Chess tournaments Chess strategy Computer chess Chess players FIDE Chess variants Chess rules and history

United States Chess Federation

US Chess Federation
Abbreviation US Chess (formerly USCF)
Formation December 27, 1939
Headquarters Crossville, Tennessee
Region served United States
President Gary Walters
Vice President Randy Bauer
Executive Director Jean Hoffman
Staff 30

The US Chess Federation (US Chess, formerly known as the USCF) is the governing body for chess competition in the United States and a member of FIDE, the World Chess Federation. Among other things, US Chess administers the official national rating system, awards national titles, sanctions over twenty national championships annually, and publishes two magazines. US Chess 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 headquartered in Crossville, Tennessee. Its membership as of 2015 is over 80,000, including more than fifty grandmasters.


In 1939, the United States of America Chess Federation 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 US Chess, which had by that time relocated to New York. When Fischer became World Champion in 1972 after defeating Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a match, 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. 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. As of 2015 membership is over 80,000.

US Chess is a federation of state affiliates. Each state has an affiliate which selects delegates to represent that state affiliate in the governance of the organization. This Board of Delegates was the board of directors until changes to the US Chess Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws were approved by the Delegates in 2012. The 2012 governance changes made the seven member Executive Board the corporate board of directors while reserving specific powers to the Board of Delegates. The Delegates retained control over the corporate bylaws, the USCF Official Rules of Chess, the sale, exchange or other transfer of real estate, the code of ethics, the appointment of selected committees, and approval of the budget. At the same time, the Delegates made the Articles of Incorporation much more difficult to change as a way to protect the reservation of those powers to the Delegates.

The election of what is now called the Executive Board has evolved over time. The changes have generally been to expand the number of voters. At one time this board was elected by the Board of Delegates, then the election base was expanded to some 500 voters. A significant change in the early 2000's was to adopt changes which allow any member age 16 and over to vote for the Executive Board. Members who wish to vote are required to register with the US Chess office.

The organization charges membership fees to offset operating costs. Like many membership-driven non-profits, it offers a number of membership options based on factors such as age, length, and, magazine subscriptions. 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, US Chess moved its operations from New Windsor, New York to Crossville, Tennessee, mainly as means to cut expenses. During the move, then US Chess president Beatriz Marinello stated in the annual report that another key reason for the move was to make US Chess "a national organization, not a New York organization." As of 2014 US Chess operations have returned to a break-even basis.


US Chess 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.

US Chess 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


US Chess originally used a rating system devised by Kenneth Harkness. Due to the Harkness system sometimes giving ratings that were unreliable, US Chess switched to a more accurate rating system invented by Arpad Elo, a college professor of physics who was a chess master. Elo worked with US Chess 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 the original ELO system was not able to accurately track the rapid improvement of many new scholastic players in the 1990's, US Chess made changes proposed by the US Chess ratings committee. The current system as implemented by US Chess 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 performed for previously rated players and three for unrated players.

Over the Board Ratings

US Chess over-the board (OTB) ratings currently range from a minimum of 100 to around 3000. There are currently three OTB ratings for different time controls: regular, quick, and blitz. Most tournaments are regular rated, and this is by far the rating the majority of players care about the most. Many players who compete in quick rated events only do so occasionally. Some have expressed concerns that, as a result, quick ratings may be "stale" and not an accurate representation of players current strength. In response to these concerns, US Chess began "dual" rating some time controls in both the regular and quick systems to increase the number of games rated in the quick system. Even with this change, some still express concerns that quick ratings may still not an accurate representation of playing strength for many players. The US Chess ratings committee has been analyzing various changes to the rating system to address these concerns, but no consensus has developed.

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 US Chess rulebook recommends having the delay or increment in force from move one. For time controls without the delay or increment in force from move one (for example, a 40/120, SD/30 game with a ten 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.

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 a quick rated time control. If a section has some games played at dual rated time controls and others at regular rated time controls, the section is 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.

Online Ratings

US Chess recently partnered with the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and to provide online quick and blitz rated tournaments. These online ratings do not affect a player's over-the-board quick and blitz ratings. Apart from the initial seeding of the online quick and blitz ratings for unrated players, the online ratings are computed the same way as the over-the-board ratings.

Correspondence Ratings

US Chess has a correspondence rating system and correspondence tournaments. US Chess correspondence ratings are calculated differently than the over-the-board and online ratings.

Rating Floors

US Chess 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, negative ratings, and as a reward for achieving the OLM title. There are currently four different types of rating floors:

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


US Chess 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

US Chess awards the following titles for over the board play:

Norms-based titles: To achieve a norms-based title, a player must have five rated 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 five performances that would be considered impressive for an 1800 player. Generally, a player must play at least four games in a tournament to be eligible for a norm. An exception is made when a player plays three games and a fourth game is a full point bye or a forfeit win. Norms are not available in quick and blitz events, matches, FIDE event adjustments, and an event where a player has competed against a single opponent more than twice. A player must also have an established rating to achieve a 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 December 6, 1991, the date at which US Chess online records have been retained. Players seeking norms and titles from play before this date can contact the US Chess office.

US Chess awards certificates to players achieving the Original Life Master, National Master, Life Senior Master, and Life Master titles. No US Chess title cannot be lost through poor performance or inactivity. US Chess titles are also 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

US Chess sanctions or runs 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 Tournament of Champions 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. 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. Masters, U.S. Amateur Team Championships (North, South, East, West), U.S. Senior Open, Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship, U.S. Junior Closed, U.S. Junior Open, and Grade Level Nationals. US Chess also helps sponsor the All-Girls Nationals run by the Kasparov Chess Foundation. US Chess currently runs the U.S. Open, Denker, Barber, National Girls Tournament of Champions, Elementary (K-6), Junior High (K-9), High School (K-12), and Grade Level Championships and rotates them among different parts of the country. The other national events are usually bid out to interested affiliates.


US Chess publishes two magazines, the monthly Chess Life, and bi-monthly Chess Life for Kids, which is geared towards those under 14. US Chess also sanctions the US Chess rulebook which is published by Random House. It's currently in its 6th edition in both paperback and kindle forms.

US Chess Sales

US Chess Sales, currently run by House of Staunton, is the official chess shop of the US Chess Federation. It sells, among others things, chess pieces, chess boards, chess bags chess clocks, notation books, chess books, chess software, and chess DVD's. All sales help benefit US Chess.


In 2002, US Chess made a controversial decision to remove former world chess champion Bobby Fischer from its database and revoked his membership based on his anti-American political statements. In 2006, that decision was vacated by a successor board on a motion by board member Sam Sloan, in part due to concerns that the 2002 decision appeared to be retaliation against freedom of speech and counter to American ideals.

In October 2007, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by former executive board member Samuel Sloan accusing US Chess officers Susan Polgar and Paul Truong of misconduct which he alleged influenced the results of the July 2007 US Chess Executive Board elections. 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). That decision was modified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which changed the words "with prejudice" to "without prejudice".

Read more: