"Frequently Asked Questions About the United States Chess Federation"
NOTE: FICS is not affiliated with USCF in any way. This help file is
intended solely as a public service to FICS users and to promote chess. The
text was written by FICS users and sanctioned by USCF. Neither USCF or FICS
take any responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained in this
--> What is USCF?
USCF stands for the United States Chess Federation. USCF is the national
chess organization for the United States. Its purpose is to promote chess
(see the USCF Mission Statement in another FICS help file, "uscf_mis"). USCF
sponsors various kinds of chess tournaments, promotes chess in public schools
and prisons, represents US interests in international chess organizations, and
offers discounts on chess books and equipment. USCF is composed of over
82,000 individual members and 2100 local and state organizations (known as
--> Are there other national chess organizations?
Yes. USCF is the main organization for over-the-board (OTB) play. They
also sponsor correspondence ("postal") chess and Quick Chess (games with
faster time controls) but other organizations have national importance in
these two areas as well. Information about these other organizations may be
placed on FICS at a later date.
--> What are the benefits for joining USCF?
Well, every member has a different reason for joining. The benefits of
* Chance to play in numerous chess tournaments and have national
ratings in OTB and postal chess
* Cash prizes in tournaments
* A monthly magazine, "Chess Life" ("SchoolMates" for younger
* Discounts for chess equipment and books.
--> Tell me about the tournaments.
There are two main groups: Over-the-board (OTB) and Postal. In OTB
tournaments you play against other opponents face-to-face. In Postal
tournaments you play by mail and exchange moves, usually on postcards.
Membership is necessary to play in a USCF tournament (there are some
exceptions, but these are rare) and entry fees are charged. A complete
listing of upcoming OTB tournaments all across the United States should be
available on FICS sometime in July.
--> What are OTB tournaments like?
Most tournaments take one or two days over the weekend for maybe half a
dozen games, though major national tournaments may last a week or two and
involve many games. A tournament may have anywhere from a dozen to 600 or
even a thousand players.
Tournaments generally have different playing "sections" or groups of
players based on their national ratings. You only play opponents within your
own section. For example, a large tournament might have these five sections:
Open, U2000, U1600, U1200, and Scholastic. Any USCF member can play in the
Open section, only those with a USCF rating under 2000 can play in U2000, only
those below 1600 can play in the U1600 section, only those below 1200 can play
in U1200 and only high school or younger students can play in the Scholastic.
(A high school student with a USCF rating of 1300, for example, could choose
to play in the Open, U2000, U1600 or Scholastic sections, but not in U1200.)
The different sections allow players of similar strength to compete for
Tournament games can last anywhere from one or two hours up to four or
five hours, depending on the time control of the tournament. There are some
Quick Chess tournaments with time controls of only 10 or 30 minutes per player
per game. Tournament time controls are very different than those used on
FICS, so learn the details before playing in a tournament.
Tournaments generally offer cash prizes (!!), with the exception being the
Scholastic tournaments which prefer to give out trophies instead. Most
tournaments offer prizes within each section (1st, 2nd and 3rd for example) as
well as other prizes by ratings categories (for example, the U2000 section may
have a prize for the best scoring U1800 player).
Chess tournaments, organized by the local USCF affiliates (especially
state organizations and clubs) are held weekly all across the United States.
Each tournament varies considerably in style, size, prize fund and difficulty.
Information about USCF sanctioned tournaments is printed monthly in "Chess
Life." We also hope to make such information available on FICS. We suggest
you visit a tournament in your local area and catch the excitement!
--> What if I want to play in an OTB tournament but never have before?
If you're unsure how tournaments run, it may be helpful to visit one or
two before playing. Almost all tournaments allow and encourage spectators.
You need to become aware of tournament rules and etiquette. If you are in
a tournament you will need to know when the rounds start, where the pairings
(lists of who plays who) are posted, how to find your opponent, where to mark
the result of your game, what the time controls are, how to use a chess clock,
how to take notation (it is usually required to record the moves of your
Most tournaments require that you bring your own equipment, but don't
worry if you don't have a regulation set and clock. Most of your opponents
will, and there should be unused sets you can borrow any given round. If you
decide to play in more tournaments, you really should acquire regulation
All of this can seem very intimidating to a new player, but if you show up
early, you should have plenty of time to ask the tournament director, or other
players, to explain the whole process. It may be helpful to obtain a copy of
the US Chess Federation's "Official Rules of Chess" (4th ed) (available from
For your first tournament, either mail your entry fee in advance or pay it
in person at the tournament site. In either case, get there early in order to
familiarize yourself with the rooms, the tournament organizers, and have a
chance to ask questions.
Lastly, remember to just have fun and play some good chess. Most people
do not score very well in their first tournament, but some do win prizes
(larger tournaments generally offer a few prizes for unrated players).
--> What's postal chess all about?
Basically, you play by mail. Your opponent could be from anywhere in the
United States, or even overseas. Generally, you play against opponents in a
small section (4-7 players) with roughly your same level of ability, though
there are also Open tournaments. Each player is required to make a certain
number of moves in a 30-day period (not including the time it takes for the
mail to get through). In examining your next move, you may consult with books
and articles and take notes, but you may not have computers or humans analyze
your games while they are in progress.
Each game may take as long as a year, sometimes longer, but you play
several games simultaneously. You can even have rated matches against
opponents of your own choosing. Some tournaments offer cash prizes; others
offer certificates to the section winners. Information about postal chess is
given each month in "Chess Life."
Many people who are too busy to play OTB tournaments regularly, or even at
all, find that postal chess matches their schedules perfectly. They can
analyze moves during lunch, in the evenings, stalled on the highway during
rush hour, or whenever they have a few minutes free. The time controls mean a
move need not be sent off the day after it is received, and the players can
therefore analyze positions at their leisure.
--> Tell me more about "Chess Life".
"Chess Life" is USCF's official magazine. It has numerous articles for
players of all abilities, quizzes, ways to test your abilities, annotated
games from recent tournaments across the world, stories on chess personalities
and chess-related news. "Chess Life" prints advance information on many
upcoming chess tournaments in the US as well as postal chess. It also has
catalog supplements several times each year with information on discounts on
chess-related products, including books, pieces, boards, computers and
computer software. Companies selling chess products often advertise in "Chess
Life" as well.
--> Tell me more about the affiliates.
An affiliate is simply a local chess club associated with USCF. Almost
every major city in the United States has an affiliate. Many universities and
other organizations sponsor one as well. Currently there are just over 2000
affiliates scattered across the nation.
Each club is different, but most generally hold informal meetings a few
times per month, where the club members can get together and play games,
discuss openings, study grandmaster games, eat doughnuts, or whatever. Clubs
are a great way to become involved in chess, and you normally do not need a
USCF membership to join one.
Affiliates often sponsor USCF tournaments, some of which are open only to
the club's members. This depends on each individual affiliate, though.
You can write to USCF at the address below and request a list of
affiliates in your area.
--> Where do I get more information on USCF?
Well, "Dogma" on FICS would be more than willing to talk to you about USCF
and playing in a tournament. There are other USCFers on FICS, too, and you
can ask them for their opinions. You can also go directy to the source and
call USCF at ... 1-800-388-KING ... and ask them to send you membership
USCF provides free pamphlets on a variety of subjects, available on
request. These include, but are not limited to, pamphlets describing the
rules, how to take notation, what constitutes official equipment, etc. Call
or write USCF for more information.
--> How do I become a USCF member?
There are several ways. You can join at virtually any tournament, call
the above phone number and pay with a credit card, or send your membership fee
directly to USCF at:
186 Route 9W
New Windsor, NY 12553
It may be possible to obtain a slight discount by buying your USCF
membership through an affiliate, or as part of tournament registration fees;
however, this depends on each individual affiliate and tournament.
--> What is the membership fee?
The regular, one year membership fee is $40, of which $21 is the
subscription to "Chess Life". Youth memberships (age 19 and under) cost $15
for one year. Senior memberships (65 and older) are $30 per year.
Scholastic memberships cost $10 per year (generally for elementary
students, but available for age 19 and under). A scholastic membership is not
necessary to play in scholastic tournaments; a youth membership would work
just as well. However, Scholastic membership receive "School Mates", a bi-
monthly magazine for the beginning player, rather than the monthly "Chess
All of the above membership types receive full membership benefits,
including "Chess Life". Again, the major difference between "Youth" members
and "Scholastic" members is that youth members receive "Chess Life" while
scholastic members receive "School Mates".
Discounts are available for junior, family, blind, and prison memberships.
Discounts are also given for longer memberships (for example a two-year
membership); life memberships are also available.
--> Is USCF membership worth it?
If you are an avid chess player who wants to play in tournaments and have
national ratings for OTB and/or postal chess, wants to keep up on the chess
scene, or just wants to help promote chess in the United States, the answer is
... YES!!! Whether you have time for tournament chess, postal or both, a
membership in USCF helps make you a stronger chess player while also bringing
you into contact with other chess players world-wide. You can play chess all
your life, with family, friends, and fellow tournament players. Chess is a
sport that can give you lifelong satisfaction, and USCF gives you a great
opportunity to learn, play, and make new friends along the way. :)
[Last modified October 22, 1995 by Dogma and Friar]