Andrew Paulson elected ECF President

by ChessBase
10/14/2013 – American media entrepreneur Andrew Paulson, founder of AGON and World Chess, has been elected as President of the English Chess Federation (ECF). Paulson was elected on a promise to modernise the business model of chess in England and make the sport more popular. Of course he is still actively involved in FIDE and international chess. Election statement and interview.

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Andrew Paulson was elected President of English Chess Federation at the Annual General Meeting that took place at the Euston Square Hotel on Saturday. The results of the election: President: Andrew Paulson, Chief Executive: Phil Ehr, Director of Finance: David Eustace.

American entrepreneur Andrew Paulson [photo Loic Landry]

Andrew is an American entrepreneur with many strings to his bow. He graduated from Yale University in 1981 with a BA in French Literature and Literary Criticism. He has traveled all over the world, working primarily in the arts. In 2012 he founded AGON, which was accorded by FIDE the long-term, exclusive rights to develop, organize and commercialize the World Chess Championship cycle.

Andrew Paulson – ECF Election Statement

1. Leadership. From my biography you will know that I am attracted to challenges and that I particularly like to build things of honour, beauty and glory. An entrepreneur sees opportunities that others don't and makes them work. This is why I have been so drawn to chess in general over the last couple of years. I can see all the parts lying about on the ground for the ECF to become a brilliant success and I think I know how to pick them up and put them together. Beyond its day-to-day activities, the ECF needs a grand purpose; I propose that it become the moral vanguard of functional and honest chess administration, throwing up case studies in how to establish chess federations as professional organisations.

The ECF – often engaging in undignified squabbles over minutiae – suffers from the Narcissism of Minor Differences. I will make sure that henceforth we focus on the large areas about which which we agree, rather than be paralyzed by the details that hold us back.

After years of estrangement from and conflict with FIDE which has achieved nothing, the ECF should engage with FIDE and urge upon it a new tone of transparency and collegiality which will improve the commercial prospects of chess worldwide. My experience with FIDE should help us achieve this.

2. Innovation and Collaboration. UK chess is the perfect laboratory in which to fine-tune old institutions and test new ideas: our successes will show how organised chess everywhere should innovate. We must also study the solutions that our colleagues around the world are implementing for challenges they too are facing.

My first major initiative is a new business model to bring sponsorship revenue to all the ECF's interests, projects and affiliates, and to the ECF itself. The ECF will offer a consolidated asset (ALL of English chess, here and abroad, at every level, every event, any individual) for sponsorship and act as a central clearing house equitably to distribute this revenue to all participants. Interested members of the Executive Board and the Council will draft a proposal for control of the asset and allocation of revenue; a commercial director will be appointed or elected and paid to find the revenue and manage the sponsoring partners.

Andrew Paulson – photographed by Fred Lucas

My second more long-term initiative will be to develop new event formats to make chess more of a spectator sport and chess events more festive. This will serve both to increase attendance and membership but also to establish a better commercial base for sponsorship.

3. Cohesion. The ECF lacks leadership as evidenced by its disunity; it has a negative reputation, especially among its own members,as a consequence. I have an exemplary track record of creating healthy corporate cultures in very difficult circumstances. I intend to repair the reputation, improve the efficiency and provide strong leadership of the ECF so as to encourage estranged actors in the UK chess world to return to its bosom. Too much talent has wandered off in too many opposing directions out of frustration.

My first concrete goal is to arrange for the Government to accord to chess the status of a sport. We will actively support Malcolm Pein in his creation of an All Parliamentary Group reviewing the matter. Separately, I will bring to bear the loud and committed voices of Peter Mandelson, Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey and George Osborne on this issue. After years of dilly-dallying, we will find the right button and push it.

Second, I will begin to work closely with English chess’ various independent entrepreneurs to better co-ordinate their activities with an ECF that supports rather than restrains.

4. My Interest. My personal interest – other than simply seeing a problem and wanting to fix it – derives from the legitimacy I will earn as a spokesman for chess in Africa and India (where I am working to develop projects similar to the ones I am proposing to initiate in England) if I succeed with the ECF. Therefore, success with the ECF is a precondition to satisfying my personal interests, not the other way around.
Further, perhaps for good reason, I have found a general suspicion among chess players of businessmen whom they think are trying to make a money off their backs; ECF President is a role that let's me do good and give back. Finally, some have questioned how much time I will be able to dedicate to the ECF. My answer to this is that although not all my time will be devoted to the ECF, all of my time will be devoted to chess.

Rival Roger Edwards' election address

Andrew Paulson gave an interview to the Yorkshire Chess news page, prior to the election. Here excepts:

AGON and Previous Chess Experience

Question: Why have you chosen to stand for ECF President?

Andrew Paulson: I am attracted to challenges. I thought that I could contribute. I thought that my offer (to work unpaid for a year in a thankless position full of headaches, if not nightmares, that many warned me away from) would be received with enthusiasm! And, I was led to believe that Roger Edwards was a caretaker emergency President who would stand down as soon as I presented myself. The real question is why, having discovered that many of the reasons I decided to stand in the first place turned out not to be the case, am I STILL standing for President. I suppose that the first two reasons were enough in the first place: I am attracted to challenges. I thought that I could contribute.

Your rival for the role, Roger Edwards has much more experience within English Chess than you. Is this a serious handicap to your campaign?

Not at all. In fact, I proposed to Roger that we work together. That he take up the role of Chairman and I stand for President. He seriously considered this option and, if I am elected, I hope that he will continue to be a wise and steady hand on the tiller beside me. And, as I mentioned in my “Platform” I hope that many of the great figures in English chess who have drifted away from the ECF will return to advise and contribute.

You talk about a new business model and trying to attract sponsorship, with “English Chess” being the selling point. How would you sell “English Chess?”

To the extent that sustainable, rational sponsorship of chess is possible, it will only come when all the bits of English Chess are aggregated to form a sizeable offering and packaged in such a way that a sponsor can reasonably expect a return on his investment. Otherwise, chess sponsorship is a charity (which is fine, but unreliable over the long term).

Adam Raoof, Andrew Paulson, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian and chess set designer Daniel Weil
on their way to Downing Street after the Candidates Tournament in April this year

This question hides a second question: why does English Chess need money? And, if it had money how should it be spent? My role as president should be to help find some money (whether from Sponsorship or from the Government) and then mediate the debate as to how this money should be spent … which promises to be as divisive an issue as Membership.

In the eighties England were ranked number two in the world and had around eight players ranked in the top 100. Our standing has fallen since then and does not look likely to recover to those heady heights any time soon. How do you envisage the national teams improve their standing?

Investment. Vision. Discipline.

Chess boomed in this country as a result of the Fischer-Spassky Reykjavik match which received so much exposure in the media. Would you consider ‘buying’ in a world champion to represent the England flag if it would bring that kind of exposure again?


You have spoken fondly of Malcolm Pein. Would you like a stronger link between the ECF and Chess in Schools and Communities to allow more talent to be discovered and nurtured?

In any normal world, Malcolm would be working from inside the ECF which would give him an organized, formal platform from which to launch and execute his initiatives. This is why federations exist. A symptom of the ECF malaise that it is often ruefully stated that it is a good thing that Malcolm was defeated in his ECF election, as he got more done outside the ECF than he ever could have inside!

How can the ECF help create an environment to have an English challenger to the world chess title?

Look at the disproportionate number of medals the UK won in the Olympics! Look at the disproportionate number of top chess players from Azerbaijan (or Russia, for that matter). Investment. Vision. Discipline.

I also think that more thought, attention and investment needs to be paid/made to women’s chess at every age level. This is a subject strangely absent from discussion today; ECF is doing women and itself a disservice by not being more pro-active in this area.

To what level have you played chess? Have you ever had a published rating?

I first learned chess from the father of my best friend in Sunningdale, England, in 1965. I have been playing regularly ever since. However, in my teens I became rather addicted to Go, playing chess and go alternately with my friends. This is like playing badminton and tennis: logical, but counterproductive. Then, I discovered bridge … which destroyed my GPA at university.

Which country do you consider to be your current home address and do you have currently any business ventures in the UK?

I am legally a resident of the UK. I live in London. Although I advise some companies and foundations, chess is the only ‘business’ I am involved in currently, in any way. And since the Candidates Tournament, none of my chess activity has been in the UK.

Why did you choose to involve yourself with the organisation of the World Championship Cycle?

After selling my companies in Russia, I was looking for another opportunity to do something interesting and useful. That kind of search is sort of like looking for a wife: you don’t actually choose, there’s a lot of dating, then a lot of courting and then one day you wake up and find yourself married with four children.

Are you happy that the goals set by Agon for the World championship cycle are being met? If not how do you aim to get back on track?

This is a very complicated question and I could give a very long and complicated answer. To be brief: I am not happy with the results so far and I am sure that there will be friendly recalibration and renegotiation with FIDE to adjust expectations and performance. In large part, the results have been disappointing because it has been more difficult than I anticipated to attract sponsorship to chess. The second part has to do with the unrealistic goals we set: the Candidates, four Grand Prix and the World Championship all in one year! And, next year, again: the Candidates, three Grand Prix and the World Championship.

ChessBase articles on Andrew Paulson

1.8.2012 - Agon and the spiritual home of chess
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.

12.3.2012 - Paulson: 'World cities will glorify chess'
FIDE recently transferred the rights to its World Championship cycle to a company called Agon, an action that sent shock waves through the chess world. The man behind Agon is Andrew Paulson, an American born media entrepreneur working in Russia, who is not well known in the chess world. That changes radically now, since GM Raymond Keene sent us this very outspoken interview.

2.7.2012 - Agon appoints Pentagram to reposition chess
As we recently reported, American media entrepreneur Andrew Paulson has founded a venture to host the World Chess Championships – with a prize fund of 5.4 million Euros! He has now appointed a leading design agency, Pentagram (in London) to rebrand the championships, which will be broadcast live on iPads, smartphones and cable TV channels. Press release.

7.9.2012 - Istanbul: Press conference with Andrew Paulson
"The energy that we see here is just incredible, very positive," said the American born London based entrepreneur, visiting his first Chess Olympiad. Andrew Paulson is the founder and director of Agon, the company which is going to organize World Chess Championship cycle for the next years. He told spectators how he intends to tap into the natural force of 600 million chess players worldwide.

20.3.2013 - Candidates – Carlsen and Paulson in BBC News
On the free day, Monday, the national British TV channel BBC News interviewed the organiser of the Candidates Tournament Andrew Paulson, and the highest-ranking chess player in the world Magnus Carlsen. During the discussion the presenter Ros Atkins played a game against Magnus, in which he was proud to give a check on move eight. Watch it on BBC News.

6.11.2012 - CHESS Magazine: An interview with... Andrew Paulson
He is a man with a mission for world championship chess. Early this year Andrew Paulson and his company Agon were handed the rights for all of FIDE’s major events – the Grand Prix series, the Candidates and the title match itself. Last month John Saunders and Matthew Read of Britain's CHESS Magazine were invited to meet him at his office in Whitehall for an indepth interview. Part one.

15.11.2012 - CHESS Magazine: An interview with... Andrew Paulson (Part two)
He is a man with a mission for world championship chess. Early this year Andrew Paulson and his company Agon were handed the rights for all of FIDE’s major events – the Grand Prix series, the Candidates and the title match itself. Last month John Saunders and Matthew Read of Britain's CHESS Magazine were invited to meet him at his office in Whitehall for an indepth interview. Part two.

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