A Brief History of Chess Clubs & Federations

Most chess players, save for the odd prodigy or reclusive genius, were part of a club or federation at some point. Federations and clubs are a means of bringing chess players together and organizing competitive games amongst both professionals and amateurs.

Interestingly, both chess clubs and federations have a rich and varied history. Throughout hundreds of years, chess players recognized the value of joining forces and creating a competitive and interactive world that could further enhance the chess experience. Below we look at the brief history of chess clubs and federations and how they, to this day, remain a relevant component in the world of chess.

FIDE: The Federation of All Federations

It makes sense to begin this brief history by outlining the world’s biggest chess federation: FIDE. FIDE is an acronym for ‘Federation Internationale des Echecs,’ commonly known as the World Chess Federation. FIDE is a chess conglomerate that hosts global competitions for all ages and connects individual clubs from across the world.

FIDE is a French name given to the association during its founding, in Paris in the summer of 1924. Throughout the years, presidents have come and gone, with newly qualified members taking the reigns periodically. The current president is Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and he has held this position since 1995. He is also the president of Kalmykia, a federal subject of Russia, and a country that he is also responsible for governing.

FIDE is well respected today, with most professional players (and most if not all Grandmasters) playing by FIDE’s regulations and stipulations. They usually demand that players compete using traditional chess and have the authority to create arbiters who judge high-level matches. It’s worth noting, however, that FIDE wasn’t always as successful as it is today. While today it’s viewed as one of, if not the most, powerful chess federations in the world- in the early 20th century, it was both financially unsuccessful and lacking in any significant authority or power.

FIDE: The controversy

One of the most significant boosts that FIDE received was in the early 1920s when it rejected the ‘purse requirement’ in the London Rules. The London Rules were a set of regulations adhered to by most players, and the ‘purse requirement’ stated that world champions didn’t have to accept challenges if their monetary return was less than $10,000.

In addition to voiding the ‘purse requirement,’ FIDE also instituted a series of new titles for junior players, took over the women’s division, and created a rating system. It was primarily viewed as a positive force until it conflicted with the Soviet Chess Federation. This conflict created a little controversy in the late 1970s and subsequently caused more conflict. It began with Gennadi Sosonko, a Russian man who defected to the Netherlands and became a Grandmaster. The Soviet Union viewed Sosonko as a ‘nonperson’ or ‘unperson’ who shouldn’t compete. He did, and no Soviet players attended the Dutch championships in the mid-70s.

A series of other conflicts arose, and several controversies came to light until the late 1990s when political friction began to calm somewhat. Today, FIDE remains the most prominent chess authority globally that continues to tie federations and players together.

The Power of Local Leagues

While FIDE represents a global force, local leagues embody the power of small-scale players. Nearly every western city, and most major cities worldwide, have many chess clubs and teams available to join. This is an opportunity for regular players to compete in local tournaments or championships against other players of varying skills and learn from them. These are an invaluable way for chess players of differing abilities to improve and better their game and a way for them to socialize with other players who share similar interests and values.

Chess clubs are also a massive component in educational establishments, such as universities and high schools. Most colleges have at least one or not several competing chess societies. Many students participate in clubs to boost their resumes or improve their critical thinking for classes such as philosophy. Chess is silly widely in demand by certain employers, which may explain its popularity on college campuses.

While common stereotypes suggest that chess is a slow or tedious activity, many former chess club members have reported that the clubs especially can be serious fun and an excellent way to socialize without physically exerting yourself. Chess ‘socials’ and nights out are a common occurrence, particularly in British universities, and they’re an excellent opportunity for chess players to let loose and take a break from the rationality of it all.

The English Chess Federation

The English Chess Federation is a second-tier chess federation that is the governing organization for all English clubs and federations. It’s viewed as the second tier because it doesn’t compete with FIDE but is associated with the World Federation and works alongside bigger organizations to run a more efficient British service.

The English Chess Federation has grown in recent years, and the British Chess Championship is now run under the authority of the ECF. Interestingly, however, several UK countries broke away in 2005- leaving the ECF to govern England alone, and have no say over Wales or Scotland, for example. Their federations now govern these separate countries, which may eventually fall under the authority of the ECF, although this is yet to be determined. Previous to the 2005 split, the ECF was known as BCA. This was an acronym for the ‘British Chess Federation,’ which was split from the ‘Yorkshire Chess Association’ founded in the early 19th century.

The Yorkshire Chess Association made a remarkable impression on historians, as various documents have reported that certain club members took up to 2 hours to perform one single chess move. While the ECF no longer allows such lengthy moves or doesn’t actively encourage them, the federation has a rich and exciting history.

The ECF and its role in the world of chess

The English Chess Federation is particularly noted for its competitions, which generate a lot of interest and publicity worldwide, both by professional chess players and amateurs who enjoy playing recreationally. In 2016, according to their website, they hosted the following competitions:

British Rapidplay
County Championships
National Club Championships
Tradewise Grand Prix
County Correspondence Championships
English Women’s Championships

While some of these competitions were open to international players, many were limited to English nationals and local players. The lack of diversity in their matches is considered one of the many reasons why the ECF hasn’t progressed to a larger size and why the BCA may have broken apart, to begin with. Many objective experts believe that for the ECF to thrive, it must begin to host competitions that are more accessible to players worldwide.

Online chess clubs

The rise of online chess is widely viewed as a progressive step for chess. It has made the game free and accessible to most, if not all people, who now have the opportunity to practice and play competitively online. As internet chess has gained popularity, several virtual chess clubs and associations have gained momentum. While FIDE or any other major federation doesn’t officially recognize these, they provide an excellent way for chess players to socialize using virtual chatrooms or forums and improve their gameplay through virtual communication.

The ‘Internet Chess Club’ is arguably the biggest virtual chess club to date. The ICC has a huge number of features available to its members, including a television channel, where live matches are streamed via YouTube. They also have the option for members to play for free online or download the app to their mobile devices.

The ICC has revolutionized online chess by bringing it one step closer to the real deal. While virtual chess mimicked the appearance of normal chess, it lacked the humanity and the emotion of the board game. Through the rise of this virtual chess club, the game has become more humanized, and the internet has become a realistic option for those who are unable to attend an actual chess federation.

Chess clubs: making chess social

Chess has the potential to become a very solitary activity, particularly if you seek to improve your gameplay by studying players and reading in detail about the game. Chess clubs and federations provide a social outlet for players who enjoy playing alone. It gives them an opportunity to fraternize with those who share a similar passion or interest.

Federations and clubs have a history almost as long as chess itself. It’s natural for humans to want to interact with each other and enjoy engaging in activities together. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that you seek out your club or federation and give it a go, particularly as a novice. The experience alone may improve your gameplay and take you to a higher level.

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