U.S. Chess League Kicks Off Monday
By Robby Adamson   
August 22, 2008
USCLCLOleadPrev.jpg The United States Chess League kicks off its 4th Season starting this Monday, August 25, 2008, with a match between the two newest teams in the league, the Arizona Scorpions and the Chicago Blaze. Both of these expansion teams are excited to participate in such a prestigious league. The remaining matches for Week 1 (see below) will be played on Wednesday, August 27, 2008.

Wednesday's matches are highlighted by the Dallas Destiny, winners of the 2007 US Chess League title, facing off against the San Francisco Mechanics, which is one of the teams to beat this year. The other team to beat, the Boston Blitz, face off against the New York Knights.  Last year's final match between Dallas and Boston proved to be the most thrilling final yet. 

USCL Rules

For those unfamiliar with the US Chess League, there are 14 teams overall, with 7 teams in two divisions (East and West division).  Generally speaking, each week a team fields a team consisting of 4 players, with an average rating of 2400.75/below. As an incentive to encourage teams to field the highest rated players, the league has a rating ceiling of 2590 for any player rated in excess of this rating, meaning that if a player is rated over 2590, that player only counts as 2590 for team average purposes. For this reason, players such as Nakamura or Shabalov, who are rated over 2700, are a valuable commodity and gives advantages to teams with players with high ratings.  Generally, 2-3 featured matches are played on Monday, while the rest of the matches are played on Wednesdays.  All matches played each week are played on ICC - Internet Chess Club.

The other rules of the league provide that a team must play in rating order except that if there are two players within 50 points of each other that the order can be switched, as long as the lower titled player, such as an IM, can not play ahead of the higher titled player, like a GM.  Also, to generate local excitement and increase the potential for sponsorship, the teams must play in the same location each week and the venue must be open to the public.

Top GMs Competing

What I find most impressive about the league is the significant number of strong Grandmasters returning to the league to compete each year, including Hikaru Nakamura, Larry Christiansen, Joel Benjamin, Alexander Stripunsky, Gregory Serper, Julio Becerra, Eugene Perelshteyn, Pascal Charbonneau, Pavel Blehm, Patrick Wolff, Sergey Kudrin, and GM-elects Josh Friedel and Vinay Bhat). Newcomer GM's this year include Jan Ehlvest, Alexander Shabalov, Boris Gulko, Sergey Erenburg, John Fedorowicz, and Nikola Mitkov.

Other Notable Players

If the above list is not impressive enough, there are numerous International Masters, FM's, and National Masters competing as well, some of whom are local heroes in their home cities as well as chess coaches, national scholastic champions, etc. While the league generally consists mostly of adults, the scholastic players who do compete are amongst the best in the country, including current High School National Champion and co-Denker Champion, Daniel Yeager, US Cadet Co-Champion Gregory Young, Sam Shankland, and Daniel Naroditsky (the last 3 all play for San Francisco), former Denker Champion Warren Harper, as well as numerous up-and-comers who soon will win national titles.


The primary sponsor of the US Chess League is Poker Stars , which has provided generous support for the league for the last few years. Teams are given funding from the league once they have participated for a year or two, depending on the sponsorship and donations for that year. Many teams receive funding from their state association, sometimes from local chess associations, and private donors.

Greg Shahade - The Commissioner

The commissioner of the league is IM Greg Shahade who has created a vehicle that has generated excitement amongst the adult chess population all over the United States, as well as for scholastic players who would love the opportunity to some day play on an elite team. Greg was also responsible for starting the New York Masters as well as the US Chess School . We can only hope that the league continues to increase in popularity and that chess will continue to be promoted all over the United States.

WEEK 1: Matches

Monday, August 25th:
Arizona Scorpions vs Chicago Blaze                          9:30 PM ET

Wednesday, August 27th:

New York Knights vs Boston Blitz                            7:00 PM ET
Baltimore Kingfishers vs New Jersey Knockouts       7:15 PM ET
Queens Pioneers vs Philadelphia Inventors                 7:30 PM ET
Carolina Cobras vs Tennessee Tempo                       8:00 PM ET
San Francisco Mechanics vs Dallas Destiny               8:30 PM ET
Miami Sharks vs Seattle Sluggers                              9:00 PM ET

Finally, I wanted to provide to the readers one of the most interesting and most cited facts about the USCL - In the first three years of the existence of the USCL, none of the winning teams (Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas) have had a GM on their roster. This year, only 3 of 14 teams do not have a GM on their roster. Last year, only 4 of the 12 teams did not have a GM on their roster.

Before citing some interesting statistics on the league, I want to give credit to Commissioner Greg Shahade, Arun Sharma (who writes numerous articles and serves as Greg's right hand man), all of the Game of the Year Judges, and all the people who write blogs, purchase merchandise for the USCL, and watch all the action live on ICC.  Let the games begin!

USCL By the Numbers

Number of FIDE Titled Players - 80!!
Number of GMs playing - 17
Number of IM's playing - 34
Number of FM's playing - 29
Number of Scholastic players 18/under - 16
Number of Weeks in Season - 10
Number of Teams in League - 14
Team with Most GMs   - New York Knights (3)
Team with most GM elects - San Francisco Mechanics (2)
Number of Teams w/o GM on roster this year - 3 (Arizona, Dallas, and Carolina)
Number of Teams w/o GM on roster in 2007 - 4 (out of possible 12 teams)

FM Robby Adamson is lawyer in Tucson, Arizona, and organizer of the Western Invitational Chess Camp