"The last thing I want to do is lead a group of squabbling chess players. It’s not a lot of fun."
    -GM Yasser Sierawan

United States Chess Federation


In 1935, the Western Chess Association changed its name to the American Chess Federation in light of the fact that there were really no other national organizing bodies for chess. An organization called the National Chess Federation existed, but it served primarily to organize the annual Olympiad. Then, on December 27, 1939, the American Chess Federation and the National Chess Federation merged to form a single governing body for competetive chess in the United States. The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is the United States affiliate to the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE, also known as the World Chess Federation).

George Sturgis of Boston, MA was elected as their first president. Membership dues were merely $1.00 a year.

Historical Events of Interest

On September 5, 1946, the USCF Began publishing the organizational magazine, Chess Life, in newspaper format. Chess Life is still being published every month to this day, but it is now a glossy magazine format(and has been for decades).

In November of 1950, the first USCF rating list was published. The rating system originally used contained some serious flaws, so in 1959 they asked Arpad Elo to redesign the rating structure. The system he designed, the Elo rating system was adopted by the USCF in 1960 and was in use until a new system was introduced in 2003. Elo's system is still the primary system for chess ratings used in most of the world.

Until the 1950's, the USCF used the FIDE Laws of Chess to govern the rules of their tournaments. However, the growing popularity of Swiss System tournaments (tournaments in which every player plays in all rounds, and which were not covered in the Laws of Chess) led them to launch a committee to supplement the "Laws". In 1956, Kenneth Harkness' Official Blue Book and Encyclopedia of Chess was published which contained--in addition to Swiss System rules--many new rules which expanded on the activity of players recording their moves, and corresponding rules such as which notations were valid in said game records. This book also contained the formula for their rating system (Pre-Elo).

The Modern USCF

Following the incredible rise in membership in 1972, the year American Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship, the USCF has weaved in and out of various management problems. Mismanagement achieved new levels as we moved past the year 2000. Various ridiculous and unthinkable things were legislated by the executive board, including the fear-induced rule attempting to induce people to play in tournaments rather than online: Free rating points were given like candy just for playing in tournament games, regardless of win or loss. The year 2001 was declared the "Year of the OTB (over the board) player" as the executive board trembled at the growth of online play and the decline in tournament play. The growth of online play has--without question--affected OTB games, but I personally have played a lot of people in person who first started playing chess online, so the jury is still out on whether this is good or bad.

There were some games of musical chairs on the board for a few years, and while this happened the USCF ran out of money. An executive director, Frank Niro, resigned in 2003 amid allegations of shady business deals and financial impropriety. The USCF was broke and only steps away from bankruptcy.

Enter Beatriz Marinello, the current USCF president (and the first woman president). She inherited an organization that could not pay the prize fund of the U.S. Open tournament, and the printer of Chess Life refused to print without a cash advance. She very clearly takes the financial problems of the USCF seriously. The first issue of Chess Life under her reign looked like a throwback to the 1960's, and contained very little in the way of material. I, erroneously, prophesized the end of the magazine being within sight. It was the smallest Chess Life I've seen in my 10 years of reading it; a mere handful of articles, many of which were simply detailing the financial changes being wrought by the new administration.

Months have passed, and the organization seems on its way to recovery, if slowly. Chess Life has fattened and now has returned to having a colorful and modern looking cover. The USCF's store has been outsourced to ChessCafe.com, and membership prices have increased. Hopefully, with this kind of serious leadership, the venerable United States Chess Federation might survive after all. I'll hedge my bets, though, and keep paying year-to-year for my membership.

Resources and research materials:
U.S Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (4th & 5th Ed.)
Dozens of articles from my Chess Life collection (1993-Present)
http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Lab/7378/chess.htm (Bill Wall's Chess Page - Great collection of stuff)

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