand Prix Series, which will be hosted in London, Tashkent, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and Berlin, and the World Cup hosted in Tromsø.

The commercial rights for the World Chess Championship Cycle were accorded to AGON, the company founded by the media entrepreneur Andrew Paulson, by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in February 2012. Mr Paulson is negotiating with commercial brand partners to sponsor the tournaments, allowing him to increase the prize fund to 5.5 million euros and to significantly expand the broadcast coverage of the sport. The events will exploit the interactive potential of online and mobile technology, with broadcast on smartphones, tablets and online supplementing the highlights coverage on global television networks.

Agon will also encourage interactivity between the spectators and the players by developing live and post-live technology, called ChessCasting, that will use biometric inputs, chess engine analysis and human commentary to transform chess into a spectator sport. The product will enable fans to monitor the players’ heartbeats, blood pressure and stress levels; track their eye movements over the board; predict the next move and comment on the games’ progress. The content will be made available for immediate translation into dozens of languages around the world.

The design agency Pentagram has been hired to create new branding and design for the championships, and to conceive a cockpit where the games will be played.


The Grand Cigar Divan –
The Home of Chess

In 1828, Samuel Reiss, opened the Grand Cigar Divan on the site of the Fountain Tavern, which had been the home of the famous literary association, the Kit Kat Club.

The establishment soon developed as a coffee house, where gentlemen smoked cigars with their coffee, browsed over the daily journals and newspapers, indulged in lengthy conversations about the politics of the day and played chess, sitting on comfortable divans or sofas. Many of these divans were arranged to form boxes and these can still be seen today. Regular visitors would pay one guinea a year for the use of the facilities and cups of coffee. The daily entrance fee for others was 6d (2½ p) or 1/6d (9p) with coffee and a cigar.

Simpson's soon started attracting such chess luminaries as Howard Staunton, the first English world chess champion, through its doors. It was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to guests' tables first came into being, a practice Simpson's still continues today.

The Regency Room at Simpson's

The cartoon on the reverse of the menu (or Bill of Fare, as they call it at Simpsons), has
the caption: “The gentleman who asked the carver whether the meat was English or foreign”.

One of the earliest Master Cooks insisted that everything in the restaurant be British and the Simpson's of today remains a proud exponent of the best of British food. Famous guests include Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

Simpson's-in-the-Strand in London today

The entrance to the Grand Divan (originally the "Grand Cigar Divan")

Historical pictures on the walls of the staircases

Two more recent players whom you might recognise in the paintings on the walls

Simpson's-in-the-Strand, 100 Strand, London, WC2R 0EW
Telephone: 020-7836 9112 – Fax: 020-7836 1381


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