Disappointing Chess Lite

by David R. Sands

I was just about to throw out the cheap 36-page promotional flier for Chess Life magazine that arrived in the mail the other day when I noticed that the flier actually was the latest issue of Chess Life.

In a radical downsizing that reflects the fiscal and managerial troubles at America's leading chess organization, the November issue of the U.S. Chess Federation's flagship magazine features a few continuing columnists (
Andrew Soltis, Larry Evans, Robert Byrne), a few tournament listings and not much more. An open letter from new USCF President Beatriz Marinello and Vice President of Finance Tim Hanke states baldly, "We discovered our problems were perhaps worse then ever before in our history.

"We had so little cash that we were unable to pay the prizes at the U.S. Open, unable to meet our national office payroll, and unable to mail our own catalog to new members because we could not afford the postage. Our printer refused to accept Chess Life from us without an up-front payment."

How did things come to such a pass? "The short answer is, we have managed our operations poorly. We have had ineffective leadership on the staff level and on the Executive Board level. ... Our operations are too large, complicated and far-flung to be managed by amateurs, no matter how enthusiastic and well-meaning."

Forty percent of the national office staff has already been let go. Rebuilding the organization by making the magazine barely worth reading is a risky strategy. Let's hope it pays off.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 20 October 2003