Cross Hands Blitz – all hands on deck

The Cross Hands pub in Downend has been putting on great blitz nights for 5 months – the next is on the 3rd March and it needs new players!

Note – well done to all winners and the 141 entrants of the 72nd Bristol League Championships! Now for some Blitz!

12 rounds of quality blitz chess on a Sunday night with a 10% discount at the bar – this is what is on offer the first Sunday of every month at the Cross Hands pub. Always great fun, you’ll get to practice those offbeat openings, win prizes (and frequently, get the chance to play IM Jim Sherwin – the first opponent in Fischer’s 60 memorable games, no less).

Downend residents (and players) Derek and Elmira run this tournament with FIDE arbiter Geoff Gammon – and have been fronting the prizes in months when numbers were low. So we are giving them a big shout out to get some new players out on a Sunday to support Bristol Blitz – and hopefully this event will become a mainstay of the tournament calendar.

blitz

Put it in the diary, tell everyone you know about it, offer lifts, and scrub up on those tactics!


mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Mindful chess has arrived in Bristol!

Mindful Chess is a London-born initiative for teaching school-children the art of chess; Jake and his team give us an insight into its creation and details about their ventures further West…

Rewind 20 years and my dad was running a chess club at the school we went to in North London. It was (and still is) an extremely relaxed environment for kids to come play chess, eat bagels and hang out. Both me and my brother would sometimes attend but I hadn’t quite caught the bug as yet… My love for the game only really began to develop in my late teens. My brother on the other hand had taught himself how to play at the age of 4 on an Atari by clicking on the pieces and then it showing him the possible squares they could move to.

Fast forward 15 years and I found myself living in a very local area of Hong Kong called Sai Ying Pun. I was exploring my art career while my partner explored her architecture and design work. I was spending most my time working in quite an insular environment with not all that much contact with the outside world. Finding me in a bit of a rut my partner suggested I explore doing some chess teaching. Having occasionally helped my dad out running his club and having since developed a far greater appreciation for the game, this seemed like not such a bad idea. I googled ‘chess teaching Hong Kong’ and clicked on a link titled Scholastic Chess. A phone call and one day later I found myself sitting in a local cafe with Benjamin Chui who set up and managed the school. The following week I began teaching sessions and developed a real love for it. Like my dad, Ben took an approach to teaching that placed great importance on the students enjoying the experience of learning the game. Ben also had an 18 chapter program of puzzles and exercises that students could dip into as and when they wished. I found the experience of working with the kids hugely enjoyable.

chess teaching

After six months we decided it was time to leave Hong Kong to return to London. On the way back we decided to go via Indonesia. I had never visited a country where people of all ages were so keen to play chess. I’d walk down the road holding a board and kids would rush up asking to play. We’d often spend hours just hanging out on street corners with groups of kids passionate to play or learn. Along with the children who showed a fantastic hunger for the game, we often found older men spending afternoons crowded round a board. One evening a few days before I left, I was driving down the street when I spotted someone playing chess with a couple of the local kids. I stopped my bike to ask if I could join in. It transpired he’d also spent the previous six months teaching chess to kids but back home in Melbourne.

The next couple of days weren’t spent almost entirely playing chess or surfing. Half way through a game he turned to me and asked if I thought about my breathing while playing. This was definitely not something I’d ever given consideration to in regards to a game of chess. He pointed out that my breath often became irregular and sped up over the course of a game. He on the other hand made a conscious effort to slow his breaths as he maintained focus. Over the course of the following few months I began to apply this to my chess and found sure enough I started both winning more games and also enjoying the experience even more. I’d been in contact with Ben from Scholastic chess and he’d very kindly offered to let me open up Scholastic Chess London and give me all his teaching materials, use of his logo and everything else relating to the company. Although I was hugely grateful of the extremely kind offer (and did say I’d love to have use of his 18 chapters of training exercises) I felt I wanted to set something up that took influence from my experience with him while also integrating some of what I’d been thinking about in relation to my chess since. Mindful Chess was born. I built a website and started contacting schools. After many many phone calls and even more emails I heard back from a school saying they would like a session once a week for a small group of students. Come September I turned up to find a class of 20 students eager to learn the game. Although I was able to run the sessions alone, I didn’t feel the students were getting enough input and hence decided to find someone else that would be interested in running the sessions with me. Through word of mouth over the next few months I started hearing from other schools asking us to come in to run weekly sessions. I started posting on Facebook groups to find others that were passionate both about chess and the equally important skill of communicating this to children.

After many many informal interviews in coffee shops and trial sessions, I met two other like minded individuals called Lawrence Northall and Sammy Mendell. As well as being passionate about the game, they brought a whole range of teaching ideas to how we could further improve on the speed at which students improved and the pleasure they took from the experience. Over the past two years, each term we have continued to gradually grow, now teaching over 300 students a week across 14 different schools. Along with myself Lawrence and Sammy, there are a team of other passionate chess teachers that have joined us who run many of the weekly sessions. We take an approach to teaching where we look to give the students an element of control over how they learn. Rather than just telling them to do chess drills and games, they get the choice between engaging in competitions within the class, working through our chess training program of puzzles and tactics training exercises or working with one of our coaches in small groups to develop specific areas of their game. We also now create every child their own chess kid account which means they can do additional training exercises at home or play against other students anywhere in the world in a totally safe environment. We are able to track students progress and tailor our teaching accordingly for each individual group we work with. As part of our mission to bring chess to as many students as possible, we have a policy where if parents can’t afford to send their child along, we ask them to pay simply what they can afford, no student is ever turned away.

As of the start of this year we have just started providing weekly sessions to our first two schools outside of London, Westdene Primary in Brighton and Hillcrest Primary School in Bristol. In the coming year we hope to make our teaching available to a number of other schools in both Bristol and other cities, along with starting to run evening sessions for adults that wish to either learn or further their chess skills.

For anyone that would be interested in learning or getting involved in teaching with us then please get in touch! (jake@mindfulchess.co.uk)

www.mindfulchess.co.uk

Instagram – @mindfulchess

Twitter – /mindfulchess

Facebook – /mindfulchess


Jake

Jake grew up in North London and following the experience of teaching chess to students in Hong Kong and Kids on the streets in Indonesia, decided to set up Mindful Chess in the UK.

A wild game from the major cup quarters

No doubt this one goes down in Downend’s Hall of Fame – Michael ‘Tal’ Meadows pulls off an enterprising win in the cup

Sitting in a cricket club in December staring at zero winning opportunities whilst your team slowly get outplayed on all boards is no fun for a captain looking for his club’s only chance of sliverware. But sadly that’s where I was.

But the stresses of amateur captaincy melted away when, peeking to my left, I witnessed some wild and mysterious chess on the board next to me. It was none other than Meadows vs. Nendick – and is surely a contender for game of the season:

The Magician from Riga, Mikhail Tal, had a knack of landing in an endgame just one point of material ahead after a mind-boggling middlegame with several sacrifices. That’s what Mike achieved here, and the queen was simply dominant over the two rooks.

Here are some of Phil’s thoughts as it happened:

phil1
After 12. Bg5

Phil (black): “This got me out of book (!) so I spent quite a while trying to refute it. As it happens Fischer has played it so it’s probably not too bad.

After a6 and Ba4: The knight can now be embarrassed in some lines with Bd7 as it is now pinned to the bishop but I couldn’t make the tactics work. I decided instead for active defense.”

phil2
After 14. Bxf6

Phil: “I had initially planned 14…o-o the point being that White now has 2 pieces en prise so I’ll get one of them and I’ve got my king relatively safe. The problem is he can open it up with Bxg7.”

BCT: Phil played hxg3 instead

phil3
After 17…Qxf6

“This time 0-0 works well and maintains a healthy advantage”

BCT: Alas Phil grabbed the bishop and got his king in no-mans land (of course White’s king is in such a traditional place!)

phil4
After 20… Qxf7

Phil: “I thought this was pretty much forced as Qxe4 is coming with my king stuck in the middle but Qd6 again seems to hold the balance (if you’re a computer)”

phil5
After 24…Kxf6

Phil: “I thought I would try and make something of my kingside majority but hanging on to the queenside and hoping for a draw would probably have been more prudent”

BCT: It was very tough to defend after this because the rooks had no active plans, any attempt to move them up the board falls to nasty queen-checks. It was all lost at this point and I could tell Mike was much more comfortable. A great win and an overwhelming performance from the Downend team.

Why not send us your games? We’ll edit them how you want and show them off to the world!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess 

Defensive sacrifices – the queen falls on her sword

Sacrifices are often associated with attack – but they can be equally effective as defence. We take a look at a queen ‘sack’ from the Bristol league.

This is the position from Stubbs vs. Helbig in a recent Division One match:

game1
Rb1 has just been played by White – attacking the queen on b8. What would you do?

White is beginning to take some control, utilising extra space and time; and is threatening to really tighten the screw and maybe land a piece on b6, supported by pawn c4-c5. This is just one possible plan, but it would also free the bad bishop on d3. However, Paul wanted that bishop to stay bad, and so played the deep queen sacrifice:

…Bxc5!

He gives up the queen for a rook and bishop after Rxb8 Rxb8 Black has three relatively active pieces which stand a good chance of stopping the queen rampaging – and the potential of co-ordinating to pressurise the king or get a pawn moving down the board.

Would you have thought of this move? It’s important to at least consider them. After a good 4-5 seconds thought, Stockfish comes to the same conclusion as Paul and gives up the queen also! Here are the lines:

Comp
Stockfish recommendations. Qe8 also draws but presumably it thinks this is a longer (and probably more painful) defence, so it puts Bxc5 at the top.

In the game there followed Qc3 Bd4 Qxa5 c5:

game2
After …c5 from Black

Without the a-pawn White would have no real way to make progress, and still has the weak bishop on d3 -which Black goes for now. Surprisingly, White simply gives the bishop up straight away rather than try to wriggle to worse and worse squares, and gets the pawn moving: Qa7 Rb3, a5! Rxd3, a6 White had worked out that the Black rook would have to sacrifice itself too for the pawn, but hadn’t counted on the bishops being so strong afterwards! Bxc4, Qb8+ Kg7, a7 and Black must give up the rook:

game3
Black is forced to play Ra3, planning to take the new queen

After a8=Q Rxa8, Qxa8 the bishops and the extra pawn provide Black with enough stability and potential counterplay to distract the queen from doing any damage. White tried the best plan to disrupt the pawns and open more lines for the queen, but had to settle for a perpetual check and a draw was agreed.

That’s some defence!

The rest of the game went Bd3, g4 g5, Qd8 h6, h4 gxh4, g5 hxg5, Qxg5+ Kf8, Qd8+ Kg7, Qg5+ Kf8, Qd8+ etc.

Always consider the defensive sacrifice – it may just be the best way forward.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

UK Blitz Final (Dec 1st) – and interview with qualifier Fiona Steil-Antoni

We caught up with WIM and popular chess broadcaster Fiona Steil-Antoni and talked about chess in the modern world.

Last month I participated in the Bristol qualifier of the UK Open Blitz tournament, and came agonisingly close to the top two qualifying spots (around joint 13th… ahem).

However, I had the dubious honour of getting mated-in-one against Fiona Steil-Antoni, whose interview with us is below. Alice Lampard from Bristol Uni also qualified for the final – after a notable draw against me in which we both blundered queens – and is the only Bristol League representative (GM Nick Pert and Krystof Sneiberg also made it; full list below).

UK Blitz
The participants for December 1st in Birmingham

Interview

BCT: Thanks for speaking with us – and for choosing Bristol! How’s it going?

Fiona: Great thanks; I had a last-minute decision of which qualifier to go to, I’m glad I chose Bristol!

BCT: I saw you recently played a game for North Bristol as well – how did that come about?

Fiona: Yes I had a tough game against an FM [Tyson Mordue – he annotates the game here]. I had met a player from North Bristol at a weekender in Dublin; and they invited me to play so I said sure! Glad to get my debut here, shame it was a loss..

BCT: Best of luck next time! So you are quite a personality on the chess scene – seems like there has been lots of great stuff in professional chess recently – what’s your view on it all?

Fiona: It’s all great – streaming has been such a big improvement, people are enjoying watching chess online – and it is a big range of grades as well. It is something for everyone, and its enjoyable – really makes chess fun and accessible.

BCT: Are there any specifically you have enjoyed?

Fiona: Some really successful ones like ‘My Teacher Sam’, and the ChessBrahs come to mind, but there are many others. The Pro-Chess League has been particularly fun – obviously I have been involved in the broadcast of it for a while but there are others showing it as well. You get a team of 4 players and they could be a big range of grades. If you’re drawn against a big team you could end up playing one of the best – even Hikaru or Magnus – so it’s really exciting and players are getting their bit of fame so that was great to be a part of. Of course Ginger GM as well!

BCT: Of course. Do you think all this online growth is helping chess in general?

Fiona: It is growing definitely – the general public know more now. Magnus has done extremely well as world champion, it definitely helps that he is young, and attractive – I think chess today has a way to go to match the hype that it had in the 70’s, but its different now and who knows where it will go. All the online platforms have done a great job.

Thinking about today – faster games are good to increase viewers; at the final one thing I hope is that they get digital boards [DGT boards can relay the moves played]; it’s like 8 boards in each section, so 16 digital boards needed to enable everyone to watch the games live – seems like an easy way to make it much more exciting and attract viewers.

BCT: Yes let’s talk about today – who was your toughest opponent so far?

Fiona: Nick. [GM Pert – just the 400 rating points clear of the field]

BCT: Ah, of course. Second?

Fiona: Hmm. Hard to say – also can’t remember the names! [We hadn’t played our match at this point, but safe to say it wasn’t me].

BCT: You’re in pole position right now for the women’s final, so assuming you make it, who are you looking out for at the finals?

Fiona: Lots of great players I expect will be there, but Sophie Milliet (France) is very original and has been having good results, she will be very tough.

BCT: Again the very best of luck for that! One last thing – you’ve been following the Bristol Chess Times a little – what advice can you give us?

Fiona: Vlogging is very effective. Blogs are great but videos are just easier and people like to see behind the scenes nowadays. It’s also more instant, more present. Keep the blog going – that’s great too, but it’s mostly about streaming and vlogging now.

[Well Fiona, we took your advice and have done what we can – starting a YouTube channel – if we get the time then we’ll start vlogging too!]

BCT: Great, thanks – well I’ll let you actually take a break and recharge before the last 5 rounds!

Fiona: My pleasure, best of luck yourself

[I needed it. I’ll be back next year for what was a pretty intense and fun day, and will try to avoid mates in one, queen-blundering, and failing to convert games a rook up. Meanwhile I’ll be relaxing and watching the final]

Congratulations also to Bristolian Tom Thorpe who ran the qualifying event – he has since been awarded the title of FIDE International Arbiter!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Horfield win over ‘Rest of league’ in 75th anniversary celebration

Founded by air-raid wardens in 1942 and still going strong – strong enough to beat the rest of the league in their anniversary match!

Miraculously or not, two even-handed teams of 11 chess warriors rocked up for battle on Saturday morning, supplied with coffee, cake and biscuits and 45 minutes on the clock. It was Horfield’s 75th – playing against a mixed team representing 7 different league clubs. The captains were Bristol league legends John and John (Richards and Curtis), organised and arbitrated by yours truly.

round2
The top boards in round 2

A history of the club (also found on Horfield’s website) was on display, along with famous games past and present.

history
A long history

The pleasant and spacious playing hall was just upstairs from the usual dinky Horfield rooms – unfortunately reserved for Pilates on Tuesday evenings.

room
Plenty of mental gymnastics going on in the fitness room

Geoff Gammon got to play instead of arbitrate, and brought along a number of puzzles to add to the collection – one of the beauties is below:

puzzle.jpg
White to play and win (solution at the end of this article)

Though a friendly match, chess players are always up for a fight and Horfield will be rejoicing at the convincing scoreline, 15 – 7! Only two players won both their games – Derek Pugh and Phil Nendick of Horfield A.

result
Horfield won 7-4 with all players playing Black, and bettered that by 1 in round two with the White pieces to total 15-7

Memorabilia was also on display – including the charming ‘h-file’ leaflet/magazine:

hfile
Classic photos from yonderyear

Thanks to Horfield for putting on a friendly event for the league, and to all those who travelled to play and show support for a long-standing club.

In other news

I couldn’t stand to organise chess and not play for much longer, so I saddled on down to the Cross-Hands pub for some blitz on the Sunday night.

Through a combination of dubious sacrifices, grovelling for draws against people half my age, winning on time whilst literally getting checkmated and all-around time-scrappery, I managed to win a tournament outright for the first time in at least 5 years. So thanks to Downend, Derek and Elmira for organising and Geoff for arbitrating.

Come along next time on December 2nd (especially if you live in Downend – no excuse really!) Details will be on Downend’s website.

Puzzle Solution

After the ridiculous Kg5!! Black has a couple of waiting moves (c5 is met with d5!, and f4 is met with f3!) before fatal zugzwang, where the Black queen is lost with every move.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times, is now a feared blitz superstar across the land, and plays regular league and tournament chess

The November Problem with GM Jones

I think that chess problem solving tournaments can be quite fun, although it must be admitted that I say this from the perspective of someone who is usually involved in helping to run them, not actually competing!

Part of the skill in running such a competition is in selecting problems of the right level of difficulty. On August 26th I ran the problem solving event at the MindSports Olympiad in London. Only five competitors turned up, but they all took the event seriously, and as lively discussions broke out at the end of each round about problems they’d solved correctly and problems they hadn’t I think they found it a stimulating experience. All five were more familiar with chess-playing events, though some had at least a passing interest in problems. The event took the form of two one-hour ‘papers’, each comprising six problems, nearly all of them orthodox, and as the scores, out of 60, ranged from 47.5 to 14.5 I was pleased that no competitor found the problems either too easy or hopelessly difficult.

Of the problems, my own favourite, which was solved I think by two of the five competitors, was one that I managed to solve when looking for problems to set:

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 14.59.58

It’s mate in 4. Composed by one Walter I. Kennard, it was published in American Chess Bulletin in 1915.

Solution Below

In this case, Black has only two legal moves, so the obvious approach to solving is to see what happens if White ‘passes’ and Black plays either of these moves. Well, White isn’t worried about 1…c5. This move, losing control over d5, allows 2.Rd1 b5 3.Rd5 and 4.Rxc5#. But as matters stand White doesn’t have a mate after 1…b5; the only way then in which you might hope to mate within the 4-move time-frame is 2.c5, but then after 2…b4 what happens? If 3.cxb4+ Kb5 and there is no mate.

But of course it is White to play in the initial position, and can we finagle it so that in that line there is a mate after 3…Kb5? If so, the mate would have to be 4.c4. So the Rook must guard c4. The natural way to do this is to play 1.Rf4 – but the drawback then is that 1…c5 now defends successfully! (If 2.Rd4 then of course 2…cxd4.) So the ‘lightbulb moment’ is when one sees that the key has to be 1.Rc1! It is very attractive that this move, which of all the moves on the board seems to give the Rook the least influence, does have the well-concealed potential to guard the c2P when it administers mate on move 4. And of course the Rook at c1 can still play the mating line, beginning 2.Rd1, if Black plays 1…c5.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 15.04.02

Mate in four after: 1.Rc1 b5 2.c5 b4 3. cxb4 + kb5 4. c4# (editors note – Lovely stuff!)

Although you may feel under pressure in a solving event if you’re competitively minded it’s still possible to enjoy ‘lightbulb moments’ when you spot a nice paradoxical key move like this. And even if, competitive-minded, you find a solving tourney as stressful as a game in the Bristol League, it’s like a League game in which you’re guaranteed that you’re going to have the opportunity to play a brilliant winning move!

If you’re interested in solving events don’t hesitate to contact me.


chriscircle

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).

Checkmate with two knights in the endgame (YouTube)

In this short episode we look at a lovely checkmate involving two knights in a time pressured endgame.  With only five minutes left the black player bravely ignores an advancing white pawn to deliver an impressive mate.  

An excellent example of subtleties in the endgame massively turning the outcome of a game.

Checkmate with two knights in the endgame (8 minutes)

As always if you enjoy this episode, please subscribe to YouTube and share with all your chess friends.  We are always happy to take submissions of suggested amateur league or tournament games to look at.

Until next time.


mecircle

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.

White punishes Black’s slow development in the French defence (YouTube)

In our latest episode we look at a 19 move demolition of Black in a rare sideline of the French advance variation.  The game comes from the North Bristol Chess Club Championship held over the summer and is an excellent example of the impact of losing too much time in the opening.

White launches a lovely attack (after getting their king safe) and is quickly rewarded by jumping on blacks underdevelopment.  One things for sure, Black will be going back to the drawing board after this one…

White punishes Black’s slow development in the French Defence (17 minutes)

As always please do share with your chess friends and subscribe to the YouTube channel.  If you would like one of your games featured on The Bristol Chess Times then please send them in to bristolchesstimes@gmail.com.

Until next time.


mecircle

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.

Five ideas for league chess in Britain

Every now and then a group of like minded individuals find themselves in the right place at the right time. Just such an event occurred on Friday afternoon on the medium of Twitter.  A relatively innocuous tweet from Kings Head Chess Club about the length of evening chess league games started a very enjoyable (and long) online discussion on the state of British League Chess.  Whilst I will not do justice to all of the conversation spread across dozens of threads and tweets, I thought it best to try to capture  some of the lovely ideas that emerged.  Be warned!  Not everyone will agree with every suggestion but thats the point. If nothing else I feel that this blog post is here simply to act as a celebration of the range of proactive and passionate clubs and individuals working to improve British league chess in 2018.

prelim

The British evening league chess scene is a unique institution! Lets talk about it!

Rather than list the entire conversation verbatim I have decided to pull out the core themes and ideas that sprung from the minds of the various actors involved.  Who were they I hear you ask?

  • The Bristol Chess Times (@brizchesstimes) – Loud bloke shouting about modernising the UK chess scene;
  • Richard James (@chesstutor) – Very well established chess tutor from Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club who has run junior training for decades;
  • Kings Head Chess Club (@kingsheadchess) – A big London club who asked a simple question and received about 300 tweets as a response (editors note – Sorry!)
  • Andrew Rimmer (@AndrewRimmer) – .net developer working on creating a new wordpress template for chess clubs to utilise after becoming appalled at the state of most British chess club websites.
  • Hammersmith Chess Club (@hammer_chess) – A phoenix of a chess club who have turned the corner of decline by embracing positive change.

So without further ado here are five ideas or discussions for chess clubs to consider both now and in the future.

There is potentially an appetite for 2hr evening league games

The original discussion started by asking if three hours on a weeknight is too large a commitment for some people and might be putting some players off?  For example, many other activities in modern 21st century life tend to only take an hour (e.g. the gym / play 5 aside football or another sport) still leaving some time of the evening to achieve other things.  Currently 3hr games are basically asking players to give up an entire evening away from home.  Obviously some people may not mind this but it cannot be argued that a full evenings commitment is harder at different stages of life.  For example, young parents, people in full time employment can all struggle to commit to 3hrs compared to say people with older children or retirees.

I know that many people will argue that evening league chess has always run this way and many club players I know would complain if time controls were to get any shorter. Some would say that basically commit or don’t commit its your choice.  However the debate does raise interesting societal impacts that may be hampering the growth of new recruits in modern 21st century Britain.

For example, (I totally acknowledge my bias here) as a father of two young children, 19:30 KO times for league matches means that on a Tuesday evening I miss bedtime. Having finished work at 17:30 – 18:00 I barely have time to get home, eat and then make it to whichever respective chess club I need to be at.

But what if matches started at 20:30?

Young mothers and fathers with an interest in chess could finish work, tuck the kids into bed, eat and still play league chess.  And no, before anyone says anything I’m not proposing leaving the kids home alone!  My point is that it is far more common in 21st century Britain for both parents to take active roles in children’s meal and bed times compared to say 50-60 years ago.  Would we see more young mothers and fathers (i.e. people in their 20’s and 30s) at chess clubs if weeknight league chess started at 20:30?

Interestingly, Richard James countered that a 2hr league game starting earlier in the evening would be far more supportive of junior participation.  Certainly an interesting viewpoint that again may well help boost league participation. For example, if games ran between 18:30 and 20:30. However I would be interested to hear readers thoughts on this as such an early start would directly conflict with the workers / parents discussion raised above.

In the end, I don’t suspect any of us involved in the conversation expect league chess to embrace 2hr game lengths (we also discussed 1hr games of Rapidplay with two games a night! – heresy!) but my point here is to get people asking the question that perhaps we might be hindering league growth by asking too big a commitment from some people in modern 21st century Britain.

Weekday Evenings vs. Weekend Leagues

An alternative to the shorter weeknight games was suggested by Richard James in terms of running localised weekend leagues. Much like the 4NCL but at a local level rather than clubs being forced to travel halfway across the country to play a match.

Again a really interesting idea that I would love to get readers feedback on.  Again the benefits of running weekend leagues would enable longer games but also maximise the opportunity for juniors to participate at more amenable hours of the day. Three key questions were raised with the “local weekend league” idea:

  • Would players be able to commit their personal time to weekends easier than weeknights (editors note – I couldn’t?)  Would such a league not steal potential attendees at congresses and the 4NCL?
  • Where would these weekend leagues be hosted?  Battersea Chess Club generously volunteered their current venue for example but I think most readers would ask how to obtain and hold onto venues for such leagues over time?
  • How many fixtures are reasonable in weekend leagues? Would these be shorter divisions and fixed numbers of games?

WordPress should be the goto place for a chess club website

The group unanimously agreed that the digital skill of most British chess clubs was woeful and the poor presentation of most clubs to the outside world was directly affecting recruitment.  Digital literacy is something that I have spoken about before and all those involved seemed to settle on the choice of WordPress for setting up and running club websites.  I loved the following quote:

If you can create a decent looking document in Microsoft Word you can create a decent looking website in WordPress – Hammersmith Chess Club

Andrew Rimmer is currently in the process of producing a generic wordpress theme for chess clubs to use and roll out and The Bristol Chess Times have agreed to help road test and provide feedback.  Watch this space for more updates as and when this potentially beneficial tool for the chess club community will be ready.  Thanks Andrew!

Losing juniors at secondary school level means adult leagues don’t benefit in terms of recruitment

There is a large range of beneficial investments and schemes in Primary school children’s chess across the UK. These are all great wonderful initiatives!

However, the statistics show that a lot of children drop away from chess when they reach secondary school age and don’t come back. When we are talking about the weeknight British League Chess scene most of the discussion identified that a large increase in primary school children playing chess has not resulted in any noticeable increase in people in their 20’s joining adult clubs.  There are many reasons for this and its a complex subject. I myself stopped playing chess between the ages 14 and 20 for the usual adolescent reasons.

However, it does make me ask the question about what are clubs doing to attract young adult beginners?  As I have said on many an occasion, online chess is exploding with tens of millions of people playing around the globe.  The interest in chess is there across all age ranges and yet in the UK club scene we seem to struggle to attract people in their 20’s and 30’s?

Certainly some of the issues we have already discussed in this article may be contributing and I don’t pretend to have the answers (yet) but I feel it is an interesting behaviour to call out and think about.  How many of the 40,000 school children playing chess in the UK today will go on to play at adult clubs?

Proactive clubs producing content and social spaces are thriving

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Local Bristol legend Dave Tipper demonstrating a nice smothered mate! Dave has been an active contributor to the Bristol & District League online for almost 15 years. 

Finally, the message from the group discussing the British League Chess scene was one of optimism.  Where clubs were actively engaging in digital skills, creating social spaces and promoting themselves they are seeing huge benefits.

Horfield chess club had 23 registered players when I was appointed webmaster 18 months a go and at the start of the 2018/19 season is now looking at circa 35 players playing league chess and a further 4-5 regulars turning up each week for friendly chess.  In the Bristol & District Chess League, both North Bristol and Downend & Fishponds have also been very active in their promotion and have reported impressive growth levels.

Perhaps the poster child for chess club reform is Hammersmith chess club. The following quote from Twitter sums up their proactive approach:

“…in less than three years we have gone from 28 members and the very brink of extinction (£600 deficit that year), to 72 last year & able to refresh almost our entire range of equipment thanks to positive cash flow” – Hammersmith Chess Club

It should be noted that none of the clubs I’ve mentioned have achieved this success with just one individual.  All the clubs agreed that having multiple club members step up to create, publish content, run training nights, greet newcomers is the key to success.  Perhaps the old club approach of saying one person is responsible for the website is the reason why so many clubs are in the state they are in?  In each of the successful clubs mentioned, a small group of individuals is making a real difference to the benefit of all!

jon
Thanks for everyones support!

Conclusion

So there we are!  Five interesting ideas identified in the British League Chess scene in 2018.  I appreciate not every idea or discussion here will be to everyones tastes and thats ok.  If nothing else I hope this article helps readers ask questions about their own clubs and leagues and if there is anything they could be doing differently.

I can’t help feel that perhaps we are witnessing the evolution of a new type of chess club within the UK.  Those that create engaging social learning spaces by leveraging the power of digital.  There are hundreds of chess clubs across the UK and it is highly unlikely that all will make the transition required to survive but I believe all should be encouraged by the examples discussed here and the individuals fighting to make it happen.

Finally I want to extend my sincere thanks to all those who engaged in the conversation on Twitter yesterday afternoon.

Lets do this!


mecircle

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.