14 September 2014

Chessathons and SuperNationals

Ask and you shall receive? A few months ago, in The USCF in Numbers, I noted two spurts of chess growth in the U.S., one in the 1970s and one in the 1990s. The first was due to Fischer, but 'As for the growth in the 1990s and the subsequent decline, I have no ready explanation.'

Some time afterward, I learned that the 1990s saw The Start of the Scholastic Boom, and quoted an insider saying, '"I would like to think that stability at the top had something to do with the growth. Executive Director Al Lawrence's philosophy was simple: In order for the USCF to promote chess, you first have to promote the USCF."'

The current issue of Chess Life (CL) -- September 2014, starting p.20 -- has a ten page cover story by the same Al Lawrence, titled 'OUR DIAMOND ANNIVERSARY; Celebrating 75 years of the USCF through the covers of Chess Life'. It summarizes the USCF's history decade by decade. The page covering the 1990s is pictured above. It starts,

1989-1998 • At the peak: From 1992-1996, five annual U.S. Chessathons pitted the best players in the world against school kids in a giant exhibition that made national and international news. The 1994 U.S. Chessathon alone captured 450,000 onsite spectators, since it was held in the main room of Grand Central Station. In 1996, the event moved atop the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York City’s Harbor.

USCF celebrated its 50th year under President Harold Winston, a guiding partner to your reporter when I took over as executive director in 1988. Scholastic chess boomed. Corporate sponsorship climbed. Book and equipment income rocketed.

After giving credit to then CL editor Glenn Petersen, to staff in the USCF's HQ, to Max Dlugy ('USCF’s first grandmaster president'), to Garry Kasparov, to the 1990 Olympiad silver medal winners, and to Gata Kamsky ('the youngest U.S. champion since Fischer'), the page finished,

All this teamwork outside and inside the office over two decades brought USCF dividends. In 10 years, membership went up by 34,000 members to more than 85,000, smashing the Bobby Fischer record of 59,000. I had worked for USCF for 15 years.

Decision making leads to conflict. When Don Schultz became president in 1996, I left, but not before USCF approved the first scholastic "SuperNational," a mega-event that now regularly draws at least 5,000 K-12 players to Nashville, Tennessee.

Chessathons and SuperNationals? Decision making and conflict? Receive and you shall ask for more.

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