Joel Lautier, frankly speaking

by ChessBase
12/18/2003 – After the GMA and PCA it's now the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) that is trying to improve the lot of professional chess players. Founding member Joel Lautier speaks out extensively on the goals and aspirations of the new organisation. The top French GM is highly critical of FIDE, but does not see the ACP taking over their role. We bring you excerpts and links.

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GM Joel Lautier

Joel Lautier speaks out

About the current situation in the chess world:
The professional chess world is currently in a complete mess. Matches for the reunification have been announced and cancelled several times over the past year by the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The final result looks like a joke: the official FIDE World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov, is now offered a spot in the first round of a knockout tournament to be held in Spring, while his challenger, Garry Kasparov, has somehow taken his place since he will only play the final match against the winner of the knockout tournament. The list of failures by the FIDE management in the last years is truly amazing. This intolerable situation, where we can see our sport crumble to pieces and the media interest in our game dwindling dramatically, has prompted us to act and create a new organization, the Association of Chess Professionals.

What is the ACP?
The Association of Chess Professionals is a not-for-profit international organization which operates under the French law and was set up in Paris in September 2003. There are five official founding members (as required by the French law) and these are Vladimir Kramnik, Almira Skripchenko, Pavel Tregubov, Yannick Pelletier and myself. The project was born out of a large protest movement during the European Championship in Turkey. The vast majority of players present at that event were clearly unhappy with the unfair conditions whereby they were forced to pay exaggerated room rates to have a right to participate in an official event counting for the World Championship. On one of the rest days, more than 150 players, led by Igor Glek, Almira Skripchenko and Pavel Tregubov, decided to form a new association that would look after their interests. This eventually became the ACP.

The goals of the ACP
The ACP has one simple goal: to transform chess, which in effect is still an amateur sport, into a professional one. We would like to emulate the successes of golf and tennis, namely to set up a circuit of well run professional tournaments all linked together as in a chain. To this end, we will explore two different avenues: linking the existing tournaments worldwide and creating our own new events. We will look after the rights of our members when these are clearly ignored. And I'd like to remind everyone that we shouldn't forget about women's chess too. This part of our game has a tremendous appeal that few organizers seem to notice, although it is quite obvious to any chess fan. I am certain that if a poll was conducted, it would reveal that both Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk would be in the top five most popular chess players. To that effect, two members out of nine will be women in the future Board of the ACP.

We currently have more than 130 members (that number keeps growing) of which most are grandmasters, and at the very top, nine out of the best twelve in the world according to the latest ranking list have joined our ranks. It is important that the best players participate actively by sharing their ideas, especially since most of their suggestions, and sometimes requests, have repeatedly been met with remarkable indifference from FIDE. Kasparov is not currently listed as a member. He says he will follow the Association's development with interest but awaits concrete results before deciding whether or not to join the new organization. Other top players such as Shirov, Leko and Gelfand have also preferred to wait before committing themselves. Membership is not limited to chess players only, (but open to) all actors of the professional chess stage: players, organizers, arbiters, journalists, chess programmers.


Why will the ACP succeed where the GMA and PCA failed
Actually, both the GMA and the PCA have had some measure of success before they ceased to exist. They have proved at least that chess had the power to attract important corporate sponsorship, such as SWIFT for the GMA and Intel for the PCA. There is a common feature that acted as a detonator when they both collapsed: the fact that Garry Kasparov left both organizations at some point. It was Kasparov's merit that he managed to secure the sponsorships in the first place, but both organizations were too dependent on his participation. This is not the case with the ACP since Garry is not even a member, so if we fail, it will be for another reason!

The protection of professional chess players' rights
By "rights" we mean, in the first place, the strict application of signed contracts between players and organizers. The players are asked to sign their copies of the contract and then never receive FIDE's copy of the contract with the organization's signature on it. In case of breach of contract from the part of FIDE, the players have no legal recourse, whereas if a player doesn't comply with the terms of the contract, FIDE can comfortably sign the contract before assigning the player in court. The ACP will also contest FIDE's further attempts at reducing the classical time control in most tournaments, since repeated polls, initiated by FIDE but never taken into account, have proven that a large majority of professional players are against the current 90 minutes duration for the whole game.

The leverage of the ACP
The ACP is not an abstract concept, it is a group of top professional players that have agreed to stand together under one flag. Therefore, when federations or organizers enter into a conflict with one of its members, they will have to deal with the rest of them as well! If an organizer is known to treat players in a highly unethical manner in his tournament, we will warn all our members accordingly. In some extreme cases, we might even issue an official boycott to such organizers.

On the reunification efforts
Certainly, the collapse of the single FIDE world championship title as it existed until 1993 dealt a heavy blow to the attractiveness of our sport. The ongoing uncertainty about what is to be considered the legitimate championship title has repelled many potential sponsors and will continue to do so until the chess world solves that problem. The ACP will establish its own circuit of tournaments, but it doesn't intend to take over the FIDE world championship. We will not enter into a feud with FIDE over rights to the title of "World Champion".

The future of FIDE
FIDE has every reason to exist, it federates all the national federations and coordinates various actions to develop chess worldwide. At the moment, however, FIDE is not functioning properly. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has certainly earned the gratitude of many players for giving them opportunities for a good income, however, the day he stops signing the checks, FIDE immediately goes bankrupt. I think that even in the controversial days of Campomanes, FIDE's financial situation was not that critical. FIDE definitely needs to be reformed, it should hire a professional staff of corporate sponsor seekers, sports marketing specialists and the like.

Testing X3D virtual reality chess in NY

How the ACP will promote chess
A sponsor should get his money's worth in terms of exposure and advertisement. Top players playing in worthy environments, such as theatre stages or luxury hotels for example, should project a positive image of themselves. They should be well dressed, agree to press conferences, make a serious effort to promote the game. How can we expect to arouse massive interest in our game if we stay away from the journalists and don't give spectators the desire to find out more about our game? Chess is too complicated a game to attract large crowds by virtue of its sole existence, we need to reach out for the public and explain to them why our game is unique and worth devoting its time to.

How to attract more money to support chess
The ACP will research what can be done in terms of defending the players' copyrights to their games. It is hard not to agree with Grandmaster Evgeny Sveshnikov, when he points out how unfair it is when chess organizers, writers and other players use the fruits of his analysis and work shown in his games to earn money without paying him any tribute. This obviously holds true for any strong player's games published without asking his permission, when his ideas and discoveries become public property. This state of affairs is not quite normal in my view, for a well-played game involves an act of creation that is valued by other people. Hence, like any value, it should have a price. There are other areas where chess can generate serious amounts of money, namely Internet chess which grows more popular every day. These will be addressed by the ACP as well.

On the "French Model" and Mme Nahed Ojjeh
The "French chess boom" is mainly due to Mrs Nahed Ojjeh's strong support of chess in my country. The fact that France for the first time has three native players in the top fifty players in the world (myself, Bacrot and Fressinet) is attracting many more young players to chess than before. Nevertheless, the French Chess Federation, although not as abysmally incompetent as FIDE, still isn't making the most of this favourable situation. Their motto, to me, still reads as "too little, too late".

With chess patron Mme Nahed Ojjeh

The next steps
The results of the elections for the Board of the ACP will be posted on the ACP website right after the deadline, on the 15th of December 2003 at midnight. Shortly afterwards, the nine Board members will nominate a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer, as is required by the French law. Once that is done, work will start in earnest, as of January 2004. On behalf of the ACP, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of your readers!


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