The State of Junior Chess
The ‘Chess Boom’ caused by the infamous Fischer-Spassky match in 1972 led to the golden generation of English grandmasters. GMs such as Michael Adams and Nigel Short went on to compete at a very high level on the international stage. Indeed even today, many strong young players are being produced in this country. One example of upcoming English chess players is Gawain Jones, who played in the Cleveland area during his younger days. The British Championship is always filled with young players trying to ply their trade in the Major Open and in the Main Championship sections. However, is the state of junior chess as good as it may appear on the surface?
My personal experience as a junior chess player has been very enjoyable. I was fortunate to go to Yarm School, which has strong chess clubs both in the junior and senior schools. Chess club usually occurred twice a week during a specified ‘Activities’ slot in the timetable and chess was played frequently at lunchtimes. Tournaments were run on an annual basis and strong local player, Sean Marsh, was on hand to help in the training process.
Play in the junior school was rife. The club was filled with enthusiastic youngsters, and Yarm often fielded multiple teams in local and national team tournaments. As time passed by, many of the players who had once been a part of the school club disappeared. Understandably, it is only natural for children to try different activities, as they grow older. However, the amount of players reduced from what was once between 50-100 to barely a dozen by the time I had entered the senior school. Many of the remaining players have gone on to become strong players within the Cleveland League, such as Chris Duggan and Matthew Cornford. That being said, not enough young players are going onto play at club level.
Playing at club level is absolutely necessary to help young players improve their chess skills. The experience that I have gained from playing chess at club level has helped me to improve significantly as a chess player. If I had not started playing at club level, at any early age, I may have become one of those children who stopped playing chess when I reached senior school level. Therefore more needs to be done to encourage juniors to play chess at club level and to curb the traditional problems preventing them from doing so, I.e. Transport and the late evening times when club nights and matches take place.
So what can be done to help save junior chess? Certainly it is going to take a lot of work. I would argue that clubs could do more to encourage juniors to play. Several local clubs used to have thriving Saturday morning junior events. However, to my knowledge few of these events exist anymore. To run these events requires people to sacrifice time, and often money. Also they require the help from schools to advertise and promote these events. I do hope that things improve, as I fear for the long-term future of club chess.
I hope this is food for thought. If you have an opinion or question on this topic, please feel free to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.