County Championship Consultation

Discussion about all aspects of the ECF County Championships.
Michael Flatt
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Michael Flatt » Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:31 pm

Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 2:47 pm
Firstly and following the posts from David Sedgwick and Michael Flatt I have clarified what I meant. My point was that Alex's opponent who ran on a (supposed) `change` ticket is from one of the Southern Counties that will presumably oppose any changes to the current structure.
The SCCU comprises many counties and many active chess players. It is ridiculous to suppose that a single individual's actions in opposing the incumbent Director of Home Chess in an election represents the will of all other individuals within the SCCU merely because he is resident there.

There are a variety of opinions in the SCCU and the SCCU Executive Board made efforts to canvass views on the proposals for change before submitting their considered response in the ECF consultation exercise.

Another individual resident in the SCCU has stepped forward to fill the vacancy of National Controller.

How can you continue to claim that the SCCU as a body is not supportive of the ECF County Championships?

Alex Holowczak
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Alex Holowczak » Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:55 pm

David Sedgwick wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 1:12 pm
Alex has been a big asset to the ECF and to English chess in a great many ways. His approach to the Counties Championships is not one of them.
This got me to reflect on what my "approach to the Counties Championships" is.

Over the years, I've observed a few things:
  • Yorkshire reduce their involvement to two sections, rather than six.
  • The MCCU Open section go from two four-team divisions to one, five-team Minor section. There is no Open section. The Under 180 section now only has 2 teams too. The lower sections are still OK.
  • I see captains doing multiple sections in the MCCU the absence of volunteers; people like Neil Graham and John Fahy. What will happen to the Nottinghamshire teams once Neil stops captaining three of them?
I think most of these can be attributed to a shortage of volunteers. Is there a shortage of volunteers, or are the volunteers volunteering their limited time on other things?

Over the last 5 years, the 4NCL has expanded its number of teams. Division 4 South is already just about as big as Division 3 was when it was split first by North/South and then into 3 South and 4 South. Division 3 North has expanded in size too, and regularly gets posts on here in the way that the NCCU Counties Championship doesn't. By expanding the number of teams, presumably the number of volunteer captains has expanded. What is it that is drawing volunteers to captain 4NCL teams that isn't drawing people to captain county teams, where there's an apparent shortage?

In the 4NCL, I see an event that is growing quickly; but in the County Championship - particularly the higher sections - I do not see the same growth. In the MCCU, I see the opposite. Why is the 4NCL growing where the County Championship isn't? Is there anything that can encourage 4NCL-style growth in the County Championship? Would you agree that I'd be negligent to watch these things happen idly, rather than coming up with some ideas that are aiming to improve things?

I think that's my approach to the event, and I think that's reasonable. Feel free to disagree with the ideas, or indeed come up with better ones. That's why we put them to consultation.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue Mar 20, 2018 6:29 pm

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:55 pm
Why is the 4NCL growing where the County Championship isn't? Is there anything that can encourage 4NCL-style growth in the County Championship?
There's at least one difference in that teams can be grown by networks. I understand that Manticores is a mostly Greater Manchester based team but with one crucial difference. The organiser(s) don't have to worry about whether someone is eligible to play provided they've been registered as a squad member at the start or during the season.

Michael Flatt
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Michael Flatt » Tue Mar 20, 2018 7:12 pm

The County Championships and 4NCL are distinct competitions that offer players variety in how, when and where they play their Chess. Participating in one competition does not in itself exclude a player from participating in the other.

In the SCCU I take particular care to avoid scheduling county matches on 4NCL weekends and those of established annual congresses. It is only now, at the end of the Union competition, that we have experienced severe winter weather and captains are having to face the difficult task of rescheduling their postponed matches on two consecutive weekends of 4NCL matches.

Nevertheless, captains are doing their best to turn out teams even when deprived of a number of their key players. I do think that these captains and their players are demonstrating their strong affection for county chess by taking the trouble to reschedule their matches at short notice and complete their full programme of fixtures.

Our nominations to the ECF National Stages are dependent on the results of these last few matches.

Alex Holowczak
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Alex Holowczak » Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:20 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 6:29 pm
Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:55 pm
Why is the 4NCL growing where the County Championship isn't? Is there anything that can encourage 4NCL-style growth in the County Championship?
There's at least one difference in that teams can be grown by networks. I understand that Manticores is a mostly Greater Manchester based team but with one crucial difference. The organiser(s) don't have to worry about whether someone is eligible to play provided they've been registered as a squad member at the start or during the season.
You might well be right. There's also 3Cs from the Manchester area too. But there are other differences which may or may not be factors too. The Manticores field 4 teams (26 players) at 2 different venues, on 5 weekends of the year; presumably some requiring hotel accommodation and presumably some not. I would imagine that this was a bigger logistic challenge than organising a team for a 16-board county match, yet there's a captain for the 4NCL squad, and players to fill the teams. The travel is even further than it is for a county match - see the last weekend at Wokefield Park.
Michael Flatt wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 7:12 pm
The County Championships and 4NCL are distinct competitions that offer players variety in how, when and where they play their Chess. Participating in one competition does not in itself exclude a player from participating in the other.
Agreed. So if there's a choice which isn't mutually exclusive, why is participation in one going up rapidly, but the other either stable or going down depending on the area of the country? Why aren't they either both going up, both going down, or both remaining stable?

NickFaulks
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by NickFaulks » Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:48 pm

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:20 pm
Agreed. So if there's a choice which isn't mutually exclusive, why is participation in one going up rapidly, but the other either stable or going down depending on the area of the country? Why aren't they either both going up, both going down, or both remaining stable?
I'm not saying it's the full explanation, but one is FIDE rated and the other isn't.

Alex Holowczak
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Alex Holowczak » Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:58 pm

NickFaulks wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:48 pm
Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 9:20 pm
Agreed. So if there's a choice which isn't mutually exclusive, why is participation in one going up rapidly, but the other either stable or going down depending on the area of the country? Why aren't they either both going up, both going down, or both remaining stable?
I'm not saying it's the full explanation, but one is FIDE rated and the other isn't.
The Unions haven't shown any appetite to FIDE-rate their competitions that I know of. The usual arguments that are given are the cost of Gold membership, or the fact that non-Gold membership holders wouldn't be able to play. I don't know if that argument is correct or not. However, if it is, then it applies equally to the 4NCL.

The Open section of the Final Stage is FIDE-rated, and I got an e-mail from someone in Yorkshire thanking me, because someone who otherwise wouldn't play them chose to do so because it was FIDE-rated. I didn't get any e-mails telling me the opposite.

David Sedgwick
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by David Sedgwick » Wed Mar 21, 2018 12:58 am

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:55 pm
David Sedgwick wrote:
Tue Mar 20, 2018 1:12 pm
Alex has been a big asset to the ECF and to English chess in a great many ways. His approach to the Counties Championships is not one of them.
This got me to reflect on what my "approach to the Counties Championships" is.

Over the years, I've observed a few things:
  • Yorkshire reduce their involvement to two sections, rather than six.
  • The MCCU Open section go from two four-team divisions to one, five-team Minor section. There is no Open section. The Under 180 section now only has 2 teams too. The lower sections are still OK.
  • I see captains doing multiple sections in the MCCU the absence of volunteers; people like Neil Graham and John Fahy. What will happen to the Nottinghamshire teams once Neil stops captaining three of them?
I think most of these can be attributed to a shortage of volunteers. Is there a shortage of volunteers, or are the volunteers volunteering their limited time on other things?

Over the last 5 years, the 4NCL has expanded its number of teams. Division 4 South is already just about as big as Division 3 was when it was split first by North/South and then into 3 South and 4 South. Division 3 North has expanded in size too, and regularly gets posts on here in the way that the NCCU Counties Championship doesn't. By expanding the number of teams, presumably the number of volunteer captains has expanded. What is it that is drawing volunteers to captain 4NCL teams that isn't drawing people to captain county teams, where there's an apparent shortage?

In the 4NCL, I see an event that is growing quickly; but in the County Championship - particularly the higher sections - I do not see the same growth. In the MCCU, I see the opposite. Why is the 4NCL growing where the County Championship isn't? Is there anything that can encourage 4NCL-style growth in the County Championship? Would you agree that I'd be negligent to watch these things happen idly, rather than coming up with some ideas that are aiming to improve things?

I think that's my approach to the event, and I think that's reasonable. Feel free to disagree with the ideas, or indeed come up with better ones. That's why we put them to consultation.

When the establishment of the 4NCL was proposed in the early 1990s, some members of the then BCF Management Board opposed it on the grounds that it would damage the participation levels in the Counties Championships.

I was not among them as I foresaw the potential benefits of the 4NCL but, above all, I felt that players should be given the choice of which weekend competition they preferred, or whether they wished to play in both.

For a long time the 4NCL was a fairly elite event, but in the last ten years or so the lower Divisions have expanded rapidly. Inevitably this has resulted in some decline in the participation levels in the Counties Championships at the U160 and the U180 level.

That does not mean that drastic change is needed. The Counties Championships are still perfectly viable in their current format.

You said that players in Warwickshire prefer to play in the 4NCL. Fine. That is their choice.

I prefer to play in the Counties Championships and to try to help the teams for which I play qualify for the National Stages (under SCCU Rules).

That is my choice - or at least it should be.

I prefer the Counties Championships, but I do not seek to shut down the 4NCL. I ask no more than that the 4NCL acolytes allow me to continue to enjoy the Counties Championships, as I have been doing for over thirty years.

Above all, I would like the Director of Home Chess to seek to sustain the competition for which he is responsible, rather than to seek to change or even destroy its entire ethos. Is that too much to ask?

Council will decide.

Andrew Zigmond
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Wed Mar 21, 2018 1:38 am

Firstly, by referring to the failed challenge to Alex in 2015 I was merely noting that the candidate in question positioned himself as the moderniser to Alex's conservative despite coming from a county union that appears to be quite traditionalist in their approach to the ECF's heritage events. I never suggested or intended to suggest that he represented the views of the SCCU or was endorsed by them. I perhaps should put on record that during my tenure as controller I did receive some fairly unpleasant emails on occasion - and a disproportionate amount of them were from SCCU players.

If there was a point it is that Alex gets criticised alternately for being too traditionalist or being too radical. He simply cannot win. Ultimately Alex is doing this because he wants to increase participation. David Sedgwick's argument (and apologies if I have this wrong) is that keeping the ethos of the county championships is more important. And I can see where he is coming from; increased participation does not always guarantee the continued success of an event.

However I have to stand by the argument that it is a SCCU centric view. Two unions (SCCU and MCCU) have vigorous internal competitions for places in the national stages and are rightly proud of that - although interestingly at the highest level they vanish into two different sections and their teams rarely meet. For various reasons interest in the other three unions is spottier and teams that wish to progress to the national stages can normally do so.
Controller - Yorkshire League
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David Sedgwick
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by David Sedgwick » Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:31 am

Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 1:38 am
Ultimately Alex is doing this because he wants to increase participation. David Sedgwick's argument (and apologies if I have this wrong) is that keeping the ethos of the county championships is more important. And I can see where he is coming from; increased participation does not always guarantee the continued success of an event.

That's not the whole story.

If I thought that Alex's proposals were likely to increase participation levels, then I would have to consider more carefully whether I could defend the status quo.

But I don't believe that they would. I said so back in 2010, when Alex first put forward similar ideas.

Neil Graham
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Neil Graham » Wed Mar 21, 2018 9:36 am

Here are a few thoughts to add to this discussion.

The Counties Championship and the 4NCL are two entirely different events. It would be a huge mistake to think that the former could ever be organised in the same way as the latter. In Nottinghamshire in 2017/18, 100 players have represented the county in the various sections of the Counties Championship - of these 100 players just 15 have played in the 4NCL to date. Of these 15 players, 13 play for Ashfield-Breadsall which is the only Nottinghamshire based side in the 4NCL - which I also organise. Players are quite prepared to give up a day over a weekend to play county chess but the vast majority do not want to travel for a weekend in (say) Bolton as I found to my cost when I endeavoured to patch up my 4NCL squad. A request on this site for extra players met with a nil response.

Chess depends on good organisers/volunteers and participation in all these competitions reflects this. Shropshire and Manchester have decided to channel their efforts into 4NCL teams and not the Counties Championship. To suggest that Warwickshire players prefer the 4NCL is simplistic - no doubt some of the highly rated FIDE players do but I very much doubt whether the Under 100 graded players do. Their captain had a very different opinion on the proposed reforms when he spoke to me at our recent county match.

If we look at Division Four (South) of the 4NCL which is being held up as a shining beacon of increased participation we find that 20 of the 30 teams are multiples so the increase is not of extra teams but mostly additions to teams already in existence. Similarly most of the teams in Division Three North are multiples so the actual increase in clubs is negligible (just Castleford).

I have been mentioned on a number of occasions in this thread. I have been organising/administering chess for over 50 years - mostly successfully. I will be standing down from my remaining roles in the near future. We go back a couple of paragraphs; if no one takes my place there will simply be no teams. Simple!

Alex Holowczak
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Alex Holowczak » Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:33 pm

David Sedgwick wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 12:58 am
For a long time the 4NCL was a fairly elite event, but in the last ten years or so the lower Divisions have expanded rapidly. Inevitably this has resulted in some decline in the participation levels in the Counties Championships at the U160 and the U180 level.

That does not mean that drastic change is needed. The Counties Championships are still perfectly viable in their current format.

You said that players in Warwickshire prefer to play in the 4NCL. Fine. That is their choice.

I prefer to play in the Counties Championships and to try to help the teams for which I play qualify for the National Stages (under SCCU Rules).

That is my choice - or at least it should be.

I prefer the Counties Championships, but I do not seek to shut down the 4NCL. I ask no more than that the 4NCL acolytes allow me to continue to enjoy the Counties Championships, as I have been doing for over thirty years.

Above all, I would like the Director of Home Chess to seek to sustain the competition for which he is responsible, rather than to seek to change or even destroy its entire ethos. Is that too much to ask?

Council will decide.
I think that summarises the differences between our approach to most things.

We seem to both agree that
  • Participation levels in the County Championships has declined.
  • The County Championship is still viable in its current format.
  • The Director of Home Chess should seek to sustain the competition.
The previous 114 years were great. But what about the next 114 years? Not only would I like you to continue enjoying the County Championship, I would like others who come along later to do so too.

Staffordshire's Open team was very successful for a number of years. Loz Cooper captained them to victory in 1992. Latterly, David Anderton captained the team. Then he stopped and after one volunteer wasn't very successful, the team no longer exists. There is one parallel that springs to mind in the 4NCL. Bristol's 4NCL team was a mainstay for a number of years, but their captain didn't want to captain anymore. A few years later, West is Best formed in their absence and merged with the other offshoots of the Bristol team (and South Wales Dragons), and they're now back to where Bristol was, if not moreso. They found new volunteers to replace the outgoing ones. My worry for the County Championship is that there will be a shortage of volunteers willing to captain teams, because there seems to be a shortage of volunteers to run teams. Not every county is blessed with a Neil Graham, who is prepared to run two or three of them.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to do nothing and watch the participation levels decline, but I would be negligent as a Director to do that and not ask why; and try to come up with something that may prevent or reverse that decline. If you think that what I've come up with won't do that, then that's fair enough. But if the trend of the status quo is downwards, why is the status quo so defensible?
Neil Graham wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 9:36 am
Chess depends on good organisers/volunteers and participation in all these competitions reflects this. Shropshire and Manchester have decided to channel their efforts into 4NCL teams and not the Counties Championship. To suggest that Warwickshire players prefer the 4NCL is simplistic - no doubt some of the highly rated FIDE players do but I very much doubt whether the Under 100 graded players do. Their captain had a very different opinion on the proposed reforms when he spoke to me at our recent county match.
That's right - Warwickshire's strongest players often play in the 4NCL but not the County Championships. This has been a problem since before I became involved in chess. The Under 100 section doesn't have a realistic 4NCL option. But the same was true of U160/180 players a few years ago, as David Sedgwick has pointed out.
Neil Graham wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 9:36 am
If we look at Division Four (South) of the 4NCL which is being held up as a shining beacon of increased participation we find that 20 of the 30 teams are multiples so the increase is not of extra teams but mostly additions to teams already in existence. Similarly most of the teams in Division Three North are multiples so the actual increase in clubs is negligible (just Castleford).
This doesn't detract from my point at all. it shows that existing volunteer captains are willing to captain additional teams. It shows that there was increased demand from players to form those extra teams.

David Sedgwick
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by David Sedgwick » Wed Mar 21, 2018 3:57 pm

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:33 pm
It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to do nothing and watch the participation levels decline, but I would be negligent as a Director to do that and not ask why; and try to come up with something that may prevent or reverse that decline.
If you thought that it would increase participation levels to change the Counties Championships into a tiddly winks competition, would you propose that?

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:33 pm
If you think that what I've come up with won't do that, then that's fair enough.
I do indeed think that. If you break the link between the Union Stages and the National Stages, you make both parts of the competition less attractive to participants.

There are some things that are so fundamental that they ought not to be called into question in any review. Perhaps the ECF needs to put this matter to rest by enshrining it its Objects that there shall be a Counties Championships competition for which Member Counties qualify to participate through nomination by Member Unions.

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:33 pm
But if the trend of the status quo is downwards, why is the status quo so defensible?
I admit that I have used the term myself, but to say that I am defending the status quo is an oversimplification.

There are a number of things which the ECF could do to be more supportive of the Counties Championships within their current framework. The most obvious would be to maintain a list of suitable venues for matches in the National Stages. This was done until at least 2009.

Andrew Zigmond
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Wed Mar 21, 2018 4:36 pm

I regret that I'm still struggling to understand how severing the link between the union and national stages will damage participation in the county championships. It may remove an element of excitement in the more hotly contested union sections but surely not to the point where players will decline to participate. If players want to play inter county chess, either (relatively) locally or wider afield surely they will do so.

The removal of rose tinted spectacles will reveal that some qualifying teams ultimately decline their place (for a multitude of reasons) while teams desperate to play can sneak through as an extra nomination on occasion. While inevitably the national stages do throw up same union vs same union pairings (mainly in the final) they less rather than more likely to happen; which means that (for example) the big three clashing in the SCCU open will remain a big deal for those involved.

To my mind (and before David shouts at me again) there are two separate questions here. One is whether the necessity of being nominated by a union (note I did not say qualified) is an essential ingredient of the counties championship. The other is how participation might be increased. I don't see a definite link between the two questions.
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IM Jack Rudd
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Re: County Championship Consultation

Post by IM Jack Rudd » Wed Mar 21, 2018 4:51 pm

I think I can say with some certainty that breaking the link between union and national stages would make almost no difference to WECU teams. Devon already pull out all the stops to try to win the Open and U-160 sections in the region, while only ever entering the U-180 section in the national stages.

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