Winston Worst USCF President. August 6, 1998. Larry Parr.


Sam Sloan has initiated a discussion about the worst USCF president since the late 1970s. Nominations have come flowing in.

Harold Winston - Worst USCF President Ever?

Here is my handicap sheet:

Gary Sperling (1978-1981): By no means the worst president. He inherited a financial mess and unfit professional leadership. The USCF tottered on dissolution. When he left the presidency three years later, the organization was notably healthier. Since Mr. Sperling would have gotten the discredit if the USCF had collapsed, he should get some of the credit for saving the Federation.

On the other hand, Mr. Sperling had an appetite for perks and power. He politicized policy decisions, and his later tour as Treasurer was an unhappy one. In a reelection bid in 1993, he was swamped by Frank Camaratta.

Tim Redman (1981-1984): By no means the worst president. He was a consolidator who can take credit for ushering in the modern day Chess Life and for doing relatively little harm to the USCF domestically. On the foreign front, he supported Florencio Campomanes and led the struggle to destroy Gens una Sumus (the spirit that we are all one and that chess should be free of politics). The mess in FIDE has its origins in Mr. Redman's presidency.

To his credit, a Chess Life editor who served under Mr. Redman reported that the president seldom meddled politically in the magazine.

E. Steven Doyle (1984-1987): By no means the worst president. I was his editor. He hired me and eventually voted to fire me. Although we fought running battles for years on end, my view is that he shook up the Federation for the better during his first year in office. His darkest hour was agreeing to a Soviet demand to blacklist then U.S. champion Lev Alburt in a proposed USA-USSR team match that was to take place in Atlantic City.

Mr. Doyle's undoing as president was his age. He was only 26 upon acceding to power, and he later presided over the eventual dissolution of the best overall office team in USCF history. (The executive director during that period would constitute an exception to this description.) Several of the people in executive positions left for what invariably turned out to be far greener pastures -- a damning indictment of Policy Board management.

If Mr. Doyle had been 36 when elected, he might have been a great USCF president.

Harold Winston (1987-1990): The worst. A real Old Guard doozie. During his presidency, a time of economic uplift, the USCF did worse than stagnate. It declined. For months on end, regular memberships plummeted, and merchandise sales were actually lower than earlier. He ran huge budget deficits. During his presidency, the Treasurer initiated proceedings for a possible bankruptcy filing. No president before or since had greater control over his Policy Board. In three years, Mr. Winston lost precisely one important vote (the result was later reversed). Yet it was his control over the Board, which represented total politicization of decision-making, that led to a partial repudiation of the Old Guard in 1990.

A specific example of how Mr. Winston did business was the by now infamous vote rejecting an 800 sales number. The proposal came from Board dissident GM Lev Alburt, and it was rejected 6-1. Mr. Winston and others argued that New Windsor would be under phone siege; there would be too much contact with the membership and, presumably, the outside world. Later, when GM Alburt left the Board, the Old Guard adopted the idea (first proposed in by GM Larry Evans in 1978)! In the meantime the USCF lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mr. Winston rammed through a motion banning tape recordings of open meetings, which was reversed after it was exposed in a Delegates Newsletter issued by Friends of the USCF, an organization formed during his presidency.

GM Max Dlugy (1990-1993): This outsider triumphed over Old Guardist Harry Sabine by 238-93. An advocate of OMOV, GM Dlugy appeared to have a narrow majority on the Board. Appearances were deceiving. IM John Donaldson, who had made specific promises to change our FIDE team, reversed himself completely. My belief is that he sought out Mr. Winston and later Jerry Hanken as father figures; his reward was to become almost permanent captain of America's olympic teams.

Still, the first year of the Dlugy presidency was a successful one. Memberships and sales improved, and such reforms as permitting the executive director a voice on the Board and attempting to limit documents listed as classified, were instituted.

GM Dlugy's final two years were marked by failure. In 1991 Jerry Hanken narrowly defeated insurgent David Mehler by 16 votes. OMOV was dead for the duration, and Mr. Hanken organized a narrow Board majority around his massive bearded figure.

Denis Barry (1993-1996): It was during Mr. Barry's watch that the Crisis of the Old Order could no longer be contained. Old Guardists fell out among themselves, and for the first time, several of these people sought out the Friends of the USCF as an ally in close political races. The infighting became so vicious that at one Policy Board meeting, Jerry Hanken threatened to kill President Barry. As he made a move toward the smaller, though tough New Jerseyite, Mr. Hanken quite literally lost his pants. What had the makings of pathos and, arguendo, multiple hernias and heart attacks degenerated into bathos.

OMOV was on its way.

I believe that Mr. Barry tried to reform the USCF, but he was too cautious to take the advice of the Friends and too decent to play along completely with his Old Guard buddies. Without an encompassing vision, he ran a halfway house administration.

Donald Schultz (1996-1999): His administration, which has been rocked by financial scandals and scarred by unfulfilled hopes, still has a year to run. I will forego further comment except to say that Sam Sloan was right that he is by no means the worst president.

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