Is it time to do your little bit for chess?

Around 15 years ago, in my first stint as Yorkshire CA President, I pointed to chess clubs average ages getting older and I suggested that clubs tried to adopt a school in order to encourage some youth into chess.

Broadley my thoughts were for a club to look around for a suitable school. Offer one or two players to commit to helping to run an after school club and hope to pick up a few players in the long run. It seemed a small investment for a club to improve its long term prospects. However, for various reasons there were very few takers and we are still in the same dilemma today as we were then. Perhaps a little older and a little more desperate for new blood as a result.

So maybe this is an ideal time to broach the subject again.

Fischer boom

Many people talk of the Fischer boom in English chess where everyone wanted to follow the charismatic man and play in their local clubs. I started playing league chess in the early eighties where there were 6 divisions of the Bradford league and almost every city boasted double the participation we have today. Over time, people found other things to do other than play in league chess – family commitments, moving away, pressures of work getting in the way and some simply didn’t find it fun any longer.

Look around now and you see many familiar faces who have become friends over time as well as opponents. There are not so many new faces out there and this has to be a concern to the future of your club and the league you play in.

Chess in schools

The Chess in Schools initiative has seen a great number of schools take up chess. This has seen a great swell of kids under the age of 11 learning how to play the game and the scheme has received numerous accolades and deservedly so. There are a lot of schools in Yorkshire taking up chess and they are being coached by people you might play in the local leagues.

The one great flaw in this at the moment is that the kids are predominately taught at primary schools but there is often no progression to play in their upper schools. Also can we expect primary school children to join chess clubs where matches can finish at 10pm?

Something has to change in order to get these kids flowing to the chess clubs.

We need to be realistic in what we can do to increase membership to our clubs. I see far too often teams defaulting the odd board in matches just because a regular player is unavailable and there aren’t any reserves to draw on. Some bigger clubs can shuffle players between teams or some more enterprising captains pester players in other leagues to help out in key matches. This only serves to paper over the cracks and the honest truth is that recruitment of new players is too much hard work for most of us.

Most clubs simply want players to play in matches for one of their teams. Once a player has played, and probably lost their match, they get replaced in the next match by the regular chap and most will get disheartened and find something else to do.
We need to start being smarter about recruitment but especially retention of players to the club or most clubs will simply fold once their current organisers stop playing.


Where can we recruit players?

Universities are an obvious source of potential players. In Bradford we used to get a stall or leaflets out at Fresher’s week and this brought in players to numerous clubs. We have not pursued this for a few years and I’m sure we are missing out on a number of potential players here.

Organise an Open day. Bradford have benefitted in the recent past through the huge Chesstival events. These were well advertised and supported by the council as well as Chess Magazine and produced good results in attracting new players to the league. In other years an afternoon in the central library with a few players and large garden set has encouraged a few players to try their hand in playing.

Maybe it is as simple as taking a chess board down to your local with a club mate or two and analysing some games. You might be surprised who offers a thought or comment.

Some of our members in Bradford can be regularly seen in the city centre (Centenary square on Wednesday afternoons) with the giant set taking on all comers.

These are things I have seen work but how do we get the schoolkids to join the clubs? How do we tap up the East Europeans that have come into the country?

We should be open to any proven suggestions. If anyone has any ideas then please put them in the comments below.


Ok so when we have recruited these new players how do we keep them at the club?

How many clubs have a club night where they can offer people a game or two and a few free tips?

If you are wishing to give children an option then perhaps a chess club straight after school might be an option. Maybe one or two of your retired or out of work members can offer to regularly attend an after school chess club. Should we target upper schools where the kids are old enough to play in evening leagues?

How many clubs can cater for new players who are simply not ready or not comfortable to sit down for a 3 hour match against a player where the result is all important? Do we need more club night options where the game can be discussed?

For the last two years Bradford chess club has tried to run summer chess events with opening themed blitz, doubles chess, problem solving evening and handicap rapidplay. They have proved successful and well attended and it is a great way to have social chess played. Maybe more clubs should try this and invite their fringe players to try and get involved in the club a bit more.

All we can do is concentrate on doing your little bit.

I ask people to be positive and put forward suggestions and ideas of what we think clubs and leagues need to achieve. I am asking you to put forward constructive ideas on recruitment and retention, especially ones that have worked elsewhere. Even if you are unable to commit to taking it forward yourself you may inspire someone to take it up in the county.

I await your comments with interest and hope.


Former Yorkshire Chess Association President and Secretary. I'm not the brains of the editorial team but I can live with being a glorified typist as well as the resident grammar pedant. I have captained Bradford A in the Woodhouse cup for over 30 years. I'm fairly easy going, sometimes diplomatic and I think my enthusiasm is infectious but not life threatening. The English chess world needs to wake up and smell the coffee before league chess collapses altogether.


4 Responses to “Is it time to do your little bit for chess?”

  1. David G. Mills

    Jul 05. 2017


    The main problem seems to be that people will play if someone else does the hard work in organising teams, competitions, etc.. By way of an example, here is some of my correspondence with Dan Staples of Chess in Schools and Communities:-

    From: Dan Staples []
    Sent: 28 June 2017 22:04
    To: David Mills chess
    Subject: Chess in Schools & Communities

    Hello Dave,

    I wanted to get in touch to see if you were still interested in teaching for CSC? We’ve had recent interest from schools in Doncaster and Grimsby. While nothing may come of it, I wanted to sound you out in case anything did.

    It’s great that you have attended a course and the next step is to complete our tutor application form here – Then we should arrange to meet up.

    If you have any questions and would like me to call you, please let me have your number and a good time to ring.



    From: []
    Sent: 30 June 2017 23:37
    To: ‘Dan Staples’
    Subject: RE: Chess in Schools & Communities

    Hello Dan,

    Thanks for your message.

    Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any additional chess commitments at the moment because of my present load. I play for 12 teams in total, captaining 9 of them. Some only involve 2 or 3 matches per year but the majority involve 8 – 16 matches per season with related travel. (Hull & District, Yorkshire League, Scunthorpe League and Lincolnshire League.) I also organise tournaments for Beverley Chess Club, The Scunthorpe League and HASSRA. (HASSRA is the sports and leisure association open to current and former staff working for the Department of Health, Department for Work & Pensions, the Food Standards Agency and associated executive agencies and public bodies.) I am a trustee of the Hull & District Chess Association Charitable Trust, prepare reports for a variety of chess websites, write chess book reviews for McFarland Publishing and am coaching two Chinese brothers aged 8 and 10 who live in Caistor but attend school in East Yorkshire. I am already struggling to fulfil these duties.

    As well as the above, I attend yoga classes, brew my own beers, wines and ciders and am on several sports committees – some involving chess, others Civil Service Sport in general. My latest project involves trying to arrange a chess match in the Houses of Parliament between a Civil Service team and the Parliamentary Chess Group. I try to give 100% wherever possible in activities with which I am involved, however this is becoming more difficult.

    Best wishes,

    01482 509476 (Message minder system available.)

    (I forgot to mention organising Beverley Chess Club’s annual publicity day and the Hull & District team for our Challenge Matches against York District.) The above would not be possible if I had not retired.

    Yorkshire needs county captains at u120 and u100 levels. Anyone willing to step forward? Help and advice available from the current county captains on request.

    It is difficult to attract players to chess when we use cheap, noisy,uninviting venues. Anything to avoid spending money! Too many players think they are entitled to their hobby for next to nothing and put up with accommodation rejected by games such as Bridge. Parents are unlikely to allow their children to frequent such places. Book decent premises. A variation on the ‘Field of Dreams’ theme – Provide a good venue and the players will come.

    Secure some publicity via special events, such as the E.C.F. funded ‘Chessmaster at the Local’ initiative. (It is helpful if your league requires E.C.F. membership as a condition of participation.)

    Reason for the reduction in teams over the last 30 years. No, or very few, works based clubs due to the ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality of many public and private sector employers. This is certainly the case in Hull & District. Not sure what we can do about this situation. Most employers pay lip service to ‘Work/Life Balance’ but all they are really concerned about is output.

    Encourage neighbouring chess associations to participate in some of your events and foster relationships. Last night four teams from North Lincolnshire participated in the Hull & District Team Lightning. (Grimsby, Barton-on-Humber, Scunthorpe ‘A’ and Scunthorpe ‘B’.) Grimsby were successful, winning both trophies on offer.

    Even when I was studying ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels (1965-1972) there was far too much time spent on homework and teaching pupils to pass examinations rather than educating them. I was one of many at my school adversely affected by this approach. We passed examinations in spite of, rather than because of, the manner in which we were taught. Today this philosophy persists. No time for hobbies or interests. As a parent I encouraged my children to study but made sure that there was time for a social life. Although their interests did not include chess, I believe that they benefited from such an approach. Parents may be informed that an interest in chess should help promote in their children considered and logical thought processes.

    When teaching chess to young children, have a bag of sweets on hand. Make it fun and make them laugh! Recently I obtained a poster from the ‘Kong’ film and used this to emphasise the importance of the king. Early on, I stood 4 rooks on top of each other to demonstrate hitting pawn chains at the base. The sets are plastic and falling rooks don’t sustain too much damage! (Not to be done on a regular basis.)

    I’m keen to see the views of others and will try to apply any good ideas mentioned elsewhere.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Ihor Lewyk

    Jul 05. 2017

    A positive ending to your email David.

    When teaching chess to young children, have a bag of sweets on hand. Make it fun and make them laugh! Recently I obtained a poster from the ‘Kong’ film and used this to emphasise the importance of the king. Early on, I stood 4 rooks on top of each other to demonstrate hitting pawn chains at the base. The sets are plastic and falling rooks don’t sustain too much damage! (Not to be done on a regular basis.)

    I might try some of these to illustrate the same points.

    Any other ideas, tips and suggestions out there?

    Reply to this comment
  3. Matt Webb

    Jul 19. 2017

    Hi David,

    Interesting communication between yourself and CSC, I say this because previously I show interest in taking on some coaching responsibilities… not once, not twice but yes, three times! On all occasions they failed to even respond or acknowledge my interest.

    Completely agree with your points regarding teaching, the UK education system is utterly backwards, out of touch with reality and only getting worse year on year. In my role, I am fortunate enough to interview some young, incredibly bright (on paper) graduates for roles within my profession, it amazes me to see just how unbelievably unprepared they are for the real world. However, candidates from overseas, it’s pretty frightening just how tuned in they are and ready to solve *real* problems.

    Reply to this comment


  1. How to increase chess club membership – The Chess Journal Blog - July 8, 2017

    […] came across a great article written by Yorkshire Chess which lamented new recruitment (“fresh blood”) for many […]

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