Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drug Testing in Chess???

This is old news, but posted here to preserve the record.

On September 4, 2002, as Executive Director of the US Chess Federation I issued the following statement:


The "Official" position of the USCF hasn't changed. Neither has my personal position. I stated several months ago on RGCP that individual players should have the absolute right to determine whether or not they will submit to drug testing, and not some group of bureaucrats in Europe or New York. I thought I heard the same thing from Joel Benjamin, speaking for the players last year in Framingham. I also thought I heard the Delegates support Joel's position. Maybe I misunderstood.

The players have been asking me what my position is. The press, through Malcolm Pein, asked me the same. I gave them an honest answer.

Malcolm actually downplayed my response. I told him that I thought it was ludicrous for there to be drug testing in Bled in light of the fact that the EARLIEST possible time frame for inclusion of chess in the Summer Olympics is 2012 (10 years from now!...and even that is optimistic). And we don't even know what drugs to test for, not to mention the waste of $300 a test.

I also respect and acknowledge the hard work of the members of the FIDE Advisory Committee and the Olympic Participation Committee. I would like to see chess in the Olympics as much as anyone.

Nevertheless, I have an opinion and I will stick by it. I support the players. I trust the FIDE folks will be reasonable. If it helps that they understand how anyone in the US feels about the issue, all the better.

Frank Niro

Then Bill Goichberg responded:


By Bill Goichberg (

The idea that chessplayers should be subjected to drug testing in order for the game to become part of the Olympics appears to be fading fast. Earlier this year, the U.S. Olympic Committee rejected chess as a sport, delivering a blow to support for drug testing in the United States. Now the International Olympic Committee has likewise refused to accept chess and other "mind sports" as part of the Olympics. The IOC is reducing rather than increasing the number of Olympic sports, and even popular sports of a physical nature such as bowling, racquetball, water skiing and squash have now been rejected.

It should now be clear to even the drug testing diehards that the chances for chess to become part of the Olympics any time in the foreseeable future are nil. It is time to stop the debate and give up on FIDE's ridiculous idea that mandating drug testing now in various tournaments will lead to eventual recognition of chess as an Olympic sport.

Congratulations to Executive Director Frank Niro for being the first USCF representative to openly challenge FIDE's ridiculous drug testing policy. Hopefully our Executive Board and FIDE representatives will follow Niro's lead. It is long overdue for USCF to stand up for what is right at FIDE meetings, and I believe that the result is likely to be the end of the idea that drug testing is needed in chess.

Go here to see Jeremy Silman's take on the subject.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tom Derderian on Bobbi Gibb

Tom Derderian wrote the definitive book about the Boston Marathon entitled, BOSTON Marathon, The History of the World’s Premier Running Event. When he autographed a copy of the book for me in 1993 he was very gracious: “For Frank Niro III. If you hadn’t got me interested in the Marathon in the sixties this book would never have happened”. Tom’s well researched description of the 1966 race is a masterpiece, in my opinion, so I won’t try to replicate it in my own book. I’ll just share it with you, as is.

Here is what he had to say in his book about Roberta Gibb’s 1966 Boston Marathon performance:

“An intruder hid in the bushes in Hopkinton, watching the men run by in the 1966 Boston Marathon. For a year she had been planning to inject herself into the race. When half of the runners had passed she emerged from behind her forsythia and slipped into the stream. She wore a black stretch nylon bathing suit. Her hair flowed long and blond. She had come by bus from California and looked every bit the surfing goddess. But what she looked like was not what she was. She covered the bottom half of her bathing with her brother’s ill-fitting khaki Bermuda shorts. Her only other clothing was a new pair of canvas running shoes. She had been doing her training in nurses’ shoes. Roberta Louise Gibb called herself Bobbi. Because she had just married a sailor named Bingay, some called her Mrs. Bingay, but that was not an appellation that sat well with her. Once the world noticed what she was doing, neither her life nor the Boston Marathon would ever be the same. But for several miles no one noticed.

When she first got the idea to run in the Boston Marathon she had not intended to be stealthy. She had written to the BAA for an application to enter. She received a reply telling her that women were not able to run marathons and were not allowed to enter the race. But she wanted to do it. She liked to run. She was 23 years old, and she felt good and free when she ran. Fearing that someone would see her and prevent her from running, she hid in the bushes along the Boston course. Like a child listening to adult conversation and fearful of being sent to bed, she tried to call no attention to herself. But she would have to overcome her shyness to make her point.

Her point was not political. She did not concern herself with legal arguments, yet she would one day become a lawyer. After 69 highly publicized Boston Marathons, decades after women had swum the English Channel and flown solo over the oceans, this one particular woman decided to run the Boston Marathon. No other had tried. Why did she do it?

Bobbi Gibb both was and was not an athlete. She moved for slightly different purposes. Although Kelley and many men lost themselves in contemplation during long runs in the woods they were above all competitive athletes in training. Bobbi Gibb was not a competitor. Bobbie Gibb was an artist. When she ran she felt connected with everything. She felt an awe and sheer joy in being. Her context was different from that of the men around her. When she looked out from behind her bushes she saw in the stream of runners a stream of consciousness, not a race, not a competition. She slipped into the stream to join that consciousness, to be part of the whole, not to prove anything political or to beat men at their own game, but to play. She was like a little sister wanting nothing more than to play with her brothers and their friends.

The running world had no hospitality for women in 1966. Myths abounded that kept them out. It is not surprising that the first women to run in the Boston Marathon came obliquely to the event and slipped in unnoticed. The history of women’s long distance running is particularly disturbing.

In 1752 a four-mile women’s race was promoted in London. Great numbers turned out to watch it. Part of the crowd came because the promoters intended to have the women run nude, supposedly in the style of the ancient Greeks. But the women refused to run naked, interest waned, and the race was not repeated. Such exhibitions remained in the public mind in the place reserved for unimportant oddities like circuses and freak shows. Athletics as technically measured and timed events did not begin for men until the mid-1800s. At country picnics women ran in full Victorian regalia but often in joke events like spoon races (carrying an egg in a spoon).

The first 70 years of worldwide women’s marathoning can be detailed in a paragraph. In 1896, a Greed woman named Melpomene was said to have run in the first Olympic marathon. It took her 4-1/2 hours. In 1918 Marie Ledru ran in a French marathon and finished in 38th place. In 1926 Violet Piercy of the United Kingdom ran a marathon in 3:40:22; in 1964, Dale Greig, also of the United Kingdom, ran 3:27 and Mildred Sampson of New Zealand ran a 3:19. Two years later Bobbi Gibb hid in the bushes. That’s all the history, or herstory, there is. Why had so few women tried the marathon, and why had no women attempted the Boston Marathon before 1966?

There was ample inspiration for women in the form of splendid role models. Amelia Earhart, the first lady of the air, held press headlines for a decade as a ‘first woman’. In 1928 she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane. Alone that year she flew her airplane across the North American continent. Her 1932 solo Atlantic flight was second to Lindbergh’s by man or woman. Earhart was a big media star. She had her own clothing line. Songs and books praised her. She wrote, “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

Women were highly regarded as long-distance swimmers. Surely there could be no doubt a bout a woman’s capacity to endure when in 1927 Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel 2 hours faster than anyone else, woman or man. In track and field there were heroines in Mildred “Babe” Didrikson and Francina “Fanny” Blankers-Koen from the 1932 and 1948 Olympics. But there were virtually no women long-distance runners.

In the face of inspiration and example a strong prejudice grew up against long-distance running by women. It was hysteria in the minds of male track-and-field administrators that can be traced to a single event in 1928. In the Amsterdam Olympics Lina Radke of Germany won the 800 meters in the world record of 2:16.8. That record stood for 32 years. It lasted so long because no woman could contest it: After the 1928 Olympics women were forbidden to compete in races longer than 200 meters.

That 1928 race was tight and exciting. Second place was less than a second and third was only two-tenths of a second behind that. Several women seemed to collapse after the race. They probably looked like the men did after their 800-meter race. But the sight of women sweating, gasping for breath, and bent over with hands on their knees was too much for squeamish male observers. The London Daily Mail quoted doctors who said such “feats of endurance” by women made them “become old too soon”. The president of the International Olympic Committee, Count de Baillet-Latour, wanted to eliminate all women’s sports from the Olympics. The longest Olympic race for women was 200 meters until the 800 meters in Rome in 1960. Bobbi Gibb, though, knew none of this.

In her training she had run alone on beaches, over grass, or through the woods. Gibb had trained through the woods in the middle of Cape Ann in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where her relatives had a summer place and she had spent her childhood summers. She ran through a strange and wild place there called Dogtown. Dogtown is on top of the granite rocks of the cape where the glaciers scraped off the soil; people have not lived there since 1600. The colonists had feared weather and Indian attacks along the coast, so they moved upland onto the thin, dry ground. By the 1700s people left for lands of rich topsoil and dependable wells. In 1966, you could, with care, find the foundations of their houses. With ease you could find blueberries, birds, and rabbits. It is a place where said only dogs dwelled. Gibb liked to run there. She would run quickly up and down the hills and duck under the hemlocks. She imagined herself an animal and at one with the woods, the rocks, the cat briars.

As she ran, even the smallest grains of dust and the patterns in the road took on a beauty and a meaning to Gibb as she felt herself a part of the incomprehensibly wondrous whole. She liked to think of William Blake’s poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Gibb had all the talent to beat most of the men, and in that regard she was indeed an athlete, but she had certainly not trained in a scientific way. She had no coach and was not part of a team. She had always been quick in school games like field hockey. She could spring, she could jump, she could duck and dodge. She was a student at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts school when she had first watched the marathon a year earlier and decided to run. She had gone with her father and though it was such a splendid celebration that she wanted to join. She ran with some men at Tufts University; where her father was a professor. That was where she met Bingay, who was a runner, who became a sailor, who became her husband. Before she went off to California to be married on February 5, she told her parents she would be back to run the marathon. Her only other long-distance running race was a 2-day 100-mile equestrian cross-country race. She did not know any better and tried to run against horses. Her knees gave out after 65 miles. At that point she was ahead of some of the horses.

Gibb was not in the mainstream of running, so she did know that women were racing a half mile or less. She had thought the marathon was open to every person in the world who signed up. But after her official rejection she would run as an outlaw. She had trained as much as 40 miles in a day. “My outrage turned to humor as I thought how many preconceived prejudices would crumble when I trotted right along for 26 miles.”

Gibb did not get permission but it did not really matter to her. After a 4-day bus ride and the purchase of running shoes with gumrubber soles, she slipped into the stream and within a few miles felt acceptance by the male runners. After 5 miles she heard, “It’s a girl. Is that really a girl? Pardon me...” Bobbie turned around laughing. “Hey, it’s a girl...Fantastic. I wish my wife would run. Good for you. Are you going the whole way?” “I hope so, if they don’t throw me out.”

At Wellesley College, women crowded the course. They saw one of their own and cheered wildly. Word spread among the crowd that a woman was actually running the Boston Marathon. At every intersection Gibb got more and more encouragement. For this attention she was not prepared.

She had trained alone, without a coach or program or training partners, and got to know herself and her own physical abilities; she did not know what to expect from other people. She was not prepared for the press attention at the finish line either. There is no ‘race’ story to tell about the first woman in the Boston Marathon because she did not have any competition. She ran an even pace and had a pleasant time. For Gibb the excitement occurred after the race.

Bobbi Gibb made big headlines and big photos in the Boston papers. “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon” and “Blond Wife, 23, Runs Marathon.” Yet she could not join the other runners for their traditional bowl of beef stew in the Prudential cafeteria: Women were not allowed. Photographers followed her home, and one of the shots showed her at home later on race day in the kitchen, making fudge with a friend.

What did Jock Semple and Will Cloney think about Bobbi Gibb’s running the marathon? No much. She was not officially in the race. She had not entered. She did not wear a number. Her progress was not monitored at the checkpoints. In their minds she had not participated, although she may have run on the public roads from Hopkinton to Boston. Because she did not interfere with the progress of the race they had no intention of throwing her out. In fact, they never saw her.”

(The above was reprinted from BOSTON Marathon: The History of the World’s Premier Running Event by Tom Derderian.)

NOW GO TO AMAZON.COM and get it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Resignation; The Great Laptop Caper

I have been accused of leaving the USCF without resigning. Here is a copy of my written resignation letter, hand delivered to John McCrary on my behalf by Shawn Pealer on August 7, 2003. Note that if I had gone on sick leave (or been fired, for that matter), the USCF would have been obligated by virtue of my employment contract to pay me three months severance pay. Understand that resigning the way I did, which was necessary due to doctor's orders forbidding me from flying due to the risk of blood clots, saved the USCF the obligation of paying any severance to me.

I offered to cooperate with the new board seated in Los Angeles but, due strictly to political motives, I became persona non grata. My book will describe the situation candidly and more fully.

The letter (exactly as it was sent):

August 7, 2003

R. John McCrary, Ph.D.
United States Chess Federation
3054 U.S. Route 9W
New Windsor, NY 12553

Dear John,

It is with great sadness and personal regret that I must resign my position as Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation for health reasons, effective immediately.

I have had increasing difficulty, especially during the past two months, keeping up with the workload and travel requirements of the job. In an attempt to compensate, I have been working long hours resulting in a chronic state of fatigue. Moreover, I have experienced periods of dizziness and frequent falls. These are symptoms that I have had to cope with since my 1997 stroke but they had been less frequent until June of this year.

More significantly, I am aware that the blood clots in my lower extremities which are triggered by a combination of poor circulation and long periods of sitting, and often exacerbated by the pressurized cabin of an airliner, have started to recur. I can usually tell when this happens by a burning sensation in one or both legs. In this situation, I have been advised by my doctor not to fly. Even so, it took me five days to drive back from Tennessee last month due in part to severe pain in my side, possibly the result of a pulmonary embolism. The trip should have taken a day and a half, at most. As a result, I missed several important meetings and deadlines.

Recently, my physician performed an echocardiogram which confirmed the existence of a shunt in the wall that separates the chambers of my heart. This can allow blood and potential clots to pass through under certain circumstances such as physical strain. It was such an event that directly led to my 1997 stroke. In addition, the echocardiogram showed that the dividing wall between the chambers is soft and floppy, more like a wet noodle than the firm tissue that it is suppose to be. The result is erratic blood flow through my heart. My understanding is that any medical intervention that could be considered, at this point, would be far more dangerous than the problem itself. It is not a painful situation to live with but I occasionally get a vague fluttering sensation inside my chest followed by an immediate drain of energy. When this happens, I usually lie down for 30 minutes to two hours until I get my strength back. Obviously, this can and has resulted in some awkward moments on the job. And, like other symptoms that I mentioned, it seems to be occurring more frequently during the past several weeks.

These problems have also become a mental distraction; not only to me, but probably for many of my friends and business associates who have observed me as I have struggled. My only option is to resign and focus on strengthening my body by a combination of rest, nutrition, exercise and medication. I will not be doing myself, my family, or the U.S. Chess Federation a service by continuing to weaken physically and thereby failing to perform the job in conformity with your standards and mine.

I have remained hopeful of climbing on a plane for our meetings in Los Angeles, even until this morning. But I am certain that it is a risk that I should not take. This morning, I gave Shawn Pealer a package of materials that I had hoped to distribute in Los Angeles, including a clean copy of the audited financial statements. I asked him to give them to Barbara Vandermark for copying and for circulation to you and others as required. I also briefed him on my physical circumstances and asked him to alert you that this letter would be E-mailed to each of the Executive Board members today.

I will always remain appreciative for the opportunity that you and the other members of the Executive Board have given me to serve the U.S. Chess Federation. I will make myself available to the extent possible to ensure a smooth and orderly transition. Surely there is still a great deal of work as well as a myriad of challenges ahead for the USCF. However, I remain confident that, together, we have pointed the organization in the right direction.

Best wishes always,


Frank A. Niro
Executive Director

Additional info regarding my laptop (which somehow became a matter of controversy on

The following was written by Susan Polgar on January 1, 2007. I totally concur, except that the hard drive crashed in Cambridge, NY in June, 2005. I had to buy a new computer.

"The laptop belonging to Mr. Niro, not the USCF. He began his tenure of ED as a
volunteer. As part of the agreement with that board, he received a laptop but no pay. He later became a paid ED but the laptop was already his.

When the new board took over in August 2003, they were not aware of the situation. I even offered to pay for it if they refused to honor the agreement of the previous board with Mr. Niro. However, that was not neeeded as they agreed to give him back his laptop. I took the laptop to Mr. Niro who was recovering from a heart attack in Connecticut. It was the right thing to do.

In regards to personal info on the laptop, Mr. Niro had pictures of his children in it as well as the book that he is writing to his son. It does not matter how many times I answer, more lies will surface.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar"

Finally, here's what I wrote in an e-mail to certain USCF Executive Board members in early 2008:

"A friend has let me know that Sam Sloan's recent "laptop gate" posting has come to your attention. For the record, his accusations are a complete fiction. I have never stolen anything from anyone and I never will.

I gave two years of my life as USCF Executive Director and even continued to work after a February 2003 heart attack slowed me down considerably. Half of the time that I was at the helm I worked for no salary. When I left, I had $8,000 in unreimbursed business expenses which I never submitted, and I purposely resigned in such a way that USCF would not be obligated to pay me $35,000 in severance pay.

Once I left, I consistently made myself available to board members and staff to discuss any matters for which I had information. I remain a phone call or e-mail away. My cell phone is 503-347-0750.

As for the laptop in question, it was purchased for my permanent personal use by the 2002 board in lieu of compensation. I left it behind so that Mike Nolan and Grant Perks and the new board could remove any files they wanted. After a few weeks, I asked for it. Just to be sure there would be no problems, I offered topay $500 for it. Two members of the current USCF board picked it up on my behalf and brought it to me in East Hampton, Connecticut, where I lived at the time in order to be close to my son. They did not deliver it to me at Foxwoods as Mr. Sloan states.

The controls in place at the USCF in 2003 would not have made it possible for me (or anyone else) to get money out of the USCF accounts without proper authorization.

I do not understand why people give such credibility to a convicted felon who has been diagnosed with serious mental health problems. I'm am incensed over his slanderous remarks and I plead with you not to perpetuate his unsubstantiated falsehoods.

This situation has already caused me great embarrassment with my children, my fellow church members and my wife's family. I trust that you will treat me as you would want to be treated in similar circumstances.

Thank you for your help.

Best wishes,
Frank Niro"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Old Game vs. the World Champ

I found one of my old games on It's a loss...but, hey, it was to the 15th World Correspondence Chess Champion, G.J. Timmerman of Holland (click link below).
Gert Jan Timmerman (NETHERLANDS) vs. Frank A. Niro (USA), corr. 1985
Timmerman demonstrating the critical move 34...Bf5!! from Oosterom-Timmerman, 1996
Photo: Nol van't Riet

Gert Timmerman is a Dutch chess player who specializes in correspondence chess. In 1976, he began playing postal chess in small seven player groups at the third highest class in Holland. He progressively promoted to the higher levels, and by 1981 he had achieved the right to play in the 10th Dutch Championship-group, in which Max Euwe was also competing.

By 1996, Timmerman climbed to the #1 position in the ICCF rating list, which earned him a "wildcard" entry into the 15th World Correspondence Championship. Timmerman won the event in 2002, thereby becoming the 15th World Correspondence Chess Champion.

I was putty in his hands.