Friday, January 6, 2012

Marketing the American Checker Federation

Dear Checkers Friends,

If organized checkers is to survive, we need to overhaul the ACF's marketing and publicity, both to increase membership/tournament attendance and to improve the visibility and reputation of the game as a whole.  From what I've seen of historical checkers literature, the complaints that "no one takes us seriously" and that "we have to reach out to more players" are present in every generation of players.  Yet we've also managed to survive as an organization for 60+ years, and as an organized game for roughly two centuries.  So the task before us is twofold: identify what has worked consistently, and identify what new ideas or approaches are needed.

Like it or not, the ACF's support base is very conservative, in the sense that the players generally like doing things the way they've "always" been done, whether that means tournament governance or just taking a lucky sock to every Ohio tournament.  That can be frustrating for our second task, even if the proposed changes are seemingly inconsequential, but it can actually be quite valuable for our first task. There's nothing like running things the same way for years on end to subject nearly every element of a given experience (say, making tournament pairings) to intense scrutiny, so even if nothing's really been changed for a decade, those of us who've been around the game for many years can offer very useful analysis of why certain things are done.  Now, I don't think that necessarily takes any individual practices off the table (well, we should probably leave the actual checkers on the table, unless they're my opponent's pieces) in discussions of rule or policy changes, but it should encourage more conscientious discussion about pros and cons.

Our second goal, as I mention above, is to figure out what we need to change or to add, to improve the playing experience and to sustain the game's and the ACF's attractiveness for future generations.  We've made some progress in that area this past year: we now have updated ratings, a social media presence (including our first two webcasts of major events), significant scholastic interest in Missouri and Alabama, a strong group of "new" players from Italy, and wider access to checkers literature.   These accomplishments, and others that I've forgotten, have both shown us how we can potentially use our current resources and underscored certain limitations to those resources.  For instance, according to the Ustream metrics for the Moiseyev-Borghetti match, we had 8272 unique viewers tune in over the course of the match.  Even accounting for some view count inflation (which is inevitable since IP addresses often change), that's an exponentially larger crowd than we've had at any tournament for the past 15 years.  I don't know how many new members signed up for the ACF this past year, but I would be surprised if we managed 1% of that figure.  Lots of people play checkers, and many are even interested enough in playing checkers to improve their skills in it. But if we don't get them in the pews, so to speak, then to be perfectly honest I don't think we'll make it another 20 years, let alone 60. 

So we have to ask ourselves: what exactly does the ACF offer? What, in other words, is the product we're trying to market? Our current ACF Benefits page lists four items: the ACF Bulletin, the right to play in ACF events (a requirement rarely enforced outside the Nationals), an official ACF rating, and the chance to meet people with similar interests.  All these are good benefits, and I think most ACF members genuinely appreciate at least a couple of them.  But we're insiders, and the point of marketing is to make a product visible and attractive to those on the outside.  It's not easy, and it's not cheap-- as any business owner will tell you, publicity is the result of conscious and continual investment, in time and money.  Right now, to the best of my knowledge, we have two active checkers clubs (one in NC and one in TN), two scholastic groups (MO and AL), and about two dozen regular (annual) tournaments.  We also have no checkers columns, no press kits or brochures, no corporate partners or sponsors, no ads on playing sites (and of course, no playing site of our own), very little media coverage, and almost no competition for critical ACF leadership positions.  And perhaps most worrisome of all, the average national or international event receives financial support from well less than 10% of the membership, often resulting in prize payouts that barely cover the winner's travel costs.  These are depressing numbers, but I hope they're also eye-opening numbers.  We simply won't get anywhere relying on the game's natural beauty or the camaraderie of checker players: we must have a message, and we must communicate it well and often.

Now, at this point you may well be expecting me to ask you to invite a friend to a tournament, or track down some players at a local school (fire station, park, retirement home, chess club, etc), or talk to a local business about sponsoring the ACF, or get out your checkbook and donate ten bucks to the 2012 Nationals prize fund.  I hope you will do those things, but I also know you've heard them all before and may well have learned to tune them out.  So let me offer a tougher challenge: I want you to make the American Checker Federation a product worth telling the world about.  I want us to be proud to market our game and our group, because we're proud of what we've created. I want those of you who've left the ACF (or never joined) to get over whatever squabble you had with ornery officers or snail's-pace games or minuscule prize funds, and spend the three dollars a month (less than a gallon of gas!) to join up and make this organization work-- because it works for you, and won't work without you.  I want current members (even the crusty life members like me) to remember why you're here in the first place, and to find at least one "baby step" to help make the ACF into the well-run, professional organization I know it can be.  And most of all, I want you all to be ambassadors for the game: we may only have one Player's Representative, but we can have hundreds of representative players.

This is our game, and our group: it's time we get out of this rut, and hit the ground jumping!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Improving ACF Tournament Divisions

As many of you know, the American Checker Federation currently uses a three-tiered system to divide players in its National Tournaments: minors, majors, and masters.  In general, players have been allowed to self-select which division they play in, with the exception of previous years’ division winners and with only occasional enforcement of rating cutoffs.  This has led to more than one controversy about players “sandbagging”—deliberately playing in a lower division to improve their chances of winning—and, less commonly, of players spoiling a higher division by advancing too far.  These controversies often sow discord among what is already a shrinking group of tournament checker players, and occasionally spill over into very public feuds that hurt our organization’s and our game’s reputation.  To handle questions about tournament divisions in a more amicable fashion, and to encourage fair play, I propose a new system for our national tournament divisions, to be placed in the official ACF Tournament Rules, under Section IV (“Classification and Seeding”).  I am also posting a copy of the proposal on the ACF Forum and distributing it by email, in an effort to get useful feedback and revision ideas from a range of players.

Much of the existing confusion about tournament divisions, I believe, has stemmed from the lack of reliable ACF ratings, a weakness that has now been rectified thanks to the work of several dedicated volunteers.  Now that we have more useful data, I believe we should take the opportunity to rethink the three-tier system, and replace it with a four-tier system, as outlined below.  Over the past ten years, we’ve averaged about 56 players per Nationals, including the youth tournaments held from 2003-2009.  Even accounting for declining attendance in the past five years, I believe 45-50 is a reasonable expected attendance for an NT, given sufficient promotion.  Under those conditions, my proposed model would still allow for divisions of about 12 players each—certainly enough for a standard Swiss tournament, with possibilities of a round-robin depending on the style and turnout.  More importantly, though, they set out clear boundaries for tournament divisions, and outline specific procedures for assigning players into the appropriate division. Your feedback is welcome, and I hope we can integrate these changes into the 2011 National Tournament.


1. Replace the current divisions with a four-tiered rating system: 2201+, 1901-2200 (U2200), 1701-1900 (U1900), and 0-1700.  These rating cutoffs are similar to those suggested in the most recent ACF 3-Move Tournament Rules, and are based on player performance in the last few National Tournaments. Tournament directors should acquire a copy of the most recent ACF ratings before the tournament starts, and must use those ratings to assign divisions.

2. Players within 100 rating points of the next-highest division may petition to play up one division.  Unrated players may petition to enter the U2200 or U1900 divisions based on state tournament performance or, in the case of no previous tournaments, based on the testimony of at least one established tournament player.  Players are encouraged to prepare these petitions ahead of time.

3. First-time tournament players who wish to play in the U1700 division must offer evidence (preferably combined with the testimony of another ACF player) that playing there is appropriate given their playing strength. This rule is not meant to discourage beginners from entering the Nationals, but rather to ensure that experienced but unrated players compete at a fair level.

4. Pursuant to the existing ACF rule about auto-promoting division winners, previous Majors winners (currently Phil Schwartzberg [2008], Albert Tucker [2009], and Teal Stanley [2010]) will play in the 1900-2199 division, unless they place into a higher division. The previous Minors winners (currently Corey Modich [2008], Willis Shewcraft [2009], and Nick Addante [2010]) will play in the 1700-1899 division, with the same exception. Following this pattern, future division winners will move up one category automatically, for the same three-year period. If a division winner has not reached the next rating threshold within three years of his or her respective division victory, he or she will return to his or her regular division.   State tournament victories will not trigger this auto-promotion, but they may be used in consideration of petitions to play up. 

5. State tournaments may combine rating divisions at the tournament directors' discretion, but the first round matchups must be between players of the same division whenever possible.  TDs may also consider using mini round-robin tournaments between players of the same rating division, to improve rating accuracy, but the majority of the tournament rounds should use Swiss pairings.

6. In cases where TDs need to adjust the number of players in a given division (for instance, to avoid awarding a bye or to allow for a round-robin tournament), they may ask the lowest-rated player in a division to move down, or the highest-rated one to move up.

7. Any remaining questions about placement should be referred to a four-person committee with representatives from each division.  If insufficient representatives are available, the tournament director may assign the remaining committee seats.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  Please feel free to email me your comments at, or post them on the ACF Forum (  I look forward to your feedback!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2011 British and Irish Freestyle Championship

Paddy Doyle won the 2011 British and Irish Freestyle Championship, held this past weekend in Kildare, Ireland. Liam Stephens kindly provided this crosstable of tournament results, and also posted these standings on the ACF Forum:

1. Paddy Doyle 15 points
2. John McElhone 15
3. Colin Young 13
4. Liam Stephens 11
5. Bill Dobbins 11
5. Patricia Breen 11

1. Billy Kelly 14 points
2. Paddy Byrne 13
3. Sean Davis 11
4. Brendan Murray 11
5. Liam Doyle 11

1.Denis Fitzgerald 13 points
2. Michael Rattigan 11
3. Kenny Johnston 9
4. Michael Martin 6

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Final 11-Man Standings

Final Standings(after 8 rounds)

1. Moiseyev 25
2. Laverty 21
3. Webster 19
4. McLellan 18 (126 hp)
5. T. Stanley 18 (125 hp)
6. McClintock 18 (119 hp)
7. Millhone 18 (118 hp)
8. Ross 16
9. Williamson 14
10. Smith 13
11. B. Stanley 11
12. Martin 10
13. Atkins 9

Hopefully a couple of the participants will update us on their impressions of the tournament.

Friday, February 11, 2011

11-Man Update

After R6:

1. Moiseyev 20
2. Laverty 16
3-4. Webster & Ross 14
5-8. McClellan, McClintock, Millhone, and T. Stanley 13
9. Williamson 12
10. Smith 10
11-12. B. Stanley & Atkins 7

11-Man Ballot Tournament Update

After R5:

1. Moiseyev 16
2-3. Laverty & McClellan 13
4-5. McClintock & T. Stanley 12
6-7. Millhone & Webster 11
8-10. Ross, Williamson, & Martin 10 (Martin withdrew; his 10 is counting a 3-point bye in R6)
11. Smith 8
12. B. Stanley 7
13. Atkins 5

2011 11-Man Ballot Tournament

Alan sent me a copy of the crosstable. After three rounds, here's how things stand:

1-2. Alex Moiseyev and Tim Laverty (10)
3-4. Joe McClellan and Bill McClintock (8)
5-6. John Webster and Mike Ross (7)
7. Teal Stanley (6)
8-11. Alan Millhone, Ted Williamson, JR Smith and James Martin (5)
12. James Atkins (3)
13. Bill Stanley (2)