Round table: how to make the game of chess more popular

by ChessBase
6/29/2010 – That was the subject of discussion at a conference held in Odessa, Ukraine, at the end of May. For the first time a meaningful dialog had been initiated between chess players, their managers, FIDE and the Association of Chess Professionals. The Round Table was initiated and moderated by Olena Boytsun, executive secretary of the ACP, who sent us this report.

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Round table: how to make the game of chess more popular

By Olena Boytsun

The subject of Marketing and PR for Chess is very popular nowadays; sometimes its popularity can be so great that practical aspects may be forgotten. However, when a lot of chess professionals gather together to discuss the issue of chess popularization, the output should be productive. After all, people are the biggest and brightest resource of the chess world.

Participants at the discussion: the President of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) Vadim Morokhovsky; the President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Iljumzhinov; the President of the Turkish Chess Federation Ali Nihat Yazici; GM Mikhail Gurevich; Olena Boytsun.

The round table “Popularisation of the game of chess: experience, perspectives, plan of action” took place in Odessa on the 29th of May 2010. First time both famous chess players and top-level managers of the chess world were invited to discuss the subject together with the press and community representatives. I chaired the event as the ACP Secretary General and head of the project “Marketing and PR for Chess” (Russian).

ACP Board Director GM Pavel Tregubov discusses with Morokhovsky and Ilyumzhinov

Yazici and Gurevich confer during the meeting

My initial idea for the event was to hear the position of chess players and to brainstorm for new possible ways of chess popularization from the perspective of the players. In the end, the round table became a platform for the exchange of ideas – the participants also had the possibility to address their propositions to FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov and ACP President Vadim Morokhovsky. The representatives of FIDE and the ACP, of the chess community and press, and all participants of the 4th ACP World Rapid Cup were invited to take part at discussion. The candidate for FIDE Presidency Anatoly Karpov was going to participate at the ACP World Rapid Cup, but unfortunately had to cancel the visit to Odessa.

The main aim of the round table was to evaluate already existing forms of chess promotion and to develop a plan of actions both for Ukraine and the international chess community. The questions of the target audience for chess projects, building the personal brand of a chess player, and ways to improve the effectiveness of the implemented marketing decisions were reviewed.

FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov marked out several priorities for developing chess popularization projects. First of all, it is necessary to draw the attention to projects for an increase in the number of amateurs and the development of chess among children. In addition, Iljumzhinov stressed that it is amongst the main tasks of FIDE to get recognition of chess as an Olympic sport.

Vadim Morokhovsky, the ACP President and the Chairman of the Bank Pivdenny, noted that the main aim of the ACP is to protect the rights of chess professionals. However, at the same time the ACP pays attention to the development of chess for the masses and organizes special events for children.

The participants defined the following factors as having a positive influence on the popularization of chess:

  • Support from a government, national state programs for chess development;

  • Inclusion of the game of chess into the program of the Olympic Games, work with the International Olympic Committee (which is one of the current priorities of FIDE);

  • Support from a sport manager, who may help chess players concentrate on the game and on other chess promotion activities. A manager assists in administrative questions as well as in questions of negotiations with sponsors and contract signing; however currently there is a lack of professional chess managers in the chess world;

  • A stable event calendar and the clarity in the cycle of the World Chess Championship, the clear definition of the beginning and the end of the cycle;

  • Targeted actions toward the audience (currently most of the events on chess popularization are not planned, but are spontaneously organized);

  • Informational materials on media relations (the absence of permanent and systematic communication among press, federations and players was noted);

  • The perception of chess popularization as a project-oriented activity, reputation management;

  • Social-corporate responsibility of the business community;

  • Widening “the base of the pyramid” (increase of the number of amateurs);

Efficiency of project management

GM Vasyl Ivanchuk, among other things, noted that the knock-out system is a tool for chess popularization, because such a system brings additional elements of entertainment and rivalry. Ivanchuk also suggested that special events for chess promotion, such as seminars, lectures, simuls etc) should be more actively provided during tournaments.

Ivanchuk, GM Sergey Movsesian and GM Pavel Eljanov underlined the reasonability of implementing a separate rating list for rapid chess, because rapid chess events have a great potential for TV broadcasting. The clarity of the World Chess Championship cycle was also noted as one of the necessary conditions for effective chess popularization, because the events of the cycle draw the special attention of press and a wide audience.

GM Vugar Gashimov raised a question concerning the forming of a team of professional chess managers, the main task of which would be relations with sponsors, fundraising and chess popularization.

GM Ernesto Inarkiev supported the idea of organizing additional promotion events in general and marked out the communication with children as the priority. Among reasons why it can be difficult for a chess player to work together with a personal manager Inarkiev noted the financial conditions of cooperation.

The importance of control in this situation and the effective allocation of resources and contacts (including contacts with press) while providing the policy of development was also emphasized.

Journalist GM Mikhail Golubev called upon the participants not to forget the already existing resources and contacts while providing the policy for chess development (“plan the development, but do not to push away what already had been done”). Golubev mentioned the situation of a chess representative of the wire service Associated Press. Because of the constant cancellation or postponement of major official chess events, the management of AP decided that the planning of the coverage is unreasonable and therefore cancelled the position of a chess correspondent. Golubev also noted the postponement of major events in 2008-2009 and expressed the opinion that “the game of chess should not get a negative image due to the decisions that were not necessary to take”.

GM Pavel Tregubov made a proposition to develop and distribute a handbook for press and national federations with the useful information for all target groups. Chess players also expressed their interest in taking part in various events for chess promotion.

The main result of the round table is that participants developed propositions for practical application. The following propositions were supported:

  • To suggest to tournament organizers to include in players' contracts a paragraph stating that these players would take part in special promotion events (seminars, simuls, blindfold games, commenting on games, communication with the audience, special actions, etc.) during the tournament at a convenient time for them;

  • To develop a detailed description of a possible event package for chess promotion (simuls, blindfold games, seminars, informal meetings with a chess player, etc.);

  • To develop a separate rating list for rapid chess;

  • To organize a team of professional managers who wouldn’t deal with the promotion of certain tournaments, but would promote the game of chess in general. In case an international manager structure is not possible to create, to use the connections of chess players to their trainers to organize manager courses for trainers;

  • To develop and to publish an information handbook containing Public Relations information for chess professionals, managers, national federations as well as for mainstream media, journalists and wide audience with an interest in chess. The publication of the informational handbook is to be done on an annual basis, with constant information updates, including press contacts in every country that is a member of FIDE. The ACP suggested developing the media handbook for FIDE.

On the invitation of FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov I will present the results of the round table at the FIDE Presidential Board meeting in July 2010 in Norway.

List of participants of the round table “Popularisation of the game of chess: experience, perspectives, plan of action”

  • President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Iljumzhinov
  • President of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) Vadim Morokhovsky
  • President of the Turkish Chess Federation Ali Nihat Yazici
  • International Grandmasters:
    • ACP Board Director Pavel Tregubov
    • ACP Board member Sergey Movsesian
    • Vasyl Ivanchuk
    • Vugar Gashimov
    • Ernesto Inarkiev
    • Pavel Eljanov
    • Mikhail Gurevich
    • Alexander Moiseenko
    • Mikhail Golubev
    • Yuriy Drozdovskiy
    • Alexander Kovchan
    • Main trainer of the Ukrainian Olympic team Vladimir Tukmakov
  • Marketing Director of the bank Pivdenny Dmitriy Gaidukovich
  • Assistant to the FIDE President Berik Balgabaev
  • Tournament Director of the ACP World Cup Maria Klinova
  • Press-attache of the Ukrainian Chess Federation Anatoliy Yavorskiy
  • Main trainer of the Vietnamies Olympic team Mikhail Vasiliev

About the author

After working on her PhD in International Economics at the Russian and Eurasian Studies Center, at St. Antony's College, Oxford University, Olena Boytsun returned to Ukraine and is currently living in Kiev. She is now the General Secretary of the International Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) and works in marketing and PR for chess projects. Since June 2010 she is the Marketing Director of the Ukrainian Chess Federation.

Olena has played chess since her childhood. Her current title is Woman International Master. She is a regular contributor to the ChessBase news page.

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