ChessMaine Interviews: Alex Relyea

10.11.16 Alex Relyea has long been a powerhouse in the world of local, regional, national, and international chess. In addition to being a very respectable player, he is an organizer, US Chess tournament director, FIDE arbiter, and sits on the US Chess Ethics, Elections, Tournament Director Certification, Fide Events, and Anti-Cheating committees. A delegate to US Chess from the state of New Hampshire, a Trustee of the Life Member Assets, a member of the board of the New Hampshire Chess Association and Treasurer of the New England Chess Association are just some of his chess-related responsibilities (and we haven't even mentioned correspondence chess!). We are pleased to bring you this fascinating interview with Alex Relyea.

Tournament Director Alex Relyea oversees games at the 2015 Saco Open played on March 14-15, at the Hampton Inn in Saco, Maine.

Chess Maine: Alex, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today. For
many years now you have been one of the leading tournament directors in
our region. How did you get involved with playing chess and directing

Alex Relyea:  I started playing in high school at John Bapst in 1987.
In 2002 Lee Doucette advertised that Maine needed more TDs, which, by
the way, all regions do pretty much all the time.  I let him know that I
was interested, but I moved to Oklahoma for school after directing my
first tournament in Augusta.  By the way, next weekend I'll do my 200th
as chief TD.

CM: You are also a FIDE (World Chess Federation) Arbiter. Can you
explain how the arbiter certification works and how the role of an
arbiter differs from that of a USCF (United States Chess Federation)
Tournament Director?

AR:  A Senior TD or higher can request the National Arbiter exam from
the US Chess office.  If the TD has already passed the FIDE Arbiter
course he automatically can become an NA upon attaining the Senior TD
status.  Anyone can take the course, but from what I understand, it is
grueling.  Only a licensed arbiter can direct a FIDE-rated section.
Once an arbiter becomes licensed there are a number of norms that he
must achieve to get the FA and International Arbiter (IA) titles.  I
expect to earn my final norm in March.

There are many small differences between FIDE events and US Chess
events.  IA Ken Ballou has written a detailed pamphlet explaining most
of them.  There is one major difference which is philosophical rather
than technical.  FIDE expects there to be an adequate number of arbiters
to see everything.  US Chess doesn't.  Thus, arbiters are expected to be
much more interventionist than TDs are.  If an arbiter notices, for
example, that you've touched a piece and moved another, he'll stop the
clocks, make you move the first-touched piece, and assess a penalty.  A
TD will only do this if the opponent makes a claim.

CM: As well as being an accomplished organizer and director you are also
a strong player. Are you still playing chess actively and which do you
prefer playing or organizing and directing and why?

AR:  I'm not a strong player.  I haven't been off my 1800 floor in
years.  TDs are encouraged to remain active players so that they can
retain perspective on what it is like on the other side of the board.  I
try to do two or three tournaments per year, just so I'm sure I can
remember how the pieces move.  We'll get to this later, but my
tournament schedule looks rather eclectic.  The two tournaments I've
played in this year are the Tournament of the Greater Ottawa Region and
the Iowa State Open.  I also have discovered in the past few years
something of an affinity for international correspondence play.  At the
moment I am playing 74 or 75 games, depending on whether one of my
paired opponents has a legitimate emergency or will actually make his
first move.

I think it is easier to organize and direct because my stamina is very
limited these days.  It takes more time, but it is less mentally
demanding.  Time I can handle.

CM: Do you remember when and how you were first introduced to the game?

AR:  Casual play, no.  Serious play began in high school.  I learned
very quickly that I had a lot to learn.

CM: What are some of your goals for promoting chess in our region and in
Maine specifically?

AR:  Of course you know northern New England is very sparsely populated.
That makes tournaments difficult.  Near the southern part of my range
there are tournaments almost every weekend.  I'd like to see more of
that, and that means more player, and especially more converted into TDs
and organizers.  It would be nice to develop another Friedel, or even
another Fishbein, but I'm happy if we can have ten 1300 players playing
all their lives.

CM: Do you have mentors and role models in either the chess playing or
chess directing worlds?

AR:  Not really.  I guess I'd say NTDs Tim Just and Ken Ballou.  Ken is
currently chief TD for Millionaire III.

CM: Can you compare and contrast scholastic and adult chess? Do you
think promoting one or the other should take priority

AR:  I think maybe you'd better put on your seat belt for this one as
you've touched on a hot button of mine.  First, can we agree not to use
the word "Adult" in this context?  Let's say "Open" instead.  Frankly,
this topic scares me to death.  Many players wind up in the scholastic
ghetto.  I've never done a survey, largely because it is so difficult to
determine what exactly is a scholastic tournament (example questions: if
a parent plays one game as a house player in an extra rated games
section, is the tournament still scholastic?  Is a tournament restricted
to players under 1200 with cash prizes that happens not to draw a single
entry over age 13 scholastic?), but I'd assume that well over 80% of
members have never played in anything that was not considered a
scholastic tournament.  This is making chess into something like soccer
"Something I used to do as a kid" rather than what it is so clearly
capable of being like golf, a lifetime sport.  Also, Maine doesn't have
an extended tournament "season" the way other states do, so you may not
have seen this so much, but when a player begins to break out of the
scholastic ghetto, he rarely goes back, except possibly to help his
school or win a title.  There is extremely little flow between
scholastic chess and open chess.  In many places tournament staff will
be entirely different.  This means that a sixth grader can have years of
tournament experience and finally have a rating of, say, 1350, enter a
U1400 section, and recognize not a single person there.  All of us like
to see a familiar face when we go to tournaments.  Also, and I've
noticed this as a particular problem in New England, less so in other
parts of the country, there is no place for adult beginners to go.  Most
tournaments don't have sections restricted to U1000, say, and those
attempting to enter them are usually told that they are for children.
Most people don't realize the level of accomplishment that 1000 implies.
I estimate that a player rated 1000 is somewhere around the 63rd
percentile of all active players.  If there were a way to get children
rated 500-900 into open tournaments, that wouldn't have to be a
graduation from scholastic chess; they could return, and it would also
give newer adults an opportunity to stick with chess instead of being
beaten up by players 800 points higher than they are all four rounds and
going back to lick their wounds vowing never to stick their heads out

CM: I understand you are also a member of the ICCF (International
Correspondence Chess Federation). Can you explain how the ICCF works and
your involvement with it? By the way, congratulations on your "Gold
Medal" performances in ICCF Friendly Matches with other countries.

AR:  Yes, I'm working towards my IA title there, too.  I might even be
able to earn a playing title, but I'd need to reduce my number of games.
Generally what happens is that you are sent an email informing you that
your opponent has moved, you click on the game and a diagram pops up
inviting you to make a move.  If you feel up to it, there is a place to
chat with your opponent.  Some people still used the old fashioned
postcards, including one Maine resident.  Players are allowed to use
books and engines, but they don't get very far if they just use engines.
At five seconds, or even two minutes, a move engines do a lot better
than humans, but when you can take much longer (a common ICCF time
control is 10 moves in 50 days), it ends up going the other way, if only
because it is easy for us to prune bad lines.  You have to know how to
use the engines, and optimize your brain along with them.

Thank you.  It is time now to praise Dennis Doren who has brought our
"friendly match" team back to life.  Dennis does a lot of work
coordinating the matches and, more importantly, making them as fair as
possible.  We would previously have about one match per year, but now it
is more like once a month.  I have been left off teams because there was
no one from the other country close to me in rating.  Dennis has also
kept track of the number of matches each player has scored a 2-0 sweep.
On the occasion of 100 players doing that, he tallied the results and,
much to my surprise, I had done it six times which was the most of any
American, so I was awarded a "Gold Medal".  I'm about to get number 7.
I also have captained two teams, against Slovakia, which we're going to
win, and Panama, which we're going to lose.

Your US Chess membership enables you to play on ICCF without any
additional dues, and I recommend it for improvement, especially if you
wish to understand an opening better, but PLEASE don't abandon your
games.  If you get bored, or realize the commitment is more than you're
willing to continue with, just resign.  It's better for everyone.

CM: What advice in terms of resources would you give to a player
interested in improving their game and to someone who may be interested
in becoming a tournament director or arbiter?

AR:  I'm afraid I'm not a good enough player to answer in anything more
than platitudes.  "Practice, practice, practice."  If you're interested
in getting involved from the other side of the table, I can be of help.
First, you're not going to get rich organizing or directing.  As far as
I know, Bill Goichberg is the only person even able to make a living at
it.  The next time you go to a tournament, ask one of the TDs if you can
volunteer and how.  Do this during a quiet moment, please.  He'll almost
certainly at least let you be a tournament aide (the people who do
everything involved in making a tournament run smoothly except pairings
and rulings).  Many, realizing the dearth of TDs and organizers, will
offer to train you as a an assistant TD until you're ready to break out
on your own, or at least willing to be "the old man".  Get more than one
mentor so you can see different ways of doing the same thing.  Some are
better, some are worse, and some are plain wrong but get by because
either there are no other area TDs or the players don't know better.  In
any event, if you've never been a TD, it is easy to become one.  All you
have to do is have a current membership and sign a piece of paper that
says you've read the rulebook.  Better, I have a standing offer to
purchase a rulebook for anyone wishing to become a TD, as Brian Hurst
and Ryan Tripp, among others, well know.  There are only twelve TDs in
Maine right now, so there is plenty of room for more.  If you're
interested in helping out on the organizational front, again ask what
would be useful.  Affordable sites are always welcome.  I'm sure I'm not
the only one who has played in an art studio, and I've directed in
everything from an abandoned auto museum to the meeting space at a
carpet cleaning company.  The less money for facilities, the more that
can go toward prize money!

CM: In addition to all of this involvement with chess, I also see you
online participating in numerous USCF Forums. Can you explain to our
readership how the Forums work and their efficacy?

AR:  Not just the forums.  I also sit on the Ethics, Elections,
Tournament Director Certification, Fide Events, and Anti-Cheating
committees.  I'm a delegate to US Chess from the state of New Hampshire,
and a Trustee of the Life Member Assets.  In addition, I sit on the
board of the New Hampshire Chess Association and am Treasurer of the New
England Chess Association.  As a meber of TDCC I find it useful to visit
other TDs and see what they do, and see if there are any problems.  It
is useful to be acquainted with many of the people directing and
organizing throughout the country.  The forums are a member benefit for
those over age 16 (18?) and are heavily moderated discussion areas.
Most valuable to me is the Running Chess Tournaments forum where we ask
each other about strange situations that come up in our events.  Tom
Doan, author of WinTD, is a frequent participant which is handy if you
have questions about his software.  It is also handy to get feedback
about events you're thinking of running.

CM: When you aren't playing, directing, organizing or otherwise involved
in chess what do you do in your professional life and for fun?

AR:  I generally tell people I'm a professional diabetic.  I'm unable to
work anything like a normal schedule as it takes at least two days to
recover from directing a tournament, much less playing in one.  I am a
voracious reader, and we like to travel, though that often involves

CM: Is there anything we haven't covered that you would like to add?
Thanks for the interview!

AR:  I'm worried this is long enough already, but please encourage
people to get involved.  You're very welcome.


As always an interesting interview. Thanks to both you (Dan) and Alex for all that you do to encourage chess in Maine and beyond.

Andy Bryan

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