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Measure of Success

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It's hard to imagine something less controversial than scholastic chess, but controversial it is. The movement is huge in the US, and while the benefits for kids seem beyond doubt, the benefits to chess federations and the traditional chess community are less clear. In general I believe more chess is always good, period. It would be nice if kids who learned in school continued to play in tournaments, but with nowhere for them to go as professionals in the US, finding the next Fischer will still depend on rare genius.

This item stems from reading this curious little note from a Utah paper about teachers getting funding to start using chess in an elementary school with the express hope that it will improve math test scores. Maybe things are getting desperate now that the US has decided that test scores are easier than actually educating.

A must-read overview on the scholastic chess topic is this article (Acrobat format) by Tom Braunlich entitled "Scholastics and the Soul of Chess". Among other things, it makes the case that there is a growing conflict of interest between scholastic chess and those who play it as a sport, with the US Chess Federation in the middle.

The underlying problems are not new: How best to divide up a small pie of resources and how to define success. More players = good, but what if, as is happening in the US, fewer adults play while more kids play? There are many other such mind-benders. Is 4th place in the Olympiad a credit to American chess when all the players are Soviet-bred? How to save top-level chess, where the US has produced just one GM in the past seven years? Nakamura, who recently turned 17. Before him you have to go back to Tal Shaked, then to the generation of Sherzer, Ilya Gurevich and Wolff to find the GMs whose chess was developed in the USA. Tellingly, none of them has played seriously in years. (Also interesting is that both Shaked and Gurevich won the World Junior.)

Ashley got his GM title fairly recently, but after a long layoff. Perhaps a better way to to put it is that Nakamura is the only US GM under 30 other than the inactive Shaked. Eugene Perelshteyn will likely make the title, although he's already 24.


I believe GM Tal Shaked received his chess education in the US. Wasn't IM John Watson his trainer when Shaked won the World Junior Chamiponship in 1997?

Yah, I knew I forgot somebody, thanks. Will add.

Varuzhan Akobian just became a GM and he's twenty something, I believe.

Anyway, it's really sad that in a country of 270 million (give or take), America has so little to offer in terms of modern, top-level chess players (young blood). I think USCF is hoping Kasparov will defect since he already lives in New York...

(1) It was great to see the both U.S teams do so well at the Olympiad. But did USCF do anything special on their website --nope. By the time the magazine covers it, everyone will be into some other news topic.

(2) There seems to be very little mixing of US players and foreign players. The Olympiad was probably the first in years. This is bad for top-level chess in America. Somehow things have to be arranged so that American chess isn't so isolated.

(3) Promoting top-level chess: Fischer's in jail (and insane), and we have no one we can claim as our modern champion. Honestly, the top 10 in the world would destroy our top US players. Our US players only play each other and often those tournaments aren't promoted well, such as live Net broadcasts and adequate funding, etc. Minnesota comming up offers big bucks, but let's hope for some top foreign players.

(4) What's the answer? That's tough... But if there's that much interest at the scholastic level, then the next level shouldn't be that difficult to overcome. USCF is the cornerstone to American chess and so it has to start at USCF headquarters. It basically comes down to this: Can someone dedicate their life to chess and be a professional and live in America? Right now, the answer is no, not live well. What choice does a promising young player have but to seek a job/career in the real world where there's money?

What the USCF doesn't understand is that the only way to encourage more kids to excel and stick with Chess is to promote top rated USCF players, and to host top-flight, high paying tournaments in the US. Until then, kids don't have anyone to look up to or to cheer for. The only thing that really motivates kids is to see success reported in the media, i.e., Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc. Until then, Chess is DEAD in the US.

Akobian just became a GM, but I didn't list him because he received his early training in Armenia. See his official biography at http://www.akobian.com/biography.html

While I doubt this will happen any time soon, until the pay structure for GMs is changed, The US will continue to produce players with great potential to be strong GMs, but they will continue to leave for careers that will pay MUCH more in the US.

For example, virtually any computer career will pay a lot more than the average GM will ever make. I probably wouldn't get out of bed for what a GM makes, but that they scrape by is the sad fact. These young guys that have the great memories and strong analytical skills to become GMs can easily make over $100,000 or more in this country...a lot more than the average GM makes.

Former Eastern block countries, with respect to making chess a career only, still have the advantage that chess can be a decent career due to their economies. Even $25,000 is still a lot in Russia.

Chess is ALREADY used frequently in American advertising, for everything from insurance companies to the US Marines. It already has iconic status as showing someone who is smart, competitive, focused, and objective. Chess sets sell in the millions in the US. And ches sets are used as props every time there is a rich person's apartment, whether it is the Trump Tower suite for the Apprentice or the Hugh Grant suite in SIX WEEKS NOTICE.

Chess has an image, and that image helps sell product in the US.

However...the US has lacked an organization that would promote individual grandmasters as an effective adveritsing symbol.


40 years ago, people told the NBA that Americans would never be interested in "tall black guys" as style leaders. That every kid had a basketball hoop in his/her driveway, but there would never be endorsement money.

Today the highest paid endorsers in the US are "tall black guys"--NBA players like Shaq and Michael Jordan.


Many retail surveys have shown that over half the people buying NBA logo items have NEVER been to a live game--and half have never watched a game on television except the playoffs.

Basketball continues to get the worst ratings of any major sport. But the products still sell, and player endorsements still help sell other products, which is what fuels the incomes of the players.

Chess in the US is like basketball in the US in the 60s. Everybody has seen the game, and millions of people have played it at least once.

Chess is ahead of basketball in the 60s because it ALREADY has a saleable business image.


What professional chess needs isn't bigger money prizes to start with. What it needs is a deep understanding of how the NBA generated endorsements, and the business models it used for managing endorsements (not for managing the teams themselves).

In order to promote players as endorsers, an organization needs to do several things.

1. It needs to control access to the players. This was a huge step for the NBA. See Red Auerbach's book from the time.

2. It needs to promote the legacy history of the game, so that fans of all generations can view the game itself as important. Go to NBA.com and look at how they deal with players from 20 years ago. Look at any interview with a rookie player. You will see that the rookies are taught to pick a legacy player and consider his impact on their style--this keep golden age fans interested in the new.

3. Maintain an online player biography area. It is SO frustrating to have to look in 17 places to get information on players. This is one of the single most important things the USCF could be doing to promote professional chess, but it doesn't get done. And it is one of the few things that appeals to both scholastic and adult players.

I myself added the players Gallery to the USCF Website back in the mid-90s when I was the webmaster there. But it has rarely been updated, and rarely done so in a consistent manner. There should be a standard bio form for EVERY PLAYER ON THE TOP 100. And it should be updated every time the top 100 list is updated.

It should include not just name and age, but age when they earned titles, major events won, photos, a discussion of their playing style, a quote aobut their favorite historical player, a quote about their future goals, and at least one of their own favorite games.

The New York Masters ( www.newyorkmasters.com ) has probably done the best job of this kind of player bio, although some are much more complete than others. But it's the right direciton.

The AF4c has done some excellent bios, but they're hard to find.

But to succeed in bringing endorsement money into professional chess, there has to be a further step--the location that maintains the bio has to be the location that can produce the player for an endorsement negotiation if desired. And produce them quickly.

What the NBA did which was so interesting was to take a percentage (initially a very high percentage, in later years smaller) of every endorsement it negotiated to be used to fund public relations. So that the bios, press management, etc were funded by endorsements themselves.


It's the start-up phase that's so difficult, of course. Someone who earns very little money is told they must give 20% of a $2,000 endorsement to the press office, and they're likely to say "I can't afford it." But doing so is the only way to build up to the $20,000, $200,000, and even $2 million endorsements.

It's not about the bankability of any individual player. It's not about finding the "next Bobby Fischer."

It's about developing a pantheon of heroes with a single press and business contact point.

Chess promotion "the American Way" will be very different than chess promotion in other countries, which tend to depend on a big event sponsor. Professional chess in the US could be fueled instead by advertising dollars. NOT television advertising during an event, but endorsements that used the iconic power of chess to promote other products.

But it's a different kind of business model, of course.


I believe that chess, oddly enough, has another aspect in comon with basketball--it lends itself really well to a "highlight film" approach. Think of it this way--every diagram in a chess column or most books is really a highlight film equivalent. It's a critical, often flashy moment. It says "There were 58 moves in this game, but look at THIS one."

Basketball highlight moments tend to be very popular because they have an element of surprise. (By the way, the same is true of soccer.) Most great homeruns look pretty much alike. But basketball has the "Hey, come see this" factor.

So, I think, does chess, for many decisive games. You don't have to watch the entire game to be able to appreciate the great moment.

Yet I don't think I've ever seen a US Championship promoted online with a diagram of a great position and photos of the two players. (With, of course, links to uptodate bios and the fullg ame).

Entire games, sure.

But the "one great moment" highlight film approach? We don't do it. I don't know why. I suspect it's because of pushback from players that "but some of the most beautiful games are quiet."

OK, but...what the NBA managed to do was divorce the concept of promotion of the sport as an icon from the concept of evaluation of the players as players.

I honestly think that's the key to generating more money for all professional players.


Here's a fun challenge. :)

Imagine you are the sports or features editor for any major US media organization, and you love chess. You have a story conference coming up in 15 minutes, and you want to convince your bosses to do a feature on the US Championship this year.

Go to either the official USCF website ( www.uschess.org ) oe the official host organization site (www.af4c.org ) or both and try to determine who is the oldest and youngest person in the list of participants for the US Championship that will be held this month.

(posted November 7, 2005, just over 2 weeks before the event begins.)

I didn't include Akobian or Onischuk because their chess was largely developed outside of the US. Thank god for all the Soviet players and player-trainers or the US would be a total chess backwater by now. Some American-born players complain that the "Russians" take away too much of the small pie, but really they help create the chess culture necessary for their to be strong students and strong tournaments.

There are a few zero-sum areas, like Olympiad team spots, but in most things they bring in more than they take out.

Since when does Kasparov live in New York? I've heard this several times and I don't know where it started. He visits four or five times a year for business and because he has a daughter in New Jersey living with his first wife. But he's probably not here more than two or three weeks a year. He still lives in Moscow, where he's been since his family had to evacuate Baku.

At this moment the World Youth Chess Championships are taking place in Heraklio, Crete, and US youngsters, especially in the Boys U10 division are doing more than holding their own the World Chess stage.

So for the future of US Chess, keep these names in mind : Ray Robson, Parker Zhao and Josh Dubin. And there are others.

See http://www.greekchess.com/wycc2004/ for more details or my chess blog at http://chessdad64.journalspace.com (it's no Daily Dirt) for more some color)

Thanks to the Ninja for giving some play to this important topic!


The problem isn't junior success. Again, note Ilya Gurevich and Tal Shaked winning the World Junior title. Both retired from serious chess before turning 30. The last dozen US Junior champs have only rarely become GMs. There's simply no career path in the US, at least not one that compares with college and a job. Unless you have the talent to break into international play very young, it's a pretty bleak picture.

What about the basic point that chess is quite stupid, and you'd practically forbid your child from getting good at it? The Scholastic world is so nice with so many events that once you hit 20 and aren't playing at the World Junior level anymore, chess really becomes boring. The sad reality is that until such a time as we greatly pare down the amount of "professional players" we have, chess won't succeed.

Succeed at what, John? I'm pretty sure I don't understand your post. I'm actually being dumb here, not playing dumb.

Succeed at having any meaning or value as a profession or as something to take seriously. Hell, there are probably more "professional players" right now in chess than there are in Baseball. Sadly, that's not a good thing.

The players have to get it - being a GM doesn't mean you've earned ANYTHING. Somehow there's a large group of players who are somehow expecting money to flow in, and it's not happening. Of course, then we see the other edge of the equation, where a Ponomariov yells endlessly because he's not getting the same amount as Kasparov/Kramnik are in Linares, or when Kramnik considers ducking a match with Kasparov, that practically every other chessplayer would take in a second, and you get the same reaction as when a Latrell Spreewell talks about "needing to feed his family" when he has a *9* figure contract. People should keep telling the story about El Khalif and Vegas 99 - that was a huge financial windfall (hell, for Akopian too), and made his tournament to tournament professional life a lot easier for a time.

As a rule, we've lost focus of what chess is in the USA. It's now a kiddie game, and the ones you feel horrible for are the kids who actually get good and enjoy it. (Braunlich's "Juniors".) They simply have nothing to look forward to unless they turn into a Nakamura (and even then, questions remain.)

I consider chess, as a serious professional activity, to be dead. Of course, that's more in the Arafat sense of the word.

I think chess could be a little better in the US if the USCF took a couple of fairly simple measures regarding scholastic chess. Most adult players simply love chess and are not expecting prize money when we play, however we do like to have goals in chess so we use our rating. People like to dismiss the importance of ratings, and on one level I agree, but to dismiss ratings altogether is wrong. Like I said, most adult players use ratings to set chess goals for themselves and to see that they are making progress. So, this shows a drawback of scholastic chess as it pertains to adult players. Scholastic chess gives many children very low USCF ratings and then, as children do, the kids take off in skill level while their ratings can't keep up. Therefore, adult players are constantly having their ratings get bombed when they lost to a kid who is truly better than they are but the kid's rating is far lower. This discourages the adult players because their goals disappear along with their ratings. They no longer make progress! And, it is not fair to have your rating plunge when you are actually doing quite well and only losing to kids who really are better. The USCF should implement rating rule changes that allow for the fact that most children are underrated. I am not a rating expert so I don't have the perfect solution, but perhaps adult players should not lose so many points when losing to a child?

I have been reading these postings with great interest, because once the relocation of the USCF's office is successfully implemented and we have a good understanding of the new costs structure of the USCF operations. We can begin developing the US Chess Federation's core goals and programs.

Duif made a good point about our website and player's gallery. At the same time, we need to find out how effective are our channels of communication with our young members, schools and other educational organizations. For the last 15 months, we have been addressing some vital issues which drove our attention away from what really matters: Promoting chess in the United States by building our networks and engaging people and organizations in this mission.

The US Chess Federation is searching for a full time Scholastic Director, we will be assessing our existing projects and programs for the purpose of fully understanding in what direction we need to move. Very soon, our rating area will be upgraded making possible on-line submission for tournament reports in a more effective way.

We will find our in a couple of months if the scholastic insert in Chess Life Magazine is an effective tool to Reach out our children, if is not the case we will consider bringing School Mates back which will be focusing in Elementary Students.

I believe we need to work in different levels and embrace philosophical differences and recognize that we have a diverse community.

All the best,

Beatriz Marinello
US Chess Federation

Ms. Marinello, your post basically emphasizes scholastic chess still without addressing the problem of adult chess. I think it is a real problem, because I remember quite clearly how chess was in Arizona when I was a scholastic player- chess in school was good, but it was adult chess in real tourneaments that really got me excited. I have been popping back into the states every few years and I check in on chess in Arizona, and I can see the tremendous drop-off in adult players. The most promising scholastic players get tired of playing other kids at some point and want a good, solid adult chess structure to give them more challenges. This adult chess structure is waning tremendously.

Nakamura is Japanese.

Mark: Nakamura and his chess were raised in the USA. Seirawan was born in Syria, but didn't play chess until coming to Seattle. The discussion is about the US capacity to develop chessplayers, and/or to support them. Place of birth is irrelevant.


Yes, Nakamura is Japanese, but he has lived in the US for most of his life, and, more importantly, has received all of his chess education in this country, thanks largely to his stepfather Sunil, who is a strong player himself and a chess teacher.

Nakamura is a great example of a child who has a "natural talent" for chess, and then is placed in an environment ripe for developing said talent.

As this discussion thread shows, he can only go so far before hitting the economic roadblock his peers have already hit, and we may see yet another young talent leave competative chess in favour of a more conventional career that would allow him to make a living.

Anybody who follwed his sensational performance in Tripoli this past summer has to agree that he has a ton of potential in international chess circles...and you have to admire his style...he has great fighting spirit...no "quickie draws" for him...! ;-)




Hello! How kind of you to take the time to post, when I know you have so much taking your time.

I myself think the scholastic insert in CHESS LIFE is a good experiment. It may help with the transition to adult play, and it should certainly help with the emotional connection to top players for those scholastic players who will not become adult tournament players.

You know, one project I would love to see in any case is a Players Gallery added to the magazine. One page. Half of it a profile of a player from the US top 10. The other half a player who is #1-3 for their age group.

We speak a lot in the US about the need to develop great players. The need to develop great events.

But personally, I think the true business model for any sport in the US is developing a great fanbase.

Sure, 90% of scholastic players may never play an adult tournament. But they should become the adult core FANS of the professional game.

Every sport in the US has three groups of fans. Core fans, who know the game's intricacies and follow it carefully.

Event fans (think Superbowl or Indianapolis 500) who resurface for specific major events.

And style fans, whose connection to the sport is based on its iconic imagery, like a teenager who buys a San Jose Sharks sweatshirt even though he's never seen a hockey game.

Our scholastic players should be growing into the core fan base of the future.


By the way, I think a player's gallery can start small. Although ideally I would like to see the full bio for every top 100 player, it could start with just the top 5. Or top 3.

A thought about fans...

Most other sports have learned that fans like to see two things: professional stats and personal characteristics. Both help fans make a connection to a player even when that player ISN'T the year's champion.


Professional stats can be things like $ earned in Grand Prix events, win percentage in Grand Prix Events, Grand Prix points, rating improvement, dozens more. (Part of the fun is having fans argue over which stats should be added to the official group.) Just remember to pick stats that can be used even for a player who isn't winning every tournament.

Again the New York Masters at www.newyorkmasters.com has made a good start at this.

And you can start small--only provide these stats for the top 10 players, eventually expanding to the top 100. You don't provide these for every player, just the true pros.

Stats are used by Core fans (see above) and as a shorthand when reporting for Event fans and Style fans.

"Player X is the biggest money winner this year" and "Player Y has the best win percentage" give these players instant standing with casual fans and advertisers.


Sure, lots of people like the #1 player. But how do fans choose between #95 and #93? Who will they make an emotional connection with? Who will they root for, not just in this year but in year's to come?

Making the personal connection sweetens the interest in the competition itself. It's one reason we prefer human sports contests to watching robots.

So how does a fan make the connection? Well, geography and age are the most obvious. "She's from New York." "She's the youngest to hold the title."

But often it's as simple as #93 loves spaghetti and #95 likes pop tarts.

Or #93 listens to Usher and #95 listens to Toby Keith.

Or #93 drives an SUV and #95 rides a bike.

Human details make human connections. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has known this forever, and it's driven purely by a profit motive (rather than trying to promote an individual sport). Its readers want some professional stats, some personal characteristics, and some indepth analysis in the player profiles. And they want player profiles as well as box scores.

Meaningful professional stats. Interesting personal characteristics. Providing these is one of the best ways a sports organization can help develop its fanbase.

And ultimately it is the quality of the fanbase that determines the amount of money available to the pros, and in turn the likelihood that a promising young junior will stay in the field as an adult.


Duif, lots of good comments and ideas. I've been thinking about the fan issue myself and come to roughly the same conclusion...but you said it better. Can I put you in charge? I keep checking Chess Life for interviews of cover players and find a short paragraph or two on the player's recent tournament successes followed by several annotated games. I keep wondering how I will ever pick a favorite player if I don't know anything about them.

Ms. Marinello,

The scholastic insert is doomed to failure and I am saddened by that. I'm sad because I think it is a brilliant idea and could really turn a lot of kids on to chess.

So, why do I predict failure? Because the insert is not getting to many kids. I got it with my copy of chess life. But, I currently work with 125+ elementry kids, none of whom is going to buy a year long membership to USCF for a hanful of 8 page inserts in chess life.

Only a small fraction of these kids (~20) will ever play in an unrated tournament and only about 6-10 will ever play in a rated tournament. There is no reason for the large majority of kids I work with to join the USCF--they are strictly recreational players.

Most of the 125 kids I work with would be thrilled to get a copy of the insert as a stand-alone publication. But I have no way to get it too them without major copying costs and copyright violations.

Find a way to get broader distribution of the scholastic chess insert and it will succeed. If you can find a wealthy underwriter that would be best---people like me would be delighted to hand out "free" copies of these inserts to the kids we work with. I'd even be willing to purchase classroom subscriptions (2-5 copies per classroom) for "my" kids if they were reasonably priced ($10 or less per classroom per year).

There are certainly other ways to get this done. But unless those inserts make it to a lot of kids they won't be successful in the long-term. (They might even get kids interested enough to get a scholar membership if School Mates comes back.)

Make sure to include some player profile stuff in each issue. Not games, personal information--kids love to know your favorite type of pizza and what book you liked when you were their age. (I've been interviewed several times by elementry kids.)


The USCF should seriously consider going all-electronic with the magazine. This way, different materials will go directly to a specific target of people.

The USCF must realize the tremendous opportunities presented by the internet. A simpler, streamlined operation is in order: concentrate on providing member services through the internet, managing ratings more efficiently, creating a fund-raising department and providing a paying server (like ICC). That will make a HUGE difference. Especially the fund-raising part: all big non-profits devote hundreds of thousands of dollars evey year to hire PROFESSIONAL fund-raising firms. The reasoning? Very simple: yes, they are very expensive, but they bring in twice what you pay them. It's a no-lose proposition. I know, because I work with one of the largest lawyer associations in the USA, and fund-raising is one of their most important activities: without money, the association is dead.

The USCF has everything it needs to be profitable and efficient, in an admittedly small market like chess. All it takes is focus and capable leadership. Hopefully Beatriz Marinello can bring this focus with her leadership. Time will tell...


I wrote "paying server" in my previous post. That's a typo. I meant "playing server" (a server where players can go play for free as part of the membership benefits).

This is a great thread, and it's wonderful to see so many passionate voices come together in this virtual forum.

Duif, you've proposed some great ideas. My first instinct was to say, "Why waste your time on Mig's blog, go tell the USCF directly." Then I saw Beatriz Marinello's post, and I couldn't contain my smiles. We have mature people presenting mature arguments here (unlike r.c.g), and we have influential people reading them, too.

I just want to add one thing: In 2005, Edge TV, a new cable TV company, will be broadcasting chess on their new channel. (Can you believe this? Chess on TV!) They have a contract with the USCF to broadcast four scholastic tournaments plus the US Open and the National Open. If the USCF were ever going to make a major push to profile their top players, no better time than now. Edge TV has said that they are going to focus on the personalities of the top players when they do their broadcasts. Anyway, people watching on TV are going to want to go to a website to follow up on their favorite players. There is no better time than now to start taking some of Duif's suggestions seriously. (An interview with Edge TV is planned to come out Jan 26, 2005 at ChessCafe.com, around the time they start broadcasting.)

How can the US encourage talent? For a start, what are the former Soviet countries going to do when the honeymoon of government support runs out? They have talent now because they had government-supported talent then. Now players are coming here - so how does Russia plan to stay on top? If we knew the answer to this we should be able to better integrate the foreign players that we have with the desire to develop native talent in the future.

Thank you for your kind comments.

I first had a conversation about the NBA model (the importance of heroes who know their own game's history, the importance of fans to a succesful sports business plan) with Yasser Seirawan when he was 18 and I was 23.

Yasser, as usual, had a better take on it than I did--see



Are the points I was making above really so worthless? I believe that the best way to encourage scholastic chess is to have a thriving, vibrant adult chess community around the kids. I was a scholastic player in Tucson in the eighies, and though scholastic chess was fun, what made chess into something greater were the local 'heroes', people like FM Ken Larsen, the upcoming Tal Shaked, NMs Robby Adamson and Spencer Lower. Also, there was a dedicated large group of adult players that showed up in tourney after tourney. When scholastic players came to these tournaments, seeing all these adult players made chess seem special and mysterious. It is what hooked me for life.

Now when I go to a tourney in Tucson it is mainly just scholastic players with just a few scattered adults playing. The dedicated base of adult players is basically gone. The 'heroes' that the kids have to look up to now are just the best of their own. My posts above gave my opinion as to why the dedicated base of adult players is drying up, and I see no sign that the USCF is taking any of the simple steps that could reverse this trend.


What steps do you think would be best to "reverse the trend"?

It won't be overnight of course, but like I said above, I belive that what kept our large group of adult players truly interested in chess tournaments was ratings. No, not that the ratings in and of themselves seemed so important to us, but that the ratings gave us adult players a way of setting chessic goals for ourselves, since we were not playing with the expectation of winning money. When the usefulness of ratings as a measuring tool for goals disappeared, the excitement of amateur chess in large part disappeared.

Ratings were no longer accurate measures, because vastly underrated juniors kept joining tournaments and beating up the adults. Beating the adults is not the bad thing, it is the adults unfairly losing alot of rating points to a low rated kid who is actually better than they are! The ratings just don't keep pace with the kids development.

In the rare times when I go back to the states and visit my chess friends, I uniformly discover that they are 100 or more points lower rated than they were back when I competed there regularly, and these were guys whose ratings were generally, if slowly, climbing back then.

I play quite well overseas against people who are supposedly strong competition- at the Moscow Central Chess Club, here in China, in Zagreb and Budapest, and though I have a FIDE rating over 2100 I keep losing games to kids back home in the US and a bundle of rating points along with it. I can't even break 2000 in the states (though that may be due to my seldom being able to play there). But, consider this- I played in a series of tournaments in Phoenix in the late 90s and I was mainly competing against scholastic players. In one month my rating plummeted from the mid-1900s to 1791, but in the same period I went to two big tournaments (National Open and the Continental Open) and did well enough (against mostly adults) to gain all the rating points back. It is not that the kids were so much stronger than the adults I played, but that the kids were much stronger than their ratings, thus I lost many more points playing the kids.

Sorry, it is late here in Beijing so I am rambling. I just think that the USCF should give adults back one of their main incentives for playing- an accurate rating. They can do this mainly by limiting the amount of rating points one can lose when losing to a kid. Call it the "Kid's Phenomenal Growth Credit"! When adults can have normally developing ratings that can help them keep their goals in sight then they will be more interested in playing again, and this in turn will create more interest for the kids, who enjoy looking up to (and beating) adults. Please don't get any idea that I don't support scholastic chess, because I support it strongly and love playing the up-and-coming whizzes.

I see. That's a very interesting point.

I myself have been able to play very little over the last 10 years or so, first because of work, then because of illness. I did manage to play 3 games in the last year and, now that I think of it, two WERE against juniors who did seem significantly underrated.



It's not that your ideas are worthless, but they don't inspire discussion the way some other comments do. It happens.

I can understand your point---even better now that you have elaborated on it a bit. But I have nothing to add. I agree with you, but it doesn't hit my "hot button." At least not right now.

On the other hand Duif's comments resonate with me because the ideas are something I've been tossing around in my own head for months at a less developed level. Seeing the ideas fully developed was, for me, very exciting.


Lots fo great comments here.

Does USCF perpetuate the idea that chess is a kids game?
Around the time of the Deep blue games I finally decided I would try to learn about this game. Not long after I played in a tournament or two and joined USCF. I must say when chess life came to me I was a bit surprised by one cover which had a picture of a chubby 8 year old with freckles, a grin, and a huge trophy.

Deep down my now wife thinks it is kind of silly for a grown man to spend time learning this game. Well when she looked at this cover, she smiled wagged here eyebrows as if to say here is your "game magazine."

Chess life seems to dedicate 2xs as much space to how 4th graders are doing than it does to the top 20 players in the world. I realize it is a US organization but this does not mean it shoudl close its eyes to the best players in the world. It is a US *chess* magazine.

(As an aside I just spoke with someone who didn't even know Kramnik was playign a world championship match agaisnt Leko! This was midway through the match. I know this person is currently rated and therefore receieves chess life and has for a while. I admit I don't know how much chesslife played up the world championship because I am no longer a member. so this guy may not have been reading the magazine he gets.)

Well ok. Then I look through the magazine hoping to improve my game. Tactics tactics tactics is what I heard.

Well as far as tactical puzzles they give us "Key krackers" thats great I thought. But then looking at the problems I realized these problems are not from real games. They are completely made up! If chess is mental masterbation this is mental masterbation about mental masterbation! Its not really practice at chess but truly practice at solving chess problems.

Now I haven't taken the time to prove this and maybe I'm wrong but the USCF seems to group players into two catagories 1)class A or better players or 2)children.

But what about 52% of *nonscholastic* members who are rated below 1500? They don't stay members long and with good reason.

I would strongly suggest the entire USCF Board read a white belt ninja newsletter. Mig may be mixed up when it comes to chess politics :) but he knows how to make learning chess enjoyable for novices! He does not assume that since you are learning chess(a white belt) you must be under 12 years old and therefor need to be treated like a child.

Does USCF need to continue offering basic chess instruction with cartoon characters? - Chess mates? I strongly believe that children don't need the cartoon characters anymore than the adults. If they can read they can read and understand exercises like mig's. USCF really should just try to see if they can work out a deal with him to write an instructional article(s)

Yes US chess should try to help novices learn the game - it adds to thier appreciation and therefore to the thier chances of being core fans.(as duif put it) they should also be sensitive to the fact that like languages this game is harder to learn as you get older. Nevertheless like learngin a foreign language it cna be rewardign no matter what age you are.

I can't emphasize this enough. National Magazines that cover basketball don't cover the 4th grade championships. What sports National magazine goes to such lengths to cover children's events? Do these other sports know something we don't? Yes they do. They know that neither adults nor *children* want to read about children's games. Adults *and* children want to participate in and follow the sports that adults play. Ted Cross and John fernandez are right on this.

Ok this is not the only problem facing US chess but its a big problem and adults have left USCF in droves. There are of course tons of other problems. I just wanted to expand on this one.

I have to agree with J Fern. Chess is a great game, but it's become really boring. There are just so many other fun things to do, why play chess? I mean, it's great to play now and then, but there are so many fanatical 'chess players' out there. I honestly wonder, if they even like the game.

I want to agree and add emphasis to niceforkinmove's comments. He hit the nail on the head about child chess players not really being that interested in the games of children. All through high school and junior high chess I never found the slightest interest in examining the games of children. Magazines aimed at adults were what made chess seem mysterious and amazing- it made me understand that there was a whole big, unknown world of chess out there, with powerful grandmasters from exotic lands. I am not putting down scholastic chess, but stating that kids don't need or want to be coddled. Yes, I do have two children of my own who love chess. It is the mystery of classic adult chess that makes a child grow excited and gives the child dreams and possibilities in chess, which is why I keep pushing the idea that adult chess needs to be made stronger in America. It will only help scholastic chess that much more.

Like Mig, I think more chess is great. I think scholastic chess is great, adult amateur over the board chess is great, internet chess is great, pro chess is great.


But the fans don't have to be active players. They just have to feel connected to the human struggles of the players.

I know that in the greater scheme of things, it's undoubtedly more important to know Shabalov's opinion on the latest line in the Caro-Kann than what his favorite flavor of ice cream is. But it is nonplaying fans that form the base of the pyramid in any successful sports business omdel.


It would be so cool if this week (before the Championship) we saw an interview with Shabalov that asked what player has had the most influence on his style, if it was difficult to come straight from the Olympiad to the US Championship, what age he was when he became a Grandmaster, who he thinks his toughest competition will be this year, what book most influenced him as a teenager (chess or otherwise), if his life changed in the last year because he's been the US Champion, if he has any New Year's Resolutions--and his favorite ice cream flavor. :)

I know. Fan Questions. But there are potentially so many fans. They don't have to be players. They just have to care enough that they value the pros.

What sites like http://www.nba.com do is give the Core fans and press the sound bites they need to talk about the sport with the style and event fans.

Because the unspoken truth of sports as a business is that money flows, one way or another, from the fans to the players. So the bigger the fanbase, the more money that comes in to support both pro and junior programs.

p.s. I vote for chocolate chip. :)

I understand that Nakamura played chess in the US from a young age, but if you believe that 'place of birth is irrelevent' then you could be placing yourself on a sticky wicket.

With regard to chess in the US, most of the USCF membership fees will come from indigenous players, and therefore they could expect that a large, if not exclusive, measure of support should be returned to them. If any player was allowed to enter the country and take an Olympiad place, with the fees that place entails, then the idea of a national organisation could start to disintegrate.

The USCF might also want to think about my comments in the message board about its indigenous population's ability to play chess. Does it have to become dependent on other countries?

The US is a nation of immigrants. There's no reason why the majority of USCF members have to be second generation born in the country--many of the scholastic players have parents who were born elsewhere, too.

Many Americans see this diversity as one of the most positive things about living here. The NBA, the NFL, and MLB have all welcomed players from other countries without losing their American status in the eyes of the fans.

Even the US Olympics team often includes a number of foreign-born athletes, and they are still cheered as American heroes. In the most recent Olympics, 30 members of the America team were foreign-born:



We have discussed it elsewhere, but the USCF's eligibility requirements for the Olympiad require an intention to live in the US and to seek citizenship when it is legally possible to do so.


Chess in Spain and the Netherlands has not suffered because of the arrival of chess immigrants, and it's not likely that chess in the US will.

And as we can see from the Olympics themselves, the American team is not diminshed by the inclusion of foreign-born participants in the physical sports--there's no reason it should be in the mental ones, either.


(disclaimer: my own family is multicultural, with multiple members born outside the US)

Duif wrote: "Chess in Spain and the Netherlands has not suffered because of the arrival of chess immigrants"

I strongly disagree. My experience with players in other countries is that these formed players basically serve only to take spots away from native-born players, and discourage the growth of home-grown players. You may not necessarily see this at the top level, but it is certainly there.

Whether we are a country of immigrants really doesn't matter. The reality is that it is very hard to market players who are foreigners, even if raised in that country. That's just the way things are.

Well, now that NFM and Ted have elaborated a bit I find myself getting more interested in the place of children's chess in the world.

I first and formost agree with Duif that there has to be more fan information out there. I think Ted and NFK have a very valid, and important, point that the fan information needs to be about adult players. (I reserve the right to include outstanding junior players in the definition of "adult.")

I know that when our local kids compete in a tournament they wonder who won that tournament. They have no interest in who played, much less won, in a neighboring state. But isn't that also true for high school sports? Unless you live in a border community do you care what happens in another state? No, you don't. You certainly don't care what happened across the country.

It appears to me that the USCF may be moving in the direction of having two organizations under a single umbrella...scholastic chess and regular chess. Since I believe that one organization cannot be all things to all people I consider this a step in the right direction. Set up a group to look after scholastic players and another group to look after everyone else.


You suggest that "it is very hard to market players who are foreigners..."

Like, perhaps, Yao Ming?

Or Sammy Sosa?

Or Anna Kournikova?

I'm sure it's easier, in many ways, to market an "all American player." But it's definitely possible to market major sports stars who are foreign born.

Some of it may just be a charisma factor--a great smile goes a long way towards overcoming a language barrier.

The LPGA believes that the involvement of foreign-born players has a great deal to do with it becoming increasingly more successful in attracting sponsorship money.


Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak are both foreign-born players with strong American fan followings in their sport, and both have helped their sport garner wider press coverage.

In the absence of fan-oriented player profiles it is difficult for fans to root for anyone, in which case a seemingly nonAmerican event may get even less inteerest.

But in general I think charisma has more to do with marketability than place of birth, particularly in the US.

Take note, a new column launched today at http://www.chesscafe.com/scholastic/scholastic.htmby Dr. Steve Goldberg which will deal with Scholastic Chess. Many of the issues discussed in this string appear to be topics that will be explored in this column.


Boris Kreiman was just awarded his GM title after making his third norm at the US Open this year. (See the FIDE website for ocnfirmation at www.fide.com -- he's on the list of those awarded.)

Kreiman was the US Junior Champion in 1993 and 1996 (he was only 17 the first time). He's about 28--definitely under the 30 year old marker mentioned earlier.

He was also a recipient of the Samford Scholarship, intended to foster promising US juniors. I believe GM Yermolinsky was his coach when he won the Junior Championship.

I don't know where he got his earliest chess training, though.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on November 6, 2004 5:40 PM.

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