Monday, September 23, 2013

Absolutely fatuous

I often say that when you're in your forties it becomes impossibly hard to tell the difference between satire and reality. This feeling is not eased by the similarity between

(a) the Edwards vs Paulson contest for the role of President of the English Chess Federation; and
(b) the Marge vs the Monorail episode of The Simpsons.

This is not because of any resemblance Roger Edwards bears to Marge Simpson.

Now I find it hard to know exactly what to say about Andrew Paulson. It is glaringly obvious what is wrong with his candidacy.

Why is it glaringly obvious?

It is glaringly obvious because people who never in their lives have played a competitive game of chess in England do not suddenly wake up one morning and decide that their lives should be dedicated to the transformation of the English Chess Federation. Do they?

Of course they don't. That much is glaringly obvious.

It's like turning up one day, in a country where you have never lived and of which you know nothing, and expecting to be made Prime Minister next day. It's ludicrous, isn't it?

So if you don't already view his candidacy with disbelief and scepticism, then I'm not sure how much more can be usefully said.

Whatever is happening here, it's not about somebody who suddenly had a vision for the transformation of the ECF. If you think it is, then I reckon Lyle Lanely could probably sell you a monorail.

So, what follows is largely for form's sake. We have a candidacy, so let's discuss who the candidate is and what he says. But really, it shouldn't be necessary. This is a crock. You surely know that already.
It's not as if it even looks plausible. Take for instance the candidate statement. This is in the very first paragraph.

I mean do people actually go for this sort of thing? Presumably they must, or nobody would come out with this stuff. But this is just laughable, isn't it? It sounds like an entry in a Parody A Mission Statement contest.

"Honour, beauty and glory?" Do me a favour.

Then there's this.

Heh. "Needs a grand purpose." For what office is the gentleman standing? I could have sworn the Papacy was settled months ago. For pity's sake. "The moral vanguard of functional and honest chess administration." Who thought that one up?

There's not much in Paulson's statement you can argue with, as opposed to laugh at, because there's so little of substance there. What is this, for instance?

"New event formats." Like what? You must have some idea, or you would not have said this. But curiously you do not say.

"Make...chess events more festive." How do you propose to do this? You must have some idea, or you would not have said this. But curiously you do not say.

Or what of this remarkable passage?

It's evident from this that Paulson doesn't know that the ECF, far from "dilly-dallying", actually spent ages and ages on this very project. He doesn't know this because he doesn't actually know anything about the organisation he's seeking to lead. (Again, it should end here: that fact means he shouldn't be standng, let alone getting elected.)

But let us just zoom in on this bit:

Are you laughing yet? This is hilarious. This chap reckons he has it in his power to "bring to bear" the voices of the Chancellor Of The Exchequer, that chap who used to run Tony Blair, the Culture Secretary and that other bloke who's already been bought up by Rupert Murdoch.

This is bullshit, yes? This chap is full of wind and bombast. He has AVOID written on his forehead in letters the size of his ego.


On top of this, we do in fact have some kind of track record to go on where Mr Paulson is concerned. As it happens, it's not the stuff of which "case studies in how to establish chess federations as professional organisations" are necessarily made.

What we actually have is a record of unreliability and a questionable approach to disagreement and criticism. These are characteristics which are less than desirable in someone who needs to work, with a limited budget, in concert with other people, and communicate with a membership that may at some point like to receive credible information.

There's also Mr Paulson's inclination to pluck unbelievable numbers out of nowhere. Is any information that derives from Mr Paulson actually going to be credible?

Or does he just make things up as he goes along?

This is the chap who, when asked why the audiences at the Candidates were disappointing, responded that that was how he wanted it
I didn't want to have a situation where it was too crowded, where we couldn't control the public.
a statement he later admitted was "absolutely fatuous".

What other statements are going to be later written off as "absolutely fatuous"? (I can think of several candidates.)

This is the chap who
  • last August described an invitation-only venue as
the perfect place to kick off the new Championship cycle
  • but in his candidate statement says he wants to
make chess more of a spectator sport
  • but earlier this year didn't want - he was prepared to claim at the time - to have large audiences at the Candidates.
Which is it? Is it whatever Andrew Paulson finds convenient to say at the time?

Here, for instance, is Paulson saying how he will put together a package for the sponsorship of ALL English chess.

After it has been explained to him that he is promising to package something which would not be his to package (which is something he plainly should have known) words like "WILL" and "all" turn out not to mean what they do actually mean.

Paulson doesn't know what he's talking about. And what he says doesn't mean what it means.

Of course it's not unknown for characters who are practised bullshit artists to get elected to ECF posts, nor indeed people with a frivolous approach to numerical accuracy (not to mention an unhealthy interest in backstairs FIDE politicking). However, in the two instances to which I refer, they were the only candidates, albeit both should have lost to None Of The Above by a cricket score to nil.

In this case, though, we do have an incumbent, Roger Edwards, who without doing very much in particular has done it pretty well. No disasters. No grandiose schemes. No bullshit.

Think about it, English chess.

I once wrote on this blog:
English chess seems generally incapable of recognising a wrong 'un. Especially when there's any thought that the wrong 'un might promote, or put money into, chess.
Isn't it time we learned to recognise a wrong 'un? And urgently?

Because this is urgent.

What the hell is going on here? A very short time ago Andrew Paulson had never shown the slightest interest in us. But now - but suddenly - he's rushing round the country meeting up with everybody he thinks might be a mover or a shaker in English chess.

No history of any actual involvement with English chess. No history of actually playing chess with any actual chess players. Just nowhere yesterday and President tomorrow. By meeting and impressing the right people.

It isn't so much an electoral campaign as an electoral coup.

This is a joke and not a good one. Don't let it happen.

- - - - -

Or alternatively, if you're impressed by the sort of routine which Mr Paulson's candidacy - and his candidate statement - represents, then by all means support him. He may very well win. I wouldn't be surprised. (I was gobsmacked when Tim Woolgar was elected. After that nothing would surprise me.)

But if he does, I'd surely have to consider standing myself the following year, on a platform of
  • holding giant open-air demonstration games with dragons and unicorns as the pieces
  • a parachutist landing on the middle of top board during the final round of the British
  • tournaments to be held on ley lines to improve the players' spiritual awareness
  • international TV coverage for third division matches in the London League
  • gold coins to be showered by the spectators on any player who manages to sacrifice their queen on g3.
Of course I'm making it up as I go along. But I'm not the only one.

[Andrew Paulson index]


Jon H said...

On the other hand he has money. Money impresses people who do not have money. And the ECF voters do not have money (I mean real money). Ergo, prepare yourself for a monumental disaster...

Anonymous said...

He's a rich Yank who wants to blow a lot of money on English chess. What's the problem??? I'd make him President-for-Life and throw in one of Ray Keene's GrandMaster titles.

ejh said...

Is that your own view or are you satirising?

Anonymous said...

The chess world has always needed patrons. So what if he wants to be ECF President? You suck up to patrons. How much damage (if any) can he actually do?

ejh said...

Out of interest, where has the man said he wished to be a patron?

Anonymous said...

The election address makes him sound very unappealing. Terribly formulaic and unconvincing. One wonders if he has been asked to stand by somebody, or if he took the decision on his own. If it was only his wish, then the sentence "My personal interest -- other than simply seeing a problem and wanting to fix it -- derives from the legitimacy I will earn as a spokesman for chess in Africa and India (where I am working to
develop projects similar to the ones I am proposing to initiate in England) if I succeed with the ECF." needs careful study. It sounds a bit odd frankly, and deserves to be expanded on. Agon did not do well, and the man's first concrete objective is likely to follow suit. Chess as a sport is a commercial non starter. Ignoring what sort of man he might be, I wouldn't feel the urge to vote for him.

David R said...

The rich Yank may blow no money on English chess. I'm far more concerned that English chess money will be blown by a rich Yank. I'd also like a bit more attention paid to the role of Phil Ehr in all this. He seems to slip quietly between the cracks. Yet he's had a hand in all these machinations

Anonymous said...

Looks like he wants to use the position of ECF President to lever himself and his company into a situation where they can do more business with FIDE and other chess federations. I don't believe he has any real interest in the average chess player at all. It's a way of promoting his own credibility.

Absolutely Fabulous said...

What's all this talk about blowing chess players?

Come to think of it, that might swell the numbers participating.

Anonymous said...

Your assessment of AP might as well be right, however, what has the ECF to loose by electing him as President and let him try for a year?

Worst case: nothing of his plan gets done, all major current ECF activities come to a stop. How much will it take for the next Board to restore the ECF activities to current level of nothing?

ejh said...

As the current level of ECF activities isn't nothing, it's a silly question on at least one level.

As to the "what could possibly go wrong" question generally - well I don't know, what could go wrong if our sole representative organsation (or any organisation with a budget) is placed for a year in the hands of somebody with no knowledge of it at all and a track record of unreliability? While everybody else wanders round saying it's OK, we've got nothing to lose and nothing can possibly go wrong?

Anonymous said...

FIDE bought into Agon's plan for the marketing of chess. Apart from the London Grand Prix and London Candidates, there seems little to show for Agon's involvement, certainly nothing to suggest involvement as spectators of a mass audience.

The ECF has limited funds and funding. Suppose it recruited and paid for a commercial director in the expectation of revenues exceeding the cost of hire. Suppose then the revenues didn't materialise. It's either a case of bye-bye ECF or asking the players to cough up to keep the ECF going.

The membership who are the local organisations, leagues and Congress that control the ECF through exclusive voting rights have seen messiahs before. Chess Sets for Schools was one, CJ perhaps another.

On past form, if the voters can figure out who is on which side, they will probably try and elect a divided Board. So if you let AP loose, you surround him with Directors likely to be a restraining influence.


Anonymous said...

@ejh: it's about assessing risks vs benefits.

The original post tries to prove a very high risk of AP not delivering on his electoral promises. However, if AP could deliver on his electoral promises (regardless of how unlikely that is) that would be beneficial to English chess.

My point is that the ECF could as well take this high risk, considering that the current level of activities is so close to nothing. The program of the other candidate for the President post is depressingly low profile: "last year I did very little to make the ECF better and I'll keep doing more of the same". You might argue about this interpretation, but as a chess player in England this is what I see happening and what I read in the election address.

Up to the point that, even assuming a worst case scenario that AP would bring the ECF to its knees, it would not take long for someone to restore the current level of activities.

Based on that, even if AP might be a very high risk choice, he's the best available option.

Anonymous said...

@RdC: "The membership who are the local organisations, leagues and Congress that control the ECF through exclusive voting rights have seen messiahs before. Chess Sets for Schools was one, CJ perhaps another."

However, after each of those failures, how long it took to restore the ECF to the current level of inaction?

ejh said...

My recollection is that it actually look quite a lot of work to clear up the mess made by CJ's money-without-invoices fiasco. If you want to try and weigh up risks against benefits, it might be good to start with a proper assessment of the risks as well as a proper assessment of the likelihood of receiving any of the benefits. Otherwise the correct term for your approach is "recklessness".

Anonymous said...

ejh: "Otherwise the correct term for your approach is "recklessness"."

Sorry, reading the tone of the original post, I thought people here just express their opinions... Passing on potential good opportunities just for the fear of the unknown could also be considered reckless.

ejh said...

It's a view, but one would have thought that "caution" or even "over-caution" would be better. Words, like Andrew Paulson, do not mean whatever we want them to mean.

(With apologies after what has been a perfectly polite discussion, we'll need some kind of identification before we take it any further. Discussing with the anononymous is pretty wearing, not lest because one doesn't know if yesterday's anonymous is the same as today's.)

AngusF said...

@anonymous: “My point is that the ECF could as well take this high risk, considering that the current level of activities is so close to nothing”.

I think this mischaracterises what the ECF has done and plans to do. Substantial progress was made in the last year on the ECF’s finances; despite the recent loss of the Government grant, the ECF has been able to set a neutral budget while allowing for generous funding of both the European Team Championships (coming up in November) and the Olympiad (next August). Junior participation in international tournaments is fantastic. There were record entries for the 100th British Championships.

The ECF is looking seriously at converting to charity status – something which would be of substantial financial benefit.

The ECF has done and is doing a lot.

Besides, @anonymous, can you point to something *specific* in AP's election address which you find compelling and which has some substance behind it?

Jonathan B said...

It's an interesting point of view that: yes, there was complete financial mismanagement before and during Sheffield 2011, but it doesn't matter because we're still playing chess today.

Philb said...

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. As a former club-player (Hampstead) and keen follower this is concerning. Once in power it can be difficult to dislodge someone who is wealthy and determined - they can change the rules and/or use patronage and bright lights. Think FIDE itself.

Anonymous said...

Nigel Short expresses a sceptical view.


David R said...

The patronage-seekers are already out in force; the usual suspects, their chubby palms turned upwards for the crumbs that may spill from the millionaire's table

Anonymous said...

you might want to add a comments faq

I took ejh's point on an earlier matter the blog is intended to express his opinion (however wrong it may be...) rather than invite debate

Paul C