As Washington DC Chess thrives, the Stalemate Continues!

A dispute has been rekindled in lieu of the  incident at the U.S. Chess Center. Over the past three weeks, the issue of racism in Washington D.C. scholastic chess has raged and threatens to dampen the climate of a city bustling with activity and a rich chess history. Vaughn Bennett, executive director of the Olympic Chess House was arrested for unlawful entry or trespassing onto the grounds of the U.S. Chess Center. David Mehler, executive director of the U.S. Chess Center, told The Chess Drum about the incident.

"Obviously, I did not have Mr. Bennett jailed. I do not have the power to do that. The police arrested him when he refused to leave the US Chess Center. Not only was he given ample opportunity to leave the Center before the police arrived (he was present and listening as our staff called the police after he refused our entreaties to leave) the police offered him the chance to leave before they arrested him. He refused to leave and caused considerable disruption before and during his arrest."

Johnny Sadoff, the scholastic player who has been the subject of the dispute wrote a letter defending his titles and also debunking the notion that his mother has used her influence unfairly.

"Vaughn Bennett has accused the executive director of the U.S. Chess Center, David Mehler, of appointing me as the champion. I take great offense at the idea that I have done anything other than work hard at the game to become the strongest player in D.C.

Mr. Bennett has also made inferences about my mother using her position on the U.S. Chess Center board of directors to help me become the high school representative. First of all, my mother is a woman of integrity who would never want or allow me to be in a position I did not earn or deserve."

Gladys Cooley, representing the U.S. Chess Center's Board of Directors has also thrown its support behind Mr. Mehler by stating

The center's mission is to use chess as a means of improving the academic and social skills of children. The money we earn from our suburban programs allows us to subsidize our inner-city D.C. programs in public and charter schools, in community centers, and, previously, in public housing developments. Over the past 10 years, under the directorship of David Mehler, we have donated more than $150,000 in chess equipment and lessons to the District's public schools. I have personally witnessed Mehler's positive interaction with inner-city students and his strong commitment to include these youths in our chess programs."

In response to his arrest and the subsequent article in the Washington City Paper, Mr. Bennett wrote the following letter providing more detail to the case and also pointing to what he feels is tantamount to collusion and favoritism.

"As you walk into the basement of 1501 M Street NW, where the US Chess Center is located, the first thing you might see, is a large plaque with about 50 nameplates on it called the US Chess Center Roll of Honor. This plaque is dedicated to identifying significant contributors to the US Chess Center such as the Arcana Foundation, Meyer Foundation, and many others. Notable contributors listed on the US Chess Center Roll of Honor are individuals such as Oliver North, but the biggest surprise is the nameplate for Arnold Denker. As you read the names on the plaque you realize that these contributors must have given above and beyond to be identified in such a distinguished way. This is why when you see a nameplate on the Roll of Honor dedicated solely to Johnny Sadoff and then another dedicated to the Sadoff family, one can easily see a conflict of interest when Johnny gets to represent the District of Columbia five years in a row at the Denker (where he finishes at the bottom every year)."

Only one thing is clear in this morass of chess politics… confusion. Why has no one stepped up as an independent arbitrator on this issue? This issue is important enough to warrant such a process.  Allow each side to lay out the facts (either independently or in a joint session) and allow the arbitrator to rule.

In the final analysis, there has to be a compromise on both sides in a way that benefits the chess community. Apparently Mr. Bennett has energy and dedication to offer and U.S. Chess Center has vast human and material resources. Certainly, a chess player being thrown in jail for any reason is a travesty. How can things escalate to the point where someone has to go to jail over chess?? Where are the arbitrators?? In a city of politicians, lawyers, and chess players, there must be some resolution.


Daaim Shabazz, "Racism in U.S. Scholastic Chess?"  The Chess Drum (27 July 2001).

Daaim Shabazz, "David Mehler answers charges of racism in DC Scholastic Chess," The Chess Drum (7 August 2001).

Dave McKenna, "In Chess, White Always Moves First," Washington City Paper  (5-11 April 2002).

Johnny Sadoff, Response to Dave McKenna article, Washington City Paper (12 April 2002).

Gladys Cooley, Response to Dave McKenna article, Washington City Paper (12 April 2002).

Daaim Shabazz, "Chess Organizer Vaughn Bennett Jailed!" The Chess Drum  (14 April 2002.).

Vaughn Bennett, Response to Dave McKenna article (15 April 2002).

Posted by The Chess Drum: 22 April  2002

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Update: Update: Vaughn Bennett filed a 49-page lawsuit against the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and 24 other defendants in December 2005 charging that racism plagued a number of USCF-sponsored events. The defendants include current and past USCF officials, chess organizations, tournament directors, a university and a number of private businesses. The above case of Vaughn Bennett vs. the United States Chess Federation was dismissed after Judge Richard Leon stated his conclusion:

"Plaintiff, in his complaint, has outlined in detail what appears to be a long and tempestuous history between himself and defendant Mehler and the other defendants concerning the promotion of the game of chess in the District of Columbia. Notwithstanding, his frustration with the disagreements between the parties, plaintiff  either lacks standing to bring the current action against the defendants, is barred from bringing the action against the defendants, or fails to state a claim upon which  relief can be granted.* Therefore, for all the above stated reasons, defendants'  Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED. An appropriate order will issue with this memorandum opinion."

*This Memorandum Opinion does not reach the merits of defendants' claims that this action should be dismissed on statute of limitation grounds, lack of personal jurisdiction, or because the action is barred by Illinois statute. The plaintiff will be ordered to show cause as to why the current action should not be dismissed as to those defendants claiming lack of service of process through various defendants' motions.

This judgment was filed on July 7, 2006. Read judgment here.