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This week (Tue., May 12), making a welcome return to join IM John Watson on Chess Talk is three-time US champion, GM Lev Alburt.

Lev, born in 1945 in Orenburg, Russia, was a product of the famed Soviet school of chess. He lived for many years in Odessa, Ukraine, and won the highly competitive Ukraine championship three-times, from 1972-1974.

In 1979, whilst playing in a tournament in West Germany, he opted to defect and turned to the US where he has since forged an impressive career as player, coach and author of a series of highly praised and best selling chess books.

Here is GM Lev Alburt’s take on the USCF when he served on the Executive Board:

by GM Larry Evans (page 129)

Lev Alburt was the first grandmaster elected to the seven member USCF board of directors and soon became the odd man out. In this exclusive interview he pierces the veil of secrecy and begins naming names.

After defecting from the USSR in 1979 he settled in Manhattan, married, and quickly became a fixture in American chess. After capturing our nation’s highest title three times, he retired from tournaments to write books and give lessons.


EVANS: Lev, it’s hard to believe that people who are supposed to promote chess in America are actually holding back its growth.

ALBURT: I couldn’t believe it myself. But I learned that everyone in the business office and above all members of the board were interested primarily in doing almost nothing. Nothing real. Nothing to promote chess. When I get together with Allen Kaufman or Jimmy Sherwin of the American Chess Foundation we usually discuss ways to promote growth and emulate the success of England, which sprang from nowhere to one of the top nations.

EVANS: Didn’t the board discuss these things?

ALBURT: No. I was extremely surprised that such topics were never addressed. Never, ever.

EVANS: What was their goal?

ALBURT: Let me continue. Even when we went to a restaurant I always expected them to bring up the subject of what can be done to make chess grow. But always the topics during our sessions was who should run for the board next year, who should be awarded national tournaments, or how to avoid being attacked by critics.

EVANS: Well, what did they get out of serving on the board?

ALBURT: Perks, of course. Free trips, and so forth. Some old timers look upon the federation as their toy, their plaything. They hang around people they chummed with for years. They love to give each other awards. When I left they offered me a Certificate of Service, but I said I wasn’t interested in such things.

EVANS: The board voted to ban tape recorders from open sessions but had to back down when Friends of the USCF blasted them in its newsletter. Isn’t the board spending more and more time in closed session anyway?

ALBURT: They discuss a lot of things in private which to my mind don’t belong in closed session. They often use these sessions as an excuse to say nasty things they would not dare to repeat in public. Sometimes they knock people I respect and I challenge them to produce evidence or shut up.

EVANS: So didn’t they become more careful around you?

ALBURT: To some extent I think I spoiled the good feeling they shared together—the feeling that the less anyone outside knows, the better. When someone new was elected to the board, they immediately closed ranks and developed a bond. Even reform candidates wanted to become one of the boys as soon as they were elected.

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