Monday, 19 October 2009

The frosty side of chess

League and congress chess here in the South-West tends to be a good-natured affair all round. It's not all that often that you see people get agitated about events in such environments, but Bill Frost's latest editorial is an exception to this.

He's commented on three issues. The first relates to the game Michael White v Richard Almond from Paignton this year; I will not comment on this one myself, but have invited Michael to be a contributor to this blog, so that he may put his side of the story.

The second and third involve teams I play for, so I will comment on them.

The Paignton Congress was followed by the WECU annual jamboree held at the very acceptable venue of the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in Taunton. This event has recently experienced a revival in popularity and on this occasion, a record number of entries was recorded. But, a rather sour note was introduced by the fact that Somerset entered two teams in the Graded Tournament and none in the County competition, despite the fact that the sum total grades of the first six players in the graded sections equalled the total grades of another side that entered the County competition.

OK, let's deal with that. The first point I shall note here that neither of Somerset's choices is individually unusual - Dorset have been entering a Graded team and no Open team for years, and Devon have been entering more than one Graded team for years also. The second is that that the rules of the competition mean you can't cheat by doing this. The Graded section has a maximum average grade for teams, so any team selection we made would have to fit under that.

And the third, and perhaps most vital, point here is Somerset's entry selection was chosen with reference to who was available - I was arbiting at Uxbridge, Ben Edgell was helping with the Trafalgar Square event, and a few more of our top players were also unavailable. We might still have been competitive with some of the other teams - but we didn't know that at the time. Not wanting a repeat of the 10-2 mauling at the hands of Devon a few years ago, we decided to put entries where we could ensure they would be competitive.

On to Bill's third issue:

Lamentably this example pales into insignificance when compared with another rather suspect practice which has appeared in team competitions in all the Devon leagues. All these events - the DCCA leagues, Torbay league and the Exeter and District league - are designed to provide genuine competition between the membership of the respective affiliated clubs. This is a laudable aspiration which we now find is being flaunted by the inclusion in some teams of players that have little or no connection with the club they are representing. In most cases the only games played by these "members" are in team events and they do not participate in internal club competitions. The rules of these events provide for participants to be "bone fide" members of the clubs they represent. This is a very airy term that needs to be tightened up by decisive and unambiguous definition. On one occasion when I asked a competition secretary the meaning of "bone fide" I was told that this was left to the discretion of the pertinent team captain! Wow!!

I don't know what situations have arisen so far this season that have caused this comment to be made, but I'll elaborate on the one that arose with reference to my club, Barnstaple. The Chess Devon website posted a message advertising the DCCA Team Rapidplay. I thought this looked fun, so tried to organize a team from Barnstaple to play in it. I got positive responses from Jon Munsey and Rick Dooley, but negative ones from Peter Marriott, Steve Clarke, Rob Oughton, Roger Neat, Richard Smith, Peter Sandon, Richard Nash, Theresa Garrett and Doug Macfarlane.

With only three players and nobody left in the club to contact, I had two options. Either I could withdraw the team, or I could invite somebody from outside the club to be our fourth player. I chose the latter option, posted an ad on Facebook, intending to say yes to the first player who answered the ad. As it happened, this was Ben Edgell. His 6 out of 6 score helped us to an easy second place, half a point off first; that's the way things go sometimes. The first response could just as easily have come from a much weaker player, and we'd probably then have finished somewhere mid-table.

Bill had his own solution to the problem of mala fide members, so let's have a look at it.

Like MP's who state that their claims for expenses are "in accordance with the rules", some clubs hide behind the definition of "bone fide members". Amongst many remedies that could be applied I would suggest that the rule be amended so that no person is permitted to play league matches unless the club can clearly demonstrate to the competition secretary that such member fully participated in internal tournaments during the previous season.

This, I think, belongs to the "cure is worse than the disease" category. Suppose I'm captaining a team from a sixth-form college. People come in, they are at the college - and therefore the club - for two years, and they leave. According to this proposal, I'd have to pick a team consisting exclusively of second-years. This is a particular case of a more general flaw with this proposal: it means players cannot move into an area and immediately start playing league chess. Does this sound like a policy that encourages people to join their local clubs?

And even for people who are settled in an area, the proposal has its flaws: it's perfectly possible to be a bona fide member of a club and not participate in its internal competitions. The club may have no internal competitions, and exist purely as a vehicle for playing league chess - I've come across a few. Or the player may have to restrict the number of times a year he goes to the club, either for health reasons, or because he has other commitments that take precedence.

There may be good ways to ensure teams are more representative of the clubs they draw from, but the proposal on the table isn't one of them.

1 comment:

  1. I'll not comment on the first two points.

    However it is noticeable in the DCCA and E&D leagues that many players compete for several clubs in different competitions.

    This may not be a "win at all costs" mentality, but a sad reflection that their own "preferred" club can no longer field a team that allows them to compete at the appropriate level.

    Personally I prefer a well matched game, even if it is against Ken Derrick again, than less teams in each competition, and greatly imbalanced teams. How this is achieved is another issue.

    The good news locally is Tiverton seem to be going from strength to strength, and chess in the Exeter Inn at Newton Poppleford.