The problems with junior chess

National developments, strategies and ideas.
Eoin Devane
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Eoin Devane » Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:31 pm

As the former patzer (probably still am really :) ) current President of the Oxford University Chess Club referred to by Mike, I feel I ought to comment on this.

School Chess - At my school (St. Olave's Grammar in Kent) we were very lucky in that we had a particularly dedicated organiser, who gave up countless hours to run lunchtime and after school clubs and to take us to various matches and tournaments. For this she received no financial reward or anything, and I find it doubtful that many schools will be in the fortunate position to have someone so devoted. Symptomatic of the decline in school chess was my experience in the Kent Schools League, which went from being an active, keenly contested league competition in my first few years to being, to all intents and purposes, a two-horse race between my school and Dulwich College at the time I left. In my last year the U18 section consisted of only 5 teams, two from St. Olaves. Looking at the league website, it seems the following year it was only Olave's A and B plus Dulwich, and then last year the secondary league seems to have vanished altogether.:( We also played in the very-well-organised Millfield and Birmingham and District Rapidplay school tournaments, but I believe these were both ungraded, meaning that from all of these games for the school, I only gained around 3 graded games per year! It is then a lot to ask for someone who has all these exams to prepare for etc. to go out and find individual tournaments to play in to gain even a C grade.

University Chess - What Mike said above is all true. To support his claims, I can say that, out of all our Freshers this year, the highest graded is a 149. Compare this with our international intake - FIDE ratings of 2515 and 1926, a USCF 1844 among them. Last year was similar. My view is that there must certainly be higher-graded English players out there in the University, just for some reason they don't want to play chess anymore. Even those good players who do join the club seem not to want to play very often. Of our league teams, the 1sts seems to be the hardest to run, since the players are less keen to play matches than those in the lower teams. For some reason, it seems that, generally when it comes to young people, the better you get the less you want to play.:? I'll just reiterate what Mike said at the end of his post - we get NO funding from the University, and none from the Students' Union, because the Oxford one isn't really like other SUs, it's more a political entity. We fund our club through membership fees and our Rapidplay and Congress. I shall investigate the possibility of ECF funding for University Clubs.

Richard Bates
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard Bates » Thu Nov 26, 2009 6:53 pm

Exams, exams and more exams.

Richard Bates
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard Bates » Thu Nov 26, 2009 7:16 pm

BTW i don't necessarily agree with Leonard's claims about potential at the top end. I don't know much about the players involved, but i would say the only barrier to all the players mentioned, given their current reported strength, getting to 2500 and above is whether they they are prepared to delay/not pursue other careers to try. Leaps in strength of 150-200 FIDE pts are commonplace for players who have the time to devote to playing over 2-3 years. It is this factor, not decline in talent which IMO explains the claimed decline over time. Chess has become not just less financially viable as a career, but less financially viable as a "post university, pre-career gap" option.

Who would have predicted 4 years ago that the Olympiad selectors would be faced with having to leave out 2-3 individuals under the age of 30 who were 2560+ in strength?

Alex Holowczak
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Alex Holowczak » Thu Nov 26, 2009 9:20 pm

Richard Bates wrote:Exams, exams and more exams.
We know, we're not fans of them either...

Jonathan Rogers
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Jonathan Rogers » Thu Nov 26, 2009 9:27 pm

Er, they're not, are they (the Olympiad selectors)?

In any event in so many countries, the barrier is closer to 2600, surely we have fallen behind at the top by any measure.

Though I agree with Richard and other posters who point to a rather poisoned cocktail of ingredients which may prevent many young players from realising their potential in England (i.e, adding intense academic pressure, and a high cost of living which may force many to go straight to university and a career rather than taking gap years, to the previously mentioned cultural problems, and the relative lack of opportunities to play regularly). I also agree that even some of our best known juniors may still have rapid improvement bursts yet to come.

We have said this before, but TV was part of the scene in the good old days, when the Master Game was being shown (and when there were only three TV channels from which to choose!). And that mattered. Many of my impressionable class mates (at the sort of age that Richard is thinking of) thought chess interesting or respectable, or at least they seemed to respect me for my various achievements even if they did not play chess themselves.

Alex Holowczak
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Alex Holowczak » Thu Nov 26, 2009 9:35 pm

Jonathan Rogers wrote: Many of my impressionable class mates (at the sort of age that Richard is thinking of) thought chess interesting or respectable, or at least they seemed to respect me for my various achievements even if they did not play chess themselves.
By comparison, at my club tonight, some youths came in to the club and waited outside our room. They looked through the window in the door, and someone said "lol, they're playing chess!" (Yes, they literally said "lol".) They then started laughing and walked away again. Therein lies the problem.

Jonathan Rogers
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Jonathan Rogers » Thu Nov 26, 2009 9:56 pm

That happened at Nottingham in 1991 too even though we were University Champions at the time (not that the student newspaper had even mentioned it ..)

So yes, my early school life was a touch unusual :D

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Thu Nov 26, 2009 10:09 pm

I somehow doubt that they said "lol" back in 1991, though :D :P
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Richard James
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard James » Thu Nov 26, 2009 10:39 pm

It's all too easy to say that we need to produce more GMs so we should start children young and put them into a competitive environment as soon as possible. But that argument has many fallacies.

I believe that the main purpose of junior chess should be to encourage as many young people as possible to take a lifelong interest in fairly serious chess AT WHATEVER LEVEL. The chess population is a pyramid, and without a solid base the top will collapse. Yes, we need GMs and IMs. But we also need the 2000, 1500 and even 1000 rated players. These are the guys who will become club secretaries, treasurers and match captains, who will become tournament organisers, controllers and arbiters, who will pay their subscriptions and entry fees and keep the economics of chess going. Some of them might even become chess teachers and encourage the next generation. WIthout this infrastructure there will be no reason for any GM or IM below 2700 to continue playing, at least in this country. And, while it is great to see a few enthusiastic young players on here, we really need far, far more.

Everything I did at Richmond Junior Club was based on this principle, and I strongly suspect that it was precisely because we were running in this way rather than focusing on the top players that we produced more than our fair share of GMs and IMs.

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Rob Thompson
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Rob Thompson » Thu Nov 26, 2009 10:42 pm

This is all interesting to read, being a junior myself, though hardly a prospect for any GM title. Down my way we have recently had a very good spree of players, and i suspect that this is because of the strength breeds strength idea (though admittedly used in a very relative term here), in that I was the only active player in Devon to be in the England junior squad when i got in, and since then 2 more have qualified. It seems to be, at least at a school level, when there is a strong top it inspires/equivalent the rest of the team. I must also say here that i am fortunate that the chess "master" at my school is committed and takes us to a lot of tournaments etc, which can only be useful. And similarly to what is said above, it often seems to me that the strongest players are the worst organisers of chess, with a few notable exceptions.

And Eoin, hold out a year or two and i'll be applying :lol:
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Richard Bates
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard Bates » Fri Nov 27, 2009 7:48 am

Richard James wrote:It's all too easy to say that we need to produce more GMs so we should start children young and put them into a competitive environment as soon as possible. But that argument has many fallacies.

I believe that the main purpose of junior chess should be to encourage as many young people as possible to take a lifelong interest in fairly serious chess AT WHATEVER LEVEL. The chess population is a pyramid, and without a solid base the top will collapse. Yes, we need GMs and IMs. But we also need the 2000, 1500 and even 1000 rated players. These are the guys who will become club secretaries, treasurers and match captains, who will become tournament organisers, controllers and arbiters, who will pay their subscriptions and entry fees and keep the economics of chess going. Some of them might even become chess teachers and encourage the next generation. WIthout this infrastructure there will be no reason for any GM or IM below 2700 to continue playing, at least in this country. And, while it is great to see a few enthusiastic young players on here, we really need far, far more.

Everything I did at Richmond Junior Club was based on this principle, and I strongly suspect that it was precisely because we were running in this way rather than focusing on the top players that we produced more than our fair share of GMs and IMs.
The (indirect) point of was just to query the extent to which the problem is "development delayed" as opposed to "development aborted". The point about players at the top end may be that Leonard's observations may be ignoring the extent to which "unrealised potential" is taking longer to materialise.

Whilst the original post implies that the situation in relation to ECF "A" Grades is at an all-time low (are there comparable historic stats?), I'm not sure that it in itself is unambiguously a useful indicator. Certainly it is probably evidence of junior development being delayed (since the single greatest driver of improvement, IMO, is playing lots of competitive games), but not definite evidence of permanent loss of players to the game. It seems to me that getting an "A" grade is actually quite a high barrier to be reached these days, because the modern "rolling exams" culture of schools makes regular participation in evening leagues and weekend tournaments (where they exist - it seems to be mainly rapidplays these days) much more difficult.

The further point being that if the main driver for the thread is actually the future of chess in the UK, then it may be as important to look at strategies targeted at people entering the post-university world, as much as strategies to boost junior participation.

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:14 am

"I believe that the main purpose of junior chess should be to encourage as many young people as possible to take a lifelong interest in fairly serious chess AT WHATEVER LEVEL. The chess population is a pyramid, and without a solid base the top will collapse. Yes, we need GMs and IMs. But we also need the 2000, 1500 and even 1000 rated players. These are the guys who will become club secretaries, treasurers and match captains, who will become tournament organisers, controllers and arbiters, who will pay their subscriptions and entry fees and keep the economics of chess going. Some of them might even become chess teachers and encourage the next generation. WIthout this infrastructure there will be no reason for any GM or IM below 2700 to continue playing, at least in this country. "

Absolutely right. I do worry about some junior organisers who get really excited about one or two players they think will become GMs, and they neglect the others. We should encourage everyone to reach his/her full potential.

I'm not sure having junior teams in leagues is a great idea - too much of chess (and society) is putting people in boxes and labelling them. Getting juniors into normal chess as soon as is feasible works a lot better I think. You need a variety of opponents to improve. I joined my local club (Redhill) when I was 14 and within a few weeks, I had improved so noticeably, that 4 of my schoolmates joined as well. Two disappeared to go to university and never came back, one played for another 15-20 years, and the other one gave up after 40 years. No stamina. Other players from that school have joined since and we try to keep links with it, to help both the school and us. Joining at that age helped us play better and also helped teach proper behaviour at the board - we were quiet anyway, but nobody is going to be happy trying to play chess with acreaming kids in the room.

I think the main problem is that there are so many demands on time - people are forced to work much longer hours, 9-5 has gone, teachers have so much more work outside the classroom to do, there's more coursework for the pupils, when I joined Redhill, there were two TV channels - now I have Sky, I have no idea how many channels I can watch, but the main "problem" is computers.... Many people are glued to computers, and some playing blitz chess on them. Blitz is OK for a bit of relaxation, but too much is not going to help you play properly. But, you can play whenever you want, you don't have to go to a cold Church hall... Redhill now has a very warm Church hall, but it used to have a cold smoky one.

The apparent growth of autism and attention deficit disorders etc (and quite an industry has grown promoting them) links quite nicely with computers, because you can hide behind them and never go out. Internet fora feature some quite outspoken people, who are completely silent if you meet them in real life. In my day (and this is beginning to sound like the Four Yorkshiremen sketch) people did perhaps go out more and get forced to talk to other people, which must have been beneficial. I was quite shy (but I am trying to make up for it now), and it really helped meeting people, when you knew you had common ground, and helped build confidence in other situations.

But how you convince young players that going to a club or a tournament will help them enjoy chess and enrich their lives is another matter.
"Kevin was the arbiter and was very patient. " Nick Grey

isaac wallis
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by isaac wallis » Fri Nov 27, 2009 3:02 pm

Another factoid for you: The 100th ranked active English player (November 2009) has a rating of 2273. The equivalent figures for some other West European countries are: Germany – 2442, France – 2372, Spain – 2391, Netherlands (with a population less than a third of ours) – 2333.
The problem is simple. England (or Britain if you like) is in terminal ( utterly deserved) decline. The other countries are not. I'm speaking in general, not just about chess.

Harsh but true.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Fri Nov 27, 2009 4:35 pm

Kevin Thurlow wrote:I joined my local club (Redhill) when I was 14 and within a few weeks, I had improved so noticeably, that 4 of my schoolmates joined as well.
That's one of the many cultural differences though between then and now (schoolmates playing chess) . I can only speak for my own local area of the Home Counties, but it seemed in the 1960's that chess clubs and inter school matches (on Friday evenings) were a well-established part of the ethos of a (Boy's Grammar) school. Presumably this must have been started up some time in the 1950s and it's even possible the BCF had something to do with it. I'd imagine the "Sunday Times" competition also helped. In 1961, chess was something that you started playing when you went to secondary school and primary schools chess was unheard of. In practice the school chess club was run more often by a member of the sixth form, than by a master in charge. In our inter-schools bubble, we actually got quite strong - I recall being surprised by how weak some of the adult club opposition was in that era.

This also fed through to universities, for example the BUCA event at Liverpool in 1969 featured 29 8 board teams from the universities. That's the size of divisions 1 and 2 of the 4NCL just from students. Oxford and Cambridge in that era would regularly both have 20 or more players 150 standard and above in each new intake. The Cambridge inter-college league contained about 40 5 board teams. One player later wrote that playing board 1 in the first division was probably the toughest league match play outside the London League. This was just before the 1972 Fischer boom when numbers went even higher.

J T Melsom
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by J T Melsom » Fri Nov 27, 2009 5:00 pm

Roger

I think the decline in inter school fixtures in Bucks has been quite marked. You are also right to observe that generally chess clubs tended to be run by other pupils, with masters in charge principally dealing with transporting players - and this remained the case for some years. As this thread is mainly concerned with looking forward, are you able to share with the forum, how many junior members your club currently has and what if any steps you are taking to address the shortage? :?:

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