www.uschess.org is the Official Website of the United States Chess Federation
|One year ago, the USCF was on the verge of
catastrophe. Executive Director Al Lawrence was preparing
to resign. July 1996 began five consecutive months of
losses resulting in a near $400,000 deficit. Revenue from
Books and Equipment sales had leveled off. Legal and
professional expenses were skyrocketing. The lifeblood of
the USCF, full paying adult memberships had remained flat
for over a decade. Staff morale was low. Both literally
and figuratively, the roof was leaking and about to come
It was a tough introduction to USCF governance. This has been a year of anguish, hard work and frustration. Not only did Executive Director Al Lawrence leave the very day the new Policy Board was seated, but his chief assistant and temporary replacement left 6 months later. The USCF presence on the Internet fell short of expectations. The installation of an integrated computer and telephone system remains in the planning stages. Yet, I can proudly tell you that today USCF is not just a little bit better off than it was 12 months ago, it is a lot better off.
Hiring an outstanding Executive Director is the most important decision of this board. These were the words of advice given by the delegates to the Policy Board when it took office last August.
Take a look at the credentials of Mike Cavallo, the man we hired as Executive Director: Experienced businessman, MBA Harvard Business School graduate, self-made multi-millionaire, and founder of The Cavallo Foundation which provides financial grants for people who risk their careers to protect the public interest. Mike has all these qualifications plus he is a chess master, former junior chess champion and a chess journalist.
The new Executive Director's contributions can already be described as phenomenal. He brought to conclusion lingering litigation matters, squared away outstanding tax delinquencies, hired a new full time USCF Scholastic Coordinator, met and established an improved relationship with World Champion Garry Kasparov and brought in several new sponsors.
Starting in July 1996, expenses exceeded income for four straight months. By November the USCF had built up a debt of almost $400,000. Leading financial experts from the chess community were predicting a year-end fiscal deficit of $600,000 or greater. Guardians of the USCF Life Membership Fund were wary that the LMA fund might be called upon to subsidize escalating deficits.
Instead, spending was curtailed. Unnecessary and costly legal initiatives were put on hold. The number of pages and the amount of color in Chess Life were reduced. Staff worked harder allowing prudent delays in filling vacant positions. Then Mike Cavallo arrived and the Cavallo Magic went to work for the USCF. Over production and unnecessary distribution of Chess Life were stopped. Lingering and costly litigation and contractual matters were put to rest. Mike put the color back into Chess Life and managed to do more for less. The turn around has been remarkable. Instead of losses each month, we now have profits (Figure 1).
During the last decade, we have seen a major shift in the structure of USCF's membership (Figure 2). Ten years ago, scholastics accounted for only a fraction of total membership. Today our membership is almost evenly divided between scholastic and regular adult members.
Recognizing a need to give greater focus to the largest growth segment of USCF membership, the very first official action of your new Policy Board was to meet with the leaders of the scholastic chess community. They were angry with the USCF for not listening to them in the past and some even favored secession from the USCF. They wanted a senior staff member to coordinate scholastic chess throughout the country. Hiring a full time Scholastic Coordinator would be an important step towards resolving differences and improving programs.
PB member Bob Ferguson led the search which resulted in hiring Beatriz Marinello as the scholastic coordinator. Beatriz is a Women's International Master, but she is perhaps better known as a chess instructor of children. Now, for the first time, members can call USCF and be connected to a senior manager dedicated exclusively to the promotion of scholastic chess.
This year we tried an experiment. We combined the National Elementary, Junior High, and High School Championships into one tournament the 1997 Super Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee. This became the largest scholastic chess tournament in the history of the world; 4,310 children competed as individuals and on teams, all playing at the same time and in one room! It took eighty of the country's leading tournament directors to direct the tournament's thirteen sections. Congratulations to chief organizer Harry Sabine, chief TD Bill Snead and all the organizers, tournament directors, coaches, teachers, parents and players who were a part of this record breaking tournament.
The tournament had some problems, e.g. high hotel rates and trophies that were too small for a national championship. We will do our best to learn from this experience and do better next time. Everything considered, the 1997 Super Nationals was a fantastic and historic achievement.
The first non-procedural motion of the 1996/97 Policy Board was: PB 97-02 (Schultz): The policy of the USCF is to increase the prestige, promotion, and publicity associated with the US Championship and the US Champion. It passed unanimously.
As a direct result of this motion, every issue of Chess Life now lists the names of our national champions. For the first time, the US Champion and the US Women's Champion actively participate in determining who organizes the championship. The concepts of a single champion and match play were included in a new tournament format. These changes will go a long way in helping to achieve greater publicity and more lucrative sponsorships.
I congratulate the members of the newly formed US Championship committee for helping to bring about these improvements: chairperson Sophia Rohde, US Champion Alex Yermolinsky, US Women's Champion Anjelina Belakovskaya, GM Joel Benjamin , IM John Donaldson and Jerry Hanken. I also thank those who have worked so hard preparing excellent bids: Bob Tanner, Arizona; Bob Smith and John White, Florida; Howard Prince and Sophia Rohde, New York; Eric Schiller and Larry Reifurth, Hawaii; and Buck Buchanan, Brad Hughes, George Spentzos and Todd Bardwick, Colorado.
Focus on New Windsor
We have a marvelous staff. In the past, staff has often been taken for granted. This has now changed. USCF member and psychologist Dr. John McCrary interviewed every member of staff as a way to assess morale and to obtain feedback. Overall summaries from these private interviews were reviewed by Dr. McCrary in group meetings with staff and subsequently presented to the Executive Director and Policy Board for action. Special thanks to John for donating his time and for a job well done.
At the November PB meeting we started the practice of having key staff personnel make presentations to the PB about their jobs. As of the May meeting we have had presentations from seven members of staff. The presentations have been excellent and very informative. They have contributed to making the Policy Board better informed.
A New Openness
Presidential letters presenting the state of USCF affairs are routinely posted on the USCF's web page. Updates to income statements and balance sheets are also regularly posted.
PB members and the Executive Director are conducting discussion forums with local leaders of the chess community. We are answering questions, explaining what we are doing and listening to their ideas and suggestions. Mike Cavallo, Fan Adams and I held a breakfast discussion at the Amateur Team East. Mike, Bill Goichberg and Rachel Lieberman met with Southern California organizers at the home of Dr. Joe Wagner. Mike, Jim Eade and Tom Dorsch met with Illinois chess officials at the US Masters. I met with the local chess leadership in Denver, Kansas City and Atlanta.
We started the practice of scheduling open forum sessions in which spectators at PB meetings can state their opinions or ask questions to PB members. Closed sessions occur less often than in the past. Advanced notice for both the open forums and closed sessions is given and they take place as scheduled.
In another move to make the USCF a more open organization, PB 97-115 - Any Board member submitting a Board document to be classified "confidential" should include an expiration date for that confidential status, was unanimously passed. In the past, documents marked confidential tended to retain that classification forever.
Ratings and Qualifications
When it comes to rules, ratings and qualifications matters, our National Vice president Bill Goichberg is as knowledgeable as anyone. Through his leadership, we have unanimously passed significant improvements and refinements. The Board passed a motion establishing rating classes (F, G, H, I, & J) below Elo ratings of 1000. An improved system including use of peak ratings was adopted as the way we will now choose those representing USCF in world youth championships. No longer will a player gain rating points by losing a game. All these improvements passed unanimously.
In the near future, the "life title" system so few members understand will likely be replaced by a more understandable and more gradual "life rating," with current titles converted into life ratings. Bill's proposal to achieve this looks good and was referred to the Ratings Committee for review.
The Master's Affairs Committee, chaired by Jerry Hanken, recommended significant improvements to rules, including Life Master titles and Grand Prix awards for Master class prizes. The Board unanimously approved these.
Those of you who have been watching US Chess Online have observed that we had many serious problems during the transition period from our former web provider to Interplay. A number of target dates for new features (online chess play, for example) have slipped badly. One of Mike Cavallo's top priorities is to work with Interplay to solve these problems as quickly as possible.
At its May meeting, the Policy Board made its intent clear when it unanimously passed the following motion: PB 97-101 (Board): It is the policy of the USCF to maintain a website which provides chess information and a broad range of services second to none in scope and quality.
A major step has already been taken to achieve this goal. The USCF hired Jade River Designs to help update our site and keep it fresh. Jade River is the provider of the excellent website known as Duif's Place - Chess for Fans and New Tournament Players. Duif Calvin, a senior member of Jade River, will make sure our news coverage is timely, the TLA's are updated, ratings are easily available and our catalogue is properly maintained, etc. Last October I became aware of Duif Calvin when I saw her postings on the Internet. I was so impressed that I tried to recruit her for a job in New Windsor. She is a true professional in producing Websites and is part of our chess community. Duif together with Interplay, under Mike's direction, with advice and counsel from Myron Lieberman's Computer/Internet committee gives us the team we need to succeed on the Internet.
Congratulations CJ Tan, GM Joel Benjamin and the entire IBM Deep Blue team for an extraordinary accomplishment. You have beaten the World Chess Champion and, contrary to the fears of some, your victory has helped the furtherance of chess and not doomed it. Not since the first Fischer/Spassky match has chess received more publicity.
The Wall Street Journal noted that IBM received $100,000,000 of publicity for $5,000,000. We hope IBM accepts Garry's challenge for a rematch.
Volunteer of the Month
Chess volunteers are the USCF's Thousand Points of Light. Too often the volunteers receive little or no thanks for their selfless contributions of time and energy. The PB instituted a Volunteer of the Month program as one small way to do something about this. Each month, a photo and story appear in Chess Life. Congratulations to those receiving this honor: Alan M. Kirsner (CA), Howard Prince (NY), Roger Claff (VA), Stephen D. Shutt (PA), Ed Fogel (NY), Jim Pechac (OH), and Peter Dyson (FL).
FIDE and International
The world of FIDE politics has always been a frustrating one for the USCF. Our influence has been limited by the FIDE voting structure, and the associated abuses of the electoral system. As a result, an understandable tendency to a limited pragmatism has often dictated our decisions. Yet, the USCF has shown in recent times that we are capable of assuming more of a leadership position. In order to do so, however, we must formulate a solid program of general principles to which we must adhere even when in the midst of the turbulent, constantly changing tactical battles of world chess. Above all, we must remember that our decisions have long-term historic impact, and that our interests are for the world at large, not just the United States.
Blue Ribbon Committee
Two years ago, USCF delegates formed a "Blue Ribbon" reorganization committee. For their dedication to this task, I wish to thank committee chairman Woody Harris and the other members of his committee: Steve Doyle, Tom Dorsch, Helen Warren, Warren Pinches and Frank Camaratta. Their recommendations represent major changes to the structure of the USCF and should be carefully considered.
Your Policy Board has gone on record in proposing an alternative to one of the proposals of the Blue Ribbon Committee. We endorsed direct election of the Policy Board, more commonly referred to as OMOV (One Member One Vote). Our opinion is that the growth of the Internet will allow candidates to explain their agendas to large numbers of voters. Now is the time to expand our voting base.
I favor a system in which the electorate vote for candidates by position as opposed to the system proposed by the Blue Ribbon Committee in which the elected Policy Board itself determines who is president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. A 'Yasser Seirawan' might run for the presidency but would likely back away from running for a PB post without any guarantee of serving in any particular position. Furthermore I favor voting for slates since this is the best way to elect a united PB.
And that Leaky Roof
Executive Director Mike Cavallo promised me that by
the time you read this, the leaky roof will be fixed.
Both literally and figuratively the roof is no longer
about to come crashing down. We are now ready for more
programs, more quality and more growth. The best is about
It's exciting times indeed! The foundation for the USCF's emergence into the 21st century will be determined at the 1997 USCF Annual Meeting in Orlando. Be there!
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This page was last updated June 26, 1997
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