STREXIT

In the past three weeks I’ve looked at three events designed to bring chess to a wider public.

Nette Robinson staged a combination of a blitz tournament and a jazz gig, which appealed to both chess and music fans. Nette is also a talented artist, and has combined chess with art in the past.

Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan brought their Chess for Life roadshow to Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club: they’ve also given talks in other chess clubs and in less formal venues.

The ECF started a new initiative to promote chess by staging simuls in pubs, with Keith Arkell kicking things off in a hostelry not too far from me.

All three events were great and thanks are due to the organisers and participants, but their success in reaching out beyond the local chess club membership was questionable. Of course this is very difficult. There’s an enormous gap between the enthusiastic social player and even the weaker club player. We get people turning up at our club who think they’re really good at chess because they’ve won a few games on the Internet, but some of them find it hard to cope with real chess with the clock ticking and soon disappear.

Meanwhile, our local chess league, the Thames Valley League, is slowly shrinking. Not so long ago there were nine or ten strong competitive clubs in the league: now there are only three or four. Some of it is natural, but more and more higher rated players are pulling out of the league because they’re no longer prepared to risk playing a game which might not finish on the night. Everyone in this country has been much concerned recently with the possibility of BREXIT, but in ThamesValleyLeagueLand we’re seeing stronger players exiting their local league: not BREXIT but STREXIT.

I’ve explained the league rules before, but I guess I ought to provide a brief recap for new readers. Matches take place on weekday evenings, starting in theory at 7:30 but in practice more like 7:45. We have a choice of a 2½ hour or a 3 hour session, but most clubs prefer the former option. Before the start of the match the players in each game have to agree on the time control. The three options, in order of precedence, are, a slow game with adjournment or adjudication (I won’t bore you with the complicated rules about this), playing to a finish in one session with an intermediate time control and a quickplay finish, or playing all the moves within either 75 or 90 minutes. So a player who prefers slower chess can insist on the first option.

I was on the Thames Valley League committee for many years but resigned some time ago due to my frustration with the inability of the Committee and the club representatives at the AGM to come to terms with the problem. The people who turn up every year to the AGM are very often those who, like me, have been playing in the league for the past half century or so. They’re resistant to change and naturally prefer slower time limits. It’s in the nature of elections, whether chess or political, that people tend to vote for their perceived self-interest rather than for the interests of the community as a whole. So we were getting constant cries of “We don’t want faster time limits: they favour younger players and are unfair to older players like us”.

By and large, younger players prefer faster time limits, while older players, naturally enough, prefer slower time limits. In addition, stronger players tend to prefer faster time limits while weaker players tend to prefer slower time limits. What has happened to the Thames Valley League in recent years is that several clubs have withdrawn their first team from the league while continuing to run teams in lower divisions for weaker and, often, older players. Even the committee should understand that the whole concept of adjournment or adjudication will be very strange for a younger player coming into the league via junior competitions, just as it will for the hobbyist who has previously played exclusively online. While the league has made some positive decisions over the last decade or so, unless the Committee is prepared to come to terms with 21st century chess, it’s questionable whether or not the league will exist at all in a decade’s time. It will see me out, I guess, but not much more than that.

By the time you read this article, this year’s AGM will have taken place. Will anything change? Probably not, but you never know. Watch this space for the latest news.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.