Introducing the newbie NWC blogger

Hey!

So this is blogging. Hmm. It’s easy enough to share your news and opinion in a blog, I suppose. The real question is not whether you can write it, but whether anyone will read it. I like to write, and as an ego-inflated chessplayer, I know I’m pretty good at it. Judging by the quality of some rather successful internet writers I’ve seen, though, being good at it isn’t really necessary. The average reader doesn’t seem to care much about the quality of the writing or the coherence of the argument. (It’s not fair to pick on internet writers exclusively, of course. The quality of many best-sellers is also abysmal.)

Ah, that’s always a good way to start: insult your readers. Guaranteed to generate positive word of mouth. But of course you, dear reader, are not the average internet surfer, but rather are chess-blog readers of distinction and erudition (there, definitely getting back on track). So rather than shoveling any more, let me explain why I’m going to write the occasional post on the NWC blog, and why you should read it.

About two years ago, as I was winding down my most recent stint as editor of the print version of NWC magazine, I began working on an editorial. This was a labor based on one of my pet peeves (a fertile subject for bloggers in general), and in order to support my arguments I asked Rusty Miller to gather some data from back issues of NWC. He kindly took some time away from his genealogical research to dig into 30-year-old issues (probably stored in 30-year-old boxes, for all I know), and in general he confirmed my supposition.

In a nutshell: tournament prize funds and entry fees in Washington and Oregon today are substantially the same as they were 10, 20, and even 30 years ago. Chess money in the Pacific Northwest has not adjusted for inflation.

Well, that wasn’t very difficult. Why didn’t I write that editorial a couple years ago? What’s the trouble here? It doesn’t seem a very controversial conclusion — it’s really just a simple fact, right?

Yes… if that was all there is to it. It’s the side-effects, the unintended consequences, the well-meaning, knee-jerk, populist tournament organizers and chess clubs, the political repercussions… (Huh? What’s he going on about now?)

Here’s what’s been happening. Adult tournament participation has been declining. One reason for this is the internet, of course. You can go online to any number of free or fee sites to play games any time of the day or night. It’s mostly blitz, but there’s always someone there to play, more or less at your level, no driving to a club at hours of their convenience, no parking, no waiting for a game. Heck, if you want you can play naked, no one will know. Go ahead and scarf that pizza, you’ll only smear your own computer, and if you just want to watch there are probably some very strong players duking it out. It’s not exactly tournament chess. Prizes are rare and difficult to win, and you can’t go out to lunch with your buddies or your opponent to post-mortem the game. Every so often you get whomped by a computer cheat… But I digress.

The point is that when fewer people come out to play at the local club tournament, the state or regional championship, or what have you, the tournament organizers try to figure out how to get the numbers back up, or at least hold onto the players that they have. And the very first knee-jerk impulse is this: lower entry fees. Yes, by making it cheaper to play chess, it becomes more accessible to more players. More people will come, right?

Wrong. For two reasons.

First, lower entry fees means lower prizes. Second, if you lower the cost, you make it more accessible… to whom? People who have little money.

Not everyone plays for prize money, of course. A vast majority really can’t expect to win prize money at most tournaments, right? So, does it matter if there are prizes? Many chessplayers play for the love of the game. Yes, but many don’t want to invest a bunch of money as well as their time just for the love of the game. As it also pertains to the lack of inflation in entry fees and prizes at relatively high-end events, it’s important to note the principle is not the expectation of winning, but the reasonable (read: optimistic) possibility of winning. And the amount your inflated ego says you have a semi-realistic chance at must be about double, or at least more than, what it would take to cover all expenses including entry fee, travel, and lodging. More on this later, complete with actual tournament data, but suffice to say that tournaments that might have seemed worthwhile to travel to a few decades ago now fail the test due to inflation.

Second, if you lower the cost, you make it more accessible… to whom? People who have little money. Like, college students, the unemployed, the homeless. People who spend all their cash on alcohol and cigarettes… (Nope, no stereotyping here.) I’m not saying there should not be events that cater to people with no money. However, keep in mind that millionaires rarely socialize at soup kitchens. (Huh? Let me elucidate.) If your club or tournament is designed to attract the dregs, don’t expect a lot of cream. (Oh yeah, sure, that was much more clear.) One last try: rich people don’t hang out with the unwashed. (Oh. So?)

Despite the large number of chessplayers who never do really amount to much in the world of business outside of chess (such as myself), there’s a small subset of players who actually get, you know, jobs and careers and the like. They usually disappear from chess for years or even decades while they make their way in the world, then they find some leisure time or start taking some of their three years of accumulated vacation time, and they look at playing in tournaments again. They are not, repeat, not, going to end up playing in the free-entry-no-prizes special at the club with 10 members who all smoke and play pinochle.

In 2011 the Portland Chess Club with their Centennial celebration tournament showed the way to bring some of these successful-type semi-retired former players out of the woodwork. They ran an event with $10,000 in prizes. The total number of players was significantly larger than a standard Oregon Open, which is normally the biggest event of the year in the Portland area, and there were quite a few faces returning to chess after extended absence.

Woo hoo! That Centennial was big, right? Huge prizes, way more than regular tournaments… Well, no, actually. Yes, it was bigger than anything seen recently (this was the year before the US Open came to the greater Portland area). But… Consider the Oregon Open. Over 30 years ago, the Oregon Open prize fund was $3000. Today, the Oregon Open prize fund is… $3000. If it had kept up with inflation, the Oregon Open would be offering something like $11,000. In other words, the Centennial was what the Oregon Open should be every year. The Centennial, in order to really be a big contrast, should have offered prizes on the order of $35,000.

The only tournaments that have, in fact, adjusted prizes (and entry fees) upward in the last 30 years (I’m not kidding) are the ones that got brief corporate sponsorship from Inside Chess back in the 1990s. Not to toot my own horn (too much), but in fact these were all events that I organized, and the sponsorship was my idea. I was wearing multiple chess hats back then, serving as WCF President as well as working at International Chess Enterprises, the publisher of Inside Chess. Starting with the 1992 Washington Chess Convention (featuring the Washington Open), and continuing with the Washington Class Championships, we upgraded these events from rather tiny local tournaments to gatherings worth traveling to play. That was the good news. The bad news is that since the mid-1990s, these events have also stagnated.

So, what’s the problem? Why don’t organizers just increase the entry fees and prizes? The risk (and every tournament involves risk to the organizer) would be proportionately the same as it was decades ago, right? Why not just go for it?

Update BC vs WA Matches

From BCCF Bulletin #331 by Mr. Wright. For more info check HISTORY section of NWC website.

BC VERSUS WASHINGTON

Matches between BC and Washington chess clubs or cities have been going on for well over a century, but the first formal matches at a provincial/state level did not occur until the end of World War Two. But when exactly did these matches begin? It has been generally assumed that the first match was in 1944, in part based on an article by Dick Allen in the July 1949 issue of the Washington Chess Letter. He recounts the recent matches (1948 – a draw in Vancouver, 1947 – Peace Arch at Blaine, 1946 – Mount Vernon) before stating “Previous engagements took place at Vancouver in 1945 and Mount Vernon in 1944. To my knowledge, the latter was the opening of the friendly hostilities…” An anonymous article, presumably by editor Gerald Schain, appears in the June 1954 issue of the Washington Chess Letter with the same chronology, noting

Prior to 1946 there were two small informal matches played between B.C. and Northwest Washington and I do not have any record of them. These were the first and second Internationals and the big 1946 affair was the third International.

However, by April 1955 this same author was beginning to backpedal. Based on reports in Chess Review he now acknowledged there were two matches in 1947, one in March and one in August. Thus 1944 was discounted and the first match was indicated in 1945, although “lost.” Yet we know of a second match in 1946 as well, played in Vancouver in July as part of the Vancouver Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Thus there were two events in both 1946 and 1947 before the series became annual. This interpretation is confirmed by Chess Life of 5 April 1947:

Third and biggest of the series, the meeting of March 9 brought happy memories of the original International Tournament at Mount Vernon when the Skagit County Chess Club acted as hosts on March 24, 1946 and Washington won. The second meeting was in Canada in July, 1946 and the Canadians had their revenge with a stirring victory. A fourth meeting is planned for the future.

Given that there is absolutely no documentary evidence for matches in 1944 or 1945, and that it is high unlikely that such a contest would take place while the war was still on, the chronology of the early matches was as follows:

1st 1946 March 24 Mount Vernon 2nd 1946 July 13 Vancouver 3rd 1947 March 9 Mount Vernon 4th 1947 August 17 Peach Arch 5th 1948 August 8 Stanley Park

At the third match an exhibition game was played alongside the team competition between Olaf Ulvestad and Arthur Dake; team participants were given the option of playing a second game with their opponent or watching the exhibition game.

Ulvestad, Olaf – Dake, Arthur William [E26] Exhibition game Mount Vernon, 09.03.1947

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 c5 6.e3 Nc6 7.Bd3 d6 8.Ne2 e5 9.f3 Nh5 10.0–0 f5 11.Rb1 0–0 12.Qc2 Qh4 13.g3 Qh3 14.Rf2 Nf6 15.dxc5 dxc5 16.e4 fxe4 17.Bxe4 Nxe4 18.Qxe4 Qf5 19.Qxf5 Rxf5 20.Be3 b6 21.Rd1 Ba6 22.Rd6 Rf6 23.Rxf6 gxf6 24.g4 Na5 25.Ng3 Nxc4 26.Bc1 Rd8 27.Rc2 Bb7 28.f4 Bf3 29.fxe5 fxe5 30.h3 Rd3 31.Nf5 e4 0–1

Kornelijs (Neil) Dale RIP

Long time tournament director for the Portland CC.

Photo Credit: Russell Miller

The info available on USChess website starts in 1991. I believe he played and directed events before that. He was the tournament director for 10 Oregon Closed Championships, the first one in 1994. He directed many events at the Portland Chess Club site and other places also such as Newport and Mt. Hood Comm. College where he was a teacher. He organized and directed many Gresham Opens held at the college. From the USChess website his last rating was 1501. He played in 122 events the first one listed was the Linn-Benton Open 11/18-19/1992. He was chief TD for 359 events the first being 1991 Oregon City Open 11/30-12/1/1991. His game data shows 438 games played at regular rating and 60 quick rated games. He was a USChess level: local tournament director He was born in 1933. He died Dec 21, 2016.

From Facebook
Carl Haessler said: “Neil was a great man and a lifelong chess friend. He will be remembered as a true legend of Oregon chess. Player, Promoter, Organizer and Director … he did it all, and did so for over 40 years. As a Chief TD his kind but firm demeanor was equally effective at the State Championship and at numerous local scholastic events.”

Photo below by Brian Berger

Photos from Pasadena 1932.

Dake vs Alekline 1932
Dake vs Alekhine 1932
Prize awarding Pasadena 1932.
Prize awarding Pasadena 1932.

These two photos comes from the chess archives of Jacqueline Piatigorsky who inherited them from her chess teacher Herman Steiner.

The first photo can be found in Casey Bush’s book Grandmaster from Oregon about the late Arthur Dake. The second, showing Sammy Reshevsky, Arthur Dake and Herman Steiner receiving their prizes for tying for third place, is apparently new. The man presenting the envelopes is likely Dr. Robert Griffith. Both photos were taken during Pasadena 1932.