Monday, January 26, 2009

Who Killed ChessUSA.Net?

As the chess world absorbed the news of the closure of ChessUSA blog, the mystery of who did it ricocheted around the chess forums like a bullet. Fingers first pointed towards the hated Susan Polgar. She said this:
I was just told that Mr. Steve Owens received a credible legal threat from an interested party in the upcoming 2009 USCF Executive Board election. I find this appalling. I do not agree with Mr. Owens’ view on many occasions but this is chess politics at its worst. This is wrong.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar
The President of the USCF rejected this, however. He issued this statement to the USCF’s Forums:
. . . Where did Susan say it was not her? She said it was "chess politics at its worst" and "This is wrong," but where did she deny that it was her?

Remember, when Brian Lafferty asked Susan and Paul on this Forum about February 2007 if they were married to each other, their response was to ignore the question and attack Brian. Most posters saw this reaction as a "no" answer to the question, but it was not. In May it was learned that they were married in December 2006, but this info was not in the June Chess Life and had it been, Paul might not have been elected, as many voters feel it is improper for one family to control two votes (half the number of votes necessary to pass a board motion). Susan and Paul subsequently denied trying to hide their marriage, and they were apparently correct that they didn't say they were not married to each other, just gave that impression without saying so.

Bill Goichberg
This was a most serious comparison. My response to this comparison was censored off the USCF’s Forums and no further rebuttal to this has appeared on that venue by anybody else. This is what I wrote:
Bill Goichberg, in the dishonest way that has become the staple of discussion of anything Polgar by USCF’s leaders, said about Susan’s first statement that “This was wrong” did not constitute a denial and compared her statement to her earlier statement in 2007 regarding her marriage. To be honestly comparable, she would have to said her marriage was “appalling”; “it is chess politics at its worst”; and “this is wrong”. In fact, in her statement on her marriage, she only said that she found Brian Lafferty’s question rude and insulting and she refused to answer it. Reasonable people would find some degree of gap between one statement and the other.

As for Steve's case, I can’t help but wonder how Susan's lawyer would handle a case that his client had just publicly and on the record labeled “appalling” and “wrong”. I’m no lawyer, but if I had to and if I was allowed, I bet that even I could defend Steve and win!
A few minutes later, he posted this:
I didn't say that it was Susan, only that she has not denied that it was her.

"Chess politics at its worst" is not a denial. "This is wrong" is not a denial.

I suppose it could be someone else described in "This party has silenced opposition in venues under their control -- and that is their right." There aren't many who fit that description, but there might be someone else out there who operates blogs or groups on which opposition is silenced.

Following is the last post Steve made before announcing the closing of his blog. Did this post cause Polgar or Truong to threaten legal action? I don't know for sure, but see no reason to rule out the possibility.

Bill Goichberg
Here is the post BG quoted.

The inhabitants at the USCF’s Forums leapt to the conclusion that Susan and/or Paul Truong were the murderers.
Steve, in your post on you stated (1) that the people concerned are "interested parties" in the Executive Board election; and (2) that they have multiple online venues under their control in which they have also silenced opposition. Since you are using plural here ("parties", "their control", "they") we can also assume (3) that the threat comes from at least two people acting in concert and jointly controlling online venues.

In my opinion, the only people who fit this bill are Polgar and Truong. I hope you will correct me if I am drawing the wrong conclusion.
- Brian Mottershead

Since I was the one man who was at the intersection of the mystery, (partner in the deceased blog and also Moderator in Susan’s forum) I contacted Susan who replied by e-mail.

The first I heard about this was a few hours ago from one of the USCF members who alerted me about the wild accusations and speculations which surfaced on the net. Neither Paul or I have anything to do with this and we hope that Steve would go public with this information. In fact, I encourage him to go public with it for the sake of all USCF members.

Best wishes,
I also contacted Steve Owens, the legal owner of ChessUSA. He would not give more information to me beyond what he had publicly announced.

I felt like Lieutenant Columbo of TV Fame as I asked the chess players to look at the evidence instead of leaping to conclusions. Here’s a portion of what I said.
But anyway, what’s a few facts getting in the way of all the anti-Polgar mania? Well, let’s list a few facts, anyway.

Item: Bill Goichberg’s other piece of evidence was “Steve’s” last statement on the blog before he closed it. Very clever wordplay by the USCF’s President for sure. Yes, indeedy, the anti-Polgar post quoted by Bill G was the very last one done by Steve but it was not the last one done on the blog.

Item: The last one done on the blog was done by myself!!! It was a rebuttal of the last post by Steve. That last blog post defended Susan and attacked the USCF leadership.

Item: The post Bill G gave so much weight to, contained 4 comments which he did not quote. 2 were by me, one by Donna A, and one by Steve. 2 of those 4 comments (50%) were critical of the USCF leadership (Donna and me), 1 was neutral (me), and Steve’s was anti-Polgar.

Item: Since December 1, 2008 (last 2 months) there have been a total of 13 posts. 9 were by me and 4 by Steve. 4 posts attacked the USCF leadership while only 1 post attacked Susan – the one Bill Goichberg quoted.

Item: ChessUSA should be considered a Pro-Polgar blog by a 4 to 1 ratio in the last 2 months.

Query: In earlier months the ratio changed depending upon whether Steve or myself was active. So, why would Susan suddenly launch this kind of attack just when the ratio had swung decisively in her favor?

Query: If Susan had given any attention to what was on the blog at all, which I doubt, wouldn’t a better course have been to quietly encourage me to post more on it and turn it into an even more pro-Polgar bastion than it already was? - Especially in light of Steve’s reluctance to post on it, by his own statement as well as his history?

So, if the obvious suspect did not do it, then who did? As Lieutenant Columbo might have asked, as he gazed down at the murder victim, “Who dunnit?”

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