Top Chess States

by admin on January 15, 2015

What do you think are the strongest chess states in the country? I think that most chess players would be able to guess the top state, maybe even the top two or top three. But what surprises me is how close the competition is. Fifty years ago, it would have been New York in a runaway. Now it’s New York by a very slim margin. I think this says something about chess’s increasingly solid demographic base across the country.

I decided to rank all of the states according to the current number of players rated 2500 or stronger, with the first tiebreaker being the number of players rated 2600 or stronger and the second tiebreaker being the number of players rated 2700 or stronger. The database I used was current USCF members with some tournament activity in the last year. Here are the top eleven states. The three numbers after each one are the number of 2500+ players, the number of 2600+ players, and the number of 2700+ players.

  1. NEW YORK (21/9/3)
  2. TEXAS (18/12/3)
  3. CALIFORNIA (16/6/4)
  4. MISSOURI (9/4/4)
  5. NEW JERSEY (9/3/0)
  6. FLORIDA (5/5/1)
  7. MASSACHUSETTS (5/2/0)
  8. MARYLAND (4/1/0)
  9. ILLINOIS (3/1/0)
  10. PENNSYLVANIA (3/1/0)
  11. CONNECTICUT (3/0/0)

Actually, the remaining 40 states and DC would make a pretty good state themselves.

2a. ALL OTHER STATES (16/7/1)

To me, the biggest surprise on this list is Texas at #2. A very strong #2, which is actually ahead of New York in 2600+ players and tied with it in 2700+ players. I know about the strong chess program at University of Texas at Dallas, which has brought in a number of strong players from abroad, but are there other reasons for Texas’s performance?

I was disappointed to see California at #3, but I think it’s #3 with a bullet. We have so many good young players; I feel as if our growth is being driven from within. For example, we are the only state with two 2700+ players who actually played scholastic chess in the same state (Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky).

Missouri has leaped up the charts in the last ten years, and that has everything to do with Rex Sinquefield and his high-profile events at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, plus Susan Polgar and her team at Webster University. What a dynamic duo! Note that Missouri and California in fact lead the country in 2700+ players.

Of course, the above criteria are only one way of measuring the “chess strength” of a state, and they are a little bit unfair. Should Florida get credit for Fabiano Caruana, who is shown as a Florida resident but hasn’t played a game in that state since the 2004 U.S. Open? For that matter, should Missouri get credit for Ray Robson, who played his scholastic chess in Florida?

At the other end of the talent pool, there are 25 states (including Washington, DC) that have no 2500+ players at all. Six states don’t even have any masters: Alaska (top player rated 2030), Montana (top player rated 1881), Nebraska (top player rated 2146), North Dakota (top player rated 2098), Vermont (top player rated 2192), and Wyoming (top player rated 2027). If you want to be a state champion and do it the easy way, those are presumably the places to move to. Sorry about the cold weather.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Aigner January 15, 2015 at 12:12 pm

You are correct that Dallas remains the center of Texas chess with the university and several very strong juniors (Jeffery Xiong and Darwin Yang). However, you cannot overlook equally strong teams at UT-Brownsville and Texas Tech. All three programs draw international players to the country.

Of the top 18 rated players in Texas, only the two kids mentioned above grew up as scholastic players in this country. The rest have no real hometown in this country, and after 3-4 years of college, are free to travel wherever Caissa may guide them. Some stay in America and eventually change their FIDE affiliation (Alejandro Ramirez is a great example).

Many of the top 16 in California are also foreign born. Most, however, have lived and played in this country for 10+ years, so we forget that they grew up abroad. At least 6 were actually born here (and I suspect about 8).


Michael Aigner January 15, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Addendum: The top Texas player, Alex Onischuk, is head coach at TTU.


Joshua Gutman January 16, 2015 at 5:03 am

I just finished gathering a lot of data on uscf rated games and players so would be curious to do some further explorations on things like this. I’m also surprised Missouri didn’t show up on your list. Don’t all the Webster players live there? I know, especially if you’re a GM and you never have to renew, that players sometimes have a state that doesn’t match where they live.


admin January 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Hi Joshua, Missouri did show up on the list — at #4. I also mentioned Missouri in the text. Yes, the Webster players (some of them at least) do count.


Joshua Gutman January 18, 2015 at 6:03 am

Oops, somehow missed that entirely.


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