There used to be two truths that you could count on from the U.S. Chess Federation: 1) They didn't allow you to move your knight in any other fashion but an "L" pattern; and 2) they didn't make you pee in a cup before matches.

Well, the first fact yet remains - but remember, you still can't jump a piece of the opposite color with your knight. But, sadly, the second is out like a fat kid in dodge ball.

In an unprecedented and crucial decision last week, delegates from U.S. Chess agreed at the U.S. Open tournament in Framingham, Mass., that their "athletes" could be put through a drug screening prior to sanctioned matches. "The thing I'm concerned about is that this whole thing will go overboard,'' reigning U.S. champion Joel Benjamin was reported to say.


Next thing you know, America's governing bodies for bass fishing, yard darts, ring around the rosy, and canasta will start testing. (Although, testing in yard darts is not a half bad idea one 'roid rage resulting in an off-target toss and you've got a lawsuit on your hands, literally.)

The drugs tested for include such presumed chess-empowering agents such as: caffeine (better switch from Coke to Sprite), amphetamines, beta blockers, steroids, and Ritalin, which is used, chiefly, to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (uncontrollable desire for sleep or sudden attacks of deep sleep) - and if you've got either of those disorders, you ought not be playing chess to begin with.

Since when did chess players become renowned abusers of chemical substances?

Since never.

And nobody tested positive in the first screening conducted last month before a youth tournament in Argentina.

But it never hurts to check if you want chess to become an Olympic (cough) sport.

Yes, in order to get your "sport" recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), regular substance screening is mandatory.

And that's precisely what the World Chess Federation is trying to do, get on the card for the next Olympic games.

The big question is should chess be considered a summer or winter sport?

How about neither.

Because chess is not a sport. Chess is a game. A widely loved, immensely competitive, tactically demanding, emotionally draining, and sometimes even physically grueling (have you ever sat hunched over a board for six hours?) game, but only a game.

For chess does not meet either of the two criteria that make sports sports: 1) Cheering must be permissible during the event/match or prior to the conclusion of the event/match; and 2) some form of athleticism must be applied in order to obtain a victorious outcome.

Sure, there is loads of excitement surrounding a chess match. But cheering does not commence until the match has been completed. Can you imagine chess fans arriving shirtless at the venue with "++" (chess shorthand for checkmate) painted on their chests and chanting, "Checkmate! Checkmate! Checkmate!" in the middle of a move? The players would flip over in their chairs.

And sure, chess players - good ones - train hard to be the best. But they train to become marvelous thinkers, patient, and poker-faced. And while these are all very fine, necessary and tough-to-come by qualities, they have nothing to do with athletic skill or ability.

And that, simply, is what the Olympic games are: athletic contests. That's what they were meant to be, and that's what they should remain.

Adding non-athletic competitions - however intense and popular they may be - would only serve to dilute the Olympics and demean the talent of those who can run fast, shoot straight, sled smoothly and hit hard.

The World Chess Federation, officially known as the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), would stubbornly disagree. But, the organization is French-based, so you must expect that. However, overall the FIDE is an admirable, well-run organization with a noble mandate calling for "the diffusion and development of chess among all nations of the world, as well as the raising of the level of chess culture and knowledge on a scientific, creative and cultural basis [with] close international cooperation of the chess devotees in all fields of chess activity, thereby also aiming to improve friendly harmony among peoples." Still, it's a little misguided in its pushing the IOC to put chess in the Olympics. And for believing that jitter-generating caffeine could give a chess player an unfair advantage.

But, if the FIDE is going to stick to its guns and urine collectors, which it likely will, it at least should change its motto from Gens Una Sumus (We Are One Family) to Just Say No.

And let's hope the IOC takes that new motto to heart.


Hanging Around

The Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (KCADP) gathered Tuesday evening in Triangle Park to commemorate the last public hanging in the U.S. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the event that took place in Owensboro, KY.

The hanging of Rainey Bethea, an African-American, drew up to 20,000 spectators back in 1936. Richard Mitchell, a representative of KCADP said the hanging was somewhat botched. The event prompted Kentucky legislators to change the law 18 months later at the meeting of the General Assembly.

Members of KCADP gather every 60 days or so to remember those executed, their families and the victims' families. The group feels that, in addition to not serving as a deterrent, the death penalty also preys on minorities and the poor who can't afford legal counsel that's appropriate to a capital case. To find out more about the last public hanging segments from a book by Perry T. Ryan is available online at hang/index.htm/.

-Valerie Massie

Summer's Over, Kids

Summer is just not what it used to be, or at least as long, as the Division of Parks and Recreation has decided to close the city pools for the season early, due to a shortage of lifeguards. Garden Springs and Valley (Cambridge Ave.) pools closed this week; all other pools will remain open through Sunday, Aug. 19 (not coincidentally, the day before school starts). For those who can't stand the heat even after school begins, Parks and Rec. dictates that every year a single pool stays open for an extended period, which rotates among the city's aquatic centers. This year it is Southland Aquatic Center (625 Hill-n-Dale Rd.) which will remain open through Monday, Sept. 3. Enjoy. (For more info contact the Div. of Parks and Rec. at 288-2904.)

Farmer, Spare That Cow! (or Pig)

Vegetarians are a large and growing number in the U.S., and for those who like their food without a face, a new Guide to Vegetarian Dining in Lexington has been created. Advocates for Animals, an new animal rights group based here, developed the brochure to promote awareness of the wide selection of non-meat entrees available at restaurants right here in Lexington. The brochures are being offered as a free public service.Tara Rodriguez, a public school teacher, and founder of the new group, says "there are literally hundreds of selections available for Kentuckians to dine on without causing harm to animals." She reminds everyone that "Being boiled hurts!" as she urges people to avoid ordering veal or lobster. (For more information, or to get a brochure, write P. O. Box 55124, Lexington, KY, 40555-51244 or e-mail: