There was a chess league last century in the late 1970’s, the National Chess League. The games were play in different cities, with the moves being delivered via something named a WATS line, which stood for Wide Area Telephone Service, which “was a flat-rate long distance service offering for customer dial-type telecommunications between a given customer phone (also known as a “station”) and stations within specified geographic rate areas employing a single telephone line between the customer location and the serving central office. Each access line could be arranged for outward (OUT-WATS) or inward (IN-WATS) service, or both.
WATS was introduced by the Bell System in 1961 as a primitive long-distance flat-rate plan by which a business could obtain a special line with an included number of hours (‘measured time’ or ‘full-time’) of long-distance calling to a specified area. These lines were most often connected to private branch exchanges in large businesses. WATS lines were the basis for the first direct-dial toll free +1-800 numbers (intrastate in 1966, interstate in 1967); by 1976, WATS brought AT&T a billion dollars in annual revenue.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Area_Telephone_Service)
Not only is that history for you but for me as well, for until today, I never knew so much about the service we utilized. Atlanta had an entry and the name of our team was the Atlanta Kings. The games were played at a company named Scientific America. Lew Martin worked there and the price for use of their WATS line was the inclusion of Lew on the team. Since he was rated far lower, by hundreds of points, of all of the other players this caused much dissension. I was opposed to Lew being on the team, as were many others, but it was decided better to have Lew on the team than to have no team. Former Georgia Champion Mike Decker verified this several years ago when reading an erroneous article about Lew in Georgia Chess, with this being brought to the attention of the editor, Mark Taylor. Mike also said Steve Schneider was a driving force behind the team. I felt strongly that the four highest rated players should be allowed to play. I did not play in the first ever match of what came to be called the “telephone league.” Instead, I worked the phone, sending and receiving the moves, with others passing the moves to the players. Members of the press were there for that match and an article appeared in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution Sunday Magazine, which included a picture of this writer with a phone in one hand and a pen in the other. Alas, that was so long ago it is possible one cannot find a copy on microfilm. Mike “Maddog” Gordon, who has retired from the newspaper, and chess, tried to find a copy decades ago without success.
Last night I learned from Thad Rogers that he has been awarded the newest team to join the United States Chess League. Thad is to be the General Manager. I asked him if I could put it in print and he said yes. “Good,” I said, “a scoop!” It was then Thad informed me he had made the announcement at the Georgia State Championship, which was a month ago. No one has mentioned it to me. When I asked the Legendary Ga Ironman why he had not mentioned it he said, “I do not remember it.” Thad blurted, “But you were standing right beside me when I made the announcement!” Tim responded, “I had other things on my mind.” At this point Thad added, “No one paid any attention.” When asked why nothing has appeared on either of the two GCA website’s Thad said it was because the GCA was not involved. I thought that strange, because it is about chess in Georgia. The original Atlanta Kings were really big news in our small community, but then the chess community was composed of adults, unlike today when there are so few adults participating in the game other than parents. The change that has taken place was apparent at the Atlanta Chess Center. When it opened there was little need for space for parents, but near the end there was not enough room for family members of the many children playing.
The conversation with Thad lasted some time as it transpired during the last round and it was late and we were too tired to do anything other than sit and talk. I learned a great deal from Thad, including the fact that Kazim Gulamali asked for $200 per game to play. I was taken aback by that, not knowing that each and every player received at least $100 from the league. How can that be? We played for the love of the game. I realize a C-note is not much these days, but still, it is the principle of the thing. Receiving money makes these players professionals, even the lower rated ones who play last board so as to meet some ridiculous average rating requirement. There was no such requirement with the telephone league. Each team could have the four best players possible filling out the squad. Thad mentioned the possibility of New York being able to “Have four 2600 players.” I answered with, “So what? Chicago, LA & San Francisco could match them.” Back in the day New York may have had more strong players from whom to choose, but a team from DC, appropriately named the “Plumbers,” took first the initial season. (The Fabulous 70s: The National Chess League
http://nezhmet.wordpress.com/2007/09/16/the-fabulous-70s-the-national-chess-league/ & The Fabulous 70s: Washington Plumbers win the 1976 National Chess League!
I neglected to mention the nouveau riche in chess city of St. Louis, thanks to Daddy Sinquebucks, which may now be the city with the most titled players. Build it and they did come. Thad mentioned something about building a team that could “…count on wins from the bottom two boards and one draw on the top two boards.” There is something wrong with the format if the best the few adult fans of chess left in Atlanta can hope for the Kings is to find two players whose chess strength has yet to be matched by rating. I will admit to being nonplussed about the USCL, and have much the same feeling about the new Atlanta Kings.