New York 2016: Press conference and Opening gala

by Albert Silver
11/11/2016 – New York is without question the most famous city in the United States, and one of the most iconic in the world. Bringing the World Championship there once more after 21 years is thrilling and it will be the picture of a new era in more ways than one. The obvious one is that of the first match in history where both players are in their twenties, but this is also the era of the internet and even pay-per-view ideas with VR. Here is our onsite report with pictures galore.

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Report and photos by Albert Silver

(click on images for high-res version)

If I go back enough in time, I can trace my roots to New York as it is my city of birth, but those roots are buried deep in the sands of time and my memories of this city are those of a child. Having lived in Rio de Janeiro for many years now, and having grown accustomed to the two-season weather (Spring and Summer), my initial concern was the much colder temperatures I could expect to face, and how much this would weigh in on me. I packed 3-4 pullovers, and all manner of very warm clothing, but truth be told, it almost seems like overkill at the moment. Yes, it is cooler here, but not unpleasantly so, and nothing a light jacket and a brisk walking pace will not counteract with ease.

Opening press conference

I arrived in the morning with barely time to settle in and resolve the usual tasks before the opening press conference was to take place at the venue.

Magnus Carlsen takes his seat as the first official press conference gets underway

Once there I was surprised to see just how many members of the press had come, not just from local news sources such as the New York Times, and chess sites, but also from all over the world

The conference did show just how much attention the event had garnered

Ilya Merenzon, holding up the Virtual Reality device, explained, "For chess, this match is like a coming out party. I was a part of the last match in Sochi and was in the room when the last decisive move was made. It was so intense, so moving, so dramatic. I know some people in this room actually fainted! It's really amazing that we will be bringing Virtual Reality to chess -- so that everyone can follow the match as if they are sitting in the room, next to the players!"

Both players had a chance to see what it looked like

After trying it, Karjakin looked suitably impressed

Unsurprisingly, with a mix of mainstream media and specialized chess media such as ChessBase, there were some rather odd (to put it mildly) questions. One that drew smiles all arund, was directed to Magnus Carlsen, asking who he considered was the best chess player on the planet. There was a round of chuckles and snickers at this, and even Magnus asked for the question to be repeated. He was diplomatc enough to say that while he would consider that person to be himself, the match would undoubtedly weigh in on this at its end.

Not all questions were as light-hearted, though. The BBC representative (above) asked, "How embarrassing is it for the organizers that Kirsan Illzhyuminov is unable to attend the championship as he is not allowed to enter America?" Ilya Merenzon, the CEO of AGON, handled it quite adroitly though. "Kirsan has done quite a lot, at least from the organizational viewpoint. The cases between him and US authorities are not a FIDE deal at all!"

PhosAgro and EG Capital Advisors are the chief sponsors for the #CarlsenKarjakin World Championship Match. PhosAgro CEO Andrey Guryev (above left), a publicly listed Russian company, said that it is important for his company and all its stakeholders to bring in a chess renaissance. EG Capital Advisor CEO Michael Stanton (right) drew parallels between chess and business. He said that for his company, which is in the money management business, the key to success is hard work, focus, passion for business, and strategic thinking -- the same attributes that are shared by chess and chessplayers.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen has no wrested the title and defended it, and is now going to play an opponent whose CV is incredibly similar to his own: super prodigy, young and full of energy, and the same age with just a few months to separate him from Sergey Karjakin.

Ilya Merenzon has been fighting hard to try to make the World Championship a self-sustaining structure

Sergey Karjakin's wife Galiya Karyakina with the official commentator for the event, the strongest female player of all time, Judit Polgar

Sergey Karjakin was barely in the press area when he was asked for a quick interview

Former New York Times journalist, Dylan McClain, who ran the Times's online chess column, is now working for AGON taking care of their online content. Here is has an animated chat with Judit.

Henrik Carlsen talks about Magnus' chances at his third World Championship Match with Russian mainstream reporter WGM Elmira Mirzoeva

Opening Ceremony

While one might have expected the press conference to also be followed by the Opening Ceremony and drawing of lots, these were saved for a posh red carpet event, on invitation only, at the ultra-luxurious Plaza Hotel. It was indeed a grandiose affair, with a mix of the media, chess players and dignitaries and of course the local upper crust.

The bar was a free-for-all serving fine wine, champagne and whatever you desired

Your reporter, Albert Silver, third to the right, was accompanied by GM Irina Krush (right)

GM Maxim Dlugy was also present with his charming wife

An unxpected encounter with GM Darcy Lima, the VP of FIDE Americas

There was also a well-catered buffet with fine hors d'oeuvres

Adrian Grenier is an American actor, producer, director, and musician. He is best known for playing Vincent Chase in the HBO series Entourage. He was the master of ceremonies at the World Championship Opening Gala.

AGON CEO Ilya Merenzon commented, "I've worked with the sponsors PhosAgro and EG Capital Advisors. They love chess, of course. But they are also businesspeople. They demand substantial value for their investments. I think chess is in an amazing position to deliver this value. In the US, there are more chessplayers than tennis players and golfers combined. In Norway, chess is No. 1."

Megha Malagatti, communications director of S.T. Dupont, a French luxury brands manufacturer, introduces the special pen that will be used in the match. Earlier at the press conference, AGON CEO Ilya Merenzon, whilst explaining his company's strategy, said that chess is a splendid sport for marketing luxury brands. For example, the pen is a part of chess games and for a month, Dupont will be the most photographed pen in the world! Apparently, among its qualities is that if you are burned to a crisp, the pen will survive.

At the drawing of lots, Magnus Carlsen drew White and will play it in game one

There were also several musical numbers from the violin to piano and even some Gospel music

After the main ceremony was over, some left and some stuck around to take advantage of the many chess boards set up at tables throughout the lounge

Irina was also challenged to a game that she accepted with good grace. Seated in the background with us was Judit Polgar who was chatting with us.

Irina's two opponents were merciless

In an unexpected feat of strength, her larger rival asked the litte girl to grab a hold of two of his fingers and hold as tight as she could. When he lifted her off the ground everyone gasped and laughed.

Alisa Melekhina

Irina Krush outside after the event was over with the midnight New York lights

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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