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1st draft, 19th September 1999

Special report - What makes a good chess club?

Disclaimer: This page reflects the thoughts of Tryfon Gavriel who has been a member of different chess clubs including:- Brunel University chess club, Hayes chess club, Barnet chess club, Muswell Hill Chess Club, Wood Green chess club, and the virtual chess clubs- Internet chess club, FICS, and Yahoo. The views and opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of Barnet Chess Club.

Index

Introduction
    Opportunities and threats

Growth - getting new members
    How to grow - Marketing and visibility
    Constraints on growth

Reception of new people

Retaining existing members
    Club night offerings

Summary and conclusions


Introduction

The traditional chess club is arguably the most fundamentally important chess organisation.  It is not just a place to play chess. It is a common meeting ground for people from all walks of life, all ages, and all chess strengths. Simply put, it is a great place to meet new people and have fun! This report focuses on how a chess club can increase and retain its membership.

Opportunities and threats

The traditional chess club faces new opportunities and threats created by new technologies such as the Internet. There are opportunities created by the Internet such as the ability to market the club via a club website for example. However there are also potential threats in terms of the new virtual chess clubs such as the Internet Chess Club.

Physical chess club's will always have a personal, tactile feel to them that virtual chess club's cannot have. However there is a possibility that if chess club's do not play on their strengths, they could potentially lose the interest of members because of their virtual club counterparts - such as the ICC or FICS which have advantages such as

Hopefully physical clubs and virtual clubs will simply enrich a chess players experiences being complementary to each other.

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Growth- getting new members

Getting new members through the door allows the club to evolve, and makes it interesting for the existing club members to have different opponents. 

It also has the possibility of increases the range of skill levels within the club membership, so that people at different levels have more opportunities to play appropriate opposition. 

Assuming membership of the club involves payment, getting new members will also increase the financial resources of the club. It will enable the club to more easily have better equipment, better maintained equipment, and other resources, as well as payment for premises, etc.

Encouraging junior membership is not only good for the local chess club, but good for the wider chess scene. The club could offer a reduced subscription for juniors to make it more attractive for them to join. 

How to grow - Marketing and visibility

Marketing chess clubs is now possible through the Internet. BritWeb carries details of a number of UK chess clubs in its Associations and clubs section. Chess clubs for the first time been able to express themselves and market themselves easily on a global basis. 

There is much to be said for other marketing methods, including:- 

Constraints on growth

The physical size of the club's premises 

Space - the final frontier

This is obviously a club growth bottleneck. If the club room becomes too crowded, then the club is reaching maximum capacity, and it is pointless marketing the club to try and obtain new members. The premises of the club is an issue which arguably should be discussed at every club's annual general meeting. 

The size of the club is also linked to noise. If the club is cramped, then it would be difficult to mix club coaching nights with club match nights for example.

Club room facilities are also an important factor. If the club is actually based in a pub, then there are obvious drinking advantages. If the club has a built in kitchen, then tea, coffee and biscuits can become a great value adder for the club's activities- whether they be internal club championships, or league matches against other clubs.

Time

A club which has league commitments may not have many players available to participate in other club activities. It can increase the difficulty of scheduling for example a club championship. It is rare in the UK for a club to be open for more than one night in the week. 

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Reception of new people

This is not a small issue when chess is concerned!. When walking into a chess club, because of the nature of chess people are often deeply involved in their own games, and do not look up to greet new faces!. 

Unfortunately there is at least one example in the author's experience when a new face was left standing and he promptly left within a few minutes feeling like an unwanted alien being.

Marketing of a chess club has to be combined with people able to greet new faces, otherwise it is futile!

There needs to be member(s) who are good at introducing new people to the existing members. It would be advantageous for those chosen "receptionists" to have a reasonable knowledge of the strength of the players in the club, to be able to match appropriately the new person who has walked through the door, to an appropriate opponent who is available.

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Retaining existing members

How does a club retain the interest of its existing members? 

Club night offerings
Decent chess equipment

Nice ergonomic chess equipment adds to the enjoyment of chess. Not every club can afford luxury wooden chess sets, but there is (in the UK at least), the standard tournament chess sets which use the Staunton design. The Staunton piece design is both aesthetic and intuitive! If there is a big blitz chess interest in the club, then perhaps the club should think about investing in digital chess clocks.

Holding a club championship

A club championship is one way members can get to know one another better, and contribute to a friendly club culture. 

Special blitz chess nights

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Although blitz chess may not appeal to those who prefer a leisurely pace, it does provide the opportunity to play several games and opponents in the same evening. Also the blitz could be made "handicap", i.e. offering the weaker players more time on the clock than the stronger players.

Simultaneous display nights

The strongest players in the club could offer to play a simultaneous against other members of the club. If there is a club championship, a natural candidate will emerge for a simultaneous giver- the club champion!

Coaching nights

People that join a chess club will often want insights to help them improve their game. As well as practicing against fellow members, it would be nice for the stronger players in the club to arrange coaching nights. A special demo wall board could be used to illustrate ideas and themes. 

Internal club magazine/ newsletter

This could be used to keep members informed of the club events that are going to be held and provide results and commentary of events that have passed. How club members are doing in chess in general can add interest to this newsletter, especially if the club features some chess stars.

Meeting other chess clubs

Meeting other chess clubs is usually carried out in a structured way via a club's membership in Chess leagues. A club can usually submit more than one team to a league, and therefore cater for the different skill levels in the club.

Inter-club tournaments

Inter club tournaments can be an exciting way to meet other clubs. The Capes Trophy is an annual blitz tournament for example, where clubs can meet to play friendly 5 minute chess!

Chess books to hire out

A small library of chess books which can be hired out, is a useful resource for those wanting to improve their game.

Coffee and Biscuits

If the club premises has the luxury of a kitchen, coffee and biscuits are a great thing to have around. It can also help towards a friendly match atmosphere when playing against other clubs. Also, it is something that virtual chess clubs cannot currently offer !

A nearby pub!

A nearby pub to the club can be a very important resource for celebrating/ commiserating team victories and generally getting to know other members of the chess club. Again virtual clubs cannot easily imitate this!

Constraints on retaining new members

The backing of the club's central committee

The club should hold a regular meeting appoint people to implement initiatives such as those presented in the club night offerings section. The meeting could be in the form of an Annual General Meeting. 

The committee should ideally not be too cost-saving conscious and be prepared to consider member-retainment strategies and put some resources behind these strategies.

With the backing of the majority of the club, it is easier to obtain financial and other resources necessary to actually implement initiatives.

Enthusiastic individuals!

All it takes is an enthusiastic player to create some of the ideas presented in the club night offerings section above. It was after all probably due to the efforts of an enthusiastic individual that the chess club was set up in the first place!

Even if there has been no big central committee behind an idea, members should think of themselves as organisers, and could start organising things on an informal basis. If these things take off, then later more formal backing could be obtained from the club's central committee.

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Summary and Conclusions

A chess club is a great place to meet new people. Chess is a game for everyone-  it is a game independent of age, nationality, physical disability, etc. A chess club is therefore a great place for meeting a variety of different people.

Chess clubs can improve their attractiveness by not only thinking about marketing, but also how to welcome new faces, and retain the interest of existing members over the long term.

There are a variety of things clubs can do to retain the interest of members including having coaching nights, club championships, participation in leagues, an internal newsletter. All it takes is enthusiastic individuals, preferably with the backing at some point of the central chess club committee which itself takes the form of enthusiastic individuals who are united in purpose.

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