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OUTDOOR CHESS A BIG SUCCESS

Brendan Jamisons thoughts on running outdoor chess. He's done a brilliant job of running some (lots if you include all the tournaments he and Ross ran in previous years) excellent chess events during difficult times. Hopefully these outdoor events will be repeated by other keen organisers and become a regular thing.

As a member of Strand Chess Club and honorary member of Bangor Chess Club, during the 2019/2020 season (before the pandemic), I was running weekly blitz competitions at both of these clubs. The events were geared towards the club’s own members but it was also wonderful having friends of each club travel to compete in the events too. They were short and snappy competitions and took place during club sessions.

 

During the first national lockdown I wondered if there was a way of doing these events outdoors and come the end of the summer, I completed a risk assessment for outdoor chess and decided to give it a go during September/October 2020. It was impossible to know if anyone would enjoy it at that stage. But it proved popular and spread over 6 weeks on Saturday mornings, 30 players took part in the events. Chris Dorrian was able to arrange a wonderful venue, the Whitehead Railway Museum which proved one of the highlights for chess venues as the steam trains rolled past.

 

In the Spring of 2021, I began getting texts and emails from players asking if I could run some more open air chess once lockdown restrictions eased. I planned to use the picnic tables at Stormont Estate in East Belfast as an effective spot for Strand outdoors. As for Bangor members, they are spread so far and wide across Ards and North Down, it was decided to run events in Bangor, Groomsport, Ards and Millisle, all hot spots where the members live. Meanwhile Chris Dorrian started a new chess club at Greenisland FC and my congratulations on the great success he has made of it. Not only attracting over 20 brand new players to our local chess scene, but also organising two chess outdoor events at Greenisland FC. So far, it has only been Greenisland, Strand and Bangor that have run outdoor rated events but hopefully this year’s success will inspire other clubs to do the same.

 

Just a few tips if anyone is considering it.

 

1.They usually need to be organised at fairly short notice as we need to be sure the weather will be dry.

 

2.I bought 9 of my own wooden chess sets back in 2018 with foldable boards. I recommend these heavier pieces as opposed to plastic as they blow over too easily. Sometimes we can get gusts of 20 mph at outdoor chess so I always advise players to wrap up warm.

 

3.Most of the events were run for free as there were really designed to keep our chess community connected. By not charging, I made certificates for the prize-winners, with either the Strand or Bangor logos. However, for some events, I did charge a nominal fee of £3-£4 to cover the cost of little trophies.

 

4.The benefit of open air chess is that it attracts a lot of attention from the general public and so my advice for any other clubs wishing to try this is to have some flyers on hand.

 

5.Because I would be submitting the blitz events to the UCU Rating Officer Robert Lavery, I wanted to ensure paid up UCU members got first priority due to restricted capacity so asked the UCU Treasurer for the up-to-date membership list. I then decided to allow a few spots at each event for newcomers but explained that newcomers need to join the UCU to have their games rated. This brought in new members paying into the UCU, such as Caleb McClean (Richard Proctor’s 13 year old grandson), Matthew Moreland (Des Moreland’s 16 year old son) and Sett Maikel Podean (from The Netherlands).

 

Restricted capacity is the biggest challenge for outdoor chess with some spots only having 4 picnic tables, rendering a maximum of 8 players.

 

During the period of 2017-2020 when I was running all the official UCU tournaments, it was always my drive to get as many players as possible competing and that is why we always advertised the events well in advance on UCU and ChessNI websites. The highlight was the Ulster Team Rapidplay Championships at the Good Shepherd Centre in Belfast. It attracted 72 players, the biggest turnout in recent chess history in Northern Ireland. The hardest thing I have found with outdoor chess is not having enough picnic tables for everyone who wants to play, I ended up buying a fold-up table and stools to help with this a bit! But it goes against the grain to tell someone we have ran out of space, it always devastates me to disappoint players in this way. My only solution was to rejig my work commitments to host more chess events on Tuesdays and Thursdays for those that could not attend or get space on Saturdays. Without a car, it was also quite difficult to carry the wooden chess sets on buses and trains but my sincere thanks to Adrian Dornford-Smith, Adam Rushe and Richard Proctor for offering lifts to and from some of the spots.

 

In the end 54 players competed during this series from the end of May to the start of July. I’m now on my summer break from chess but a big thanks to everyone who participated in these events, they created a wonderful buzz. In the end, everyone who texted or emailed me asking to play in outdoor chess got an invite to at least two open air blitz competitions. Hopefully if more clubs start this initiative, it will make it easier to get everyone a place in outdoor chess each week. Thanks again folks, best wishes,

 

Brendan Jamison

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