Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Reforming/RESETTING the USCF

In the comments to my previous post good ol' Anonymous wrote:

It's easy to criticize the USCF but what have you done to make it better? A lot of people are spending their own time and money on it so if you're going to run it down how about something constructive instead of just bitching?

And that's fair enough. However, I've come to the conclusion that what's needed here isn't a plan to make the USCF better. What's needed is a radical restructuring that would produce something that works, something that promotes participation in OTB, face-to-face chess tournaments and puts the chess structure in the Unites States on a long-term, sound financial footing.

Something akin to Mencius Moldbug's Unqualified Reservations; he says that what's needed in the U.S. is not reform, but RESET:

Our problem is democracy. Democracy is a dangerous, malignant form of government which tends to degenerate, sometimes slowly and sometimes with shocking, gut-wrenching speed, into tyranny and chaos. You've been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega. (A more earthly comparison is Communism or "people's democracy," whose claim to be a more advanced form of its Western cousin was perfectly accurate - if we mean "advanced" in the sense of, say, "advanced leukemia.")

If you want to pursue this idea, go to Part I of Mr. M's amazing work and follow up to the most recent entry; the only problem with that is that this series adds up the the length of a big, fat book, and you'll probably never get back to my post here on the USCF. I suggest you just finish reading here and then go to the most recent Part XIV to get the flavor and then indulge as much as you like. WARNING, though: You may never look at the world the same way, afterward.

And now, ahem, back to the chess part of the chess blog. Where were we? Oh yes, the USCF.

The USCF has lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis for decades, seemingly. Some years back they replaced the arcane insider good-ol'-boy method of electing the Board with (gulp) Democracy.

It didn't help. I won't try to catalog the legion of tactical and strategic blunders this organization has made over the years (a couple were mentioned below), but that's all in the past. The biggest problem I see is one of structure, one that won't go away with any amount of tinkering. Radical RESETTING is in order to make the organization functional, efficient and productive again. To wit:

The thing that draws most chess players to membership in the USCF is the chance to get an official rating and compete in rated tournaments. To me, and to the vast majority as far as I can see, this is the most useful and important function of the organization! I don't give a hoot about FIDE conventions in exotic locales, the U.S. Blind Championship or sponsoring Gata Kamsky on the road to Kalmykia. Not that these may not be worthy or even noble ventures, but they are entirely separate issues.

So, Proposal #1:

Spin off the ratings system as a separate entity. No "membership" required to obtain a rating. Ratings fees to be set to earn a 25 percent profit above expenses required to run the rating system (on its own. It should only take a few employees). Ratings fees to be identified as a separate expense in tournament entry fees. How high would this number be? I'm sure someone out there with the knowledge can enlighten us, but if one didn't have to pay $40+ for "membership" just to play in a tournament I think everyone would probably be glad to pay $1.00 per game each; that $2.00 per game ought to ensure a major surplus from that end of the business.

Proposal #2:

Spin off Chess Life as a separate enterprise. If people want to subscribe at $14.95 for 12 issues or whatever, great. Maybe they can have premium content on the website for subscribers. If the print version can't make it as a stand alone in the Internet age, let it die. There is so much content out there that I don't see the need for Chess Life anymore. It's actually a pretty good mag, but it needs to evolve on its own, not as the house organ of whatever group or cabal is in charge of the petty politics of the USCF at any given time. The "tournament life" is what's important to a lot of players and tournament organizers; make it a cheap paper newsletter for those without the Web, the rest of us can go online.

Proposal #3:

Besides the rating system, the other major thing the USCF has to do to be a national organization is hold a worthy United States Chess Championship(s). They have almost failed several times in the past--last minute donors and/or sponsorships have saved the bacon. A good portion of the profits from the rating system should be spent on providing a worthy, prize-money-laden U.S. Ch. tournament. That's the only thing that should be subsidized in this manner. The rest of the profits should go into a permanent endowment that, if it grows enough, eventually could subsidize other items of lesser import.

Proposal #4:

Scholastic chess is the one big success story of the last 20 years. Spin it off as its own self-sufficient, self-financing organization, run by and for the people, kids and parents who are involved. They can have their own memberships, dues and so on, set by them. There's no need to have a separate USCF Youth membership, because there are no USCF memberships under my plan, anyway.

Proposal #5:

Replace FIDE with a world organization of PLAYERS.

FIDE is a corrupt bureaucratic piece of shit. I won't even begin to go into how many times they've manipulated/fucked up the World Championship, which is pretty much their only reason for existing.

The USCF should take the lead in forming a World Chess Player's Organization with individual memberships, that anyone can pay a modest fee to join, making them eligible for all the usual international competitions, ratings and the World Championship events.

Meanwhile, if the USCF wants to participate in FIDE junkets at exotic vacation spots around the world, the Board can solicit donations for this international travel. No money from people who just want to play in American rated tournaments should be involved. If it's important that our team play in the Chess Olympics (and I think it is), raise the money. If it is important that out young players participate in international events, raise the money. Since I won't be paying dues anymore, I'll kick in $20.

The USCF needs to get their shit together in the Internet age, since they long ago blew the chance to lead in the online chess world. A lot of people like to play over the board, mano a mano combat chess, and will for the foreseeable future. This has to be the USCF's bread and butter. If they don't quit the interminable bullshit of petty politics nobody else cares about, questionable ethics and fiscal incompetence, the current organization risks becoming completely irrelevant.

What if the Internet Chess Club decided to get into the rating of OTB games, integrating the membership in their online club with an OTB rating system? How many tournament players who don't give a flaming damn about the U.S. Senior Open, scholastic chess or the Kalmykia Mafia would rush to join and let their USCF membership lapse?

I like the USCF and the tradition that it represents, but A is A, as Aristotle used to say. Grow, change and evolve, or die. If they don't do something soon in Crossville, they'd better get the dirges picked out.


chessloser said...

wow, nicely done. that's not just bitching, but offering solutions, and pretty good ones at that. honestly, i belong to the USCF just so i can play in tournaments. all the other things they do or may do or whatever are irrelevant to me, and so, in truth, for me, they don't exist. i see chesslife as a bonus, i read it, but if i didn't get it, i wouldn't miss it. excellent post, it's got me thinking now...

chessboozer said...

Does the Slime Beast of Vega still work East 4th St. ?

Tom said...

Nice suggestions. I actually dropped my USCF membership several years ago. I was getting no benefit so I decided to quit wasting the money.

Tom (Rhuiden)

Anonymous said...

Granted that anytime a group of people get together as an organization to "govern" or "oversee" an activity or art there is going to be problems. Political struggles, power grabs, and financial chicanery, are an inherent part of the process and quite frankly they have brought down many an organization. For example: The IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators), recently went bankrupt! Think about it. An organization built around education and they still screwed it up! The reasons why are too many to go into here. I was a member of IAJE, (as music and music education are my chosen career!).

In no way am I trying to excuse some of the petty and silly things I have seen in the USCF in the short time I have been a member. But I would like to point out that even in today's day and age of the ICC and such, the USCF has still managed to stay afloat AND as a consequence there are a LOT of OTB tournaments for us to go to!! They have survived the internet age! (personally I am already bored with the ICC...I need the OTB fix!!)

Is the USCF perfect? Of course not! Can it be petty? Of course! But if there main purpose is to promote chess in the United States, it seems to me they aren't doint all that horrible of a job. There are many tournaments all over the country, by all accounts the Scholastic program is going well, people have easy access to their ratings on the website (as well as other info), and there seems to be a lot of kids getting into chess. The tournament I went to last weekend was chock full of children and adults.

Let me reiterate that I do not believe the USCF is perfect (most organizations aren't), but they must be doing something right, or so many people wouldn't be going to so many tournaments.

Just my two cents worth from someone new to the USCF and OTB play(MAN I LOVE OTB TOURNAMENT PLAY..I am probably going to cancel my membership to the ICC!)

Have a good one!


chessboozer said...

If the USCF and FIDE are in trouble it is because they are unimaginative, drab and boring. Does the president of FIDE (Kirsan Ilyumzhinov) really think that anyone wants to look at his photograph besides his mother. Any other sport and full attention would be given to the players and the games, not the organisers.
I put up a slightly relevant post on my blog Chess Karma about missed opportunities for the chess world in case anyone is interested.

transformation said...

Robert, hard to comment constructively without detailed and careful reading, with notes and real comprehension. thank you for the email note. with RSS Feed, i still read or see EVERYONE's posts, but comments and connection getting harder and harder to sustain.

beside over work at work, we have our gmC Middlegame project, rendering 4,200 positions into cbv format, and this takes a lot of time and attention... then my GM game collections.

suffice to say: i respect you, admire your work, and find the mark of much good sense here but in on way can make practical and meaningful comment, in the current situation.

best regards to your continued creative vitality, and passion, dk

transformation said...

'... suffice to say: i respect you, admire your work, and find the mark of much good sense here but in NO way can make practical and meaningful comment, in the current situation.'

Anonymous said...

In england you don't actually have to be a member of the ECF to get a rating, they have a system of game fee's and regional membership of associations much like your suggested system.

RT Solo said...

Wow. Bravo, man.

In terms of that guy's quote about Democracy and the Slime Monster and advanced leukemia...I have certainly noticed a deterioration of society in the U.S. in my 26 yrs here. I'm not sure about the rest of the world, so I couldn't really say if Democracy was the problem. Japan, Singapore and Guam seemed pretty nice. Thailand seemed dirty and poor.

I think the deterioration comes from us...from human nature...rather than the type of government we live under.

Just my thought. Keep up the thought-provoking posts!

Wahrheit said...

@chessloser--thanks, yes I really am trying to make things better; of course this just theory, I'm not going to dedicate my life to RESETTING the USCF, but the idea of a competitor is what might improve things...

@chessboozer--she moved closer to downtown.

@Tom--yes, and I'm afraid that quite a few people have made such a rational decision. People need to get at least $40 of value for a $40 membership.

@tommyg--I am really glad you're having a blast in tournament play, I love it too. Almost all the tournaments we play in, though, are put on by individual organizers, the USCF certifies the directors and makes you be a member to play...I agree they've done some good things, too. I juts think we could get a lot more people to become tournament players with my system.

@dk--you don't need to say anything, I'm just very happy to know you read it and lest a comment!

@magicmunky--amateur chess seems pretty healthy in England, maybe that's why. Per capita they have more players and tournaments than the U.S. (I think).

@R.T.--Democracy is fine for awhile, but it seems to me there is a cycle that everyone thinks they can vote for someone who will give them something from somebody else...yes, I would describe that as "human nature" alright...and eventually you have instability and disorder, then you start over...Mencius Moldbug has some interesting thoughts, indeed, I think his next post is supposed to be on Aug. 14th...

Steve Eddins said...

I just heard from a contact attending the USCF Delegates Meeting that receiving a paper version of Chess Life will become optional on December 1, 2008. At that time, the adult membership with the magazine will be called a "premium" membership. The cost of the adult membership without the paper magazine will drop to approximately $30; I'm not certain about the exact amount.

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