While researching the Mechanic’s Institute Chess Club Newsletter tonight (it is ten pm, EST) I found this wonderful picture of a young Ruth Haring in #834 dated July 6, 2018:
I met Ruth sometime in the early 1970’s before she married her first husband, “Wild” Bill Orton. From reading what others have written about her she began playing in 1969. I do not know if that was the year she played in her first USCF rated game or when she began playing the Royal game. My first USCF rated game was in 1970, so we began playing Chess about the same time. This picture from Wiki is how I will always remember Ruth because when one grows old one invariably “sees” the person they knew earlier as they were, not as they now appear:
Back then Ruth was a trip; a real good one.
“I grew to appreciate her immensely,” Short said. “She was very positive and someone I could depend on. She was really looking forward to changing things within FIDE. She was a wonderful woman.
“[She] could not stand chess politicians who only cared for their own advancement.”
Current US Chess president W. Allen Priest said, “I have always looked up to Ruth as a mentor and treasured her as a friend. I was honored to serve with her on the board and was inspired by her efforts to change the culture of US Chess.”
The MSA page of Allen Priest at the USCF website shows he is rated 701 and has played a total of only 45 games in his LIFE.
Mark Weeks writes the “Chess For All Ages” blog, and he is confused about the facts (http://chessforallages.blogspot.com/2015/02/confusion-about-facts.html) when it comes to the statement, “‘chess makes you smarter.” Many are confused when it comes to chess and intelligence because much has been written, but little understood, about the role chess has played in improving the “smarts” of a human being. Inquiring minds what to know so I asked for a little help from my friends in order to learn what is known by the most intelligent and learned people who study these kinds of questions. Numerous papers have been published concerning the issue and they are quite expensive. In my impecunious situation I would not have been able to read the papers except for the fact that friends in the world of academia gave me a helping hand. I profusely thank them for their kindness. I have read numerous papers recently, which made my eyes bleed…For the next several days I will share what I have learned with the chess community.
Judit Polgar retired from chess recently, bringing an end to the experiment conducted by the Polgar sisters father, Laszlo. Many women have written that if only there were more female chess players there would be more women in the top echelon of chess. For example, see “USCF President Ruth Haring’s “Numbers Game” (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/?s=USCF+President+Ruth+Haring%27s+%22Numbers+Game%22). Anjelina Belakovskaia is planning on a run for the USCF policy board and has written, ” I know that there is much more needs to be done and as a professional chess player myself (WGM), a business person, a Mom of 3 chess playing kids and a coach running Belakovskaia Chess Academy, I feel I can bring a lot to the table. From improving professional chess image, to attracting more girls into chess…” (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=20700&sid=be60acd8a7253d079b536fc53c4dad14) She wants more girls in spite of the fact that the USCF’s own numbers show that girls drop out of chess at, or near, puberty. These women play, or have played chess, so they seem to think that if it was good for them, it will be even better for the game if many more girls play chess, and it will translate into many more elite female chess players. What I wanted to know is what the empirical evidence shows. I found the answer in a paper published in 2011 by Robert Howard of the School of Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia, Does high-level intellectual performance depend on
practice alone? Debunking the Polgar sisters case.
“The Polgar sisters case often is cited as evidence that practice alone is key to chess skill and that
almost anyone can become a grandmaster (Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Forbes, 1992; Vinkhuyzen, van
der Sluis, Posthuma, & Boomsma, 2009). It has featured in the popular media, with the suggestion of
major educational implications (Colvin, 2008; Flora, 2005; Gladwell, 2008; Ross, 2006). As described
by Hearst and Knott (2009, pp. 136–137), “The Polgars’ father, Laszlo, was a teacher who believed that
there is really no such thing as innate talent or genius and that any reasonably normal intelligent person could achieve great success in a specialized field if he or she were given extensive and concentrated training in that field from an early age, starting particularly before they were six years old. . .”. The three sisters (born in 1969, 1974, and 1976) were raised in Hungary and home-schooled. They learned chess at a very young age and reportedly studied chess many hours a day (Forbes, 1992; Polgar & Truong, 2005). They excelled, two becoming grandmasters, and one still is the strongest-ever female player.
The Polgar case often is regarded as if it had been scrutinized carefully by expert reviewers and
reported in a scientific journal. But it never has been. If so submitted with the bare-bones facts cited by researchers (e.g. early starting ages, many daily practice hours, two becoming grandmasters), would the usual claims for it pass reviewer scrutiny?”
“Here, the Polgar case was examined closely. Each sister’s expertise development was quantified
and compared with the other sisters’ development and with other groups and an individual. Two
data sets were used; longitudinal rating data from the international chess federation (FIDE) and data
from an online survey. Practice in chess is defined here as playing games and studying chess material
One comparison group was other players entering the international chess domain around the same
time; between the sisters’ entry dates of July 1980 and January 1987. The sisters had much more
practice on average because the other players mostly attended school, and there are no reports of
others having a Polgar-type upbringing. Most players do not study a lot. Charness, Tuffiash, Krampe,
Reingold, and Vasyukova (2005) reported a mean 6.3 h per week of “serious study” in chess players.
A second comparison was with an archetypal chess prodigy (ACP, born in 1990). He entered the
domain in January 2001, with a later start than the sisters (he reports taking up the game seriously at
age 8), gained the grandmaster title at age 13, and reached the number one ranking spot at age 19 in
2010. He lacked a Polgar upbringing and must have received much less practice, as detailed below.”
“The sisters started serious practice around the same age and studied about the same number of
hours daily, often being coached together (Polgar & Truong, 2005). Yet there are wide differences in
their rating development and their peak ratings.”
When examined closely, the Polgar case does not show that almost anyone can become a grandmaster
and that practice alone is key. From starting age to the late 1990s, the Polgars probably received
more practice than anyone ever has. Despite their much greater practice levels, two sisters’ peak ratings
are quite comparable to those of other players first on the list around the same time and to those
of eight surveyed and much less practiced grandmasters, and are well below that of less-practiced
ACP. If only practice and an early start were important, there should have been little difference among
them in their rating trajectories and peak ratings. All should have made the top ten and they should
have had a lasting stranglehold on the open world championship. A plausible alternative account is
that the Polgars have much natural talent for chess, one sister has more than the others, and ACP has
more than all three. No claim is being made here that the data presented show the existence of natural
talent, only that this interpretation is plausible.
The present study has limitations. It was not possible to directly survey the Polgars or ACP nor
to administer any tests to them. One might argue that some kind of practice really was key, that
training methods have improved and this somehow accounts for the results, or that everyone in the
present study on the list from 1980 to 1987 really had a Polgar upbringing. One could argue that too
many variables are confounded, or that ACP received some very special type of practice. Nature and
nurture are notoriously difficult to separate and there is no claim that they were separated here. Such
objections are irrelevant to the present purposes of demonstrating that an interpretation of the Polgar
evidence that invokes natural talent is plausible. In conclusion, the Polgar case does not stand up to
the claims often made for it.”
Being pawed in the eye by Copper the dog left me with much time to cogitate, what with my eye being swollen shut. The day before I had read an article in the August issue of Chess Life, “Excutive Director’s Report,” which is by the new woman chosen to lead the USCF, Jean Hoffman, the first woman to hold the position (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Executive+Directors+of+the+United+States+Chess+Federation). I learned the USCF mission has become, “Empowering people through chess one move at a time.” I wondered what that meant, exactly.
According to the Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/empower), the definition of “empower” is:
1. To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority.
2. To equip or supply with an ability; enable: “Computers … empower students to become intellectual explorers” (Edward B. Fiske).
Jean writes, “As a result of this process, we crafted a new mission, complemented it with our first-ever vision statement and also developed long-term organizational goals that align with our status as a 501(c) charitable organization.”
The USCF mission statement sounds like one of those Orwellian “newspeak” things along the lines of the “Clear Skys Initiative,” promulgated by the Bushwhackers, which brought massive pollution raining down upon We The People by the Bushwhacker admistration. What happened to “Chess is a lifetime sport?”
The first-ever USCF “vision statement” is, “Our vision is to enrich the lives of all persons and communities through increasing the play, study, and appreciation of the game of chess.” How is it possible USCF made it through eighteen male Executive Director’s without a “vision statement?
Chess is not for all people. USCF statistics show the vast majority of children who learn chess reject it at, or before, puberty. Why is that? A generation after moving toward scholastic chess USCF is still “studying the question.” If the USCF has a clue, it has yet to be divulged to the membership.
The new female Executive Director comes from what is now referred to as “the scholastic part of chess.” With Ruth Haring the President of the USCF board the top two leadership positions are held by women. Here in the Great State of Georgia three of the five remaining board members are women, who do not play chess. Women like change. I cannot count the times I have heard someone say after a break-up between a man and a woman, “She thought she could change him.” The proliferation of women in the game of chess has changed things drastically. This is not your father’s chess, Bunky.
A good illustration would be an article published today on the Georgia Chess News website, “Women’s Open 2014 Results” By Laura Doman. (http://georgiachessnews.com/2014/09/29/womens-open-2014-results/)
“Pink carnations were laid beside each board position. Beautiful flowers in vases graced the tournament directors’ informatics table. Yes, this was the site for the annual Georgia Women’s Open tournament, which hosted sixteen women and girls on Saturday, September 20 at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria Hotel.”
“Pink carnations” and “Beautiful flowers”? Laura Doman is a lovely woman, and I am sure she means well, but this is the kind of thing women have done, and are doing, that is off-putting to male chess players. What could be worse than to spend time getting psyched-up for the coming battle, getting prepared, as it were, to pull your sword, and arrive at the field of battle with “Pink carnations” and “Beautiful flowers” gracing the battlefield? This reminds me of an episode of the TV show, “Northern Exposure.” Holling Vincoeur, played by John Cullum, married a much younger woman, Shelly Marie Tambo, played by Cynthia Geary. Shelly began to “make changes.” Next thing you know Holling is forced to visit the Dr. Joel Fleischman, played by Rob Morrow. For the first time in his life Holling has become constipated. Dr. Fleischman cannot understand it and fails to find a reason, until it comes out that Holling had given Shelly permission to make changes in the bedroom. She had turned his rustic, log cabin in Alaska into a “pink” room with “flowers.” It was obviously more than Holling’s system could take, and he became all stressed out and “jammed-up.” I had the same kind of feeling after reading Laura Doman’s report.
This kind of thing proliferates. For example, see “Yamie Chess simul with Jennifer Shahade” on the Chessbase website (http://en.chessbase.com/post/yamie-chess-simul-with-jennifer-shahade). What is Yamie Chess? “Manufactured in the Michigan, USA, and designed for 5 to 12 year olds, the Yamie Chess® learning aid series focuses on nurturing children’s cognitive thinking and intellectual potential for mathematics, and is aligned to support the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Curriculum Focal Points in algebra, geometry, data analysis, measurement and number logic.” If you are still uncertain about what, exactly, Yamie Chess is, it will help you to know that “Under the pieces the cartoon characters can be seen.”
Scott MacKenzie San Francisco 1967(original)
Scott McKenzie – San Francisco.flv
I posted a link to the previous post on the USCF forum. It lasted about a nanosecond. I have received feedback via email, some of which I would like to share. The first one comes from a NM who shall remain anonymous:
“One of the major problems connected to leadership,both politically and in the chess world(USCF)..is what exactly qualifies them for the office?..why should Haring be in charge of the USCF?….is she qualified because she plays chess?…Haring’s tenure as well as the USCF leadership over the last 30 years(maybe longer if you compare the prize funds of tourneys now to then!) have been a complete failure!…and yet just like in US Politics we keep electing the same less than “qualified” chess players to our leadership roles…we complain as we watch our noble game disappear as we have known it..do a search on whist..a VERY popular card game form the 1800’s…it does not exist anymore!…chess will survive,as a stunted hybrid of kiddie chess and chess poker-like hustlers…”
The second is from another regular reader with whom most readers know as the “Discman.”
“70,000 dues-paying female USCF members??
That’s not delusional, that’s grossly incompetent.
That’s like the GM of the Cubs saying he expects his team to win 211 games in 2014, evidently not knowing there are “only” 162 games in the season.
Anybody who says such a thing should immediately be dismissed from a leadership position.
Delusional would be doubling the number of female members; saying you’re going to get 70,000 is beyond ridiculous.”
Could not have said it better myself!
Ruth Haring is the President of the USCF board. She begins her President’s Report with, “I report to you today as I complete three years as President and five years as an executive board member.”
For the five years Ruth has been on the executive board members have been leaving the USCF ship like rats on the Titanic. The numbers she provides in the charts and graphs show this fact. She even expresses the major problem in words, writing, “It is notable that there is a drop year over year in the adult category, and we should find out the reason for this change.
Looking at the chart “Membership by Age Breakdown,” we can see that our under 12 membership is constantly changing. Under 12 members are not the same members year over year. We need to pay more attention to how to retain our members as they become teenagers and adults.”
Ruth and the boys have had five years to “pay more attention” to the problem. What have they been doing for the previous half decade? Not only does the problem persist, it continues to grow, like a cancer.
In her second paragraph she writes, “…and heeding the words of JFK who said, “Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction”, the board set out on a journey to accomplish just that; meeting in January for a comprehensive strategic planning workshop. Jean will talk about the work done in this meeting in more detail.”
I write this in late August, at least eight months after the “comprehensive strategic planning workshop.”
What is the “purpose and direction” of USCF? Ruth needs to elaborate on the “purpose” part because the “direction” is known. It is in the numbers, which are heading down. What does the President plan on doing about this? “In the past I have discussed retention and demographics and my goal to have equal number of female and male chess members doubling our membership. I believe that a side effect of the influx of around 70,000 female players will also be that our female players will be stronger. It’s all a numbers game.”
Let me repeat that last part, “IT’S ALL A NUMBERS GAME.”
Ruth is on a mission to vastly increase the number of female players. She has stated this ad infinitum. It is her raison d’etre. She believes in this in the way Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues believed they were “On a mission from God.” She believes she will have “70,000 female players.” The woman is delusional. She also believes the exponential increase in girls will produce a “side effect” of making female players stronger because “It’s all a numbers game.” Her thinking has been refuted by Robert Howard who “holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Queensland in Australia and has research interests in human intelligence, learning and memory, and in the development of expertise. He has carried out many research studies examining expertise in general, using chess data. Until recently, he taught at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He has authored five books, the latest being Islands in the Orient Sea: Travels in the Edgy 21st-Century Philippines, published in 2012.” Do not take my word for it; read the refutation yourself in a recent article on Chessbase, “Explaining male predominance in chess” by Robert Howard (http://en.chessbase.com/post/explaining-male-predominance-in-chess)
Certainly Ruth has been made aware of the article, yet she has chosen to disbelieve it because it does not conform to her thinking. It took many people a long time to wrap their minds around the fact that the earth was not flat.
After five years on the board, three as President, Ruth has a goal and tells us about it, “So my goal is to double USCF membership. What about retention? Recall the earlier chart of of membership by age and the dropoff at 11-12 years old? A jigsaw puzzle we need to solve for sure.” Unfortunately, the woman is still puzzled after all these years.
Let us consider a possible reason for the staggering numbers by which these children drop out by age thirteen. What happens to a child at that age? It is called puberty. The chart shows, “67% of our girl players are 12 and under.” This drops to 11% in the 13-15 age group. With these numbers staring her in the face, President Ruth has the audacity to write that there will be an, “… influx of around 70,000 female players.” Yeah, right. What are the odds of such an occurrence?
I thought about Ruth Haring while reading an interview with former World Human Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik on the chess24 website (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/24-000-goal-for-chess-documentary) Vlad said, “As a chess player in any situation the first thing you do is always think logically – if I do this what will the guy do? But in fact many people just don’t think this way. For a chess player it’s automatic. You play a move and you always think about what the answer of your opponent will be. In fact this is also something which is very useful in life. I see this in many areas, especially politics. Modern politicians are lacking it a lot, because they just don’t think, in my opinion. I’m very unpleasantly surprised by the mistakes they’re making because they just don’t think in this way. They’re just thinking about their moves, not trying to calculate the moves of their opponent.”
Let us consider how it may affect USCF to have an influx of 70,000 girls on chess by considering what the effect has been on the demographic change since the USCF decided to become, shall we say, more “child friendly.” Former adult players have found other pursuits. I would assume this would continue at an exponential rate. The graph shows there are less than five hundred members in the 20 year-old age group; 473 to be specific. That is an average of less than TEN PER STATE! Why is this so? By age twenty only 2% of the females are left in the numbers. TWO PERCENT! Could it be that a twenty year-old male, who is becoming a man, does not wish to continue playing a game with grammar school age children, especially preteen girls? Many comments can be found on the USCF forum concerning comments made by young male adults saying chess is considered a “children’s game.” These males have left childhood behind and are preparing to enter the adult world. Yet after five years on the board, three as President, Ruth Haring is “puzzled.” It is obvious the USCF is purposeless and heading in the wrong direction. It’s in their own numbers.
As an addendum, I posted something on the USCF forum in reply to Ruth’s report, which has not, as yet, been taken down, if you can believe it. It can be found here: (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php&f=24&t=20425)
RIKKI DON’T LOSE THAT NUMBER (1974) by Steely Dan
Steely Dan “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” 9/30/13 Beacon Theatre, NYC
The Blues Brothers – Briefcase Full Of Blues (Full Album)
BLUES BROTHERS BAND | Live at Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland, 1990)
During the summer of 1864 the insane yankee General William Tecumsch Sherman and his marauders had crossed the line into the Great State of Georgia, alarming the citizens of Atlanta. “Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s petulant, half-mad governor, grew increasingly and understandably anxious about Sherman’s advance.” (From: The Grand Design: Strategy and the U. S. Civil War,” by Donald Stoker)
The troops of Confederate General Joe Johnston were vastly outnumbered. On July 9, “Governor Brown sought another means of strengthening Johnston’s army and saving his state: he decreed what equated to a levee en masse. Brown (with a few exceptions) summoned to the colors all men in the Georgia reserve militia between the ages of sixteen and seventeen, all those fifty to fifty-five, and all free white men between seventeen and fifty who had not been subject to conscription. “Georgians,” Brown cried in his proclamation, “you must reenforce General Johnston’s army and aid in driving back the enemy, or he will drive you back to the Atlantic, burn your cities and public buildings, destroy your property, and devastate the fair fields of your noble State.” Anyone who has seen the movie, “Gone With The Wind” knows how things turned out. The South has still yet to recover. If you question this, please check out the map of the US charting the “Hardest Places to Live” in the US published recently by the venerable NY Times:(
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/26/upshot/where-are-the-hardest-places-to-live-in-the-us.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSumSmallMedia&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=1). Every chart and map I have seen in my now seventh decade shows something similar.
The USCF, according to the chart provided by President Ruth Haring (it can be found on the USCF website in an issue of Chess Life magazine, but one has to be a member to access it, so go to “Chess For All Ages,” the wonderful blog by Mark Weeks http://chessforallages.blogspot.com/2013/06/2013-uscf-executive-board-election.html), the largest age group, by far, is the one comprised by children. The numbers flat line until one sees a bump around age fifty.
Governor Brown had to call upon the very young and old because those of the “prime” age group, the one advertisers covet, those of the ages eighteen to forty-five, had been decimated by death, severe wounds, or desertion by cowardice, like Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.
USCF President Ruth Haring and the boys on the board find themselves in a similar situation. The adult chess players, for whatever reason, have deserted; there are none to be called upon because they are no longer members.
I have posted several links to several recent Armchair Warrior blog posts on the USCF forum. I am suprised to report the discussion has been interesting, and civil. Typical of the responses is this one by Thomas Mager:
by tmagchesspgh on Thu Jul 31, 2014 10:45 pm #282799
“When the Fischer boom went bust in the late 70’s and 80’s, there wasn’t a surge of juniors at that time to replace the players who left the game. We have a big demographic hole from that era. Today, when I go to a large Grand Prix tournament, I see lots of gray hair and tons of kids below the age of 16.”
I received an email from a reader of the AW in which he blamed me for “…constantly criticizing the USCF and offering no ideas to change the situation.” He obviously missed the part of the post, “THIS EVENT IS CHILD FRIENDLY” (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/this-event-is-child-friendly/), where I wrote, “I do not have answers to these questions.” Nevertheless, his comments stung, causing me to reflect and cogitate on what I would do if, by some quirk of fate, I were installed as the Supreme “Pooh-Bah” of USCF. (Think of me as Harry Stamper, played by Bruce Willis, in the movie, “Armageddon.” From the Internet Movie Database – “After discovering that an asteroid the size of Texas is going to impact Earth in less than a month, N.A.S.A. recruits a misfit team of deep core drillers to save the planet.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120591/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_63)
The first thing I would do would be to institute a program named, “Bring ‘Em Back!” I would appoint a team to contact as many former members as possible via email, snail mail, telephone and cards and letters, and any other feasible idea offered. The former members would be welcomed back with a membership costing only as much as any new scholastic membership, at least for the first year. I would immediately institute a membership drive which would award prizes to the members who recruit the most former members. First prize would be an all expenses paid trip to St. Louis as a special guest to spectate at the US Championships. The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center is so wonderful that just a trip there, with the chess HOF across the street would be enough in itself, I suppose, but why not go all the way?
Next I would immediately lower the cost of a membership for any Senior, those eligible to play in the US Senior, to the same as that offered little Spud. I would also offer a lifetime membership for those Seniors age 62 and up of only $300. Many would be willing to “bet on the come.” Most would not live ten years, but they would have the satisfaction of knowing they had helped USCF in time of crisis. Older players also have something invaluable to any organization, time.
The last thing I would do while hitting the ground running would be to stop publishing a monthly magazine. I would cut the magazine to a quarterly publication in order to make it a “world-class” magazine, on a par with the best chess magazine in the world, New in Chess. The columns, like “The Check is in the Mail,” which has already moved, could be continued online, while the magazine would focus on noteworthy US tournaments, and have interviews with featured players. Consider the comment made by GM Levon Aronian, the #2 rated human player in the world, “I love it when the book consists of light analysis but plenty of words describing the subtle psychological details.”
These are the things I would do immediately, with other ideas to follow.
For those who are unaware, the title of this post comes from a song by the greatest Rock & Roll band of all time, a group held in high regard by peers, The Band. Just thinking of the song makes me well-up. Listening to the song always brings tears to my eyes.
The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive.
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’. they went
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la,
Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me,
“Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood, and I don’t care if the money’s no good.
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest,
But they should never have taken the very best.
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’. they went
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la,
Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and all the people were singin’, they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’, they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na
I just finished reading the new article on Chessbase,
“Explaining male predominance in chess” by Robert Howard
(http://en.chessbase.com/post/explaining-male-predominance-in-chess). Judging from the few comments posted Mr. Howard has started a firestorm. He writes, “If the male predominance in chess was due just to social factors it should have greatly lessened or disappeared by now.” He concludes with, “This conclusion is unpalatable to many but it is best to acknowledge how the world actually is.”
Ruth Haring is the President of the USCF. She sent me this email Sat, May 24, 2014:
Hi again. I do have strong opinions, but the reason I do not blog is that I am too busy to keep up.
What do you suggest ? I could write something.
I view it as a statistical problem. When we get 50% women tournament players we can expect parity. I am working to encourage more women to play so as to increase the numbers, and thereby representation at the highest levels. If you take a random 4% of a population, you might find women tournament players outperform that random group.
Robert Howard simply refutes Ruth Haring. Actually, what he does is blow her thinking out of the water!
I lived with two sisters and a mother and from that experience I learned there is a difference between the sexes. All I have written is that there is a difference between males and females. I have always thought it a wonderful thing. I cannot imagine what kind of place this would be if we were all the same.
The world of chess has changed because of the influx of girls. Because of the vast number of children there are more women involved with chess because of what is now called the “Chess Mom.” When I write something like this there are those who mistakenly think I am negative when it comes to female participation in chess, when all I am doing is pointing out a fact. Women bring something different to the table. I am not making any value judgement, just stating a fact. I have no idea whether or not it is a good, or bad, thing. I urge you to read the article on Georgia Chess News, “From the New GCA Director of Communications” by Laura Doman, the new board member (http://georgiachessnews.com/2014/06/01/from-the-new-gca-director-of-communications/). This more than anything I can write illustrates what a woman brings to the chess world. Make no mistake, I mean this in a positive way. Women bring a social aspect to chess that men lack. I saw this when I played backgammon, where the percentage of women was exponentially larger than in chess. Yet the fact is that the women were not as strong as men. For example, the two strongest female players in Atlanta were Kathy and Debbie. They both won a fair number of Monday night tournaments. The matches were only seven points and the duration of the tournament was only three or four hours. But when it came to the two or three day weekend events, and longer matches, neither of them ever did well. I played in the World Amateur Backgammon Championship in Las Vegas twice, and female players never fared well. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but it is all I have to give.
When men are in a room with other men and a woman enters the dynamic is changed. When I first began playing chess the Atlanta chess club met at the downtown YMCA on Lucky street. One night two women entered. They were the first women I had ever seen at the club. They were treated rudely and left. I left my game and went outside to apologize even though I had not been involved. One was terribly upset, but the other smiled and thanked me. We played later, but not chess! That was the last time I saw a woman at the ACC. Years later a girl, Alison Bert, began playing chess. I gave her a few lessons, not for money, as is the case today, but because I liked her and wanted to help her. I must have done a good job because Alison beat me in a USCF rated game.
When it comes to women being involved in anything, I always think of something I read about the advantage Western civilization has over those of the Muslim faith because the latter suppress women. They do not allow women to bring anything to the table, and are therefore missing half of their being. Even if it is true that women are not, and may never be, as good at playing a game, it does not mean that what they bring to the board is not just as valuable as what a man brings. Not to mention the fact that they look so much better bringing it to the table!
Thus far this century there have been many different ideas posited for why women have been inferior to men when it comes to the game of chess. The latest is an article on the Scientific American website by Daisy Grewal, who “…holds a BA in psychology from UCLA and a PhD in social psychology from Yale University. She currently works at Stanford University as an applied researcher.” The article, published April 15, is entitled, “Are Girls Bad at Chess?” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-girls-bad-at-chess/)
Underneath the title one finds Daisey’s answer: “Of course not — but stereotypes can have a real effect on performance.”
I will leave it to others to judge just how good or bad girls are at chess and say only that I enjoy playing over games played by women, and in some cases, girls, because they are inferior to the games played by the best men chess players. I have also found enjoyment in watching women play golf and tennis even though they cannot compete with men. I enjoy this in the same way I enjoy going to a great website, Old in Chess (http://oldinchess.blogspot.com/) and playing over the games of the old Masters, who were obviously not as strong as the best current players. Because they are inferior does not mean they cannot be interesting. I also enjoy studying the games of the first round of major Open tournaments because of the disparity between the players. I believe one can learn a great deal from why the inferior player lost to the superior player. By examining the games of the lower rated players I see moves played that are the kind of moves I have made. Hopefully, this helps me to improve on the moves I may make in the future.
Daisey begins with, “Research has shown that stereotype threat can lead people to perform worse than expected. For example, women make more mistakes on a math test after being reminded of the stereotype that men are better at math.”
Then why remind them? It seems a no-brainer that to tell any child, male or female, they are inferior is not a good thing to do.
Daisey writes, “For many people, the idea of a famous chess player evokes the image of someone smart yet nerdy—and male. Do societal ideas about who makes for a better chess player impact the performance and motivation of girls who play chess?”
She says, “Psychology professors Hank Rothgerber and Katie Wolsiefer decided to tackle both of these issues by looking at whether stereotype threat affects young girls who play in chess tournaments.”
To do so, “Rothgerber and Wolsiefer surveyed 77 girls between the ages of 6 and 11 and found that the girls showed awareness of the stereotype that boys are better at playing chess than girls.”
This seems like a very small sample size to one who has read many sabermetric studies about baseball. The study would seem to have much more credibility if a zero was put on the end of the 77.
The article continues, “The researchers then gathered and analyzed data obtained from the United States Chess Federation (USCF). The data included information about female players from elementary, middle, and high schools who had competed in twelve tournaments. To control for the possibility that all chess players, both male and female, perform worse when playing against a male opponent, the researchers included a comparison group of young male players.”
Twelve tournaments. Only twelve tournaments? Study ten times that many and get back to me with the results.
“The results showed that when playing against a boy, girls were less likely to achieve an expected win. However, this was only true when they were playing moderate or strong (but not weak) male opponents.”
Well, how about that? The girls in the study did not do as well when facing stronger competition. The same could be said about me through out every decade I played, beginning in 1970 when I was twenty years of age playing in my first USCF tournament. Take any random player in the USCF files and it will be difficult to find anyone who has shown a better record against Experts and Masters than against class ‘A’ or ‘B’ players. Daisey continues, “Therefore, only girls who perform more poorly than expected seem at risk to give up on chess.”
From the graph published in Chess Life magazine (http://chessforallages.blogspot.pt/2013/06/2013-uscf-executive-board-election.htmland) and the comments made by USCF President Ruth Haring (“Existing scholastic programs see constant turnover and we see in our membership data, a membership decline beginning around the age of 11.”) it would seem that it is not only girls who are “at risk to give up on chess.” From what I have seen in my forty four years of chess, it is not the players who perform better than expected who quit playing the game. While working at the Atlanta Chess Center I once asked a player who had returned to the game why he had stopped playing. “I was losing too much,” he said.
Daisey continues, “This research demonstrates that stereotype threat may, in fact, thwart performance in real-world situations.”
Then again, it may NOT!
She continues, “Even outside the laboratory, where there are so many variables at play, stereotypes have the potential to cause vulnerable individuals to falter.”
It is a law of nature that only the strong overcome and survive.
It continues, “Overall, the study suggests that stereotype threat may be an issue for even young girls and may contribute to girls’ early avoidance of certain activities. To prevent girls from giving up in areas where they are negatively stereotyped, parents and educators may need to step in early. In the past decade, researchers have developed and tested a number of simple strategies to combat stereotype threat. If adopted for girls who play chess, these strategies could include providing young girls with role models of successful female chess players and emphasizing that chess ability is something that can be improved through practice rather than something you are born with. Another strategy might be to frame chess ability in terms of qualities that have nothing to do with gender—such as problem-solving and concentration skills.”
Why would anyone in their right mind emphasize “that chess ability is something that can be improved through practice rather than something you are born with.” I am aware of absolutely nothing that proves chess ability is something that can be improved through practice rather than something you are born with.” Where is the study? Show me the facts! People are born with different brains, as well as different bodies. Some people can naturally run much faster than others, and no matter how much the slower runner practices running, he will still be a slow runner. The same can be said for playing the game of chess. I have no idea how much stronger I would have been if I had learned to play chess as a child in lieu of an adult, but I do know that from associating with many game players, there are some who seem to have a “gift.” They have an understanding of the game, whatever game it may be, that others would not have if they devoted their life to the game.
It is apparent that Daisey believes that even though the evidence shows women have been, and still are, inferior to men when it comes to the game of chess, the answer lies in stereotypes. It is a fact that there is a difference in the brain of a male and a female. I realize it is “politically incorrect” to write such, but it is the truth.
I would like to answer the question posed by Mike Thomas in the comment he left to the post The United Scholastic Chess Federation. He asked, “Why do Priest’s and Bauer’s incorrect answers merit criticism as attempts at misdirection by chess politicians?”
I found the answers given to the question posed humorous. Imagine, I thought, what if one member of each state got up to answer a question by informing the House of Representatives how things are done in their state. Oh, wait, they do! Fortunately it is confined to C-Span. I only watch the channel when the politicos go home and it morphs into BookTV.
I cannot understand why Mr. Thomas thought what I wrote was criticism (I have absolutely no idea where Mike got the idea I wrote anything concerning, “…attempts at misdirection by chess politicians?”), when, as a journalist, all I did was report what is on the forum of the USCF website. I noted there were only two comments made and after checking, those are still the only comments. Poor Alex still has not received an answer to his question. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Priest are, or have been, chess politicians. Some politicians provide more humor than late night comedians; think John McCain and Sarah Palin. All politicians are in the public eye. They make decisions affecting We the People. The same goes for chess politicians. They, as all other politicians, should be questioned. Why is it considered criticism when one questions the actions of elected public officials? Most politicians grant interviews and schedule question and answer sessions with journalists. Such is not the case with chess politicos. It is rare to find a question and answer session, or interview, with a chess politician. One such rarity is an informative interview of USCF Executive Board President Ruth Haring in the September 2012 issue of the California Chess Journal by Aditya Kumar. Racking my brain failed to bring recollection of the last time, if there has been one, I read an extended interview like the one with Ms. Haring. A PDF of the issue containing the interview can be found at the CalChess website: http://www.norcalchess.org/
I applaud Ruth for publishing in Chess Life magazine the graph vividly illustrating one of the major problems facing USCF, the problem of membership retention. Seeing is believing and seeing the graph has rocked many in the chess community. “Membership retention” in this case means finding a way to halt the hemorrhaging of very young preteen members. The fact is the USCF has been akin to a pyramid, or Ponzi scheme. Adult membership has dropped to a point where, if for any reason, the parents of very young children stop purchasing memberships there are not enough adult members to sustain the USCF. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the so-called “Fischer boomers” are rapidly aging, and with age comes death. The dead may vote, but they no longer become members.
From my many years in chess I have learned most people are involved for one reason, that being to play! Most do not care about the politics of chess, wanting to know only, “When is the next tournament?” Whether on a local or national level there are few people willing to attempt running an organization. There has been little scrutiny, almost to the point of a “need to know” basis. There are only a few people actually controlling the operation of chess, which would seem to be all the more reason for someone to be asking the tough questions.
One of the major problems facing the chess world is the problem of using the assistance of programs to cheat. An ongoing cheating scandal has afflicted Major League Baseball since before the beginning of this century, and it continues. Monday a “dirty dozen” MLB players were suspended for what is being called “cheating.” For example, on the show MLB NOW, one of the talking heads said, “Continued talk of cheating is bad for baseball.” Another head talked about, “How we got to this point because people sat there and did not say anything.” Every week there is news of yet another cheating scandal. This appeared on the Chessbase website August 4, “A cheating scandal rocked the Dortmund Open.” Continued talk of cheating is bad for chess. Some organization needs to step-up to the plate. I have more faith in the ET’s the President of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is said to have visited, to take appropriate measures than FIDE.
Of the two major issues facing organized chess, the latter is paramount. If measures are not taken the first problem will not exist because there will not be any members to retain. If the USCF board members held a press conference the first question asked should be, “How do you plan to address the onerous problem of the perception by the public of rampant cheating in chess tournaments?”
MLB players cheated because there were big bucks involved. The stakes in chess are just as huge, albeit on a lower monetary level. For example, in a column in the Washington Times, “At Cadets, one short chess game leads to one big payout for New Yorker,” David Sands writes, “It was one of the bigger payoffs you’re going to see riding on a single game of rapid chess: $145,624 for less than a half hour of work. That’s how the math worked out at the U.S. Cadet Championship in Rockville last week, as New York NM Justus Williams defeated fellow master Michael Brown of California in their rapid Game/25 playoff after the two tied for first at 4½-2½ in the eight-player invitational for the strongest American players under 16. The stakes: a full four-year scholarship to collegiate chess powerhouse University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which, according to the school’s website, is worth $36,406 a year for an out-of-stater like Williams.” (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jul/30/sands-at-cadets-one-short-chess-game-leads-to-one-/ )
This is Big Money in chess. Players have cheated for much less. I must mention the absurdity of that much money riding on a quick-play game. It does not take a Bob Dylan to see the wind is blowing in the direction of ever faster time controls. Even the World Chess Championship is now decided by quick-play games! If it is more difficult, if not impossible, to cheat during a fast game, then all games will become quick-play in the future. Imagine what it would do to the scholastic foundation upon which the USCF is now based if the headline had been, “Cheating Scandal Rocks US Cadet Championship.”