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Anand Interview

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Srikanth sends a link to this meaty if unremarkable "Sportstar" interview with Viswanathan Anand. He comments on San Luis, sponsorship, and life without Kasparov.

He comments that Roger Federer could practically destroy tennis if he continues to dominate so easily, which is one side of the old dynasty argument. Some say super-teams like the NY Yankees baseball team used to be (various times) are great because fans love to love or to hate them. The Yankees aren't winning so much these days but they still sell out every stadium they go to and they broke the road attendance record last year. So favorites can sell tickets, but this means image as well as winning.

As for new rivalries in Kasparov's absence, he mentions Topalov. The streaky Bulgarian was showing his dark side in Dortmund until salvaging his tournament by winning his last two games. He still looks capable of dropping 30 or 40 points if he has a few off events. He and a few others may nip at Anand's heels for the next three years, but I'd put money on the consistent Indian leading a majority of the lists during that span. He had mediocre events in Linares and Sofia this year, but his mediocre means only losing a few points and he mixes these with big scores.


From the interview:

"Then again, a quiet guy like Federer (top tennis player) doesn't really need to sell himself, his game is so beautiful. But chess is different in the sense the beauty in a move doesn't outwardly manifest, so it's harder to sell it on TV." >>>

That's the ethernal problem with chess promotion. How can anyone sell entertainment that can't be "seen"?

BTW, Anand's contention that the Soviets brought chess to the masses through the Pioneers schools is utterly mistaken when used as proof that chess can be taken to the masses in other places.

To beging with, that was a GOVERNMENT-FUNDED initiative, which can't be replicated anywhere else in the world. The soviets had a good reason for it: it promoted the idea of an intellectually superior form of government; other governments have better things in which to invest their resources. And, as we have seen, the soviet chess establishment collapsed with the Soviet Union, which proves that chess is not self-sufficient, even with an artificially broad user-base.

Perhaps it's time to accept that chess is a very marginal activity that has already maximized its market potential and will go no further.

L Bacan:
I agree with you. Chess can only have a limited audience. Chess on TV/WWW might intially can generate some interest, but I believe this interest will not last longer. We need to accept this. Sponsorship or do we say charity like $50/100 as suggested by Duif is not sufficient for a chess pro. to live and this will certainly discourage any young player to become a pro.


In most niche sports, say cycling or skiboarding or ice dancing or marathon running or crew or diving or swimming, people do NOT assume that they will earn their living at it. But people still enter those competitions because of their passion for the activity. That is, in fact, the standard sports model in the US for everything except the big team sports and the very very top levels of golf and tennis.


The definition of "pro" goes back over one hundred years. In sports, to "turn pro" means to accept ANY amount of money for the activity or for an endorsement. ANY amount. Accepting a $25 prize 4 years ago causes one to lose one's "amateur status," which means that one cannot compete in amateur only activities, and cannot get some scholarships.

(It used to be that one couldn't compete in the Olympics, either, but those rules have changed in the last 20 years.)

But it's still an issue, even for very good players. Michelle Wie, for example, has NEVER taken prize money for any golf event, so that she can retain the amateur standing required to play in a specific event, the US Amateur Links.


So a pro in sports is not someone who's making enough to pay the rent. It's someone who accepts money for sports-related activity.


The purpose of local sponsorship for these people is NOT to "give them a living." It simply to help defray the costs of participation. It's a reality that pros in most niche sports have literally thousands of dollars of out of pocket expenses to cover in order to train and tour. The initial purpose of sponsorship is NOT to cover their living expenses, but to help pay those extra costs.

That's the way it works in the US. For someone who wants to be an Olympic marathoner. For someone who wants to be a US cyclist. For someone who wants to be a pro skateboarder. It starts with small amounts to cover the costs of the sport.

When I talk about a sponsor giving $100 or so, I always talk about multiple small sponsors, and I always talk those as the STARTING AMOUNTS in the first year of a sponsorship relationship.

The point is, every niche competition has a group of people in the top 1/10th of one percent who can probably make a living.

And it has a large group of people in the top 3% who can make a living from competition-related activities, such as teaching, but who, if they do so, will not be able to devote enough time to training to break into the very top ranks.

In the US, the purpose of local sponsorship isn't to support the top 1/10 of a percent. It's to help those in that candidate tier defray the costs of competition so that they can fully test themselves to see if they can break through to the top level.

If they can't, they fall back to the level of club pros.

My point is that this is already the successful sponsorship model in the US for tiny tiny niche competitions like crew and ribbon dancing and shotput. Things where even the very best don't make much money.

It's also exactly the same model for some niche competitions with fairly large incomes at the top tenth of a percent level, such as ice dancing.

The point is, most people who have the drive and passion to become champions in these niche competitions aren't chasing a paycheck. They're going to follow their dream if they can. Local sponsorship is designed to help them pursue their dream. We call them "pros" because of over 100 years of history. But it might be more accurate to call them "competitors in training."

If it's philanthropy to help them do that, fine, it's philanthropy. A long standing American tradition.

If you can find a way to help someone in the top 1%, but not top tenth of a percent, of chess players make a living solely from playing chess, more power to you.

But what we can learn from other niche competitions is that if the official organization sets it as a priority to strengthen the fans-pro-sponsors triangle, it can be done with a very small investment. And it can in turn help most of the "competitors in training" in the top 1% find enough local sponsorship to help defray the costs of pursuing their dream.

You may not like hearing that $500 a year can make a big difference to a 2300 player, but why do you think they liked things like the New York Masters so much? $500 a year can help pay the cost of a subscription to New In Chess, or the EF to the World Open, or an upgrade to a chess database.

It helps. And that's enough to start.

Again, if you can do more for them, fantastic. Get it done.

But if ribbon dancers and shot putters and show jumpers can find local sponsorship, so can chessplayers. I know we can get that done. Because it's already being done in so many other organizations.



Please, don't take this wrong, but I think you're just selling unrealistic, bizarre dreams based on a twisted idea of what a chess "professional" should be.

Why bizarre? Because, for the purpose of this or any other conversation, NOBODY would consider a pro a person who receives $100 from a charitable local dentist. It's pretty obvious that we are not discussing the technicalities of what a professional athlete is or is not, among other things, because chess is not a sport. It's clear that when we refer to a chess "pro" we are talking about a top player (usually an IM or GM) whose income derives from chess and chess-related activities.

Why unrealistic? Because NOBODY in the chess establishment (or any other discipline where the idea is to allow the top practitioners to earn enough money to make a living from their practice) would consider your "plan" as a serious or even promising way of promoting chess with the idea of attracting sponsors. What you suggest is charity at the local level, and even then, I seriously doubt you can raise "$100 each from multiple sponsors" for any significant amount of players. Sure, we can engage in "happy accounting" and do the "happy math":

>>> Charlie, my boy, now that you are rated 2450, I'll get you 870 local sponsors at $100 each and that will be $87.000 for the first year alone!>>>

but we know that's just day dreaming.

Case in point: when, in another thread, IM Fluffy asked (half-jokingly) for your advice, all you could provide was a suggestion to add a picture to his FIDE profile and to start collecting press clippings. Yeah, sure; anyone can give that type of advice, but what is needed is a concrete, lucid plan to market chess to the general public. The local "sponsorship" angle, btw, has been in effect for many many years, without any positive results: Capablanca was "sponsored" by a local (in Cuba) businessman to attend Columbia University. Fisher found "sponsors" who paid the rent and many other things when it became obvious his talent was extraordinary. But that's not what chess needs. What is needed is enough sponsorship money so that top players without a real shot at the World Championship like Mozorevich, Kudrin, Ivanchuk, Elvhest, Gulko, Benjamin (and yes, even Fluffy) don't have to enter swiss opens to play for $300. A chess pro and great former world-class player like Yudasin should not be playing the NY Masters for $120.00 (WHEN he wins!)

In all honesty, I feel that your well-intentioned but unrealistic ideas about sponsorship money in chess betray an inner belief that our game is just unmarketable. If that's the case, I welcome you to the club. Even GM Anad is a member!

L Bacan,

I think we can agree to disagree on this one. As I've mentioned, dozens of other niche competitions in the US already work exactly on the model I described. It's certainly realistic.

(As for the conversation with fluffy, the first step was just that: a first step. A highly detailed long term plan is worked out over time, and hardly belongs in this forum.)

My inner belief is exactly the same as my stated belief: that the top 1% of US chessplayers could get more sponsorship than they do now, if they follow the model of other niche competitions. I've suggested a number of around $500 a year to start.

Where we can respectfully agree to disagree is whether there's any point in pursuing sponsorship on this level.

It seems to me that ultimately this should be up to the individual player. Some will think it is, some will think it isn't, some will think it might be but are uncomfortable pursuing it. Some will be better at working with sponsors than others, so the return on time invested will be different. If no one thinks it's worth doing, it won't happen.


p.s. It's funny, I would think that chessplayers, of all people, would understand the value of building up small advantages over time.

It's said that the novice is only excited by winning a queen, the mid level player gets excited about winning a pawn, and the Grandmaster glows with inner delight when he/she thinks, "I own this square!"

A lot of sponsor relations work is the same way. Many people think it's only a success if some sponsor appears who will instantly drop $50,000 on each of 500 competitors, or who will underwrite the whole activity. But it's really more about "owning squares," building up small advantages over time.


My inner belief is exactly the same as my stated belief: that the top 1% of US chessplayers could get more sponsorship than they do now, if they follow the model of other niche competitions. I've suggested a number of around $500 a year to start.


>>>p.s. It's funny, I would think that chessplayers, of all people, would understand the value of building up small advantages over time. >>>

It's also funny that you don't make provisions for the "next move". Yes, even if a GM subjects himself to your $500/yr. "diet", what's the next move? $500/yr for next year? A 50% increase - to a "whopping" $750 - for the following year?

More "happy" accounting? ("Well, Bacan, that's just the first year. And it's better than nothing!"). Happy accounting does not a chess pro make. $500/yr. is just a bandaid on a beheaded man's neck. And I'm being VERY generous in accepting the idea that $500/yr per player (GM/IM only) can be raised, ANYWHERE in the world.

That said, I respect your views and consider this just a friendly exchange, even if we never reach common ground.

L Bacan,

I find the discussion interesting, and I learn a lot from it. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

Most GMs are in the top tenth of a percent, though, and as I've mentioned, I'm not really talking about them for local sponsorship. More the top 1% who haven't got to the top tenth yet.

I am curious, though, why you use terms like "diet" and "subject himself." I'm not suggesting giving up anything else. It does take a little time to maintain good sponsor relations (see my previous posts), but unless I'm misreading things, you seem to be talking about something more than that.

I've personally always enjoyed working with sponsors. And I've been very grateful for the support I've received. For me it was more like an extra garnish on my chess experience than a diet that took something away.

But again I know that people are very different, and it's not an idea that will appeal to everyone. But it would be nice if our organizations supported the idea that individual players might have individual sponsors. It doesn't cost any more to add the line "represents..." to an official bio, as the LPGA does, but it can mean a lot to local sponsorship efforts.


I've personally always enjoyed working with sponsors. And I've been very grateful for the support I've received. For me it was more like an extra garnish on my chess experience than a diet that took something away.

That's only because you never tried to make a living at it. Your situation is completely different from an IM/GM who would like to support himself/his family from chess-related endeavours.

I am curious, though, why you use terms like "diet" and "subject himself." I'm not suggesting giving up anything else. It does take a little time to maintain good sponsor relations (see my previous posts), but unless I'm misreading things, you seem to be talking about something more than that.

Chess at the GM/IM level is as demanding (and perhaps more demanding) of a person's time and effort as any other occupation, with the terrible drawback that this time and effort are not compensated financially. So, any aspiring chess pro (read: a person who tries to make a living from chess alone) HAS to give up other occupations (not that I recommend this; to me, it seems like financial suicide) in order to remain competitive at the top.

I use the term "diet" as a way of emphasizing the insignificance of the amount of money you suggest a chess pro can get by with. $500/yr is nothing these days.

I have no doubt that a top player with certain credentials in terms of tournament wins, titles, etc., can generate a little income with some effort. The problem I have with your numbers is that they don't provide even a starting point for anyone. How far do you think anyone can go with $500? Probably as far as the next weekend swiss in NJ!

I would be interested in hearing more details about your experience with foreign players (mostly soviet) when you presented them with your views. On another thread, you mentioned that it was generally negative. I would like to know what their (soviet players') reaction was and also if you ever presented the same idea to american pros (and their reaction, too).


In any case, I want to thank you for your time and the opportunity to discuss these issues in a civilized manner! Hey, if you were not so busy (I have checked your site) I would invite you to join a site I'm contemplating. I'm totally serious (Mig has nothing to worry - I don't have any commercial interests in mind; at this point I only care about the drama NEXT to the chessboard)


L Bacan,

Thanks for the kind words. It's actually not that I'm busy these days--I'm unfortunately quite ill much of the time. It's one reason you'll find me posting here for a few days and then not here at all for weeks at a time.

Again, I'm not at all suggesting that an IM can live on $500 a year!

All I'm saying is that some IMs might like to follow the model of other niche competitions, and do what they're already doing, but that they add to it personal sponsorship. It's an add-on, not a replacement.

I can't say I've spoken with a whole lot of people about it altogether. I did over the years talk to IM Boris Kogan (he and his wife were friends of mine), and three other IMs, all former soviet players. This was at a time when I myself was getting small amounts of local sponsorship, and I was surprised that they were not pursuing any.

In IM Kogan's case, I was pretty sure I could get donated the use of a van from a local car dealer so that he could take students to tournaments. He was simply uncomfortable with the idea, so we didn't pursue it.

When I wrote the articles for Chessbase.com about chess promotion, I got almost uniformly positive response, from people in literally a dozen countries, some of whom are following up on it. (Much of the feedback was posted there at http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=2377 )

The idea of personal sponsorship really only came up here because I happened to mention that I had had sponsorship on a small local level and Howard Goldowsky asked if I could give a few more details on it. Which I did.

It had just struck me again, during the discussions of promotion. I had been looking at www.lpga.com and www.usacycling.com and one of the most obvious things was that both of these organizations help strengthen the ability of competitors in training to attract their own personal sponsors. It's one of the services they provide to this level of player. For example, just allowing the players to list their personal sponsors as part of their official bios helps.

So it really grew out of the earlier discussions on promotion.

Since then I've been asked for copies of that longer post by a couple of American IMs, so at least there is some interest. I've think I've sent out six so far.

Again, it's not intended as a replacement for anything anyone is currently doing, or as a promise of full support, but simply an add-on to help defray some of the costs of competition for those below the very highest level.


Looks like all threads are about sponsoring IM's. A competitor to Kasparov in DD!

Actually there are other points in Anand's interview which calls for lively discussions. For starters. Anand has gone on record (for the first time, to my knowledge) to suggest that seven hour time control in San Luis is detrimental to chess and that time control should be rapid-crazy. Aparantly it went unnoticed.

Basically, these days govenment schools in India are for the under-privileged. Anand inspired 65000 of such kids to tournament play in 2004 and for 2005 target is 100000. NIIT an IT-Education major are the sponsors. Their commercial education venture is (also)called Brain Academy and they are footing this bill and perhaps Anand's brand ambassador fees. If this continues for 5 years chess might become a mass movement in India, without Government funding. This can be a good model for other countries.

As regards chess as a profession, it is a myth. It is not going to happen. In every sport only a few succed, a majority steady the boat with other thing and quite a few drown. It happens in Cricket, a mass sport in my country. Otherwise, bright kids spend a lot of time in their passion, be it Baket Ball or Chess, turn out sub-optimum performance in their passionate field and don't realise their potential in general. That's the way it is with 9% of the 10% in any field. Chess is no different. If *normal* education-career path is chosen and if you are among the top 50% even, you can pay your bills. If you are not among the top 20 in chess you can't pay bills. That's it.

One way out would be, if corporates have sporting teams, employ chess players on regular jobs, ask them to work for 3-4 hours a day and play chess for their team. Once they drop out of (whatever) they can get back to 9-5 job.

That's the model in which India is working. If you are an IM and a graduate you can hope to get employed in banks or one of the oil and gas companies and continue to play chess (representing the employer) without worrying about bills. For this to happen, there should be vibrant team competion and good coverage in print media. Of course, they are quasi-govt monoliths in India. But with eventual privatisation also this tread is likely to continue. Only that, in future, perhaps you should be a GM to get a job.

Just my 2c

By the way, has Anand ever given a really interesting interview? He seems very lukewarm and noncommittal.

As much as i appreciate Anand's chess technique, he has always seemed to me an uncharismatic and uninteresting person. i tried to correct this first impression by reading all his interviews i could get my hands on, but unfortunately this gesture only served to strengthen my initial impression.
His wife is more interesting in interviews.

Putting chess in the same category as "niche"
sports like cycling, diving, snooker or ice dancing, is wishful thinking to begin with, dear
Duif. Eurosport or ESPN provide viewers with a steady amount of skateboarding, billiards and cycling, among many, many other niche sports, and I have certainly come upon much more ice-dancing and even wood-chopping competitions on TV channels, than I have ever seen in 30 years about chess. A guy who cuts wood with a chronometer running can arouses instant, if brief interest to a viewer who's never even held an ax in his life - will he slice it all on time, fail by the horn's sound or blast his own leg in his haste. But the drama created by the handling of a perfect technical ending on the other hand is only comprehensible by about 100 people on the entire planet, and generally appreciated by a few thousand experts who can hazily see what is realy going on. So what is there to compare and draw from ?

The prospective sponsor of a hulla-dancer knows he has a chance of his brand name sometime appearing on some fringe sat channel featuring Hawaian vacation or some beach-sport olympics, or at least make it to some local newspaper or magazine. What are the prospects for sponsoring Gelfand or Volokitin or Neiditsch or Grischuk other than being appreciated for some charitable intentions by a small circle who happen to know what's going on ? What's the tangible benefit for the sponsor other than a thank you speach at the closing ceremony ? If sponshorsip can be found in chess at all, it would have to do with tournaments or even a whole series of competitions to provide some exposure and association, and this is still very-very doubtful for a sport with absolutely no prospects of any TV coverage or other serious media exposure.

Have you read about Short's weekly column being dumped in favor of a second poker column instead ?

I couldn't agree more, Tashko!

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