Andrew Paulson, Chess Impresario and Serial Entrepreneur, Dies at 58

This post was originally published on this site
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2017/07/26/multimedia/26paulson-obit/26paulson-obit-moth.jpg

Andrew Paulson, an expatriate American serial entrepreneur who became a media mogul in Moscow and envisioned transforming world chess into a sports extravaganza, died on July 18 in London. He was 58.

The cause was complications of lung cancer, his husband, Loïc Landry Tchouante, said.

Besides his transformative but short-lived role as an international chess patron, Mr. Paulson’s career included stints as a fashion photographer in France and a magazine and website publisher in Russia.

Before he was 30, he was the model for the buffoonish protagonist in his friend David Hirson’s play “La Bête” (“The Beast”), a comedy, inspired by Molière, that opened on Broadway in 1991. (Reviewing a 2010 revival starring Mark Rylance, Ben Brantley of The New York Times described the character as “the unstoppable, primitive force of chaos.”)

Mr. Paulson seemed so much larger than life that whether his autobiography was the unvarnished truth almost seemed beyond the point.

“He is emblematic of the American character,” said Julia Idlis, a Russian writer who wrote a play about Mr. Paulson that premiered in Moscow. “For us, Americans are people who think they can do anything, which is both very aggravating and very inspiring.”

Invited to Russia for a photo shoot in 1993, Mr. Paulson remained for 15 years. He enlisted local partners in publishing several periodicals: Afisha, a Russian entertainment and listings guide; Bolshoi Gorod, a free version of a Sunday newspaper supplement; and MIR, a monthly travel magazine.

In 2006, a year after his publishing venture was acquired by a Russian company, he and Alexander Mamut, a billionaire Russian banker, founded SUP Media. The group became an online pioneer and bought LiveJournal, a social networking service. (It is still operating.)

Mr. Paulson scored his biggest coup in 2011 when the World Chess Federation, the global governing body of professional chess players known by its French acronym FIDE, awarded his company, Agon Limited, a no-bid contract for the media and marketing rights to the world championship tournaments.

Mr. Paulson, an amateur player, told Chess News in 2012 that he won the contract after encountering the federation’s president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, by chance and persuading him that marketing the tournaments more effectively could generate millions of dollars.

“I have always been a consumer of chess as an idea and an entertainment,” Mr. Paulson said. “I always liked the idea of alpha geeks roaming the earth striving to mortally crush their adversaries.”

He insisted that chess had the potential to become wildly popular.

“Who would’ve thought people would be watching golf on TV, and yet they are,” he told The Times in 2013, the same year he was elected president of the English Chess Federation. (He resigned within six months and also abandoned plans to seek the FIDE presidency.) “And all of India is watching cricket on TV,” he said. “The only thing more boring than cricket is golf!”

Agon means struggle in ancient Greek, Mr. Paulson recalled, and the company lived up to its name.

Its first major event, the 2013 London Candidates’ Tournament, was widely considered a success on the basis of the sponsors who underwrote the costs and the audience it drew. After that tournament, though, Mr. Paulson, reportedly already ailing, was unable to generate the sort of buzz that might have transformed the game into a profitable venture with pizazz, technical wizardry and marketing slogans like “The Best Mind Wins.”

Moreover, in 2014, a memo leaked to chess news websites and The Sunday Times of London revealed that Mr. Ilyumzhinov, the president of the chess federation (and a self-described abductee by space aliens), had acquired a 51 percent stake in Agon.

His and Mr. Paulson’s signed contract to divvy up potential profits from the company raised questions among chess fans about self-dealing. Both men said that the contract had never gone into effect. In 2014, Mr. Paulson sold Agon to Ilya Merenzon, Agon’s chief executive, for 1 pound (about $1.50).

Andrew Meredith Paulson was born on Nov. 13, 1958, in Champaign, Ill., to Ronald Paulson, a distinguished English professor and art historian, and the former Barbara Appleton, a librarian. He was raised in Houston and Baltimore, where his father was the chairman of the English department at Johns Hopkins University.

Andrew Paulson received a bachelor’s degree in French literature and literary criticism from Yale in 1981 and studied at the university’s school of drama. He moved to Europe in 1982 and was a novelist before becoming a photographer.

In addition to his husband, he is survived by his parents and a sister, Melissa Katherine Paulson.