Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

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Michael Flatt
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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Michael Flatt » Sun Dec 17, 2017 3:57 pm

It would seem self evident that a prerequisite for any adult wishing to join a chess club is to have some knowledge of the Laws of Chess and some experience of having played the game no matter how distant in the past.

We have had a small number of retired people who have been attracted to learn the game, never ever having played before, but they are uncomfortable challenging members of our lower teams and tend not to visit the club more than a few times.

There are a small number of older juniors (11 yrs upwards) who come for the first hour of the main club and progress to playing in the league. They tend to have moved up from our Junior Club or have played at their schools and are looking to improve as players.

Most experienced players that join the club seem either to have moved into the area or have found that somehow they now have the time available to commit to playing regularly in a team.

Our club advertises itself through its own website and that is probably the most effective means of attracting members. It also helps that we have a comfortable and welcoming venue with a separate bar.

Michael Flatt
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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Michael Flatt » Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:28 am

The increasing number of daytime chess clubs provide an opportunity to play socially and some might find them more attractive than the traditional evening league based chess clubs.

The gig economy means that not everyone is limited to play their chess in the evening or at weekends.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Stewart Reuben » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:29 pm

Andrew Zigmond's original question was:
My specific question is where does the responsibility for doing so lie? (He was referring to promoting chessplay.)

The answer is, currently NOBODY in the ECF. Nor did the BCF do much when British chess exploded in the 1970s. Currently the organisation has no PR officer.
So how did that happen and why can't we replicate it?
One strong reason was that there were regulars chess programmes on TV. This encourages a non-player to become one. Some may well think that the internet is a better way. But why would most non-players access a chess site? So why not contact the programmers and ask for 'CHECKMATE' series to be broadcast. Also encourage your friends to do the same. 1000 people writing in independently would perhaps do the trick.

People seem to overlook that players aer playing chess online. That is to be applauded - but it deosn't help develop over the board play.

Many chess clubs now have excellent websites. But, agan, why would a newcomer access this, unless already motivated. Notices in libraries and columns in local papers (if any) can help. An open evening occasionally with newcomers, able to play free in a simul, helps.

As Roger wrote, the congresses in the '70s were very welcoming. This is much less so today.

Does every chessclub have an officer responsible for welcoming newcomers? I doubt it. The question was asked, why should club members go out of their way to attract newcomers? The answer is, otherwise the club will stagnate, wither away and die, as did Islington, arguably the greatest club in Britain in the 1970s.

What is just 30 years old is the enormous explosion in chess education. That is spear-headed by the wonderful CSC and by the UK Chess Challenge. Many of those players give up chess, but that is typical of all education. My father used to say, Education is never wasted.'

People need their heroes. There were several available in Britain. Leonard Barden, in particular, gave and gives publicity to such people.

My percepion is that chess was nowhere in the 1950s in Britain, then came the Fischer-Spassky match and several good administrators. We leapt forward. I believe we are still ahead of the 1950s game. But it is totally unrealistic to expect those halcyon days to return. Another factor is that we have far fewer business sponsors today. We are quite strong on philanthropy, thanks to the CSC.

Apologies for being so prolix. It is easier to write at length than briefly.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:26 am

Firstly I'm going to copy an excellent post that was made in the county championships thread as I believe a lot of it belongs on this thread (and I have said as much). Obviously there are some embedded quotes that refer directly to the county championships and are being discussed elsewhere.
Hok Yin Stephen Chiu wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:25 pm
I think the anti-reform attitudes that we see from this thread can be summarised by the mentality shown below, of which there are a number of inaccuracies and popular misconceptions that need addressing:
Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:59 pm
Artificial ways of producing teams will not help. Even when the 4NCL had been running for a while, you had matches with 7GMs and a female graded 120, against 7GMs and a female graded 110 or winning on default. Sometimes one side had a WGM, so the 120 female plays a 200+ player, which not everyone likes. The players winning on default will give up, the strong players excluded from the team as there is a weak player replacing them will give up, everyone loses. The reasons juniors give up is well-documented - too much coursework, then the current fad for everyone going to University, and then when you get a job, the hours are horrendous. Chess is not welcoming for female players, partly because of some male attitudes. I don't think women's ghetto chess helps. Chess should be open to all and all should be welcome, but it obviously doesn't always happen. Messing with team events is pointless. If you shoehorn a female or junior player into the team, you just get resentment, and as Alan noted, the smaller counties might not have a ready supply of such players. So the bigger and stronger counties get a bigger advantage.
It is correct to recognise the trend of fewer juniors (boys & girls), young people and women playing chess. But, simply saying that *this* is the trend and that it will merely continue, is defeatist and (if I'm so bold) complicit in reinforcing this trend.

Coursework is oftentimes the "well-documented" reason that children give parents (or the reason that parents give teachers), when juniors drop chess. But from my experience it is generally untrue. At the moment, let's look at pre-secondary school kids (U11s), I am a member of the University of Warwick Chess Society, and our members coach chess to U11s weekly (every Friday & Saturday) at a local primary school (Grange Farm Primary) and the well-known Coventry Chess Academy (CCA). At both these places, we have gender parity of the kids attending. By secondary school, the trend moves to many more boys than girls playing (perhaps the girls are getting more coursework than the boys!). In reality, juniors drop chess for reasons of fitting-in at school, this affects girls more than boys, but both see a reduction of interest - certainly fitting-in is more significant than say coursework. This is hardly surprising when kids start to notice that chess is mostly played by old guys, and all of a sudden (especially reaching secondary school) chess becomes seen a 'boy' sport. Perhaps to say that "chess is not welcoming for female players, partly because of some male attitudes" has an element of truth, but fundamentally, there is a lack of female role models in chess at every level, from local clubs, county level, to nationally. This lack of gender parity will simply not help encourage more girls to play chess, regardless of the amount of coursework they have!

Obviously, old guys playing chess is a historic trend; from my understanding, chess was traditionally a 'working man' 's sport played in working men's clubs across the country, and after the economic-political change of the 1980s, working men's clubs were in a decline, and subsequently the uptake of chess went down to. [I was confirmed this by the Director of the CCA - so I take it to be largely true...] The point is that, obviously we can not force quotas of 50:50 male-to-female, or equivalent proportions between adults:children that reflect the national population! But unless, someone is going to suggest how else we should widen participation for juniors (to which I will answer further down), this set of proposals is relatively thin gruel, not some radical "social engineering" programme that some seem to suggest...
Michael Farthing wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:52 pm
the decision to try to answer problems with the competition is being used as an opportunity by the Board to engage in social engineering. I believe strongly that is outside the remit of the ECF and is most certainly outside the remit of its Board.
Whilst we should avoid fanning too many conspiracy theories (haha), it's worth noting that these changes would be within the remit of the ECF. If the English Chess Federation's remit is not to increase the number of people playing chess in England - amid a trend of diminishing juniors and women playing chess in England - then one has to remind me what is the ECF's remit?!

And let's not kid ourselves, requiring a minimum of one woman, two U18 year olds, and one U11 is hardly groundbreaking (perhaps groundbreaking compared to complete inaction). Someone will have to provide me an example of which county doesn't have one women and two U18 juniors who plays chess proficiently! And yes, perhaps not every county may find one U11 kid graded 200+ ECF, but all counties will be constrained to the same rule...

Obviously, I mustn't forget that a few helpful souls have reminded us that "the bigger and stronger counties [will] get a bigger advantage" (or words to that effect). Perhaps... though I would like to see that evidence when it happens (I'm personally doubtful of any significant difference). Even if this is were marginally true, insisting that counties have at least one U11 junior in this proposal, will encourage the kid(s) to continue playing chess in a more profound manner than other formats. This proposal ensures there would be at least one U18 Boy and one U18 Girl for the U11 Junior to look up to - as role models in their own team, as well as, many more Juniors in the Championships overall. Incidentally, this is where I can agree with Kevin, "ghettos" don't work, so having women-only and Junior-only Divisions for the County Championships is not the answer.
Alan Walton wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:12 pm
perhaps there is something more fundamental the ECF must look at rather than the competition element; perhaps throwing more money at it may be the only option
I then found this from Alan, which was interesting - to say the least!

Yes, there is something more fundamental (and perhaps money could play a role, but it's not critical). I know some clubs have tried and not succeeded, and I know it's not easy, because I've been there before. Last year, as President of Warwick Chess
- alongside the aforementioned Tom Thorpe (Vice President) and Jonathan Robbins (Treasurer) - the Committee was committed to substantially address falling numbers and all the other trends that we've discussing here. In a nutshell, it required a lot of creativity to leave the Society with 130 members, increase the number of teams in the Coventry League that we fielded to five across 3 Divisions, send 7 Teams to the British Universities' Chess Team Championships (which Alex runs, and we also won it), and provide a change in environment where 4 of the current 12 Committee members are women (and we did not force any quotas - besides, a third would be quite an unreasonable quota, considering the demographics of the membership!).

The details of how we changed the club is something I haven't covered here, but we showed that you can increase participation (both generally, and for women) without affecting the 'standard' of play by winning the BUCA Team Championships, and that coursework and student fads were not a barrier to our success.

Some of you may point out that Warwick never resorted to forcing quotas, etc, and we took a 'bottom-up' approach to change the nature, and increase the size, of the membership; whereas opposition to the reforms here, is that somehow the 'Board' is forcing this through in a 'top-down' manner. But, the trend of diminishing numbers of Juniors and women playing chess is unlikely to be reversed by the ECF doing nothing, and expecting individual clubs and counties to independently start a wave of outreach/coaching and PR programmes to encourage young girls and boys to play chess!

What this set of proposals do, is to create an impetus for County Captains across the country to actively look for young boys and girls to play chess, and create a reason to drive clubs in each county to focus on widening participation. To be honest, it isn't nearly that ambitious, because all the reforms do, is ask for one player from each of these demographics to play! Whilst it is hardly a revolution, it will be a positive step in making County chess more inviting environment for young boys and girls to play.

Any attempt to thin down this current proposal will result in this rather entertaining situation, suggested by Brendan!
Brendan O'Gorman wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:22 am
Even then, I can’t help wondering how easy it would be to persuade a female player to travel hundreds of miles in a car to join fifteen male (probably) chess players to play one game of chess in a drab social centre in Wolverhampton. That describes my last county game several years ago (except that I’m an old bloke). It’s an experience I shall never repeat.
I think most of us agree that clubs could do more, the ECF could do more but we're no further on in answering the question of whether they should. I'm also going to return to a question I have asked before; namely why officers such as the Director of Women's Chess (currently vacant) and the Manager of disabled chess are not giving operational budgets out of the unspent surplus the ECF has been accused of losing to corporation tax each year. Why can we not have a manager of youth chess to consider the 18-30 demographic, again with an operating budget. I have in the past been a bit dubious about the focus on senior chess (on the grounds that it's rich getting richer) but you can't blame those wanting events exclusively for 50 and 65+ players for creating these and putting a structure in place.
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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:27 am

Just to add, I do have a few ideas I want to try locally and am looking to set in motion. I know writing verbose posts on forums is one of the easier bits.
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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by NickFaulks » Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:42 am

Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:26 am
I'm also going to return to a question I have asked before; namely why officers such as the Director of Women's Chess (currently vacant) and the Manager of disabled chess are not giving operational budgets
Have we ever been told how this money might usefully be spent?

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Andrew Zigmond » Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:51 am

NickFaulks wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:42 am
Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:26 am
I'm also going to return to a question I have asked before; namely why officers such as the Director of Women's Chess (currently vacant) and the Manager of disabled chess are not giving operational budgets
Have we ever been told how this money might usefully be spent?
If you wanted to have an event aimed specifically at a certain demographic then a decent venue and prizes (if it is a competitive event) need to be paid for.

I should perhaps clarify that the ECF does more altruistically than many people think. They will provide sets for schools and when Mark Jordan was publicity officer money was provided for local chess initiatives which is presumably still the case, although since Mark resigned the impetus has (understandably) slipped slightly.
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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Hok Yin Stephen Chiu » Tue Jan 02, 2018 8:38 pm

As I've just joined and haven't read everything completely, I'll answer the first questions first.
Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Mon Dec 11, 2017 12:20 am
My specific question is where does the responsibility for doing so lie? Is it local chess clubs, is it the ECF or is it down to individuals to do their own thing with no expectation of support from other organisations?
Specifically, I would say that the first level of responsibility lies with Club Presidents/Chairs/Captains. At its crux, whatever the organisation, if you are leading it, one must take steps to lead by example. This is where my Lean Thinking module comes in; leadership is about setting an example in the group.

In chess, if you run a chess club, and you want to be an example to other chess clubs, then I would suspect that the size and longevity of the club is quite important! So if you want to lead your club to be a leading club (which presumably all clubs want to be!), then one of the priorities is to increase the membership size sustainably - which lies with the Committee/Chair. Likewise, Captains who run teams share this responsibility, and need to collectively work on this, not just short term goals of winning the local league (half the time its a symptom of getting the former right)!...

That said, what is the point of having a National Federation, if it is not to facilitate more chess nationally?! well, a) through running tournaments/congresses; b) to promote chess to young people through schools and other PR ventures.

After transforming the University of Warwick's Chess Society, the Society got sponsorship from Optiver, a market trading firm (this isn't a sponsored ad haha!), who also sponsor Anish Giri - clearly we are doing something right, and we share the right ethos. The point is that the ECF is big enough to approach major companies for sponsorship or collaborate in promotional activities across the country, to boost the profile of chess and use the money to fund outreach programmes.

Personally, I have not seen the direct impact of CinSC first hand, namely because we in Coventry have both the Coventry Chess Academy, and the outreach arm of the University of Warwick Chess Society, but I understand that Malcolm Pein is quite a good speaker/commentator, very able to liaise with important people outside chess. However, it's hard to say what the ECF can do, as I am unaware of the specific size of the budget for this stuff and who specifically sits on what committees that are directly responsible for all this.

Perhaps a small step, would be for the ECF to provide a pot of money (£5-10k) for clubs to apply for - where keen members may use it to pay for DBS checks and travel costs, which would allow clubs members to volunteer say 30 minutes to an hour a week in local primary schools (over lunchtime/after school) to run chess clubs (bringing sets, clocks etc). This is what the University of Warwick does, and the University Volunteering arm fund our travel. It is so rewarding, and takes up minimal time. Honestly, the best way to do it, is you make sure the kids know the rules (they need reminding every week) and just let them play (no need to over complicate)!

In fact, at the local level, it is something that all clubs could consider independently of the ECF, because organisations like Chess in Schools and Communities and local chess coaches may or may not see this as competition (which could hinder the ECF from initiating comprehensive efforts for promoting chess across the country), but it requires clubs to see this as just a couple of hours of commitment (usually less, as some schools prefer 30-45 minute sessions anyway) that everybody may have the time for. If the mentality of clubs, is that a few hours of commitment for an outreach programme is a long term programme to recruit more players & members, then that will be the right mindset for success.

For this reason, I would avoid over-considering the factor of money/funding (obviously in the right place, it helps), but I think that focusing on what can be achieving locally with little/no money is more important.
All views are my own, and do not represent the official views of any chess organisation that I am part of.
ECF Delegate | Coventry & District Chess League 2017-18
President | University of Warwick Chess Society 2016-17

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Neill Cooper » Mon Jan 08, 2018 9:40 pm

Andrew Zigmond wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 10:27 am
Just to add, I do have a few ideas I want to try locally and am looking to set in motion. I know writing verbose posts on forums is one of the easier bits.
The answer to the thread title is 'no one'. It would be nice if there was someone responsible at the ECF but there are already enough ECF vacancies that it is clear that there are not enough willing volunteers. In my experience it requires some local person or group to be keen enough to do something themselves, with or without external support (and possibly finance). So you are quite right, Andrew, to go ahead and put your ideas into motion. I hope it goes well and that you have success.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Kevin O'Rourke » Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:36 am

If we could get the TV coverage we got in 1993 or even the BBC highlights program in the mid 90s then it might attract more players. We have lots of channels out there now but nothing chess related ever comes on.

I once saw Backgammon on Eurosport but it was a rarity.


p.s they can transmit big brother live 24 hours a day hogging up the E4 channel.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:22 pm

Kevin O'Rourke wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:36 am
p.s they can transmit big brother live 24 hours a day hogging up the E4 channel.
Yes, because that's the sort of program they think their channel's target audience will want to watch, and is the best balance between cost of production and audience figures to secure enough advertising revenue.

Which TV channels have a target audience that will attract the sort of demographic that English chessplayers have?

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Kevin O'Rourke » Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:34 pm

Alex Holowczak wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:22 pm
Kevin O'Rourke wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:36 am
p.s they can transmit big brother live 24 hours a day hogging up the E4 channel.
Yes, because that's the sort of program they think their channel's target audience will want to watch, and is the best balance between cost of production and audience figures to secure enough advertising revenue.

Which TV channels have a target audience that will attract the sort of demographic that English chessplayers have?
Something like BBC4 late at night. The kind of people that watch the sky at night or programs about steam trains

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Neill Cooper » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:27 pm

A few days ago a chess match was the second most popular stream on Twitch, with about 40,000 viewers. For the future, successfully streaming on Twitch might be more important than getting a late night TV programme.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Neill Cooper » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:30 pm

Michael Flatt wrote:
Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:28 am
The increasing number of daytime chess clubs provide an opportunity to play socially and some might find them more attractive than the traditional evening league based chess clubs.

The gig economy means that not everyone is limited to play their chess in the evening or at weekends.
In Surrey there are quite a few Library Chess Clubs open during the daytime.

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Re: Attracting new players to the game; who is responsible?

Post by Alex Holowczak » Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:14 pm

Neill Cooper wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:27 pm
A few days ago a chess match was the second most popular stream on Twitch, with about 40,000 viewers. For the future, successfully streaming on Twitch might be more important than getting a late night TV programme.
Absolutely, although are those players are more likely to watch a stream on Twitch then play a game on the Internet than join a chess club?

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