Chess Journalists of America

The following "Letters to the Editor" were published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXX, No. 2, Consecutive No. 100, June 2001 (Editor: John Hillery). One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Letters printed in the journal do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 2001 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Letters to the Editor

The Chess Journalist, June 2001

April 9, 2001

Dear Editor,

First and foremost, thank you for the great job that you have done with The Chess Journalist. You have made some major changes in style and content.

The recent essay by W. Michael Bacon (Georgia Chess/Everyman Chess Essay Contest, March 2001) compels me to write. I simply must disagree with the position taken by Mr. Bacon.

This essay takes the position that chess was alive and well in the days of Bobby Fischer, however we must now all hang our heads in shame "because the computer beat the human world champion." Who does Mr. Bacon think programmed the computer? How did it get its knowledge? Mr. Bacon states that our "beloved game is spiraling downward inexorably toward irrelevance." I submit that nothing could be further from the truth.

Today, more than ever, society is becoming aware of the value of chess. At the scholastic level, more kids than ever are playing chess. Health and social agencies (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics) have become involved because chess can make an important difference in the lives and thinking of our children. At the top level, a new sponsor in Seattle, Washington has been found for the US Championship. The Seattle Chess Foundation and the USCF are partners. At the university level, the University of Texas at Dallas has developed a program that should be a role model for all other universities. There are countless other examples all over America that illustrate society's interest in chess.

Furthermore, chess is not a "dying game" being made obsolete by the computer. Computers will never solve the game of chess. There are simply too many possibilities. Computers playing chess have created millions of new players and improved the games of experienced players. Our challenge is to find those players and introduce them to US Chess. Each of us, in our own way, and in our own community can help make this happen.

I say to chessplayers, chess lovers, and chess promoters everywhere, be proud of who you are and what you are doing. Chess can have a huge impact on society. We can have a golden age bigger and more permanent than anything we ever had in the Fischer days. Society and the media are more than ready for chess. We simply have to believe in ourselves.

Rachel Lieberman

Is This Good for Chess?!

In this week's New Yorker magazine (June 4, 2001) an 8-page article on chess centers around Bruce Pandolfini, brilliant chess teacher, generating an annual income of $250,000 from teaching the K-12 market. Corporate executives once paid him $7500 an hour for a conference to see how a chess master thinks and to apply these concepts to business. Unfortunately Pandolfini's personal habits resemble nothing so much as the role played by John Turturro portraying the slovenly challenger for the world chess championship in the current movie "The Luzhin Defence" based on Nabokov's novel. In a ten by ten foot apartment Pandolfini's kitchenette is unusable due to an accumulation of shoes, books and other debris, and space so cramped he stuffs his mattress in the closet during the day. For obvious reasons, he gives lessons to his students only by making house calls, but his arrival for appointments is erratic and unpredictable.

While the writer gets a good deal about the world of chess right, slight inaccuracies detract from what is nevertheless to some extent an attempt to elevate the public perception of chessplayers. Steinitz, he claims, boasted of having defeated God in spite of odds of pawn and move. Actually, Steinitz, confined to a lunatic asylum in his declining years, made this challenge to God, but, as far as I know, it was never accepted. We are treated to an excerpt from British Chess enumerating chessplayers, a la Luzhin, who have jumped out of windows to their death. Estonian GM Lembit Oll 1999, Latvian IM Alvis Vitolins 1997, Armenian IM Karen Grigorian 1989, Russian IM Georgy Ilivitsky 1989.

And, of course, the lunacy of Bobby Fischer is not neglected. Garry Kasparov receives overall (but not without some demerits) good reviews.

Finally, it is the little monsters that Pandolfini is breeding who get the most empathy from the reader, but not without misgivings and serious concern, as one of his prodigies, exultant after a successful tournament, defeating his last opponent (who opened 1. b2-b4), is quoted in the closing paragraph saying, "I wish I could fly so that I could play chess with God."

Genius and madness are close allied.
Yet thin partitions doth their bounds divide.
                William Blake (1757-1827)

DISCLAIMER: In no way do I wish to detract from Bruce Pandolfini, (whom I have never met) citing only the author, Paul Hoffman, of said article. After watching Ben Kingsley in the role of Mr. Pandolfini in "Searching for Bobby Fischer", I would sign up for chess lessons myself.

Dr. Joe Wagner
Los Angeles

[[I had some reservations about publishing the following, which originally appeared on Bill Goichberg's www.chessnews.org. It is clearly intended to lobby voters on the upocoming USCF election, and that is not the business of the magazine or organization. However, it makes a valid point concerning Chess Life and proper journalistic conduct.

My own opinion is that there is no evidence Mr. Pechac sought or expected special treatment in this matter. However, the Editor displayed very questionable judgement, as Mr. Pechac's article could easily have been postponed for an issue. Of course, if Mr. Pechac or any other EB member requested special placement, that would be another thing entirely.

A more fundamental question is whether so much space in Chess Life should be devoted to turgid and self-serving articles by chess politicians. In the past, even the worst USCF Presidents rarely availed themselves of this more than once or twice a year. I think it's fair to suggest that most Chess Life readers would rather read about chess. -- jh]]

Chess Life Election Issue: Pechac strikes it rich

The "July" [2001] issue of Chess Life, issued at the start of June, is out, and USCF VP of Finance Jim Pechac has scored a major coup over the other nine Executive Board candidates.

Pages 47 through 49 contain statements by candidates for the USCF Executive Board. Each candidate obtained one-sixth of a page of space for this, except for Pechac, who was given seven times the space of any other candidate- almost as much space as every other candidate combined!

True, only pages 48 and 49 are labelled "Executive Board Candidate Statements." The full page by Pechac on page 47 is called "across the board," a heading used for articles by Executive Board members. But it is likely that many voters will not notice this technicality.

During the past year and a half, most other EB members have written an "across the board" article. Under past Boards, these articles were written by the President only, and came out about once or twice a year. I'm sure the membership would prefer to return to this policy, and read Tournament Life Announcements or annotated games rather than political propaganda.

USCF President Tim Redman has authored numerous "across the board" essays; my least favorite included a subhead with the inspirational message, "The decline of tournament chess." Redman also said, "Large class prizes led to mega-events, such as the World Open. For many, it seemed as if that era could never end. Few noticed the beginning of FICS (the Free Internet Chess Server) and fewer saw where it would lead." This was clearly a declaration that the era of mega-Swisses was either over or about to end, to be replaced by online play. Tell that to the players in the 2001 Chicago Open, which drew a record 916 entries last weekend, 150 more than the previous year.

One of the few EB members who did not previously participate in "across the board" was Jim Pechac. Now suddenly, in the "Executive Board Candidate Statements" issue, published a month before the ballots are received, Pechac needs a full page, complete with his photo, to report "Recent USCF Financial News" to the members. After almost two years as VP of Finance without issuing such a report, he writes one for the election issue. Pechac could have written such an article for any issue in 2000, or early 2001, or later 2001 issues which would not affect the election. But no, out of over 20 issues that he might have selected, it was the one most likely to advance his candidacy. What a coincidence.

Even if the Pechac page simply reported USCF financial news, its timing would be grossly inappropriate. However, there is a bit more here than just finances. For instance, Pechac defends current EB majority policies by saying, "The EB has taken several steps in an attempt to reverse the decline in regular members. The addition of a free on-line chessplaying service to enhance membership value, an Internet pricing package for members not interested in the printed publication, anti-deflationary measures in the rating system, and changes to the look and feel of Chess Life to attract more casual players are expected to have long-range favorable affects on USCF membership."

Here we see Pechac defending his own policies, using space not available to candidates who wish to criticize those policies. "The addition of a free on-line chessplaying service" has had a negative impact on USCF finances, without any noticeable effect on USCF membership totals. Maybe this will change in the future, but I doubt it. Using the previously accepted standard of 8 fast games or 6 slow games per month to indicate activity, over 95% of all USCF members are not active on USCL, despite substantial USCF expense for a barrage of USCL free ads for almost a year. ICC is more than ten times the size of USCL, and those unwilling to pay about $4/month for ICC can play free on FICS. Players can even go through the CCA website at chesstour.com to find free online play, and this costs CCA nothing.

Changes to the look and feel of Chess Life such as less TLAs, less annotated games, and more "across the board" articles and other frills are expected to increase USCF membership? Expected by who, other than Pechac and his three Board allies? The "casual players" and "newsstand sales" emphasis has been tried by previous Boards and has always failed. Yes, there are millions of "casual players" out there, but few are sufficiently interested in chess to consider joining USCF. If we can find a way to turn some of them into more serious players, they will become potential members. See the excellent article by John Hillery on this subject (ChessNews.org, 1/17/01).

Pechac also states, "The recent change in Chess Life was accompanied by a significant price restructuring in TLA advertisements." More to the point would have been to refer to this as a "huge increase" rather than a "restructuring." Pechac voted to support this devastating increase, which has wiped out more than half of all TLAs, in October and again in April, and there is no hint in his essay that he might consider a fee reduction.

TLAs are probably of interest to at least ten times as many USCF members as USCL, so why do they have to cover all costs while USCL is heavily subsidized? Reader surveys show that TLAs are one of the most popular features of the magazine, so why must they cover 100% of costs while such features as problems, articles about celebrities who play chess, letters to the editor, USCL promos, and "across the board" articles by EB members cover 0% of their costs?

I don't believe that USCF can be significantly promoted through newsstand sales. But if we assume for a moment that such sales do have some importance, think about the message we are sending with Pechac's TLA policy. Suppose a former USCF member in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Arkansas happens to notice the "July" 2001 Chess Life on a newsstand, and thinks, "I used to play in tournaments, maybe I should get back into it, I'll look through this Chess Life to see what's coming up." What will he find in the Tournament Life section? No tournaments listed for any of these four adjacent states! Not only does his state have none, but there probably aren't even any he can easily travel to!

Am I discussing too small a market? Well, California is hardly a minor state. In the "July" Chess Life, if our newsstand reader seeks a tournament to enter in the San Francisco Bay Area, unless he's a child, he won't find one! Southern California? One tournament in Los Angeles is listed, but it's coming up very soon, June 15-17, and the reader may have already made other plans. The "July" issue lists no tournaments in July or August for our nation's largest state, except for one in Sacramento and two scholastic quads in the Bay area. I think this is a disgrace, but Jim Pechac apparently is happy, expecting "long-range favorable affects on USCF membership."

Bill Goichberg

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