Junior Club History

A HISTORY OF CHESTER JUNIOR CHESS

As recalled in 2017 by Graham Bromley Chester Chess Club President 2002-2017

Chester Chess Club’s encouragement and support for children wishing to play chess has a long history which began in 1988 with the establishment of Chester’s first junior chess club. During this 29 year period, there have been two junior clubs, separated by a three year interval from 2000 to 2003, marking the closure of the first club, and the start of the second.

THE FIRST JUNIOR CHESS CLUB 1988-2000

Chester’s first junior club was established by Bob Clark, soon after becoming club president in 1988. He did this with the help of a parent who brought in eight children from a local school. The club operated in the reception room at the Town Crier opposite Chester Railway Station from 6 to 7.30 pm, ending just as the adult evening session was due to begin.

The adult club, after winning the Liverpool League Division 1 Championship in 1983 and 1984, had experienced a sharp decline. The Club, now, with not more than 15 members and possibly, according to Clark, as few as ten, was forced to withdraw from the Liverpool League altogether. Having recently become Club President, Bob must have been acutely aware of the need to breathe new life into the club and recruiting young players was one obvious way to do it. The junior club gradually expanded until at its height it had a membership of 26 children.

Jon Maybery, an enthusiastic club member soon joined Bob and helped in running the club but Bob was later forced to stand down due to commitments at work and left the club in 1992 and went to work in London. From then on, Jon ran the club alone, but with a great deal of energy and commitment.

He adopted a planned and structured coaching system. He also took the children to play in four rapid play tournaments each year and on one occasion took them to the Cumberland Hotel in London to watch a masters tournament. His efforts were rewarded when ten of his children were selected to play for Cheshire, and his best player Jon Le Motte reached the semi-finals of the Cheshire under 14’s section. Jamie Hibbs, another strong player, was considered for the England squad.

At the end of 1991 Jon abruptly left the club announcing that he was not prepared to continue after a dispute with one of the parents over team selection, and what he saw as the failure of prominent members of the club to support him.

The club continued and didn’t collapse as it might well have done thanks to the work of the Club President, Geoff Townsend

and Brenda Hibbs, the mother of Jamie. When Brenda left to live in London a year of two later, Geoff was assisted by parents of the children. The reason for the club’s demise nine years later is unknown but when it ended, it had only five or six members.

During this first period a junior team played in the 3rd division of the Wirral League and there is no doubt that the club throughout its existence was a great success. The club’s one important and enduring legacy was a result of Stephen Lloyd’s introduction to chess as a young boy at the Town Crier. He went on to become an established player for Chester Chess Club and an important official for Chester and the local chess leagues.

THE CHESTER JUNIOR CHESS CLUB    2003-2017

Soon after I had become Club President, like Bob Clark, I thought it important to establish a junior section and approached an official of the Chester and Ellesmere Port YMCA with a view to finding suitable accommodation for the new club. This was a natural step to take in view of the fact that Chester Chess Club had been affiliated to the YMCA since its inception in 1919.

A NEW CLUB IN THE MISSION HOUSE

My request was received with enthusiasm and we were given a spacious room above the YMCA office in the Mission House, in Church Street, Newtown. It took quite some time before I had the minimum four children I felt I needed to start the club, but soon the membership grew rapidly to 25 before falling back to 14 very committed young players.

Below the Mission House in 2018 with Phil Crocker (left) and Graham Bromley.

The club met on Friday evenings as it does now and the format then was much as it is today with a half hour coaching session on the demonstration board followed by a one hour period for playing chess.

The W. B. Turner trophy, played for and presented to the Junior Club Champions in the 1990’s was adopted by the new club and contested by this new generation of players. The first and most prominent of those to join the club were Gareth Thacker, Martin Smith, Marvin Hayes, Ben Harrington, Alastair Tonge and Shane Hunt, soon to be followed by Barat Sharma, Tim Fozzard, Arthur Fearnall and Joel Langmead.

Another competition, The Chester Cup, was introduced in 2006 and played for by the second ranking players of whom Chris Jones was the most successful. Other early winners were Tom Jones, Gethin Watkins and William Pritchard.

Below Chester Juniors face International Master Richard Palliser in a 2006 simul. Alistair Tongue won the best game prize.

A NEW VENUE IN TOWER GARDENS

In 2005 we were gently asked to move from the Mission House to a pavilion in the very pleasant setting of Tower Gardens. This we occupied until the end of 2010. During this period we played friendly matches against junior players of Grappenhall Junior Chess Club and the Buckley/Mold club.

Below the pavilion with Paul Watson (left) and Graham Bromley in 2018.

Eventually, some of our players had improved to such an extent that in 2008 I was able to enter a team in the 3rd division of the Wirral League. The team was dealt a serious blow just as the season was beginning when Marvin Hayes, by far our strongest junior along with his father, the team captain, left the club on the pretext of  Marvin not being selected for a match at the Town Crier. This was a bitter blow, but the team, though weakened, played through the season under my captaincy. Marvin went on to play for Penyffordd Chess Club.

Below: L to R: Ben Harrington player of the year, Chris Jones and Marvin Hayes win club championship trophies

The years 2008-10 saw a falling away of some of the first generation members, but this coincided with an influx of new, younger players and the membership rose to 24 during the 2008-9 season. Most prominent of these Young Turks were Daniel Savidge and brothers, Rohan and Riyaan Yesudian. Their interest, enthusiasm and commitment exceeded anything I had seen at the club previously, and this attitude seemed to infect others around them. This engendered a spirit of camaraderie which drew in others such as Arjun Balasubramaniam, Catherine Savidge , Alex Forrester and others. There is no doubt that this group dynamic led to rapid improvements in their chess which would not have happened to the same extent had they not experienced this interaction within the group.

The success of the Club during the years at the Mission House and Tower Gardens was due in no small part to the continuous support I received from members of the adult chess club. Right from the start, Paul Watson had been prepared to stand in for me in my absence and Stephen Lloyd came along almost every week throughout this period to help with coaching and take over himself from time to time. Other members such as Chris Fozzard, John Gorman and Colin White had children in the Club and were strongly committed to its success. Jon Maybery who was also a club member at the time, conducted coaching sessions for a short period in Tower Gardens.

This upsurge in interest encouraged me to begin coaching at home, just occasionally at first, and then later on a regular basis on Saturday afternoons. Thursday evening coaching sessions were introduced later for the second ranking players but were eventually discontinued for personal reasons. The Saturday sessions however, have continued to the present day.

2008 also saw the introduction of a third competition, the Holdcroft Shield, a trophy presented to the club in memory of Stanley Holdcroft and previously competed for by the adults at the Town Crier.This competition was dominated by Daniel Savidge in the early years, winning it three years in succession.

During the period in Tower Gardens, the Chester & Ellesmere Port YMCA became insolvent and we found ourselves under the auspices of Chester Council. My previous arrangement with the YMCA had been such that each club member paid a fixed amount of £15 a year to me which I passed on to the YMCA, so I was never under any obligation to generate a set amount of money for the use of the pavilion. This happy state of affairs came to an end when we eventually came under the control of the Council.

It was a long time before the Council got round to asking me for money and for several months we paid nothing for the room. When it did ask in 2009, I was forced to increase the member- ship fee dramatically from £15 to £40, anticipating the payments I would have to make to the Council in 2010. It was in 2009 that the junior club ceased to be independent and merged with the adults as a single financial entity, giving the junior club a degree of financial security. The adult club had voted to sever its connection with the YMCA in 2004 and was at the time of the merger only paying the Town Crier £100 a year. As a result of this, the Club’s income comfortably exceeded its expenditure.

CHESS AT THE HOOLE COMMUNITY CENTRE

Below Graham Bromley instructs Tim Fozzard

At the end of 2010 sometime between Christmas and the New Year, a burst pipe in the pavilion caused much damage and we were unable to return there after the holiday. I expected that after a short interval we would return to the pavilion but  some weeks later, it was still not fit for habitation. I was offered a room at the Westminister Hotel by the father of Barat Sharma who owned the hotel, but unfortunately the room was too small. I decided to approach the Hoole Community Centre in Westminster Road and was able to book a room on a weekly basis, as a temporary measure until, as I thought, the pavilion would be ready. However, it eventually became apparent that we would never be able to return to the pavilion so I decided to make our first long term, six months booking and we have been there ever since.

In the meantime, an interesting struggle was taking place between the new Young Turks and a slightly older one in the shape of Owen Edwards, a very strong junior player and the grandson of Judge Gareth Edwards, a long time member of the chess club, and a club champion. Owen had been a strong player before he arrived at the club but was rarely there at all due to his preference for playing badminton on Friday evenings. However, he had joined the club, and I allowed him to play all his Club Championship games at his home, or at the homes of the other players if necessary. I came in for some mild criticism for this, but I felt he had great potential and didn’t want to lose him.

In 2011 Rohan Yesudian emerged as Owen’s main adversary as a Club Championship contender, surpassing the two previous champions, Alastaire Tonge and Joel Langmead. The struggle was a close one and resulted in a play-off between Rohan and Owen. This took place at my house in Knowsley Road. The two parents sat in the breakfast room and I sat in the room with the players in case I was needed, well away from the board. I didn’t think Rohan had much of a chance of winning, but when both players indicated that the game was over, Rohan was the new champion. I was surprised, but once having seen the game, I realised that what had happened was, in future, unlikely to be reversed.

After the game, I talked to Owen’s father, David about the possibility of coaching him, but after receiving his cup at the Town Crier for his title, Player Of The Year, Owen never returned to the club. Rohan, by contrast, went on to win three more Club Championship titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014, sharing two of them with his brother Riyaan.

The result of these competitions were never a foregone conclusion due to strong competition from Daniel Savidge. Daniel was the winner of the Holdcroft in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and was on course to win the Club Championship in 2013. He had all but secured the title until, during his final game against Riyaan, he blundered in a position from which he should easily have won. This resulted in the two brothers sharing the title for a second year.

During the first three years in Hoole, the club continued to be  successful. Although success in the Wirral League had so far eluded the Club, Chester began to dominate the county teams and was a major factor in the successes of the Cheshire and North Wales teams at that time. The club’s membership was increasing rapidly; in 2013 The junior club alone had 34 members and there seemed to be every reason for optimism concerning the club’s future. However, I did have one worry which concerned me; this was the possibility losing some of our strongest players.

Now you might think that chess, and in particular junior chess would be immune from controversy. That would be a misconception. Like any other competitive sport, chess can generate intense rivalries and long-standing disputes can sometimes occur.

For Chester Juniors there was high drama when in 2012 Daniel Savidge was invited to play for Penyffordd in a knock-out match against his own Chester club. The football equivalent would be Manchester United asking an Arsenal player to play for Man Utd in the FA Cup in a tie against his own club Arsenal. You might imagine there would be rules preventing this from happening. You might also imagine that attempts to make it happen would generate some ill feeling.

Oddly the letter of the law in the chess league rules at the time permitted this to happen. Daniel ultimately declined to play in the match and, following some heated arguments, the league rules were amended to prevent this being possible in future.

I was now even more concerned at the possibility of our best young players joining another local league team and of even losing them altogether. However, the recent episode involving Daniel Savidge made it much easier for me to approach the parents concerned and explain the situation and ask the for their support. I wanted support to bring in a rule stating that members of the Club could play for no other club but Chester in the two local leagues.

This did not prove to be easy in all cases and required a great deal of persuasion to get everyone on board, but when this was achieved, I sent an email to all the parents explaining what I was intent on and why I felt it to be necessary.

Soon after moving to the Hoole Community Centre there had been a rapid increase in the junior club membership. This coincided with the arrival of Jixin Yang and his son Jack in 2011. Jixin soon became heavily involved in the running of the club, to such an extent that there was little between us as far as the responsibility for the club was concerned. He threw himself into the coaching sessions with great enthusiasm and virtually took over the role of coaching for a while. For the last six years we have worked together and built on the club’s previous successes.

In more recent times we have been joined by Phil Skippon, John Carleton and the new Club President, Phil Crocker. With these three additions to the group, I feel that the Club is in an even stronger position than it was previously and is, for the foreseeable future, very unlikely to go the way of the first junior club.

John Carleton’s arrival at the club coincided with a need for a higher level coaching programme that Jixin and I were incapable of providing. The results of John’s work combined with the commitment and dedication of our most promising players has produced startling results. This is best seen in their rise through the divisions in the Wirral League.

During the 2011-12 season, the team was drawn from a pool of players, the main ones being Daniel and Catherine Savidge, Joel Langmead, David Norris, Rohan and Riyaan Yesudian, and Arjun Balasubramaniam. The team finished bottom of the league that year scoring only half a point. In 2013, the contrast could hardly have been greater with the team finishing the season as 3rd division champions.

The team continued to improve rapidly during its two seasons in division 2. By now the team had transformed into a smaller formidable unit of five regular players: Daniel Savidge, Rohan and Riyaan Yesudian with two strong newcomers, James Lee and Seth Collinson. Abhijay Chawda was the player called on occasionally to stand in as a reserve.

In 2015 the team was promoted and narrowly survived in what is a very strong 1st division. The team continued to improve and in 2016 and 2017 retained their 1st division status.

The achievements of these five players is remarkable; Rohan,Riyaan, Daniel and James have all represented England, and Seth, has represented Cheshire on many occasions. Among their many successes, Rohan has won the Cheshire & N. Wales under 18 Championship twice and was the Under 15 English Youth Grand Prix Champion; Riyaan was the under 11 English Youth Champion; Daniel, the Wirral League team captain is a regular board one for the North of England, and James won a strong tournament at the Kings School earlier this year to become the Under 18 Cheshire and North Wales Open Champion.

In  recent years, the junior club has also fielded as many as four junior teams in the Wirral League 4th division giving the younger up and coming players valuable experience of league chess. Some of them have already been successful with the current Chester J team winning the 4th Division Championship twice in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Efe Kitis, Rutujay Chawda, Nithilan Sivanand and Harry Rafferty.

Three other young players who have achieved some successes and have great futures ahead of them are Jack Yang, Nethuli Saram and Sam Burchett. Jack, in recent years has played a major role in the successes of the Cheshire & N Wales teams , playing for the under 9’s and 11’s. He is currently the Chester Junior Champion and has won the Holdcroft Shield three times. Nethuli was named Wirral League division 4 Player Of The Year for 2016-17 having played on board 1 throughout the season for Chester K. She also became the Girls Under 11 Regional Champion in 2016, and the ECF Girls Rapid Play Champion the same year. Sam, this years joint Holdcroft Shield winner with Jack Yang, was the Under 9 Cheshire & N. Wales Under 9 Champion and a 2015 Megafinal Supremo.

Below Jack Yang wins Chester and District League Under 130 Championship in 2017, together with Open winner Colm Buckley

There is no doubt that anyone reading this account will conclude that the Chester Junior Club has been and still is a very strong and successful club. However, it would be a mistake to overlook all those children who have not been as successful as those mentioned. A great many of them have played an equally important part in creating a chess club which has had over the years, that indefinable quality, an ethos, and an atmosphere which has made the club, for many, including myself, an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Without this, the Club would be greatly diminished.