Following on from our interview with CJ de Mooi, Yorkshire Chess is delighted to announce that ECF Presidential candidate Roger Edwards has also agreed to answer some of our questions about his involvement with chess! Roger has been involved with chess for many years in many different capacities and in this interview he explains how he will be able to use this experience for the benefit of English chess in the future.
1. Tell us a little bit about where you’re from, how you got started in chess.
I first saw the light of day many years ago at Looe in Cornwall – a fact that accounts for my lifelong, illogical loyalty to Plymouth Argyle! I was then taken on a world tour which lasted many years and has served to equip me with a cosmopolitan outlook on life which uniquely prepared me for a role such as this – although that was not the intention! This meant that I was educated in Heliopolis, Plymouth, Aden, Ivybridge, Changi, London and Harrogate amongst other places. The two at which I dallied longest were Harrogate Grammar School and Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham Boys’ School as it was then called and I am proud to note that I am included in the list of alumni on each of these schools’ Wikipedia sites. I learnt to play chess at Aske’s at represented both them and Harrogate in school matches. On leaving school I joined ICT – then a comparatively new Company – as a programmer and spent forty years in the computer industry before becoming a full time Stamp Dealer. I started playing chess seriously whilst at Harrogate and joined the club there. Also at the club was my namesake Raymond Edwards, who was always a better player than me, he was at the top of the Woodhouse team and I was at the bottom of the IM Brown team. I followed this up with further wandering around the country, playing in all corners and many areas. My first competitive games as an adult were in Stockport and I played quite a lot of games for the North Thames Gas Board and Acton. I arrived in Staffordshire in 1968. I captained my first team in 1970, ran my first tournament in 1971 and became a club official for the first time in 1972. After that I just seemed to keep doing more and more.
2. How do you consider yourself in the chess world at the moment – a player, an arbiter, an organiser, or something else?
A player, an arbiter and an organiser, a jack-of-all-trades. Though there are players in my club who dispute that I was ever a player. My highest ever grade was 164 in 1979. My lowest ever grade was 125 in 1979. It is not a mistake that they were the same year, one was NCCU and one was MCCU. In the main my grade has been around the mid 140’s for the last 40 years with the odd blip up and the odd blip down. I gave up dreaming of being World or British champion fairly early on in my career and set out to be a top organiser and then later to be a top arbiter. Whilst not being “THE” best, I think I am one of the best in both fields, although I may be slightly biased in that view.
3. What is your proudest moment in your chess career so far?
I believe that I had reached the pinnacle of my chess fame when I was asked to help out with the 1993 World Championship Match. This fame was soon dashed when shortly afterwards the match was hijacked by the Keene/Kasparov/Short consortium. Leaving that aside, my proudest moments were, as an HLVP of the BCF/ECF, being asked to present the prizes and trophies and the British Championships.
4. Why did you choose to stand for the ECF Presidency? How do you feel about the direction the ECF has been heading in in recent times?
I have felt that ever since 2007, possibly before, the ECF has been going downhill, sometimes gently, sometimes at a great rate of knots. I can’t put my finger on any one reason. It can partially be explained by the lack of many good organisers around at the moment, even at club and team level. A lot of us oldies are retiring or dying off, but there are very few younger ones coming through to take our place. You only need to look at the nominations (or lack of) for the AGM in October to realise this. As for my own candidacy, I was becoming disillusioned with the ECF and was trying to make up my mind on whether to give up altogether or try for President to attempt to stop the slide. I decided to try for President but only time will tell if this was the right decision.
5. What ideas do you have for promoting English Chess, particularly as the 100th British Championships will be taking place next year?
As far as the British Championships are concerned I have not yet got any details but I am assuming rightly or wrongly that there is nothing concrete in the way of sponsorship. Therefore I expect there to be a lot of work to start with to make this up and then to go on from there. Although I have been an arbiter at over 20 championships, I have never been involved in the initial organisation and I will therefore have to liaise with the Director and the Congress Manager to find out exactly what they want and do my best to help them. To promote English chess, there is not a lot I can do on my own. But what I can try to do is to raise enthusiasm amongst the grass roots and get them to go out and want to tell other people how enjoyable a game it is. One thousand ambassadors amongst the grass roots will do much more good than one Publicity Director, no matter how good he is. The other thing I can try to do is to try and stop all the petty bickering and rivalry that goes on. That is fine over the chess board, but clubs/leagues/counties/unions need to take a less insular approach and work together for the general good of the game. I don’t know if it is still the case but when I was national grader there was a small league of 10 clubs which covered 3 unions and 4 counties. They got on with each other then and we need to make the principle work on a lot wider scale.
6. Would you like to see an English World chess champion and how do you think this can be given a chance to happen?
Yes I would like to see an English, or even a British, World champion. But I can’t see it happening other than by accident in the next few years. We need to start from the bottom and work up. Start by training the juniors and getting them to work through the system. The Chess in Schools project seems to be a good starting point for this, maybe the first aim would be to campaign for chess to be taught in all schools. But it all costs money, so first of all we need to get the ECF finances in order and then build from there. The best way of doing that at present is to persuade more players to join the membership scheme and one of the better ways is to persuade them that if they join their money is not going to be wasted. Once we have a good supply of juniors coming through, then the next task is to get them to keep playing. At my own club, and I suspect a great many other clubs, we get a lot of juniors coming through and then they leave school and start work or go to university and they are never seen again at the club, quite often never seen again at a chess board. Something needs to be done to retain them. Then once we have a solid foundation, then we can start building/training our future world champions.
7. Are you happy with the three-tier memberships scheme introduced and the method by which it was decided? Do you fear that it might drive away casual players?
I firmly believe that the membership scheme needs simplifying, especially to reduce the number of levels of membership, but others don’t and they are entitled to that opinion. The scheme is fine for the 75% of players but is overly complicated for congress organisers. But it is not something I would want to jump into and say next week we are changing it. It would have to be done in conjunction with the Membership Director and the Finance Committee/Director possibly with a view to putting it to Council next year for implementation the year after. Of course the Director and Committee may not agree with me either, or even with each other, in which case it will have to be a bugbear that I have to live with. I do remain convinced that the 3 level membership will be a nightmare for organisers, especially the “ability” to change levels part way through a season. I don’t think that the membership will deter local league players, what I can imagine it doing is deterring the league player from playing in his local congress, especially if it is the only congress he plays in each year. On the same lines, it may deter clubs in the 4NCL finding a player when they are short if it is going to cost them an extra £14 to make a bronze member into a gold member for one or two games. At the moment I appear to be in the minority on this subject and I will watch with interest what happens in the coming months.
8. There have been a number of failed attempts by the chess community to encourage the government to recognise chess as a sport, as it is in many countries around the world. Apart from potentially earning a larger grant do you see any merits in pursuing this avenue?
Chess is recognised as a sport by the IOC although not included in the Olympics. It is, or has been, included in the Asian Games. My dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill”. An old definition I have seen said sport was an exercise, either mental or physical. So chess is a sport under that definition. My other main recreational activity is long distance walking, although age has shortened the long distances from the 100 miles in 48 hours I used to do when I was younger. There is no comparison between this and chess in the physical exertion stakes. Equally there have been occasions when you are mentally exhausted at the end of a game of chess which would never happen whilst walking. In the main I have never thought of chess as a sport, more as a game, but we do have Mind Sports and Mind Sport Olympiads. However much I think chess is a sport or otherwise, if we could get it classed as a sport and get a grant for it, then obviously I would back it to the hilt.
9. How do you intend to ensure that the ECF connects with the grass-roots players?
I will always be a “hands-on” President and together I hope we can work to make the Federation into something even better than it is now. As far as the Presidency is concerned, the part which appeals (if that is the right word) is the part which says “Acts as a focal point for the concerns of members and chess players generally.” I think the grassroots players need more of a say and at the moment they don’t have one. I intend to try to be their “champion”. It also fits in with “Liaises with member organisations.” bit of the job description. I can’t go name dropping to the same extent as certain people. Dropping the names of Patrick Curr, John Eddershaw or Derrick Jones doesn’t have the same effect as Nigel Short, Anatoly Karpov or Gary Kasparov, but I believe that they are the type of people that we should be listening to and trying to help. That is the job I would try to do.
Chess Enthusiast, Entrepreneur, Stock Market Tycoon, Search & Social Media fanatic, I would describe myself as really, really ridiculously good looking, beyond measurable genius and above all else a jolly modest chap!