Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

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Andrew Zigmond
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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Fri Mar 29, 2019 12:04 am

While I appreciate the responses so far I feel the point is being missed. My question was, `does university chess exist in a different world` (I'll park the `and better` bit for now).

It's generally accepted that there is a disconnect between junior and adult chess. Some of this is inevitable but other elements of the disconnect have evolved due to changes in the chess scene and wider society since the 1970s. A lot of junior chess takes place under the radar of the grading database so quoting statistics from there doesn't give us a full picture. University chess is one of the links between adult/ junior chess (although not every young person goes to university) and I'm starting to get the impression that a lot of university chess exists under the radar.

I disagree with David Sedgwick's suggestion that university players will have played at a club previously; I don't think that is necessarily the case. As Roger correctly says the focus on junior chess has switched from primary to secondary level and we've discussed the challenges facing secondary school chess elsewhere. The key point is that a 13 year old may struggle to find an age appropriate chess club but once they reach 18 a university chess club is just that. Add to that the minority of teenagers still able to access a school chess club and thus not needing to join an adult chess club at all.

My question is what happens when players who took up chess at university leave and look up an adult chess club. What do they find there? Is it like their university chess club (unlikely)?
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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Fri Mar 29, 2019 9:26 am

A few comments.

On Angus's spreadsheet, you will notice an upsurge in July 2017 compared with all of the other years, between 6-12. This corresponds perfectly with the UKCC decision to grade the Gigafinals. This is why the numbers dropped back to "normal" the year after.

On university chess, a large number of players are not British. Maybe about 40%?

There are 32 players on this page: https://chess24.com/en/watch/live-tourn ... ship/1/1/1

I count 17 players registered to ENG or SCO, plus Guy Moss and Thomas Goldie who have been resident in England for many years.

Go down a section, and again you'll see lots of non-British players: https://chess24.com/en/watch/live-tourn ... late/1/1/1

This pattern is true no matter which of the four divisions. This presumably wasn't the case in the 1970s, the decade Andrew mentioned. The BUCA event has been oscillating between 40-50 teams of 4 for a few years now.

I think this is important, because it shows that this isn't necessarily a case of teenagers suddenly going to university and taking up chess again - it's new people arriving from outside the UK.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Stewart Reuben » Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:51 pm

Does university chess exist in a different world?

I don't know, never having visited another world. Still less, one where they played chess.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:03 pm

Surely the starting point is a survey of the existence (regardless of how active) of junior chess clubs, school chess clubs, university chess clubs, and 'normal' (adult) chess clubs. It should be relatively easy to find out whether such clubs exist. Maintaining such information should really be within the remit of a body like the ECF, who should be able to find the resources to at least liaise with those who maintain sites.

I went to the ECF 'club finder':

https://www.englishchess.org.uk/ecf-club-finder/

Initially it says: "563 Clubs found in map view and list view".
Search for "university" and this becomes: "16 Clubs found in map view and 24 Clubs in list view "

Annoyingly, there seems no easy way to copy and paste that list to here.
If you exclude the two 4NCL clubs, there are 22 university clubs.

Surely there are more than that?

[Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Durham, Exeter, Keele, Lancaster, Leeds, Milton Keynes and OU, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, University College London, Birmingham, East Anglia, Leicester, Surrey, Sussex, Warwick, York]

One missing one is King's College London. This chess club runs a team in the Central London League Chess (maybe in others as well, not sure), and their top board is Davit Mirzoyan a FIDE-rated 2388 FM from Armenia who currently has 11.5/12 in division 2 of that league, and on course to be rated 240 in the next ECF grading list.

http://www.oxfordfusion.com/oca/GetPlay ... ?pID=10347

There is also Imperial College Chess Club:

https://union.ic.ac.uk/rcc/chess/
Last edited by Christopher Kreuzer on Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by David Sedgwick » Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:03 pm

Stewart Reuben wrote:
Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:51 pm
I don't know, never having visited another world. Still less, one where they played chess.
Perhaps you should ask Kirsan Ilyumzhinov if he could arrange another trip and invite you along for a few days.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:19 pm

Oops. My apologies. Imperial College and Kings College do of course appear in the ECF Club Finder, just not in a search for "university". Searching for "college" finds 12 in the list view, some of which are schools. The university ones are:

Bradford College, Kings College, Imperial College, Morley College.

The BUCA website lists its members, which include a few more (some non-English, but in the UK):

https://www.bucachess.org.uk/members

LSE is a university one, of course. Manchester and LSE the only BUCA ones not in the ECF Club Finder.

University clubs can come and go. Some past BUCA members may be moribund at the moment.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Stewart Reuben » Fri Mar 29, 2019 6:04 pm

IN my day University of London played matches nearly every Saturday in term time. King's College played in the University League.
NEITHER were clubs.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Fri Mar 29, 2019 6:37 pm

Christopher Kreuzer wrote:
Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:19 pm
The BUCA website lists its members, which include a few more (some non-English, but in the UK):

https://www.bucachess.org.uk/members
Not convinced that's up-to-date. :oops:

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Fri Mar 29, 2019 6:38 pm

David Sedgwick wrote:
Fri Mar 29, 2019 3:03 pm
Stewart Reuben wrote:
Fri Mar 29, 2019 2:51 pm
I don't know, never having visited another world. Still less, one where they played chess.
Perhaps you should ask Kirsan Ilyumzhinov if he could arrange another trip and invite you along for a few days.
I thought cruises took longer than that. :wink:

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Fri Mar 29, 2019 7:25 pm

Again I think we're seeing university chess through an adult chess lens. University chess clubs are not clubs in the sense that anyone can join and I've said already that some (not all) university chess exists under the radar and would not be captured on the ECF grading database.

Alex is right to say that players filter in to university chess clubs in a variety of ways. Some will have come in through the traditional club/ league route and others might have played at their school chess club, if they were fortunate enough to have one. Others, as Alex says, are foreign students. So it is a bit of a melting pot.

Something I've been a bit reluctant to do so far is give a real life example. A young player (I won't name him on a public forum) joined my local club about three years ago having played at university. He had grown up in the local area but hadn't played at school - in any event he mentioned once that he was quite hot headed in his teens so the club wouldn't have been right for him as a teenager. A dig through the archives shows that he doesn't appear in the grading database until what would have been his last year at university. but by that point he's already playing to 100+ strength.

When I met him for the first time it just so happened that I'd played a couple of students from the same university at a congress that same summer (to be precise they slaughtered me in the final two rounds after I hadn't been doing that badly until that point) and he knew them. Having checked their grading records, while does have some junior rapidplay history a few years prior to university the other doesn't appear in the database until his university days, although his grade starts more modestly before climbing.

A less specific example; a few years prior to that I had an enquiry from a former student looking to join the club who seemed very enthusiastic (he asked me on the phone what opening I played). He came to the club a few times until an unfortunate evening where he insisted on having a loud whispered conversation to the annoyance of club members who were playing internal competition games (it's a balancing act and I've suggested to my club a few times that we could be more ambitious with premises but will they listen ...). I strongly suspect that was why we never saw him again; I did email him to try and smooth things over but never got a reply. From what I saw of his play he would have been about 120 strength but never entered the ECF database.

Which takes me back to my original question. The limited evidence above suggests that university chess clubs/ societies create an environment that attracts new players. However if they attempt to move to an adult chess club I suspect they find something very different. As Alex has contributed to this thread it's worth noting that he first made his mark as an organiser by revitalising BUCA; however his attempts to modernise heritage events have not always been popular, to say the least. I can think of at least two recent university graduates who are very much doing their own thing as well.
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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by J T Melsom » Fri Mar 29, 2019 7:58 pm

My university club was a modest size yet at least four members of it are still playing (though one has recently dropped from the grading list) . I think though that one has to recognise that universities provide a unique set of opportunities for their members and within a rather less diverse demographic.

I had no difficulty fitting into a new club after leaving university - rather like my local pub its the friendliness of the place rather than the age profile that has always been critical to me. Similarly I enjoy the cross section of ages represented in my 4NCL squad. Of course we may be more comfortable with our immediate peers, but we can still enjoy the company of others and learn much about chess from them. Its the mindset of the other members rather than their age which is critical.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by RobertStarley » Fri Mar 29, 2019 9:56 pm

As team captain of Leeds University Chess Society (and ex-president of Cambridge), I can confirm that the answer to the title question is of course yes. While other clubs seem to only care about matches, university clubs tend to be much more friendly and welcoming to players of all abilities - of the 70 members we have this year, at least 40 of those have not played for us competitively due to either lack of interest in 3 hour matches or because they are still very much beginners. Perhaps that is why we also tend to have a better gender balance (we have around 20% female members and in fact all 3 female players in Leeds league this year have played for our teams).

I should point out that it is probably my comments that resulted in the first post in this topic, as I have expressed my frustration about Yorkshire league matches often clashing with event like 20/20, BUCA, varsity and 4NCL div 3/4. Obviously there are only so many weekends in the year, but with the Leeds team sometimes being up to half composed of Leeds Uni players that affects us quite a bit.

It has been interesting to read your speculation on some points so, as someone with more recent experience, here are some of my thoughts. Firstly, there way more university chess clubs than Chris mentions, it's just that a lot don't play in leagues or even BUCA since that is so expensive (take a look at the 20/20 results for more of an idea of those involved in competitive chess).
We do have a lot of foreign players who come but also quite a few English players who have only really played online before so don't have any ECF grade until they play for us in Leeds league or BUCA - some are even quite good and come straight in at around 150 level. As was mentioned, some players have a gap of a few years in their ECF history (usually they still play online) and then get a grade again at uni.
In my experience, most people who play in league chess continue playing after they graduate, even those who never played over the board matches before uni, but it is the more casual players who are lost.

It is a shame that with such an ageing population of over the board chess players in this country the ECF often appears to be discouraging students from playing. People seem to think that they are increasing membership fees by "only a few pounds" but while it may be nothing to the middle-class men who make these decisions the fact is that we already have people who can't afford the membership fees so don't play competitively or only play 3 games, while others are discouraged from playing in tournaments or 4NCL due to the need to upgrade membership. I fear that unless a student membership rate is introduced it will be even more common for university chess clubs to just play in the unrated 20/20 events or internally/online rather than in leagues and ultimately there will be no-one to replace the 70 year olds who currently populate most of the local leagues.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Fri Mar 29, 2019 11:12 pm

RobertStarley wrote:
Fri Mar 29, 2019 9:56 pm
It is a shame that with such an ageing population of over the board chess players in this country the ECF often appears to be discouraging students from playing. People seem to think that they are increasing membership fees by "only a few pounds" but while it may be nothing to the middle-class men who make these decisions the fact is that we already have people who can't afford the membership fees so don't play competitively or only play 3 games, while others are discouraged from playing in tournaments or 4NCL due to the need to upgrade membership. I fear that unless a student membership rate is introduced it will be even more common for university chess clubs to just play in the unrated 20/20 events or internally/online rather than in leagues and ultimately there will be no-one to replace the 70 year olds who currently populate most of the local leagues.
I think this is where I disagree. You've never attended Council before, but if you did, you'd realise that the implication that Council is full of rich people who are quite happy to put fees up is simply not true. I think a number of them would be amused, if not offended, by your assertion that they are middle class!

My experience is that the bigger issue, rather than cost, is a student's lack of desire to commit to playing chess or tendency to short-notice cancellation. Having organised BUCA for ten editions now, I tend not to bother processing the team lists at the deadline because I know that I'll have to change the majority of them in the build up to the event as teams get changed. This is significantly different from the other team events I organise (e.g. Junior 4NCL). In league chess, I have observed that University teams get through more players in a season than just about any other clubs, and this is not normally due to cost. There was just no commitment to playing. If the ECF membership fee was £0, that problem would still exist.

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Re: Does university chess exist in a different (and better) world?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Fri Mar 29, 2019 11:19 pm

I'd like to thank Robert Starley for his post which confirms much of what I was thinking and also throws up a few interesting points. Firstly it was indeed a Leeds player who mentioned the clash with university events although I'm not sure if other university towns within Yorkshire (York, Sheffield, Hull) have reported problems. Obviously Yorkshire is unusual in having the main county league played on Saturdays so wouldn't be typical of other counties.

This probably belongs more in the Yorkshire CA section but just for Robert's interest and general clarification the rule of thumb has always been to avoid Yorkshire congresses plus Blackpool, the British Rapidplay and the York rapidplay (although the latter hasn't always been held in recent years) and the 4NCL. Calderdale normally request that we avoid Preston Congress. This pretty much fills up all available weekends within the October to April period. Junior events tend to have to take their luck and, excepting 20/20 events, I never get any requests about university events (hence the different world). I'll add here three disclaimers a) I can't avoid everything and somebody is always going to be put out b) I always draft a calendar the YCA AGM has a final say on the dates and c) the YCA can dispense with my services at any time.

Reform of the Yorkshire league has come up, including ways to reduce the number of weekends but my feeling is that even if every player in Yorkshire had an opinion we'd end up with a series of indicative votes that wouldn't produce a majority for anything (where have I heard that one before). But I digress.

Regarding ECF fees, and playing devil's advocate slightly, I take the point that ECF membership fees may be a deterrent although I'd quibble as to how this would compare with other sporting activities such as football, tennis etc. Certainly it doesn't help that the opposition to ECF fees generally comes from older players who could easily afford it but chunter about it because they want their chess on the cheap. That said, given the demographic problem chess is facing I see no reason why the junior membership should extend up to student age (or even age 25) and if any of the ECF board are reading this I'd love them to consider it.

Going back to the different worlds point, ultimately change can only come from within. While some chess institutions (such as the county unions) actively discourage new voices and officials but they want to keep the status quo and their vested interests, others are crying out for new ideas. At 38 I should be one of the oldest members of the YCA committee, not the youngest.

Finally Leeds University chess club has seventy members and a friendly welcoming atmosphere. How many other clubs can say that - mine certainly can't.
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