Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jon Jacobs on Scholastic Chess (reposted with permission)

I have had time to go through this with a fine tooth comb, but clearly Jon is saying some of the things that I've been thinking in a less organized fashion.  The legalese is that except where noted, Jon does not endorse my various comments, and I don't necessarily endorse all of his.  As he says, he goes a little beyond where I would go:

Jon Jacobs A thousand likes, as the saying goes. I've been warning for years about the withering away of any nurturing of or interest in adult chess -- especially by the USCF (which in abandoning chess promotion on behalf of anyone but kids, has abdicated its primary reason for existing), but also by the news media and many other institutions of muggle (non-chess) society.

I go beyond Graham Ari Jeremy in that I maintain that kids' chess constitutes a fraud in an economic sense. Maybe 1/2 of it is real in a chessboard sense - meaning, that's how many entrants in kids' chess tournaments play legal moves 100% of the time, as required by USCF rules and bylaws governing TD certifications. In an economic sense, however, even the minority of scholastic chess players who actually learn how to play chess, are more like an accounting fraud than a real asset of the USCF. That's because USCF regularly reports "membership" numbers that count real paying members (aka adults) and scholastic "members" as 1 person each... But the scholastic "members", who comprise more than 80% of total reported USCF membership, don't actually "belong" to the USCF, or to the chess community, in any real sense. Rather, all those kids are a captive audience: required to take chess classes by their public (or private) elementary schools, they become USCF members (probably paid for by their schools, in many cases) only so long as they remain in that school chess program. After they age out of it, they cease all involvement in chess.

In the course of restructuring its activities over the past 20 years or so to cater almost exclusively to children's' chess, the USCF has gradually withdrawn most of the attention and support it once provided to real chess, at both the professional and amateur levels. Support for professional chess now comes primarily from private donors and for-profit organizers; while amateur adult chess has been left with no backing at all, beyond occasional coverage in Chess Life.

Why did they go this route? Because it's where the money is. Even though neither the USCF nor individual tournaments get financial support from the US or local governments, taxpayer funding nevertheless now supports the careers of perhaps thousands of chess teachers, via public school chess programs. Some time in the late 1980s, a turning point was reached in convincing school authorities that all kids should be taught to play chess. A great many people in the chess community who seek to earn a living from chess found this to be the answer to their long-deferred dreams. And those people, although a minority of adult chess players, tend to be more active than most, in the USCF and other chess organizations. So that is how it went down.

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