As you saw last week, traditional chess leagues such as the London League, are still surviving with a reasonable amount of success, although works-based leagues such as the London Commercial League are dying. At the same time, new leagues are starting up which take a very different approach to club chess.
Take, for instance, the Summer Chess League. There are two clubs in West London, Hammersmith and their neighbours south of the Thames, Battersea, who are doing a great job in moving away from the traditional concept of what a chess club should be, using Twitter, promoting social chess and taking the game into the community. Both clubs have sponsorship, Battersea from a local removals company, Bishops Move, who use a chess logo, and Hammersmith from the London Chess Centre. Compare, for example, my club, Richmond, just a few miles away. Most of our committee members have no idea about what these clubs are doing. When I suggested making more use of social media at last year’s AGM I was interrupted by a colleague (who has now joined another club) telling me that this was no use: instead we should be putting posters in libraries. Facepalm, as the young folks say.
Battersea have a venue with a large hall which can seat more than a hundred players. Last year they started a summer chess league there, in a small way. This year, the league has really taken off.
There are three divisions, with teams consisting of four players. Division 1 has attracted 8 teams, Division 2, for teams with an average grade of 150 or below, has 12 teams, and Division 3, for teams with an average grade of 120 or below, again has 8 teams. The tine limit is 60 minutes on the clock, with an increment of 30 seconds per move. The leagues are run on the Swiss System, with four rounds, and there are social evenings to start and end the season.
The pairings are published several days in advance, so that you can prepare for your opponent, and all games are published online as soon as they become available: a great service for both players and fans.
The league’s tagline is ‘London’s Lighter League’, and the social side of chess is very much to the fore. Teams are encouraged to design colourful logos and give themselves catchy names. Players are encouraged to buy drinks at the bar.
Players in the first round included a grandmaster, Keith Arkell, and two international masters and former Richmond Junior Chess Club members, who faced off against each other in this top board encounter from the match between the Battersea Horses and the Lords of Hackney.
Gavin Wall, representing the Horses, decided to depart from his normal opening repertoire against Hackney Lord Richard Bates.
A highly entertaining, if inaccurate encounter. Gavin missed 33. Qg5+ followed by Na4, 34. Qh6+ was still winning. Richard in turn missed a win with 47.. Qe3.
The game on board 3 from the same match produced some even more entertaining chess. Another former Richmond Junior, Mike Healey, was the White Horse against current Richmond Juniors coach Bob Eames, the Dark Lord.
Bob could have drawn by playing 52.. Kf5, but if you’re on 30 second increments in a wild position with queens flying round the board and exposed kings, these things happen.
These games must have been great fun for the spectators. Watching creative players who aren’t afraid to take risks at a relatively fast time control is very different from watching your typical elite GM tournament. I guess this is what the Summer Chess League is all about.
Will you catch me taking part? Certainly not. As an antisocial person who prefers boring, risk averse chess this league isn’t for me. It’s great that it’s happening and proving so successful, though. Congratulations are due to the Battersea players and their colleagues from Hammersmith other London chess clubs for setting it up. I wish them all the best for the future.