The Strength Switch

The Strength Switch

By: Lea Waters AM, PhD

How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish

Unlock your children’s potential by helping them build their strengths.

This game-changing book shows us the extraordinary results of focusing on our children’s strengths rather than always trying to correct their weaknesses. Most parents struggle with this shift because they suffer from a negativity bias, thanks to evolutionary development, giving them “strengths-blindness.” By showing us how to flick the Strength Switch Lea demonstrates how we can not only help our children build resilience, optimism, and achievement but we can also help inoculate them against today’s pandemic of depression and anxiety.

As a strengths-based scientist for more than 20 years, Waters has seen how this approach enhances self-esteem and energy in both children and teenagers. Yet more on the plus side: parents find it a particularly exciting and rewarding way to raise children. With many suggestions for specific ways to interact with your kids, Waters demonstrates how to discover strengths and talents in our children, how to use positive emotions as a resource, how to build strong brains and even how to deal with problem behaviours and talk about difficult situations and emotions. The Strength Switch will show parents how a small shift can yield enormous results.

Post taken from:

Elizabeth Spiegel’s blog

Elizabeth Spiegel's blog

intermittent thoughts on my life and work as the chess coach
at IS 318, a public middle school in Brooklyn

The Scholastic Council Are A Bunch of Cheaters, Part Two

 For a long time, the National Junior High has had two championship sections, K-8 and K-9.  In the last forty years, almost all American intermediate schools have changed from 7-9 to 6-8, making the K-9 section redundant.  The only schools that bring 9th graders to nationals are private k-12 schools (and Hunter, a public gifted K-12). Other schools, like TH Rogers and 318 have learned to play in this section, because sometimes its much easier to win, but no one actually has 9th graders except the k-12 privates. Note that even the private K-12 schools generally divide themselves (internally) into k-5, 6-8 and 9-12 sub-schools.

The scholastic council just announced changes to the 2019-2020 Scholastic Regulations that eliminates the K-8 section of Junior High Nationals, leaving only the K-9. This gives private schools and Hunter the exclusive right to bring 9th graders, a huge, entirely gratuitous, structural advantage. 

Also keep in mind that private school students in New York are already a full year older than their public school counterparts. Technically it is supposed to be 9 months, but they hold their kids back so they can be the oldest and most accomplished. That means the private schools (and Hunter) have a two year age advantage on public school kids.

In 2016 I was on the Scholastic Committee (the larger, advisory body) and on the subcommittee to redo the nationals sections. We did not remove the K-9 championship section then because there was, at the time, one remaining 7-9 school that competed, Metcalf, and their coach was also on the committee. That school became 6-8 in the last couple years.

Sunil Weermantry kicked me off the voluntary Scholastic Committee without warning or notification because he unilaterally felt there were “too many people from New York.” No one else I know was removed. I was an active member of the committee and served on numerous subcommittees. My emails asking to be reinstated were ignored.

I know someone will make the argument “why should we reduce the overall attendance numbers at nationals by excluding a grade.” But why not include tenth grade? It’s exactly the same!

THERE ARE NO 7-9 SCHOOLS (ok, I’m sure there are a couple somewhere, but definitely none that consistently attend nationals).

Scholastic Council Members and the private schools you teach, let me be the first to CONGRATULATE YOU on most probably winning the next 7/10 National Junior High School Chess Championships!  Way to put your finger on the scale and entrench your power!

Beautiful example you are setting for your students.

(updated to reflect my calming down and realizing this is a huge but not 100% decisive advantage.)

Posted MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2019

I am not meeting my recruitment targets

I find the whole accusation of recruitment weird. I don’t think recruitment is in any way wrong, but I am also fairly certain I have never in my life approached anyone and suggested they go to IS 318.

Almost two years ago,, I received an email from Kele Perkins (who I know of but don’t actually know) saying he was helping out two Chinese families who were thinking to move to NYC and wanted their children to go to a chess school. One kid was 2000, the other was ten and 2300. Both would be amazing, game-changing recruits for IS 318.
I told them they would be very welcome at IS 318, but that with that rating they could probably get a scholarship somewhere better. I personally approached David MacEnulty at Dalton, Marcus Mairena at Collegiate, and Matan Prilleltensky at Speyer to try to get this kid, who I don’t know at all,  a scholarship to a better school. I copy an email I sent at the time below. I removed the family’s names and emails,  but I’m sure Kele, David, Marcus and Matan will all verify my account.

Elizabeth Spiegel 
Fri, Sep 29, 2017, 9:14 PM
So I spoke with teachers at three elite private schools in NYC, Dalton, Collegiate, and Speyer Legacy. They all have strong chess programs and the coach at each believes the school would seriously consider giving **** a scholarship if he applied. They can’t really know without knowing more about **** academically, but historically strong young players who move to NYC end up at some top school, so I would be optimistic.
If **** is moving soon, I can send you links to applications, which would be the next step. If it’s not until next September or later, then it can wait.
Of course, we would again love to have him at IS 318. I only suggest these schools because it’s what I would choose for my child and I suspect you could do it for free.
All the best
Elizabeth Spiegel

Sent from my iPhone

Posted WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2019

The Scholastic Council Should All Resign

The Scholastic Council should all resign.
      Let me backtrack.  In late March, Nura Baala, 7th grade, 1900, transferred from Success Academy to IS 318. She had been constantly disciplined at Success for minor infractions– if you don’t know this charter chain’s reputation, it’s for military style discipline and daily standardized test practice.
   At Girls Nationals, a week and a half after she transferred, Success complained that she should not be allowed to play.  The head TD, Jeff Weibel, did not speak to us to ascertain the facts of the case. He simply removed Nura from the team, changed her team code from 318NY to 318Ny (in order to “not hurt her feelings”) and DID NOT TELL US ANYTHING AT ANY POINT. The organizer of the event, NTD David Heiser, came in Sunday morning to tell us they had changed their minds because banning transfer students wasn’t in any rules at all, and we were like “what? you did what?” He apologized to us and said there was absolutely no rule prohibiting her playing.
   The simple failure to communicate is ridiculous on every level.  Why wouldn’t you at least ask us how long she had been going to 318? Or tell us when you remove a top player from our team? How is that acceptable behavior on a most basic human level?
     But ok, we aren’t vindictive people and we didn’t make a fuss.

     A week later, three days before junior high nationals begins, we get a letter from Boyd Reid saying “US Chess has long striven to avoid schools purposely recruiting players for the purpose of assembling so-called scholastic “superteams”, under the reasonable belief that this would create an unfair competitive imbalance.  Allowing a player to transfer to a new school in the same academic semester as a national tournament, and then permitting that player to join the new team immediately, flies directly in the face of that tradition.”
 . They cited a rule for national youth events that reads:

4 TEAM REQUIREMENTS FOR NATIONAL YOUTH EVENTS This Section describes Team requirements for National Youth events only—e.g., the U.S. Junior Chess Congress, the National Youth Action Championship, and the U.S. Junior Open. For Team Requirements that apply to other National Scholastic events, please see Rule 13.2.

This rule clearly states it does not apply. Boyd then cites NCAA rules, and national high school athletic association rules, none of which even remotely apply.

The Scholastic council voted 5-0-2 to allow Boyd Reed to remove Nura from our team. The Scholastic Council are largely private school coaches with strong personal interests in hurting other teams. Sunil and Danny Rohde “abstained” but they abstained only to make themselves look innocent after it was obvious the measure would pass.

We complained to the USCF executive board, and they overturned the Scholastic Council’s ruling 5-2, saying “Section 13 which covers team composition at national scholastic events does not include any language requiring the player to attend the school they are playing for at the national scholastic to be enrolled at that school for the entire semester.”  It is extremely rare for the EB to get involved in scholastic issues, but they recognized that this decision was ridiculous. 

Either this was a blatant attempt by Boyd Reed, Sunil Weermantry, Beatriz Marinello, Joe Lonsdale, Robby Adamson, Eric Vigil, and Danny Rohde to cheat, or they lack 6th grade reading comprehension skills. I see no other way to understand the situation. 

It seems relevant to mention that Speyer Legacy, one of Sunil’s teams, is famous for recruiting a very large percent of their team .

And while we’re talking about cheating, Sunil’s school, Bronxville, that came second in the K-12 Under 1900 section, had two eighth grade students from the middle school illegally playing on the high school team.  While the elementary, high school and junior high are in the same building, they have separate principals and thus are considered different schools, per USCF regs that Sunil helped write. So he clearly knew he was cheating.

I used to be an active member of the larger Scholastic Committee, which elects the Scholastic Council. I was removed by Sunil without my knowledge or consent because he decided “there were too many New York people.” He does not respond to my emails asking to be reinstated.  He obviously removed me to consolidate political power.

The Scholastic Council is made up of people with strong vested interests and they have shown themselves to be biased. I no longer have faith in any of them. They should all be deeply personally  ashamed to have made up rules in such a totally ludicrous fashion to try to cheat a little girl. They have abused their positions and they should all resign.

Posted WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2019

Chess Educator of the Year Talk

Heres a talk I gave for the Chess Educator of the Year Award at UT Dallas.

Posted SUNDAY, MARCH 3, 2019

"Absolutely Unforgivable"

My hat is off to the USCF Ethics Committee for coming to the correct decision in the Henderson case, also for some beautiful writing and incisive reasoning.

In copying the text, some formatting was removed so I attempted to add the section breaks and headings back in. It looked much nicer in the original and I apologize to everyone for that. I removed the page numbers and a few letters from the minors’ last names.  Otherwise the letter is exactly as received.

In case you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here’s the conclusion:

The committee majority finds this behavior by Coach Ramirez to be absolutely unforgivable. This majority takes the position that an adult who uses his position of authority to influence children to commit unethical acts has committed the most serious violation of the Code of Ethics. It is also worth noting that while he was apparently trying to enhance the self-esteem of his players by gaining them undeserved prizes at the national scholastics, he was simultaneously crushing the dreams of players from other schools, many of whom were also poor and facing serious challenges at home. The committee majority therefore agrees that its recommendation of a permanent membership revocation is fully justified.

February 22, 2019
Ms. Elizabeth Spiegel

Dear Ms. Spiegel:
The US Chess Ethics Committee has considered the complaint by John Galvin and eighteen other complainants against Saul Ramirez and sixteen other respondents. We first give the basic decisions and recommendations with respect to each respondent, followed by an overall case summary and the committee’s analysis of the evidence.
For ease of reference, here is a list of the Code sections under which the various charges fell, accompanied by a brief quote of the relevant language from each:
Section 6 (preamble) – “…action or behavior that is …inconsistent with the principles of fair play, good sportsmanship, honesty, and respect for the rights of others…”
Section 6 (a) – “Intentional violations of tournament regulations, or of any other regulations pertaining to USCF activities and goals…”
Section 6 (c) – “Deliberately losing a game for payment, or to lower one’s rating, or for any other reason; or attempting to induce another player to do so. Deliberately failing to play at one’s best in a game, in any manner inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play.”
Section 6 (d) – “Deliberately misrepresenting one’s playing ability in order to compete in a tournament or division of a tournament intended for players of lesser ability…”
Section 6 (e) – “…submitting a falsified rating report.”
Section 6 (g) – “Purposely giving false information in order to circumvent or violate any rule or regulation or goal recognized by US Chess.”
Now the decisions:

Coach Saul Ramirez

By four identical votes of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Saul Ramirez has violated Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (a), 6 (c) and 6 (g). By a further vote of 8-2, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that his US Chess membership be permanently revoked.

TD William Barela

By a vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee finds William Barela not guilty of violating section 6 (a) of the Code.
By a vote of 8-2, with David Hater recused, the committee finds William Barela not guilty of violating section 6 (e) of the Code.
By a vote of 8-2, with David Hater recused, the committee finds William Barela not guilty of violating section 6 (g) of the Code.
Notwithstanding these findings, the committee recommends (at Mr. Barela’s own request) that his entire TD history be referred to the Tournament Director Certification Committee for review.

TD Augustine Valverde

By three identical votes of 9-0, with one abstention and David Hater recused, the committee finds Augustine Valverde not guilty of violating sections 6 (a), 6 (e) and 6 (g) of the Code.
Former Assistant Coach/Assistant TD David Alvarado
By three identical votes of 9-0, with one abstention and David Hater recused, the committee finds David Alvarado not guilty of violating sections 6 (a), 6 (e) and 6 (g) of the Code.

Thirteen Members and Former Members of the Henderson Middle School Chess Team

By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Devante A***re has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 8-2, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Dereck Al***a has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Chris C* has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Pedro C***ar has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Aileen Ma****z has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that she receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Steven M***a has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.

By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Carlos P***no has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 6-4, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Nathan R***s has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Juan R****ez has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Saul R***ez Jr. has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Eduardo Re**na has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that he receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Angelica V**ez has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that she receive a reprimand.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee finds that Allesandra R**z has violated at least one of Code sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) and 6 (d). By a further vote of 9-1, with David Hater recused, the committee recommends that she receive a reprimand.
The Code of Ethics defines a reprimand as follows: “A determination that a member has committed an offense warranting discipline becomes a matter of record, but no further sanction is imposed at the time. A reprimand automatically carries a probation of at least three months, or longer if so specified. If the member is judged guilty of another offense during the probation, he or she is then liable to further sanctions for both offenses.” The entire Code may be found here:

Additional Recommended Sanctions

The committee makes the following additional recommendations:
1. All prizes won by Henderson Middle School players at the National Junior High School Championships, held in April 2018, shall be revoked. The US Chess Director of Events shall have responsibility for deciding whether or how to adjust scores and reallocate prizes. (Approved by a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused.)
2. All of the thirteen junior respondents charged in this complaint shall be barred from “under” sections at all national scholastic tournaments for a period of five years. They may enter only championship sections. (Approved by a vote of 6-4, with David Hater recused.)
3. Henderson Middle School shall be placed on probation for a period of two years. During this time, all entries to “under” sections at national scholastic tournaments by Henderson players not named in this complaint shall be subject to review before they are approved. The US Chess Director of Events and the Scholastic Council shall have joint responsibility for this task. (Approved by a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused.)

Case Summary

The complainants in this case are coaches and players from several schools who had teams participating in the National Junior High School Championships, held in April 2018. They allege that in January 2018, Coach Saul Ramirez of the Henderson Middle School in El Paso, TX arranged several tournaments in which he instructed his players to lose games deliberately, with the purpose of lowering their ratings enough to make them eligible for “under” sections at the nationals – and in some cases at the Texas Scholastic Championships, held in March 2018. They also present evidence purporting to show a similar pattern of events before nationals in prior years. They further allege that three TDs participated in the scheme in 2018, by mis-coding tournaments and designing sections in a way intended to maximize rating changes.
In support of their charges, the complainants present an elaborate statistical analysis focusing on the three events from January 2018. In the first two events, the Texas players (most with well- established ratings) faced opponents from New Mexico who mostly had lower, provisional ratings. In the third event, the Henderson players faced their own coaches and other adults. The adults had a slight average rating edge in the third event. The combined score of the Henderson players in these three events was one win, 49 losses and one draw. The complainants assert that this result is impossible with fair play.
The complainants also draw attention to a book written by Saul Ramirez, where there appears a story about an incident in which he pressures one of his players to pre-arrange the result of a game. They note that while the game result in the story is a draw, the actual result (which appears in the MSA tournament record) was a loss.
In their replies to the complaint, the respondents deny all charges. Coach Saul Ramirez does not address the statistical evidence directly but merely asserts in several places that such inconsistent results are normal for scholastic players, especially those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and face extreme challenges in their personal lives.
With respect to the story and other items related to his book, Ramirez provides a statement from the publisher, John Seidlitz, who claims that many inaccuracies related to the publicity were due to his staff’s unfamiliarity with chess. Seidlitz also explains that many parts of the book, based on interviews with Ramirez and the players, were subjected to “editing” and “polishing.” Ramirez cites
this letter and asserts that, “The Leo vs. Brandon story in the book, as John Seidlitz mentions in his letter, was polished for story purposes.”
The TDs all assert that they merely reported the results that came in and that they did not mis-code these events deliberately.
The junior respondents provide a mixture of statements from the parents and the players. The players all insist that they play honestly; several relate personal issues that they say periodically produce dramatically negative results in their play. The parents uniformly extol the honesty and integrity of their children and express indignation at the charges. Many also describe in great detail the relentless hard work they say their children have invested in the study of chess. All assert that Coach Ramirez has had a huge positive influence on the children.
In the final set of comments from stage 4, a statistician associated with TD Augustine Valverde finally addresses the analysis provided by the complainants. He notes that the various rating scenarios analyzed by the complainants’ statistician do not take into account that many of the ratings of the non-Henderson players in the three specified events are provisional. Provisional ratings based on only a few games can be hundreds of points more inaccurate than in even the most extreme case analyzed by the complainants. In other words, he argues that the provisionally rated players could be tremendously stronger than those ratings, making the lopsided results seen in the three events much more likely.

The Jurisdiction Process

When the committee first received this case, it was noted that two of the potential respondents were age 12. This made it necessary for the committee to activate a new procedure for parties under the age of 13. Under this procedure, an Ombudsman elected from among the members of the Ethics Committee contacts the families of the young individuals and attempts to resolve the matter in an informal way, without resorting to the full ethics process.
Unfortunately, only U.S. Mail addresses were available for these two individuals, so there was no opportunity for a quick back and forth in communication. The committee’s Ombudsman, Mr. Harold Stenzel, wrote to the two families but, when they received these letters from someone they did not recognize as an official U.S. Chess contact, they responded only with suspicion and hostility. With no substantive response to report, Mr. Stenzel recommended that the two age 12 individuals join the other potential respondents in the normal jurisdiction process. The committee then voted unanimously to accept jurisdiction as to all respondents.
In subsequent discussions with the US Chess Executive Board, it was agreed that if such a situation should arise in the future, the first contact will be made by a member of the Executive Board, on official US Chess letterhead. The Ombudsman can then take over the discussion.

The Committee’s Analysis

After reviewing all the evidence, the committee unanimously agreed on two core conclusions:
1. The results seen in the three cited tournaments could not have occurred unless most of the Henderson players lost games deliberately.
2. The Henderson players who lost games deliberately did so on the instructions of the Coach, Saul Ramirez.
Some additional conclusions were reached by a majority and will be detailed below.

Coach Saul Ramirez

The committee does not agree with Coach Ramirez that the observed results in these tournaments are in any way normal or that they can they be explained by serious personal issues of the players. As documented by the complainants, many of their players are also minority students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who also face difficult challenges in their personal lives. However, none of them display the same wildly fluctuating results as the Henderson players – in particular, very poor results in small events just before the rating cutoff for the national scholastics, followed by dramatically stronger results at the nationals. Further, while the committee certainly understands that players can and do have bad tournaments, the committee did not find it credible that all of the Henderson players had a bad day in each of the three cited tournaments.
The respondents did not provide evidence of specific issues that would have affected each of the Henderson players and instead simply chalk up results of one win, 49 losses, and one draw in three events to three “bad days” that just coincidentally occurred right before the rating cutoff. Following these results, several of the respondents then went on to play in the under sections at the 2018 National Junior High School Championships, at which Henderson won the team prize for both the U1000 and U750 sections and at which certain respondents captured the individual first and second overall in the U1000 section and first overall in the U750 sections, along with other results indicating a level of strength considerably higher than that shown by the respondents in the three events cited above.
The committee also takes issue with the implication that the charges are somehow influenced by some sort of bias. At one point, Coach Ramirez states in passing, “It may be unfathomable to some to see low-income, Mexican American students succeed at a game like chess…”, while at another, one of the parents makes a remark about “minority teams” getting a fair shake. The statistics cited by the complainants are drawn from the US Chess database of rated game results, which span over 25 years and includes the records of thousands of players from every conceivable racial, cultural and socio-economic group. They apply to everyone.
The committee also notes several points where Coach Ramirez and other respondents seem to suggest that all the statistics are just meaningless numbers that don’t have any applicability to real human beings. However, the charts, graphs and math are just a way of describing a very simple,
real world truth – that when any large group of humans engages in a skill-based activity, after you
accumulate enough data (as the MSA does with thousands of game results over 25 years) the results tend to fall into predictable patterns. This in no way infringes on the concept of free will, it just illustrates that the total range of human performance, at anything, is finite. While there are always a few small deviations from expected results, the larger the group being studied, the more unlikely certain events become. Beyond a certain point, in the absence of any common factor which might influence the results, some things are just impossible. The three tournaments mentioned in this complaint, especially the EP vs. EG event with its 0-28 result for Henderson players, are such a case.
In the statement from the book publisher John Seidlitz, he writes, “None of our team has previous experience with chess and the particular language used by the U.S. Chess Federation. Because of this, we made some mistakes in our promotion of the book.” Fair enough. The committee accepts this explanation and agrees that it shows that Coach Ramirez did not have any financial incentives associated with the success of the book and that much of the “hype” associated with the book publicity was not his doing. However, the publisher can’t have it both ways.
The publishing team can’t both be unfamiliar with chess but yet knowledgeable enough to search the MSA, pick out a specific tournament and game, and put together the “Leo vs. Brandon” story with the correct names of the players. There is one and only one place that story could have come from and that is Coach Ramirez. No amount of “editing” or “polishing” could provide the level of detail that appears in that story. The whole thrust of the story is Ramirez’ pride in having pressured one of his players to pre-arrange a game result, “for the Team.” That he changes the actual game result from a loss to a draw in the story only demonstrates that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

The committee majority finds this behavior by Coach Ramirez to be absolutely unforgivable. This majority takes the position that an adult who uses his position of authority to influence children to commit unethical acts has committed the most serious violation of the Code of Ethics. It is also worth noting that while he was apparently trying to enhance the self-esteem of his players by gaining them undeserved prizes at the national scholastics, he was simultaneously crushing the dreams of players from other schools, many of whom were also poor and facing serious challenges at home. The committee majority therefore agrees that its recommendation of a permanent membership revocation is fully justified.

TD William Barela

The complainants allege that the mis-coding of the first two January 2018 tournaments (in which Barela was Chief TD), as well as the odd design of the sections, prove his complicity in the rating manipulation scheme. However, it turns out that the mis-coding of events by TDs is a lot more common than one might suppose.
The committee studied Barela’s entire TD history, going back to 2015, and learned that he has routinely mis-coded events, including many where he would have no incentive to do it deliberately, as they were of no special significance. In fact, he seems to get it wrong more than he gets it right. There are also some strangely designed sections similar to the second 2018 event (UU 1_19_2018), in which
there appear strangely distributed unplayed games, byes and half-point byes – and even some instances where players are listed who play no games at all. The overall impression is of a TD who has a very poor understanding of both pairing software and the MSA. It was not unanimous but the majority of the committee concluded that the mis-coding of the tournaments and the unusual section design were the result of simple incompetence.
Barela himself suggests that his TD history be referred to the TDCC. The committee accepts that suggestion and will make the referral. Mr. Barela will be expected to cooperate fully with their inquiry.

TD Augustine Valverde and Assistant TD David Alvarado

Mr. Valverde directed the third event from January 2018, the Borderland Cubes, with David Alvarado assisting. They also each played three games in the event, scoring a combined 6-0 against Henderson players. This event was also mis-coded.
Mr. Valverde has no direct connection to the Henderson chess program and while Alvarado formerly did, his testimony shows that he had no contact with the school for several months before the January 2018 event he participated in. The committee saw no incentive for these individuals to be involved in rating manipulation and concluded that they were most likely not informed about what Coach Ramirez had instructed the players to do. While there were some misgivings about it, in the end the committee majority acquitted both on all charges.

The Statistical Defense

Mr. Valverde recruited a statistician who argues, in effect, that the provisionally rated non-Henderson players could be far stronger than in any case examined by the complainants, making the observed game results plausible. As it happens, in the many months since those January 2018 tournaments, some (but not all) of the non-Henderson players have played a significant number of additional rated games. If these players were really much stronger than their Henderson opponents, one would expect to see evidence of it. The committee studied the MSA records of these players, spanning about six months after the January 2018 tournaments.
In the first of the three tournaments in question, “EP vs EG”, seven Henderson and former Henderson players faced seven non-Henderson players from New Mexico. Each Henderson player contested two games each against two NM players. All told, the Henderson players scored 0-28.
Of the seven NM players, only one had an established rating. Only that one player shows a subsequent rating increase (from 1058 to 1360) large enough to make it plausible that he might score 4-0. However, even that must be questioned, as one of his opponents that day has subsequently increased his own rating from 1054 to 1402, over the same time span. None of the other players show any sign of being much stronger than their January provisional ratings. The same pattern holds for the non-Henderson players in the second January tournament, “UU 1_19_2018.” The evidence simply doesn’t support the suggestion that the non-Henderson players were strong enough to make the observed results even remotely possible.

It is worth noting that the statements provided by some of the Henderson parents also undermine this scenario. They outline in great detail the relentless study of chess put in by their children, over many months and even years. This makes it even less plausible that all of these children would simultaneously have a “bad day”, losing repeatedly to far less experienced players.
Thirteen Members and Former Members of the Henderson Middle School Chess Team
While the committee agreed unanimously that the results from the three January 2018 tournaments could not have occurred unless most of the players lost games deliberately, there was also agreement that a few could have played honestly. However, the majority could find no way to distinguish between those who participated in the scheme and those who did not. The statements from the parents and the players were all very similar.
The committee also considers it significant that none of the Henderson players submitted game scores, to permit the committee to judge for itself the relative strength of the various players. Those game scores do exist; there is a photograph in the case packet of the EP vs EG event in progress, showing all the players on both teams keeping score.
The committee majority came to an agreement that even those who did not participate would have known about it. Even if Coach Ramirez spoke privately to the involved players, we consider it likely that the others would learn of it. Ramirez own testimony reveals that the Henderson chess team was a tightly knit group, who were together on a daily basis for months. The kids would naturally talk to each other and word would get around. Given the universal denials of all charges, this means that all 13 juniors have lied about the scheme either to their parents, the committee or both. The committee considers that a violation of Code section 6 (preamble). Accordingly, the vote was configured so that members of the committee could vote on whether they found a violation of any of sections 6 (preamble), 6 (c) or 6 (d), without specifying which ones applied to each respondent.
The junior respondents were all found guilty of something. Some may have violated only 6 (preamble) while others may have violated all three sections. In selecting sanctions, the committee chose what it thought was most appropriate for the least serious offense, 6 (preamble). That way, no member of this group who did not participate in the scheme receives a more serious sanction than he or she deserves. The committee also takes into consideration the fact that these juniors were under the influence of their highly respected coach. For these reasons, the committee recommends a reprimand for each member of the group, which is the least serious sanction. The committee also considers its additional recommendations for the players and school to be appropriate steps.
By a vote of 10-0, with David Hater recused, the committee agrees that this letter fairly represents its position.
Sincerely, Hal Terrie (2018-19 Ethics Committee Chair)

Posted MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2019

no nillion for you

We had two math and statistics professionals look into the likelihood of the New Mexico/ Henderson events occurring.

The first report is from an experienced data scientist, who prefers to remain anonymous, but whose professional opinion I sought and whose report I will be forwarding to the ethics committee. The data scientist examined three scenarios in the Jan 15 tournament, one using pre-tournament ratings, one using post-tournament ratings, and a third using the lowest published rating in the past year of the Henderson students and the peak ratings of their opponents. The data scientist found that the chances of the Jan 15 tournament occurring, assuming pre-tournament ratings were accurate, is 0.000000000000000000000000000000888, which is less than one in one nonillion (1 with 30 zeroes after it). That is approximately a billion times the number of stars in the observable universe.

Assuming post-tournament ratings led to a probability of 0.000000000045, which is less than 1 in 100 billion (note that 100 billion is the approximate number of stars in our galaxy).

And the third (most favorable to Henderson) scenario, assuming the Henderson students were at their past-year weakest and the opponents were at their lifetime strongest, still found a likelihood of only is 0.000000037, which is less than 1 in 10 million.

A second analysis was done by a parent on my team who works in computer programming and statistics. I present his work and conclusions below; for obvious reasons they are very similar to the above. They are slightly different in scenario two because the first statistician assumed post tournament ratings of both sides and the second analysis assumed only post tournament ratings of the New Mexico players. (This scenario was run because an argument is being made that the New Mexican players’ ratings were provisional and inaccurate, see below.)

Base Analysis

The main argument is that the EP vs. EG tournament is highly implausible. The ratings difference between the winners and losers is much too wide for such a number of simultaneous upsets to occur.

This analysis looked at each individual game, calculated the odds of losing each game, and then calculated the odds of a 0-28 score based on those odds. The odds of losing a given game is given by the USCF ELO model (see resources below). Specifically, the odds of losing a given game is 1 minus the odds of winning a game given two ratings:

This analysis excludes the possibility of draws, but if we included those odds the odds of losing any given game would be lower, so would only strengthen this argument.

Given the above, the odds of such a lopsided tournament occuring is once in 1.13 x 10^30. In plain English, that’s once in a nonillion chance of occuring (We had to look that up; see resources below).

5 sigma is often used as an extreme hurdle to determine validity or significance. Scientists used it to validate the discovery of a new particle (see article). 5 sigma is an event that occurs once in 3.5 milliontimes. Not billion. Not trillion.

Post-event Peak Analysis

One argument in defense of the upset team is that the opponent ratings were provisional and therefore meaningless. It’s true that six out of the seven winners had provisional ratings. We ran the same test as the above, but this time using the peak ratings of the opponents after the above suspicious event.

Sure enough, most of the provisionally rated opponents had their ratings move up (even though much of it occured by beating their much higher rated opponents in the above event!). As of April, 2018, four players still had provisional ratings, but two of those had 24 and 25 games respectively, so their ratings are close to non-provisional (26 games needed for non-provisional rating).

Using these peak ratings of the opponents, running the same analysis shows the odds of a 0-28 sweep/upset is one in 1.44 x 10^16.

Or, in plain English, one in 14 quadrillion.

This seems like a fair analysis; if you look through the histories of the provisionally rated players, there isn’t much to indicate that they are materially, grossly underrated. They do show patterns of consistently losing to low rated players etc.

Even-match Analysis

Finally, all this math aside, the simplest analysis is to just look at the odds of a 0-28 sweep of an evenly matched team, which is far from the case here. The odds of such an upset is simply 0.5^28.

Using this method, we get the odds of this occurring as one in 268 million. Remember, 5 sigma is a once in 3.5 million event, good enough to validate the discovery of a new particle.

Given the above analysis, and especially even the last ‘even-match’, sanity-check analysis, it is safe (or exceedingly, astronomically safe) to say that this was not a valid event.

We have seen various analyses on this (including one from a math Phd, professional quantitative analyst/statistician), and numbers may vary due to rounding and other issues, but the conclusion is basically the same; this event is an astronomically unlikely event to have occured normally.

Posted THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018

"but I can beat him, Mister"

    Let me say first that my assistant principal, John Galvin, is the greatest detective in the world. He’s the one who originally caught the Henderson cheating, basically figured out everything they did going back a couple years.

      So yesterday I see him hunched over his desk, reading a small book. It turns out to be The Champions Game, by Saul Ramirez.
     Let’s read along:

In my mind, telling a kid who wants to play to draw is unethical. You can ask, if it means the team wins. But if the kid wants to play for a personal championship, you have to respect that. He earned the chance. Leaning on him is an abuse of power.

But now think for a minute about this story. Why would it hurt the team for the top two scorers to have a decisive result vs a draw? It can’t. Either way, the team gets one point. In fact, they were up five points going into the round — they had already clinched it.

Now look at the crosstable (MS Novice);

  1 | LEO GONZALEZ     |6.0  |W   9|W  33|W  24|W   5|W  11|W   6|L   2|
   TX | 15707532 / R: Unrated-> 976P7   |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
    2 | BRANDON CABALLERO  |6.0  |W  27|L   7|W  19|W  24|W  13|W  12|W   1|
   TX | 15707553 / R: Unrated-> 931P7   |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |

He didn’t tell Leo to draw; he told him to lose. Why? It boggles the mind. I guess he wanted two co-champions rather than one. Reread the dialogue, this time knowing the kid is begging to play the game honestly and he’s being told to throw it. The chutzpah of writing “He understood it, but his ego was fighting the concept of sacrificing in order to achieve something greater” just blows my mind.


Also, this isn’t cheating, but did you guys watch the video about Henderson girls in Mike’s article? Where Ramirez says “I’m not going to lie, I had to read a lot of books about how to coach a girls’ team …They mess up their positions in a whole different way”  wtf?

Posted FRIDAY, APRIL 20, 2018

I'm sorry, what?

USCF President Carol Meyers issued a statement that began

“1. No cheating happened, nor is alleged to have happened, at the 2018 National Junior High Championship; the alleged incident took place prior to our event.”

I’m sorry, what????????
We’re accusing them of intentionally losing games to lower their rating in order to enter the National Junior High in inappropriately low sections. They did this and won the tournament.

Intentionally entering the wrong section is cheating.
They began their cheating with the tournaments on 1/15* and 1/19, but this was done only in order to cheat at nationals. In some sense, nationals is the real cheating because the earlier events have no victims in and of themselves.

The statement Carol Meyer issued is now being used by the Henderson coach to claim he has been exonerated.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to fathom what she could have been thinking, but the statement needs to be retracted immediately.

Posted TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2018


So the USCF put out this statement, which I consider an laughable shirking of their responsibilities. 

“The US Chess Federation has not received a written complaint to initiate our procedures for factual inquiry and ruling on any allegation of cheating pertaining to this event.”

And you don’t care enough to do anything on your own?? After you have been begged in a timely fashion to by no less than 12 coaches? After your own national championship becomes an outrage and a joke?

It’s the casual denial of responsibility that kills me.

You have all the facts you need, Carol Meyer, USCF et al.  Cheating obviously occurred and ruined YOUR national championship. People complained to your organization in time to remove the kids from the section and fix the problem. If your rules are really set up to make you powerless  to investigate on your own, then I feel sorry for you. 

Pretty soon no one is going to pay money to attend your national championship if you don’t fulfill your fundamental responsibility of enforcing the rules. 

Posted FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2018

Cheating at the National Junior High

Last weekend, at the National Junior High School Chess Championship, Henderson Middle School from El Paso Texas “won” the under 750 and Under 1000 sections with teams of obviously sandbagged players. This was brought to the attention of Chief TD David Hater by many coaches, but he felt it was not his responsibility to act.

Let’s examine the evidence. The Under 1000 team members are Ra***ez, Saul (7.0, 899) Ra***ez, Juan (6.5, 867) Pal***no, Carlos (6.0, 760) Ar**jo, Carlos (4.5, 884)

Why are their ratings under 900, you are thinking? Because that allowed them to play in and win the Texas Under 900 championship.

To get their ratings under 900 for these events, they claim to have played a two round match in Las Cruces, NM, where they lost 26-0, most of which were 400+ point upsets. This was rated as a tournament, rather than a match; perhaps accidentally or perhaps because there’s an anti-sandbagging rule that says you can only lose 50 points in a match.

My assistant principal, John Galvin, reported this at 7 pm Saturday. At the 2:30 meeting the next day, there was some disagreement about whether these results were spectacularly unlikely or actually impossible A parent from my team who is also a mathematician was kind enough to run some numbers for me (results have been reviewed by a few of his colleagues and detailed discussion is in the comments. ) His analysis showed the odds of losing 26-0 with the rating differentials is 1 in 3x 10^21 (3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). Without considering ratings, it’s 1 in 263,000,000.

When asked, the Henderson coach attributed his team’s poor performance to “being kids” and coming from underprivileged homes.

The Under 750 team is R**z, Alessandra (7.0, 734) Arga***na, Aime (6.0, 585) Ag***re, Devante (5.0, 632) Ji***ez, Jose Luis (5.0, 654) Valadez, Angelica (5.0, 683) On Jan 19, 2019, they held another tournmanent / match in New Mexico in which the Texas players again did very very poorly. This time their under 750 team goes under. Notice how the MSA report lists the players’ states in the left hand corner so you can easily see how badly Texas fared.

The TD supervising these tournaments, Will Barela, is also the President of the New Mexico Chess Association. Looking through his directing history reveals some, lets’ say … “purposeful” events. Between Dec 28 and Jan 5 of 2017/2018, he rated a series of 15 multi section tournaments, in which a master who was dropping dangerously close to 2200, beat kids rated 100-1000 in hundreds of games, thereby obtaining his life master title. Congratulations to Life Master Benjamin Corarreti, cheater. I have never seen more obvious evident of sandbagging. There is no attempt to hide the thrown games, not a single draw. USCF officials could have moved their sections and saved the integrity and reputation of their tournament; they were told at the beginning of round 5. Instead, they insist it needs to be handled by the Ethics Committee.

Handing it off to the Ethics Committee has enormous costs. The entire credibility of the tournament experience is ruined for everyone. A confidential committee decision six months later does nothing to fix this. The cheated teams will never get to walk across the stage; they’ll never get the newspaper articles, or the homecoming celebration, or the exhilaration of that night.

I know there will be cases where the evidence is not clear and the TDs can’t, in good conscience, act. But this is not that situation. This is the clearest, most unambiguous case of cheating POSSIBLE. If you aren’t going to act on this, you can’t claim to be enforcing the rules. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t handled well at the time, and more unfortunate (see next post) that the USCF is doubling down on their new stated policy of not interfering in cheating in progress. The USCF ought now to announce the cheating publicly and congratulate Metcalf and Thomas Edison on their wins in the U750 and U1000 sections, and Scotty Gordon and Sameris Desvignes on the individual triumphs.

In future, under sections should use peak rating.

Posted THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2018

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Advice from the “Chess Educator of the Year”

Advice from the "Chess Educator of the Year"

By: Macauley Peterson

3/8/2019 – Elizabeth Spiegel is a public school chess teacher in Brooklyn, New York. Her program at IS 318 was the subject of the 2012 documentary film “Brooklyn Castle”. Recently she was given an award as “Chess Educator of the Year” by the University of Texas at Dallas, which has published her 55-minute talk that contains useful advice for parents and chess teachers gleaned from her 20 years of experience teaching chess. Video and highlights… | Photo: UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library

Best practices for chess parents

Elizabeth Spiegel earned an AB in English from Columbia University and a Masters in English Education from City College in New York. She’s been a teacher at IS 318 since 1999.
In 2012, her middle school (Grade 6-8) team won the National High School Championship, a feat which had never been accomplished before or since. The team’s phenomenal record includes eight National Junior High Championships, four National Elementary Championships, and dozens of other national championships based on grade level.
Ellen Safley, Dean of McDermott Library, started off the presentation with introductory remarks and later awarded Spiegel a plaque as “UTD Chess Educator of the Year 2019”.
The full video is about an hour and we’ve summarised the key points and quotes below:

UT Dallas Chess on Youtube

“One of the things I used to say to principals was, ‘standardized tests are so important, but what could possibly be better training for a standardized test than chess? You’re sitting there for 2-3 hours, you’re not allowed to talk, you have to solve a series of difficult problems on your own…that is a standardized test.’ When you say that to principals, and they make the connection, then it becomes much easier to sell the game itself.”

Chess is an effective teaching tool because it:
  • reaches a level of complexity that other subjects don’t reach until later

“With chess kids are really pushed to do their own thinking and figure out their own problems and it’s really a whole level more difficult [than equivalent subjects in elementary school].”

  • doesn’t require advanced verbal (or reading) skills, and so it reaches populations who are lacking them
  • directly rewards thinking with winning, and kids take to it even if they are not generally excited about school
  • is emotional, and motivating

“[Chess] is so hard and it’s so devastating emotionally when you lose and you just have to get over it right away and play the next round, and I feel that’s a really valuable character development lesson.”

  • provides immediate, authentic and accessible feedback (like music and maths)
  • teaches focus
  • teaches grit
  • teaches you to be honest and self-critical about your decisions

“Getting better at chess requires you to be incredibly honest with yourself and what you were thinking.”

Photo: UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library

The key to IS 318’s success has been getting the kids to play chess 20-25 hours per week between curricular classes, after school classes, and tournaments. Students analyse their own games as homework assignments.

When a student is losing, figure out why they’re losing and target those weakness in particular — common ones are:

  • blundering
  • time trouble
  • too many pawn moves
  • moving one piece repeatedly
  • making a mistake after lots of trades
  • not knowing openings
  • not making pawn breaks
  • drifting after the opening (not having a plan)
  • always trading
  • not centralising the king in the endgame
  • refusing to make ugly defensive moves
  • not noticing an opponent’s threats
  • always attacking the king in every game
  • stopping analysis one more too early
  • “wanting” (e.g. “I just felt like that was right” or “I really wanted to go there”)

“Blundering is a really common problem that kids have, and it’s also often thought of as a really shameful problem…it sickens them so much. But blundering is actually one of the easiest things to fix.”

Spiegel recommends deciding on our move, then looking at the position and then “blunderchecking” — asking specifically “if I go there, can they take me? If there was something wrong with that move, what would it be?” Making it a strong habit can significantly help at least a third of her students. “The idea that you’re getting kids to think about their own thinking process is so valuable.”

Four essential steps for chess improvement

  1. Play frequently
  2. Go over games (with your opponent, coach or an engine) and isolate specific takeaway lessons
  3. Acquire a manageable yet comprehensive opening repertoire
  4. Practice tactics

“Openings are really important in chess. Some people like to say that they’re not but it seems to me that they are incredibly important…Chess books are not written to be read [by kids] there’s no kid who’s going to read a 200-300 page book, but it’s pretty important to have a system of openings that works for you that you can also remember.”

How to be emotionally supportive

Frame your questions and conversation the right way, and don’t emphasise only winning and losing. “Tell me about your game.” “Are you feeling thoughtful, calm, focus, creative?” “What opening are you expecting?”

Introduce the idea of judging results by something other than your score. Set alternative goals like:

  • avoiding time trouble
  • sitting at the board and working hard
  • predicting opponents’ moves so as not to be surprised
  • coming up with a logical plan that fits the position
  • playing creative or beautiful ideas
  • accurately calculating a really long line
  • avoiding simple (1-2 move) calculation mistakes

Ask your child to show you the game and explain it to you, even if you don’t play chess. Ask questions about the child’s thinking process: Tell me about that move. Why did you go there? What surprised you? Do you think your opponent played [this or that part of the game] well? What did you think was the best move here? What was your plan?

Listen as the coach goes over his or her game. You’ll get a window as to how your child makes decisions and gain insight into their thinking process. Coaches also tend to do a better job when other people are listening.

Look for a teacher who gives homework, has many students whose ratings have increased, asks for games in advance, reviews previously taught material, provides easy to understand opening reference sheets.

“I think showing whole games is a crazy way to teach. Whole games are so complicated, the idea that a child is going to extract a lesson from something that took Magnus Carlsen six hours to understand is ridiculous. Chess has to be broken down by the coach into chunks.”

Avoid teachers who always teach the same opening, or predominantly plays against your child during the lesson, or shows whole games or his own games, and talks most of the time instead of engaging with the child, asking questions and listening. 

Photo: UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library

What to say and do when your child has a terrible tournament

Make sure the game, at some point gets analysed, to learn from mistakes. Normalize failure — don’t send a message that your child is too fragile to handle this.

“The great thing about chess is that children will lose, and they will have terrible spells where they lose every game, and they are devastated, and they think ‘I’m stupid, I’m a failure’ and you get, as a parent to help them through it and it’s so great that it’s happening when they’re in elementary school or junior high school and not when they’re off at college and you can’t help them.”

Explain grit and recognise it in your child. A great lesson chess can teach is how to handle adversity and keep trying. Developing that habit when you’re young is extremely useful throughout life. 

Talk about how to harness negative energy of failure, shame or disappointment. A child can learn how to take that same energy and use it to study and improve. Use that to fuel your work.

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