Kafkaesque Chess Elections

Today the ballots will be counted in the most contentious election in my memory for the board of directors of the United States Chess Federation. Not that my memory is that long for chess politics; mere mention of it puts me to sleep faster than Lunesta. But this year even I stayed awake because the election was either a circus, or a tragedy, depending on your vantage point.

Last year, Sam Sloan, a gadfly Web journalist from New York was elected to the USCF board promising to root out corruption and financial irregularities and other problems in the chess organization. But almost immediately there was a backlash against his election. His opponents made much of the fact that he had served time for a felony and that his Web site contained provocative material that they judged was not suitable for children (and maybe not suitable for many adults). Now the USCF promotes chess in schools and has a large scholastic base, and so perhaps it was not surprising that a board member who didn’t have a squeaky clean background would raise hackles. A recall attempt failed, but the election rules were changed so that any candidate for the USCF board must disclose a felony in his campaign statement in Chess Life magazine.

Sam Sloan got a lot of air time with charges about improprieties in the chess organization. He is a smart man who has the distinction of being one of the few people who is not a lawyer to argue and win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of his charges amounted to little, and were denounced by his adversaries as spurious, but he did succeed in bringing down a fellow board member, a tournament director no less, whom he accused of rigging tournaments so that the director himself achieved an artificially high chess rating.

Sloan is now up for reelection. Ten candidates are running for four spots on the USCF board. The story of the campaign gets even worse, with enough mud slinging to make U.S. presidential politics look like a lesson in good manners.

The results will be announced on the USCF Web site.

[Update: Sloan was not reelected.]

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