USCF Junior Tournament (JTMs) Now Available

Like usual I keep my eyes and ears tuned into new schemes whether good, bad, or just plain acts of self-interest of promoting to lure the pawns of chess (kids) into organized membership and expanded USCF rated play. The question is who is it serving–kids or USCF? The answer is both. Plain and simple, USCF has come up with another injection to inducing young people especially into organized chess who either have not the financial means nor  long term interests to engage in rated tournaments. This group is often made up of kids who just want to have fun with their buddies and see who emerge as “Kings or Queens for a Day!” As explanation, USCF officials say it is to meet the needs of affiliates (this so-called JTMs) which is explained this way: For young people ages 24 and below a junior, not a USCF member, may join a rated tournament for $7.00 online with rating submissions that includes one issue of Chess Life or Chess Life for Kids, and $5.00 of this fee may be applied to a full USCF membership within a 60-day period.  The HOPE is that it will encourage juniors to join USCF, see the value of getting his or her personal rating, and seeing opportunities viewed in the pages of CHESS LIFE for both area and national tournaments along with a broad spectrum of chess personalities and interesting stories of both a national and international flavor.  The hitch is that this membership is not available for national open championships.

So where does the Kindred come down on this? Good? Bad? From the perspective of USCF, local affiliate events that are constrained to non rated events because kids cannot afford to pay the dues and entry fees in one lump sum thus limiting entries to only USCF members has the potential of driving away kids from playing chess and thus are seen as self-defeating. There is an old saying: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Non-rated events at least get the chance for locals to develop interest in chess fun. Of course for the well-to-do kids whose parents sacrifice for their kids and get them started with coaches, official rated play is not what this program idea is meant for.  It is meant strickly for kids who lack the parental support either financial or feel chess has no constructive value in their development as good citizens where time would be better spent elsewhere.

There is and has been for many decades the value of chess with peers and  association with various age groupings. Not only does it promote a sense of time values but also mental stimuli in seeing pattern relationships, critical thinking in decision making, judgment, planning and execution by carrying out plans one can muster to try and out maneuver the opponent in achieving victory. Furthermore, it teaches self appraisal, the building blocks toward improvement, and learning to respect others that make up tournament competition.

I believe it very important that those in the chess field recognize the need to build good character, compassion, and building a self-esteemed ego is a two-way street. Such mentoring can result in developing behavioral traits in kids that can be positive or negative. Whether young people choose to pursue chess into adult life depends upon the joy they receive from the game. That is why I have always advocated learning about its history, its great players, and enjoyment of studying the elements of opening, middlegame, and endgame play. The richer the education the more respect for its beauty and assets it nurtures in one’s life.

Personally I have always preferred the social fabric of “the chess club” and I speak for myself when I say I prefer round-robin tournaments to that of a swiss setup. For me, the one-tournament game a week at 40/2 format provided enough chess as a student for self-examination of my play as it complemented chess studies in evaluating my progress and need for further applications of theoretical study. Skittles, rapid 5-minute games, lectures, simultaneous play was a common menu at our club. Our club chess ladder saw frequent club rated games every club Saturday meeting. But times change.

What bothers me somewhat is the notion that organizers rely heavily and almost totally upon the USCF-rated Swiss Tournament for community action. Even during club sessions, the idea of USCF-rated games tend to play a dominate if not principal role during club meetings. The idea that rated play is the only attraction of chessplayers to join a club has been decades in the making. Perhaps that is the truth in the pudding. But at what expense has rated play, the soul, joy and purpose of modern chess competition killed the sense of club? Perhaps that is why clubs and the programs such as I established for enjoyment, competition, fellowship and good varieties that kept interest high declined with the ever increasing opportunities to play in Swiss Tournaments. Guess I lived in the best and worst of times.

USCF reliance on the Swiss Tournament is understandable and necessary for a vibrant schedule. Larry Evans once noted that millions know how to play chess in the USA. Despite this, USCF membership has never exceeded one hundred thousand members even during the Fischer boom. In fact, even during Fischer’s rise to fame, chess was partially in the doldrums of American thought. Membership in clubs back prior to the 1960s was relatively stable. Few clubs drew more than 2-300 members but most ranged I would guess between 14-70 members with little variance over the years of their existence. And as I mentioned, there were more readers of CHESS REVIEW than the whole membership of USCF which indicates to me that what chessplayers thrived on was a quality magazine. The wise decision to turn the rag Chess Life Newspaper into a quality magazine CHESS LIFE was a grass roots effort made possible by a dedicated and hardworking membership through its membership drive, officials and staff. Yet, these achievements do not explain why there is such a disparity between millions who play chess and the organized tournaments that have expanded over the past 50 or 60 years with a corresponding decline in clubs. The ratio of chess know how compared to tournament participation seems out of whack to me. Am I missing something? I wish someone could explain such a wide disconnect. And if the great increase among kids playing the game fails to result in closing the gap, then that means as many joining for the lst time see an equivalent number leaving. Perhaps the question should be: Is USCF mainly concerned with simply maintaining the status quo? Are the officials and the organizers simply providing opportunities through tournaments for players to compete or are they patting themselves on the back playing out a role of local, regional or national chess self promoters without building a grass roots level  leadership that concentrates on growth more than self interests?

Now, with the ever growing individual costs to participate in regional and national tournaments, the USCF had better put on their thinking caps to figure out how to utilize the internet chess play opportunities if such can be accomplished. Unfortunately I see such chess competition reverting more to local area events and interest than on the national level except on the professional level. I hope I am wrong.

Help me!

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15 Responses to “USCF Junior Tournament (JTMs) Now Available”

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    i agree with this

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