The first question in Buce Pandolfini's column, The Q & A Way, on the www.chesscafe website begins: "I had some keen interest in chess at High School but after raising three children and a busy career, chess went off the radar."
I thought back to my youth spent playing baseball. When I stopped playing, baseball never 'went off the radar', and I have been a fan all my life. I wondered what it is about chess whereby it 'goes off the radar'? Why do more players not become lifelong fans of the game?
The question continues: "Now that I am in my middle age, and the children have grown up and left home, I have got interested in chess again. I attended a couple of local tournaments but was rather disheartened at the number of younger children competing in the adult grades and winning. There is much talk of children being professionally coached at ridiculously young ages now. I also noted that a competitor at the world youth championships was seven years old and had a rating of 2012, this makes my 1400 pale in comparison. I was wondering do you know of any player taking up the game in middle age ever rising to the title of IM or grandmaster or are older players like me doomed to a steady decline in ratings and brain cells (at least Korchnoi gives me hope)."
Thinking the question came from an American, I was astonished to learn it came from Savern Reweti, of New Zealand! I have heard much the same from many adults here in the states.
Since I turned fifty in 2000, I have been a strong advocate for Senior Chess. It has been my experience that, given the opportunity of playing in a Senior event, players for whom chess went 'off the radar' will come back to the game. Some of them will only compete in a Senior tournament because they do not like playing with children. In conversation several have mentioned the high energy level and the constant fidgiting, something older players, for the most part, no longer do, as the energy level has ebbed.
There seems to be a disconnect between scholastic chess and adult chess. Consider the statement by an outgoing president of a state organization about the incoming president: "He comes from the scholastic side of chess." Different people on separate occasions have said to me, "I don't know much about adult chess, as I've only been involved in scholastic chess."
Adult members of the USCF are vastly outnumbered by junior members, and there is power in larger numbers. Consider this question by larryfoushee on the forum of the Kentucky Chess Association website (www.kcachess.org), Is KCA now a puppet to scholastic chess?
It elicited this response from Ken McDonald: "The scholastic events draw a lot more people and make money. So how does it feel to be subsidized by youngsters and their parents?"
larryfoushee answered with: "it feels bad."
It sure as hell does 'feel bad', especially considering people with this kind of attitude have not been around long enough to know that at one time the situation was the reverse and it was SCHOLASTIC CHESS being SUBSIDIZED! The fact is that the rise in scholastic chess has come at the expense of adult chess! An example would be the American Foundation for Chess, which was to be used for Grandmaster chess, but was co-opted (I have heard the word 'hijacked' used), and the money diverted toward scholastic chess!
I have, unfortunately, experienced this kind of attitude from many 'on the scholastic side', especially in regard to Senior chess. Only fifty or so players attended the US Senior this year. Add two zero's on that for the attendance at the Supernationals this year. Ten times fewer attended the US Open. During an email exchange with the president of the GCA, Scott Parker, I wrote that I would like to put a zero on the number of players at the Ga Senior, US Senior, and the US Open. Mr Parker replied, "Enough of this nonsense." NONSENSE! I will admit it may be asking for too much at this time to expect to be able to put a zero on the number of participants at the US Senior, especially taking into consideration something pointed out to me in an email; that being the fact that there may not be five hundred Senior members of the USCF! Yet, could it not be a future goal for which to aspire?
I am galled and appalled, but not surprised, that anyone would write such a thing as "How does it feel". I think of the greatest Rock & Roll song of all time as I write this; that being Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone. How does it feel... About having to be scrounging for your next adult tournament?
I have previously written on the BaconLOG about attending the Supernationals and the US Open this year, and the disparity between the two. I played in the Governor's Cup in Sioux Falls South Dakota in 2002. There was a scholastic tournament held in conjunction with the 'adult' tournament. Fortunately, the scholastic event was only on Saturday. It was a zoo! The disparity between Saturday & Sunday could not have been any more pronounced. I mentioned this to the organizer, Dee Knudsen, who said that, "Without the scholastic tournament, there would not have been an 'adult' tournament."
I played in a Grand-Prix tournament in Orlando some years ago at a hotel undergoing renovations. Not having one of my better tournaments, I went to the bar for an adult beverage, where I met a pretty flight attendant, and we struck-up a conversation. She was surprised to learn I was actually playing in the tournament as she thought that, with all the children and parents, it must have been a junior tournament. I recall her saying, "I always pictured a chess tournament as being quiet and dignified. This is more like Bedlum!" She also said the airline personel did not appreciate all the children running around like 'chickens with their heads cut-off' and had complained to the hotel manager and the company for whom they worked. The perception has become that chess is for children. The perception has become the reality. Is it any wonder so many adult players have gravitated toward adult games like poker?
Scholastic chess is viewed as separate and distinct from adult chess; of that there can be no dispute. Scholastic chess 'pays the freight', so to speak. Without scholastic chess, there would be no USCF. Those that derive income from chess know only too well that scholastic members buy more equipment and books, etc. than adult members. They do so not only because there are more of them, but because younger players become involved, and purchase what they need, before dropping out and moving onto something else, with the chess stuff going into the closet. It is taken for granted they will be replaced by other youngsters 'coming into the system'. Chess is, therefore, being run like a pyramid scheme. If, for whatever reason, juniors stop entering the pyramid, there are not enough adult members to support the USCF. What would happen to scholastic chess if a pedophile, like Robert Snyder, for example, were to kill a student? With the 24/7 infotainment cycle, everyone in America, and the rest of the world, would learn of it, and down would come the pyramid.
Why are there so few adult members if the object of scholastic chess is to bring in more members? Some time ago I had an adult player tell me that the influx of junior members bode well for the future of chess. He was stunned when told I had recently read on the USCF forum that only three percent of scholastic members went on to become adult members! Money and resources have been aimed at scholastic chess for a generation now. If the object were actually more adult members, then why are there vastly fewer adult members than there were when the scholastic movement began? USCF has not even retained the number of adult members it had a generation ago. Imagine how strong USCF would be if it had simply retained those members...The question has to be asked: Have adult members chosen to leave because of the children's explosian?
In theory there should be only one chess. I am reminded of a quote by Chuck Reid:
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; In practice, there is.
In practice there is a schism between adult and scholastic chess. If scholastic chess is bigger and stronger than adult chess, it is because it stands on the shoulders of those who have come before them.