Commercial Break

I guess 94 is a pretty good age, but it’s still sad to have to mourn a passing.

I was sorry to hear that the London Commercial Chess League has decided it has no choice but to close down.

The league website reports:

“On June 5th 2018, The Executive Committee of the London Commercial Chess League took the unhappy, but nonetheless necessary decision, to dissolve the League. With the withdrawal of DHSS (The Department of Health and Social Security), BBC and TFL (Transport For London), the League was left with just three clubs, with four, possibly five teams for next season. This is clearly insufficient for a meaningful league, and would only delay the inevitable if we attempted to run for another season.

“It is clear that the League has run its course in the face of the changed nature of the modern world. With fewer and fewer commercial enterprises based in London, and even fewer of then having “works teams”, which used to be so common for every sport in the past, the League has effectively lost its raison d’être. Add to this the ever increasing security issues surrounding access to company buildings in the evenings, the Committee felt it had to face the fact that the writing, that has been on the wall for some years now, must finally be taken note of.”

As you will see, the league, founded in 1924, at first proved very successful, reaching a peak just before the Second World War. After the war the numbers soon rose again, reaching a second peak in the late 50s/early 60s. The Fischer boom saw another increase, but from 1980 onwards there was a rapid and inexorable decline. I played in the league for one season – 1984-85 – myself, but that’s another story for another time.

Chess has changed a lot in the past half century, but, more importantly for the London Commercial League, work patterns have also changed a lot.

The LCCL was probably never a league where you’d find many really strong players, but in its time it attracted some distinguished figures from other walks of life.

Here’s a game from 1962. The engines approve of White’s excellent combination starting on move 17, but think he should have kept the queens on at move 22. It’s understandable, though, to trade off into what appears to be a won ending.

Yes, this was THE Dr Jacob Bronowski, the celebrated polymath best remembered today for his TV documentary series The Ascent of Man. At the time he was the National Coal Board’s Director of Research. It was no doubt in part due to his support that the NCB won the league in the 1962-63 season.

The Bronowski Trophy is still held in his honour, a mini-league between teams representing the London Commercial League, along with the legal, banking and insurance professions. In the past, the Civil Service also used to take part. There are still, as I write, a couple of postponed matches still to be played in this season’s competition. It’s not, at the moment, clear whether it will survive the demise of the LCCL. The London Banks League seems to have been renamed the City Chess Association, which runs a Swiss tournament with various banking teams, legal and insurance teams, plus a team from Athenaeum, a central London chess club.

I’ve written before about how our culture of evening chess leagues has held back the development of the game in this country, but even so it’s sad to lose a part of chess history in this way.

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom in the London chess scene. New leagues are being formed, new clubs are being formed, and several long established clubs are actively promoting chess in the community, and increasing their membership as a result. I’ll consider this further over the next few weeks, along with more on Dr Bronowski.

Richard James

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Author: 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. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon.