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Your Federation and You

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I've received several items from people complaining about the USCF, especially troubles with ratings. The problems at the USCF could easily warrant their own blog, which is sort of what they have in the chess politics newsgroup. There you can catch up on the latest financial scandals as well as enough bombast, slander, and partisanship to make the US Congress look like a quilting circle.

Before I start firing off email, digging up the bodies, and nailing hides to the wall, I thought I'd ask you first what you want from your chess federation. "Sanity, probity, and fulfilling their promises" seems like a minimum. Ratings, a magazine, Olympiad teams selected by transparent rules? Support of scholastic chess, help for professional players, sponsorship for championships, working internationally to change FIDE? Start small, stay solvent? All of the above?

What are your priorities? What questions do you have for your federation's leaders, or potential leaders? (Not just in the US.) Remember that as much as we complain about FIDE, technically it represents the federations, not individuals. (Literally it represents Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, something else that should be addressed.)


I want leadership who actually understand the economics of not-for-profit service organizations. I don't give a damn if they can play chess or not.

I want a federation that will

1) Grow a spine and stand up for what is right for chess within the world chess federation.

2) Will have managers who have vision enough to recognize what the problems are within the federation and work to correct them.

I see the biggest problem as being the loss of so many adult players. I think the reason is easy to see if they only examine it. One, the USCF began heavily, actively supporting scholastic chess in the late 80s. This is great and should be encouraged. However, they fail to recognize that with so many new young players entering the tournament fray, a problem arose that ended up turning many adult away from competitive chess- namely there are many, many young players whose playing strenth far outstrips their ratings. This means that adult players who used to see regular progress upwards in their rating suddenly found their ratings dropping steadily, because they were constantly losing to kids who are actually stronger than they are but whose ratings are far lower! People like to dismiss the importance of ratings, but they fail to understand that what motivates amateur players is the ability to set goals for themselves and work to achieve them. Players use rating levels to set goals, ie. 'I will reach 1700 by next year'. When that goal suddenly changes to 'I hope to maintain a 1700 level by next year' you can see where the interest can fade quickly.

Next, the USCF fails to recognize that most amateur players are more than happy to play in tournaments for no prizes- we just want to play competitive chess and keep progressing. I think they are misled by the popularity of big tournaments like the World Open. Yes, we enjoy such a tournament at times, but I know many more players who stop playing because they don't want to pay $70 to enter a weekend swiss. I suggest adopting a Russian 'trenirovka' style entry fee for tournaments, so that players who want to compete for prizes can pay the full entry fee, and those who want to play for fun/training can pay a minimal fee (which still goes into the prize fund) and play. You would see many players come back for this!

Next, we should give more solid goals for people to reach for. I would do this by creating two titles for the USCF- Candidate Master and Master. For now I would make all current IMs and GMs receive the Master title and all current FMs or NMs receive the CM title. For the future I would make these titles quite tough to achieve, thus giving them great value. Players would have two separate goals they would have to shoot for in order to win a title-

1) Norms- you could win a CM norm by playing in a tournament of at least 6 rounds and earning a performance rating of 2300+. You could win a M norm by playing in a tournament of at least 6 rounds and earning a performance rating of 2500+. You would have to earn 3 norms to fulfil the one part of getting a title.

2) You would have to collect scalps. There would be counters (CM and M) that playes would see on their Chess Life labels. An M counter would be incremented by 1 if a player beats a titled Master. A CM counter would be incremented 1 if a player beats either a Master or a Candidate Master. A player would need x number (I don't know the ideal, perhaps 20?) in a counter to be able to receive that title.

Thus, players could achieve a Candidate Master title (and titles are irrevocable) by getting 3 CM norms AND beating the minimum number of CMs or Ms. This whole sceme adds much excitement to chess by giving players more goals to shoot for, and fulfuls the important function of marginalizing ratings a bit- ratings would only be useful benchmarks for pairing purposes, for lower class levels (A player, B player, etc.), and for calculating performance ratings.

I have more ideas, but I will stop for now because I have gone on long enough.

Hmm.. I was thinking the other day, why not a Chess reality show, winner gets to be the next Mig apprentice.

Wheel of CHESS!!

If Poker can make it big on T.V, why not Chess. There needs to be a big media event.. maybe some one will thump me if I am wrong here, but to me it seems that the big names in Chess are not out in the open enough. Again, maybe I have not been digging enough in the chess area, but is their a profesional league in the United States? Get ESPN to pick it up. Do open tournaments like Poker, XX amount of dollars to enter, big jack pots that are backed up big names, and sponsers. Use your sources to pull talent only tournaments, get it in front of mass people.


How many active USCF players are rated over 2300? About one per cent?

Better make those titles 2100 and 2300 instead of 2300 and 2500. Or even 2000 and 2200.

I bet there are some schools out there that have inter High School leagues. But I know when I was growing up there was the good ol chess club, but that was it. There needs to be a push to get Chess in Jr. High and High School just like Basketball and Football. Inter High School Leagues, and State Championships, etc. etc.

State, While I was growing up in Colorado we had such a league. There were high schools and junior highs across the populated part of the state (a strip 120 miles long and 20 miles wide) playing in a state league.

CSCA president Mark Kriseler organized the whole thing by recruiting active juniors, calling dozens of schools and talking to chess team sponsors, signing up club level TDs to monitor matches, and distributing league news.

We played about once every other week through spring semester, if I recall correctly. It was lots of fun and I loved it.

Sorry Brian, but I strongly disagree. We have seen what happens in chess when titles get watered down. I think we need titles that are seriously difficult to achieve, at least for the Master title. Remember that ratings and class titles would still be there, there would just be new goals to shoot for- titles, norms, scalps of CMs and Ms. And, there is a lot of sense in separating the titles from the rating system, while still making the rating system relevant.

I forgot to mention in my post above what I think should be done about the problem with young players having ratings far below their quickly growing strength. I like Ed Yetman's view that scholastic chess tournaments should not be USCF rated. By doing that the USCF ratings of kids are highly watered down, so the kids enter real tournaments with ratings that are far too low. It is also not a bad idea to give kids the extra goal of achieving a USCF rating independently from school ratings. If needed, a k factor could be introduced whereby losses by anyone to a person under the age of 21 would have you lose fewer rating points. Why should a class A adult player lose so many rating points simply because he lost to a kid with a 1500 rating whose strength is actually 2000?

What does age have to do with it? If you have a rating of 2k and a kid with a rating of 1500 comes along and beats the 2k player, he deserves the pts.

What I think though is that there should be levels, and a 1500 player should never be able to play a Master, just like there are Pros, tripple A, single A .. so on in baseball, they do not inter play teams from pro to Tripple A. When they see a player they feel is right to move up to the next level, that player is moved up.

Brian, how long ago was that? I am 35 myself and in the S.F bay area our school system did not have that. It is good to know there are schools out there getting leagues together.

I find it pretty appauling that there are only a few names in Chess that make it to the main stream media. I mean there are even those who have a 1500 rating in the online chess world who do not even know who Kasparov is. To me, there needs to be a push for more media, and more names. I am pretty clueless myself, but to me the US Champion should be a pretty main stream name to anybody who even plays chess for fun. Think of when you were a kid and even though you only played baseball from time to time I bet you could name off at least a dozen names of pro baseball players. That is what needs to happen with Chess in the United States.

This issue is being discussed down in 65th square in the thread "Sorce of USCF's Problems." I have many comments down there as do other players. I don't want to overtax this page with repeats from that thread.

Ed Yetman, III

The State said "What does age have to do with it? If you have a rating of 2k and a kid with a rating of 1500 comes along and beats the 2k player, he deserves the pts. "

You misunderstand what I wrote. I never indicated that the kids should not get their points. Remember, I said they are underrated, so if anything they need to catch up to where they should be. They would get their full bump up in rating, it is only the older player who would not lose as many points- this is because there needs to be something to offset having kids whose ratings are far below what their strength is

The State said, "What I think though is that there should be levels, and a 1500 player should never be able to play a Master, just like there are Pros, tripple A, single A .. so on in baseball, they do not inter play teams from pro to Tripple A. When they see a player they feel is right to move up to the next level, that player is moved up."

I think it is very valuable for lower rated players to get to test themselves against higher rated players. I mentioned in the thread on this subject (see Ed's comment above) that we can mix tournament types- swisses to allow us players to compete against higher rateds, and round robins to allow us to compete against players of our own levels.

I agree with what Ed said about looking at what has already been written on this subject in the message board, but I also appreciate MIG giving this important subject some up-front attention.

Resources, both people and money are not there to make US chess what it could be if we had both. The board (of which I was part for three years) cannot seem to focus on any one thing to do well because they are in a constant scramble just to keep up. Many chess leaders seem more interested in tearing others down than using their energy to build something up. I gave my two cents a number of years ago and stepped back to reallocate my time to local and state chess. I wish USCF well.
Garrett Scott

I just wish they'd process tournament results faster and convince me they're financially secure enough so I can buy a life membership. I personally don't have any problems with ratings. Sure, many kids' rating are deflated, but in general they don't play the regular non-scholastic Swiss weekend tournies in my area. I've noticed that ratings aren't necessarily balanced between nearby states either, so I think rating imbalances are unavoidable.

I've been avoiding the rating discussion because I think it's secondary to the major issues of a healthy organization, but... The failure of the rating system is partially tied to the lack of mathematical 'credibility' assigned to a player's rating. A player with 2,000 games played should have a rating that's harder to move than one who has played a dozen games. Call it what you want - law of large numbers, sampling criteria, whatever - but a rating that's equally moveable across any number of games played (above a very low minimum) makes no sense.

The last time I played in the Colorado scholastic league was in 1991. Mark Kreisler moved away that same year for some sort of job opportunity.

I am only occasionally in touch with Colorado chess players now, but I understand the league continued another year or so and has seen some revivals from time to time.

I just wanted to clarify a few things mentioned here:

(1) Chess has had its 15 minutes of television fame every few years, and will get another 15 minutes when Edge TV gets their act together. Please see:

Debate whether you think this contract will be good for the USCF or not.

(2) A number of years ago the USCF changed its rating system (under the supervision of BU professor Mark Glickman) to incorporate a K-factor that is a function of player's rating, number of games played, and the number of rounds in the tournament. K-factors now span the range from around 100 (for low rated players) to 16 (for masters). This is in contrast to the "old days" when every class player's K-factor was a static 32

For reference, see:

Howard Goldowsky


As Dan's paper points out, the USCF rating formula is insensitive to a number of tournament games greater than 50. That number seems way too low to me.


The problem with trying to make a formuly to deal with people who have played many games is that some people have things happen to them in life, especially age, that do cause them to actually go down in strength. You may have played for 40 years at a certain level and have thousands of games, but now perhaps dementia is setting in or some other affliction, and it would not be fair to artificially hold you rating in place.

I'm not suggesting a rating floor, I'm suggesting something less responsive than the current formula.

Having said that, I don't know how the current formula was fitted, so maybe it's accurately predictive as-is. In which case, nothing to complain about.

The USCF should be dissolved and replaced by a for-profit league or association. It is clear that non-profit nit-wittery is not appropriate for a game.


That is not a chess politics newsgroup. That is a forum where psychos go to trash other people. What people post there is worst than the National Inquirer. I would say 90% of the garbage there is pure fabrication. It is better for people to discuss things here in your forum and if you have trolls, you can monitor them.


noyb, that's not clear to me...pretty much all amateur sport associations are not-for-profit. What's the argument for a for-profit basis?


The difference between profit and non-profit orgs are purely semantic, because both pursue their objectives that have monetary value. Of course, there may be taxed differently and have some form of priviledges (government authorities tend to believe that profit is immoral). But for what matters, as profit is a measure of value creation, which is something one would expect from organizations, I think that there is a trade-off between beeing a profit and a non-profit org: While it is easier to measure the success of the first one, the latter can pursue more obscure objectives without control of their consumers and constituencies, as it should be clear by the FIDE example.

Sorry for not previewing my post.


I didn't completely follow your answer - in the US not-for-profits can have equal attention and scrutiny, it's just in how you set them up. And if you're trying to fund educational programs, nfp status certainly makes donations more likely (or possible).

Your answer (e.g. the comment about government not liking profit) sounds more ideological than organizational.

I lived for about six years in the US and participated in many tournaments. Actually, I have to say, that when I first got in touch with the USCF I thought it was very good, especially when compared to my native country´s chess organization, which at that time was awful.
What did I like? a) the offer of various tournaments nearby, b) the existence of a fair, well established, rating system.

I agree that it is very important to have a good rating system because we players need an objective gauge to measure our level and also because it helps to provide us with interesting games when we are paired with people of about our same strength.
(By the way, rating DOES represent a HUGE difference in how people play against you. In my prime I was 2150 and received lots of draw offers from lower rated players as soon as the position was more or less equal. Now I am 1800 and very frequently have to play those absolutely drawn positions to the bare kings vs 1900 players...)

What I do not like? I think that the entry fees for weekend swiss tournaments are getting a little out of proportion and was actually starting to be a factor whether to play or not to play in a particular event.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on February 18, 2005 4:09 PM.

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