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Chess is back - not quite as we know it!

Well last week we got Leeds Junior Chess club back and running. Small groups, socially distanced, board each, everything sanitised, shorter sessions with gaps between groups to sanitise and move everyone in and out safely. There was no shortage of takers either, with all 48 places available filling up before we could start inviting anyone off the waiting list. It is not surprising youngsters were keen to get back really. Playing online has been good for many of them, playing a lot of chess and getting some good coaching too, but you can’t really substitute for the physical meeting. Humans like to gather in social groups and interact. It is part and parcel of how we have evolved and need to share information and it is good for the youngsters’ mental health. I am sure parents have done an amazing job, but I suspect many of them have been bored.

I can understand why adults are more reluctant to return. They are far more at risk. However, I feel sure with the same precautions in place risk of transmission would be minimal, if not zero. We will be opening our adult club next week for those who want it. It is somewhat surprising but there has been no discussion in our locality about how competitive chess may return in some form. You have to be imaginative, innovative and willing to try something different – surely that is what this pandemic has taught us? But there is little evidence of this in the chess world for adults – at least in this part of the world anyway.

However, rather than moaning about that I wanted to touch on another subject which has reared up recently. There has been some concern that the UK Chess Challenge has suddenly mushroomed online to running training, numerous tournaments and other stuff, way beyond its usual engagement of Megafinals, Gigafinals and Terafinals. In one sense you could say this has shown the innovation I have called for in the first part of this piece. However, there is concern when one organisation is trying to undermine the efforts of local organisers to keep their youngsters engaged. What is most concerning is that all the youngsters who have taken part in the various activities have done so on the back of recruitment of local organisers, who signed up on the basis of entering their youngsters into a tournament. Local organisers would normally also be running the Megafinals and getting paid a little for their efforts. That couldn’t happen of course, but all the money now collected for the competition (£30 per child, with little overheads in terms of venues) has gone centrally, with local organisers seeing nothing for their initial efforts in recruiting these players. It is understandable that some people have been annoyed about this. But I think there is a wider issue we see again and again in chess in this country -the need to dominate. I think chess benefits from a wide range of junior events of all different types, from junior 4NCL to local training events. We have seen chess in schools trying to dominate the school agenda (target was a million kids playing chess – how did that go?), and now UKCC trying to dominate the online lockdown, and who knows what else now they have their teeth into it? It has certainly diluted my own efforts here in Yorkshire to provide meaningful competition – while numbers have been quite good they could be much better. Everyone is always screaming at me that organisers never talk to each other and all do their own thing. Doing their own thing is not a bad thing – it gives rise to choice and variety – and I don’t feel we need to be coordinating our efforts all the time, but domination by any one organisation leads to a lack of variety and is not good for the game.

Comments are welcome: – feel free to disagree!

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