Carlsen vs Karjakin: Missed opportunities

by Yasser Seirawan
12/7/2016 – Having a World Championship in Manhattan, in New York, the financial and media capital of the world - this sounds like a dream come true. A golden opportunity to put chess into the limelight, to experience three weeks of chess fever and a chance to show the world why the game is so exciting. But in his first part of a three-part review of the Carlsen vs Karjakin match in New York, Yasser Seirawan critizes that a lot of opportunities were missed.

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Looking back on Carlsen vs Karjakin (1/3)

Hopes and excitement before the match

When the FIDE and its commercial partner, Agon, announced in 2015 that the World Championship Match (WCM) would be coming to the United States in 2016 there was a holler of delight from American fans over the marvelous news. They wanted to know all the details: which city; the venue; dates; ticket prices & reservations; match sponsors and the like were the most asked questions with a view towards planning a potential trip to see the event in person.

Folks at the US Chess Federation were equally excited as well. The event promised to be both a fantastic opportunity to promote our game as well as their community organization. Vendors were intrigued. Would crowds come in droves? Might they sell their wares on site? Merchandizers were also eager to participate: stamps; pins; postcards; posters; clothing items; as well as facsimiles of the sets and boards hold enormous appeal to collectors all over the world. Would there by a DVD or a book about the match? What about an opportunity to get signatures from the players?

Round 12 in New York City

Game 12 in New York City, all pictures by Max Avdeev / Agon

As the many questions continually swirled around the answers remained stubbornly unknown. When the Challenger, from the Moscow Candidate’s Tournament, Sergey Karjakin, was crowned in March 2016, all the same questions were again asked in far greater earnest. Again there were no definite answers. Only rumors told of three potential cities under consideration: Los Angeles, Chicago or Manhattan. For many in the American chess community it was a time of genuine confusion. No one knew the process for choosing a city, whether each one was making a bid offering a Convention Center as a lure for example or whether there was an auction taking place at all. Even worse no one seemed to know who the local – on the ground – organizers representing Agon might be. The USCF the most obvious and best partner for Agon was simply left in the dark. Ignored. Agon hadn’t contacted anyone.

Months would pass before the winning/chosen city of Manhattan was announced. Excited, I immediately got into contact with many friends in Manhattan to ask them about details of the event. It was staggering, simply put those most likely to be in the know knew nothing. Including who was in charge with the actual running of the event. In short the staging process for building up the event was handled very badly leaving many bewildered and quite possibly angry at their inability to plan a trip to the Big Apple.

Magnus Carlsen backstage in round twelve

Blitzing out the final moves

Only after the Baku Olympiad in September 2016 did major details for the WCM finally fall into place. They seemed to come quickly in rapid last minute succession. Two major sponsors were announced, PhosAgro, a global fertilizer and nitrates company was joined by EG Capital Advisors, a financial group specializing in Initial Public Offerings (IPO), would guarantee the one million Euro prize fund ($1.06 million USD). Dates were announced but ticket pricing, reservations for the Opening and Closing as well as other key details would be shortly announced as Agon was finalizing an arrangement with a local partner who specialized in VIP arrangements. The site would be the newly renovated Fulton Market Building in the Seaport District of Manhattan. Once again, I eagerly inquired to my Manhattan friends and asked what they knew of the site as it was new to me. Their feedback wasn’t encouraging: the site was going through major renovations; the stage itself was being hurriedly built and would require strenuous efforts to be completed on time. Oh dear. No one knew who the (American) event coordinator in NYC might be.

Sergey Karjakin entering the stage 

To put the above in perspective, I asked chess legend, Garry Kasparov, now a New Yorker, for details about the event, his answer was humorous but even more precise disturbing, “Yasser, don’t you know? I’ve been banned by the FIDE for two years!” Oh my, how times have changed since Garry’s two celebrated NYC World Championship match victories in 1990 and 1995. Due to the disastrous lack of planning, pre-match main-stream media publicity was scant too none-existent. Fantasies of images of iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building or Radio City Music Hall or a historical Broadway Theater hosting adoring throngs were dashed.

Missed opportunities

If the shoddy organizational planning for the event meant that folks had to put their vacation trips on hold, well the next best thing to being there in person would be watching the online show. As it had done with the Moscow Candidate’s Tournament, Agon continued with its practice of threatening any and all with legal action if they provided commentary of the moves made in real time. An emergency request for an injunction filed in a NYC Court by Agon’s attorneys was brutally quashed by a judge. Another setback for Agon in its disastrous copyright of chess moves (global) dispute. This meant that such sites as as well as the Internet Chess Club and others could all continue with their efforts in promoting the match.

And what about Agon’s own official show? I was greatly cheered when Agon announced that it had secured Judit Polgar as their analyst. Judit would be making her debut as a major event commentator and I knew that she would be terrific. A wonderful public speaker combined with her fantastic chess skills and first-hand knowledge of the pressures of elite events make her ideal. Additionally, Kaja Snare, a Norwegian television presenter who I’ve met at several chess events would assist Judit for the official show. Kaja is a wonderfully professional presenter, comfortable before the camera sporting a ready smile and bubbly personality as well. They were both well suited for one another. Simply excellent choices. I was very happy for the online audience. Kudos to Agon for getting that part right.

After the very promising announcement of Judit and Kaja teaming up with an assortment of guests, celebrities and grandmasters an epic online show was in the works. Things crashed and burned badly thereafter. The online show would be a pay-per-view production only. Good grief. What? Why limit the viewing audience to a mere fraction of a fraction of its potential? The evolutionary 360-degree webcam virtual reality footage was promising. Millions of fans who couldn’t be there in person would be delighted by such an innovation along with the shows commentary, the post-game interviews with the players. It was a slam-dunk cinch to be the most watched WCM online show ever. After all the event would be held in NYC, the financial and media capital of the US.

Making the show freely and publicly available would mean that television, cable and other mass-media outlets would, hopefully, pick up the webcam feed for their own programs, sites and news announcements. Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Microsoft’s Zone and other social media giants may have streamed the show for their customers as well. Reaching far beyond the traditional online chess audience. Chess sites in numerous countries might even create programming based on the webcam feed for commentary in their own native language giving local stars an opportunity to shine. Such possibilities for attracting a global audience seem endless. Sponsors, PhosAgro and EG Capital Advisors, would have been delighted to run their own professionally produced one minute commercial advertisements to such massive audiences, whether separated by one degree or more.

Instead, the business model Agon sketched out for itself is staggeringly short sighted: get 100,000 chess fans to pay $15 each. With revenue of $1.5 million, the event would pay for itself. Gasp. Get a million paying subscribers and there would be dancing in Agon’s boardroom! Genius this is not. No one at Agon seems to understand the concept of sponsorship, combined with media capture as well as numbers of impressions. What missed opportunities.

Sergey Karjakin, day 10 of the World Chess Championship match

Alternative variations

Consider a different model for a moment: imagine the online show had been streamed by numerous partners, reaching millions of people simultaneously, with often mentioned offers of signing up to a mailing list for free, to special contests for prized signed merchandize gifts as well as special offers on select merchandize products. Those who might be interested in collecting stamps, postcards, posters, DVD’s, boards and chess set facsimiles of those used by the players could be offered premiere member discounts and the like with direct orders sent to a virtual store. Millions of fans may well have submitted themselves to a mailing list and kept informed of future events. A marketer’s dream. None of this is rocket science. It happens every single day.

Professional event organizers have dedicated themselves to just such opportunities. To my knowledge none of these things involving merchandizing as mentioned were done. A pity. In my view, Agon missed a golden opportunity to create a fantastic business model with the potential for untold successes in numerous countries. I can only shake my head in tragic disbelief. Lastly, as far as I’m aware, the USCF was never contacted. Ignoring such a willing partner, with its own, 100,000 members is … well you find the words.

Fortunately, for all concerned, the match did come off as planned. Reports were of a well-attended Opening Ceremony, a nice if a bit too small venue, excellent ticket sales, well attended games, great comradery between the fans and guests all occurred. New friendships made. Yay. Which means we can finally come to the games themselves.

Part two, dealing with the games, will follow soon.

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mywave86digi mywave86digi 12/8/2016 11:50
I took the game of chess very competitive while attending
<a href="">data science training in ameerpet</a> where it gave important tips to be perfect.
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 12/8/2016 10:01
It cannot be expected to be like games in ordinary tournaments where one's mind is free, is at its best.. This was world chess championship. Everything was tense, mind-crumpling, terrifying. One cannot be expected to give his best. But both players, Carlsen and Karjakin gave their best under such condition.. which is below their level best. I think GM Seirawan can understand. . who was at his best relaxing mind sitting as an audience and seeing the right moves. Am I right?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 12/8/2016 08:59
I had the money but decided not to pay for viewing the official coverage. The reason was that there are also people who have financial problems and they should be allowed to see the World Chess Championship match as well. If I pay for watching, then I am voting for the greedy approach we have seen this time. I never had to pay to see a football match in TV. And football, as the most popular sport could allow itself to do that.
jajalamapratapri jajalamapratapri 12/8/2016 06:55
These Agon people appear rather, how to say it politely,..., dumb?
MikeyBoy MikeyBoy 12/8/2016 05:45

Here is Keene and King together at their best. Let's get Pein to organize the next WCC in London when So steps up!
MikeyBoy MikeyBoy 12/8/2016 05:28
You know what I'd love to have for the next WCC match - Daniel King and Ray Keene reunited. I went from school goofball not knowing the rules of the game to destroying our chess champ in just under a month from watching that commentary. To this day, by far the best I have ever seen.

Also note to Agon: increase your viewership, increase your sponsorship. I bet Accenture would love to be associated with the royal game, especially given the Tiger Woods debacle.
yesenadam yesenadam 12/8/2016 02:17
So great to have you writing on here GM Yasser! :-D

Yep, AGON has been amazingly awful - gauche, incompetent, rude, money-maniacal, and litigious out the wazoo. I'm continually amazed how little critical journalism there is in/of the chess world, how most of it's indistinguishable from spineless, toadying press releases, e.g. CB almost always, sadly. No-one (i.e. almost no-one in the chess media/blogosphere) cared that Garry played Nd5-b4..-d5-b4-d5-b4-d5-f4. No-one cared that Karjakin wasn't given the car he was 'given'. No-one seems to care about the farce that is Kirsan. No-one asks the hard questions, or even the anything-more-than-super-soft questions. e.g. No-one asked Naka about that touch-king thing after that happened, amazingly. No-one is there to say 'Uh..but your explanation makes no sense.' I guess those kind of journalists don't last long, or never got there, or are busy elsewhere.. People are allowed to get away with whatever they want to get away with. e.g. GM Keene has been involved in enough scandalous goings-on for 20 lifetimes, and no-one seems to have cared. Every answer is accepted without question. It's embarrassing. Anyway. Welcome (back?)! Hope you write a lot more on here!

ps I watched Tal Baron's live youtube broadcast (except for the tiebreak day, Jan + The Svid were excellent of course) of every game - totally engine-free analysis, he commentated with a different young Israeli GM/IM every day (+ Naroditsky) - and with Gelfand one day; Boris seems to be everyone's hero there. That was great, an unforgettable chess experience, plus learning about Israeli life and chess life, and often very funny. They did everything - ate, brushed teeth etc - while commentating, and no breaks at all hehe. Gonzo commentary, I loved it. At times he had 1500+ people watching live. The very opposite of commercial. It was a beautiful thing.
Checkok Checkok 12/8/2016 01:30
Agree with everything, Yasser. As a neurologist who plays chess and would like to promote the game further in the US, I was very disappointed at the viewing restrictions imposed by the organizers of the event. The coverage by the media was also virtually non-existent. Few people appreciate the arduous process of earning a GM title, or the fact that playing chess at the championship level often involves prodigies with amazing brains, just as in areas such as math, music, or science. The USCF needs to try andt put chess on the school curriculum.
calvinamari calvinamari 12/8/2016 12:56
Yasser, characteristically a gentlemen even in his critiques, fails to identify an aspect of the official site commentary that cannot be reconciled with common sense. In fact, the potential of Polgar as a commentator was all but wasted. It was wildly inconsistent to limit access to enthusiasts willing to subscribe, as I was, yet have so much of the the official commentary purposefully geared to those without even a passing familiarity with chess. Whenever the commentary approached about two minutes of meaningful variations, it invariably was aggressively derailed with sphincter-winkingly cringeworthy questions (practically on the order of "how does the horsey move?"). In other words, the Commentary was geared to appeal to a neophyte audience being newly introduced to chess, yet Agon's access approach was geared only to real enthusiasts willing to pay. Hence, those with only a passing familiarity with chess but curiosity about the match get the likes of Peter Svidler spinning baroque super-GM variations on a free online broadcast at Chess24 while those actually willing to pay for expert commentary are subjected to dime-store apothegms and inanities.

Of course any close examination of of FIDE's actions, large or small, reveals that its guiding philosophy is surrealism of just this sort. Missed opportunities? How about the fact that the head of FIDE could not even step foot on US soil for fear of being arrested?
Darkergreen1327 Darkergreen1327 12/7/2016 11:26
Followed through Chess24's live commentary. Enjoyed Peter Svidler's commentary a lot! I was also disappointed when I've first heard that there were a fee to follow the event through the official website. I've considered paying $15 per day but when I've seen the official show on youtube, I've decided not to follow the official coverage. It was not offering more compared to Svidler's commentary.
I would have followed the official commentary if they had Yasser & Maurice Ashley & Alejandro Ramirez, & guests like Garry Kasparov etc.
In the end, I totally agree w/ Yasser that it turned out to be a missed opportunity! What a shame!
elista_endgame elista_endgame 12/7/2016 09:58
Why Yasser didn't mention Knut at all? He was the man of the match with his idiotic questions
Ransie Ransie 12/7/2016 08:42
Off topic here, but posting anyway the revised version of my suggestion of resolving the dead heat in the world championship.

Version 2.0
If the World Championship Match ends in a Tie after 12 (or 14 or 16) Classical Games, then the Tie should be broken by a Classical Armageddon Game. Black will have draw odds for this game. The base time for the Armageddon would be 165 minutes for each player or 330 minutes for both the players taken together with an increment of 30 seconds each move from move 1.
A day before the game, each Player shall bid an amount of time (in minutes, a number equal to or less than 165:00, with which they are willing to play in order to choose their color. An important proviso is that the difference in amount of the time they bid and 165 minutes would be added to the opponent’s time. Further, the Player who bids the lowest amount of time gets to choose his color, however, he/ she does not begin with the amount of time he/ she bid for, but begins with the time what other player bid for MINUS 1 minute; the other Player receives 330:00 – (minus) the time the successful bidder is now starting with. Both players receive an increment of 30-second each move from move 1.
To explain with, say, for example, one player bid for 100:00 (against 165:00+165:00-100:00=230.00) and the other player bid for 120:00 (against 165:00+165:00-120:00=210:00) the successful bidder will NOT start with 100:00 against 230:00 for the other, BUT would start with 120:00 (what the other player has bid) MINUS 1:00, i.e., =119:00. The other player starts with 330:00-119:00=211:00.
This is Vickrey auction, also known as a sealed-bid second-price auction. This is identical to the sealed first-price auction except that the winning bidder pays the second-highest bid rather than his or her own. It is also strategically similar to the sealed first-price auction and gives bidders an incentive to bid their true value. Vickrey auctions are extremely important in auction theory … (Source: Wikipedia).
If both Players bid exactly the same amount of time, the Chief Arbiter, if he/ she so desires, will call for another round of bids, and so on. If the players remain tied, the Chief Arbiter will ask the players to play a Blitz Armageddon Game on the spot, with the winner having the colour of his/ her choice for the Classical Armageddon Game to be held next day.
The rules for this Blitz Armageddon would be: A. White shall have 5 minutes and Black shall have 3:30 minutes. Both players shall receive an increment of 3 seconds per move from move 61. B. In the event of a draw Black shall be declared the winner. C. Colors for the Blitz Armageddon shall be determined by the toss of a coin, conducted by the Chief Arbiter. The winner of the toss shall have choice of color.
It is expected that both the players would be bidding in the range of 100:00 to 140:00 leaving the other player with time ranging from 230:00 to 190:00. Thus, although the game may be a chess variant, it would retain all the traits of a true Classical game.
One important rejoinder: Irrespective of the fact that whosoever, the reigning Champion or the Challenger, wins the Classical Armageddon tie-breaker and becomes the new champion, both the players would be made to participate in the Candidates Tournament of the next Cycle (one of the rating spots may go to the additional player).
[Not to forget that the rules for the Classical Armageddon Game would be named Ransie Rules, having invented by me ;-).]
Danstacey Danstacey 12/7/2016 07:36
Yasser is far too nice a person to be fully candid, but the commentary was very weak indeed. It was not obvious to me that either of our Norwegian hosts knew how to play chess, although they were excellent at reading out their Twitter feeds and notifying the viewer how much time each player had left. Judit is not an experienced TV commentator and needed drawing out by a lesser player (Susan would have been a better choice in my view). What would have been wrong with the dream team of Yasser and Maurice Ashley and either Tania Sukhdeva or perhaps someone at a club level knowledge, who could communicate with the ordinary viewer?
rooster85 rooster85 12/7/2016 06:54
Excellently put by Mr. Seirawan - l would just like to add that the innovative VR set up which got me to pay Agon's fee for viewing, was not that impressive... a VR view of the spectator's area would be a nice addition for example. And also the official "app" which was released about an hour before the first game, with absolutely no promo, and which was receiving updates during the match that fixed bugs and added simple functions... beta testing, anyone? It was not useful for anything other but moves transmission and as a gateway to the VR section.
Official website was and is confusing for all events Agon organizes - just eye candy (black and boring eye candy) with player's faces drawn, "Apple-like" web design, but with no useful information to be found easily. I found myself going to CB or other websites on multiple occasions for a simple task such as finding the playing schedule - just one example...
It seems Agon is just here for the money (not surprising, really - considering FIDE's recent history), and is failing at that, even... oh the dreams of capable organization which knows how to find (and keep!) sponsors for chess WC cycle...
By the way, as far as commentators... Judit was excellent of course.. but the main moderator seemed to me like a bad choice.. asking silly questions, not really adding anything but awkwardness at times.. there must have been a better, more qualified (chess-wise) choice for the main moderator of the show?
I really liked when during tie-breaks, Judit was paired with Max Dlugy and then with Maurice Ashley - wouldn't mind if one of the two was hired as the main host of the show - I can't imagine a chess show ever get boring or awkward with Maurice Ashley as the host, for example :)
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 12/7/2016 06:12
In an old issue of Northwest Chess, many, many years ago, there was an interview of a strong player (may have been Pupols, not sure). The player was asked about (the lack of) money and chess. His reply was that big money changes any sport, and he implied not necessarily in a good way. The interviewer was impressed with his acumen.

Now, we have two articles. One article seeking to find the best format for the WC, presumably to find the best player.
The second on how to bring big money to the WC. These are conflicting goals. You want to lose weight and eat as much as you want. Not going to happen.

Determining who the best of any two players is, is trivial, and ultimately requires just two people sitting down and playing- and nobody else. But add in the need for big money, a demanding audience, a great venue, a need for product sales, and whatever else you can think of...well, you get the picture. The original goal of determining the best player in the world just got subordinated to these inferior goals. And it can all be traced back to the need for $$$.
vinniethepooh vinniethepooh 12/7/2016 06:02
What does Agon want? Name and fame or money?? They are the worst sponsors ever. If they wouldn't have done so, I can guarantee you that we would have more than a zillion people following. What nonsense.
mrstillwater mrstillwater 12/7/2016 02:58
Nice article, and I agree. Agon's endless pursuit of limiting the audience for chess never ceases to amaze me. It was so sad to log on to chess servers and see them not doing official relays because they thought they weren't allowed to. Well done to ICC and Chess24 for putting out excellent coverage.