Monday, 11 June 2007

The Welfarist Mentality

As you may or may not know, Stephen Mugford and myself were involved in organising the 2006-2007 Australian Open Championship. One of our duties as part of this job was to prepare a report for the Australian Chess Federation. While the report was required to contain details concerning the tournament financials, and tournament results, there was also scope to add other observations. While reading through the first draft of the report, one paragraph (written by Stephen) stood out.

At the same time, it appears that competitors are reluctant to pay real market costs—many commented upon the current fees being high and a large proportion of the competitors sought and obtained some form of concession (student, aged, pensioner, etc) and it is reasonable to note that the dominant ‘mentality’ is essentially ‘welfarist’. Unfortunately, since these events are provided by non-government agencies, this mentality is not especially helpful or realistic.

Now it is worth giving some background on Stephen. Dr Stephen Mugford (to give his correct description) was a lecturer for many years at the Australian National University in Sociology, and retired as a Reader in Sociology (ie one level below a full Professor). Since then he has established his own consultancy company providing leadership and organisation training to various businesses and Australian government departments. So when he makes an observation about people (or groups of people) then it is worth taking notice of.

Unfortunately in Canberra (and probably Australia) the "Welfarist Mentality" is becoming (has always been?) entrenched in the chess culture. In some local clubs there may be only 2 or 3 players paying the "full" entry rate to tournaments, with the other 20 players claiming some sort of concession or other. Indeed Paul Dunn (past ACTCA treasurer) told me that in the last ACT Lightning Championship he was the only player not to claim a concession, despite at least one other entrant being in salaried employment.
And ultimately this becomes a downward financial spiral for chess. Players begin to resent having to pay full entry when "that person didn't" and either choose not to participate, or engage in dubious or dishonest behaviour to claim a concession themselves. And consequently there is less income for holding good chess events.

Solutions? There are a couple at least. One club in Canberra eventually abolished concession rates when it became clear that no-one was paying the full rate. This is certainly tempting to implement on a wider scale (eg only 1 entry fee for a chess tournament) but it may be a little drastic. However a crack down on the sort of concessions offered may be called for.

The second solution is just one of personal honesty. In most tournaments my definition of "concession" is someone not drawing a wage. So if you are unemployed or a full time pensioner, fine. But if you are being paid for any work (including flipping burgers at Mickey D's), then you don't qualify for a concession. And it should be up to chess players to police themselves. Instead of pulling out various concession/student/entitlement cards or simply claiming you don't have a "real" job, just accept that concessions aren't some sort of free ride that you would be stupid not to jump on to, but instead are a genuine attempt by tournament organisers to help those who really need it.


DeNovoMeme said...

Solutions? The first you gave is the only one that will work - ie one size fits all. Honesty is a fleeting shaddow.

So, what size? Cost price, no money prizes. Just a title and a medal.

Having money prizes in chess fucks every fucking thing. It is a fucked up culture which needs to be fucked over until sanity prevails.

TrueFiendish said...

I agree with these sentiments. Sociologists could find a lot to observe in the chess world, in the absence, that is, of other more important and interesting work.

Some of the problems mentioned in your article reflect the meanness and bloody-mindedness inherited by players during years of pain and injustice at the board. Perhaps we could call it "chess odium". What makes it malignant is that the implied reproach struggles to find an outlet. Certainly the game of chess ITSELF is a thing of worship and beyond question, an innocent sweetheart who must be protected. So tertiary targets are at risk.

So, often this suffering necessarily finds release via, for example, an aversion to tournament fees, membership dues and chucking in your 50c for the seven coffees you just drank. Some players merely complain about the fees while others minimise the impost by brandishing ridiculously out of date health-care or student cards (effectively fraud). In week-to-week tourneys, cunning protagonists employ the tactic of always arriving after the clocks have been started, in an effort to avoid an unwanted approach by the club treasurer. They will remit, however, when the prospect of their winning a cash prize reaches a certain likelihood.

There are other phenomena associated with "chess odium". Common courtesy and sportsmanship diminish. "Gamesmanship" (always pathetic and disappointing, particularly when it succeeds) emerges.

Some poor unenlightened freaks, however, play for fun and enjoy the struggle, win or lose. They just don't get it. They can be strangely irritating, especially when they take a point off you.

To witness odium, try asking a player to "give back" to his club by being tournament DOP or handling the (piddling and inadequate) sum of received fees (and sad IOUs). Watch him enjoy your joke. No, he agrees to PLAY, and that contribution is sufficient. Without him the club could not exist. Many of us are guilty, though our blogmeister, Mr Press, can hold his head high.

Few attend club general meetings but complain bitterly at the resolutions reached therein. Of those who do attend, many do so to achieve an end beneficial to themselves.

A rare few actually contribute.

Odiously, I remember a short exchange between two club stalwarts when I was new to OTB. I was encouraged NOT to be so naive as to set up the boards to facilitate a start to the evening's play at Canberra Chess Club. Why?

Trojan 1: "Let 'em do it themselves. All chess players are pigs. Isn't that right, Roger?"
Trojan 2: "Yes, only some are piggier than others."

I suspect both had a touch of chess odium, but it is true that chess players CAN be pigs. One's play, at least, must occassionally be porcine, else one is an unhappy and misguided (and pointless) derelict indeed. Some are born pigs. Some become piggy. Some feel pigginess has been thrust upon them. Others feel they have to be piggy if they wish to win. Some exploit the many uses and benefits of flagrant and excessive pigginess as part of their MO. Some get very shirty when they lose to you, even though they are very poor players and easy to outwit. Piggishly, they think themselves the stronger player, forever tormented by ill-luck and their opponents' guileless serendipity.

Chess odium can affect not only tournament hall demeanour but entire lives. Some players live in parks and perform their ablutions at public facilities while amassing a fortune in prize money. Others spend their fortunes on drink, the price of their gift to chess. Some flee the game and take up more conventional professions---psychoanalysis, for instance, or organised sedition, erm, I mean political commentary. A mere mortal such as me hesitates to accuse the greats, but could Messrs Fischer and Alekhine have been touched by chess odium? And, oh Veselin...

But some players are actually gentlemen...These are invariably those who have lives outside of chess. Careers, loving wives, friends, other interests. One recalls the venerable Lasker and, um...well, Lasker. Oh, and Tartakower. And Aronian seems like a nice bloke.

So beware chess odium. The next time you get the urge to blow saliva bubbles at your opponent or sweep the pieces, remember: help is available. You just need to find out where.

Note this "essay" refers exclusively to men. My experience of women and chess is too limited for me to comment accurately.

(Side note: the only romance in chess is that which exists between a player and his latest "brilliancy". )

DeNovoMeme said...

truefriendish said: Some poor unenlightened freaks, however, play for fun and enjoy the struggle, win or lose. They just don't get it. They can be strangely irritating, especially when they take a point off you.

You know you been play one if they are still able to give you a big grin after they have lost. I don't know that that makes me an unenlightened freak. ;-)

Anonymous said...

DeNovoMeme said:
"You know you been play one if they are still able to give you a big grin after they have lost. I don't know that that makes me an unenlightened freak."

That doesn't but you are!