Following on from last year’s interviews with the candidates for ECF President, we are once again delighted to be able to bring you interviews with both the contenders for this year’s role.
Andrew Paulson is standing for the role of ECF President against Roger Edwards. 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. View his Wikipedia entry for more details
Andrew has answered questions from players on the EC Forum
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
AGON and Previous Chess Experience
Q: 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 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.
Q: 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.
Q: How do you think your previous experience and contacts within the chess world could assist you with your potential role as ECF President? Conversely, will your other chess activities detract from the time you can spend aiding English Chess?
I think that the role of President of ECF, particularly at the current stage in its development, requires certain ‘generic’ talents and certain chess-specific talents. I think that leading by example and setting clear goals and meeting them above the fray of low-level conflict will help restore a sense of dignity and purpose to the organisation. At the same time, that purpose is not only on the English stage, but also on the world stage: the ECF has much to offer as a role model for other federations and FIDE as being an uncorrupted, transparent, passionate (non-cynical) advocate for chess. In this, my relationships with the chess media, chess players, chess administration at the FIDE and also at the national federation level will be invaluable.
Q: You quoted in the EC Forum that “Nigel Short’s power comes from being Nigel Short, not from being the ECF Delegate; being the ECF Delegate gets him in the room.” Could you similarly use your standing in a similar way? If so, how?
What I meant there is that in the chess world there is an automatic respect for a player who has achieved what Nigel has achieved in chess, independent of his personal or professional achievements off the board. In my case, if at all, it would be the opposite! But, frankly, no. My achievements or reputation will be no substitute for hard work and determination.
Goals as ECF President
Q: Why have you chosen to stand for ECF President?
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 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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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).
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.
Q: In the eighties England were ranked number two in the world and had around 8 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.
Q: 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?
Q: 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!
Q: 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.
Q: Are you happy with how the ECF Council currently operates? Would you like to see One Member One Vote?
It would be presumptuous at the point for me to criticise the voting formula of the ECF Council. I think that the ECF needs to have more candidates for leadership positions, and its members need to behave in a more collegiate manner on all issues. As with match and tournament scoring, different systems can produce the same result … and it is enlightening when they don’t! There is no perfect system of electoral representation, including one member one vote.
Q: Do you support the current ECF Membership scheme?
It is a work in progress. I think the broad goals are shared by everyone; the implementation requires fine tuning.
Q: Bradford recently hosted a huge outdoor chess event – Bradford Chesstival in the Park. This was organised solely by the Bradford and District Chess Association. New players, clubs and events have come as a direct consequence of the event. Could the ECF do more at a grassroots level to assist clubs and league to attract more players or should clubs take more responsibility for themselves?
The ECF should support these activities, but centralised administration cannot replace local initiative. Above all, local initiatives can become success stories that breed other local initiatives: the ECF can be the midwife of this kind of information sharing and co-operation.
Q: Why is one of your goals to make chess classified as a sport?
For the same reason that even people who don’t drive should have a drivers’ license. Chess’ classification as a sport it entitles the ECF to membership in real or virtual clubs that can bring benefits to its members. This is not a question of terminology or dogma, but rather of practical advantages that such a classification could bring. (FIDE, on the other hand, is interested in this vis-à-vis the IOC, as they want to have chess included in the Olympics. This may be a pipe dream; this may be misguided; this might be the stimulus of an international upsurge in interest in chess. In any case, it probably will have little effect on local English chess.)
(Feature Photo courtesy of The Times)