by John McCrary

The following is a public communication, which may be posted at the discretion of recipients.

Fellow USCF members and chess enthusiasts: As the USCF enters 2002, we face both prospects and problems. Let me begin by conveying best wishes to our departing members of the Executive Board: Helen Warren, Doris Barry, and George DeFeis. Their work and contributions are appreciated.

Before getting into the more substantive issues, I feel I should start this message by briefly responding to some of the comments included in a letter that was recently made public. That letter stated that "The President conducts business by caucus with the majority of five Board members." In fact, I have scheduled four conference calls of the Board since August 2001, and all calls have involved all seven members. This well exceeds the frequency of conference calls of the previous Board, and shows clearly that all seven Board members have been fully involved in decision-making. Since August, contracts have been negotiated with the full knowledge of all seven Board members, and the input of all members has been seriously taken into account in finalizing those contracts. 
The dissemination of information from the Board has been unfortunately hampered by difficulties with the professional transcript services that are required by the Bylaws. The August transcripts were delivered eight weeks after the meeting, and had apparent technical problems that made them hard to open, copy, and edit for closed sessions, thus delaying their posting. The October transcripts were also delivered very late. We are catching up in this area, but the fact that official Minutes are based, per the Bylaws, on a review of these transcripts means that Minutes may unfortunately be delayed by circumstances beyond USCF's direct control.
There are some major success stories going on right now. The Seattle Chess Foundation is once again taking the US Championship to historic heights of quality, and exploring new ways to increase the excitement of that event by innovations that combine traditional seeding with major qualifying tournaments. The World Chess Hall of Fame and Sidney Samole Chess Museum is off to a great start. The official opening was attended by over 1500 people, including not only top officers of the USCF and FIDE but also a TV star plus several representatives of Florida and Miami government.
Our scholastic leaders continue to be successful in bringing thousands of youngsters into chess, and the USCF Scholastic Council is exploring ways to reach new school programs nationwide. 
All three of the success stories described above share a common goal: they are all trying to reach the millions of casual and potential players in the US who are not presently linked with organized chess. The future growth of US chess must come from the efforts to tap these huge new markets.
The USCF Executive Board, however, also faces very serious challenges. Paramount among these challenges is the need to restore the book-and-equipment service to our members. When this Board took office, we found a depleted inventory, and various obstacles to rebuilding it. As a result, we have had to consider a number of options. The decisions in this area are extremely difficult. The Board is working very hard on this challenge as a top priority, and we anticipate that USCF members will be seeing improvements in our selections throughout the year to come.
A second major challenge concerned the need to reduce the high cost of providing online play for USCF members through US Chess Live.  We have resolved this problem by means of changes, completed in November, which reduce the USCF's costs by about $70,000-$80,000 per year for this service. Thus, the previous six-figure annual total financial impact of US Chess Live has been significantly reduced to a much more affordable level, while retaining the online service for which we are contracted. 
A third challenge is to regain the confidence of our affiliates. Only through a more positive partnership with its affliates will the USCF successfully address the problems of membership growth and retention. The new Board began its tenure by reducing TLA fees, and will be seeking other ways to restore good affiliate relations.
Because of the problems that produced the challenges described above, the newly-elected Board found itself inheriting a serious financial situation. The USCF was losing significant amounts of money in the first quarter of this fiscal year (June-August 2001), much worse than for the same three-month period the year before. My analysis of the huge decline in the first quarter of FY 01-02, relative to the first quarter of FY 00-01, indicated some very clear patterns. About half the negative difference resulted from drops in gross margins in the reduced book-and-equipment operation, by my computations. The costs associated with US Chess Live accounted for about 25% of the negative impact, and significant drops in TLA's, following the large fee increases in Fall 2000, also contributed  to the big negative difference between the two summers.  
As noted above, we have since reduced the cost to USCF of US Chess Live, and have reduced TLA fees to a much more reasonable level. The book-and-equipment operation, feeling the effects of the previous year's policies, is still a major challenge.
Because of these problems, I requested in September that the Board and office cooperate to find $200,000 in cuts on an annual basis. This plan is well underway.
As we face the next year, we will have some new management personnel to help us deal with these challenges. We will be evaluating what is financially feasible with regard to the very important computerization issue. Improved efficiency of member services will be a top priority of the new Executive Director.
The answer to this question is simple: the future of the USCF will be exactly what its members and volunteers decide it will be! The USCF still has the resources to meet all its challenges, but it is absolutely essential that these challenges be addressed productively in the year to come. We cannot afford further erosion of resources. We must return to a balanced financial picture while we meet the long-term challenges to come.
How will we achieve success? We must begin by stopping the blame-gaming, personal attacks, and finger-pointing so characteristic of USCF politics. If we start pointing fingers, we will have a bunch of pointed fingers but no solutions. We must not focus on the origin of problems, but rather on solutions to those problems, as our priority.
We must also remember the importance of pronouns in social psychology.  I was always dismayed when discussions in state association meetings referred to the state association as "us," but to the USCF as "them."  We are all a big "us" with the states, local organizers, and the USCF working together as partners. All of us belong to organizations at all these levels --we as individuals are the foundation of the USCF, just as we are also the foundation of the states and local clubs! I was a state officer long before I became USCF President, but I have always thought of the USCF as "us" rather than  "them" regardless of my level of office.
My late mother was state President of the American Legion Auxiliary in Georgia, an organization with 11,000 Georgia members alone. I was always impressed with the group spirit of that organization. People took pride in the Auxiliary, signing up family (even newborns) as Auxiliary members. If we in the USCF can develop more of that spirit, if we can work together without blame, and if we can remember that the USCF is an "us" and not a "them," then the future long-term success of the USCF will be guaranteed. 
With warm regards for the new year,
John McCrary, USCF President homepage