The Many Faces of Scholastic Chess in Oregon

by Jeff Dobbins, OSCF Board member

A tricky yet fantastic aspect of scholastic chess in Oregon is that there are really four different entities that offer chess on a regular basis; three of them have a scholastic “state tournament.”  The best place to watch for events is the NWSRS event calendar; just pay attention to locations of events, as about 70% of the posted events are in Washington state; Green ones are always Oregon, though there are also some other Oregon events that aren’t green.

Unlike in a lot of states, where the USCF-affiliated events and tournaments are the primary source of scholastic chess, that’s not really the case here.  Many years ago, under the impetus of Washington State parents, scholastic events in the northwest diverged from USCF events because there was a feeling that people didn’t want to have students have to pay USCF dues to participate in tournaments and get a rating.  Hence the NWSRS, which is a rating system that’s free and is the source of ratings for most scholastic events in the northwest (some of which will dual-rate, both NWSRS and USCF).   Players coming from out of state should note to the TDs at their first tournament that they have an established rating in USCF (if they do), and the NWSRS rating will thereafter sync up to their USCF rating (though never down, though the details here are a little complicated).

That said, advanced scholastic players certainly can and do play against adults at the Portland Chess Club and in other occasional USCF-rated events throughout the state.  The Portland Chess Club offers end of month G/60s and seasonal “opens” in which you’ll see both adults (~65%) and scholastic players (~35%), most of whom are rated 1100+; they’ve also been sponsoring monthly G/45 events on Saturdays in the middle of the month that attract more scholastic players (about a 50-50 ratio, and — unlike most other PCC events — rated in both USCF and NWSRS systems).

Beyond those USCF events, there are two other groups offering state tournaments.  Chess for Success (CFS) is primarily targeted at serving lower-income schools throughout the state.  Awards are generally trophies for top two scores and those who tie for top two (sometimes 3) scores.  The CFS regional qualifiers are held around February; in these events, if you have the top two scores or tie with top two scores you’ll qualify for the CFS state, held in mid-march in Portland.  CFS State was originally a statewide tournament held since 1967 under the auspices of OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), so it has a long provenance, although CFS itself was founded about 25 years ago, and took over responsibility for the state tournament in 1998.  CFS State is attended by many of the same elementary and middle school kids who play in OSCF events, though it also brings qualified teams and individuals to Portland to play from throughout the state; its philanthropic support of chess in elementary schools far from the urban centers and communities with underserved populations is one of its great features.  One difference between CFS events and those run by the other entities in the state is the CFS does not rate their events through either the USCF or the NWSRS; therefore the results from games played at CFS tournaments will not create a new rating or be reflected in a player’s current USCF or NWSRS rating.

The other entity — the one I’m most affiliated with — is the Oregon Scholastic Chess Federation, formed in 2005 in an effort to generate more quality, rated, scholastic tournaments throughout the year and throughout the state.  It’s been going strong ever since. The founding parents of OSCF wanted to encourage students to grow as chess players and to aspire to play chess throughout their lives. We simply provide support to volunteer parents and coaches offering tournaments throughout the year, and use our state qualifier system to try and encourage more quality events throughout the year.

In the last several years, our top sections at OSCF State have been open, dual-rated (NWSRS and USCF) events that qualify the winners to the Denker, Barber, and National Girls’ Invitational Tournanment held at the same time as the USCF’s US Open, as well as to the Susan Polgar Foundation’s Invitational for Girls.  At OSCF State, there are multiple grade- and rating- based sections, and lots of trophies.  The tournament also has affiliated blitz / bughouse events the night before, and it is a lot of fun. The OSCF State tournament has been the largest chess tournament in the state for the last couple of years.  It’s held in Seaside in April of each year (usually; watch OSCF.org for more information).  Read more about qualifying for the OSCF State Championship.

Finally, there is the Oregon High School Chess Team Association.  The OHSCTA runs the team chess event for high school (and, this year, for middle school players as well).  It’s been around for a long time, like the OMSI event, but it’s much more team-oriented.  That said, the state event (usually end of Feb / early March) is open to all MS & HS players.  Many of the schools play in “leagues” in the months leading up to the state tournament.  The Leagues vary in style and precise format from location to location, with the Portland Area league being the most generous regarding encouraging a wide variety of unaffiliated players to participate.  Other leagues have usually, though not always, been stricter, treating this preliminary play as a “closed event,” only available to teams from schools within their league.  But these are almost all team events.  Play in the leagues has, to my knowledge, never been a prerequisite for registering for OHSCTA state.

So that’s it.  Yeah, the multiplicity of groups is a little silly, in some ways, but OSCF’s motto is more chess, more kids, more fun, and so there you go!