31 July 2017

The First USCF Rating System

In last week's post, The First USCF Rating List, I reproduced two Chess Life (CL) articles introducing the first USCF rating system, along with the first page of the rating list. That first list, published in the 20 November 1950 issue of CL, was accompanied by a more detailed explanation of how ratings were calculated. The article was titled,

National Rating System by William M. Byland
USCF Vice President in Charge of Rating Statistics

The first of Byland's articles said,

In this series of [four] articles we will attempt to explain the operation of the National Rating System adopted by the USCF Board of Directors at Detroit last July. In selecting a rating system to fit the needs of American chess players, we have been guided by four basic principles:

1. Universality • Our system is universal in its application, and covers all types of competition: national, regional, state, city, and club tournaments. At present, only tournament competition entitles a player to a rating. We are working on plans to include team and individual matches, and hope to have this phase of the system in effect in 1951.

2. Mathematical Operation • Our system is completely mathematical in operation, without bias or prejudice, and its mathematical correctness has been attested by several leading actuaries in the United States and Canada. Because the system registers a player's failures as well as his successes, we now have an accurate yardstick for determining the relative playing strength of United States players, based not on reputation or self-claim, but upon cold performance facts.

3. No Barriers to Progress • Our system has no artificial harriers to impede a player's progress. It is based on the principle that only his actual performance record should determine his classification, and no bars are set up to prevent a player's rapid progress from being reflected in his current rating -- he is not required to progress laboriously upward from class to class.

4. No Premium for Inactivity • Our system, on the contrary, encourages activity on the part of all players, but does not, thereby, render tournament participation a hardship. In order to be rated, a player must participate in at least one rated tournament every three years.

Rating lists will be published twice each year: as of July 31 and December 31. Our first rating list, as of July 31, 1950, appears in this issue, and covers 2306 players; on future lists, only ratings of USCF members below the Master class will be published, and the names of inactive players (those who have not participated in a rated tournament for three years) will be omitted. Also in this issue is a listing of the 582 tournaments, covering a 30-year period, used in determining the current ratings of the players on the list. This tournament roll makes no pretensions to completeness, and contains only those tournaments whose cross-tables of play were published and readily available. It is interesting to note how the yearly list of tournaments has expanded since 1921. and the increasing publicity these events have received over the years (in which field CHESS LIFE has been an undoubted pioneer). For the long labor of compilation and computation involved in these listings. which furnish an invaluable base for future ratings, we are deeply indebted to Rating Statistician Kenneth Harkness.

(To be continued)

The article preceded a list of the tournaments included in the rating calculation, which dated back almost 30 years. The start of the list is shown below, where the last column is an average rating for the event.


Because they take too much space for a blog post, I won't reproduce the other three articles in the Byland series. They covered the following topics:-

CL, 5 December 1950
* How a Player's Average Rating is Computed
* How Performance Ratings are Computed

CL, 20 December 1950
* Computation of Performance Ratings for Round Robin Tournaments
* Computation of Performance Ratings for Swiss System Tournaments

CL, 5 January 1951
* Special Provisions of Rating System

That fourth article (5 January 1951) was accompanied by a CL editorial.


Enough has been written by hasty as well as thoughtful critics to indicate that a good many features of the new National Rating System have not been properly understood nor correctly evaluated. We have therefore asked Mr. Byland to prepare an article for an early issue in which the more important points of misconception can be stated and clarified. But it might not be amiss at this time to repeat a few salient points without awaiting for Mr. Byland's more complete statement.

First. because of the fact that not all tournament scores were available in sufficient detail for analysis, certain players (particularly in certain sections of the country) suffered from some injustice in the compilation of their initial performance ratings. We are aware of this fact, which will be self-remedying in time as more recent tournament reports are received in fuller detail from more tournaments. It was a fault that could not he removed from the first compilation.

Second, it must be remembered that these performance ratings do not pretend a permanence for all time, nor do they evaluate a player's total record over the years. Unlike FIDE master titles, these ratings are based solely upon recent performance and in no case represent an honorary degree for past performance. Therefore, there are a number of players whose best years of tournament performance occurred before the period covered by the ratings. Their present standing. therefore, does not indicate (nor can it) the exalted position they would have held if this system had been in operation some twenty or thirty years ago. For example. Dr. Edward Lasker's present performance rating is a very modest one compared with what it would have been if these ratings were based upon performances some thirty years ago.

Third, it must also be remembered that these ratings are based exclusively upon performance in American events. For that reason, such outstanding players as USCF Vice President Hans Kmoch and UCSF Life Director George Koltanowski are excluded. Their notable performances abroad have no bearing upon performance ratings in a national system.

Fourth. the national ratings do not pretend to evaluate ability or potential talent comparatively -- they merely record results of actual performance mathematically as a convenient yardstick to settle a number of disputes as to precedence. Such a standard is essential (even in chess heavens like the USSR which has a very elaborate system of rating) and are common to a number of other sports besides chess.

Finally, let us repeat once again since a number of readers seem to have misinterpreted previous statements Any tournament with two USCF members in the entry which is five or more rounds and not a speed or restricted move tournament is eligible for rating. BUT future rating lists will only contain the names of USCF members. The USCF will of necessity keep record of all ratings, but we will publish only those of members in good standing whose dues are supporting the cost of such an elaborate and exhaustive system.

Montgomery Major

Although the theory behind the rating calculations has evolved through the years, and the name of the organization has changed from USCF to USchess, the rating system remains as the nucleus of the services offered by the U.S. chess federation.

30 July 2017

Physics or Metaphysics?

Sometimes it seems that almost any subject works in the context of this series on 'The Sociology of Chess'. Take this video, for example.

"Physics and Chess" by Richard Feynman (2:41) • 'Physicist Richard Feynman introduces a strange and exciting analogy between chess and physics.'

For a transcript of the monologue, see Feynman: Using chess to explain science (chessbase.com). It starts,

One way that's kind of a fun analogy to try to get some idea of what we're doing here to try to understand nature is to imagine that the gods are playing some great game like chess. Let's say a chess game. And you don't know the rules of the game, but you're allowed to look at the board from time to time, in a little corner, perhaps. And from these observations, you try to figure out what the rules are of the game, what the rules [are] of the pieces moving.

Is this physics or metaphysics?

28 July 2017

Chess Uniform Contest

'Do you know that chess is the only sport -- and one of the oldest -- that does not have a uniform?' No, I didn't know that.

St. Louis Fashion Fund to create the first ever "Chess Uniform" (7:30) • 'The McGraw Show: KTRS.com'

Featuring: Susan Sherman, Chairperson of the St. Louis Fashion Fund; Reuben Reul Riddick, fashion designer.

By the time you see this post, the event will probably be over, but for reference: Pinned! A Designer Chess Challenge.; 'Join us on August 1st for the opening ceremony of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup and the unveiling of the winning design'. Another page from the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, A Dress for Chess, informs,

Six emerging designers participating in the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator have been paired with six chess grand masters to create two chess-inspired garments -- a uniform piece and one whimsical piece.

For previous, whimsical attempts at chess fashion, see Not the Halloween Gambit (October 2013) and Dressing Up or Dressing Down? (December 2016).

27 July 2017

The Fifth Entry

In my previous post, 2017 CJA Award Entries, I noted,

The fifth entry for chess art is probably the most deserving to win an award, although it's unlikely for a number of reasons.

After writing that I discovered the artist's Wikipedia page, Jovan Prokopljevic, which says,

He was awarded the first prize, 'Best Cartoon' category, by the Chess Journalists of America in 2004.

This is confirmed on an archived CJA page, CJA 2004 Journalism Awards (chessjournalism.org; '"Try a Transfusion of Empire Chess" by Jovan Prokopljevic. Empire Chess, Summer 2003'). In my own archive I found an excellent example of Prokopljevic's work, shown below.

The image description, from a 2001 eBay auction, said,

Collection of 13 caricatures of FIDE champions (from Steinitz to Kasparov) published by Chess Informant; illustrated by J. Prokopljevic 1996. All prints on approx. 8.5" x 11" pages in color. Each caricature has name of champ and dates of title reigns. Comes in collection folder with all caricatures on front. Folder autographed by artist on inside pocket.

Several collections of Prokopljevic's cartoons have been published, but I wasn't able to catalog them in the time available for this post. I'll save that for another time, as in Chess Champion Trading Cards (July 2016).

25 July 2017

2017 CJA Award Entries

I could have written this post at the beginning of the month, but vacations being what they are, it's coming at the end. Two months after the 2017 CJA Awards Announcement (May 2017), the Chess Journalists of America have announced their 2016 CJA Awards -- Entries Received, where, in true CJA tradition, the year on the page's title was not updated from last year's page of the same name. You don't have to take my word that the page is for 2017, because the page's address says '2017entries'.

I found the page through the CJA's Facebook page, Chess Journalists of America. The relevant post mentions, 'We have record numbers of entries and organizations entering', which is informally confirmed by scrolling the page of 'Entries Received'. The category 'Best Chess Blog' also has a record number of entries -- albeit on the low side of the record -- i.e. zero entries.

But let's not dwell on the disappointing; let's focus on the upbeat. My second favorite category, 'Best Chess Art', has five entries. Four of them, shown in the following composite image, are covers.

Top row: Chess Life; September 2016, Scott Raymond; April 2017, Peter Shevenell
Bottom row: Chess Life Kids; February 2017, Alex Krivenda; April 2017, Chandler Ellison

The fifth entry for chess art is probably the most deserving to win an award, although it's unlikely for a number of reasons. The artist is not American, the publication is not Chess Life, and the name on the list of entries is misspelled 'J. Prokopljovic' instead of '[Jovan] Prokopljevic'.

The CJA award winners will be announced in a few weeks. It's more exciting than the Oscars!

24 July 2017

The First USCF Rating List

The 5 January 1950 issue of Chess Life (CL), the first issue of the new decade, announced a new USCF service.

A National Rating System Planned To Cover Local And National Events
Vice-President, United States Chess Federation

For the past several years the United States Chess Federation has contemplated the adoption of a system for rating the chess players of the United States. The work involved in setting up a practical rating plan has, of necessity, been time-consuming; it was important to give consideration to rating practices used in certain other countries, as well as to examine and study original ideas proposed by American players, for we were determined that the system finally adopted would be the best obtainable, and one eminently fair to all of our country's players.

The studies and the preliminary detail have now been completed, and your Federation officers will shortly he presented with a definitive rating plan for their approval; it is, therefore, our confident hope that a national rating system will be in effect early in 1950. Full details of the final plan adopted will he published in future issues of CHESS LIFE -- but right now we can assure you of certain features of the plan -- features you have every right to expect under a fair and practical system of rating:

1) It will be a rating system designed for all chess players in the United States and will give weight to performances in club, local, and state competition. as well as in the large national tournaments.

2) It will be a completely fair system, entirely mathematical in operation, and only the player's actual performance -- not anyone's personal opinion on his chessic prowess -— will be taken into consideration.

3) It will provide the easiest possible method of -- and incentive for -- improvement and advanceent to the aspiring player.

4) Last, but not least, it will finally solve the perplexing problem of which American players can properly be dubbed "masters", a question which has certainly led to some heated controversies in the past.

We believe that such a rating system will prove extremely popular with the chess players of the United States. We feel that practically all of you are anxious to learn of your strength and standing in the national chess community (the popularity of the various correspondence rankings amply substantiates this view) and we are confident that our national rating system will meet with your instantaneous support and wholehearted cooperation.

The first rating list was published in the 20 November 1950 issue of CL.

The list was the subject of an editorial in the same issue.


With this issue we introduce the long-promised and long-awaited National Rating System for U.S. chess players; and it will not be amiss to comment briefly upon certain aspects of this system which might possibly be misunderstood by readers who have had little occasion to study the many problems which confront the designers of any such system of mathematical evaluation.

We do not intend to discuss the methods whereby these rating are established, but will leave these explanations to experts more qualified to speak; instead we will content ourselves with a few more general remarks upon the system as a whole.

First, to avoid possible confusion, let us emphasize the fact that the USCF system is independent of any international designation of titles -- the fact that the two U.S. Grandmasters in our list are also FIDE International Grandmasters is a coincidence in the sense that the USCF might qualify other U.S. players, whose performance earned the rank, as U.S. Grandmasters without FIDE conferring upon them the titles of International Grandmasters.

In consequence, there immediately appears an apparent discrepancy in the fact that those players recognised by FIDE as International Masters appear upon our list variously as Senior Masters and Masters. Some might question why all the Senior Masters are not International Masters and why all the International Masters are not Senior masters. The answer lies largely in the fact that a number of U.S. players might well be qualified as International Masters, if they had had sufficient international experience and reputation; but since they have confined their talents to this country, they cannot be recognized by FIDE as International Masters whatever their ability. But we can and do recognise their standing by according them the title of Senior Master upon their performance in this country. Even such an outstanding player as C.J.S. Purdy of Australia is not an International Master. because be has not played outside of Australia in international events.

Second, to still any charge of discrimination from those who may feel certain players have been over-rated or under-rated on this list, let us emphasize now the fact that these initial ratings are based upon tournament play over a number of years and that the ratings have been established by purely mathematical formulas upon actual performance. No committee has arbitrarily decided the standings of any player upon a personal opinion of his ability. But, it is admitted, that this first list cannot be considered absolutely comprehensive for the one fact that the complete details of all tournaments played during this period were not available for computation. Therefore, it is possible that a number of players have been deprived of full recognition in this initial list, merely because the data was not made available whereby to accord them complete ratings. This will be a self-remedying fault as the clubs and association submit in proper form the required details of their various events.

Naturally enough, this first listing does not cover all USCF members, for besides those whose practice has been in inaccessable tournament records, there are many members who have never competed in any formal tournaments. These must compete in formal tournaments, whether club, state or national, in order to acquire a standing.

Montgomery Major

Major was the first editor of CL. For more about him, see Shaping Chess History (September 2016).

23 July 2017


What's this? Back-to-back posts on Top eBay Chess Items by Price? That's what happens when a vacation starts at the beginning and ends at the end of the fortnightly series 'Top eBay Chess Items'.

The item pictured below was titled 'Large 19th C O/C French Genre Oil Painting, The Chess Game, Original Frame'. It sold for US $475 after 45 bids from 18 bidders.

The description said,

Hand painted on stretched canvas this 19th century, Victorian oil painting depicts an 18th century chess game between a young lady and a gentleman. They are sitting in a lavish French parlor with a parquet floor, French painted screen, and gilded hanging chandelier. This original Painting is signed in the lower right hand corner, "Jules Brenton". Although this 21-1/4" by 27-1/2" Painting has been professionally wax lined there are no in-painted restorations. The 19th century frame measures 32" by 38-1/4" and has some gesso chips, plus a rebuilt upper left hand corner and an old gold painted surface.

By coincidence I found the same painting (and frame, which I cropped out of the image shown above) on Jules Brenton Oil Painting on Canvas of an Interior Scene (ebth.com). On that auction, which ended about two months before the eBay auction, the painting sold for $9 after 10 bids.

09 July 2017

Napoleon and Josephine Biscuit

Here on Top eBay Chess Items by Price, we often see porcelain figurines or figural groups, as in Soviet Propaganda Porcelain (August 2016), but I don't recall seeing bisque porcelain. The auction for the piece below, titled 'Napoleonic Biscuit Group of Napoleon & Josephine playing Chess, Scheibe Alsbach', said 'Sold for US $2100', but the eBay index of closed listings said it sold for $1500, 'Best offer accepted'.

The description said,

German bisque or biscuit figural group of Napoleon and Josephine playing chess. Early 20th century, marked. Nice quality, every detail well worked out.

Signature & Marks: No signature. Crossed S for Scheibe
Origin / Artist / Maker: German, Scheibe Alsbach porcelain factory
Material: Bisque porcelain, biscuit porcelain
Size: H/W/D: 20/23/13 cm or 7,87/9,05/5,12 inch.
Condition: This figural group in very good condition with a small restoration done to her left little finger. Furthermore no restorations, no cracks, no hairlines.

According to The chess games of Napoleon Bonaparte (chessgames.com; 'Number of games in database: 3'), 'Napoleon fostered a deep love for chess throughout his life'. According to Napoleon Bonaparte and Chess (chesshistory.com), 'Each of the three "Napoleon games" conveniently comes with a nice story, but nice stories are not chess history.'

07 July 2017

No Monkey Business Here

Is this a drawing or a photo?

What's My Next Move? © Flickr user Maureen Barlin under Creative Commons.

It's neither. The description said,

Street art in London, Shoreditch, June 2017. Artist?

The tags said,

London, East End, Shoreditch, street art, spray can art, painting, chimpanzee

and of course,

chess board

The position on the board is decidedly strange, but what do you expect from a chimp?


Later: Another, uncropped view of the same street art is called Move in silence... (flickr.com). Do the names Spitalfields, Brick Lane, or Trafik mean anything to you?

06 July 2017

Browne: 'I got this aggression that never quits'

After last week's Fischer: 'I'm not seeing people', let's squeeze one more post out of the aging Sports Illustrated (SI) reports on chess. The American magazine tends to spotlight American sports celebrities and chess is no exception.

Sports Illustrated, 12 January 1976

The article starts,

It is amazing.There he was, a child lost in the concrete anonymity of Brooklyn, solitary, restless, different. And then he cultivated a demanding friend: chess. Obsessed, he would stay up half the night replaying the games of the masters, scorning school and withdrawing deeper into himself. Distressed by his isolation, his protective, foreign-born mother introduced him to the famed Manhattan Chess Club where he became renowned for his killer instinct. A sometimes petulant prodigy, he was given to gloating about "destroying the weakies" when he won and scattering the pieces off the board when he lost.

At 16, declaring that "teachers are stupid," he quit Erasmus Hall High School and became a chess vagabond. He toured the world, winning tournament after tournament, complaining about playing conditions and accusing the Russians of conspiring against him. And then, after settling in California, he mounted an all-out assault to wrest the world chess title away from the vaunted Soviet champion.

What's that? You heard it all before? But that is the amazing thing: you have not. Though the stated facts of their careers are exactly the same, the prodigal son of Brooklyn referred to is not Grandmaster Robert James Fischer but Grandmaster Walter Shawn Browne.

For the rest of the article, see Making All the Right Moves, where the photo shown above is captioned, 'Walter Browne is briefly motionless, not the normal state for this go-go grandmaster who feels he can beat anybody at anything -- and the Russians at chess'. For more about Browne on this blog, see Six Times U.S. Champ (June 2015).

04 July 2017

July 1967 'On the Cover'

Unlike the previous edition of this series on American chess 50 years ago, June 1967 'On the Cover', which featured a crosstable on one side and Bobby Fischer on the other, this month we have two subjects which were (and still are) covered less frequently.

Left: '1967 U.S. Women's Champion'
Right: 'In Montreal, at Expo, with Care-ease.'

Chess Life

Edith Lucie Weart, left, presents the cup which she donated in 1951. 1967 U.S. Women's Champion Mrs. Gisela Gresser accepts the cup immediately following the tournament.

The winner has her own Wikipedia page: Gisela Kahn Gresser. The presenter was recently featured on a top American blog: Edith Lucie Weart (tartajubow.blogspot.com).

Chess Review

Paul Keres, as member of the Estonian delegation to Expo, the World's Fair at Montreal, played twelve clocked games simultaneously at Sir George Williams University. On the cover, he is considering his game with Max Guse and the move which he made, 24.RxP+.

In case you're wondering, the phrase 'Care-ease' used on the cover of CR mimics the pronunciation of 'Keres'. Only one game from the simultaneous exhibition has found its way into Chessgames.com; see Paul Keres (1967).

03 July 2017

Site Stats and Security

Let's have a recap of this series on site statistics:-

  • 2017-06-05: Chess Stats Year-Over-Year • 'In the past few months I've noticed a big drop in the number of daily visitors and I would like to know why.'
  • 2017-06-12: Site Stats and Adsense • 'I doubt that these Adsense issues are responsible for the decline in visitor traffic, but they don't help.'
  • 2017-06-19: Site Stats and Images • 'My server log only tells me that nearly all of the accesses were from Google.'
  • 2017-06-26: Adsense Stats Year-Over-Year • 'That makes a downward trend on the server log and an upward trend on ad impressions.'

Google Blogspot, Google Adsense, Google search. It's not hard to see the common denominator here. Google everything? While I was compiling that list of recent posts, I noted a typo on one of them and opened the post in edit. On checking the correction, I got the usual error message 'Your preview failed to load' (which has been happening for a few years already), followed by another usual error message:-

This page contains HTTP resources which may cause mixed content affecting security and user experience if blog is viewed over HTTPS.

Fix / Dismiss / Learn more

Instead of the ususal 'Dismiss', I accidentally clicked 'Fix'. Preview then showed a broken image, so I closed the edit without publishing. The post had disappeared entirely and the source of the post was marked 'DRAFT', so I again opened the post in edit to republish it. The image link had been changed from HTTP to HTTPS. I changed it back to HTTP, saved, and everything was OK (except a Google+ duplicate, which I deleted).

All that rigmarole occurs because I store the blog images on my own m-w.com domain. The 'Learn more' option on the last error message leads to Fix mixed content on your blog (support.google.com). While researching this I discovered the page HTTPS as a ranking signal (webmasters.googleblog.com; August 2014). It says,

We're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it's only a very lightweight signal -- affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content --while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

Is this the reason for the drop in the number of daily visitors on my site? One of the links in that article goes to Youtube.

Google I/O 2014 - HTTPS Everywhere (45:44) • 'Published on Jun 26, 2014'

The description of the video says,

Data delivered over an unencrypted channel is insecure, untrustworthy, and trivially intercepted. We must protect the security, privacy, and integrity of our users data. In this session we will take a hands-on tour of how to make your websites secure by default: the required technology, configuration and performance best practices, how to migrate your sites to HTTPS and make them user and search friendly, and more. Your users will thank you.

That promises more work that has nothing to do with the content of the site, but I need to look into it at some time in the months ahead. In the meantime, I'll review the recent article How you can cut Google out of your life ... mostly (yahoo.com). I'm afraid it won't be so easy for webmasters.

02 July 2017

Do Cheerleaders Play Chess?

Every few months the short list for Video Friday (last seen a few days ago in Chess on Network Television) includes an episode of 'Cheerleaders in the Chess Club'. For various reasons it never gets picked for the final post, but maybe it works for this series on 'The Sociology of Chess'. You be the judge.

Cheerleaders in the Chess Club - Ep1 / S1 (10:55) • 'Published on Dec 17, 2015. Cheerleaders in the Chess Club - Episode 1 / Season 1'

The first chess sequence starts with the making of a video within this video:-

Gwen: Welcome to the Bulldog Chess Club. In today's episode we will be talking to Garth about a series of opening moves called the King's Gambit. Garth, what can you say about this exciting style of play? • Garth: Well, Gwen, the King's Gambit is not for the light of heart. Exposing your King so soon might seem risky but there's a reason why it was the third most popular opening of the 17th century. • Howard (holding cue cards): 19th century. That is a '9'! • Garth: It looks like a '7'. Some people put a line through their '7's...

That's shows more knowledge about chess than a previous Video Friday pick this month, 1.h4 h5 2.g4 g5, so we're off to a reasonable start.

In Cheerleaders in the Chess Club (TV Series 2015–), the IMDb informs, 'Country: Canada'. I'm a day late, but Happy Sesquicentennial, Canada!