East Alabama Chess Club

Next planned meeting: Sunday, September 24, 2017 @ Earth Fare (2-4pm)

The East Alabama Chess Club generally meets Sundays from 2-4 PM in the Auburn/Opelika area. Our group is currently a small one, but includes players with a wide range of playing strengths and backgrounds. All area chess players are welcome to join us for casual chess, game analysis, or serious study. Please email ken at finefellow dot com for more details.

We will try to keep the meeting status updated here, but please contact us if you are unsure, and let us know if you wish to be added to our email contact list for meeting notices, etc.

USCF Membership Graph Updated

[7/30/15 kwg]  After looking at the old graph of USCF membership rates for a while, I decided it needs to be updated, so here is the new version:
Graph of per-capita USCF membership over time
USCF Yearbook 2014
US Census historical data
US Census interactive estimator

Graph of per-capita USCF membership over time
[1/23/05 kwg]  While breathlessly awaiting the Winter Antics and possible feedback from Kirk's questionnaire, I found myself pondering the present state of Chess in America.  Actually, my musings began with yet another boneheaded message seen on an internet newsgroup, saying in part:

...adult chess is on an unstoppable decline. Like stamp collecting, model trains, and other pursuits of the past, adult chess players are getting older, their numbers are shrinking dramatically, and they are destined to become a small but dedicated sub-culture in this country, like breweriana collectors.  ...  Nothing will stop this. Our children will not, as adults, be members of the USCF. Add the Internet into the mix, and you see the death knell.

Two things bugged me about this message, all the more so because I have heard these claims made at tournaments and meetings as well:  (a) the notion that chess is on some long-term decline (clearly false), and (b) that computers and the internet have hurt chess participation (false in my view).

Look at the graph above, and allow me to add my interpretation.  Notice that as a percentage of the population, serious chessplayers (as represented by USCF members here) are as numerous now as at the height of the Fischer boom.  Surprised?  I was when I first looked at the numbers a year or so back.  Note the two dramatic increases.  First came the spike in activity surrounding the 1972 World Championship match, which gave back some ground but still resulted in a long-term boost.  Then something happened in the early 1990's.  Ah, yes, I remember now:  tons of media coverage of matches between Kasparov and powerful computers, Garry over Deep Thought in 1990, Garry over Deep Blue in 1996, and finally Garry's loss in the 1997 rematch with Deep Blue.  It is perhaps telling that Deep Blue was the first "chess player" on the cover of Newsweek since Fischer (or so I've read).

Now there is presently a downturn in USCF membership, likely related to recent financial problems in our national organization and resulting disenchantment.  I suspect the USCF will recover, and I note casually that sales of chess books, sets, and software continue to be strong.  Closer to home, local clubs are still sparse, and tournaments seem infrequent, yet Alabama still has plenty of interested players, again judging by USCF membership. 

Personally, I went through a long chess drought, causes or excuses including lack of time, no local club, and general discouragement, and it was online chess play and chess chat at FICS that got me back into the game.  I believe the internet can serve as a great communication tool to promote chess, and that we are not using this tool as well as we should in Alabama.  In terms of broader participation, I believe you can see from the graph above that media attention has been a major factor in the popularity of chess.  Still, the basic foundation for organized chess is enjoyment of the game by as many people as possible.  Chess is fun, remember?

Basically, chess is alive and well, in the USA and in Alabama, but let's face it:  at 30 players per 100,000 people, organized chess still has lots of room to grow.  So what's our next move?  Perhaps our new ACF president's survey will help answer that.  Kirk? 

Game Viewer Updated

[12/9/04 kwg]  I have finally replaced my clunky old game viewer with a new version that uses JavaScript for faster user interaction. There are still several items on my to-do list for this feature, and I would appreciate user feedback on this - so please try it and drop me a line.

Chess Calendar:  Please Take a Peek

[11/13/04 kwg]  My chess calendar script is now online, and data entry is in process.  The idea is to give a tabular view of past and future events, with links to tournament reports and announcements.  Please give it a look and let me know what you think.

 Sad Spectacle Reminds:  Fischer Replacement Long Overdue

[7/18/04 kwg]  Bobby Fischer is once again in the news, and as usual the news isn't good.  Arrested Friday at the Tokyo airport, Bobby may soon face American "justice" for charges stemming from his 1992 rematch with Spassky.  That match violated U.S. sanctions against Yugoslavia, resulting in issuance of a warrant for his arrest by the U.S.   While many chessplayers would no doubt find it easy to forgive Fischer for playing a match that violated U.S. policy, it's likely few would excuse his anti-American attidude, displayed most shockingly in a Phillippine radio interview applauding the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  A troubled individual, as always.

Championship Match 1972 Bobby Jailed! (NOT actual photo of RJF)
Rusty Rematch 1992

Despite all this, Bobby Fischer is never far from the thoughts of many American chessplayers, and his name is seldom absent from the pages of Chess Life magazine.  After all, his brillant play and total (but brief) dominance of the chess world led to a tremendous boom in American chess.  Just imagine:  Live coverage of a chess match on ABC's Wide World of Sports!  USCF membership doubling in less than two years!  A banquet room in a Montgomery, AL hotel packed with players for the organizing meeting of a local club!  Yes, those were exciting times for chessplayers here, the likes of which we may never see again - and all this excitement was generated by one eccentric genius.

The good news is that chess is more popular than ever in the United States.  One measure of this popularity is USCF membership:  the inevitable slump following the membership surge in 1972-73 has been followed by slow and steady gains.  Even as a percentage of the total population, USCF membership is higher now (0.031%)  than in 1973 (0.028%).  Still, those percentages make it obvious there's plenty of room for Chess to grow in our country.

So what's missing?  Maybe it's all in my head, or maybe it's just that media organizations have lost interest.  After all, it's big events, big stars, and big money that drive media coverage - as in Deep Blue vs. Kasparov (certainly not on the same scale as Fischer-Spassky).  We need a new American chess "hero" to really fire us up again - and perhaps more importantly,  to help displace our waning Fischer-worship with something more positive.  When will we see another world chess champion from the USA?  Surely it's not too much to ask!

One thing's for sure, though:  Our future champion will not appear out of nowhere (neither did Bobby!).  He or she will spring from some local chess club somewhere, and local tournament action will play an important part in that.  So to all the chess organizers around Alabama and around the USA, and to all the weekend warriors who take the time to participate, thank you, and keep it up!

KWG Thought Process Illustrated

Here's a quick look at the geography of Alabama chess.  The red dots represent individual ACF members, and the square marker just south of Birmingham shows the "Center of Mass" I calculated by latitude & longitude.

Map:  ACF Membership

I'm sure few area chessplayers will be surprised at the heavy concentration in and around Birmingham, or the clusters around Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile.  What did surprise me was the almost perfect balance, with ACF membership distributed evenly North-South and East-West of the geographical center of the state.  And it turns out it doesn't matter much whether players are given equal weight, or weighted according to rating - the calculated center barely budges.

Remember, though:  this is just the ACF members.  The list of USCF members in Alabama is MUCH longer, and I don't yet have locations for many of them.  Will the distribution of USCF members look like this, too?  How about Scholastic players?  I'm still looking for data on those...  Also, as Bill Melvin has no doubt been wondering:  Why the heck don't more of those USCF members join the ACF?!

For the remarkably curious or hyper-observant, note that the data overlay doesn't exactly match some cities - the dots were plotted by latitude and longitude, then pasted on top of a convenient highway map.  A more subtle point is that I scattered the dots slightly, so that all the players in Birmingham, for instance, don't appear as a single dot.

Another Brittian chess cartoon

OK, here's another old Brittian cartoon, uncovered in a recent excavation of my files.  Paul liked to turn other people's doodles and notes (such as the "2.10" figure whose meaning is long forgotten) into nifty cartoons.  This one seems appropriate to my recent performance in the State Championship!  Eh bien, c'est la vie.

Paul Brittian cartoon from 1977 Antics

In a fit of nostalgia, I decided to share with you this old cartoon by my late friend Paul Brittian, with whom I shared many fun games of chess and much philosophical discussion before his untimely passing in 1995.  This first appeared in the December 1977 Antics.  By the way, White has just played 1. e4, which apparently sealed his fate.  I'm still looking for the other PB cartoon printed in the magazine back then, and I'll post it if it turns up.

Though the purpose of this web site is to promote chess in our fine state, this is NOT the official site of the Alabama Chess Federation, nor is it endorsed by the Federation.  As a service to Caissa, I humbly direct your attention to the nifty ACF site presently maintained by UAB's Ken Sloan.

Ratings distibution, Alabama vs. US

Well, I like this graph, so here it stays until I find a better place to put it!

Suggestions?  Please send them to me at chess@finefellow.com

This site is presently maintained by Ken Goodman, a sporadic tournament player and creator of an old and primitive DOS chessplaying program called Springer, which has inexplicably failed to win him the fame and fortune he so richly deserves.  For the morbidly curious, click here to download a .Zip file containing Sprinver v1.4.

Incidentally, Ken is presently #33 on the list of rated players in Alabama, but will not rest until he is #32!  Update:  MADE IT!