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Lights Out for Clubs?

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Will the last one out of St. Petersburg please turn out the lights? I'm on a wifi spot in the center of the city at 11pm and it's still quite light outside despite the clouds. Beautiful city.

The legendary chess club isn't in very good shape. There is a calendar of events posted outside, but it's closed today and tomorrow for a national holiday so I might not see the interior. If it's anything like the run-down exterior and hallways they're in trouble. There is a little chess shop in the front. Eager chessplayers can liven up any hall, but it's still sad to see the decline. I remember first seeing the massive Moscow club the day they had rented out their main hall for a wedding reception, even though there was a tournament going on a thin wall away.

Is club play thriving elsewhere? Rents are high and the internet is tempting. Tournament play is a little different, and hard to imitate online. But paying hundreds of dollars to play blitz in a club is hard to justify. What are clubs doing to add value that can't be had online? Lectures and lessons are also online in force now.


Belye Nochi...

"White Nights normally last from June 11 to July 2."

Great time to be in St. Petersburg. ;-))

"What are clubs doing to add value that can't be had online?" Let me answer a question with a question: "what is the value of face to face contact, and real, flesh and blood human relationships?"

Any time is a great time to be in St Petersburg . . . but of course, I am bious, it's my city. Which wifi spot were you at? Where are you staying? There are a couple of places to play chess in parks, just so you know.

Damn, Mig, I am jealous. This is the first time I haven't gone back in three years.

Good question. I have been trying to reinvigorate my own club, beginning by creating a web-presence for it and getting the word out that we exist. I think one of the comments above about "real flesh and blood relationships" is basically the main thing that has kept our club (and probably most like it) alive beyond the Fischer years, and that may be what really keeps any club alive (chess or otherwise). Club traditions, like our ladder and unrated club championship tournaments, have done a lot to promote a stable base of players who like participating in the club traditions and are there to play a serious game (as opposed to online 5-minute) with people they like. But building attendance beyond the 12 to 20 loyal attendees is hard. Events such as simuls and rated tournaments have historically attracted larger groups, but the effect is temporary. We are planning an opening study group which I think will help; as you note, there are online classes, but most people still prefer their classes face to face. I have been thinking lately that the most important thing we can do is to work at building a larger base of local players, especially young people. And that's a big and difficult undertaking. Suggestions are welcome.

hey Mig, It would be great to see photos if you have some!
It's obvious to state that the thing with online is that I don't try as hard, lose more games and don't care as much. I guess that's good and the bad.

I'm too poor at the moment to join my local club, but you'd better believe that I'll join when it's feasible, money and time-wise.

Other than the "flesh and blood" component, I'd also add that while there are online courses available, these courses do not allow us to engage in a real-time discussion about chess. Playing friendly games against strong players means that you can chat about the game and glean a lot of interesting insights. Even better, if something is a little unclear, you can just ask the person to clarify right away, and he/she can do so at the board, always being sensitive to the follow-up questions you may come up with.

Incidently, if you're an optimist, you'll believe that people want to help each other and are friendly, so they'll be willing to take the time to talk about what they are strong at. If you're a pessimist, you can just assume that people are so egocentric that they'll gladly babble on about anything that makes them feel intelligent. ;)

Yes, St. Petersburg is really amazing. My family would often visit friends/relatives there once every few summers. I hope it's not as cold for you as it was for us.

I will say that my coach and I still prefer to work over the board but that with things like Skype and such programs, it is not that big of a difference these days.

Paradoxically, one thing that might help is if you built into you club's website a space to play correspondence chess. The paradox is that theis kind of online games help people to stay in touch, especially if you allow players to message each other. With a few friends of mine all living around Boston, we stay in touch through web-based CC games, and then we meet more or less once a month over the board. It's all we can afford to do with families and busy jobs. But it's the CC games that keep us playing together and thus brings us back to the real wooden board... Otherwise, laziness, our families and professions would have already gotten in the way of our monthly Chess, Cheese and Wine tournament :-)

Our club, the MetroWest Chess Club (just west of Boston, Mass, USA) is thriving. We are a one-night-a-week only club that regularly draws 75-90 players every Tuesday night. We have an expert do a lesson each Tuesday early; then we play one round of a Swiss event (one each month, 4 or 5 rounds depending). We have a seperate Chess School on Thursdays now, and we run a scholasic event on Thursdays in the summer. We have a *huge* web site at http://www.metrowestchess.org (check it out for ideas).

Part of our success is a system to train and retain volunteers; particularly Tournament Directors (which I am one). Also, we've incorporated as a Not-for-Profit corporation and have a full slate of officers, board members, etc.

Our club President is a major driving force behind all of this, but one of his main goals is putting procedures in place so that he, or any one person for that matter, isn't necessary for running the Club. The procedures also help cultivate volunteers to replace those who tail off due to burnout, and more importantly, spread the load of work so there *isn't* burnout among us.

We were the USCF Club of the Year in 2003, so we must be doing something right ;-)


Hello Mig,
It is said to hear that the St. Petersburg's club are so badly off. Perhaps they should offer "patron" membership to Westerners. The fee could be small and could be used to upgrade the facilities. A few dollars or euros go a long way in Russia.

Another idea is to create "sister clubs" with Western clubs. That way an international network of clubs and sporting societies could mutually aid one another.

Just some thoughts.

Ed Yetman, III

Re the "flesh & blood component", I recall the old saying one of our local chessplaying wags had:

"Chess clubs are social clubs for antisocial people."

Hello Steve,
That's probably why the internet is so appealing to some chess players: it reduces the social part to the bare minimum.

If chess clubs are going to survive they need to reach out to the much larger general public.

Ed Yetman, III

Hello Mig,

If you're still in St.Pete, send me an email or give a call (local number 314 9887), would be nice to play a couple of games and chat about Kasparovchess times. Evgeny Atarov is also here, visiting St.Pete, and Mark is about to come... :)

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 12, 2005 3:02 PM.

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