Dear Chess Federation…

Sadly, it doesn’t matter which major chess federation this open letter is addressed to because they’ve all committed the same heinous crime; sending the game of chess back into the dark ages. They’re slowing killing the game we love so much and their destructive weapon of choice is the most dangerous weapon of all, politics. Yes politics, that greasy (at best) business in which the only thing that matters is the feeding of one’s ego. I apologize if I sound a bit bitter but year after year, I’ve watched public interest in chess dwindle away with the very people we’ve elected into chess federation offices doing nothing to change that. At least when you vote for a politician in a democracy you know you’re voting for the lessor of a few evils and you know all promises made during the campaign will not be fulfilled. You know you’re getting the short end of the stick from the get go!

Here’s a little story about the misplaced efforts of one organization I belong to. A while back, I received an email from this organization. Because I am a voting member, I am privy to things the average non voting member never hears about. This email asked me to contact the Chamber of Commerce of a very high profile city to have them pick a local chess club to be its business of the year (or some such nonsense). I would have considered doing this if it were an inner city chess club in need of support. However, this was a wealthy chess club where business power brokers played chess (and made business deals). I smelled a political rat and decided to ignore the email. Unfortunately, the emails kept coming, including some personal emails trying to convince me it would be to my benefit to lend my support. Due to the litigious nature of this organization, I’ll leave the details vague. The point I’m getting at is that it would have been better to use the time, effort and money expended by this chess organization to, dare I say it, promote chess in inner city schools or help out a struggling local chess club. I guess trying to better the lives of children isn’t as important as promoting the chess clubs of the wealthy and famous.

Then there’s all those lawsuits within the federation. Really? You would think the last place you’d find people suing each other would be in a chess federation. Wrong! Without naming names to keep the legal eagles away from The Chess Improver, I watched in horror as a lawsuit a while back financially ate away potential funds that could be used to promote the game. The worst part about the majority of federation related lawsuits is that they’re in house, involving the politicians within the governing body of the federation. Why not have an arbitration system within the federation that prevents such a waste of money? I don’t mind paying yearly dues but what I do mind is discovering that my money, as well as other member’s money, is not being used properly.

In fairness, there are ranking members of the various chess organizations that truly care about the game and promoting it. They’re the members you seldom hear about because they’re too busy trying to bring chess into inner city schools as well as positively promoting the game. It’s no coincidence that these same good people tend to teach chess as well. However, when you have people on the federation’s top who seem to have very little in the way of chess related qualifications for holding office, those doing the good work get know where.

When it’s time to vote for a new Grand Poobah of the federation or board members, I always have to read the candidate information two or three times because I never seem to discover exactly what chess experience these people have. I mean, if you need open heart surgery, you’d seek out the most qualified heart surgeon rather than the mechanic at your local gas station (who could probably do a better job running a chess federation), right? I’m not a picky man (in most matters) but I do want my federation officials to at least have some experience regarding chess. Owning as chess set doesn’t qualify you to run the business. Of course, business experience is necessary if you’re going to run a large organization but you can’t tell me there isn’t at least one person who can run a business and has played a lot of chess. I keep expecting Donald Trump to run for Grand Poobah of my federation. At least with Trump, I’d know we were doomed from the start.

Then there’s the campaign mud slinging that comes in the form of postcards and emails. I’ve received both in which one candidate makes a point of dragging out the other candidate’s dirty laundry. I really don’t need to know that candidate “A” likes to wear his wife’s clothing from six to nine o’clock in the evening. I don’t care as long as he can do a good job. While never really receiving such information I will say that what I have received has been close enough to qualify as political mud slinging. I always assumed that those running for federation offices are adults. Judging from some of those postcards and emails, I’m wrong.

There was a time in the past when chess federations were run by chess players. Because they were chess players, they worked to make things better for those who were new to the game and those who played the game. They may not have been the best at running a day to day business but they took care of their federation’s members. Now, most chess players wouldn’t consider running for office because there’s too much monkey business involved, namely politics, that crusty old wheel of depravity that requires constant tawdry greasing. I hope you’re all seeing a theme here; chess good, politics bad. Of course, politics is everywhere. My local dog park, that place you’re supposed to be able to bring your dog for a fun run, is politically controlled. If you don’t grease the right palms as they say, you and your dog might get black listed. No fun time for your four legged friend. So I expect a bit of politics to go on within a federation. However, it’s gotten out of hand.

The people that run a chess organization should do so with a single goal in mind, the advancement of the game. This means bringing chess to the people, especially children, and this should be the number one priority. That means that any expenditure of money for things other than either chess education or tournament organization must be kept to a minimum, period. Of course, those in power talk about various future programs that will further the game’s reach, especially when they’re running for office. However, like most campaign promises, they’re never kept. I’d offer to provide a swift boot to the back of the pants for each federation official that reneged on a campaign promise but I’d either wear out the bottom of my boot or suffer a grievous leg injury due to a long repetitive action.

Federation forums anyone? Now there’s a place where the insects crawl out of the woodwork! Of course, I’m on forums from time to time but some folks seem to not only live on the forums but make sport out of stirring up trouble. To those folks I say get a life, go out and enjoy the real word and please please please, learn how to communicate using correct spelling and grammar! Rather than jumping on the express train of people bashing, try doing something positive for the game you love. Forums should be a place to exchange ideas, not a place to complain about someone you’ve never met who might of done something you’re not quite sure about. If it has nothing to do with the actual game of chess or a truly important chess related issue, find another hobby. There are already enough trolls on the internet.

Lastly, there’s our fearless leader, Nigel, and his “defection.” I loved seeing the word defection because it made me think Nigel was secretly smuggled across the East/West border of Germany during the height of the cold war. I applaud you Nigel for doing what you did! If I had any credibility in the chess world, I too would defect. I heard the Penguin team down at the South Pole is in need of a few chess players. If my chess federation doesn’t start delivering my monthly chess magazine on time (it’s always two weeks late), I might switch sides. Seriously though, I thought what Nigel did was brilliant. All you federations might change your tune if your best players said enough is enough and found another group to represent. Well, now that this grumpy middle aged punk rock guitar playing chess teacher has complained for 1,505 words, I’ll leave you with a game to enjoy and a promise that I won’t complain like this again. I’m not running for a federation office so it’s a promise that will be kept. Go Wales!

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).