28 September 2014

The First USCF Chessathon

In Chessathons and SuperNationals, I quoted former USCF Executive Director Al Lawrence, '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.' Lawrence announced the first Chessathon in the August 1992 Chess Life (CL).

Last year in this column we set a goal of 64.000 members by June 30 -- the end of USCF's then-new, 1992 fiscal year. As of 30 April 1992, the U.S. Chess Federation already has a paid membership of 63.418 -- the highest ever in our 53-year history! [...] In ten months, total paid membership is up more than 10%. Scholastic membership has soared by 97%! USCF's junior publication, the bi-monthly School Mates, has seen its circulation rocket by 79% to more than 13.400.

THE U.S. CHESS FESTIVAL -- NEW INITIATIVES: In July the U.S. Chess Federation will stage what may be the biggest promotional event in its history -- the U.S. Chessathon. Thousands of children, many of them sponsored by corporate America, will play in a simultaneous exhibition on Saturday, 18 July, in New York City's Central Park to raise money for chess charities. Hundreds of volunteers will help.

The first page of CL's five-page feature in the November 1992 issue is shown below.

The lead paragraph started,

The U.S. Chess Festival was probably the most ambitious project ever undertaken by the USCF. Thousands of staff hours went into the planning of the various activities held 11-24 July. Spearheaded by Assistant Director Daniel Edelman and Executive Director Al Lawrence, the festivities began with the Game/10 and Game/15 Championships, which were held at Hunter College in Manhattan.

The caption under the large photo said,

Judit Polgar poses with U.S. Congressman Ben Gilman. At right, USCF Accountant Art Griggs distributes free literature during the Chessathon. At far right, Judit takes on the Raging Brooks from Adam Clayton Powell JHS.

CL's cover pictured the three Polgar sisters along with the caption, "We'll Take Manhattan..."

ON THE COVER: The Polgars -- sisters Zsuzsa, Sofia, and Judit -- took Manhattan by storm during the USCF's Chessathon. It was a media blitzkrieg which resulted in almost constant public exposure for the USCF and its scholastic programs.

Other events included the Third Harvard Cup, Man vs. Machine, tournament ('Man' won 18-7) and the category 12 Samuel Reshevsky Memorial, won by GM Julio Granda Zuniga, a half point ahead of Judit Polgar, who turned 16 during the event. Online reports from the early-1990s are unusual, but I found one on rec.games.chess:- [1992-07] Chessathon.

Lawrence wasn't exaggerating when he called the Chessathon 'the biggest promotional event in [USCF] history', but he did undercount the number of them. Instead of '1992-1996, five annual U.S. Chessathons', the events continued into the 2000s.

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