Sheffield Central Chess Club?

How do we rejuvenate S&DCA

(Recent additions)

Phil Adams of  the 3Cs in Oldham (9th April 2018):

No panaceas but maybe some usable ideas here:

Unsurprisingly it helps if at least a few local schools run after-school or lunchtime chess clubs, or, as seems to be happening more and more, include chess in curriculum time, in connection with CISC:

3Cs started as a junior club in the late 1970s, conceived as a centre of excellence to which the best young players from the Oldham Primary Schools League could be invited. It was started by two local primary school teachers; in I think 1979 they roped me in to coach the most promising players.

Competition was internal for the first couple of years, until it was felt that we had enough players strong enough for us to test the water by entering a team in the bottom division of the Manchester League.  It grew, season by season from there, until by the 1990s 3Cs had more teams in the league than any other club apart from maybe Chorlton. BY 1995-6 we had five teams in the league and our first team were champions of the top division.

Juniors have a habit of growing up. We find that, as elsewhere, there is a drop-off after Year 6 – we’ve never managed to make much of a dent in this, but as long as every year we have at least a couple of talented and/or really committed young players staying with us as they start secondary school, the “supply” continues uninterrupted.

Our club retains its junior focus but many of our players are now grown up of course; if they still live locally they mostly continue to play for us in the Manchester League. Some who live further away play for us only in the 4NCL.

New adult players are usually only welcomed if we feel they can contribute to the club something more than just playing strength, e.g. helping with coaching, logistics, refreshments etc.  Coaches need to be DBS checked. Parents are made especially welcome and are encouraged to accompany their offspring in coaching sessions and eventually play for our teams, if they progress sufficiently and want to try their hand.

Coaching: I coach the most advanced group at 3Cs; we do lots of systematic tactics and basic endings work but focus on going over games played by members of the group, these days using Chessbase and a projector and focusing on a few important points fromeach game, emphasising both typical patterns, structures and plans but also the importance of accuracy at key moments.

I’ve attached an article on Chess Club Coaching that I wrote more years ago now than I care to remember: it badly needs updating regarding some technical developments but I think the principles are sound. I’ve also attached a couple of more recent articles that might provide food for thought.

There is further information at the 3Cs website – quirky but interesting I hope:

Hope that there is something here that might help! Best wishes, Phil


(Older comments)

Andrew Hards (23/10/2016): Something I've been thinking about, on and off, for the last few years has been the overall state of Sheffield chess and the feeling I've had that it is generally in a bit of a downward spiral at the moment. In my time involved in Sheffield chess, very few young players have come through the ranks  at the 'senior' clubs (the only two that immediately spring to mind are Henry Withington at Nomads and Elliott Spencer at Ecclesall) and the supply line at our only junior club, SASCA, may be drying up a little as well - the A team now rarely features juniors with the top 13 graded players at the club all adults (the next is Sammy Benzaira after which the next five players are also adults).  We do see a regular drip feed of players into the league from other sources, but that doesn't appear to be sufficient to maintain the league - a look back at Sheffield-based teams in the last few years sees Nomads dropping a team, Woodseats dropping a couple and Phoenix folding altogether.
Which brings me to my pointl. I'm worried that the league is going to get progressively older and increasingly stale. I'm concerned that whilst we're getting new *mature* players joining, there's little sign of children moving into the league (and players are also leaving as well, so the dripfeed is being offset by those who move away or no longer can commit to evening chess).  I'm concerned that we're becoming something akin to a closed shop, both in terms of overall membership but also divisionally, with only the very occasional mover when exceptional circumstances arise (Darnall & Handsworth, Stannington, University).  There has been a vacancy in the top flight for some time now that simply hasn't been filled - even when a team has come up, another has folded.  So.... I wanted to try a bit of an experiment and this is where you all come in. 
If you could start again, from scratch... what would you do?  How would you make chess in Sheffield an appealing proposition for new players and for youngsters?  Assume there are no club loyalties, no specific time control, no specific league/point structure, no playing restrictions, specific team sizes, etc, etc.  A completely clean slate.  I'd like to pull together all the suggestions and ideas from each of you and see what that gives us - and whether there's a proposition that we could formulate off the back of that that would be something to take forward at the end of the season as a revamp, a relaunch or even just some tweaks to what we have now that will make the S&DCA league a more appealing proposition for newcomers and a more exciting one for those who have played in it for some time.

Jeremy Hamm (24/10/2016): I agree this is a worthwhile exercise. We’re all just getting steadily older: too little evidence in Sheffield (and further afield too?) of renewal going on with younger players coming through, with consequent pressures on clubs and teams and captains that will only increase on current trends. One thing I’ve thought about for a long time – but it does rather depend on a rich benefactor… - is the desirability of a central chess venue for the city. We’d still maintain a league of course: but also there’d be opportunity to meet outside the particular confines of competition, for casual chess, tournaments, chess development (for juniors and seniors), etc. I think this would be beneficial. Of course we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we still maintain a thriving and very successful league in Sheffield. So (at least according to my calculations) Jon Griffiths’ latest analysis in the YCA yearbook shows that of 8,990 games last season played in the 10 local leagues in Yorkshire (or at least those JG graded), Sheffield accounted for 29% of them – at 2,217, far exceeding those of Bradford, Leeds, Hull, York, Calderdale or anywhere else.

Pete Willoughby (24/10/2016):  I have been trying to establish social chess ‘for Sheffield’ at Ecclesall chess club (along with Ecclesall members) with limited, almost no, success. I have however been coaching one or two beginner/ returners, again together with some Ecclesall members. There has been some discussion regarding social chess on the Sheffield forum but I was not able to attract any of the participants to Ecclesall for special social chess events. It may partly have been that Bradway is too far out. I was about to ask SDCA how we could realistically apply Object 2 (c ) of the rules, (c) promote the interests of chess players generally, and suggest something along the lines that seems to be taking shape here... (namely a) Sheffield Central Chess Club if a ‘central’ venue could be obtained.

Steve Mann (10/11/2016):  Andrew's initiative was a 6-month consultation on how to renew a flow of new people into the Association (my description), and this could be seen as also having a wider objective of getting more people into chess in the clubs.
Jeremy immediately raised the idea of a Central Chess Club, an objective I support, though I don't feel optimistic regarding the possibility of my own vision being possible to realise.

Peter responded immediately to Jeremy's idea with the idea of a "central" (my inverted commas) chess club based at the Red Lion.  This doesn't match up to my vision, or, I suspect, that of Jeremy, but nevertheless, a non-match (crucial point) chess evening such as I'd like to see other clubs providing, is a step in the right direction.
The idea of a central chess club is just one suggestion, but there seems no reason why something should not be put on the website if somebody wishes to do it.

Pete Willoughby (10/11/2016):  In answer to the parts of (earlier comments, e.g. about initially getting a Central Chess Club up and running at The Red Lion) that reference me, I am prepared to lead the Thursday chess at the Red Lion idea if everyone agrees. I would restate that I am not DBS certificated and therefore any juniors that attend would have to be supervised by their parents/ suitable adult. This would to a great extent supersede the Ecclesall training. As far as I am aware nothing is happening with regard to setting this up as we are waiting on SDCA approval (essential).  If this was forthcoming immediately and the Red Lion is still available on Thursdays, the room can be booked, advertising can start immediately afterwards, and the meetings as soon as the kit is available. I think that such SDCA approval is necessary before it being advertised on the SDCA website and elsewhere.

I do not see there being a conflict between the setting up of an immediate (Central) Chess Club (at The Red Lion) and the eventual establishing of a pukka Central Chess Club in a prestige central location. I believe that this should be one of the primary aims, providing that such a club does not try and usurp any of the existing Sheffield Chess clubs.

Steve Mann (24/10/2016):  I was perhaps a little slow in realising the main reason why Jeremy copied me into his reply to Andrew.

I have 12 sets, 13 boards and 10 clocks which could be donated to Sheffield (Central) Chess Club, should it come into being. The cost of similar items new from Chess Direct would be (over £330)

Incidentally, setting it up independently of the Association (as with the congress) might bypass the hassle of being subject to the whim of an S&DCA AGM etc.

On 03/01/2018 Andrew Hards added:

I started a discussion on this about a year or so ago that seemed to be headed towards the idea of a centrally run chess club for juniors. Pete Willoughby had expressed an interest in picking it up but given he ultimately had to stand down from competitive chess, I'm not sure whether such an offer still stands - if indeed the concept remains viable. At present venues and times, together with the fact most of us are getting on a bit, all act as deterrents for children and with Oskar now passing 18, I don't think there's a single regular junior player featuring in the top division which can't be good for the long term existence of the league.

Steve Mann (03/01/2018):
When I was a lad, juniors emerged from the schools league.  Geoff Frost, Steve Housley and myself came down that line.  SASCA is what remains, but without a schools league the main supply has dried up.
Many have tried to revive chess in schools, but that has been in individual schools apart from each other, which doesn't work very well, so a Junior League (run by the S&DCA assuming SASCA can't resume running a league) would be the best course re juniors.
Renewed vigour organising SASCA would help, but finding someone is nigh impossible.  John Fryer in now 80, so SASCA is more likely to collapse sooner than are other clubs and or the Association.
I don't recall Pete Willoughby envisaging his "central club" being a junior one.  Either way, getting people to run it is a major problem.
A Junior League is the best single objective for reviving junior throughput.

Phill Beckett (04/01/2018):
If I could re-echo Steve's recollection of the schools League. It was perhaps the most useful way of getting Juniors to play League chess. The Junior League was played under exactly the same rules as the association. When I was a Junior there were all secondary schools playing in the League. When SASCA formed there was an upsurge and a lot of primary schools joined the SASCA Leagues. If I remember correctly there were about 20 schools in the primary League and a similar number in the secondary schools league.
Originally pupils ran the teams (often with a nominal teacher in charge), however Health and safety, teachers strikes etc meant that chess was the first activity to go! At present there are a few schools that play in Yorkshire.
The situation in several areas of the country is different with vibrant schools chess leagues. 
The Key is staff involvement! (or parental)
This is a topic which is under debate at the ECF as well!

Alan Taylor (07/01/2018):

I quite agree with the point that we are an ageing chess population and over the next 10 years I would estimate an acceleration in our decline in the numbers of competitive games played. In Barnsley we recently produced a press article for the local paper, which did result in 3 new members of younger years joining the club. One of them will break into our teams this season, although one is not really enough. His chess was learned at school in terms of the moves but his experience came from a chess computer and the internet. He had never played face to face chess competitively and it came as an eye opener for him. He was full of the quick tricks that appear on the internet that rarely beat players with experience and a speed of movement that was initially mesmerising but led to his downfall in more serious games on a clock. He is learning!
I am sure there are many such players around if we could only tap into them and I must agree I am devoid of any earth shattering solutions other than advertising and School player development.
Of course until we discuss this constructively we are unlikely to produce solutions. Is there a case for some research by means of emails, phone calls etc. to other associations. Phil points out that junior chess is thriving in other areas so why not Sheffield? We could follow this with an Executive meeting to Brain Storm out some issues. We could also pick up the incremental time system and any update that Geoff may have for us on the demise of Chessnuts.

Community Web Kit provided free by BT