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