Leeds League Attraction

Over the years I have noticed that the Leeds evening league has grown in strength, especially on the top few boards. After looking at some comparison figures I am amazed how significant this has been.

I have taken 2009 as a base year to compare it with. Namely because this was the year the ECF grade enhancements took place.

I have checked grades of the top players who made appearances in that league that season and listed them below.

The increase in strength of the Leeds league is remarkable. See the table below. I have made similar comparisons with Bradford and Sheffield leagues over the same period. The Leeds league has clearly attracted a number of stronger players over the last 8 years but why could this be?

There is a theory that when the ECF calculated the grade enhancements in 2008 they increased lower grades over-generously compared to higher graded players. Over time those points would naturally shift back upwards and you should see an overall grading increase at the top end. This might explain the higher overall numbers in the 3 leagues chosen below but Leeds still far outperforms the Sheffield and Bradford leagues in increasing the higher graded players.

There are other factors that will help to attract a stronger league. The thriving University, high paid work moving to the city and better commuting allowing a wider catchment area. But this doesn’t seem to have harmed the Bradford league next door.

I believe the most significant benefit was introduced by Stuart Johnson around 10 years ago and the league has started to bear the fruit of its labours. The Leeds league plays league matches on Wednesday evenings while the Bradford league plays on Tuesday evenings. Stuart discussed plans with me which would arrange the league fixtures on different weeks to the Bradford league fixtures where feasible. I believe this has encouraged more Bradford league players to play in the Leeds league than ever before and the attraction for the stronger players is obvious. They have opportunities to play the strongest players in West Yorkshire most weeks and get the challenge they strive. It seems to have encouraged some significantly stronger players to make appearances in the league in recent years too.

The inter league collaboration has kissed new life into the Leeds league and made it possibly challenge the Sheffield league for strength at the top end. It surely cannot be too long before the city boasts a Woodhouse champion again.

Do you agree? Or do you have another theory?

Appearances by player grades comparison

League Over 200 190-199 180-189 170-179
Leeds 2017 5 3 7 15
Leeds 2009 0 1 5 9
Bradford 2017 0 2 9 15
Bradford 2009 0 2 4 8
Sheffield 2017 5 6 9 15
Sheffield 2009 6 8 11 10

 

Below is a snapshot of appearances by grade of leagues in Yorkshire in 2016 /2017

League 2017 Over 200 190-199 180-189 170-179
Yorkshire 12 9 25 lots
Bradford 0 2 9 15
Calderdale 0 0 5 12
Huddersfield 0 0 1 3
Hull 0 1 0 7
Leeds 5 3 7 15
Sheffield 5 6 9 15
York 6 3 6 6

 


Yorkshire Chess Association Secretary and Chief Web Editor. I suppose that means 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 captain White Rose 2 who have recently been promoted to Division 1 of the 4NCL professional chess league . I'm fairly easy going, somewhat diplomatic and I think my enthusiasm is infectious but not life threatening.

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26 Responses to “Leeds League Attraction”

  1. Paul Gelder

    Feb 26. 2017

    If you identify where the higher graded players play in 2017 you will see that they play for 2 clubs Leeds CCCC. and Moortown.Together with Limewood they are 3 new clubs that have been set up in the last 5 years by former Rose Forgrove and Alwoodley players who wanted to run their own clubs.This has brought a new freshness to the league at a time when the average age of the chess player appears to continue to increase.How the Leeds League is set up with 3 divisions has made each league very competitive.Without these new clubs,I say to our members,who would we play ?They are now responsible for 7 of the 21 teams in the league.Next season the league could do with another 3 teams to bring to 3 leagues of 8 teams.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Feb 26. 2017

      You’ve identified a cycle that we’ve seen in the Bradford league as well.

      You start with a small number of big clubs with many teams. Naturally, people feel like they aren’t getting enough games, games of a high enough standard or they want somewhere more local to where they live.

      Then they leave, take some players with them and form a few smaller clubs. Because these smaller clubs have fewer players, they are more unstable and some eventually disappear when the bigger clubs pick up the spare players and the cycle starts again.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Martin Carpenter

    Feb 26. 2017

    One other thing – especially strong in Leeds of course – has been the demographic of very strong retired players returning to the game post career/family etc.

    Not sustainable of course. Projecting it forwards say 10-15 years I’m distinctly worried about chess round Yorkshire.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Feb 27. 2017

      I agree – I’m very concerned. At the moment there are many players playing in multiple leagues and these are the only reason that these leagues are being kept alive – there’s very little happening in terms of new players coming in.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Paul Gelder

    Feb 27. 2017

    The theme has changed to the future of chess.Clubs need to be encouraging new members of all abilities and juniors not just the top 10 per cent in the quest of winning things.Last year over half the participants in the South Lakes Congress were veterans with hardly a junior or female in sight.You are right to be concerned

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  4. Ihor Lewyk

    Feb 27. 2017

    The ageing chess population is a concern for the whole country. A number of years ago I suggested that chess clubs in Yorkshire ‘adopted a school’ to nurture young chess talent from them. Bradford chess has reaped the rewards of St Bedes Grammar school who have not only provided a steady stream of players to the league over many years and a number of old boys are prominent league organisers. The league has continued to be well run and have maintained the same number of divisions for the last 20 years. This is an exception rather than the norm if you look at leagues around the whole country let alone Yorkshire.
    What can we do will be the thread of my next post in a few days time.

    Reply to this comment
    • Martin Carpenter

      Feb 27. 2017

      The Manchester league is very similar – multiple very strong 3C’s attached juniors coming through, but basically its 80%+ of the league is the same people as when I started play here a little over 10 years ago now.

      I’d be pretty confident of still being in the youngest quarter of the league which is a bit scary frankly.
      (Chess round York is rather younger in age profile for various reasons.).

      Honestly, I suspect its already too late. The league is great now, in ~ten years time we’ll really start losing players at speed and in ~20 years?

      We’d need to start producing, and retaining, juniors in huge quantities to keep things anything like as good as they are now.

      As things stand I think that I’d have to actually think quite hard about the wisdom of recommending someone 10-15 pick chess up as a serious hobby.

      Reply to this comment
  5. David Mills

    Feb 28. 2017

    At the age of 64, I’m now in my 5th season playing chess on both sides of the Humber. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only person involved in league matches in Hull & District, Yorkshire, Scunthorpe and Lincolnshire. Several fellow members of Beverley Chess Club also feature in York League fixtures as well as Hull and District. (I understand that intrepid Lancastrians cross the Pennines to participate in Yorkshire Leagues – a back handed compliment if nothing else!)

    Links between Hull and Scunthorpe are slowly being fostered, but you would be forgiven for thinking that the two are much more than 21 miles apart. It is less than a 40 minute journey from my West Hull address to the home of Scunthorpe chess – the Appleby Frodingham Works Athletic Club.

    I believe that one of the main reasons for the reduction in chess activity in East Yorkshire is the closure of all work based chess clubs. Simply look at the league tables in the 1970s and early 1980s and compare them with present tables. Various sports and social associations with which I am involved rely on the services of retired members to keep them in existence. Employers fail to see, or pay lip service to, the benefits of a physically and mentally fit work force. Absence from work for a few hours to organise or participate in such activities is subordinate to the great god ‘Business Needs’. A lack of job security and lack of family friendly policies, discourages employees from participating in sports and social events. Combine this with employer hostility to employee involvement in trade union activity and it is not difficult to ascertain the direction of travel.

    There are too many people willing to play chess if somebody else does the organising. The members of your local league executive committee are likely to be on a county committee or organising one or more teams. They will probably be involved in junior chess events, coaching, writing reports, maintaining websites, etc.. If there is a national body to which your league or county is affiliated, they will make up the delegates.

    In order for chess anywhere to flourish, it is necessary to spread the load. If you are enjoying a sport, hobby or interest and not putting anything back, it is time for a lengthy look in a mirror. You are part of the problem.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Mar 02. 2017

      Very astute observations as always.

      Unfortunately I don’t have much knowledge of other sports organisations so it’s difficult for me to say if this is a problem that’s unique to chess or if it’s something that you see in a lot of hobbies.

      I think most people either like to play a lot, so don’t have the time to help organise etc or they play once a week as a hobby so don’t feel obliged to contribute too much.

      Reply to this comment
      • Martin Carpenter

        Mar 02. 2017

        Of the comparable hobbies I can think of:
        Bridge brings in a *lot* more money than chess. People pay ~£5 every evening they play and because it is treated as a semi social activity you get a lot people turning up. Also teaching courses and things.

        So the clubs tend to own their venues, the larger ones even have a few members of employed staff etc.

        Bridge actually has an even worse demographic problem than chess does – basically *no one* between 30 and 50 playing the game – but so long as people keep viewing it as something they can pick up to be social in retirement it’ll do OK.

        In league terms they’ve got 81 teams on 8 in the Yorkshire bridge league. Maybe fewer people you’d view as genuinely ‘serious’ players than with chess though.

        Unfortunately, even with hypothetical much better venues etc, I can’t see chess tapping this sort of market. The game simply isn’t well suited to that.

        The board gaming clubs don’t need anything like the same level of organising because you just need a venue, a library of games then people turn up and play.

        The demographics for those clubs seem to be very much healthier, and they’re multi players games so inherently at least moderately social. They might just inherit this very small section of the earth in a few decades, and in some ways it might be a good thing.

        A very different experience to league chess etc though of course.

        Reply to this comment
        • Andy Bak

          Mar 02. 2017

          Bridge events also don’t give prize money or give very minimal prizes out in their competitions. My dad has won a fair few competitions in his recent career – the equivalent of Open sections at weekend congresses and the typical prizes he gets are between £10-£50.

          Can you imagine if that happened at chess?!

          Reply to this comment
  6. Ihor Lewyk

    Feb 28. 2017

    Martin,
    Your comments above give me the impression that you’re not a ‘glass half full’ sort of a guy.
    More a ‘glass knocked over and somebody will clean up the mess’ sort of guy. :-)
    I’m sure you can be more positive than that!

    Reply to this comment
    • Martin Carpenter

      Mar 01. 2017

      Dunno. Always useful to be fully aware of the rational scope of a problem.

      The demographics, and the associated existential challenge, surely aren’t arguable. The ability for the league(s) to cope might obviously be.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Matt Webb

    Mar 01. 2017

    Interesting post Ihor!

    Leeds is a very vibrant city at the moment and many huge companies are investing heavily here. This is attracting a lot of incredibly talented people who are relocating. I suspect we may see an even greater upward shift in the next few years.

    Personally, I see myself as a player who will probably return to the game in the same fashion as Martin has pointed out “post career / family”. Having said that, I am very tempted to help improve chess in a non-playing sense and have been working on a little project for sometime which, when I find the time to complete will certainly help!

    At the moment, chess just isn’t cool! We’re playing in dingy venues with tired sets (not to mention being around some players who struggle with basic personal hygiene). Obviously, certain things are more difficult to address than others but from my perspective the image of chess in the UK needs a serious refresh.

    I got involved in a debate on Facebook not too long back, this was around paying ECF membership fees. In summary there were so many moans and groans about what they’re paying – an absolute pittance in my opinion. It infuriates me that ‘we’ pay so very little to enjoy this beautiful game, we’ll happily watch so many organisers, arbiters, grading officers, etc volunteer and give up their free time, yet we’ll complain about the tiny increases in fees or the cost of congress entry.

    One of the age old arguments about chess is the lack of sponsorship, well, do you blame any sponsor who sees the very people playing the game refusing to put any money in? Let’s wake up!

    Two things will change the UK chess world … vision and money! Players need to start digging deep and paying realistic fees. This will give organisers and club directors the power to make innovative and creative decisions which, dare I say it, can potentially make chess cool. Chess has one incredibly powerful, albeit flawed association – playing chess makes you smart. Tie that together with a more prestigious polished look and we won’t need to beg players to join, we’ll be exclusive, just like working for Facebook or Google, you have to prove yourself to even make the cut.

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Mar 02. 2017

      Going back to Ig’s original post along with what you’re saying, it’s interesting to see how incredibly strong Manchester is, another vibrant growing city. Of course you have London as well but that’s it’s own special case.

      When I was at uni at Newcastle, we had a couple of very strong players show up to the chess club who enjoyed playing friendlies and blitz with a couple of pints but had no interest whatsoever in playing longer play games.

      I think there are a lot of people playing online now that have no interest in playing live chess.

      I wonder if having more quickplay or blitz events might draw more players into playing real life chess rather than just playing on their computers. I have a feeling this might also attract stronger players who don’t have the drive to play 3-4 hour games on an evening anymore.

      Reply to this comment
      • Martin Carpenter

        Mar 02. 2017

        You mean Manchester chess? The strength of that is mainly down to 3C’s :)

        Manchester in general is doing very nicely for itself of course, but Manchester chess outside 3C’s rather comes and goes.

        Think you might have to sort out venues to get more people playing evening club nights. There is also the basic problem that playing chess when you’re at, say, 80% mentally isn’t all that much fun.

        Reply to this comment
  8. David Mills

    Mar 02. 2017

    A motion will be put to the 2017 Hull & District Chess Association A.G.M. that a requirement of participation in its 2017/2018 competitions be membership of the E.C.F. (at least Bronze Level). The men with short arms and deep pockets are certain to attend in order to oppose this radical, outrageous proposal, designed to deprive them of £15.00 per year (!!) and give all East Yorkshire players a national grade based on all of their games. What ever next? Compulsory use of digital clocks?

    Reply to this comment
    • Andy Bak

      Mar 02. 2017

      You don’t want to go bankrupting the whole of the East Riding, I’m not sure your proposal is a sustainable idea!

      Linking back to Ig’s topic – it’s ironic that Leeds is the only league in Yorkshire where ECF membership is compulsory and it is arguably the one that’s thriving the most and attracting the strongest competition.

      When Sean Hewitt came up to the Yorkshire AGM a few years ago, he described how when his local league (Leicestershire I think?) went to compulsory ECF membership, playing rates and participation increased – once people become members, they feel like they have to make use of their membership!

      In Bradford we managed to get Div 1 to be ECF graded and this seems to have attracted a wider player pool into Bradford’s top flight than in previous years.

      Reply to this comment
  9. David Mills

    Mar 03. 2017

    I don’t think £15.00 per player per year will bankrupt any league. It is only in Yorkshire that so many players make such a fuss about requiring individuals to contribute a small amount to the operating costs of our national governing body. I am already a bronze member and have my games in the Yorkshire League, Lincolnshire League, Scunthorpe League and county matches E.C.F graded. Those games played in Hull & District – a significant portion – are ignored as far as my national grade is concerned.

    The cry from the men with short arms and deep pockets at Annual General Meetings is usually, ‘What do I receive in return for my £15.00?’ The answer in East Yorkshire is, ‘Quite a lot!’ Despite hostility to the E.C.F. , it has contributed funds to a ‘Master at the local’ evening with James Adair, will do the same again when Michael Adams visits Hull to give a simultaneous display in the summer and will contribute funds towards a tournament involving International Masters, running prior to, and along side, the Hull Congress. Very generous in the circumstances.

    I have been critical of the E.C.F. and B.C.F. in the past but it seems that progress is being made. If we do not like what it is doing, better to be inside the organisation and trying to influence it than being outside, ignored and perceived as tight fisted curmudgeons by the rest of the country. (I was tempted to use more blunt language involving tents, but suspect it would have been ‘moderated out’!)

    Reply to this comment
    • Martin Carpenter

      Mar 03. 2017

      The seeming dislike of the ECF in the county utterly baffles me too, but the leagues have little choice but to live with it.

      If you look at the figures on chess nuts – http://www.chessnuts.org.uk/ny5/ecfgamefees.php – you’ll see that leagues *could* actually get bankrupted by trying to go ECF graded.

      Forcing ECF membership when the base membership rates are so horribly low (20-30%) is more than a bit risky given that the leagues are quite short of people to start with.

      Mostly its just hard.

      Reply to this comment
    • Ihor lewyk

      Mar 03. 2017

      Good points David.
      The ECF also ensure we all play under the same rules and provides nationally trained arbiters to do so.
      Don’t forget that Yorkshire have also hosted the British Championships in Sheffield and Scarborough in recent years and we have been custodians of the British Rapid Play Championships since it began in the early eighties.

      Reply to this comment
  10. David Mills

    Mar 03. 2017

    Hello Martin,

    The situation concerning E.C.F. membership is simple to operate. The league requires the player to take out membership directly. As far as I am aware, this is what happens in all of the Lincolnshire Clubs where I play, including my own at Scunthorpe. It is accepted as normal by the club members. Effectively, no pay means no play.

    A question for the men (it is usually men) with short arms and deep pockets. What do you expect to receive for your £15..00 E.C.F. membership fee? Remember that these are the individuals who argue for ½ hour over a £1.00 per team league registration fee increase before spending £10.00 to £20.00 at the bar. (Perhaps that is only in Hull?)

    Reply to this comment
    • Martin Carpenter

      Mar 03. 2017

      Simple in principle yes, but like I said when 80% of your leagues players aren’t ECF members at present?

      If you insist they have to be members to play, you would logically expect to simply lose a non trivial quantity of them.

      Reply to this comment
  11. Martin Carpenter

    Mar 05. 2017

    Ok, some data about how long people have been playing in the Yorkshire league – this gives a decent proxy of the player replacement rate & so the size of the challenge.

    I counted down to everyone playing 2 or more games. In pure Yorkshire league terms, its 95 6-10 yr veterans (many 20+!), 16 from the last 3-5 and 24 new.

    The 24 new sounds OK but 15 of those ‘new’ players are 10+ yr veteran players moving into the area/’activating’ from local leagues. So only 9 genuinely new, and most of those are students, so obviously quite transient.

    By games of truly new people its 45/687. The 3-5 yr group is 86/687 – we aren’t holding on to the new people all that well either.

    Looking at it another way, there are 93 10+ yr veterans. If we – entirely fairly I think – presume that we will need to replace ~75% of them in a 15 year cycle then that’s 70 youngish regular players to find in the next 15 years.

    So 4-5/annum. Doing that with juniors would need producing, what?, maybe 20+ Yorkshire league strength juniors/annum. We might just about average 1 at the moment.

    Reply to this comment
    • Martin Carpenter

      Mar 05. 2017

      Oh, well, actually make that 108 veterans with the people who have moved into the area. Doesn’t change much – still terrifying.

      I won’t say ‘can’t’, but if something doesn’t change in a very major in the next 5-10 years then it’ll be too late.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Andrew Hards

    Mar 07. 2017

    Worth bearing in mind in the discussion re: graded games that Chessnuts may not be around forever. As and when Jon no longer maintains it, and if no one picks up the baton… what then? Leagues in Yorkshire presumably have rules regarding playing strength for team line ups – if there’s no way to determine strength objectively it could make team selection very interesting.

    Arguably, scrapping that system might even be a way to force the issue re: ECF fees and grades.

    (Side issue: The dual grade issue is now somewhat ridiculous in some cases, mine included. I can currently play in the Minor (!) section at Blackpool with my ECF grade whereas my YCA grade this season did at one point take me above the maximum grade for the Major (and I still retain forlorn hopes of restoring it to the low 180s before the end of the season).)

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