Loss of Zonals

by Don Schultz

When Mikhail Botvinnik became World Champion, a new format to determine who qualifies for the World Championship Cycle was established. A series of Zonal Championships were used to determine qualifiers for the world championship cycle. The USA, as one of three single-country Zones, was allowed to use its national championship as its Zonal tournament. This added prestige to the US Championship, saved the USCF considerable money and served as a great convenience to our players. The USCF has since religiously protected this single FIDE Zonal status. They have, that is, until now.

As reported by FIDE and condemned by major national chess federations, the FIDE Presidential Board, at its December Board meeting in Teheran, arbitrarily abolished the existing world championship cycle format. They not only broke with tradition in dramatically altering game-times, they did away with the Zonal system and instituted a continental qualifying system.

FIDE Vice President Steve Doyle represents the USCF on the FIDE Presidential Board but he was unable to attend their meeting in Teheran where these world championship decisions were made. In order to have USCF participation, FIDE offered to pay the expenses of a substitute USCF representative to attend their Board meeting. Unfortunately neither USCF FIDE Zonal President Jim Eade nor USCF Delegate to FIDE Bill Kelleher could go in Steve’s place.

Despite recommendations to send more chess-savvy representatives to the FIDE Board meeting, the USCF EB opted to send Executive Director George DeFeis to a preliminary FIDE discussion meeting in India. This was George’s first exposure to FIDE and he simply did not have the knowledge to recognize the importance of the world championship discussion let alone argue forcefully against it. We needed someone there who would have immediately seen the problems and fought tooth and nail against these changes.

Hopefully, by acting in concert with other sympathetic national federations these arbitrary decisions by the FIDE Board can be undone or at least moderated. But that won’t solve the fundamental root cause of what happened. The EB must use the most qualified the best person for the job period. In this case there were qualified USCF leaders who could have gone to Teheran and represented us effectively; they should have been sent instead of DeFeis.

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