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Chess and a Pandemic

As a community chess is the most fortunate in this time of pandemic and social distancing. Where all other sports are at a standstill, chess is thriving. The netball team I coach are having to make do with self sessions I send them, but nothing can really substitute for getting on a court and playing.

However, while you cant substitute from face to face meeting and coaching, giving us that social interaction we love (well some of us do), with chess we have the online community. For the Leeds Junior Club we have gone online and have 41 children in our group who can play on line. Our last tournament had 36 taking part. And with online magic we even had a tournament with 7 other teams last Monday, with the York club taking part and teams from Germany, Austria, Norway and Mexico. We have also got 4 coaching groups with our head coach giving a 45 minute coaching session to groups of 4/5 at 4pm weekdays. The children can go online anytime and challenge each other or a coach to a game, so now we aren’t limited to our 90 minutes on a Sunday evening. You could almost say the pandemic has forced us to expand!

I have also set up a team for my adult chess club. The club has 28 members but as I write less than 50% have taken up the offer. Only two senior players are signed up. So is this a generational thing – the youngsters all happy to play and chat online, while the oldies won’t engage? This is certainly a worrying time, particularly as the disease seems to affect older people statistically more than younger people. So perhaps the day to day coping is preventing people from carrying on what is simply a hobby. I notice one other club in the city has also set up online with about the same take-up rate.

So how could we get more people to engage online and play chess. Interestingly I have heard a number of people say it is to do with looking at a screen. They find it difficult to conceptualise if it is not 3D and can’t work out the moves. Some people think staring at a screen gives you a headache, or affects your eyes in some way. In fact these are just excuses for not wanting to engage with technology. To be fair it is not even hi tech. The internet is pretty old hat by modern tech standards. Chess players are supposed to be intelligent people by and large, so switching on a computer and logging into a chess website is not beyond their powers. Most of them can remember a position they had in 1994, so remembering three steps to playing a game online is not hard. This then goes deeper into the human psyche. If you have made your mind up you are not going to engage then little can change it. The film ‘Inception’ is a very good illustration of how deep you have to penetrate into someone’s sub conscious to change their mind, because you make your mind up at a subconscious level then that is an end to it. You are not doing it. This is fine – you don’t have to. But I think it might be more illustrative of something else about chess players and the chess community and it is a point I have made before. 76% of the (bigger) junior club are happy to engage online, but only 48% of the senior club have. This is actually showing that the chess community is an aging, creaking community. As I said earlier, few senior members are prepared to engage online – it is mainly the younger members who have signed up. Earlier this year I suggested we set up a watsap group to communicate teams and enable contact if there was an emergency. We have had examples of people not turning up for games this season and no mobile phone contact being made. In some cases the member didn’t even have a mobile phone! My suggestion was met with a cold response, almost hostile. Yet for the netball teams I coach every single parent is on the watsap group (that is 22 in one group and 33 in another) so we never have no shows and everyone knows what is happening.

So for me it is not about trying to change anyone or getting them to engage in the new world, but finding people who are! We need to be looking to a new generation for the future of chess. I don’t think as far as the juniors are concerned things are going to be the same again after this pandemic. I think we can use online much more for coaching, sharing and tournaments, and while we will still physically meet when this is all over perhaps we can accommodate more children by using online more. After all with 44 children on a waiting list for the junior club this might well be an answer. I Don’t see many adult clubs with a waiting list by the way.

Stay safe in the pandemic, but carry on playing chess – with anyone, anywhere in the world who is online!

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