Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Pyramids: How Did They Do That?

From Jack Le Moine's Blog

French architects just figured out how the Egyptians constructed the Great Pyramid. Historians have wondered how the ancients built such a wonder using only ancient technology. More time separates the Egyptian builders from Christ than separates Christ from us. 2,000 years back takes back to the year 1. We need to travel another 2,500 years further back in order to arrive at the time period when the Pyramid was built.

To the ancient Greeks, (see the movie 300) the Pyramids were 2,000 old. Herodotus traveled to Egypt and pondered the oldness of the Pyramids as we do today. To the builders of the Pyramids, the shipping of the Greeks would have seemed like spaceships, a science-fiction fantasy. If they could have looked forwards into history as we are able to look backwards, Alexander, Caesar and Socrates would have blurred with Washington, Eisenhower and Einstein, just as we look back and lump all the ancients together, no matter how much time separated them. That’s the perspective of time.

See the article in the National Geographic for further information.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Tax Season

Missed out on posting for the last few days. I do income taxes and this is the busiest time of the year.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Setting Up With Blogspot

When I had to set up an account in order to comment on Susan's posts, I was confused. This may help.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Top Posts

Here is a list of the best entries on this blog.


4/3/07

On Saturn's Moon

Artwork on depicting a methane lake on Titan by Kees Veenenbos, one of the world's top artists.


3/20/07

From Paul Truong

Original interview with America's top chess promoter. How to get attention for your chess club.


3/16/07

From Don Schultz

An essay on the US Chess Federation by the USCF Vice-President.


3/13/07

From Bill Goichberg

The President of the US Chess Federation compares the state of chess politics to previous years.


3/11/07

Pact with the Devil

A piece of short fiction. Susan Polgar actually did reject this story for her blog!


12/27/06

My Top Chess Moment

How I became interested in chess again after a hiatus of 2 decades.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Articles to Remember

Here's articles published elsewhere that I found especially interesting.


12/18/06

Middle East Summary

Best summary of the Middle East situation that I have seen. By Charles Krauthammer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

From Mikhail Korenman

Two Mikhails: Gorbechav and Korenman
at the Chess for Peace Festival organized by Korenman.
Photo courtesy of Susan Polgar Chess Blog. Used with permission.

Some people think that most people drop out of chess between the ages of 18 – 35. Wrong! The large drop starts at the age 11!

Why?

More sport activities are available. More regular school assignments take up more time. Finally, there are just more other interests are available for kids at this age

This is a big concern to me as a member of the USCF Scholastic Council. We can’t control the outside influences that draws people away from chess but there is something we can and should help with - the quality of the chess programs at elementary/secondary school levels.

There is a great army of chess volunteers, parents, community members who are helping kids to get first knowledge of chess. They introduce scholastic chess tournaments for thousands of kids.

There are a couple problems I can see.

First, among this army of volunteers, parents, community members, etc. there are very few who can take kids from step one (beginning level) to step two (intermediate level).

Second, something should be done to minimize number of kids with USCF rating below 500. In a state of IL out of 3500 scholastic members last fall only 82 (!!!) have a rating more than 1200. At the same time, more than a 1,000 kids had USCF rating below 500, 400, 300, even 200. Will we see these kids back as USCF members next year? Not likely. This is a difficult topic for discussion. To run tournaments cost a lot of financial resources. Trophies and medals are not cheap. To add more sections to the local scholastic events will cost more money to purchase more trophies, medals, etc.

Help is on the way. With support from the American Foundation for Chess (AF4C), The Susan Polgar Foundation (SPF), and The Kasparov Foundation (KF), a curriculum has just recently become available. The USCF should promote all of those professionally (!) developed materials and help AF4C, SPF, KF and all other potential organizations and groups that provide chess curriculum. We should send a message to ALL schools that the materials are available and the USCF as a national lead organization supports them. Hopefully, recently signed agreements between USCF and AF4C, SPF, and KF will help to send the right message to the right people and as quickly as possible.

In addition, the USCF Chess Coach Certification Program is ready to be implemented nationwide. Again, the message about the program should be sent to as many schools as possible throughout the country to encourage coaches to go at least through the first step of the certification. Right now you have to have a certificate to coach football or basketball or any other sports at schools. But anybody (!) can be a chess coach. The USCF role is to help (!) those who are having a problem to go through the first step and provide help and support with necessary materials so coaches will be more prepared to teach kids.

More needs to be done. We need to work with local organizers more. I would encourage local organizers to try (even knowing that it is really hard) to raise outside funds for the trophies. Some businesses will more likely sponsor a set of trophies than just give cash to buy them. Add additional sections (such as K-5 U800) would help to keep more kids happy with some winning points. Again, this is a difficult topic but something can be done to change the situation. I am sure that there are some programs that run tournaments with such formats. Keeping more kids for a longer period of time active with chess is a need and a goal.

Summary: Progress is being made but more needs to be done.
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The author is the organizor of the Chess for Peace Program, a member of the USCF Scholastic Committee, and a current candidate for the Executive Board of the USCF.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Chess Tournament

Spent the day at a chess tournament. Played 4 games total. Won 2, lost 1, Drew 1. Lost 3 rating points. Right now my rating is exactly at 1700. Would have won my last game. Had a Knight up right out of the opening. Nursed that advantage throughout the game. Came down to an endgame with King + pawns versus me with King, pawns + Knight. Easily won, but I was under time pressure. Wandered into a stalemate. Ruined my whole day.

Here is the game I lost. It was against a master level player. I still don't know what exactly happened.




In the game, I'm playing the black pieces.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Political Riddle

I got this story from my good friend, Kurt Paasch.

News item: Senator Ted Kennedy (D Mass) has expressed doubt that Osama bin Ladin is still alive.

After numerous rounds of "We don't know if Osama is still alive," Osama himself decided to send Ted Kennedy a note in his own hand writing to let Kennedy know he was still alive. Kennedy opened the note, which appeared to contain a single line of coded message 370HSSV-0773H.

Kennedy was baffled, so he E-mailed it to John Kerry. Kerry and his aides had no clue either, so they sent it to the FBI. No one could solve it at the FBI, so it went to the CIA, then to the NSA. With no clue as to its meaning, the FBI finally asked Marine Corps Intelligence for help. Within a few seconds, the Marines cabled back with this reply: "Tell Kennedy he is holding the message upside down."

Friday, March 23, 2007

500 Games


This is Savielly Tartakower. He was a chess grandmaster in the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote a collection of chess games called, "500 Master Games of Chess". It really does contain 500 games, 500 annotated games. That's a lot.

In order to fit all of those games between 2 covers, the publishers had to scrunch up the presentation of the writing and the commentary. It is a hard book to read. Diagrams are few. The use of a chess board is mandatory, unless one uses a database program like chessbasse. I use Chessbase Lite which I downloaded from Chessbase for free. Chessbase allows me to go through variations without loosing my place in the book.

The experience is lengthy but satisfying. Comments are on the light side but more than you'd expect. On the whole, one comes away with a feeling that you understand the games you've just played over. I think that if you want to understand how chess was played from the beginnings through 1940, this book is the best 1 volume book out there.




Disclaimer: The fact that I will be compensated if you click on the link and buy the book turns this post into a semi-advertisement. I only will link to Amazon.com for books I actually liked.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

National Grade School Championship in Danger

Sam Sloan, member of the USCF Executive Board announced that he will attend the National Elementary School Championships in Nashville May 11-13. Susan Polgar announced that she will attend but only to do scheduled commitments and will leave before round 1. Her children will not attend the event at all. One of them is the National 2nd. Grade Champion. Since no one knows if Sloan will actually attend this event, I tried to put things into perspective by posting the below on the USCF Forum.

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I am very concerned at the direction that this affair has taken. Sam Sloan has just become a very powerful man in the USCF and he has been handed that power not by ignorant voters, not by leaders like Bill Goichberg or Don Schultz, not by forum moderators anonymous or otherwise, no not by any of those parties. Those who have chosen to curtail their involvement on a specific event based only upon a Sloan announcement have done so.

Sam Sloan now has the power to cast a cloud upon any children's event in the United States by the mere ANNOUNCEMENT that he will attend it. He does not have to actually show up. In fact, he does not even have to try to show up. He does not have to even intend to show up. No, all he has to do is SAY that he will show up.

A mere few seconds at a computer keyboard, a move of the mouse to the "submit" button, a click - and the job is done. An event tarnished, a kid's dream broken, a childhood experience denied. In the fictional realms of sword and sorcery, even the use of a magic wand would have taken longer.

This is the reality that we now face. Does anybody want to take bets on whether, after all this thread's gas and fire, Sam Sloan will ever actually show up? If you really had a chance to bet serious money, would you do so?

Pulling out after SS actually shows would be one thing. To announce in advance that one will alter plans and curtail participation due to SS's mere announcement is another.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tax Tips

Here’s my number one tax tip of all time. Keep receipts. Keep records. I’ve prepared tax returns for several decades now. And of all the laws, all the regulations, all the angles and all the angles and dangles, this is the #1 biggest reason I’ve seen for JQ Public (that’s you) not to get all the breaks that you can get is lack of proper records. Come in and give us accountants the records and we can figure something out. But get records, please!

The biggest area where people fall short is keeping track of auto mileage. Last year’s rate for business was 44.5 cents per mile. This means that if you drive your car for just a little over 2 miles, you’ve racked up a whole dollar’s worth of deductions. This year the rate jumps up to 48.5 cents per mile. You can also deduct mileage (at lower rates) for charitable work, medical, and moving.

Do you have investments you want to unload? Is it because they are loosing money for you? Timing the losses can be important. If you are having a good year, then now might be the time to put those losses to use, offsetting your other income. There are passive activity loss rules. Basically, you need passive gains to offset your passive losses. Thinking strategically here can help.

If you are going to owe the IRS money at the end of the year, you need to be making payments in advance. Pay quarterly using form 1040-ES.

File returns even if you can’t afford to pay. Non-filing penalties and even late-filing penalties bump your tax bill way up. File the returns and then contact the IRS. You can even arrange an offer in compromise. If you just can’t pay, you can ask the IRS to look at your situation and forgive some of your tax bill. Of course, that means you will have to keep current with your taxes in the future.

Finally, here’s the best tax advice that I can give. Stay out of jail. That means don’t be afraid to go into some gray areas, just don’t cross the line. Don’t do things that are clearly wrong. Remember, pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.

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For further info, here is a link to some tax tips straight from the IRS.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

From Paul Truong

Paul Truong
Photo courtesy of Susan Polgar’s Chess Blog. Used with permission.

Recently I asked Paul Truong about promoting chess. He is the top chess promoter in America. Below are my questions and his answers. Thank you, Paul!

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1) What are the top things the promoter of a local chess club should do?


Contact the local media (newspaper, radio, TV, school papers, etc.) and let them know what is going on at your chess club. Prepare to offer them interesting stories. Here’s a couple ideas: tell them about

- Interesting players such as the mayor, city manager, lawyer, doctor, or top rated young player
- Interesting events such as mixed doubles, sibling teams, family team, husband/wife team, boyfriend/girlfriend team, adults vs. kids match, male vs. female, and so on.

If it is not interesting, no media will come. In addition, have a press kit or information packet ready. The easier you make their jobs, the more likely you will get them interested to do your stories.
.

After the story is out, make sure you thank the journalist. Keep in touch and update the journalist. Create that bond.


2) What’s a Press Kit?

A press kit is a package of information with facts and interesting information about your club or event that you would like the media to know. It should also contain pictures - the higher the quality, the better! This will help save the media a lot of time and they will more likely get the right facts and information into their stories, especially that information that you want everyone to know.

Here’s some things to put into a press kit.

- An information sheet about your chess club. Include basic information such as when it meets and where. Also give a little history of the club.

- A contact sheet listing key officers and other key persons together with their contact information such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Give a brief description of each one of the people listed.

- An information sheet describing your event. As in all of these sheets, give basic information at least. If your event has already received attention from outside places (such as Susan Polgar’s Blog) mention that together with the internet address. This helps reinforce the message that the chess world finds your events to be noteworthy therefore they should, too.

- The Press Release. This should be the top page in the press kit. Head up your paper “Press Release” or “For Immediate Release”. Use preprinted stationary if you have any. Otherwise, place the name, address, and contact number of your organization at the top. Now pretend that you’re the journalist writing the story. You write the story. Lead with the most important information. Continue to write the rest as a newspaper story. The purpose of a press release is to summarize the story for the press.

When you are finished, put all of this into an envelope. Label the envelope so that if the reporter drops it in his busy office, he can identify it as your press kit right away. Make plenty of envelopes so that each reporter that contacts you gets one.

A press kit is easy to make and very effective.


3) What can local promoters do to obtain sponsorships for chess events?

Ask yourself one question: Why should ANYONE or ANY COMPANY sponsor your events? Be prepared to answer this question. If you are not, you will have very little chances of getting any kind of sponsorship.

Show the potential sponsors how much you expect them to give and how much they can get in return. If it does not make sense for them, it will not happen. It is very seldom that a person or company sponsors an event just because the event needs money.

Here’s an example: Chess has been proven through thorough research to help children do better in school and in life. For as little as $1,000, your company can make a positive difference for 100 children in our community. This money will be used to organize the Lubbock Scholastic Championship, the most prestigious chess competition in our city. In addition, a banner of your company will be prominently displayed in the tournament hall during the entire tournament. A display ad of your company will also appear in our tournament program book as well as the official tournament website which will be viewed by thousands of people in our community.

4) Free publicity: what are your do’s and don’t for approaching the media?

Do make it simple and easy to understand. Do explain why they should cover chess. Do prepare all information and facts in advance. Do have a media/press kit. Do cooperate anyway you can to make their job easier. Do be polite. Do follow up. Do keep in touch. Do be positive.

Don’t make it too complicated. Don’t be unprepared to give facts and information. Don’t be a pain. Don’t be too vague. Don’t be rude. Don’t forget to follow up. Don’t be negative.

5) What assistance in local club promotion can the promoter presently expect from the United States Chess Federation (USCF)? And/or what assistance should the promoter expect in the future?

Right now, he or she can expect very little if anything from the USCF. The USCF has no such department and no such person who can devote time to help him in this aspect.

If I am elected, many things will change. The USCF will be a state of the art organization when it comes to Marketing, PR and Promotion. The reputation of the USCF will increase many fold. The USCF will become a viable organization in these areas.
.

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The author is a FIDE master and 11 time champion of Vietnam. He has promoted chess events too numerous to mention here. Among them is the 2006 NYC Mayor’s Cup, the highest rated chess tournament in US history. Two years earlier, he was the Captain and the Business Manager of the 2004 US Team to the Women’s World Chess Olympiad. His team captured the Silver Medal as well as 2 individual Golds and 1 individual Silver. These were the first medals ever awarded to a woman’s chess team from the United States.

He is currently a candidate for the Executive Board of the USCF.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Beauty and the Geek

Shawn and Scarlet

My favorite tv show remains the reality show "Beauty and the Geek". Re-runs can still be seen on MTV. This show has a certain charm because it throws a bunch of socially inept geeks in with a bunch of academically impaired beauties. I always wondered what it would be like to be with the cool kids. This show rang a bell with me.

Shawn Bakken had a blog until last month. Unfortunately he was the only one from Season 1 who let himself be accessable. I'm afraid he got a little frustrated with me at certain points because I started to turn his blog into a little like the USCF Forums. To say no more, we had vastly different opinions on Season 2 and Scarlet Garcia (his partner from Season 1).

I've written him since his blog disappeared and there's a chance that he may put in an appearance here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Open Forum

Do you have anything to say? This forum is years. Post your comments.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Phytoplankton Bloom off Ireland


NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Ireland is not only green on the land.

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This photo was taken on June 2, 2006 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The ocean is normally black in true-color, photo-like satellite images such as this one, but a large phytoplankton bloom lent the water its brilliant blue and green hues. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that grow in the sunlit surface waters of the ocean. When enough of the plants grow in one place, the bloom can be seen from space.

Aside from coloring ocean waters, phytoplankton play a large role in sustaining ocean ecosystems and in global climate. The tiny plants are the base of the marine food chain, and places where blooms are frequent tend to support a thriving marine population. Since the plants need nutrients like iron to grow, fertile waters are often near a continental shelf in areas where cool water from the ocean’s depths pushes to the surface. This upwelling water carries with it nutrients that had settled to the ocean floor; the nutrients allow the water to sustain large phytoplankton blooms.

Phytoplankton influence global climate by regulating gases in the atmosphere. Like all plants, phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow. When the plants die, they sink to the ocean floor, carrying the absorbed carbon with them. Over the course of the Earth’s history, the oceans have become the primary sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (it traps heat at the Earth’s surface), the Earth would be a much warmer place without phytoplankton.

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Above story courtesy of NASA.

I bet there's one aspect of the hallowed "green of Ireland" that you haven't thought about! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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Further reading: here is NASA's page.

Friday, March 16, 2007

From Don Schultz

Don and Teresa Schultz. Don is the Vice-President of the USCF.

This is a great essay by the longtime chess leader. Originally published on the USCF Forum, he graciously allowed me to reprint it here. Thank you, Don!

(USCF = United States Chess Federation.)

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The USCF ain't all that bad!

Those campaigning on the theme that our USCF leaders are little guys who are not up to managing a large national entity such as the USCF, are running for the Board based on a flawed premise. The truth is USCF not only has qualified leaders but overall is a major contributor to the development of world chess.

Take a look at chess in our country versus the rest of the world and you will see what I mean.

For example, I just played in our Amateur Team East – What a great event! I doubt there is a tournament like it any where in the world. My hat goes off to Steve Doyle and the other organizers who year after year organize that marvelous tournament.

Have you ever been to one of our national scholastic tournaments? So many teams competing, dedicated coaches. I know of no comparable tournaments anywhere in the world. Our scholastic leaders who organize these events are doing a terrific job.

Go to any Olympiad and you will marvel at the comraderie among our teammates. I remember a statement by GM Gata Kamsky immediately after the US team in Calvia won the Bronze Olympiad medal: “I’m proud to be a member of the US team!” Kamsky said.

We have fair elections. They aren’t so fair in many other federations where bribes and cheating are the rule and not the exception.

Our TDs are definitely among the best in the world.

The world rating system, where did it come from? The USCF of course.

We have a Profession Player health and benefit fund where we contribute to the medical expenses of needy professional players up to a $10,000 per individual. I know of no other national federation providing such a service.

Go down to Miami sometime and visit the Sid Samole Museum and the US and World Hall of Fame. It is, unmatched anywhere in the world.

USCF has volunteers all across the country running tournaments recruiting and generally doing all they can to help. They are our thousand points of light and the reasons why we can always say: "The best is yet to come!

I have visited federation headquarters on all continents and attended more FIDE Congresses than most, perhaps any American. I have traveled the world, lived in Europe ten years and played in their chess leagues and chess clubs. Without a doubt, I wouldn't trade chess federations with any of them.

Love chess, the USCF and the people of the our chess community,
Don Schultz

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The author is the Vice-President of the United States Chess Federation and is running for re-election this year. Known on the internet as "CHESSDON", his website is at www.chessdon.com. Also check out his cool song.

Photo, essay, and song used by permission.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Book

Years ago, I began writing a book. This is the first part of the book's introduction.

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Sometime towards the end of third grade, I got sick. I was going to be confined to my bed for days. Dad moved the TV into my bedroom.

Did you ever notice that some things in life never vary? For instance, if you turn on the television set and it’s a really good program, then it’s just ending. -- Or if it’s bad, then it’s just starting. I think it’s the law.

Now, if you’re sick, and you have 24 hours to watch, all of the programs will be bad. -- Or the good ones will come on when you’re sleeping and end just as you wake up. It’s the law.

To keep me happy, Dad and Mom went to the library and brought me a bunch of children’s books. One of them was a picture book about Daniel Boone.

I read it. I couldn’t stop. This was just as good as the TV show (Disney’s Davy Crockett)! I watched the clock. I couldn’t help it. Inevitably, the big hand came to the half hour. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe the book would vanish in a cloud of dust or something. If the TV is showing something really good, it always ends when the big hand reaches the half hour. It’s the law.

Anyway, the big hand reached the half hour but I decided to cheat. I kept reading. Something would surely happen to make me stop, but until then the story would continue. Nothing happened, a momentous nothing.

I made two discoveries: (1) there are no time limits on reading and (2) history books are interesting. Reading a history book was as interesting as watching any TV show. And it didn’t end just as you started it, especially if you went to the adult section and got a really thick, big book! As a bonus, I didn’t get into trouble for reading!

In that first batch of books was “The World of Captain John Smith” by Genevieve Foster. I asked, “What is this?” My mom answered, “He’s a little like Davy Crockett, isn’t he?”

It’s all these years later and I can’t forget that book. Foster was a famous children’s author in the forties and fifties. She wrote what she called “horizontal history.” She took a person’s life and then wrote stories from around the world during the time that person lived. The person served as an anchor on which she based a general history of the world during that lifetime.

Within a short period of time, I had read every one of her books that I could get my hands on. She’s largely forgotten now. Such a shame!

For all these years I’ve wondered why anybody else didn’t pick up on this approach to writing history. And why was this just for children?

1964 marked a divide for me. My interest in history led to the history that was currently happening on television and in the newspaper. I followed the election news avidly. The years since have been “current events” to me. I remember watching them on TV or reading about them as they happened. Before 1964 was “history."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From Susan Polgar

New USCF Election Flyer from the Polgar Team. Used with permission.

by Susan Polgar

This is the campaign flyer and poster for the upcoming USCF Executive Board Election. As I stated before, I highly recommend these 3 other candidates for the following reasons:

FM Paul Truong: He is by far the most successful person in chess marketing, promotion, public relations and management. He can bring something to this federation that no one could in the past. He will also help fix many current weaknesses of the USCF and end the destructive chess politics.

Dr. Mikhail Korenman: He has a strong record in promoting and organizing major chess events. He’s a member of the USCF Scholastic Council. He is well respected by many people, including former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, 7-time World Champion Anatoly Karpov, and many others. He can help unite the USCF.

NM Randy Bauer: He has had tremendous success as the budget director of the state of Iowa, dealing with a multibillion dollar budget. We need his financial and budgeting expertise to help end massive losses.

The current state of our federation is not healthy! We are losing money year after year while other chess organizations thrive. Sponsors don’t want to deal with us. Supporters are tired of our internal political destruction. Some board members have repeatedly violated the USCF code of ethics as well as the members' trust. There is no end to this destruction in sight unless we demand positive changes by putting the most capable people in place.

Here are some of my areas of focus for the USCF:

- Restore respectability, integrity, credibility and professionalism to the USCF.- Reestablish a sound and balanced budget.

- Develop strong cooperation and support for adult, scholastic, collegiate, correspondence and military chess.

- Establish a strong professional marketing and PR system.

- End the petty and destructive politics.

Please join me in this mission to reform the USCF. The future of the USCF is in our own hands. We cannot continue to status quo. It’s not working. It is sinking this federation.

I cannot do this alone. I need the help of a team of highly qualified and competent board members to work on fixing the USCF. That is why we need Mikhail Korenman, Randy Bauer and Paul Truong.

Thank You for Your Support! Please Vote!

This flyer is available in PDF format on my website http://www.susanpolgar.com/. Here is the link:

http://www.susanpolgar.com/The2007USExecutiveBoardElection.pdf

Please feel free to download, print it out or distribute to anyone you wish. Thank you!

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Source: susanpolgar.blogspot.com. The author has been a world champion in four different categories including Women's World Champion. She is the highest rated woman player in America and the second highest rated woman player in the world (behind her sister Judit). She is the first woman in history to earn the Grandmaster title.

Thank you Susan for letting me use this article!


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

From Bill Goichberg

Bill Goichberg, President of the USCF

A couple of months ago, I wrote some comments in the USCF Forum criticizing the management of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) website. In it I stated that I feared that an attitude of “Peace at all costs” was hindering management from objectively evaluating and acting on this area just as it hindered leaders in previous administrations from addressing huge monetary losses. Bill Goichberg responded with this little essay. Thank you, Bill!

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“Peace at all costs" isn't what cost us money. During the period 1999-2003 when most money was lost and the prior period 1996-1998 when there were also significant losses, Federation politics was probably at its most vicious ever. The political climate has greatly improved since the near bankruptcy of 2003, as have our finances.

What really cost us money was not peace at all costs, and not evil doers, but simply poor management.

Our computer system grew ever more obsolete each year from the early 90s until 2003, and attempts to update it failed costing us perhaps $200,000, until we found Mike Nolan, who unlike the outside people hired really cared about USCF and was determined to succeed.

Our once profitable book and equipment sales operation saw inventory slashed under office leaders who didn't understand chess ("Why do we need more than one book on the Sicilian Defense?"), but personnel costs for sales were not reduced, with predictably disastrous results. At the end of that ED's term, a huge National K-12 was held shortly before Christmas, and the USCF concession had very little available to sell to the disappointed parents. A new ED rebuilt the sales operation, but then it collapsed again in 2003, as USCF over spent on many things and about 50,000 catalogs that were printed were never mailed due to lack of money for postage.

In 2000 we replaced a productive alliance with ICC with a disastrous one with an untested online play provider, Games Parlor. The plan to provide free online play to members via the USCF branded server ChessLive cost us over $100,000 in one year with no noticeable membership benefit, and that's not counting about $30,000 in KCF sponsorship we rejected because we saw them as competitors to ChessLive. I was one of many who screamed, but incredibly, in May 2001 the lame duck Board renewed the Games Parlor contract, providing that company with commissions if membership increased even if GP had nothing to do with the increase! The new Board that took office in August was opposed to Games Parlor and did its best to negotiate away the worst features of that contract, but then in 2003, its ED gave Games Parlor ANOTHER renewal without Board approval!

In 2000-2001, the ED and Board decided to do "fund raising" by taxing affiliates. TLA fees skyrocketed in Oct 2000 (a 3-line TLA went from $6 to $50!), and even though a new Board rescinded the foolish increases a year later, the TLA section and USCF's relations with its affiliates have never fully recovered.

High personnel costs were also a major reason for our losses, as we discovered when the Board felt obliged to lay off a third of our employees in August 2003 and the Federation continued to function acceptably. (In November a few of the employees were rehired for the holiday season.)

If you think we have dirty, nasty politics today, you probably didn't experience 1996-2001. The atmosphere is vastly more constructive now than it was then.

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By Bill Goichberg, President of the USCF. Used by permission.


Monday, March 12, 2007

From the USCF Forum

I have been critical of the web content editor at the USCF (United States Chess Federation). I had stated that a full time person ought to at least be able to keep up with what is going on in her own organization if not with the chess scene in the country. In today’s post, I explained why I have been so critical:

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As stated elsewhere, I regard the web editor position as only the first position management ought to direct attention to other than accounting. This is because so many great things could be done on the internet if only we had people with drive and initiative to do the job. Unfortunately, what we have now is someone who celebrates Christmas in February, and whose supporters stipulate that she ought to not even have to keep up on USCF issues. Am I radical for just thinking the person in charge of news ought to contact their sources instead of just sitting back and waiting for the e-mail to arrive or the phone to ring.?

But this is only the first concern.

Then others have stated that the USCF governing committees aren't doing anything worth reporting on anyway. There is another concern.

Going onwards from there, I see that we have an advertising person on staff. A member of the accounting committee requested information on an advertising contract and were told that the contract was unavailable since the Executive Director was sick. If the advertising person does not do advertising contracts and has no access to advertising agreements, then what does that person do? It is not like we have a lot of advertising to keep track of. (Chess Life, the USCF's magazine does not have any outside advertising to speak of.)

Then I see we have a director of communications and affiliate relations. I wonder if the affiliates have heard any more from that person than any of us have. Wouldn't answering questions in the USCF forum be the kind of thing that one would expect from a Director of Communications?

And we could go on and on. The same person is responsible for Sponsorships and for Fundraising. Apparently, this is just an empty slot. Without looking, can anyone name the person who is responsible for this? Sponsorships, Fundraising, Communications, and Affiliate Relations. That is probably the key person in the whole organization. Probably does not do any of those things though. Because that same person is responsible for entering in the TLA's. I visualize some kind of clerk type who just does data entry all day.

The governance crew ought to be concerned about these job responsibilities and how they're being handled. I realize there's concerns about accounting issues and expense reduction. But I just wonder if the expenses for jobs are worth the dollars outgoing. These job functions don't seem to be getting done.

Yes, I know - I'm posting yet another downer. I just want everybody to be aware that I'm not on some kind of personal vendetta against the USCF Web Editor. I targeted that particular job position only because the job output is 1) so clear and 2) so important. It seems to me to be the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem at the USCF.

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The USCF Forums can be found at http://www.uschess.org/forums. You have to be a USCF member and specifically registered for forum use in order to enter and read what is going on.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pact with the Devil

Paul Truong, Mikhail Korenman, Susan Polgar, and Randy Bauer
from Susan Polgar's Blog. Artwork used with permission.

Dear Susan Polgar,
Here is my short story entitled “Peter Piper Picked a Pact with the Devil”. I hope you can publish it on your blog.
Peter Piper

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Dear Peter Piper,
I am sorry but while I will accept short chess fiction, I cannot accept this story. The theme of playing the devil a game of chess with the stake being one’s immortal soul is one of the oldest clich├ęs. This kind of story has been done many times. Too many times.
Susan Polgar

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Dear Susan Polgar,
I have revised my story and again ask you to publish it on your blog.
Peter Piper

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Dear Peter Piper,
Once again, I cannot accept your new story entitled “Peter Piper Played a Poisoned Pawn with the Devil”, even though I know this variation of the Najdorf Sicilian. I just don’t do pact with the devil stories. Sorry.
Susan Polgar

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Dear Susan Polgar,
This is a brand new story about a manufacturer of chess clocks. It is entitled, “So Hard, So Firmly Packed (with the Devil)”.
Peter Piper

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Dear Mr. Piper,
I do not do pact with the devil stories – no matter how cleverly they are disguised.
Susan Polgar

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Dear Susan Polgar,
Didn’t you serve refreshments at the awards ceremony in Texas? Then you will appreciate my new story, “Peter Piper Packed Devils Food Cake to the Polgar Playoffs”. I’m sure you’ll agree that this will be a swell addition to your blog.
Peter Piper

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Mr. Piper,
I am sure that I do NOT agree. Maybe I’ve not made myself clear. This still involves you playing a game of chess with the devil for your soul. This is a pact with the devil story. I DO NOT DO PACT WITH THE DEVIL STORIES!
Susan Polgar

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Dear Susan Polgar,
Maybe if I changed the story to deviled eggs?
Peter Piper

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Piper,
No! Not with eggs, not with ham, not with green eggs and ham, Sam-I-am. – oh, never mind. Susan has asked me to look into your pact with the devil mania. You will stop harassing her with your pact with the devil stories at once!
Paul Truong

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Dear Paul Truong,
According to your instructions, I am sending you my latest story for Susan’s blog. It is titled, “Peter Piper Played Chess with the Devil”.
Peter Piper

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Piper,
You misunderstood. I did not mean for you to send your stories to me instead. Do not send your stories to me. Do not send your stories to Susan. Do not send your stories to either one of us. Susan does not do pact with the devil stories!

I’m sure that Susan would consider a chess story on any other topic. What is at the bottom with your strange obsession with pact with the devil stories? I don’t mean to be rude but perhaps you should seek psychological help.
Paul Truong

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Dear Paul Truong,
Sadly, I am beyond psychological help. You see, I in fact did make a pact with the devil. The chess game was really beautiful, too. But at the last moment, just as I was going to queen my pawn, I moved into a knight fork. He gave me one last chance. I had to get a pact with the devil story on Susan’s blog by the end of the month or my soul was forfeit. My time is up and he will be coming for me any minute now. So you see, Susan won’t have to worry about me anymore.
Peter Piper

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Dear Susan,
Here’s copies of my e-mails with Peter Piper. Remember him? I have this odd feeling we won’t be hearing from him anymore.
Paul

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Dear Paul,
I didn’t want to say this before but there was this really odd character that showed up at the Polgar Playoffs. He said he’d play me a game of chess for my immortal soul and I said, “Sure, why not?” Why I just sat down and played a total stranger a game of chess, I don’t know. I just felt this strange urge to do so. Anyway, it was no big deal. The guy was a total patzer. Wandered into a skewer on move 13. I kept having these weird desires to place my pieces into knight forks. So I traded his knights and crushed him off. You don’t suppose this had anything to do with Peter Piper’s story, do you?
Susan

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Dear Susan Polgar,
I just wrote a spiffy piece of chess fiction. I call it, “Peter Piper Picked a Pact with the Devil.” Will you publish it on your blog?
Jack Le Moine

Saturday, March 10, 2007

USCF Finance

Lots of controversy about accounting issues at the USCF. Here's my take:

Accounting in the end is just score keeping. Yes, the fans to a ballgame want the scores kept properly. But they want the team coached properly and quarterbacked properly, too.

So, that's why I have been focusing my attention to other areas. We need to promote the USCF better in order to enhance our revenue side. One obvious place to do that is the internet. First, because it is to ubiquitous. Second, because it is so cheap.

We are already paying a lot of money for a fulltime web content provider. The stuff we already paid for is where we ought to look first for improvement. Places to spend more money should come second.

We have a lot of committees/councils that are doing something. People have posted differing accounts as to whether these committees are doing anything worthwhile or not. Gregory Alexander, for example, posted something that the committee he was on was discussing valuable things. Hope so, since none of it gets reported in any meaningful way.

This is what a web site is for. Others have protested that such reporting ought not be on the public site at all. The general attitude here seems to be to circle the wagons around the webmaster and forgo any progress in content on the USCF web site and to attack the accountants.

I may be a minority of one. Priorities need to be placed elsewhere than all this attention to accounting issues.

1) Committees should be doing meaningful work and that's were calls for transparancy should be directed.

2) The web site should be improved, especially in the content provided, because that is the most immediate and cost-effective place where the USCF can promote itself.