Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2015 arrow August arrow President's Report to the Delegates
President's Report to the Delegates Print E-mail
By Ruth Haring   
August 12, 2015
PresidentReport1image.pngIn the past year, US Chess has continued to reap the benefits of strategic choices made over the past several years.  Those benefits are headlined by continued growth in participation at our flagship Scholastic National Events, investment in IT and media presence, a fundraising strategy, financial strength and stability, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

The past year was a year of transition for the organization.  We continued the work to invest and strengthen our core services including the website upgrade project and the underlying technology which runs our rating systems and other internal systems.  Executive Director Jean Hoffman managed operational costs and implemented new management processes to standardize operations, and restructure the organization.  The bottom line is that our operations were run more efficiently and contributed significantly to our solid financial results.

At the same time we put real focus on customer service.  I hope you have read the results of the 2015 Customer Service Survey.    This survey is a great start to give leadership direction on where to focus to continuously improve.


Let’s talk about risk.  Not financial or legal risk, but other risks facing our organization.

With the front door to our members on the internet at uschess.org, and our primary service, ratings, being an online service; we of course have risk from outages, cyber attacks, equipment malfunctions, etc.  And, of course, the risk that, changes we make, will break something, that will affect availability.

Primary risk identification is done by our staff and the executive board.  In the past, we have engaged consultants for specific IT risk assessments and audits.  Jean has implemented new processes based on recommendations we received, and we are vigilant always taking proactive measures to address technology risks.

Computer outages are not our only risk.  Last year we had the US Open in Orlando rather than St. Louis because of a hotel closing.  The obvious risk to our events is  weather and related transportation outages.

Unexpected events can significantly affect the attendance at events.  What can we as an organization do to mitigate such risk?  We can have performance clauses in our contracts, insurance against unforeseen disasters; and contingency plans. 

Our staff has been very proactive in this area and we should all thank them for the good work done making our events successful, even when lightening does strike !
We can also be thankful that we are chess.  5% of lightning related deaths occur at golf courses!


Let’s talk about membership and retention.  We anticipate continued growth in Scholastic National Events in 2016.  We must always keep in mind the transient nature of our core Scholastic Membership, which represents roughly half of our players. 

As you can see in the chart labeled “Membership Retention by Age”, at age 10 we have the most players.  It follows that drop out at this age is the most significant for us. 
What other information do we have that is potentially actionable ?

Family & Group memberships and magazine vs. No Magazine

You see here a graph showing that Family Plan membership (top purple line)retention rate goes sideways until the mid-20’s.  Family plan memberships and receive one copy each  of chess life and Chess Life 4 kids.

The other lines for Group member, magazine and no magazine trend down, following the general trends for retention. The magazine vs no magazine needs to be looked at separately from membership types.

What is interesting is the bump up in the green line around age of 16, in the group membership category, which we should investigate more.

This chart shows membership retention by number of events played

I think that we can conclude we have by far the best retention with those who have played at least five rated events.

The purple and light blue lines are also interesting, in showing that three events and four events played are next best for retention, with drop off around age 17-18. 

My conclusion is that any program we design should consider that we want a goal of 5 events played before age 16.
 Magnus – “the day chess stops being fun is the day I give it up.”


Clearly the single most important membership retention question is how to retain scholastic members at age 10 and up, and understanding the factors that influence decisions made by players and their parents regarding participation in organized chess, and other extra-curricular activities.

 I have been talking to parents at our national events about decisions made by parents or with parent and child together.  

 My informal “poll” revealed the following
     Only the first couple of trophies are meaningful
     Parents control whether children will continue in chess when they are 10 and under
     If a kid isn’t having fun, he wants to quit
     Safety is important
     Having friends who play chess matters
     It isn’t fun to lose
     Kids like team tournaments.  We should remove all barriers to participation in these events, and think about new ways to make chess more “fun”.
     The rating page is our most visited page on the website – ratings are important

Retention and Rating

Next I requested retention data that included average rating information, which you see charted with the retention rate of scholastic members by age.

If you look at the top line, you will see that the higher your rating, the more likely you will continue, and that getting to 1600 is significant.


Interesting that people with higher ratings continue in chess...

With “the day I stop having fun is the day I quit” in mind, I massaged the data from the previous line graph to put retention rate and rating on a chart in a different format.

Members and Average rating by age

The graph shows the correlation between staying in chess and rating increase.   The trend seems to start around age 11, where you see members dropping off as average rating rises.  The relationship gets more pronounced as age increases. We have to  ask, Do those who quit, leave chess because, they were not satisfied with their rating improvement,i.e., they “weren’t having fun”.  Or conversely, those who gained more rating points were more likely to continue as members, because they “were having fun”.  Remember again, the rating page is our most visited page on the site


Now for a story, Jeannie Sinquefield and I have had several long discussions about scholastic chess and how to encourage kids to play chess and our class system.  She doesn’t like our class system because of the naming and the similarity with grades.  I was struck when she said to me, “Class C, what does that mean to the average person ?, It’s like getting a “c” grade, mediocre. You need to rename the classes.” 

Think back to the chart where it looked like achieving a 1600 rating, class B, is related to retention.


My immediate thought on the subject of renaming classes, was that there is tradition and history surrounding the rating system and set classes and acceptance of such change would not be easy.  I took a look at some other organizations that have scholastic members to see what they do, to show their members progress, as they learn new skills.  


As you can see from the slides, it is common to have a progression with naming that will appeal to children and does not have other connotations.  


Age 6-20

Back to the average rating by age slide. I’ve added the class designations. The scale on the left is average rating.  The scale on the right is number of members.

You can see that in the groups in which we have increasing membership numbers (age 6-10), the average rating is under 600. 

If you look at the chart, we see the un-named “and under” rating levels occupying the space that the majority of our members sit in. 

We clearly need to do work here including consideration of naming the classes, possibly for 100 point increments, and to consider other ways to reward participation such as 1st through 5th tournament congratulatory certificates.

I suggest that we need to reward activity maybe by creating most active lists by age for the range 6 to 16.

We still have to ask, “Are we driving people who have not achieved Class B level away by the language we use to describe our rating and class systems?”   Should we rename class C, D, and E?
MOST members are in categories that we have not bothered to name or address it in a significant way.  Recall that those who reach the 1600 level have a much better retention rate.
I hope that we will start discussions on how to make improvements to incentives by changing the language we used to describe the “classes”.  

Summary of retention studies


There is a correlation between rating gain and retention.

The 1600 and up rating level has better retention characteristics in general.  This trend clearly applies into the early 20’s.

The correlation between rating improvement and retention kicks in at age 11.

Ages 11-12 is where we see loss of members and drop in retention rates.

Most of our members are under 1000 in the “and under” class. We have not named these classes though the majority of our members  are “and under”.

Gaining rating points is “fun”.  Losing is not fun.

We have by far the best retention with those who have played 5 rated events. 

Playing three or four events are next best for retention, but with drop off around age 17-18.  We should consider that we want a goal of 5 events played before age 16. 

Family memberships should be explored for their retention characteristics as should group memberships.

Kids like team tournaments.


I ask you all if the services and events we provide are serving our average member well ?
I  hope that my analysis will lead to new thinking about retention, and how we will “Grow the Game” by expanding the membership base and increasing the retention of existing members.

US Open

Behind every successful organization, there are great people doing incredible work. 

I want to thank Mike Nolan and Mark Glickman for their help with data and charts on retention.

At US Chess we are fortunate to have many faithful volunteers who love chess and help to run events, who are truly personally committed to our Mission to “empower people through chess one move at a time.”  I would like to thank our committee members and our generous sponsors, donors and benefactors.  And, as you know, every year we have an awards luncheon to honor those in our community who have made extraordinary achievements or special service to chess.   Many of you are mentioned in the delegate call for your roles on committees, and I once again thank all of you for your service.