Defusing The Demographic Time Bomb

I’ve previously written about the problems of an ageing population of regular chess tournament goers and how little seems to have been done to address the coming crisis. How should this be tackled? The usual answer is to teach kids to play, but they tend not to feed through into adult tournaments.

A factor in this is the difference in quality between junior and open age tournaments. Tournaments for ‘serious competitive players’ are usually way too strong so the kids often need to survive ongoing beatings before they can hold their own. Not many of them will want to do this.

A second issue is that casual players who might play a tournament or so a year will be put off if they have to go through the rigmarole and cost of joining a federation. They’d just as soon play on the internet. So these players, who might provide suitable sparring partners for kids in weaker sections, will be lost from the system.

These two issues suggest that something needs to be done to draw in both casual players and kids in order to get them playing ‘open age’ chess. And a good start to this would be to make it easy, inexpensive and fun. My suggestion is to create a FREE and LIVE grading system or adapt it from an existing system.

Players love to know how they’re doing via a grade so it should be made very easy for them to get one. This in turn implies that it should be made easy to organize a graded tournament and submit the results, whether it’s a junior or school chess club, a working man’s club or even someone’s lounge. The rules should not be too stringent (for example I think there’s a case for grading some kids tournaments even without them using clocks) or the procedure at all complicated. The point is to get people involved and interested in stepping up the improvement ladder.

The newly submitted results should AUTOMATICALLY update a live grading database which is simply based on a player’s last 30 games, starting with a 4 game minimum. Purists shouldn’t worry too much about whether the grades are accurate, they just won’t be. But this is not the point, it would get more people involved so they can see how they’re doing. Some of them would want to come back regularly.

With regular visitors to the database a strategically positioned calendar and information about clubs plus full membership benefits can be placed nearby. This should increase demand for lower level events (0-1300 Elo) and thus help chess clubs and tournaments attract new players.

The basic grade should not cost a penny and no forms should be required, it should just happen. It might be worth calling this a ‘free membership’ of a federation so that the federation can show good numbers to potential sponsors. This ‘basic membership’ would kick in the minute they play four graded games and if they were to win them they might come on the system really high. Again I should stress that accuracy is not the point here.

After that you should have a second tier of ‘serious’ membership which should include those who want to play in internationally rated events and achieve an Elo rating. For this there should be a charge and they in turn would get to vote on who runs things. Generally speaking this level of members would be more knowledgeable and committed to the game which in turn should help throw forward better qualified individuals to run things. You don’t want huge block votes of near beginners voting on issues where they have little understanding; the wrong people will end up in charge.

I realize of course that many federations would suffer a shortfall in income by adopting such a system, at least at first. But as most of them are run by volunteers anyway this shouldn’t threaten their existence, they’d simply be investing in attracting greater numbers instead of building a balance to spend on some less fruitful project. It should be remembered that the purpose of a federation is not to operate as a business and screw money out of its membership by virtue of its status as a ‘chess monopoly’. It is there to facilitate chess and get people playing.

Federations throughout the World should feel free to adopt this plan of mine, I don’t need an Honorary Vice Presidency, a knighthood, a statue or even credit. Let’s just try to save the game from a massive drop in numbers.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 14 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.