Thursday, July 06, 2006

First Impressions of New USCF website

Since so many people felt strong, mostly negative, feelings towards the newest design update to Chess Life, I decided to carefully puruse the new additions to the USCF Chess LIfe website. After some delay, the first version of the new website is now available, and I believe that the additions to the website strengthen the magazine as a whole.

The Magazine-- First stop, the on-line version of Chess Life. All the articles from the magazine are now on-line. The major advantage is that all of the chess games from the 'zine are now playable directly on-line. If you are like me, you are often too lazy to set up the chess board when going over tournament commentary. This is a welcome addition. The on-screen boards are on the smallish side, and the notes to the game are not easily read side-by-side with the on-screen board. However, using the paper copy of the magazine with the on-line game boards is an easy fix for now.

The diagrams from Chess Life staples such as Key Crackers and Chess to Enjoy are much nicer on-line. Big and clear to read, a very nice improvement. ABCs of Chess is not inspired-- they could use the interactive features of the 'net to make it easier to cover up and reveal moves as you play along, but instead they just list moves and notes. It is actually harder to cover up the next moves. In another missed opportunity, Benko's Endgame Lab and other articles that start analysis from middle or end-game positions completely lack interactive diagrams. Boo!

Chess Life On-Line -- This is the heart of the changes to the USCF Chess Life service. All signs point to: YES! Keeping in mind this is still the early version, I am very pleased with what I see. The World Open just ended on Tuesday, and there are already several articles devoted to it. Several of the major games are already posted, with interactive diagrams. The puzzles section has 25 new puzzles, and there is a nice selection of puzzles specifically from Ruy Lopez games. GM Joel Benjamin has a section for answering reader's mail, taking over Larry Evan's old job. Perhaps he will field more than just questions about Bobby Fischer. Greg Shadade's analysis of the rating changes to the top players is an nice, if overlong, regular feature. Any way of drawing attention to the top players helps bring professionalism and legitimacy to these elite players and to American chess in general.

Top Players Bios -- Here is a great new USCF feature. With lots of photographs, nice write ups, and even a cute diagram of one of their best positions, the Top Players Bios injects a good helping of humanity into the USCF website. They should work to expand this list to include even more players, say the Top 100, and even the Top Junior players.

Ratings-- The rating section hasn't changed. All complaints about the USCF aside, the rating system and website are suberb. I played in a tourament last night that was rated by this afternoon. Players are easy to search and find, and it lists tournament cross tables all the way back to 1991.

Overall Grade-- B+ A nice first effort, with timely articles, a lot of puzzles, and many photos. Some features could use some tweak still, especially to the oversmall interactive diagrams. How successful this new web launch will be, however, depends on two factors-- 1) the regularity of updates and new articles 2) whether articles posted in the on-line portion do not overlap with the magazine portion. -- Jason

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