Greengard's ChessNinja.com

The Last Blunder

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The last post from San Diego... The last blunder of the US Championship turns out to have been made many months ago. As the saying goes, to err is human but to really screw things up you need a computer. Due to an error in an Excel spreadsheet formula used to calculate the prize fund distribution, the itemized prizes add up to around $20,000 more than the prize fund of $253,600. (They didn't count the top two women's prizes.) This wasn't discovered until they were writing out the checks after the tournament ended. (I could hear the groans and forehead smacking coming from the next table.) This meant there was no way to tell the players until the closing reception when the checks were being handed out. Most of the prizes were 11% lower than listed, although of course the actual prize fund was not changed at all.

The four finalist prizes had been publicly announced and could not be changed. The other 60 were then adjusted to the correct figures and rounded up to the nearest hundred, increasing the total by about $600. Of course the players don't just look at the total prize fund, they look at the prizes they think they might win, especially the night before they get their checks! The other top money makers "lose" the most; Ibragimov and Kamsky going from 11,600 to 10,300. The lowest prizes are 2000 instead of 2200.

Many of the players were annoyed, a few more than that, although it didn't seem to sour the closing party much. (Photos soon.) The organizers here had no authority to exceed the prize fund or to bounce checks a la FIDE. (AF4C prez Erik Anderson wasn't here due to personal reasons.) Both the correct total amount and the incorrect distribution are in the player contract, but I hope nobody goes legal about this. Nobody knew what they were getting until the night before and I doubt anyone spent the full expected amount before finding out the next day. On the other hand, there's a casino nearby.

Since they have been up front about taking the heat, and since everyone will ask, I'll go ahead and name the names of chief arbiter Robert Tanner and AF4C liason and press dude John Henderson as the ones in charge of falling on their swords for the blunder. They stress this had nothing to do with AF4C or NTC. Both are stand-up guys and it's a shame they have to suffer so much for what was basically a typo they failed to catch until the last minute. The prize fund is the prize fund and it didn't change, but perception is important and clearly many of the players feel like they lost money, at least at first blush. Had someone noticed before the tournament began it would have been no big deal. And I wonder how quickly the players would notice if the distribution added up to LESS than the prize fund!

Of course this is made even more ridiculous (I hesitate to use the word "stupid" when I worked and ate with these guys every day for two weeks and know they aren't stupid. Except for their love of Denny's) is that something similar happened last championship. That was more of a mental error than a mechanical one, counting the women's prizes twice and actually increasing the prize fund. Ironically, Robert Tanner (a former accountant!) was the one who caught the error last time too.



Wasn't this the exact same problem last year? How could it happen two years in a row?

By the way, great job with the website.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

No, not the same, but similar. I was adding that and wanted to look up exactly what happened last time. They counted the women's prizes on top of the total distribution; i.e. they would have paid the women twice. So the announced fund was around $50,000 more than planned by accident. They went ahead and paid it.

This is a very different thing. The prize fund was not in error, but the distribution was incorrect because of a typo in the spreadsheet formula. It was just a coincidence that it also had to do with the women's prizes, cutting off the women finalist's prizes from the subtraction. He started with the total and counted down, basically, but the formula range left out those two prizes. So it added up correctly in the sheet. It required taking a calculator and adding it up separately to notice the discrepancy.

Thanks, need sleep now! Flying back tonight, couldn't change to earlier flight after they cancelled the school visits today.

Thanks! Perhaps Robert and John can change their names, wear silly disguises or move to a different continent? Just kidding guys! I bet they will triple check everything next year :)

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

I believe Susan Polgar is spot on.

Same error they just covered the err in a different way so they did not have to pay.

they made the same error in adding up all the prizes. this time for legal reasons they stated the total as the prize fund instead of stating the individual amounts as the prize.

this is unbelieveable. I thought I read before the tournament that all this was checked out this time.

No one is making you guys make these errors. the players are not at fault. shifting the legal responsibility from the organization to the players might be financially smart but not very nice.

Next year when you say you have it all checked out. I hope you have it all checked out. there are tournaments all over the world and this is the only one that seems to have this problem.

Of course the solution is to have a separate womens championship and then seed the winner and all female players into the mens section based on everyone having to have a rating above 2500 in the mens section.

The solution to the problem is not to put the lawyers to the task. but to do the numbers correctly ahead of time.

This reminds me of taking a girl out on a weekend date and having a good time. then when the waiter comes with the bill you tell the girl Oh Gee I dont have enough money with me. will you pay. it kind of ruins the entire date.

Players like Kamsky and Nakamura brought their world ratings to get beatup by low rated players and now they have their paycheck deminished. I would not be surprised if they refuse to return unless the tournament is changed to get rid of the low rated players. they do nothing for a Championship. they hurt the top players ratings. they introduce too much luck into the championship.

in the other extreme of introducing luck look at the WWCC knockout. look at what happened to the top players who lost to low rated players who should not have even been there. totally knocked out. On second thought. Maybe that is better. they dont have to struggle through 8 more rounds to find out their tiebreaks are too low for the final simply because they took a loss or draw in an early round instead of the last round.

Low rated players do not belong in Championships. they dont belong in the WWCC and they dont belong in the US Championships or the mens World Championships in San Luis or anywhere a Championship is being held. Championships are finding out who is the Best of the Best. so only the Best are suppose to be there.

here is what the web site says now. I dont know if the numbers have been reduced on the web site after the error was recorded.

But what I want to say, is that the web site does not say the prize is limited to the total. it says the prizes are as listed. so I dont think you have the legal right to reduce the prizes. but then I am not a lawyer. I am an applied mathematician.

Place Overall Total prizes at this level
Overall 1st $25,000 $25,000
Overall 2nd $17,000 $17,000
Sec. 2nd $11,600 $23,200
Sec. 3rd $6,600 $13,200
Sec. 4-5th $5,175 $20,700
Sec. 6-7th $4,500 $18,000
Sec. 8-16th $3,200 $57,600
Sec. 17-24th $2,500 $40,000
Sec. 25-30th $2,200 $26,400

Women 1st $12,500 $12,500
Women 2nd $9,200 $9,200
Women Sec. 2nd $6,300 $12,600

Total Prize Fund $253,600

in high school and college I had a math teacher who taught me discipline in math. if there was the very slightest error then I got a zero for the entire problem. no partial credit. no changing the solution afterwards. I think my teacher is going to score you guys a zero 2 years in a row.

This might be a good heading under which to bring up another matter.

As far as I can tell from doing Yahoo news searches, there was just about NO media coverage of the 2006 US Chess Championship. Particulars are given in this thread on the USCF Forums, titled "The Invisible Championship": http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1012

There was no coverage during the championship, and there has been no coverage of Onischuk's and Zatonskih's victory, at all, in any venue that is indexed by Yahoo News, ANYWHERE, with two exceptions: GM Kavalek's column in the Washington Post, and a late entry - this afternoon (Monday) - on the Yahoo Business Wire, a press release apparently issued by the owners of the NTC Center. Here: http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/060313/20060313005924.html?.v=1

Is this because the news media are completely and absolutely obdurate about chess and won't print a word in any venue in the country, not even in the home cities of the winners? I'm not convinced. I think there was a bad blunder. I have a deep and abiding suspicion that the basic work of writing press releases and faxing them out was NOT DONE. By anyone.

If I am wrong about this, please tell me and I will apologize.

I note, however, that the "press area" at the uschesschampionship.com website does not have any press releases on the event. There are a couple e-mails and phone numbers of press contacts. Well, that's not how you do serious press work. You don't just put up a website and hope that the press calls you. You write up stories about the event and the players and who they are and about their exciting race to the finals, and you put it in the hands of the media. WAS THIS DONE?

We all recall that the format of the event was, somewhat controversially, tailored so as to maximize media interest. But it does no good to have the championship decided in an exciting rapid match at a scheduled time on a scheduled date, if you don't send out a press release beforehand telling the media that it is happening, and a press release afterward telling the media who won.

How much press work was done? Whose responsibility was it to make sure it was done? Was this responsibility ever unambiguously allocated?

I am willing to eat crow here if I am reliably assured that hours and hours of professional press contact work were done over the last few days to publicize this event, and the final round in particular, and yet thousands of editors unanimously and independently decided to impose a whiteout upon us. But I have had some experience publicizing some events that were hard to sell to the media, and my experience is that if you do the work, you get SOME return. Maybe LITTLE return. But not ZERO return.


That the top prizes had been announced is irrelevant, they should have adjusted them all. They were all posted on the web site. That the 11% didn't get taken from the top also, the bottom took more than an 11% loss. Seems to me that the organizers really should eat it since it was their mistake.

Off subject, but hopefully somewhat interesting: Former heavyweight boxing champion Vitalij Klitschko is running for Mayor of Kiev, Ukraine, a la Kasparov http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11811613/from/RS.4/
One difference: No one will have the guts to throw a chessboard at him. :)

Well, those people who participated last year got a bonus, so maybe that eases the pain. But new players this year did not get that bonus. It was an accident not premeditated, and the people who made the mistake apologized, and $600 came out of their pockets from all the rounding that went on. And from what I understand there was no entrance fee or television contract, so I am not sure how the organizers made money from hosting the tournament. If this is true, then the tournament was more for the players, more for chess in the US, than the organizers. If this is the case than suing may be in bad taste.

Petrel, you said a mouthful. I've been asking those questions all along. I was willing to believe that those involved had simply not had the time to update their websites to show us the raft of recent press releases, but after a week and a half of religiously combing the various news services for SOME mention of the championship, it kept looking like someone dropped the ball. This despite the presence of a "press officer" at the event.

There have actually been several stories in the mainstream press during the tournament, particularly the Nakamura article in Salon and the Susan Polgar piece in Newsday, but neither one had any real connection with the US Championship. But was there any mention on, say, ESPN, which in the past has televised chess? Nope, not even a whisper on the screen-bottom "crawl." (In fairness, the rapid match was held on NCAA "Selection Sunday.") I seem to remember a segment near the start of the tournament on NPR, but I can't find anything on the final. Indeed, the chess piece they're running today is one they stole from the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks back, about collegiate chess.

Mig, you said specifically that the decision was made to go with the rapid final in deference to the media, saying that you need to have something firmly scheduled in order for it to be covered at all. Fine. Tell us, what reporters showed up, and how did they cover the event? Perhaps someone dropped the ball with an error-filled spreadsheet, but this is short-term damage. If you really want to give US chess a higher profile, the long-term damage done by improper coverage is much higher. How many thousands were spent on an event that is extremely unlikely to get a single kid learning chess, let alone a corporation to sponsor an event?

I had a great time watching the tournament, and Mig, I think you did a great job. But for all that, I can't shake the sense that the event was a missed opportunity on a grand scale.

It's sad that such a feel-good event had to end on such a sour note. A real shame. Instead of the praise the organizers deserve, the last impression is one of incompetence and contempt. You would think that the numbers would have already been triple and quadruple checked after last year's mistake.

I hope the players who were "annoyed" or "a few more than that" realize that no one else is giving US chess players this kind of free opportunity or money. I can understand the initial disappointment many must have felt, but really, consider the bigger picture. It's a closed, invitational event. Don't bite the (only) hand that is feeding you.

Wouldn't it be ironic of Boris Kreiman sued the organizers over this?

I still think everyone down in San Diego deserves admiration for what they have done and what they are doing in the future. Not that I think it's good ROI on any level, but still admirable.

Tommy, when such important things are at hand you should change your usual policy and think before you post. This is almost the opposite of what happened last time. The prize fund is the prize fund and it never changed. They just can't count.

There are a million things that go into organizing an event of this stature and it has been underway for over a year. Trying to tar the entire effort because of a clerical error is malicious and/or foolish. Of course it was boneheaded and the players can be annoyed for a bit, but no one was harmed whatsoever and the organization was excellent. The players praised the tournament throughout and the chess was sensational.

I haven't updated the prizes on the website because they didn't have time to send me the updated list. As I said, they found out at the last minute and the priority was informing the players of the mistake.

I haven't had time to follow coverage, but there is a bulletin board full of clippings here. You might also ask yourselves how many letters you wrote to your local newspapers and tv stations encouraging them to cover the championship and chess in general. All the press releases in the world won't make chess appear in the media if there is no demand for it.

Press releases were sent out, by the way. NTC people were in charge of non-chess media contacts. They have local and national wire contacts, I believe. I wasn't sent all of them and/or they were redundant with other things on the site. Nobody read them on the site last time anyway, so it wasn't exactly my top priority.

How about this one, if crow is to be served?


Shulman is from Belorussia though, no Ukraine. I said I wasn't sure but we didn't double check, obviously. Sigh.

Some local stuff:



Papers don't send people to cover it, so anything that comes out will be taken from the wires and accompanied with interviews from players anywhere from a day to a week after the end of the event. This is what happened last time. The NY papers waited to talk with Hikaru.

Yes, he is from Belarussia. We went to the same University (Minsk). So did Gelfand and many other top players.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

Maybe it takes an 'applied mathematician': What outcome if not a short draw constitutes the optimum for two equally, high rated players (considering expected returns vs. risk) and how can you relate that to the terms 'suspense' and 'sponsorship' ? How is a system measuring relative strength supposed to work if the group (currently) at the top does not interact with the rest of the players ?
Besides, why calling oneself names ? I mean, among the people I take lunch with, 'applied' sounds at least dubious...

Mig, the Yahoo link that you provide is the same link I provided in my post. This press release, I note, was posted today to a business wire, by the NTC people. The other links aren't news to me either, they are in the USCF Forums thread.

I am not out to trash people here, Mig, but now that you have given me the information that the NTC people were in charge of press work, and now that I have looked up the NTC Foundation website, www.ntcpromenade.org , I am getting the sense of HOW we screwed up.

This is the picture that I have, Mig, and correct me if I'm wrong. The NTC Foundation is a LOCAL San Diego affair. They run this venue for events. The publicity work that they do is geared toward getting local media to cover the stuff that takes place in their building. They get it in community calendars and they get feature articles about it in the local media. That's what their expertise is, and if you give the task to them, that's what they'll do, and that's what they DID do, and that's what they DID get: stories in the local San Diego media around the beginning of the event. The same stories that I and other people have already noted, if you bother to look at the USCF forum thread that I linked.

What the NTC Foundation publicity people are NOT set up to do is to produce NATIONAL publicity for a nationally important chess event, and they also are NOT set up to produce time-sensitive breaking-news type press releases, particularly about an event taking place over the weekend. So, I predict, they did NOT send stories out on Saturday and Sunday night about who were in the finals and who won the finals. I predict that they did NOT prepare a NATIONAL list of fax numbers to send their press releases to. I predict that they did NOT send stories about Shulman to the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Pioneer Press, and the Arlington Heights Herald (Shulman comes from the western suburbs of Chicago), nor did they send stories about Onischuk to the Baltimore Sun.

They didn't do that because it's not their concern. Their concern is to make sure that people in San Diego know what's happening in the NTC's building. They were doing their usual job, the job they are trained to do, well. OUR concern is to publicize chess nationally, and we didn't make sure that someone who knew how to do that, and wanted to do it, was going to do it. And that was our blunder. "Our" in this case means the USCF and the AF4C.

Someone thought that the press contact function was covered, because someone said "The NTC always does press work for stuff that happens there," and other people let that pass and assumed that it was ok. We didn't take the extra critical step of making sure that our idea of what kind of publicity was needed was the same as the NTCF's idea of what kind of publicity they were going to do. Yes, people are human and can make mistakes like this. But we should learn from them and do better next time! That's why I'm writing this, Mig, not just to complain and take cheap shots.


If Eric Anderson was not at the site, the AF4C can get approval from him and pay the players the balance of the money by mail. This is plain going back on one's word and similar to FIDE bouncing checks in Las Vegas. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody like Kreiman sues. He had his reputation besmirched without any conclusive proof and now he gets paid less than what he was entitled to.

Do I read this correctly. The Accountant made the mistake. Accountants are covered by Insurance. Errors and Omissions Insurance.

Let the Insurance pay for the mistake


I hope you all are joking.

This was a mistake. It should not happen. It should really not happen. But anyway, it happens sometimes...

The organizers made surely a good job. Many of them surely not paid at all.

If you then, as a matter of appreciation, force them to pay the cost of their mistake... that's not nice. Not nice at all.

This brings us to the real questions for the players, not the mp3 nonsense.
1. Did you come to play the US ch for the money?

While I may buy the excuse that there was a formula error, I can't blame the computer.

Its pretty standard and simple to have a 'check' column that would add up the restuls and check it against the total prize sum.

Any responsible business or non-profit would have someone actually check the numbers.

The 'CFO' and auditors should be severerly disciplined.

I want to say that AF4C has worked hard for free. they are wonderful people. they have thrown the best tournament that the USA has ever seen. I am really glad that AF4C has a long term contract to hold the US Championships. that gives everyone the opportunity to iron out the wrinkles in doing the best job possible. I know they will fix some of the errors next year.

Thank You Eric Anderson. You are the Best of the Best.

I know all the chess fans commenting here on Mig's Blog are not critical of all the work done. Everyone is only trying to offer suggestions to you and AF4C on how they feel a better job can be done. I know you will make the right decisions on what to fix and what to leave alone.

You have my 100% Thank You and my 100% support for many many years into the future.

There are 3 really outstanding people helping chess in the USA. they are AF4C, Susan Polgar and Mig. AF4C does the tournaments. Susan Polgar teaches the young children. Migs allows us to offer suggestions and let off steam. Thanks Mig we all need you and thanks for this open blog. Chess is better because theses issues are not swept under the table. but everyone gets full opporutnity to offer their views.

And to all the players in the US Championships. Thanks for giving all of us a wonderful experience watching all the great games.




What is this thing about Kreiman potentially suing, or people besmirching his name? Please forgive my ignorance!

Between the bipolar “resolve” of tommy’s posts (reminiscent of the French Army circa 1940’s), and the “New! Improved! Now with 400% extra OVER-CAPITALIZATION! Unlike tommy!” posts of “Zuggy”, Elliot Liu definitely has stiff competition in the accidental comedy market space. So clever, so convincing, I’m beginning to wonder if you aren’t really THREE different people. No really!

Still need to work on using those periods to end sentences though. The “two” of you are a real hidden treat when reading this board.

I think that, if petrel is correct in his analysis about how the press was handled, he has some good points.



Any one ever asked Robert Tanner why he quit being an accountant? He may be the one that found it but as chief arbiter isn't he the one that should be responsible for the advertisement being correct. Kamsky and Ibragimov were shorted $1300, if my employer shorted me that much on my paycheck I wouldn't be working for him long. You guys do a great job of alienating the players, make the USCF look like a bunch of bumbling fools, and generally give chess in the US a bad name. Then, you expect understanding when you say sorry we made a mistake. If I were one of the players I would not sue, but i definitely would not play in another tournament sponsored by and ran by the same people. Good luck finding players next year guys. I would advise anyone qualifying for this tournament not to agree to play unless the financing was handled by a reputable outside accounting firm. You guys can't be trusted

Accidents do happen, but screwing up the Prize Fund amounts is really inexcuseable. This goes to show the danger of relying on the calculations of "infallible" computers. If the organizers hadn't used the spreadsheet (and given the amount of money to be toted, it really wasn't necessary), then the error would not have occurred.

Frankly, I do think that AF4C has a strong moral obligation to pay the full amount promised for the individual prizes, and not adjust the prizes downward. It is quite likely that they are legally obligated as well. Moreover, the competitors would do well to check the USCF rulebook, to see if this scenario is covered. If not, then the USCF Rules committee ought to include language that would explicitly require that an organizer pay out the greater amount of money to the players, if the Guaranteed Total Prize fund is not sufficient to cover the Guaranteed Prizes, OR vice versa.

However, they need to do the right thing and pony up the additional money.

By the way, while Nakamura had a nice streak of wins, and only had 2 draws for the event, I'm not sure that he merited the $5,000 Fighting Chess" Prize. After all, he played a Classic "Swiss Gambit", and so was able to play a relatively weaker field. Sure, he won 5 in a row. But how much of a "fight" ought he be given credit for, when he is playing opponents who have ratings that are 300 or 400 points lower than his. I suspect that this was a way to help keep Nakamura satisfied, in the hopes that he won't quit Professional chess. I'll bet a few of the other GMs--some of whom played more moves and spent more time at the boards, might question whether he was the most deserving player to be awarded the prize.

I hate to say it, but Glenn is right on many points. Hopefully some remedy can be found that does right by the players. Despite the best efforts and intentions of thes organizers, this was an incredible moment of incompetence. It is a shame to see these top GMs get shortchanged. I don't think an accounting firm needs to be employed to add up 64 numbers -- but what happened simply defies belief.

Mig -- outstanding job on the site.

Anyone know how I can contact Onischuk for a newspaper interview?

Onishcuk's email address is onischuk75 at hotmail dot com

Interestingly when I predicted Onischuk over Shulman in the finals, I got a storm of ICC protestors. Yuri must have a lot more fans out there. Why is that? I was just going to tournament results. Shulman fans were pointed to prior head-to-head edge. Both sides had valid points and it was a great match.

I am sorry I had to miss the closing party. I ignored the medical advice of Natasha Christiansen and I wound up with Peau Orange, which required Augmentin stat.

Thank you organizers. Send my check to Tucson. As ICCers reminded me just now, "even IMs have utility bills."

I have a proposal. I'll chip in $50 to cover the payout shortfall, if the organizers pay half and other chess fans pay the rest of the other half.

The organizers, well-intentioned and beloved as they are, should feel responsible for the error. We fans get away cheap for the labors of our heros, and should be willing to help support the tournament.

Has everyone forgotten that before these sponsors appeared, the US Championship faced cancellation? Although the amounts per player are small, the players can use the money. Whose with me?

I'll donate. Someone should set up a Paypal donation link to get it started. Everyone's little contribution to our players would add up to a lot. Maybe this lemon could become lemonaid.

Aren't these US guys Andersen, AF4C, Tanner supposed to be some kind of super-duper financiers? I wouldn't trust my money with them if they can't even handle a spreadsheet...

I would donate. But I would need assurances that the money goes to where it is supposed to. The USCF people aren't known for the ability to handle money.

It is consistent with my experience that "comfort with numbers" is not a universal trait of af4c personnel. The two years I was a TD, I made proposals for pairing system fixes (and what are pairing systems but numbers?) with respect to the Women's Championship, and those met with silence.

At the Morelia tournament there were lots of ties (including a 19-way tie in one section and a 12-way tie in another) for prizes. Hugo Arroyo, the computer guru, prepared an Excel table to calculate the exact amounts. I'm not a spreadsheet guy, but as chief TD I insisted on checking the results (using my own formulae in the ante-diluvian spreadsheet QubeCalc). It turned out that Hugo's work was correct, but I considered it a precaution well taken.

So Hugo and I, who are numbers guys (although I make my living through writing), checked each other's work independently. AF4C, who are not numbers guys, didn't check the work two years in a row. Where is the late C.P. Snow when you need him? Somebody to bridge the gap between the mindsets of the scientific and liberal arts communities?

Again, I had only a few hours between when I was informed that the arbiters would be telling the organizers how much each prize would be, and the moment when we needed to do just that. Even though I had a very reliable guy to do it, I blocked out about an hour to write the software which would check his work. AF4C had over a year but didn't bother to verify. Twice.

If what petrel writes about the publicity is correct, there is a parallel with Morelia. Mexican national chess journalists were hopping mad because ALL the tournament result news went out through Morelia / Michoacan media. There was an 8-page spread in a local newspaper, and one night we tuned in the TV sports to find the first FIVE minutes devoted to chess, including an interview with the A-class player Lenin Gonzalez. Only after 5 minutes did they start talking about futbol - soccer. I was able to get some results out on the web only by leeching off the Linares press room. We had no internet otherwise, and internet cafes generally closed before we were out of the building. Still, the result was pretty good local coverage of a national event.

Giannis, nice of you to pipe up again. Nobody asked you about your money. Feel free to continue trusting it with Messrs. Campomanes and Macropoulos where it's ironclad.

OK, I am not one of the players and not affected by this in any way, but the way it's now presented like nothing has changed and it was just a little typo is quite maddening. Many people have paid $75 per tournament to try to qualify for the event that had a guaranteed bottom prizes of $2200. Many like I did would make a risk/reward analysis based on that to see whether it was worth it to pay the qualification fee. Now the bottom prizes were reduced to $2,000. Only a 10% change, but still how can one claim that nothing has changed?

No offense but it's really not complicated to double and triple and quadruple check a prize fund, instead of making a 20k+ mistake and expecting others whom have signed contracts and made calculated decisions about whether it was worth missing work for the minimum prize, to take the brunt of the mistake.

I'm thankful for the AF4C's involvement in chess and all they give, but that's completely irrelevant here. You have plenty of players, some of whom may not care about this at all (there are 60 playes being affected), and only care about the extra money they were supposed to receive when they signed the contract. This contract had them agree to visit schools and do anything else that the AF4C asked from them. Anyone who is upset and feels that it's okay to demand the money that was promised in their contract, has every right to feel that way IMO and to act upon it.

While I can understand prize-winners` disappontment in seeing smaller cheques than they were hoping for,I think they should be grateful for such an impressive prize fund in the first place! Here in England the total prize fund for the "British" (!) Championship is a little over $40,000 - meagre pickings for the pros.

Wow weeh, you people really get turned on money!!! Money, money, money, life is funny, funny, funny. Seems to me the US organizers failed on purpose, to storm up this blog. What a dirty plan. I vote for Mig as next USCF President.

I have a proposal. If the elo lists are made three times a year, why could'nt we organize US chanpionships three times a year, too?

Two mistakes in a row? And the organizers arent the bad guys? NO, of course not, it was the excel-sheet, it was the calculator, it was only 20k dollar, and last year the mistake was completely differnet, and... oh dear, I guess next year will happen the third mistake with prizefund in a row.

"Both the correct total amount and the incorrect distribution are in the player contract, but I hope nobody goes legal about this."

Each player evidently signed a contract guaranteeing that if he won the event, he'd get $25,000, if he finished second, $17,000, etc. Why should any player settle for less? Whether the mistake was deliberate or intentional is irrelevant.

The blameless players are suffering a $20,000 loss. Kamsky and Ibragimov, $1,300 each! Imagine getting your paycheck and finding $1,300 missing! But the organizers, who made the mistake, lose only $600!?

How would Mig respond if the organizers took a broader view of the loss, spread the loss among ALL those who earned money from the event? What if the hotel was stiffed 11% of their bill? Do you think they'd sue? What if, in order to help cover the shortfall, Mig was stiffed 11% on his contract?

Can you imagine the screaming in this blog if, at some major event, Kasparov, Kramnik, or one of the top players was stiffed out of 11% of his prize?!!

The players signed a contract guaranteeing a certain prize for a certain result. The total prize fund section of the contract is an immaterial term. The organizers should pay up.
No player should be blamed for "going legal" to recover what he was promised when he signed his contract.

It makes no practical sense for a contestant (any contestant) to sue AF4C to enforce his or her contract rights. The plaintiff in such a suit would have next to nothing to gain (at most $1,300 for any individual, according to this thread), and just about everything to lose. Indeed the chess community itself would also lose on the whole, I think, if someone were to sue AF4C over the prize foulup.

Thinking about what could be done to make a difference, just one thing that comes to mind.

Some credible representative of the professional and semi-professional chess-playing community -- either all or a subgroup of the actual US Ch. field, or some other credible authority, such as a group comprising Mig plus the most authoritative readers of this blog (Greg Shahade, Susan Polgar, etc.) -- should write an open letter to each board member of the AF4C, alerting them to this problem and how serious it is.

Rather than make demands, such a letter should simply express concern and point out the bad-will engendered among both chess players and chess fans, as a direct result of the manner of distributing the donors' "investment".

Remember that the AF4C's biggest donors -- who also comprise its board of directors (I believe the AF4C web site says each director personally donates a minimum of $25,000 annually) -- are ALL investment professionals. Each of them views their donations to AF4C as a personal investment they are making, and the main source of "return" (most likely the only source of return) they are looking for, is the attraction of favorable public attention to chess in general and to the tournaments they sponsor in particular.

Tell them that, in effect, their biggest single investment ($250,000-plus) was wasted as a direct result of the professional incompetence of the people they hired to "invest" their donations, and the result is 100% predictable: Heads will roll.

I don't think the donors would throw up their hands and give up on funding chess. Rather, I think they would do what any business manager (or business owner) would do in a similar situation: fire the people who screwed up, and hire new people, using a better hiring process to assure they are hiring true professionals who among other things know how to add.

They MIGHT (or not) also decide to do something to make good to the players who got stiffed.

But basically, all of you who are complaining should understand this is a business problem. The people behind AF4C are first and foremost business (i.e. Wall Street) people. And in business, when something goes seriously wrong due to human error, the solution always begins with replacing the people who screwed up.


It's easy to refer to $1,300 as "nothing" when it's not your money.

A handful of the moneywinners could each chip in a hundred bucks or so to hire a lawyer to respresent them all. You can't say for sure without looking at the contract, of course, but this looks like a very simple (and winning) legal case for the players.

Due to the organizers' error, there was a $20,000 loss. If the organizers are, indeed, "good guys", they should at the very least offer to share that loss equally with the blameless players. The organizers come up with $10,000. And each player suffers a 5.5% loss.

If I were a player that's the lowest I'd go. And I wouldn't blame any player for demanding that the organizers fulfill the contract and pay up.

Let all those who (nobly) think the players should take this loss for the good of chess, nobly put up $50 or $100 of their own money for the prize fund, "for the good of chess."

Spot on Greg, talking about the total price fund being correct, is like being stiffed on your paycheck and beeing told its okay because your colleaguas got more money...

When you don't get what your contract says, the reason behind is not really relevant. And no player gets more than one placement, so why should they care about the total price fund?

Dear all,

I may not agree with Mr. Erik A. when it comes to the format of the US Championship and I spoke out against it. However, I think the AF4C has done a good overall job with the US Championship and I thank them for supporting chess in this country. I also thank Mr. Erik A. for taking that giant step in saving the US Championship. He is a professional businessman.

I am confident that he will fix this situation properly. He took the heat and paid out the mistakes last year even though it was not his direct fault. There is a very good chance that he would do the same this time.

Let's give him a chance to rectify this situation before jumping all over the AF4C. I agree that the players should not take the heat because it was not their faults. This has always been one of my biggest battles with the USCF.

I also know Robert Tanner and John Henderson. They are good guys but they simply blundered badly even though it was not done intentionally. No one can feel worst than them right now. There is no need to keep pounding on this fact. I am 100% sure this will not happen again.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

Having been in San Diego myself, I must mention a few issues:

Media coverage was pathetic. As far as I can tell, the only people actually working in the Press Room (I only came in to bug Mig or Henderson or swipe the occasional Coke) were Mig, Henderson, Jennifer Shahade and Jacob Okada (I presume, working for Chess Life) and Jerome Bibuld (working for Chess Chronicle). I didn't see any other press (or at least people with Press credentials) during the games or at the closing ceremony. Maybe there were people there for the opening stuff, but I don't know. In other words, 0 press coverage.

The venue left a ton to be desired. The event was basically held in the middle of an undeveloped industrial park. Not a single building within a couple of blocks radius even seemed to be used. Yikes. The playing hall had several major issues, the most important one being that it was situated at the end of a runway. Every couple of minutes or so you got a plane shreiking overhead. There were also some lighting issues on the top boards, as well as a bit of a sunlight problem. The most embarrassing came in Round 9 (on Hikaru's 39th move) when the Security Alarm kept beeping for 4 minutes straight. Apparently the security company was running a test. Ay dios mio... Also, there was 0 room for anyone - a total of 5 skittles boards were available, and the analysis room got packed crowded at 30-40 people. The Media center couldn't have handled more than 5 people working if the press event did show (they didn't.)

The prize fund snafu was a big one, but it is symptomatic of a lot of other things. One, it looks sloppy, but I'm not going to excoriate Henderson or Tanner for that. The bigger concern was that Erik Anderson not being at the final (leading many people, including myself, to believe that his interest has really disappeared) wasn't there at the end to personally handle this. It was just Henderson and the really creepy looking new USCF Executive Director.

Much thanks to AF4C. It's a shame this is going to end, but all things do. Thanks to all the work they've done.

I think one thing Jon Jacobs is missing is that many players (I'd even threaten to say most) probably lost money on the whole US Championship. Humphrey's (the main hotel) was not that cheap. I don't know what the chess rate was, but presume it's $99/night + tax. That's $130/night for, what, 11 nights? 12 nights? Add that to a flight, and the simple cost of going around the event and you're easily at $2000. Only 16 players made more than $3000, so those are the only ones who clearly made a profit on the event. Even then, it's tricky.

John F. and greg k.,

Please read my comment before you respond to it. (Now that you already have responded, please go back and read it.)

Your responses read as though you were answering someone else's comment, not mine.

My comment took for granted that all the preceding posters were absolutely right to insist that the sponsors have an obligation to fulfill their promises to the US Ch. participants (i.e., pay the prize amounts stated in the contracts).

Yes, I did refer to the maximum discrepancy at stake for any one player ($1,300) as "nothing" -- but in a context that clearly meant, in comparison with the costs (both tangible and intangible) of bringing a lawsuit.

So it's a mystery to me how you managed to read my comment as somhow saying that the players and critics ought to stick their tail between their legs and slink away...when I was actually saying quite the opposite.

In fact the logic of my comment aligns with Susan's subsequent comment, in that it's likely that Anderson and his backers will decide to do the right thing even if no direct pressure is applied along the lines I suggested. I was simply suggesting what I thought would be a practical course of action if they don't. I still think a lawsuit would not be a productive choice, for anyone involved.

John (Fernandez),

Thank you for the report. I also brought up the following point before. Many of these players are chess professionals. They make a big part of their income through teaching chess. Some do have regular jobs. Therefore, they have to give up a lot to be there for 2 weeks not counting that they have to pay more than $2,000 for expenses.

It sounds impressive to have prize funds of $254,000. However, when only 16 players made more than $3,000 (according to what you posted), it means that around 40-45 players or more would lose or barely break even (counting that some Californian do not have to travel far and some couples sharing hotel costs).

Do most average chess players even know who the bottom 20-25 players are? I doubt it. Therefore, if the AF4C wants to keep this Swiss format, why not condense it to 32 players? This way, only the best players (or close to it) will compete for the national title and every participant can do a little better financially.

Just food for thought.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

J.Fernandez makes an excellent point. Here is the correction though. The great chess rate of the official hotel was $125 per night. Of course, it makes his point even more valid.


I agree with you that 64 is a lot of players! Not just because of the financial issues for the plaeyrs, but because of the difficulty in building good fan and press interest in the stories when there are so many people.

One thought I had that I mentioned in another thread was perhaps to consider an A B C format like Corus or Aeroflot.

The top A group would be very prestigious, a dozen or so top players with perhaps a couple of wildcards. Better prizes for each. This group would include the winner of the previous year's B group.

The B group would also be by invitation, but players would not expect to necessarily earn a profit. There should be norm opportunities at least at the IM level. Invitees could include the qualifiers from the various swisses like Foxwoods. The big stories would be on the leaders, who would be fighting for the invitation to the next year's A group.

Then, if practical, a C group which would simply be an open. Designed to break even for the organizers, not the participants. These player/fans would also be following the A and B groups with interest. This could even be a regular two day Swiss to kick off the event--it does't have to run the same number of days.

This only works if the C group can pay for itself. But even an A B structure, where the A group will make money and the B group understands from the beginning that they are playing at a different level and with different financial expectations could be a good format.



Wonderful idea! I like it! I am just not sure if that would really interest the AF4C. The USCF should think about that though. They make seek other sponsors to run group B and / or C.

The bottom line is both you and I agree that 64 is just too big. It is hard to sell to the mainstream media / fans too many names. Other sports consistently promote their stars. I hope we will do it for chess eventually :)

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar


Regarding your earlier post, "I am 100% sure this will not happen again." Never say never. It's all unfortunate, but if this were to proceed to the courts (and I hope it doesn't have to), I have no doubt who would win. That said, it probably would not happen again...at least in the near future.

The organizer made two mistakes. The first was last year when they chose to pay out more money than they were legally obligated, for they could have saved that money for this year's mistake or bought chess sets for schools (that is what AF4C does?). The players sacrifice $20,000 (this year: last year they gained) among 62 people. But what about the sacrifices of AF4C: $25,000 per year per director, and time? Sure it's irrelevant: challenge them in a lawsuit. But morally it's not so easy. What about those players who benefitted from last year's mistake give back the money to pay for this year's?

While we're talking about formats for 2007 ... please don't zone out, there are numbers in what follows.

US Championship: 32 players, elimination, 2-game matches with playoffs if necessary on the same day as the second game. 2 games per round x 5 rounds = 10 days.

US Women's Championship: 8 players elimination
... 2x3 = 6 days.

US Rapid Championship: To start on Day 3 of the over-all event, including losers (16 + 4 = 20) from the above events, plus a carefully-crafted number of other entrants, say 50 of them. 12-Rd Swiss, two rounds per day. Day 5 (8 + 2 = 10) join from the main event with 3/4 scores. Day 7 (4 + the Women's Champion and runner-up = 6) join with 6/8 scores. Day 9 the two top players in Swiss are joined by the two losers from Round 4. They play an elimination round, leaving two players. Day 10 The two remaining players have a 2-game elimination match. Day 11 The US Champion plays the day 10 winner for the title of US Rapid Champion. (optional) The US sub-champion plays the day 10 loser for 3rd-4th places in the US Rapid Championship.

Advantages: --The US Championship can be decided without any rapid chess, if a player can beat each opponent in regular chess.
--Smaller field is more viable for the players.
--Still takes only 11 days.
--There is a rapid chess extravaganza for TV on the 11th day.
--Practice for FIDE elimination events. Also is more likely in a Zonal year (if there is still such a thing) to qualify players who respond well to the special stresses of elimination events.
--Everybody has chess to play until the end of Day 8.
--With only two rapid rounds per day, there is time for networking, socialization, giving lectures and simuls in schools, and touristy things.

Changes: Women are back in their ghetto until they play in the Rapids.

Disadvantages: Norms less likely.
--Playoffs if necessary make the schedule a bit more taxing than the World Championships. On the other hand, the cycle is shorter.
--Skill in classical chess doesn't necessarily translate into skill in rapid chess, so parachuting the eliminees from the US Championship is not the most accurate way to run a US Rapid Championship. Still, it might be better than what currently exists.


Interesting idea, but I see a couple of issues.

1. If 64 players is too many to follow, 82 or whatever this is is even more so.

2. Those of us interested in seeing more corporate sponsorship in chess wll probably find this format almost impossible to explain.

3. You write "2 game matches." But the problem with chess is that the 2 game matches hardly ever take just two games. (See the FIDE event in Libya, for example.) You briefly mention the possibility of blitz playoffs, but that's going to be an awful lot of chess with no rest days and an ever declining quality of play.

4. This format appears to make the prestige event, the US Championship, a qualifier for the US Rapids Championship. OK, maybe that's the way the world is going, but again, it's the opposite direction from a prestige title in a prestige event.

I don't know--maybe the top players would like it. But based on their reactions to the World Cup vs the San Luis event on the world title level, I doubt it.

Mostly, though, I just don't see what advantage this gets us over the present format. Even if the US title can be won without rapids, its positioning as the qualifier for the Rapids title cheapens it anyway. The players in the rapids will have to make less money than they do now. OK, maybe they can go home early if they lose--but we don't really want a press story where there's an ever declining audience attendance. And I would hate to try to write the press releases on it. Just listing all the names will take more space than most editors would give me. The dramatic flow is also a little odd--as I understand it, a guy who loses in round 1 of the standard time control might go on to win the blitz and meet the winner of the 9 round Swiss in the US Rapids Championship and then win that title. That makes it really hard to build a story fans can follow, since the action in the longer time control event starts to feel irrelevant except for the winner.

Ah, well. Maybe I'm wrong and the players would love it. But I have the feeling you could get what you want to get a lot easier just by promoting a big blitz championship event with a rapids final. You don't need the second longer time control event at the same time. It could be a really cool event--but again, not the US Championship.


That is really too bad about the clerical error leading to lower prizes than expected.

Last week I was walking around with a smile on my face from the coverage of the championship. The official web site, the Ninja commenters, and above all the Champ Blog gave me a feeling almost like being there in person and experiencing the heady mix of competition, camaraderie and nuttiness.

It was so . . . quintessentially American!

Now this. Bummer. I agree that legal action, while probably justified, would turn the sour note at the end into lasting bitterness.

Here's hoping that some acceptable solution can be found.

I agree with Duif. We need to simplify things and create interesting stories / angles to attract corporate sponsors / mainstream media. No reporter would waste his / her time to study all the names / formats. They need help.

As I mentioned before, my girl's tournament (recently held in Texas) got approximately 40 sponsors in its first year. Local network TVs showed up daily. We also got coverage in a number of the biggest local radio shows and print media. This was done by basically 1 person on behalf of the Susan Polgar Foundation with virtually zero cost.

Keep it simple, exciting and entertaining. That's the ticket!

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

I guess chess really doesnt make peope good at math, concentration, critical thinking and planning ahead. LOL. Oh well, we can always say its good to get the brats out of the house for a while anyway while you make more of them...

A good step toward vastly improving the US CHampionship quality is to significantly reduce the number of players (perhaps down to 16) and make sure that nobody is rated under 2400.

I mean, it is hard to take this "Closed Championship" seriously when 2700-rated Kamsky is in "competition" with a 1500-rated lady.


1. I don't think that the early going / lower boards of the US Rapid Championship would get the exposure granted to the main event. Those players would not be "followed" in the same way.

2. Elimination / Wimbledon is much easier to explain than the Swiss System. That is absolutely central. And the idea of a set match is an easier sell than win a few games and coast to qualification with draws.

3. Granted, but we've see it all in the FIDE World Championships.

4. The losers from the US Championship are allowed to play in the US Rapid Championship. I don't see that as subservience. Then the person who comes out on top of the Rapid Championship, after up to 16 rounds, is given a chance to challenge the US Champion, at Rapid Chess, not at classical chess. We're looking at the same thing and interpreting it differently.

San Luis. I don't think that a double round-robin is an option for the US Championship, or is it? Would have made Bobby happy. And while we're at it, why not shuffle a few pieces ... [grin].

I didn't talk about money. Perhaps the 50 (or whatever number is crafted) starters in the Rapids are amateurs: no guaranteed prize. I also didn't talk about audiences. But I can assure you that the largest audience at the 2001 Championship was for the Christiansen - deFirmian final, when only one game was in progress. Audience is not proportional to number of games in progress. It has a lot to do with drama and finality, of which the proposed format would have plenty.

Lots of sports have methods whereby losers can come back. They might call it repechage or loser's bracket. But I see the US Rapid Championship as a bit of an experiment. If it grabs no attention, well the players had fun and make some prize money. If it grabs more attention than the U.S. Championship, then we must reconsider how we present chess as a media event.

The Rapid Championship on the 11th day could be pitched as the big event to the TV media, while inside the cozy world of chess connoisseurs, the final of the US Championship on the 9th and 10th days, and to a lesser extent the final of the US Women's Championship on the 5th and 6th days, would be the cat's meow.

It's always a pleasure to read your views.

greg koster : “A handful of the moneywinners could each chip in a hundred bucks or so to hire a lawyer to respresent them all. You can't say for sure without looking at the contract, of course, but this looks like a very simple (and winning) legal case for the players.”

I think all of the disputed amounts can be handled individually in small-claims court. This would eliminate or drastically reduce lawyers fees, but of course there is the problem of geography for most of the players. The players would have a very solid case, and would gain in the short-term. However…

John Fernandez: “The prize fund snafu was a big one, but it is symptomatic of a lot of other things. One, it looks sloppy, but I'm not going to excoriate Henderson or Tanner for that. The bigger concern was that Erik Anderson not being at the final (leading many people, including myself, to believe that his interest has really disappeared) wasn't there at the end to personally handle this. It was just Henderson and the really creepy looking new USCF Executive Director.

Much thanks to AF4C. It's a shame this is going to end, but all things do. Thanks to all the work they've done."

This is the bigger picture view, and why I think the players might want to strongly consider eating it this time. They might win the battle, but lose the war. If the players were pretty sure that this is the final AF4C US Championship ever, then they could probably go ahead and seek redress if they felt it was necessary. However, if the future staging of US Championships will heavily depend on how the players react to this unfortunate situation, then I can’t help but think that the players would do better in the long term to sacrifice this egg in order to preserve the goose.

I know that, if I were a part of the AF4C and faced a class-action lawsuit after all the work and money I’ve already poured into the event (with little return to show for it) AND there are already strong hints that Eric A had lost interest, I would be questioning the future of this event. There really is a bigger picture here, even with the understanding that utility bills need to be paid in the present. If making it easier to pay those bills now means it will be much, much more difficult to pay those bills in the future, have you really gained?

It’s a tough situation. The ‘clerical error’ is such a shame. Such a “small” thing has all but ruined everything the past two weeks were striving for.

Susan Polgar : “I am 100% sure this will not happen again.”

What a strange statement. Susan, would you have made this bet after last year’s mistake? The one that had cost them over $20K? History is definitely against you so far.

Not sure where I've been for the past couple of days, I've only just found this story.

For what it's worth, I did look at the prize list during the event and did notice that the numbers didn't add up. When in a pedantic mood I post about things like that, but this time I assumed there was just a typo on the site and didn't bother.

By the way, I don't see how AF4C can keep doing this event unless the players get their full prizes.

Massachusetts State Magazine Chess Horizons just arrived today. page 15 on Harry Nelson Pillsbury who died 100 years ago in 1906. Quote:

In 1897 Harry defeated Jackson Showalter fo rthe US Chess Championship. (+8-4) a title he held until his death. : end quote

Well they used matches back then. Matches are the best way to do this. Everyone argues we need matches for the world title why not for the US Championship.

The match is between the 2 best in the country then the new challenger is found and he faces the Champion. Kamsky and Nakamura and Onischuk seem to be 3 people near the top. There is a lot of interest in a match between Nakamura and Kamsky.

I like the idea of the Champion facing a challenger. I really think there would have been much more media interest in young Nakamura facing off with Onischuk. When a Champion can maintain his title for a few years it lends big credibility and prestige to the title. I believe this is the way to get that prestige back.

Why did we ever get away from the proven method that works best. Challengers against Champions.

Remember it is imperative that the challengers tournament have only the highest ranking players. no low rated players. just look what is happening today at the WWCC where the lower rated women are winning against the higher rated players. those lower rated players should not even be in the tournament. not a championship tournament anyway. of course the knock out format is rediculous.

I would eliminate all qualifying tournaments. if you want to qualify just get your rating up over 2500 or 2550 or whatever is the floor. then allow all players with a higher rating to enter the challenger tournament. no tiebreaks. chess determines the challenger. the top 16 players should be more than enough to find a challenger. in fact we have had US Championship tournaments with only 8 players if my memory is correct. with 8 to 16 players one can do a round robin.

the format used brings the prestige. Prestige comes with exclusivity. that means most people can not enter the tournament. it is exclusive to only the very very best. make it that way and the prestige will follow. we all know who the top people are. players like Kamsky, Nakamura, Onischuk, Christiansen etc.

the US Championship is NOT about making norms it is about having a Match between Challenger and Champion. Let us return to Prestige. The present format has too much luck involved and the Champion is not able to maintain his title for a series of years. we need that continuance to bring prestige.

In those days, they didn't really have time controls either; should we revert to that as well?

That jab aside, I actually like tommy's suggestion, as impractical as it is. To have three components to the US Championship--the 2500+ (or whatever) 'open,' the Candidates, and the Championship itself--takes up quite a chunk of the chess calendar if one wants to hold a yearly championship.

I see that Mig corrected the prize distribution in the A group to make more sense. Now the difference in prizes between the two groups is merely $200, which can be attributed to round-off errors. I'm guessing this was an error in getting information to the webmaster. Thanks for fixing!


I see that Mig corrected the prize distribution in the A group to make more sense. Now the difference in prizes between the two groups is merely $200, which can be attributed to round-off errors. I'm guessing this was an error in getting information to the webmaster. Thanks for fixing!


I actually talked to a few players to see what they had on their checks! The sheet I have has a few numbers scribbled out and I wasn't sure which ones were correct. In the very first posting I also had two of my own typos for Serper and Cotrell-Finegold.

Tommy - this really offends your sense of justice "lower rated women are winning against the higher rated players".

The problem with a match is finding the two best players to compete. For that you need a tournament cycle, and you are back to the same issues of format, efficiency, etc.

Choosing by rating makes it worse - then the selection tournameet is everyone you played to get the rating, few or many, active or inactive, in the US or elsewhere.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 13, 2006 2:24 PM.

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