Tuesday, November 6, 2007

USCF and the International Chess Scene

Last April, I put a thread up on the USCF Forum. Here is what initially wrote.

One thing that has not been discussed in this election so far has been USCF policy towards FIDE and international chess. I see in the yearbook that there is a committee on this topic.

I have been a life member since the 1970's. I have been reading Chess Life since that time. From what I've read over the years, the USCF's record towards protecting the human rights of chessplayers has been pretty bad.

The Ludek Pachman case comes to mind. He was one of the prominent Czech intellectuals who had opposed the Soviet invasion of his country in 1968. He was imprisoned and tortured for many years. When he was finally let go, the Soviet Chess Federation told the world that no player from the Communist bloc would participate in any chess event Pachman played in.
I remember being very discouraged and angry at the reaction of the USCF and the other chess federations in the west towards this. I was particularly unhappy with the anti-Pachman comments that appeared in Chess Life in those years. As if he was to blame by trying to renew his career in chess instead of retiring as the Soviets wished.

Then Korchnoi defected and had the effontery to be the challenger to the World Champion for 2 cycles. He was blacklisted, too. I was particularly mad when the blacklist was kinda, sorta complied with by the USCF, too. I recall the politicians of the period did a lot of covering, but the end result of their policy was that Korchnoi did not get any invitationals in the US. My memory get hazy due to the distance in years, but I recall he was discouraged from playing in the US, not outright blacklisted. I remember people making a big deal that it was still okay for him to play in Opens though not Invitationals. These were the years when he was the #2 rated player in the world.

Then there was the Arab boycott of the Israeli Olympiads. Israel had had a long history of sponsoring Olympiads until the boycott and the Anti-Israel Olympiad. The USCF commendably played in the official Olympiad in Israel but Chess Life made a lot of noises about Israel not causing any more problems by bidding on future FIDE events.

Then there was the Larry Parr firing. Now I gather Parr has gotten kind of crazy since he was fired as Editor of Chess Life. I don't know about any of that. I just know what I read of in the magazine while he was editor. He insisted on reporting on these events that affected Chess Players. For example, on his article on Boris Gulko, on his immigration to the US, he covered his time in the Soviet prisons and the kind of things the Soviets had done to him as well as the rest of his chess career. That upset a lot of people. But this was important to Gulko's bio; it was important to understand what kind of player he was. When Parr was fired, prominent among the reasons that were cited was that he covered too much politics. I remember the new editor saying that he would drop such coverage.

The Soviets are gone, but the challenges facing chess players in the new century are even more severe, if anything. The Arab boycott of Israeli chess players is one issue that the USCF will have to deal with.

Then there is the growing role of internet chess. Already clouds loom on our horizon. Google has altered its search engines and dropped its company motto in the face of Chinese demands. Yahoo has turned over client's private e-mails and people are now in jail as a result.

To take one challenge that the USCF may very well face in the next few years, say a foreign country contacts the USCF office and demands we turn over the private mails of people who participate on this Chess Bulletin Board, citing the Yahoo precident? What about USCF members who live abroad? What will our policy be? Will it be like the policies the USCF has had in the past?

What if a foreign country contacts a USCF partner like the ICC and demands that certain players be banned? Will the USCF treat the demand any different than it has the OTB scene in the past?

I could go on but I know this post is already too long. How do the candidates stand philosphically on these issues? Do they support the approach the USCF has taken in the past or would they advocate a new one?


Paul Truong replied,

As Mr. Schultz has stated, the emergence of Mr. Bessel Kok will help FIDE straighten a few things out. We have a very good new zonal president in IM John Donaldson. This is a credit to Mr. Schultz as we all know he has done a lot for the USCF and he knows the FIDE system real well. I think Mr. Schultz knows just about EVERYBODY!

I will be having a prominent role with the organizer of the 2007 World Championship in Mexico City and most likely with the 2008 Olympiad in Dresden as well. I will be bringing something unique to these events and I am confident that they will be spectacular on a global scale. GM Polgar will also have prominent roles in both of these events.

GM Polgar was also recently asked by some officials of FIDE to meet and discuss a few very important issues. They are seeking help in improving a few areas. She agreed. Unfortunately, her current schedule is very hectic and as soon as they clear up, she will meet with them.

It is very important for FIDE to know where the USCF stands on a number of issues. But we must do it firmly and diplomatically. We want positive changes, not war. If you think the USCF politics is bad, it is much worse with FIDE. However, I strongly believe that there will be many changes in the near future for the better.

Best regards,


Another person objected to my inclusion of the Korchnoi boycott because the Soviet government blacklisted him, not FIDE. I responded:

As for the issue of banned players, they may not be officially banned but they can sure be effectively banned. They can just not be invited to tournaments. Isn't that what happenned to Korchnoi? He wasn't invited to US invitationals because the Soviets would not have sent anybody?

But even more important is what USCF policy towards international boycotts should be going forwards? Is it going to be the same kind of policy as it was in the past?


Duncan Oxley, an moderator for Internet Chess Club asked this:

I don't understand this question.

How could the USCF ever consider ordering ICC (a private club with its own rules and policies firmly established) to ban someone?

Could you elaborate please Jack?


I replied,

Duncan, my question posits the reverse.

1) A foreign government demands the ICC ban a player from its tournaments.

2) The ICC complies and bans said player.

3) Should the USCF still sanction and rate tournaments that discriminate against players for political reasons? How about for religious reasons? Or race, or something like this?

4) Should the USCF still partner with an organization like the ICC that were to do this?

5) Should the fact that the discrimination is at the behest of a foreign government, and even possibly approved by FIDE, a valid excuse that a partner organization like ICC could use?

The reason I am going into this now, is that I believe that we should be ahead of the curve on this. The challenges facing the USCF in the 21st century are going to be ever so much greater than what faced us in the last one. And let's face it Duncan. The USCF did not handle those very well.

So let's do better now.