28 August 2017

Early USCF Rating Issues

In a previous post on the early USCF rating system, Master Ratings and Master Titles, I noted,

Between the publication of the second and third lists of USCF ratings, the USCF grappled with a number of new issues provoked by the introduction of ratings.

The third list, published in the 5 October 1951 issue of Chess Life, was accompanied by another long editorial by Montgomery Major that addressed those issues. I've appended his complete statement below, but summarize the main points here:-

  • Restricting published ratings to USCF members only
  • Rating club level events
  • Submitting timely & complete tournament reports
  • Excluding inactive players

Additional details on the calculation of ratings were included in notes to the lists.

Top: Notes to 'National Chess Ratings'
Bottom: Notes to 'List of Rated Tournaments'

Here is a copy of the full editorial.


In this issue we publish the Third National Rating List; and the first feature of it that strikes the eye is the evident reduction in the number of names listed as compared with previous listings. For in this list only the names of USCF members in good standing are published, and a regrettably large number of tournament players have yet to realize that it is to their own advantage to join the Federation. The very simple truth that the growth of the Federation is reflected by the increase in the number of tournaments staged throughout the United Status and that chess activity as a whole has received much of its impetus from the constant (if sometimes intangible) influence of the Federation has not penetrated into their consciousness. So a list that is composed of some 2503 names of active chess players has been drastically reduced in culling out the names of non-members.

Those active chess players, not represented on the present list, may assure the listing of their names in the next list (as of December 31, 1951) by joining the USCF before the end of the year, or by submitting to the Editor of CHESS LIFE a 50c rating fee to cover the second half of 1951.

The second feature that attracted our attention in editing this list for publication was the remarkable fact that there were more Federation members who were not represented on the list than there were those whose names appeared among the 2503 players. This curious fact means, of course, that the backbone of the Federation consists of the unassuming club players who never compete in organised tournaments, yet recognize nevertheless the essential fact that chess must be supported through a national organization to continue in healthy growth and to create the additional outlets for the playing of chess that are so necessary and desirable.

Yet many of these USCF members, not represented on this present list of rated players, should have their names enrolled, for they do play in club tournaments even if they modestly refrain from competition on a state or regional basis. But for them to have their names enscribed on the next listing, will necessitate a little affirmative cooperation from them and their chess clubs. All that is needed is the submission of detailed reports on club tournaments. There is no charge whatever for the service of rating such tournaments, and the cost to the club is limited to a postage stamp and a little well-rewarded effort in compiling and forwarding the necessary data. Some clubs have alertly recognised the duty of the club to submit such data on behalf of the membership; but the majority of chess clubs have not yet realised that either the opportunity or duty exists.

In this connection, it might be well to point out that the strength of the tournament (or its lack of strength) has no bearing whatever upon its value to a well-balanced rating system. Some clubs have submitted data on their "Class A" tournaments and omitted information on the "Class B" and "Class C" events in the mistaken assumption that these latter events wore unimportant. But, actually, no event that fulfills the requirements as to number of rounds, etc. of the rating system, is unimportant. It is just as necessary to compute the rating of the veriest dub that ever pushed a pawn as it is to compile the record of a master. All are equal in importance to the ratings; and a well-rounded ratings system finds the "Class C" and "Class D" players just as important to its computations as the "Grandmaster."

Finally, for a completely balanced system, it is very important that all possible events be reported. as otherwise the system becomes unbalanced and may eventually give undue importance to players in certain sections of the country at the expense of other regions. For this last requisit, it is essential that clubs and associations cooperate by sending in official reports, which contain data that can frequently be obtained in no other way. A newspaper or chess publication report of a tournament (in fact, almost never) contains all the essential detalls for rating.

For example, in any Swiss System event, it is no help whatever to know the final points scored by each player, unless it is also indicated the individual players that each contestant faced with the results of all individual encounters. The total scores alone are absolutely meaningless for rating purposes. Some players apparently do not understand this fact, for they blithely submit for rating the total scores without any of the needed details.

It has been unfortunate that despite the most excellent cooperation received in most localities, there remain still a few blind spots where no cooperation has been accorded, despite all attempts of the Editor by personal letter to gain contact and information, We still hope by persistence to remove some of these blind spots from the next rating, and request the assistance of our readers in doing this.

For example, although personal reguests for information have been sent to these regions, we have been as yet unable to gain any detailed information for rating on the fairly recently played New Mexico State Championship, Vermont State Championship, Georgia State Championship, and the Southern Ass'n Tournament at Asheville, N.C. We have also been unable to recover details of earlier tournaments in Minnesota and Delaware, although we understand that State Championships were held in these states this year.

In more recent events, while we know that in California there were two preliminary qualifying tournaments in North and South California, we have just now received reports on these qualifying events. We have also now obtained full information on the California opened and closed championship events.

We trust that our readers will lend assistance in seeing that these and other events are reported, as well as any events in 1950 which have not been listed in any List of Rated Tournaments. A rating system is a cooperative venture, and it can only succeed over a period of time if It receives complete support from those who play in or manage tournaments. Players in the future, on entering a tournament, should make certain that its results are to be reported for the National Rating System. Otherwise, they may fail to gain their just due for participation in the event.

In the National Rating List as published, there are one or two omissions which may require explanation. For example, the name of Herbert Seidman is missing from the list of "Masters." This does not mean he has dropped in rating, but merely that he has not played in any rated event during the required period to maintain an active status. His name will be restored in the next listing, due to his participation in the U.S. Championship and New York State Championship. Other names of USCF members have been omitted for the same reason of inactivity and will be restored as soon as record of participation in a rated event is received. While in the list of Canadian players, there is the noticeable omission of Frank R. Anderson from the list (notable for the fact that he has been very active in Canadian chess events). But Mr. Anderson has not participated in any U.S. event in the required period, and his activity in Canada is not therefore pertinent. For the reason of non-participation in any rated event within the limits of the system, the name of U.S. Co-Champion Miss N. May Karff is also omitted. Her appearance at Detroit in the Women's Open Championship was not subject to rating because it was an event of too few participants for calculation. Miss Karff's name will, of course, reappear promptly on the next list after the holding of the U.S. Women's Championship in New York this fall.

Montgomery Major

As for 'N. May Karff', her obituary in the New York Times, Mona May Karff Dies at 86; A Dominant Figure in Chess (nytimes.com; January 1998), explained,

By [1950], the woman who had styled herself "N. May Karff," typically without explaining what the "N" stood for, had moved to New York and emerged as Mona May Karff, a name she used when she made a tour of Europe in 1948 for the One World movement.

She was listed on the previous (2nd) rating list at 2086.

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