I recently took to social media to express something that has been bugging me for a while now. I posed the following question to my friends on Facebook:
“With US scholastic chess booming and our top players firmly among the best in the world, why has adult chess remained so stagnant?”
The US now has at least 3 Grandmasters amongst the world chess elite. Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana are among the world’s top grandmasters. At the tender age of 15, Jeffery Xiong is the World Junior U20 Chess Championships. He is the youngest player in history to achieve such a feat. This should bode well for American chess. Now back to my earlier question. Why has adult chess remained so stagnant in the US? I share some of the comments and remarks, a very small sample from my network. I have used initials instead of full names to protect the identity of my friends.
In the discussion that followed, I pointed out that other than Millionaire Chess, there seems to be no new big ideas for adult chess in the US that I know of. We could have leagues, big festivals, etc. It seems we have the same events all the time, but their numbers remain around the same. Seems like most organizers have accepted that adult chess players will only take you so far.
The comments from the discussion are shown in no particular order. I have taken just a small number of comments just to stimulate more thought and discussion around the matter. There were more than seventy comments to the post, some of them very detailed. Here we go.
FF: “We should do focus group work and surveys as to how we can make chess activities more available and enjoyable for adults. Meanwhile, I’m working on an initiative to get some online chess players to try OTB chess.”
NC: “I’m hoping the upcoming World Championship ( Magnus Carlsen versus Sergey Karjakin) will be an opportunity for some strategic thinking about how to leverage the publicity to bring chess more into the mainstream.”
JV: “Is it stagnant? One reason is the cost of membership is a bit high. The 15 dollar 3 month membership was good. Now it is 20 for 2 months. The affiliate requirement to run a tournament is also a detriment i think. I could triple the number of borderline adult memberships i think if there was a monthly or reasonable option for someone to try and play. I do have a fair front-line knowledge as i have had clubs in Natchez Mississippi, Manitowoc Wisconsin, New Orleans, St Louis and Chicago
CW: “No personalities and commercial branding and marketing like , for example: wrestling, NBA, NFL UFC.”
RR: ” The initiative by US Chess to engage more female players is a good sign. As we work harder to retain more of our girl chess players and see them continue after college, we might see some dynamic new ideas in the world of adult chess.”
RF: ” I just think that we need to expand chess more. As it isn’t nearly as popular as ANY main or even not main sport in the US. Not many people want to spend time learning as alot of people ate lazy or “don’t see how it will benefit them”. Chess Clubs aren’t nearly as big as they were in say the 90’s.”
CM: ” Chess is not on TV, still a minor sport along the lines of billiards, ping pong, handball. Poker, a similar game in some respects HAS taken off with big $$. We need stars to promote the game. Too bad Walter B died, a great showman. The most nervous player on earth!”
WDH: ” Being a chess organizer is tough, especially if you are not in a major metropolitan area. Raising funds, running logistics, developing tournaments, promoting… it’s a steep curve even for the most dedicated. You really have to have a passion for bringing people together around the chessboard when it comes to adult chess. Perhaps there is a way of creating an association of chess organizers to share ideas, develop strategies, and work together. This way we can find each other and create bigger venues. There is also a business acumen that helps when it comes to drawing attention. In my experience, the USCF pretty much responds to inquiries and helps organizers in nominal ways. There needs to be some strategic leadership initiatives for the effort to expand.”
What are your thoughts on the matter? Why do you think that US Adult chess has been on the decline? Before we can start improving things we need to have a clear understanding of the problem.