The MSCL Webmaster has kindly suggested I might like to kick off a Forum thread on experience to date of the new Junior/Rapid Division and possible changes that might be made for the 2017-18 season. At the outset I should declare that I have up to four hats in this regard:
- As Secretary of the MSCL
- As the person mandated at the 2016 MSCL AGM to consult and ultimately determine the rules of the division
- As captain of Lewes Chess Club’s Rapid team
- As parent of one of Lewes Chess Club’s active juniors
My comments therefore are variously motivated and if at all points it is not clear which hat I’m wearing then it probably isn’t to me either; I will not therefore bore the reader by attempting to isolate at every turn in what follows the hat I believe I’m at that moment wearing.
First of all I’ll ask whether this discussion should form part of the business of the 2017 MSCL AGM
Six clubs entered a team in the Rapid Division whereas there are 13 in the League. While hopefully all will be interested not all have this season or are likely in future to have a direct participatory interest. As discussion at the AGM could be interminable it might be best that the meeting confine itself to a broad overview of the season and leave involved clubs under the direction of the Committee or the AGM’s mandated individual to thrash out post-meeting any changes deemed necessary to the current rules.
Turning to specifics, I start with what I regard as the most important question:
Is the new division a junior league or a rapid league?
Personally I am of the view that the league should be orientated at juniors and adult participants be accepted only where the alternative is defaults. In this connexion I stated in the consultation last year:
The emphasis would however be on juniors so it would be expected the team comprise as many juniors as possible. Clubs would not be encouraged to submit a team or teams if they do not expect to be able to fulfil the spirit of the new Division. Over the season as a whole juniors should therefore represent the club on over 50% of boards.
My belief now is that this these broad outlines were insufficiently stringent. Clubs should not in my view submit a team unless they believe they can field juniors on all boards in all matches. My main reason for saying this is that Lewes’s juniors have looked crestfallen when they realise they’re up against an adult. There’s a feeling somehow that it’s not quite right, that they’re at a disadvantage or that the other side isn’t playing cricket. I don’t say that these sentiments are correct, but I do describe them as I see and perceive them on our players’ faces. From my point of view as a captain we’ve gone to great lengths to field an all-junior team for every fixture, on one occasion roping in the younger sibling of one of our U11 players to play his first ever competitive game in an away match at Horsham! We could of course have instead put an appropriately graded adult on board 1 thereby giving us a better chance on that board as well as bumping the rest of our team down each by a board.
In order to be able comfortably to field an all-junior team a club requires, I think, a pool of, at a minimum, between six and eight keen juniors - and equally keen parents. Juniors have many things going on, not least homework, other clubs and sport. And younger juniors (or at least their parents) may be less enthusiastic about permitting their child to play in away matches. I leave for thread discussion how, if this be deemed desirable, it be achieved but in my view it wouldn’t be out of order to require Clubs to submit at the start of the season a squad list of at least six junior members from whom they expect to select (although there would be no obligation to use these or only these) throughout the season. This wouldn’t of course preclude changes and additions to squads, but it would serve as an indication of intent. The provision for adult players to fill vacant boards for any given fixture should remain but here too the emphasis should be on the lower graded players of the club.
I should prefer therefore to raise the overall target junior participation on all boards throughout the season from 50% to 75%. During the consultation Julie mooted the idea that clubs that have too few juniors to sustain a team could “lend” their juniors to another club for the purposes of the junior league. I think this is a good idea. Alternatively two such clubs could together form an Anytown & Anywhere team. Logistically more complicated, yes, but not an insurmountable barrier to participation.
Following consultation I drew back from my original intention to have incremental time controls and instead settled on 45 minutes all moves. While I don’t say this hasn’t worked I should like to try the next season on incremental time controls. I can’t see that very often games will go on much past the target match completion time (21:00) and if they did by 10 minutes occasionally it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Juniors are used at Sussex Junior Chess events to incremental time controls and at most regional and national junior competitions likewise. While sudden death won’t be completely alien to them it seems to me regressive when the technology is readily available to do otherwise (one of our juniors at a recent match had no idea how an analogue chess clock worked and was totally unfamiliar with the mechanism of the physical flag fall!).
My timing preference would be for, say, 40 minutes all moves plus 10 seconds a move. A sixty move game that goes to the wire for both players would therefore last for 1h 40, only 10 minutes longer than the current scheduled session.
The current grading limit is ECF RP 140. Broadly I’m happy with this but Lewes are not alone among participating clubs in having one of their players rendered ineligible for games played post-publication of the January 2017 list on account of their RP grade having gone above 140. When as a captain one’s pool of players is thereby reduced from six to five that makes it considerably more difficult to field an all-junior team for the remaining fixtures. I realise I’m not totally disinterested on this point as at Lewes it’s my son who’s gone over limit (although he remains stubbornly below 140 at SP) but I wonder if we might insist upon the limit at the start of season only (ie. in relation to the July list) and continue to permit those players who were eligible at the start (and on the season-start squad list) to play for the whole season? The limit should still apply to new players arriving part way through the season. My main motivation for mooting this is not to keep my son in the team (he gets plenty of play in the main divisions, at SJC, and elsewhere) but, as above, to keep to the objective of fielding all-junior teams.
It’s been evident at a couple of matches that some players, particularly on the lower boards, struggle to record. In consequence they get into a bit of a flap, lose concentration on the game itself and stop having fun. I don’t think we want that. And I doubt the score sheet of those games would be of much use in a dispute situation as frequently squares are incorrectly referenced, several moves are missing etc. Far better in my view that experienced adults are present (preferably the non-playing captains of both sides) to keep an eye on things and to intervene or resolve disputes as required.
I think therefore recording should be encouraged but not be mandatory, on all boards.
My last topic is I admit a bit of hobby horse. I was resolutely opposed to the introduction of fixed colours in the League and I voted for the status quo ante when it came up for discussion a year or two later. In my view it’s led, for players individually if not for teams, to precisely the opposite of that intended, namely that players get predictable and frequent runs of the same colour by rule and not, only occasionally, fortuitously. It was not my intention to have this rule apply to the junior league but while my back was turned moving house in September 2016 it managed (thanks Julie!) to sneak into the rules. But the slim rationale for fixed colours in the main divisions is of no relevance in a division where teams comprise four boards as of course both teams will always have two Whites and two Blacks irrespective of whether for either team it’s a Home or an Away match. Furthermore as a 2-2 result is recorded as a drawn match there is no marginal advantage, as in a board count situation to determine a winner, of having White on board one. I should prefer therefore that we use coin toss for the junior league.
All other junior league specifics are in my view fine and not in need of attention but if others feel differently by all means bring these into the discussion as well.
9th March 17
Secretary Crowborough CC
Overall I think the league has been a success and my comments in response to Matthew are below
Incremental Time controls
- It is crucial that we introduce increments. We have had two near misses where games could have turned into a shambles with a sudden death finish
- 10 Seconds is the shortest sensible increment and personally I would go for 35 minutes +10 Seconds so that a 60 move game where both players use their full time allotment would still end within the 90 minutes. The frequency of a 100+ move game where both players use all the time available will be extremely low and as Matthew states a short overrun would not be an issue in these rare cases
- I don’t see this as an issue especially where the adults are parents of the juniors or at the opposite end of their playing career
- I don’t like to see juniors excluded because of grade so would suggest a compromise; all juniors (under 16?) should be able to play no matter what grade but adults should be unrated or below a 120 grade
- Insisting on all junior teams would probably make the league unworkable
Recording of Games
- Rapidplay games do not need to be recorded in order to be graded
- Certainly encourage recording of games to at least 20 moves but cannot see why we should make this a requirement
- This league has 4 boards so tossing a coin or fixed colours I believe makes no difference so happy either way
Crowborough’s experience is that we would have liked more matches to give all our juniors a game and so we may enter two teams next season and maybe only one team in the MSCL proper.
This would reflect our membership where junior members are in a ratio of 2:1 with the adults and while our senior teams have struggled to complete our fixtures I have juniors scrambling to be in the rapid team.
18th March 17
I would like to concur wholeheartedly with David Fryer's well thought out and sensible post.
Large clubs like Lewes may well be able to call upon six or more eligible juniors to nominate for this event. Here we dream of such riches. Despite having fielded an all junior/largely junior team in the league proper for the past few years, Woodpushers has only three eligible juniors for the rapidplay league. One of these is not old enough for away matches just yet, but by the time he is (let us hope next year), very likely he will be also be ineligible having gone through the grading limit. David Fryer's point, that the league may become unworkable if made more restrictive, is well made. I agree that going marginally the other way would be better, with the intention of making the league largely U16 with Dads and "players at the opposite end of their careers". I am sure that all participating clubs would be happy to observe the spirit of the competition. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we may soon find that, if the driver may not play in the league, the Rapidplay League may need to be renamed the Rapidplay People-Carrier League.
Maybe if the home side fields an adult, they should play against the away team's driver if they also have three or fewer juniors?
5th June 17
UckfieldAs with Matthew’s original Forum comments, I send this in advance of any AGM discussion or plans for next season, but from different standpoints which may become muddled:- as a strong supporter of the new League, as this year’s Uckfield club first team and Rapid Play Captain, as the parent of an active junior player, and as a junior chess coach in my 22nd year as such. Firstly before comment on individual proposals, it needs emphasising from the AGM discussion that a majority in the MSL supported the introduction of this new League for the main objective of introducing younger players to League competition and developing them so that the future of the MSL could be secured. Now to separate points raised by Matthew -
- We are not aware as a point of order that any rules have been formalised as part of the MSL AGM structure. The League was brilliantly started by Matthew after adequate consultation on a trial basis. If the rules were to be formalised as such then this would need to have been set up for the imminent AGM, so we believe this was a trial season and discussions should still be informal. It should not be restricted to those who took part, as some who did not may be considering participation in the future.
- Junior League or Rapid League ? The original proposal for a Junior League was modified to Rapid League to enable adults to play, with Matthew wisely setting a target of more than 50% junior participation. Matthew’s detailed comments about “crestfallen” juniors are therefore misplaced and we should go back to the reason for the League. Not all clubs will be able to field full teams of juniors, but if they do have two or three then we are introducing those youngsters in to League play. Being progressively restrictive will limit some clubs from participation in the future Youngsters being crestfallen at playing an adult is part of growing and a need for coaching, but I would suggest adults losing to youngsters is more of an unhappy experience. If the League is played in the right spirit, it is more about growth and less about competition.
- My previous comments on incremental time control stand. Our juniors do not like it at all. I have seen a match admittedly between two adults in the knockout adding to the match time by some fifteen minutes, This is not acceptable for juniors midweek, where the only excuse for delivering them home late from an away match must be a traffic problem, not a delay which the League administration has control over. Also as a coach, I believe finite time has greater lessons for juniors linked to educational needs in terms of time management and I am secure in that from educational research and my years of experience, having trained juniors precisely in that way and had solid feedback from them when they are older. Sudden death finishes also make for excitement, which youngsters love, and are a leveller between new players and those with more experience used to longer play. If the latter have failed to plan sufficiently, then that plan will fail and they should seek a draw. Personally I am becoming increasingly bored with seeing well-trained juniors in time jeopardy juggling their pieces around at a fast rate to boost their time for longer consideration.
- Grading limits. Matthew knows I have great sympathy with him on this. We at Uckfield had the prospect of four juniors to play in all matches and then in January my son, as the putative captain, was excluded because of his grade rising above 140. This caused a struggle on team selection, and only at the very end of the year could we rise to four again with the introduction of a much younger player we could only use in home matches. That said, I have a different view to Matthew and certainly do not agree with Dave Fryer. A limit is a limit and should apply as it currently does throughout a season. No wonder Crowborough would like no limits as they have a profusion of junior England players travelling some distance to play for them. The limit applies to restrict really good players and I can assure all that secondary age chess even for Sussex Junior is baulked by new players having to compete against top level and becoming dissatisfied (and deterred !) at the difficulty in breaking through. Whether applied to adults or juniors, going back to Matthew’s other comments, a limit gives a guarantee to all that proven ability is capped. Any Junior above 140, as Matthew has indicated, will be getting plenty of chess anyway.
- Game recording – I agree entirely with Matthew, encouraged not mandatory, but the encouragement should be practical with each match, not skated over for convenience.
- Colours - Also fully agreed as long as we have teams of four.
Lastly I introduce a very important point, which has received scant attention - the safeguarding of children. We are aware of those with paedophilic tendencies having gravitated to chess as many young people take part. At Uckfield we have strong policy around our juniors, and that is from a collective sense of responsibility and not because of my former professional responsibilities. We have five adults in the club who have current DBS clearance and do not allow transport of youngsters for the club except with that clearance and awareness of the need for safeguarding. Currently the MSL throws the responsibility back to clubs, but that is untenable. For the sake of discussion only, at one club we travelled to, the playing area is beyond licensed premises and when juniors finished their games at different times, one of them was seen in the bar area and approached by an unknown adult who had been drinking at the bar. As the playing captain and DBS authorised, I was still in the playing area. Fortunately as I was recovering from illness my wife was in the bar and supervised the youngster. Put simply, if that incident had ended badly, for sure the home club would have been in the firing line, but then commensurately the MSL would also be seen as responsible and at the very least it would lead to bad publicity.
Currently schools are throwing more onto junior coaches, and not only requiring DBS clearance but training in Safeguarding and also more recently the Prevent Strategy. Sussex Junior Chess has a person acting as Safeguarding Officer. It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that currently there is a very high focus on sports coaches and many. many investigations. The MSL needs to be focused on this and have the foresight to fully protect itself.
Finally we at Uckfield want to thank Matthew profusely for his outstanding effort in getting this new League on track. The first season has been a success for all of the youngsters involved, so long may it continue. That said, in advance of our own club AGM we may have problems in entering next year, as we lose one of the aforementioned juniors to University, our other senior junior will probably remain barred by grading limit, and all of our DBS authorised adults will probably be also ineligible. We will do our best for the youngsters, but it remains problematic.