There was no Development Officer for the last two years, and I will include material going back several years. My main emphasis is on getting many school players to play, rather than improving the quality of players, which had been the job of the Junior Committee. And it no longer meets.
The season started off with news that the CheckMate League was being discontinued. This was the League which has brought Junior chess activity to a level unseen for decades. It was also the impetus which has led to 5 full time Schools Chess Coaches making a modest (and I mean MODEST) living from Chess myself included. While lots of chess gets played at school level, very few of these players find their way to weekend tournaments and joining the ICU a problem still unsolved.
Michael Crowe and Maurice Buckley started this in 1998 with good sponsorship from the ESB for four years, and ran it privately. The ESB paid for the advertising to 3250 Primary Schools and put up a first prize of a trip to Euro-Disney, as well as sponsoring chess sets and the annual finals with 400 children taking part and being fed. At one time I believe up to 500 teams took part and it was run on a knock-out basis.
Then the ESB withdrew and it was decided to run it on a pay-to-play basis, with leagues of 7 teams playing 6 matches each. It continued for 7 years with one exception, the year of the foot and mouth scare. A CheckMate Secondary Schools league was started later and that was run on a knockout basis.
In 2005, the ChessZ league was expanded to National level. From market research with schools, the ChessZ league focused on:
- Fewer matches many schools don't have the time to play 6 matches. 2 or 3 is enough.
- Stratified Leagues Champions, Novices, and u10s (in some counties only) Leagues
- Girls only Leagues Very few Girls make it to CheckMate Finals
- Shorter Finals 3 hours max. Schools wanted to travel to and from the Finals in one day.
- Prizes of Medals and Trophies - Many schools thought cash prizes were inappropriate for School Children.
- Costs minimised for the Organisers 2 people run the finals, No Meal, No Prize money.
With the announcement of the CheckMate cessation, I was unsure how to treat the news. On the one hand there was less competition for ChessZ, and on the other it meant many schools might actually stop playing, later if not immediately, and Irish chess would lose out. I approached the Organisers, and we came to an arrangement where I would run the CheckMate Leagues along existing lines where possible, depending on costs and other considerations. Both Leagues were advertised as before and the number of teams exceeded 300 Ireland's biggest league. The breakdown of team entries was: CheckMate: 129 (primary 86, secondary 43), ChessZ: 201 (primary 112, secondary 89), total: 330.
Running a 300+ teams League needs hundred's of hours of administration time. By April it was apparent that The CheckMate Leagues could not sustain the prize money of 500 Euros each, and the cost of feeding players on the day, so the ChessZ model for the Finals was imposed on the event. No Prize money, and a shorter game time using clocks. Only one school complained and they decided not to take part in the Finals. The same school has never played in the ChessZ League and have been missing out on a fun day! Hard decisions in hard times someone has to take them. These decisions were taken 3 years ago in the ChessZ Leagues, and the League still survived.
- CheckMate Primary Schools: St Nicholas PS, Adare, Co Limerick
- ChessZ Primary Schools Champions League: St Nicholas PS, Adare, Co Limerick
- ChessZ Primary Schools Girls-only League: Templemary NS, Kilalla, Co Mayo
- CheckMate Secondary Schools: Christian Brothers College, Cork
- ChessZ Secondary Schools Champions League: Christian Brothers College, Cork
- ChessZ Secondary, Girls-only League: Scoil Pol, Kilfinane, Co Limerick
Counties needing chess coaches: Now that I can see the full picture from both leagues, I can list counties with little or no apparent school chess activity.
- Primary Schools: Sligo, Roscommon, Laois.
- Secondary Schools: Waterford, Roscommon, Laois, Offaly, Wexford, Monaghan, Donegal.
Private Enterprise vs Community Effort
This discussion comes up often enough that I think it should be addressed. There is a perception in some quarters that chess development should come from community minded players with time given freely, and definitely NOT from private-enterprise sources. The reality is different I'm afraid. Defining private enterprise as someone or something that does not have to present accounts to any chess body, throws up some interesting situations! All full time coaches, the largest weekender and largest teams League, all fit this description. There is room for both sections, and both are needed. In addition it must be observed that this years Irish Junior Chess Championships yielded 6 of the 7 Irish titles from privately run clubs.
- Irish u12, u16 and u18 winners are from Kilkenny Junior Club
- Irish u10, u14 are from Adare Junior club
- Irish u6 champion is from the Killimer-Knockerra club.
Of course, next year will produce different results.
1000 Chess Clubs in 10 Years
Ireland has circa 1000 towns and villages, and a handful of chess clubs. I came up with this great idea to advertise clubs in towns and villages, and using profits from them to start other clubs. Rather than sit down and write up a plan, I decided to test the idea first. Plans are very fashionable, but many fail for two reasons: (1) The assumptions they are based on are faulty, and were never tested. (2) One person writes the plan and expects others to do the work, which they won't. If you write the plan, expect to have to do it yourself. If a team writes a plan, the team can be expected to back the plan. A serious business plan takes 400 man-hours of work. (I heard this from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in the 1980's.
Anyway, back to The Plan. I chose Adare as the place to test it. The idea was to form a Chess Club for Adare resident people only older teens and adults. Adare and environs has a population of about 3000 people. Here is what happened:
- 1000 leaflets were sent out by Post last October to 1000 households at a cost of 100 Euros.
- Six beginners/novices replied.
- They came in at different times spread over months, and rarely turned up together.
- By May, all had fallen away
So much for that idea. The club did actually succeed due to existing players coming from a much wider geoghraphical area, but the idea of Adare itself sustaining a club was a non-runner.
Chess has an Image Problem
Based on the Adare experience, and stories from other coaches, I've concluded that there is insufficient demand for chess on a national scale. In some secondary schools, I see, and I've been told, that children are afraid to admit they play chess, because of the fear of social rejection. One 1600 rated male no longer wants to say he plays because of the fear of being outcast socially from his female peers. One girl doesn't want her parent-coach seen at the school for chess reasons. A secondary school where I teach chess finds it impossible to field a girls team, even though they are respectable players.
Chess is not cool!
Public Relations Officer
Following from the image problem, I want to test an idea in the coming year. Get more publicity about chess to the newspapers, and hopefully make chess more socially acceptable. Most papers will take a chess photo/article once a month, and clubs should be able to send in something.
Chess as a School Subject
In July, Geoffrey Borg visited the ICU on an electioneering mission for the current FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. One thing led to another and I was invited, expenses paid, by the Turkish Chess Federation to meet Ali-Nihat Yazici in Turkey, who has managed to get chess listed as a school subject in Turkey. I met Ali in Kayseri, Turkey in July at the World Schools Individual Championships. Here's what he had to say:
- Five years ago, the Turkish Chess Federation managed to get chess included as an optional subject in schools, on the same level as music and art.
- The federation trained up 30,000 school teachers on how to to teach chess, in 3 months.
- They produced a standard book for use in all schools.
- 5000 chess classrooms have been set up throughout Turkey.
- 5 million children have learned how to play.
- 200,000 players are in the chess federation, mostly children and their parents.
- Turkey's largest Bank sponsors the Federation to 1,500,000 same figure as soccer.
- There is an abundance of work for chess coaches.
- The federation is run along business lines and has 30 full-time employees.
Ali is willing to visit Ireland before Christmas to see if something similar can be done here. Money resources well in excess of the current ICU annual budget may be available from Turkey, or the European Chess Union if it looks possible.
Meeting with our Minister for Education
Last Tuesday, 7-Sep, Dr Garry Courtney, Darko Polimac, and I met Minister Mary Coughlan in Kilkenny. Hopefully this is the first step to success!