Wednesday 4 July 2007

Various Items

My goodness, it has been a long time since I last blogged. There has been so much going on in terms of major chess events. I've been avidly following the action in Dortmund and Foros, but never quite found the time to comment on them. Of course there will be coverage in the August issue of BCM. One of the reasons for my erstwhile silence has been my involvement in various other chess projects.

I seem to spend huge amounts of time chatting with people on Skype. I guess most of you will be aware that this is one of a number of ways of talking to people across broadband internet. I've been using for some time but it seems to me that it has recently taken off in a big way. Personally I use it more and more to talk to chess contacts round the world, or even have business conferences. Audio quality is usually very good and the remarkable thing is that it is free (well, once you've bought a computer and paid for your fast internet connection, that is). I cannot believe that the world's telephone companies will allow this to go on indefinitely so I'm getting my (lack of) money's worth while I can. Actually, the fact that Skype is free is becoming a problem: I end up spending hours yacking with people, and suddenly the day has gone by.

As well as conducting business deals across Skype, I have also been interviewed via Skype for ChessFM's online radio show 'John Watson on Books'. I must say it was an absolutely joy being able to chat with John Watson on his show. He is one of the world's most respected chess authors and the calm, rational, good-humoured person that comes over in his books is exactly the way he is in real life. I have never met him in the flesh and we have only ever corresponded via email, but after a while I felt so relaxed talking to him that I almost forgot that our conversation was being recorded for online transmission. Our only minor difficulties were that John had to remind me that some of my British slang ("taking the mickey") fails the transatlantic test (I think John himself understood the expression but I had to explain for the benefit of US listeners that it has nothing to do with Mickey Adams) and that the elderly, obscure and out of print books which predominated amongst my selection of favourites might baffle a largely young and American audience. If you want to listen to the show, it should still be available online at the ICC until 6 or 7 July. I don't see it in their online list of on-demand programmes - you may need to download free osftware programs Blitzin or Dasher to gain access to it, and you may also need to be a member.

My only chess outing in the past few days has been to Hastings Chess Club where they were celebrating the club's 125th anniversary. I have already written this up in detail, and with photos and video clips elsewhere on the BCM website. It was very enjoyable to celebrate this occasion with Hastings CC members who are obviously immensely proud of their club - and rightly so. A huge amount of work has gone into organising their club over a century and a quarter, and without all this selfless, voluntary activity it couldn't hope to have survived so long.

Perhaps someone at Hastings could do us all a favour and write a chess book called Secrets of Chess Club Organisation. In the long run, this would be vastly more useful than 100 books on how to play the Sicilian Defence. Without legions of volunteers and helpers, competition chess would simply disappear. As someone who has played a part in trying to run a chess club (looking back I don't think I was very good at it), I know that it is damnably difficult to keep a club running for 5 or 10 years, let alone 125. Of course, there are other splendidly-run clubs elsewhere in Britain as well as Hastings but I don't there are as many of them as we need and I know for a fact that clubs can die for want of a bit of common sense in their organisation. Now that our cadre of professional players is dwindling down to a handful, it may be time for a 'back to basics' campaign so that we can attempt to rebuild British chess from the bottom up.

Incidentally, I had a look on the ECF website for something about setting up a chess club and found a link to 'advice' near the top of the left-hand column. I clicked on that and found some reasonable stuff about (for example) catering for junior players at chess clubs, and the basics of how to set up an 'event' (presumably a tournament or simul) but nothing particularly detailed about setting up and running a chess club. Maybe this is something for a website in its own right - a gap in the market for some enterprising soul...


  1. Great idea for a book - or at least a series of blog posts - how to run a successful chess club. I hope someone suitably qualified steps up to the mark! :)

  2. Running a successful chess club is easy. It needs some organisation and some effort.

    First - Get a website
    Second - Keep website up to date
    Third - Advertise locally. Not just in the library and church hall, but where people will actually see your advert!! Most places have free news papers and these will usually give you a coloumn if you are prepared to to provide regular copy
    Fourth - Welcome new players with open arms when the arrive. Introduce them around and get them to play a few friendlies
    Fifth - Get the newbie playing in a team as soon as possible. Gives them a sense of belonging, and they get to know some other club members (ie teammates) taht much better
    Sixth - Run internal events. As a club grows, so some members never interact with others because they are of different standards so play in different teams. Run events taht change that. Club Champs is obvious, but have some fun stuff. Evening rapidplays and blitz for example. Something that really allows people is pairs, especially if you play in licensed premises. In such events sledging should not only be allowed, it should be positively encourages!!

    How do I know all this? we've done it!! And in the process turned a sleepy one team club in a small village into an 13 team monster in 4 short years.

    And all those new players are new to OTB chess. They are not "poached" from other clubs.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  3. Thanks, Sean. This looks like very good advice. Would you like to post your club website address here? You're very welcome to.

    Re chess websites: I wrote a chapter for a book called "Chess on the Web" (by Sarah Hurst) about nine years ago, extolling the virtues of setting up a club website. That was before the web went mega, of course, and some of the advice in it now looks positively Victorian because technology has moved on so fast. Looking round the web now, most UK chess clubs now have some sort of a website.

    Not all of these clubs with websites are necessarily successful; so I suspect it is more a matter of how well you do all the things that Sean has listed. Sean says it is "easy". It is, if you're as naturally good at it as he is. But he also says it needs some effort - and there he is dead right. It's true that most of the individual task are quite straightforward - but you also need the determination to carry them out, week in, week out, rain or shine. And delegate where appropriate. Good all-round management skills, in fact.

    The snag is that people like that are unavailable these days - they are usually too busy earning pots of money in business somewhere to have time for running a chess club. Chess used to thrive on willing volunteers in the days when lots of people had relatively secure nine-to-five jobs in the civil service, local government and elsewhere, but with the onset of privatisation and various cultural changes in UK industry in recent years, most people in management jobs are just too busy. This applies all the way up through the chess hierarchy. Several decades ago CHO'D Alexander and PS Milner-Barry practically ran English chess between them, but you couldn't expect high-ranking civil servants to be able to put so much time into their out of work activities in this day and age. All work and no play makes chess a threatened species...

  4. P.S. it occurs to me that I failed to mention a possible upside to the change in culture - people with good management skills who make pots of money, then retire early to concentrate on organising chess!

  5. When I said its easy, its probably more accurate to say its simple. Each individual step is basic. The hard part is bringing each bit together. Thats where the organisation (and I) come in.

    Too many clubs rely on one individual. Not us. Last season we ran 11 teams in the local league and we had, yes, 11 differeet captains. We have a rule, no captain, no team. Everyone in the club realises that running one team is not such a big deal and it doesnt seem to be an issue when they are "called up."

    I am the chairman but we have a secretary, treasurer, junior manager etc. They do all the actual work. I just make sure they do it!!

    So if we can, anyone can. John asked me to post details of our website which I'm happy to do