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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

2007 U.S. Chess Championship Slots for Sale

I understand that with America's Foundation For Chess no longer sponsoring the U.S. Chess Championship, the USCF has to consider every option to raise sufficient funds for the tournament. But the USCF has announced that "Between now and April 25, any USCF member may enter the 9-round Swiss tournament." The catch? It's going to cost, and cost big. If your USCF rating is 2500+, buying your way into the tournament will set you back $5000. From there, the lower your rating, the higher the "entry fee." Those under 2000 face a $50,000 entry.

Does the USCF really think they'll raise funds this way? And if they do, what does this say for the integrity of the "championship?" What would happen if NONE of the invited players bothered coming and half a dozen crazy businessmen who happen to remember how the pieces move bought their way into the U.S. Championship? We'd have a U.S. Champion whose name would stand alongside those of Onischuk, Benjamin, Seirawan, Browne, Reshevsky, et al. And we'd have a U.S. Champion who conceivably couldn't win the upcoming K-3 championship in Nashville.

I'm saddened to see the U.S. Championship falling to this level. As it is, there have been players in past championships that really shouldn't have been there, but I don't think this is the proper direction for U.S. Chess.

Personally, I'd much rather have a small but powerful group of players (perhaps 16 at most) hash it out over several days, or perhaps a smaller group with a round-robin format. Another option might be to copy the NCAA basketball tournament and start with 64 players (or 65 if you really want to copy the NCAA) divided into four regional groups of 16 each. After perhaps six rounds in a Swiss format, each regional would have its winner. We'd then have our own Final Four pitting the regional champions against one another, which might take the form of a double round-robin, or perhaps individual match play. Of course, last year's championship format was similar, with two 32-player divisions yielding two finalists who battled it out in a final championship match.

Any of these last options would offer challenging, exciting chess that would provide us with a legitimate champion. As to the funding? If sufficient funds can't be raised for a large 64-player format (and if not, we need to ask why not?) then a smaller group should be utilized, perhaps to the point of taking the top eight players by ranking.

I'm throwing out a smattering of thoughts, but really, I'd most like to see a consistent format, essentially the same year after year, so that everyone knows what to expect and players know how to qualify. Of course, again it comes down to money.

Forget television - it's not going to work. But championship chess really shouldn't be that hard a sell to corporations looking for a sharp, intelligent image for their advertising dollars. Chess may not yet be the hippest corner of American society, but it's also not nerdville, as it may have been perceived to be in past generations.

Surely someone out there can pull this off. Someone who has shown the ability to organize large tournaments with substantial sponsorship. Someone who knows how to approach philanthropists, university presidents, and CEOs alike.

The USCF Executive Board election is this summer.

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