Five traits of successful chess clubs

On todays edition of the Bristol Chess Times we look at common traits that successful chess clubs share.  In a world where ‘over the board’ chess has had a topsy turvy time of late, what is it that some clubs are doing to thrive within the digital online chess age?

Regular readers will know that over the summer (from June to September) I ran a number of “Chess Profiles” on the Chess Journal Blog.  The idea of these profiles was to give clubs (all British unfortunately, no international chess clubs ever took me up on my offer of an interview) an opportunity to talk about how they run and what works and doesn’t work.  In total I spoke to 11 clubs across the UK and an enjoyable and insightful read each of them was.  However, I also started to notice very consistent patterns from these clubs that I was sure contributed to their burgeoning memberships.  Lets have a look at some of these themes.

Supporting all levels of chess ability

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Astonishingly 10 out of 11 chess clubs interviewed stated this as imperative to the growth of their memberships.  All these clubs recognised how important it was to offer a level of chess across the spectrum with most boasting members ranging in ability from 23 to 200 ECF (850 – 2200 ELO).  These clubs were strategically ensuring that they had enough teams registered across different divisions and leagues so that any new membership enquiry could be supported, irrespective of ability.

Creating a welcoming atmosphere

We all know how inaccessible chess can appear to an outsider or novice and therefore all of these clubs were making active strides in breaking down these barriers and encouraging attendance of non-chess players.

A common theme from my interviews and anecdotally with chess friends is how unwelcoming (!!!) some chess clubs can be when they just focus on chess.  A room full of established club members who “just want to play their game” and are unwilling to engage unless the new person happens to be of a similar standard to them.

Fortunately, a significant proportion of the clubs I talked to had actively gone out of their way to create a welcoming atmosphere.  For example, always ensuring that there is a member of the club on hand to welcome new people who arrive on the night and offer a friendly game.  Or the organisation of less serious tournaments where new, less confident players can try their hand at club chess without being smashed off the board on their first night.  Even the inclusion of a bar seemed to go a long way to helping these clubs (although it must be said only 50% had a bar – I’m looking at you Horfield CC!) where members who valued a cheeky pint over the mainline borefest of the Berlin Defence could indulge and make friends.

Running tutorials, lectures and club nights

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Another common trait of growing successful clubs was the provision of training nights or lectures for all club members.  These were often held by the strongest members of the club (in some instances titled players) and encouraged the participation of all members to come along and learn and improve.  I feel this theme goes deeper than just personal improvement as the tutorials and lectures were often sited by my interviewees as a lovely social aspect of the club that contributed to the camaraderie.

Entering multiple leagues and cups

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A surprising addition to our list but one that consistently came up!  Just over half of the clubs I interviewed registered teams in multiple leagues.  This appeared to give them a greater reach to get players but also ensured a large number of games available.  When you consider the first trait of supporting all levels of ability, this starts to make sense as the more games and competitions the club is registered for then the greater the demand and offer of competition.  It also highlights, how forward thinking some of these clubs are being when they look at their local domestic league and notice that it is shrinking (as was happening in several cases).

Supporting juniors

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Not everyone I spoke was able to support juniors due to the constraints of week night chess. However, 7 of the 11 clubs I interviewed did offer some level of junior support and most stated that it was a target area for them in the future.  It seems that supporting junior chess was seen as a real positive for these clubs as it not only welcomed in the youngsters but their parents also.  This again contributed to the social space of the club where juniors could be seen bashing out some blitz (much to the disgust of the coaches nearby) whilst the parents sat in the bar and wondered how they had missed their own two move mate.

Conclusion

My journey around chess clubs in the UK finished in September (who knows I might resurrect it next summer) but the above five traits all appeared to be consistently benefiting those I spoke to.  Having reviewed the above list I was astonished to come to one simple conclusion – All of the above traits are about creating a social space first and a chess club second.

Lets be honest, if you are willing to contact a chess club in the first instance then chances are you like chess to some degree.  Successful, growing, chess clubs are not necessarily worried about creating brilliant chess players.  First and foremost they are focused on creating welcoming social places where people can make friends, trade stories of near misses, have a pint and engage in the right level of competition.  Those of us held in the sway of caissa will probably play it to some degree anyway so the club has to become about the place I can go to chat to others like me.  It was noticeable how many of the clubs I spoke to mentioned adopting the above practices and then noticing an increase in cups and leagues won in recent years.

In short, in order for your chess club to grow, focus on making friends.  The chess will look after it self.


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Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Bristol Winter Congress on 24th – 26th November 2017

Christmas is rapidly approaching but before the festive season truly begins there is one last opportunity in 2017 to lock swords across the board in the last of the big Bristol tournaments. The Bristol Winter Congress is always an ultra competitive and very well run congress, and this edition features not one but two titled players.

A selection of images from the Steve Boniface Congress in August.  Expect the usual high level of competition this Friday. 

GM Keith Arkell and IM Chris Beaumont are the top seeds in the FIDE rated open event but a spring of tough players are also competing from the Bristol league and surrounding districts. Anyone on social media will have noticed Chessable’s CEO David Kramaley will be in attendance and is training hard for the event. I’ve met David a few times and he’s always available to chat about the benefits of Chessable to boosting a players chess, so if nothing else, grab a coffee with him.

There is also two other sections.  The U155 Major and U125, which in recent times is seeing an explosion in the talented junior ranks of the Bristol area punching though.

To this day the Bristol Winter Congress remains my only Major win of a congress, joint first with Roger Hardy and Jerry Hendy back in 2012. I also finished a memorable second in 2015 so I am disappointed not to be in attendance this year. Anecdotally I’ve always felt like the level of play is high in the Bristol Winter Congress because the league season is a few months old and players have generally sharpened their repertoires and dusted off any cobwebs from the summer.

This is the first congress with Clifton CC’s Igor Doklestic running the ship and his first major initiative has been to overhaul the Bristol Congress website.  Whilst he is still working on it, it now contains lots of nice information such as places to stay, entries received, detailed venue information (especially parking) and dates for all competitions in 2018.

Depending on which section you are entering the price varies from £20 – £28, which is cracking considering its a full weekend of high standard chess.

The entry details for the congress can be found here – entry form.

Good luck to everyone taking part!


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Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Games to be proud of, featuring Max Poolake and Roy Day

This week we welcome another guest columnist to the Bristol Chess Times, Roy Day of South Bristol Chess Club fame.  Roy showcases a prestigious Estonian talent from the leagues past whilst also sharing one of his own master pieces.

I was looking through my Bristol chesstime editions and came across an interesting entry from Andrew Borkowski in the 1982 magazine concerning Max Poolake. Max was born in Estonia in 1914 and learned to play chess at an early age , he joined the army during the 2nd world war and eventually finished up in Hannover in a displaced camp .

Later Max settled in England {after marrying Daphne an ex captain of the Nailsea Team } playing chess in London then Glocester chess club and after that Lysaghts, Hanham, Clifton and finally it seems Nailsea chess club.

Max had played top class chess being the West of England champion and playing top board for the Bristol & Clifton club , Max died on Oct 2nd 1987. Here is one of his games played in 1963 he played as white against R Martin .

Max Poolake vs. R. Martin (1963)

Play through game

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A lovely early attack in the Spanish game from Max Poolake

1 P-K4 P-K4 2 N-KB3 N-QB3 3 B-N5 P-QR3 4 B-R4 N-B3 5 O-O NxP 6 R-K1 N-B4 7 N–B3 NxB
8 NxP N3xN 9 RxNch B-K2 10 N-Q5 O-O 11 NxBch K-R1 12 Q-R5 P-KN3 13 Q-R6
{this threatens 14 R-R5 PxR 15 Q-B6 mate} 13 P-KB3 14 NxPch K-N1 15 R-K7 Resigns.

R Day v J Will (1987)

Finally I guess we are all proud of one particular game , mine is this against Jim Will graded 161
on 3.12.1987

Play through game

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Lovely sacrificial attack from Roy…

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…culminating in a crushing attack!

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bd3 Bb4 5 e5 Ne4 6 Ng1-e2 f5 7 a3 Bxc3 8 Nxc3 o-o 9 Qh5 c5 10 Bxe4 dxe4 11 dxc Nc6 12 Bf4 Qd4 13 Rd1 Qxc5 14 o-o Nxe5 15 Nxe4 Qxc2 16 Ng5 h3 17 Bxe5 Qc5 18 Bd6 Qb5 19 Bxf8 hxg5 20 Rd8 Resigns.


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Roy Day

Roy is a long term member of South Bristol Chess Club and until very recently the club treasurer. He organises most of the club tournaments and is the club President at 85 years of age!

Fascinating endgame study for November with GM Jones

I hope you won’t mind if this month I present not a problem but a rather remarkable endgame study, composed only a few months ago by two of today’s foremost study composers, Karen Sumbatyan and Oleg Pervakov, as a birthday tribute to another top study composer, Yuri Baslov.

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In this fairly game-like position White can’t win by immediately pushing his bP, as then 1…Qf5+ would draw. So instead he plays 1.Qf3. Now Black wants to clear b1 for his own bP and to be able to play …Qe5, so 1…Qe1. So far so mundane. Now the pyrotechnics begin…2.Qf6! (more prosaic moves fail, e.g. 2.Qf5 Qf2). After 2…gxf6 3.g6 Black has …Qe6+! 4.Kxe6 b2.

november prob 2

The critical position with white to play…

This is a key position. If we continue with the obvious 4.Kf7 b1Q then although we can promote at g8 with check Black is OK because his Qb1 is guarding against Qg6# while also observing the potential route of the b6P. In fact if in that position it were Black to play then he’d be in greater difficulty. Any move off the b1-g6 diagonal, or either of his two available pawn moves, would allow Qg6#. So Black may be in zugzwang, needing to move his Queen off the b-file and so no longer observing the b6P. All of which goes to explain the otherwise unbelievable tempo move 5.Ke7!!. (If you were down to ten-second increments in a League match, you might be forgiven for missing this resource.)

So: now if 5…b1Q 6.g7+ Kh7 7.g8Q+ Kh6 reaches the position in which the bQ must leave the b-file. Better is 5…Kg7 6.h8Q+ Kxh8 and now – you guessed it – instead of playing 7.Kf7 straight away White again temporizes – 7.Kf8! b1Q 8.Kf7 – and Black has problems. His best is 8…Qf5! and now we have 9.g7+ Kh7 10.g8Q+ Kh6 11.Qg7+ (not 11.b7, when 11…Qd7+ is good enough for a draw) Kh5 12.b7 Qd7+ 13.Kxf6 Qxg7+ 14.Kxg7 c2 15.b8Q c1Q – and now with yet another new pair of Queens on the board the win eventually becomes clear – 16.Qh8+ Kg4 17.Qh3+ and 18.Qh6+, winning the black Queen.

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After Qh3+ no matter where the black monarch goes he is lost after Qh6+ winning the black queen

A remarkable study! And although there are no problems in the column this month there is a good problem theme – those positions in which the apparently powerful bQ is stuck at b1 because it needs to control both b7 and g6 exemplify the sort of ‘focal control’ which is often seen in ‘White to play and mate in x moves’ problems.


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Christopher Jones

Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).

October 2017 Review

So October has come and gone and the Bristol Chess League is starting to show its shape for the coming season.  We take a look at the current state of play across the four divisions as well as showcasing October’s Game of the Month.

Division 1

The blood flowed freely in the water in Division 1 as every team tore chunks out every other team.  Unlike last season when Downend A romped into Christmas on the back of 9 straight wins, every team in the division has now lost at least once with no clear logic to predicting the outcome of matches.  It looks like an ultra competitive Division 1 race is on  with up to five teams clustering around each other (if all games in hand are won).  Team of the month has to go to Horfield A who won all three games and scored a remarkable 15 / 18 game points. But the sharks are circling…

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Division 2

Division 2 remains a little more unclear as the number of games played by teams across the division is very variable. South Bristol B continue to set the early pace although Horfield C and Grendel are closing in and have games in hand.  As with Division 1, some very odd results have been thrown up with top performing teams suddenly losing heavily. Individual performances that need to be acknowledged include Steve Woolgar (137) who is actually averaging 184 and Clevedon’s Max Walker (115) with a grading performance of 154.

(editors note – My thanks to Nigel Pollett for his sage opinions on Division 2).

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Division 3

Yate A continue to plough ahead mercilessly in Division 3 with a 100% record. You heard it here first in August when we predicted their dominance! The rest of the division appear to be dragging each other behind the early Yate pacesetters as they all continue to beat one another.  Hanham have creeped up the table but look the most at risk as they have played a lot of games with only one match point to show for it.

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Division 4

If you thought division 1 was bloody then thats nothing compared to Division 4! This 12 team division sees the closest spread of points with the top 7 teams separated by only 3 points and games in hand galore.  Looking at the table it seems impossible to call at this stage but my recommendation would be to call a time out and everyone take a breather! Chaos!

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October 2017 Game of the Month

The accolade for October Game of the Month is awarded to the “Horfield Ice Cube” (and Bristol Chess Times contributor), Mike Harris.  His outstanding Chigorin defence and cool finish under time pressure against Henry Duncanson of Downend was a pleasure to watch and instrumental to the biggest shock of the season so far when Horfield B beat Downend A.

At my request, he has annotated his game below.

Henry Duncanson vs. Mike Harris – Play through game

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With less than a minute on his clock, the “Horfield Ice Cube” Mike Harris played exf in the above position and went on to seal a memorable win against a tough opponent.

If you would like to submit a game for Game of the Month then please email them to bristolchesstimes@gmail.com.  We welcome submissions from all players and any division.  We are not looking for theoretical purity necessarily.  In fact the messier, dirtier the chess the better in my opinion!  In all seriousness, please do send us your games and tel us why you think your game is eligible for Game of the Month (obviously it must have been played in that given month). We at the Bristol Chess Times will review them and at the end of the season we will post up the 8 or 9 games from across the season and let the community vote for Game of the Season. Who knows we may even have prizes!


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Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

From the Front Line: Chipping Sodbury Rapidplay Oct 17

It was a beautifully sunny Autumn day in Chipping Sodbury town, full of chess players old and young. Organiser John Stubbs drummed up a lot of interest outside of the league and from juniors – many of whom played blitz and bullet chess all throughout lunch!

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2_lunchtime bullet

Courtyard Kibitzing in the Autumn sunshine

There was even an exhibition challenge where juniors would square off against top seed Attila Reznak. Nobody managed to topple him but it clearly tired him out!

3_game prep

Different approaches to mental preparation. Recalling theory, or a headache from too much blitz?!

Back to the tournament – there were three sections according to grade boundaries, with junior and/or grading prizes for all. All sections were a swiss format, 6 rounds, with 20-minute games plus an increment per move.

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No smoking – but plenty of fire on the board in the minor section

We start with the minor which was destroyed by the juniors – three of them tying for first!

5_youth vs experience

Youth vs experience. Toby was too quick for his opponent in this game, winning on time

6_Minor winners

The winners of the minor section – John Skeen, Yuvraj Kumar and Toby Kan

On to the major section, which also featured many new players in amongst the tournament veterans, and was hotly contested as one would expect. The juniors were the stars once again – clearly not fazed by playing all day – or by facing their coaches across the board!

7_Major Dave

Dave still clearly in opening theory! He was outfoxed this time though

There were no outcries of tournament fixing as Oli Stubbs took down the major undefeated – very well deserved and no doubt a future threat to the open section.

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Oli playing right to the bitter end against Adrian Champion. Oli won the major section convincingly with 5 / 6

The open featured more newcomers, with three clear top seeds plus many eager challengers.

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Games get underway in the Open section

One of these challengers played yours truly in the first round…

10_mike vs remi

*may not be the exact position* After a long pressing game I had 20 seconds left and missed the simple block Rf6; first spotting a prettier (but much worse) move Rd1?! Which looks like it works, save for Rd5! which Remi spotted – and thereon went on to win the tournament. Oh how it could have been!

As for me, I went on to get 0.5 out of 3 and was contemplating an even worse score than my previous two rapidplays, but I was saved by a bye and then by actually playing decent moves to creep up to 3.5/6 – enough for joint third and the grading prize! (The exciting final game against Lewis can be found here, featuring three exchange sacrifices). By contrast, Remi hadn’t played a rapid tournament for decades – so it was doubly impressive that he took down the top seeds and quickly took control of the event. He actually won with a round to spare as his progressive score would have won a tie-break situation.

11_Remi win

Remi coolly converts against Mike from a pawn ahead to win the tournament.

It was a day for newcomers as well as juniors – as new Downend star Attila shared third place with Adam (and myself) and Chris Smith – who also recently returned to the game.

Chess doesn’t stop after the handshake – plenty of different perspectives on the game were discussed after the dust had settled.

13_post mortem

Post-mortem between two top players from Downend. Lewis (right) finished 2nd in the tournament with 4/6.

All in all a splendid return of Chipping Sodbury – many thanks once again to arbiter Geoff Gammon, and organiser John Stubbs. The next one is set for April 2018 – and could even be FIDE rated! We will keep you posted.

14_oli and john

Oli graciously accepting his prize!


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Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

Reflections from Downend

Today we welcome yet another new columnist to the Bristol Chess Times, Ian Pickup from Downend & Fishponds CC. Sparked from a conversation over email, Ian has been collating and writing up amusing anecdotes from his 53yrs spent playing for the club. You couldn’t make some of this stuff up…

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Downend play an annual match against Pentrych CC, this shot is from 1999.  A host of excellent images and historical references for the club can be found on Downends website (editors note – ECF 2017 Website of the year) 

In 1950 the Downend club, as it then was, in its very first year of existence, decided it needed a motto and “Fortiter et Recte” came into being. The minute book shows that it was conceived by a Dr A M Maiden and, browsing the internet out of curiosity, I found that he was none other than the author of “A system of judging flavour in bread” for the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology in 1936. Fame indeed! Beat that if you can!

Around that time a veteran player from Clifton joined Downend. According to Ken Cleak’s history for the League’s 75th year anniversary, W J Matthews was “our king pin who taught us all the rudiments of strategy, the strength of the pieces, what the ‘opposition’ was all about and much else.” Michael Wood recounted many anecdotes from the 1950s, one of which told of Mr Matthews’ trip to Charfield to play Mr A I H Weaver in an individual tournament. Henry Weaver had been the prime mover of Charfield Chess Club, “The largest rural chess club in the Empire” for decades. WJM arrived in Charfield one bleak Saturday afternoon to find he was unexpected. “Oh dear, I am not ready to play you.” said Henry. “But I’ve come all this way, surely we can play?” “Oh, very well but I shall have to change into my chess playing attire.” An hour or two later, with the host in his tweed jacket with the leather patches, WJM was clearly winning when Henry announced it was time for tea. “But I must catch the last train back to Bristol.” “No, it must be tea first.” The written word cannot adequately convey the humour in Michael’s re-telling but I do believe that WJM got his win. In the 1960s, several D&F members and some from other Bristol clubs used to join the festivities at the Charfield Christmas Party. Who can forget the fun and games and the singing with resident accompanist, B K Booty at the piano? WJM’s widow was our much loved Vice President for many years after he passed away.

It was “Downend and Fishponds” by the time I joined in 1964, when still at BGS. I managed to persuade Michael and Mike Passmore to come one evening for a tandem simultaneous. The results are lost in the mists of time but what is never to be forgotten is the suggestion, in front of the master in charge, that I should join them at the pub afterwards!

Peter Millener, our Treasurer for several years in the sixties and seventies, worked for a firm of ships agents and when a Russian freighter was stranded in the Royal Portbury Dock because of some administrative hitch, he arranged for us to play the crew, home and away. The trip on board was memorable for the hospitality and the quality of the Napoleon brandy chasers in the Captain’s cabin meant that not much of the chess remains on record. The following week we welcomed them to the Portcullis and amused ourselves trying to figure out which members of the team were in reality KGB minders.

Those were the days!


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Ian Pickup

After leaving school Ian trained as an accountant, therefore missing his true vocation, to take over from John Arlott as the BBC cricket correspondent.