Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brief Hiatus

I will be off the air for a bit while I pursue some other projects. Will return, bigger and better than ever, probably in a matter of weeks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More on "Resetting" the USCF

Steve in Tennessee, who used to be a regular contributor to the ChessUSA site which does in-depth coverage of USCF issues, was kind enough to email me about my post On Reforming/RESETTING the USCF. With his kind permission, I post his reply in full:

Been meaning to respond to your entry... You have put some thought into the situation. I think, however, you've put the cart ahead of the horse in dismantling the USCF even though you have placed your finger on the root problem which is democratic governance. Even in the pre-OMOV days EB (and prior PB) members were voted in by delegates. So it was democracy of a sort even then.

The USCF does need a restructure, but the restructuring needs to be in the realm of governance and management. Right now it is set up with a strong EB and a weak ED, with nominal oversight from a delegate system that meets as a "board of directors" once a year. Even this oversight is troubled in that most delegates that have been elected do not show up for these annual meetings. For instance, this year between 60 and 70 delegates voted on motions over two days of meetings where the appointed delegates outnumbered the elected delegates. What happens is that when not enough elected delegates and alternate delegates show up anyone who is attending the meeting may be appointed by the state chair to represent that state. The USCF has 125-130 elected delegates with about 10 of that number being "delegates at large." Only about 30 showed up for the Sat/Sun meetings. In fact, there were elected delegates that showed up for the Open, but refused to answer "present" at the delegates meetings!

Before spinning off the various USCF assets and properties, I would overhaul the governance/management system. My preference would be for a strong ED (management) to be the "face" of the organization and the CEO in fact as well as in title. The EB should be an oversight board ONLY with quarterly reviews of the organization direction as run by the ED, and only empowered to enforce the will of the delegates between annual meetings. I would expand the EB to between 13-17 members instead of the current 7 to diffuse the "cult" problems the smaller board now faces. I would have delegate elections held enough in advance of the annual meetings to facilitate the currently elected delegates being seated at that meeting. This year's delegates that were elected in June were not seated for this year's meeting -- their first meeting will be in 2009! The delegates seated at this year's meeting were elected two years ago. I would place the expectation of showing up to and being involved in the annual meetings on persons seeking to be delegates.

Bottom line: The USCF needs professional management and is not getting it. Something has to change.

Great points, Steve and thanks again for your reply. As I replied:

I think as far as governance issues go, the strong CEO who really has power and gets some incentive compensation would go a long way. Still like my ideas of how to change the revenue stream away from the membership dues model, though.

As always, any additional input from The Readership is valued and appreciated.

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.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chessloser's WEC (release 1.2)

The unmatched sage of the 64-square jungle, the mighty and vaunted chessloser, proposes a new World Extreme Chess league to replace FIDE and USCF which "while awesome, [have] become old mired in their own unwieldingly large hugeness , like republicans and democrats."

Oh man, truer words were never spoken--except that perhaps CL is being too kind in his assessment of these two organizations; FIDE is run by the semi-dictator of a semi-autonomous region of Russia who once said:

"Irrespective of what I tell people, I give them instructions on a sub-conscious level, a code. I do the same thing when I communicate with Russian citizens from other regions. I am creating around the republic a kind of extra-sensory field and it helps us a lot in our projects."


The other big trouble with FIDE is that it's an organization of national organizations, just like the long-defunct League of Nations on which it was based; players aren't members of FIDE, chess bureaucracies are. Meanwhile, the USCF chess bureaucracy has been run badly for decades, seemingly no matter who gets elected to the Board; they tried to ignore internet chess for as long as possible, totally blowing the chance to be some kind of official ratings org for it and profit from it, time after time they signed idiotic long-term contracts for various things that drained the treasury, etc. They do a good job with the rating system, and my view is that's all the USCF should do. We need a whole new structure to promote chess and run tournaments, a complete fresh start. Will it happen? Probably not, unless enough of us quit paying them dues and form some competition; but wait...

Now comes chessloser and the "WORLD EXTREME CHESS LEAGUE!!!!!!! (you have to say this in the voice of the “sunday sunday sunday, monster truck rally ” guy)."

I will not repeat all his proposals here, if you haven't already you've got to go read the post, but all that I would change to suit my own, personal prejudices is (original WEC in GREEN):

ALL games will be G60. no delay, no overtime, no sudden death, no fucking around. if you can’t finish a chess game in two hours (each combatant gets one hour) then you lose. period.

I would like to have all games at G/30 + 10 sec. increment, 90-move games would still take two hours, max, but instead of piece-scattering time scramble disasters like they had in the U.S. Women's Ch. this year, you would still have chess being played throughout the game.

there should be no draws, but i understand sometimes there are. draws are not allowed if there are enough pieces on the board to mate. if you reach the same position after 3 moves, the first person to move on the 4th time MUST make a different move or be disqualified. no draw by repetition allowed. draws will not count for points or ratings. if you have more than half your games end in draw, you are disqualified. kill or be killed.

Sometimes draws by repetition are the fair result, so I'm against the DQ provision which unlike chessloser's other proposals changes a basic rule of the game; at these kinds of time controls I think draws will be pretty scarce, even among masters.

And now the part I totally don't disagree with:

i bet i could find enough people interested in pure chess to play in the league. it would rock. i think the chess world needs a small change in how things are run.

You know it, baby! Anyone else ready to join?