United States Chess Federation

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United States Chess Federation
USCF logo.png
Abbreviation USCF
Formation December 27, 1939; 75 years ago (1939-12-27)
Headquarters Crossville, Tennessee
Region served
United States
Ruth Haring
Vice President
Gary Walters
Executive Director
Jean Hoffman
Website www.uschess.org

The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is the governing body for chess competition in the United States and a member of FIDE, the World Chess Federation. Among other things, the USCF administers the official national rating system, sanctions over twenty national championships annually, and publishes two magazines. The USCF was founded and incorporated in Illinois on December 27, 1939, from the merger of two regional chess organizations and is currently a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Crossville, Tennessee. Its membership as of 2014 is around 80,000, including more than fifty grandmasters.


In 1939 the USCF was created in Illinois through the merger of two regional organizations, the American Chess Federation and National Chess Federation. The combined membership at the time was around 1,000. It experienced consistent, modest growth until the "Fischer boom" of the 1970s. When the American prodigy Bobby Fischer emerged as a contender for the World Chess Championship in 1970, the surge in chess's popularity led to a doubling of membership for the USCF, which had by that time relocated to New York. When Fischer successfully won the title of World Champion in 1972, membership nearly doubled again, reaching a peak in 1974 that was not surpassed until 1992. When Fischer did not defend his title in 1975 and withdrew from public competition, membership in turn declined.[2] Though the game became more popular in the 1980s with the spread of chess computers, it was the growth of scholastic chess in the 1990s and 2000s that nearly doubled membership numbers again, eventually reaching a peak of 89,000 in 2002.[3] As of 2014 membership is over 80,000.

The organization charges membership fees to offset operating costs. Like many membership-driven non-profits, it has offered a number of membership levels and options based on variables like magazine subscriptions, membership term, and member age. With the increased popularity of scholastic chess came financial pressure on the organization which could not scale its operational costs in a way compatible with the low dues charged to young players. Between 2005 and 2006, the USCF moved its operations from New Windsor, New York to Crossville, Tennessee as means to cut expenses. During the move, then USCF president Beatriz Marinello stated in the annual report that another key reason for the move was to make USCF "a national organization, not a New York organization." As of 2014 USCF operations have returned to a break-even basis.


The USCF provides the main rating system for tournament chess in the United States in conjunction with approximately 2,000 affiliates, mostly chess clubs and local chess organizations.

USCF rating classes
Category Rating range
Senior Master 2400 and up
Master 2200–2399
Expert 2000–2199
Class A 1800–1999
Class B 1600–1799
Class C 1400–1599
Class D 1200–1399
Class E 1000–1199
Class F 800-999
Class G 600-799
Class H 400-599
Class I 200-399
Class J 100-199


Originally, the USCF used a rating system devised by Kenneth Harkness. Due to the Harkness system sometimes giving ratings that were inaccurate, the USCF switched to a more accurate rating system that was invented by Arpad Elo, a college professor of physics who was a chess master. Elo worked with the USCF for many years, and the system he invented is utilized in a variety of other games and sports, including USA Today's college football and basketball rankings. Because this rating system was not able to accurately track the influx of scholastic players in the 90's who were improving rapidly, the USCF made changes proposed by the USCF ratings committee headed by chairman Mark Glickman. Glickman is a college statistics professor who plays chess and has written numerous papers related to rating systems. The current rating system as implemented by the USCF is still an Elo rating system, but includes (among other things) a sliding K-factor allowing for more rapid jumps for lower rated players and a revised iterative procedure in rating events in which two calculations are preformed for previously rated players and three for unrated players. There is an ongoing discussion within the USCF Ratings Committee of going to Glickman's Glicko-2 system in the future. The Glicko-2 system is an enhanced version of the Glicko system that would even better allow for rapid jumps for players whose skill might improve dramatically in a short period of time.

Over the Board Ratings[edit]

There are currently three over-the board (OTB) ratings for different time controls, regular, quick, and blitz. Since many players who play quick rated games only do so occasionally, quick ratings are often "stale" and not an accurate representation of a player's current strength. Because of this, the USCF began "dual" rating some time controls in both the regular and quick systems to increase the number of games that are rated in the quick system. Despite this, quick ratings are still not an accurate representation of playing strength for many players. The USCF ratings committee is currently analyzing the possibility of having regular and blitz rated games affect a player's "stale" quick rating to increase the number of games rated in the quick system. An addition to this proposal is that regular and quick rated games would affect a player's Blitz rating if their Blitz rating is "stale." [4]

  • Regular rated sections have games that have at least 66 minutes of "total playing time" for each player
  • Dual rated sections have games that have between 30 and 65 minutes of "total playing time" for each player
  • Quick rated sections have games that have more than 10 but less than 30 minutes of "total playing time" for each player
  • Blitz rated sections have games that have between 5 and 10 minutes of "total playing time" for each player

To determine the "total playing time," add the base time and the delay or increment, with one second of delay or increment counting as one minute of "total playing time." For example, G/60;d5 (sixty minutes per player with a five second delay each move) adds up to 65 and thus is dual rated. The USCF rulebook recommends having the delay or increment in force from move one.[5] For time controls without the delay or increment in force from move one (for example, 40/120, SD/60 with a five second delay only on the sudden death time control), "total playing time" is determined as if the delay or increment was in effect from move one.[6]

For events with different time controls for different rounds/schedules, the following rules are in effect. If any round in a section uses blitz rated time controls, all rounds in the section must use the same blitz rated time control. If any round in a section uses quick rated time controls, all rounds in the section must use quick rated time controls. If a section has some games played at dual rated time controls and others at regular rated time controls, the section will be regular rated only.

Regular, dual, and quick events must have a base time of at least five minutes and Blitz three minutes. Quick and Blitz events must have a single, sudden death time control. Both players must start the game with the same time.[7]

Online Ratings[edit]

The USCF recently partnered with the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and Chess.com to provide online quick and blitz rated tournaments. Apart from the initial seeding of the online quick and blitz ratings for unrated players, they are separate from the over-the-board quick and blitz ratings.[8][9]

Correspondence Ratings[edit]

The USCF also has a correspondence rating system and correspondence tournaments.[10]

Rating Floors[edit]

The USCF has implemented rating floors for the over-the-board and online ratings (a level in which a players rating may not fall below), to help prevent discouragement, sandbagging, and negative ratings. There are currently four different types of rating floors:

  • Minimum floor- No rating may go below 100. Most players have a slightly higher minimum floor due to the formula AF = min(100 + 4NW + 2ND + NR; 150) where NW is the number of wins, ND is the number of draws, and NR is the number of events where the player has played at least 3 games. The idea behind the formula was to do something about the pileup of scholastic players at the minimum of 100. The formula helps differentiate players who have won and drawn more games as well as competed in more events.
  • Money floors- If a player wins $2,000 or more in a tournament, the player gets the floor at the first 100 point level (up to 2000) that would make then no longer eligible for that section/prize again. For example, if a player wins $2,000 in a U1800 section, the player is given an 1800 money floor.
  • Peak rating floors- These floors exist at 1200 and at every one hundred point levels up to 2100. To determine a peak rating floor, subtract 200 points from a player's peak rating and use first 100 point floor at or below that level. For example, a player who has a peak rating of 1650 has a peak rating floor of 1400.
  • Original life master floor- A player who achieves the Original Life Master title is awarded a 2200 floor[11]

A player who has a history of not being competitive at their floor can request that their floor be lowered.


USCF norms-based titles
Title Rating Level
Life Senior Master 2400
Life Master 2200
Candidate Master 2000
1st Category 1800
2nd Category 1600
3rd Category 1400
4th Category 1200

The USCF awards the following titles for over the board play:

  • Original Life Master (OLM, often abbreviated LM)-awarded when a player keeps an established regular rating at or above 2200 for 300 games (not necessarily consecutive). Achieving the title gives the player a 2200 rating floor so they are a master for life.
  • National Master (NM)-awarded when a player achieves an established regular rating of at least 2200

Norms-based titles: To achieve a norms-based title, a player must have five tournament performances ("norms") that would be considered impressive for the particular rating level. For example, to achieve the 1st Category title, a player must have had five performances that would be considered impressive for an 1800 player. Norms are only available in regular and dual rated events, in tournaments of four rounds or more, and where a player has competed against a single player no more than twice. A player must have an established rating to achieve the title, and to achieve the Life Senior Master, Life Master, and Candidate Master titles, the player must also have had an established rating corresponding to that level. The norms-based title system has been applied retroactively to the beginning of 1991. Player's seeking norms and titles from play before 1991 can contact the USCF office. [12]

The titles awarded by USCF are completely separate from the OTB titles awarded by FIDE: Grandmaster (GM), International Master (IM), FIDE Master (FM), Candidate Master (CM), Woman Grandmaster (WGM), Woman International Master (WIM), Woman Fide Master (WFM), and Woman Candidate Master (WCM).

National Championships[edit]

The USCF organizes or sanctions over twenty national championship tournaments annually. The most significant, both required by the organization's Bylaws, are the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Open. The U.S. Woman's Championship is now run simultaneously with the U.S. Championship. The Denker Tournament of High School Champions, Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and National Girls Invitational are held during the US Open. The largest national championships are the Elementary (K-6), Junior High (K-9), and High School (K-12) Championships which are held annually in the spring in different parts of the country. Every four years the "Supernationals," an event combining all three in one tournament, is held. The last Supernationals in 2013 drew over 5,300 players to Nashville, Tennessee and was the largest chess tournament ever. Other national events include the National Open, U.S. Class Championships, U.S. Amateur Team Championships, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Junior Open, and the Grade Level Nationals.


Main article: Chess Life

The USCF publishes two magazines, the monthly Chess Life, which is advertised as the "most widely read chess magazine in the world," and bi-monthly Chess Life for Kids (formerly School Mates), a publication for scholastic members. It also sanctions the USCF rulebook which is published by Random House. It's currently in its 6th edition which is in both paperback and kindle forms.[13]

USCF Sales[edit]

USCF Sales is the official chess shop of the United States Chess Federation and sells, among others things, chess pieces, chess boards, chess bags chess clocks, notation books, chess books, chess software, and chess DVD's. All sells help benefit the USCF.[14]


In 2002, the USCF made a controversial decision to remove former world chess champion Bobby Fischer from its database and revoked his membership [15] based on his anti-American political statements. In 2006, that decision was vacated[16] by a successor board, possibly due to concerns that the 2002 decision appeared to be retaliation against freedom of speech and counter to American ideals.[17]

In October 2007, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by former executive board member Samuel Sloan accusing USCF officers Susan Polgar and Paul Truong of misconduct which he alleged influenced the results of the July 2007 USCF Executive Board elections.[18] On August 28, 2008, US District Judge Denny Chin dismissed the suit with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USCF Employee Contact Information". The United States Chess Federation. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  2. ^ Bobby Fischer for Beginners, by Renzo Verwer, 2010, New in Chess, p. 40
  3. ^ Chess Life yearbook
  4. ^ http://glicko.net/ratings/report14.txt.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  5. ^ Just, Tim (2014). U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (6th ed.). ISBN 0-8129-3559-4. 
  6. ^ https://secure2.uschess.org/TD_Affil/faq-partb.php.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  7. ^ http://www.uschess.org/docs/gov/reports/timecontrols.pdf.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  8. ^ http://www.chessclub.com/uscf.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  9. ^ http://www.uschess.org/content/view/12987/319/.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  10. ^ http://www.uschess.org/content/blogcategory/82/393/.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  11. ^ http://glicko.net/ratings/rating.system.pdf.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  12. ^ http://glicko.net/ratings/titles.pdf.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  13. ^ Just, Tim (2014). U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess (6th ed.). ISBN 0-8129-3559-4. 
  14. ^ http://uscfsales.com/.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  15. ^ "Executive Board Actions (EB 02-40)". USCF. 2002. 
  16. ^ "2006 Yearbook". USCF. Dec 31, 2006. references to Fischer restored 
  17. ^ "Committee Reports". USCF. 2002. p. 46. The Executive Board should stay away from this matter. If the USCF is asked for its views on his comments, the simplest possible response should be given: A great chessplayer who, as a U.S. citizen, has aright to his political opinions, which are purely his own 
  18. ^ McClain, Dylan Loes (October 8, 2007). "Chess Group Officials Accused of Using Internet to Hurt Rivals". NY Times. 
  • Official data in the USCF Yearbook 2006 PDF

External links[edit]