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Updated 23.8.01

Open Forum is your vehicle for comment and discussion, and it is open. Anything goes, within the bounds of common sense and the libel laws, provided it's got something to do with chess in the SCCU. Or England. Or anywhere, really. It will be assumed, unless you say otherwise, that contributions may also be published in the printed SCCU Bulletin.
    To contribute, email Richard Haddrell Please give your postal address. We like to know where you are. [Nearly everyone ignores that. Oh, well.]
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The letters on Time Controls & Finishes have been transferred 11.4.01 to a page of their own.


From Joe Conlon
I'd like to add some points about eligibility in general, and Cambridge in particular, to the correspondence in Open Forum. As I see it, the principal activities of Cambridge University Chess Club[CUCC] are fourfold, excluding social events such as the annual dinner. They are, in no order other than the first,
     (1) Beating Oxford
     (2) Publishing Dragon, the club magazine
     (3) Organising the Cambridgeshire team
     (4) Administering the inter-college league.
In regard to (3), there is a deep connection between the county team and CUCC which is not going to break anytime soon. The county team plays in university rooms, the players are predominately undergraduates at the university, the organisers of the Cambridgeshire team are on the CUCC committee and it is club money that makes up any shortfall in travel expenses. Running and outfitting the Cambridgeshire team is one of the central activities of CUCC and results in an interesting twist on eligiblity: last year, 'active membership' of the club was internally defined primarily through participation in county matches. [To be eligible to play in the Varsity match, a player had to be an active member of CUCC. This was defined as participation in 4 home +1 away, or 2 home + 2 away, events, events being the 8 county matches + the university championship + an inter-universities tournament] Whatever the decision as to the legitimacy of former students playing for Cambridgeshire, those who do so certainly remain active members of the university chess club. They have joined for life; they continue to take part in one of the main activities of the club; how can they be anything but active members?
     The nature of the Cambridge chess club leads me to a friendly critique of attempts to define membership of a club through matches played for that club. As a club, CUCC play at most four times, and arguably just once, in a year and using the above criterion, several of the current committee would fail the membership test. This is clearly absurd. It may be said that Cambridge is an exception in this regard; this is probably true but it is this exception which is the fulcrum of the eligibility debate. Why not leave the precise definition of membership up to the discretion of the Controller, who will be able to be judge each situation on its merits?
Joe Conlon
CUCC Match Secretary 2000-02
rjh: Discretion's fine, but I still think we need a stricter definition of club membership. Who would it affect, apart from the absentee life members? Not the committee, unless they've gone down and live in Heckmondwike. They'll qualify, like everyone else, by living in Cambridgeshire or attending the University.
     What's wrong with using absentee life members? Nothing, except that other Counties can't. If we're going to be flexible, let's have a flexibility anyone can use. See John Saunders three letters down (last paragraph), and my tentative footnote to him.      

From Gary Kenworthy
Some simple statements:
     (1) It is the first time in years that my grading is correct. Very well done, BCF. Good time for me to take a year out!
     (2) My ELO has gone inactive. = i is inactive, played less than 4 games in 2 years - hummm - Bogdan, Mark Hebden, Nigel Povah, Mark Ferguson, plus nine others, in the last 16 months alone. I know that the late GMA Smith OBE (a fine gent) situation would have been a factor, but surely the published special efforts (see 4NCL site1) should have rectified this situation? My team captain (Richard Palliser) has probably lost two norms and an immediate IM title over this as well.
     (3) I have been interested in the Eligibility debate. One thing the rule makers should always bear in mind: the principle of playing chess and having loyalty and enjoyment should take precedence and be enshrined in the rules.
     Further, many of the top CU players are, and have been, Celtic (Welsh, Scots, Irish). They have no English birth county, or they are Londoners with no Middx team to play for.
     On the subject of eligibility, I'll answer the question about Tony Miles and Slough that came up in earlier correspondence [see Jeff Goldberg 5.6.01, half a page away]. Tony attends Slough social functions, captains meetings, and organises special events, lightnings and socials at the British Legion and surrounding places. In the National Club the controllers used to have an acid test: would be recognised down at the club.
Gary Kenworthy
1 rjh: I can't find it on the 4NCL site, but may have looked in the wrong place. There's something about it on the BCF site.

We weren't sure whether to put the next letter in Open Forum or the Archive. It will probably end up in both, if we ever manage a proper History of the SCCU. That's an invitation, if there are any Historians out there with the time and resources to hand.
From Bernard Cafferty
Jeff Goldberg and John Saunders make a number of valid points in their recent contributions [on County eligibility]. Those following this topic may like some historical background, which tends to show that the founding fathers had a better idea of how to proceed than applies now. I recently found the "Rules of the Southern Counties Union for the Regulation of County Matches" in the 1893-4 Chess Player's Annual, which is held in the Hastings CC library. NB the SCCU was formed in 1892 and the above reference book indicates that matches were played in four regional sections in view of the fact that the area covered ran from the West Country to Shropshire and also included East Anglia. [rjh: it was five sections at least once, in later years, and South Wales came into it. I didn't know it went as far north as Shropshire.]
     Rule 3 read:- "The qualification for a player to represent any county at any match shall be one of the following, namely a) birth in that county; b) six months' immediately previous and present residence in that county; c) ten years' residence and present membership of a club in that county.
     Rule 9 stated that each County Assoc. had to supply the Union with a list of its proposed players stating the basis of their qualification for that county. No-one could play for a county before such registration. The lists were open to inspection by all counties "and any objection to the ... qualification of a player shall be submitted to the reference committee."
     The BCF, when formed in 1904, presumably took over some of the wording of 3, but at some stage 9, the registration aspect, was removed. Obviously, we live, a century or so later, in an age of much greater job/residence mobility, but a statement of the basis of qualification still seems highly desirable.
Bernard Cafferty
who, incidentally, has played for six counties over the years, but is now only qualified for two:- Lancs (birth) and Sussex.

From John Saunders
Dear Richard,
I have been following the debate about County Championship eligibility with some interest. The first thing that strikes me is that the rules as they stand are practically impossible to police. How is one county to know if the players of another county are eligible or not? Indeed, how is a captain to know if his own players are qualified? I remember travelling from London with a Bucks county colleague in the early 1970s to play for the county (as we had done since we were schoolboys in the county). We both lived in London and neither of us belonged to a Bucks club by that time. I was born in Bucks, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't. I'm also not sure whether he was qualified under rule 11 ii). For the sake of argument, let's assume he wasn't. So, correct me if I'm wrong, I was 'legit' whereas he wasn't. But where was the harm in his showing loyalty to the county of his youth? Half the fun of team chess is making friends with one's team-mates and socialising with them (viz. the huge success of the 4NCL), and any rule that cuts across this needs to be strongly justified. I'm not sure this one is.
     Consequently I have considerable sympathy for Nathan Alfred's views on this matter. The eligibility (or otherwise) of Cambridgeshire's players is far more "visible" than that of other counties. People know who the university students are, realise that they are unlikely to have birth qualification, and consequently become suspicious when they continue to play for the county beyond their 3rd year. To deem them ineligible at that stage seems unduly harsh; we should be doing everything we can to foster the good health of team chess, and stopping ex-students from playing alongside their mates for a few more years seems faintly ridiculous.
     To counter this, I suggest a rule change that would allow continuity of eligibility for players eligible under rule 11 v) [students etc] so long as they continue to play (say) one county match per season for said county. I expect that in most cases players would stop playing within two or three years anyway, or at such time as their old friends were no longer involved. The rule would have the added benefit of making it a bit easier for the Cambridgeshire captain - and also his opposite numbers - to check the eligibility of players.
John Saunders
rjh: But why a concession just for students and schoolchildren (and teachers)? You can form an attachment to a County without being any of those. Perhaps it should extend to anyone who has legitimately played for a County in (say) three consecutive years.

From Nick Butland
As I now have a vested interest as Bucks match captain, I have been trying to follow the thread on county eligibility, with little success. I am aware that Cambridgeshire are the supposed villains of the piece, but forthcoming discussions need to cover the following issues which could affect smaller counties like Bucks:
     (1) I do know of one Bucks player who has regularly journeyed a good distance to play for the county (& I hope will continue to do so), who may well qualify in other ways, but certainly does not play in our county league. He would not be strong enough to represent the county where he resides. Is it desirable to tell him his services are no longer permitted?
     (2) Are those playing league matches in Middlesex debarred unless qualified elsewhere?
     (3) Definition of a "county" needs to take affiliated club status into account. Of the 5 clubs represented in the Bucks top division next season, 2 are in neighbouring counties, but will contribute substantially (I hope!) to the county team.
     If there is a substantive proposal on the table which I have missed, I hope someone can point me to it.

On an entirely unrelated point, I would like to pass on thanks to David Smith & John Philpott for their smooth running of the National Club Finals day. On the question of neutral venues, I suppose Aylesbury playing Wanstead in the Major final at Wanstead wasn't a particularly good example, but as you have pointed out, this happened at Syston too1. I suspect we may have been a bit grumpier had we travelled for 2 hours, rather than one, and then lost! The only comment on this year's venue (& I know that the local library was a second choice) was: a little cramped, but I have been at far worse.
Nick Butland 01296 732150
Aylesbury & Bucks
1 rjh: This is something I mentioned to Nick privately a while back. Syston played and won a Plate Final on their home ground in 1998, having got there without playing any matches. They did it by means of two defaults, one of which was their own in round 1 of the Championship. This must have set a record for total overall travelling distance by a team winning a National Club title.

     Webmaster's answers, on eligibility: -
I don't think the BCF publishes its Counties Championship rules, but this site does. Click here. We're talking about Rule 11, which is binding at the Union stage as well as the BCF one.
     There's no formal proposal on the table yet. That comes with the BCF Council papers in early September. But the Director has said what proposal he intends. It's on this page from the horse's mouth, two letters down (Cyril Johnson 17.7.01, second half). It goes with Rule 11(iii), though Cyril doesn't say that, and it affects only the club-membership qualification. All the rest (birth, residence and the other one) would remain intact.
     Anyway, point (3) is covered. Point (2) is the other side of the same question. If those players' clubs are either affiliated to Bucks, or geographically within it, they can play for Bucks. If the new proposal requires people to have played for their club, it doesn't say what in. Of course they are also eligible for Middx, if their clubs are affiliated to Middx.
     As for the player of point (1), he isn't going to be affected unless his sole qualification is Honorary Non-Playing Distance Membership of Aylesbury Chess Club.
     My reading of the rules is that the SCCU, even if so inclined, would not be entitled to introduce more stringent requirements of its own. Not even at the Union stage.

From Jeff Goldberg
In reply to Nathan Alfred's letter of 17 Jul, I received an email from Cyril Johnson during the week before the semi final match informing me that he was emailing Nathan to tell him that all players claiming eligibility through club membership must have played at least one game for that club in the previous 12 months. Naturally I assumed that this was done.
     We can all define life membership, it means membership for life. No doubt you can insist on your right to play someone until the second doctor's ink has dried on their death certificate, but the point is that non-playing life membership of a club is not, to many of us, an acceptable eligibility qualification for county chess.
     I'm delighted that Cyril has circulated a proposal [see next letter down] to change club membership eligibility for the BCF stages. This matter was discussed by the Essex Executive Committee this week and we felt it right that a player should have played a certain number of games for his club in a certain period of time prior to the county match in order to claim eligibility through that club membership. (This does not affect the other grounds for qualification.)
     We have 3 points against club membership qualification without playing activity:
(1) County eligibility should not purchasable i.e. by paying a club membership fee.
(2) The connection between a county and a non-playing member of a county club is too weak to allow them to represent that county. Let's remember that we are talking only of players who do not reside in the county nor were born in the county, nor are they in full time education in that county, otherwise they would qualify anyway.
(3) Rules should in principle be verifiable, but practically it is impossible to disprove whether someone is a member of a club provided the club backs up the story. For example, if Cambridge University Chess Club say that someone is a life member who outside that club can argue? If I say someone is a member of Ilford can anyone here prove otherwise? Most county captains have enough control of a club to be able to claim someone is a member without any chance of an opposing captain exposing them. The only practical way of proving membership is by checking games played for that club.
     So let non-playing members of a club be a non-playing members of the county too!
     Let's all hope that when this matter is discussed at the BCF meeting in September agreement can be reached and we can move on.
     For the sake of the sanity of all readers of Open Forum and indeed my own this is positively my last comment on eligibility, at least until after the BCF meeting.
Jeff Goldberg
rjh: Jeff wrote in his own name and I assume his views are not necessarily those of Ilford CC!

From Cyril Johnson
Re Uppingham and the Counties Championships [see various recent letters]
If any player at Uppingham had been disabled, then there was another large room downstairs which would have been used for the entire match. As Mr Cafferty never posed this question, he was unaware of the answer. [rjh: But were the Counties told?]
     I have had the suggestion that I use venues which are neutral. I would need to book 10 venues to take into account the possible permutations of North v West, West v East etc, not really feasible. Last time we used Uppingham, as when we used Beeston, there were no players using British rail.1 This is the second largest meeting of chess players under the auspices of the BCF, and hopefully, next year we can use this to generate some serious sponsorship to benefit other aspects of the BCF.
     I would like to thank Jeff Goldberg for his help with the National Club final, and the Essex CA in general.
     I indicated to Cambridgeshire that I viewed participation in a match as an unequivocal qualification for membership of the team. I am proposing the following motion for discussion at the AGM in September. Any county or indidivual is most welcome to propose amendments.
     "Membership of a club is defined as either paying a subscription to the club and/or playing a competitive game for that club in either the preceding or current season."
     I shall neither be speaking in favour nor against that motion, nor voting. This is a motion to enable Council to discuss and reach a firm decision on what has been a matter of contention so that we can then concentrate on chess.
Cyril Johnson
Director of Home Chess
1 John Philpott notes 18.7.01:
[This] is factually incorrect. Messrs Barclay, Hunnable and Twitchell all travelled by train to the Essex v Devon U175 final at Uppingham in 1999. I should know, as having tossed for colours I had to make a hasty round trip from Uppingham to Oakham to collect them.
     Bernard Cafferty (same date) adds that eight of the Sussex team went by train that day.

From Nathan Alfred
Dear Richard,
Jeff is misinformed.
1. We were not informed by the Controller before the match about the eligibility of players on "club membership grounds".
2. We went about our team selection in exactly the same way as we did in any other match i.e. by announcement to our county email list.
     I do not think we abuse the definition of "life membership" - as explained in my letter of 6.6.01 [below]. I await any suggestions for a rule change with interest - perhaps Jeff could come up with his own definition?
Nathan Alfred
1 Forster Road, Beckenham, Kent BR3 4LH

From Jeff Goldberg
No, Jeff Goldberg [8.7.01 below] is not misinformed (at least not this time).
     Essex's questioning of certain players AFTER the match may have been rejected, but BEFORE the match Cambridge were informed by the controller that he would not accept life membership as grounds for qualification but that the players should have played at least a game for a Cambridge club in the last year in order to qualify on club membership grounds.
     We [?Essex - rjh] strongly suspect that this ruling prevented certain "Life Members" being selected for our match under the threat of being ruled ineligible. Didn't someone once say that the threat is stronger than its execution? After the match our captain reasonably asked the controller to rule on some grey areas and we have accepted his ruling on those players without any quibble.
     Further, the Final stages are subject to BCF rules but doesn't the ball really start to roll at the SCCU stage? Let's start by getting our own house in order, preferably with Cambridge's consent and participation - then we can ask the BCF to follow our example with rather more moral authority than we possess at present. Finally, I believe it might be possible for the SCCU to force the issue by ruling that qualification from the SCCU event is subject to qualifying counties accepting the SCCU's eligibility criteria in the BCF Stages. If any county disobeyed they could be disqualified by the SCCU in future years.
rjh: Deadline for proposals, at the SCCU's forthcoming AGM, is 8th May 2001. The BCF Director intends proposals at the September Council meeting.

rjh: I think the following must be our last letter on central venues in general and Uppingham in particular, unless you have genuinely new points to make.
From Bernard Cafferty
I have played in and watched a number of county finals over the years. I even recall a Lancs-Middx final in Manchester (those were the days!) which Golombek attended in order to have a report on it in the Monday issue of The Times. So, perhaps I have some justification for feeling that if Mr Tillotson thinks the Uppingham venue was "first-class", he is setting his sights too low.
     There were no toilets on the first floor where the games were played. You had to go down the stairs to queue for the one urinal and three cubicles provided in this block and another block 80 yards away - and this for over 150 players/officials/visitors. This fault replicated the situation at Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire a few years back. What message does this send out? If you are handicapped/disabled/old, then county chess is not for you!
     As for central venues, I am sure that Ken Norman was only suggesting flexibility. Why should all the grading levels be at the same venue? This is just too rigid (as is booking a hall a year in advance). It was not as if you could see all the positions yesterday - players were hemmed in except at the edges.
     Finally, I can give my own story of long travel times. For those who were not there, could I mention that the playing hours were 13.30 hours to 18.30. I would have liked to have stayed to the end, but fearing that I would not get home till after midnight, I left the venue a little before 18.00hrs. A team colleague kindly gave me a lift to Kettering, where I picked up the 19.00 train to London St Pancras. Connections worked out well, but I did not get back to Hastings station till 22.25pm.
     A final passing thought. The taxi driver who took me to Uppingham from Oakham on the Saturday morning commented that as a former British Rail employee, who was interested in transport, he could say that the area in question was the worst served in the country from the point of view of public transport!
Bernard Cafferty
[Ken Norman confirms the travel difficulties - last train from Oakham was a rather tight 19.09 - but is very complimentary about the venue itself. He supports the idea of two venues, one South and one Midlands (why not one South and one North?)]

From Carl Tillotson
Richard, REF: Ken Norman 5.7.01
Apologies for jumping into this interesting argument. This year people will have noticed that there were two Lancashire teams, a Manchester team and a Cleveland team participating in the County Finals.
     For the Lancashire players the journey was a choice of a 180-200 mile single journey down the M6 across to Kettering and then up to Uppingham which took 3.5 hours; or a 150-170 single journey down to Stoke, across to Uttoxeter, around Leicester and then on to Uppingham; again journey time of about 3-4 hours depending on where in Lancashire you started. Our Cleveleys Junior players had a day which comprised a 4 hour trip out, a 5 hour match and a 4 hour trip back. Yet, who did they face? A Cleveland team who had an even longer journey to play a final which was a repeat of an earlier Zonal meeting in the NCCU. Spare a thought for a team (Cleveland) who due to the nature of the tournament will always be facing round trips of 350-400 miles at the National Stages!
     The irony for me was passing a sign on the M6 as I was approaching the M1 which said "London 97 miles" - and we were still 40 minutes away from Uppingham at that stage! I had started off at 9:30am and at the end of a long day I got back home at 10:30pm. This on a day when there were NO TRAVEL PROBLEMS - you can imagine Birmingham is hell to get through! Luckily the gods were smiling on the travel front!
     Yes, of course we moaned a little, who doesn't when facing such a long journey. However, the Lancashire U100 team are used to it having travelled approximately 1500 miles this season. The Lancashire U125 team have also travelled in excess of 1200 miles.
     Of course Uppingham is one of the most inaccessible venues from the perspective of Lancashire, however, I accept that we have to face practicalities. The venue itself is first-class. Cyril Johnson has to book the venue 12 months in advance; and despite his numerous skills clairvoyancy is not one of them. No one can predict which teams will make it to the finals, as a result you are always going to get some counties bemoaning the venue.
     Moving the venue further south I feel will cause a few problems. How do you encourage Cumbria, Northumberland, Cleveland to participate in the tournament if they have to face a 4-6 hour journey to play a 5 hour match? A lot of comments have already been made moaning about how Yorkshire or Lancashire only have to play each other to decide who qualifies for the Nationals. Yorkshire & Lancashire I am sure would only love to see a situation where there could be two qualifiers from the NCCU area for the Open stages.
     One of the good things that came out of the finals being at Uppingham this year has been the decision by Cyril to award runners-up prizes. Although Lancashire lost to Cleveland in the U100 final, I am sure the journey home was somewhat more pleasant due to the fact that they did have something to show for it. After all, getting to a final is an achievement in itself. When I spoke to Cyril this was only possible because he was not having to pay out substantial costs for the venue. [It was free. - rjh]
      When people start moaning about the venue, remember one thing, this is a NATIONAL tournament. Don't start thinking it is an SCCU tournament. It may seem like it sometimes when you see the finalists, but the SCCU and the BCF even more so should be trying to encourage full participation from the NCCU counties. Moving the finals venue further south to meet the whims of 'Sussex-Man' would I feel make it more difficult to persuade other NCCU counties to participate in the competition.
     Food for thought no doubt.
Please note these are my own personal comments and do not necessarily constitute the opinion of Lancashire Chess Association or NCCU.
Carl Tillotson
Junior Organiser, Lancashire Chess Association
rjh: I don't think even Ken Norman is suggesting moving all the Finals further south! I agree it would be nice to have more than two NCCU counties playing in the U150 and above. But is geography the problem? Geography doesn't seem to have deterred the Union's U125 and U100 teams (11 entries between them, I'm told, and three of them reached a Final).

From Jeff Goldberg
I read John Philpott's regret that the bringing up of eligibility of Cambridge players before the match detracted from the fine performance of Essex losing on board count (sic). This seems spectacularly to miss the point that if the matter of eligibility had not been raised before the match then Cambridge would probably have been considerably stronger than in fact they were and Essex would have probably fallen well short of 8 all.
     Cambridge can now be said to have won the Counties Final beyond any dispute, rather than suffer any suggestions that they won because they played ineligible players. I offer them my sincere congratulations on their very well deserved success.
     I now hope that the SCCU will encourage a dialogue with Cambridge on setting up a fair definition of club membership which rules out the selection of players based purely on an anachronistic concept of "life membership". Change by mutual agreement is surely the happiest course to try to pursue.
     In my view the pity was not that Essex challenged Cambridge over the matter, but rather that the SCCU had not chosen to address the inequity long ago.
Jeff Goldberg
rjh: Is Jeff misinformed? I don't know his ground for saying Cambs would probably have been stronger against Essex if the issue had not been raised. Essex's queries were rejected. Nor do I think the SCCU has been at fault. It's a BCF competition, and the rules are the BCF's. The Director has been making noises about this question for some years, and the SCCU has been talking to him about it since 1998 at least, but he has not made proposals for change. I believe he intends proposals at the September Council meeting.

From John Philpott
Dear Richard
I would like to comment on two of the letters that have recently been posted to Open Forum.
     Ken Norman [5.7.01 below] raises the question of whether it would be more appropriate to revert to holding County finals at intermediate venues fixed by the two teams concerned instead of continuing with the central venue that has been provided for a number of years. These are both possible approaches which have their advantages and disadvantages; indeed in the National Club we had last year and will have again this year a compromise approach with two venues provided for Finals Day and the odd final taking place elsewhere. Which approach is taken is a matter of policy and should be dealt with in the correct way; by raising the issue at the BCF Council where the advantages and disadvantages can be debated and a vote taken. Sussex need only one other County to support them to put an appropriate resolution on the agenda for September. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with issues being debated informally on the SCCU Website, there are occasions when the timing is unfortunate. There is a real issue about Cambridgeshire eligibility, but that has been with us for years and I was sorry to see it surface just before the Cambridgeshire v Essex semi-final and thereby divert attention from a cracking match and a gallant effort by Essex only to lose on board count to an extremely strong Cambridgeshire team. Similarly it is written into the BCF County match rules that a central venue for the Finals will be nominated by the Director of Home Chess and approved by the Management Board, and it has been known for the best part of a year that Uppingham School would be the 2001 venue. Seek to change the rules by all means, but do not complain on the eve of an event about the fact that the rules as they stand have been applied.
     I am directly affected by the choice of venue since I am the captain of the Essex U175 team which has qualified for the finals. We will be facing a Warwickshire team that will not have so far to travel (although the disparity is not as marked as it would have been in Birmingham). I have to make arrangements to get possibly more players than can fit in a car from Oakham to Uppingham in time for the start of play. However, none of that bothers me in the slightest. A central venue is, by definition, not necessarily neutral, but this is no different from Arsenal playing Manchester United in the Cup Final at Wembley (if Wembley ever gets rebuilt) or Middlesex playing Yorkshire in a cricket final at Lords. It is part of the match captain's job to get players to the venue regardless of the practical difficulties. For me having the opportunity to participate in a major event of this nature is the real highlight of the chess year, and makes all the effort in captaining a team worthwhile. The game needs high profile occasions like this to show itself off to sponsors and to demonstrate what the national body is capable of achieving. I wish to stress my total disagreement with Mr Norman's assertion that the holding of all county finals in one venue has been a "total failure". I have been present at five of the last six finals days, and I regard the last three events, since the move away from Birmingham, as being outstanding successes which have shown us the BCF at its best.

I was interested in Mr Kierman's comments [2.7.01 below] about board order. While I have no direct knowledge of what did or did not happen on the day of the match, I would be extremely surprised if Sussex were exhibiting "sour grapes" given the generous comments that Daniel Hirsch made in a previous season as to how well the then Lancashire captain had judged his players' form in setting his board order. On the substantive issue I am in total agreement with Mr Kierman. The rules say "order of current playing strength", not "grading list order". When I first started acting as a match captain I used to arrange the team in strict grading order for the first match and then began to apply more and more judgement as the season progressed and I saw how well players were performing. Nowadays I tend to use judgement from the start of the season, partly because having worked with a group of players for some years I have a clear view of the inherent playing strength of the squad members which often strikes me as being at variance with the published grading list (always assuming that the latter is correct to begin with).
     You indicate, Richard, that you have no problem with this philosophy but would ask questions as a controller if the discrepancies got too large. What, as a matter of interest, would you regard as too large? I have a relatively conventional team planned for the U175 final tomorrow, with nobody more than 4 grading points below any player on a lower board. The largest discrepancy that I can remember perpetrating was 12 points (a 161 played above a 173), which the next year's grading list tended to justify as the two players' grades effectively reversed themselves. Would you have a problem with 12 points? Of course the real challenge for the controller is to detect captains who are breaking the rules by playing teams in grading order irrespective of current playing strength!
Yours sincerely
John Philpott
50 Cranston Gardens, Chingford, London E4 9BQ
rjh: I wouldn't bat an eyelid at 10 or 12 points. I start to get worried around the 20-point mark. At this point I think it reasonable to ask the match captain to justify his order. In most cases I'd expect him to have a perfectly good answer, but asking him can't be wrong. I would add that I agree with both writers. Grade order is wrong, if it's not order of strength.

From Kevin Clark
Dear Richard,
I am in some agreement with Ken Norman’s letter regarding excessive travelling to chess venues. As a frequent competitor in BCF counties' finals in recent years, I have noticed that our opponents are usually travelling along the same roads to reach the “central” venue. Indeed, when we last played at Uppingham 2 years ago, one of my team travelled the 100 miles or so with a colleague from his local club playing for the opposing team – only to find they were playing each other!
     The subject of long-distant venues also brings to my mind a certain biennial away SCCU fixture when, after nearly 2 hours’ driving, we pass the sign close to a big airport indicating we are now entering the host county, but remember we still have a lot of travelling to do. I understand a similar distance has befallen a number of grade-limited teams travelling to another county's coastal venue in the past few months. Isn’t it possible for home match officials to arrange a sensible venue in their county bearing in mind their guest team’s travelling?
     However, I do not agree that each of the county finals should be played at a separate halfway venue. The finals would lose their sense of occasion if played in isolation, and there would be additional costs of hiring 6 venues, caterers, arbiters, etc. However, this year’s finals are not untypical in that 2 or 3 of them are usually contested solely by Southern and Eastern counties. On future occasions, would it not be practical for these finals to be offered to one venue closer to home? The Whittlesford Memorial Hall comes to mind as an example, much renowned on your website, avoiding the hassle of London but being close to several counties, and only 1 mile from a main-line station and 2 miles from a motorway exit for those having to travel further (but not so far as the Midlands).
Kevin Clark
Herts 1st Team Captain

From Tim Spanton
Re "central" venues: I wonder if the people who pick them have to pay their own way there or are on expenses?
Tim Spanton

From Ken Norman
Am I the only person who thinks that for Cambridgeshire and Sussex to travel all the way to Rutland to play the Counties Final is just ridiculous? The place for a match between these two counties is obviously London. A neutral venue, accessible to all and, with the use of a travel card, a journey of acceptable cost.
     Instead we have Uppingham School inflicted upon us. Probably the most remote and inaccessible venue ever used by the BCF. I am informed that Uppingham school is some 8 miles from the nearest railway station at Oakham, and NOT ACCESSIBLE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT. This fact alone tells us that the venue was selected with no thought given as to how the competitors would reach Uppingham.
     Also the venue is not neutral . Trains from Cambridge to Oakham take 90 minutes but trains from Brighton to Oakham take a minimum of three hours, twice as long. Those who travel from other parts of Sussex have even longer journeys.
     The costs of travel should also be considered when deciding upon a venue. If this match had taken place in London a travel card would have cost £10. Whereas my rail fare to Oakham is costing £50 plus for the journey to and from Uppingham, with the enormous cost of two taxi fares.
     The holding of all county finals in one venue is a recent innovation and one that as far as I can see has been a complete failure. The previous venue at the Masonic Hall in Birmingham was dreadful. We played in subterranean gloom in an airless and windowless room while paying exorbitant prices for refreshments. Then we have this year's venue, in the middle of nowhere and not accessible by public transport.
     Also a "central" venue can never be neutral. The current practice of always holding the finals in Leicestershire or Birmingham means that should Leicestershire or Warwickshire reach the final they have a "HOME" tie thus giving them an unfair advantage.
     I believe that we should return to the system that was in place for most of the 20th century. The two teams could arrange the final at a suitable half way venue the same as is done for the quarter finals and semi finals. This ensures that inconvenience and expense is kept to a minimum.
     While this year Sussex are the main sufferers, other SCCU Counties should remember that next year IT COULD BE YOU! Perhaps next year we will have a final between Essex and Kent played at a "Central Venue" in the middle of Dartmoor.
Ken Norman
Sussex I team member

From David Kierman
Hi Richard
Well done on having such an excellent web site, I do wish the MCCU and NCCU had one as good.
     It would appear that the Sussex U150 captain was having a few sour grapes at his team's loss. I quote [see the BCF-Stage page]: "The apparently higgledy-piggledy order of the Manchester team was due to the late arrival of their captain. A member of his team produced a note with a team list which turned out to be not what he actually wanted...."
     Our captain on the day was fully informed about the board order I wanted, and did extremely well, in having to cope with a drop out on the day. Our team is based on form, not on a grading system which is a snap-shot of players performances 4 months before the event begins. We in Gtr Manchester believe that players grades are fluid and a year after they have been graded, we choose people to play in their current form. That's why our junior player is playing on a high board as his current form dictates, not on board 15 which would be a waste of his talents.
     We do not put people in higgledy-piggledy order. We were sorry that some players arrived late, this was due to some demonstrators, protesting and hence delaying our car drivers.
David Kierman
Greater Manchester U150 Captain
rjh: I'm confused. I thought Daniel Hirsch was saying that whoever was captain on the day arrived late, and someone else got the team wrong for him in his absence. Anyway, the Gtr Manchester philosophy seems clear. I'd have no quarrel with it as a controller, but might start asking questions if the discrepancies got too extreme. There was a team, in Sussex not so very long ago, which played a match in reverse order of strength. There had been a misunderstanding about which end was board 1.

Footnote 6.8.01
The Greater Manchester team against Sussex comes out like this in the new August 2001 grading list (read down the columns):

From John Philpott
I would like to respond to Cyril's paper [see Nat Club section 17.5.01] on the way forward for the National Club.
There seem to me to be four possible options in relation to the future of the National Club competition.
     (a) Abandon the competition.
     (b) Continue as we are.
     (c) Change it by adopting Cyril's suggestions.
     (d) Change it in some other way.
As a match captain who greatly enjoys participating in what I feel is an extremely worthwhile competition I regard (a) as unacceptable and fear that if we opt for (b), a continuing fall in numbers will have the same result in the long run. I do not have a coherent set of alternative proposals, and while I have some reservations I think that we should give our support to Cyril's suggestions but with a degree of fine tuning. Any decisions that are made now are not binding for all time; without wanting to see the basis of the competition changed on an annual basis we can try something now rather than sit back and see the competition die, and then modify it for subsequent years in the light of experience. My specific comments are as follows.
     (1) The number of events clearly needs to be reduced; teams currently have to win far too few matches in order to qualify for a final, and a more sensible balance between entry fees and prize money can be achieved if there is a reduction in the number of competitions. A reduction of the standard play events from five to four I would regard as non-contentious; while the more radical reduction to three may well be necessary, I would be more comfortable if this was going to lead to three evenly supported competitions rather than a better supported Major and Minor and an Open at about the same level as at present, which I fear may be the case.
     (2) Although I am a strong believer in chess for all, I do think that it is particularly important for the prestige of the event that there is a much stronger Open. I am not convinced that the present proposals will necessarily encourage wider participation in this, and I think that substantial external sponsorship is needed if we are ever to see again the type of Open event that the competition needs. My club currently enters the Major; although one or two of the existing first choice team would not be able to play in the proposed new Major our solution would almost certainly be to amend the team to include some less highly graded players in order to remain in the Major rather than to enter an Open competition where we could not realistically compete with the Wood Greens of this world.
     (3) Apart from the reduced entry fee, the one substantive change in the Open is the reduction in the number of boards from six to five. I have to say that the uneven number of boards in the other competitions is the one aspect of the National Club that has never appealed to me as it places undue importance on winning the toss. The oft-quoted justification for five boards is that this means that the whole team can travel in one car. This simply does not hold true for my club for three separate reasons:
     (a) Three in the back of my car is extremely uncomfortable for a long journey and hardly ideal preparation for a serious game of chess.
     (b) I try to keep myself as a non-playing captain and reserve so we have six individuals to transport anyway, not five.
     (c) Two of my regulars prefer to travel by train. [rjh: so invalidating reasons (a) and (b)?]
If my club is unique in this respect, and everybody else endorses the five-to-a-car approach, I am happy to go along with the majority. However, this needs to be investigated rather than treated as a self-evident truth.
     (4) The Major and Minor eligibility is proposed to be based on average grades rather than an upper grading limit. I can see the possibility of clubs with a small membership being better able to field competitive sides and accept that the average grade approach has worked extremely well in addressing the previously intractable problem of the County Championship Minor Counties event. However, will what works in the context of a 16 board competition be as appropriate in the context of a 5 board competition, given that one board can have an extremely strong influence on the average grade? With an upper grading limit competition I know as captain that what I want to do is to gather together the strongest available group of players under that limit. With an average-grade competition, the captain has to face a more subtle challenge. I can achieve an average under 160 grade by sacrificing bottom board and playing (if I had them!) four 195s and a 19, but I feel that this would be rather against the spirit of the competition1.
     (5) We need to decide whether we want a National Clubs competition or a National Teams competition; the latter could be achieved by a relaxation in the eligibility criteria. A radical option would be to allow any group of individuals to band together to enter a side; while this may lead to a significant change in the character of the competition, it certainly should not be dismissed out of hand if it would lead to significantly more games of chess being played in the competition. A compromise approach would be to require four of the players to come from a club but to allow one guest to turn out.
     (6) The zonal approach to the rapidplay competition is an excellent idea that I strongly endorse.

I hope that these thoughts encourage others to put forward their views. As not all chess players regularly visit the SCCU website, perhaps there should be a circulation of the paper to the clubs that have entered this season's competition to ensure that there is a degree of consent to the proposals among the hard core supporters of the National Club who the BCF would certainly not wish to alienate.
John Philpott
1rjh: Of course it would. You have to be a bit sophisticated about how you write the rules! We've had mean-grade leagues in Kent for years, over few boards, and you wouldn't get away with 195 + 195 + 195 + 195 + 19 = U160.

From Nathan Alfred
Dear Richard,
I'd like to reply to recent correspondence about the eligibility of Cambridgeshire players in County matches.
     This season 42 players have represented the Cambridgeshire SCCU Open team (more have played for us in the EACU competition), a fact of which we are very proud. This figure is more than any other county in the competition, and exactly half have played for us three times or more. All 42 have played an important role in our campaign, which has seen us reach the national semi-final. Of these, 30 are current students and 2 are fellows of Cambridge University, whilst an additional 6 are Cambridgeshire residents. Admittedly only 1 of the 4 remaining players has fulfilled the 5 year residency requirement. However the others have played for Cambridgeshire for at least 5 seasons with the exception of Brian Kelly (4), who was last year's Match Captain.
     Cambridgeshire is in a unique situation. As we rely heavily on players from the University we face certain seasonal pressures (e.g. holidays, exams) not experienced by other counties. Thus in our quarter-final only 5 of the 16 were current undergraduates, whereas earlier in the season as many as 14 University students played in the same match. We are also lack the continuity of Match Captain enjoyed by other counties, and our high turnover of players hinders the selection process for the opening fixtures.
     Nevertheless we continue to thrive, albeit aided by former members of the University, who remain an important part of the Cambridgeshire setup. I imagine the reason our so-called 'stars' return to us is that they feel a real part of our county team. The spirit is good, and most of us dine together after each match. Other events in the calendar (e.g. CUCC Annual Dinner, Varsity Match) maintain this relationship, and chess in the county is thriving.
     It goes without saying that we shall comply with any rule change that is implemented, but I would urge caution in this. It is not as if we are actively recruiting former players of the University such as Keene or Hartston - those that do play have stuck with us since their student days. I do appreciate that it must be frustrating for other Counties to play occasionally against their own residents, but they are active members of the 'Cambridgeshire club', as well as being life and active members of Cambridge University Chess Club.
Yours sincerely,
Nathan Alfred
Cambridgeshire Open match captain
610 King's College, Cambridge CB2 1ST

From Jeff Goldberg
Thanks for your reply [below] which was very informative.
     However, in practice Oxfordshire do not get the same advantage as Cambridge because the Oxfordshire team is effectively Oxfordshire minus the university, whereas Cambridgeshire is effectively the university minus the county! So practically only Cambridge enjoy this advantage, although it would hardly make things much fairer if Oxford enjoyed the advantage too and the rest of us did not.
     The heart of the matter is that no-one, not Cambridge, not Oxford, not anyone else, should be allowed to qualify their players to play County chess simply by this "life membership" claim. By all means let them keep their life membership if they want, after all its their own business not ours, but the rest of us should not recognise it as meeting the eligibility criteria.
     On the National Club I'd like strongly to endorse John Philpott's comments [two letters up!] on the changes as proposed. I have already replied to Cyril that I felt having an uneven number of boards was undesirable due to the advantage of having 3 whites against 2 blacks. I also agree that the reasoning, that you can get 5 people in a car, is not beyond question for the reasons John enumerates. I don't have any problems getting people to travel to away matches but I think I might do if I told them that there would be 3 in the back of my car for a long journey!
Jeff Goldberg

From Howard Grist
Whilst not wanting to disagree with Jeff Goldberg's contribution to the 'Who should be eligible to play for Cambridgeshire?' debate, I would like to correct a couple of errors that he made in his recent letter [below, and it was very recent: uploaded an hour or two before]. Students at Cambridge University are able to join the chess club for either a year or for life. As most courses are three years or more and life membership is about 2½ times the yearly rate, most students join for life. Who else has this advantage? Well, Oxfordshire does for one as Oxford University has a similar membership scheme. It could well operate at other educational establishments.
Howard Grist

From Jeff Goldberg
I wanted to reply to some points made by Steve Giddins [17.5.01 below].
     On County Chess & Cambridge, the heart of the problem is that it is not fair. Cambridge can call upon anyone who has ever been at the University even if they have no current connection. They do this by claiming that anyone ever a member of their club becomes a life member when they leave. Who else has this advantage? Can any other county claim a player is eligible because some time ago they lived there and were a member of a club in their county? Of course not. Exactly why the rest of us should be grateful that Cambridge can dust off these ex-members in order to distort a match against a genuine county team is beyond me. The simple solution is that anyone claiming eligibility through club membership must be required to show some degree of activity for that club in the not too distant past.
     On the National Club, the decline of the competition is a great shame, but for it to have any meaning it must be a genuine club competition. We all know a team can be put together which would beat any club in the country easily, so without eligibility rules there would be no point in a genuine club team entering. It's a difficult issue to resolve fairly but we certainly should not welcome teams entering the competition by getting together a strong group of GMs and IMs and pretending to be a club team, as Slough did a few years back. What does it mean to say that Tony Miles, from Edgbaston, was a bone-fide member of Slough Chess Club? That he had once met someone who had been to Slough or had seen it on a map?
Jeff Goldberg

From Quazi Latif
Dear Richard
In Hertfordshire there are over 140 players between 100 and 124 grades. However I only managed to get 18 players who are willing to play. It is quite clear that there are enough players, but they appear to be apathetic about County games. I appreciate that there are some players who are not able to play because of other commitments.
     At the BCF national stages you have to play 16 boards and reducing the boards will be a negative approach. We need more participation of players. In my view, measures should be taken from county to club level to promote county games in order to create players' interest. To do this we have to use media and publicity very much like a marketing exercise. In my opinion, this is the way forward to generate more interest.
Quazi Latif
Captain, Herts Under 125 Team

From Paul Buswell
I do not share your unease about the BCF paying an international grader an honorarium. You are, I think, not paying sufficient heed to differences in workload and in the consequences of failure.
     My own position is that from 75 to 86 I was a salaried BCF employee. At various times thereafter I received payment to edit 'ChessMoves' and the BCF Year Book. I also - in the fat years of commercial sponsorship - received an honorarium from the Hastings Congress. At the moment I have three chess posts - Chairman of BCF Constitution Committee, Secretary of Hastings International Chess Congress, Treasurer of Friends of Chess - for which I receive no remuneration except expenses. I certainly wouldn't expect anything at all for the first and last, they are not that burdensome. Hastings however is different, but here, indeed, I pay someone to do my typing (I value my time too much to peck with one clumsy finger) and I also give up at least a week's annual leave - which has an implied monetary value - so Hastings actually costs me money, not the other way round.
     The point of the above is that I reckon to know what I am talking about. In my opinion modern chess administration has become simply too onerous, at the level of BCF major voluntary tasks, to be accomplished satisfactorily by someone who is also holding down a 9 to 5 job and has a life outside chess. I've tried it, on the BCF Year Book in particular - it just can't be done without an unacceptable level of chess-related stress. In those circumstances an 'honorarium' seems to me a modest token of appreciation, and, although it's not much, it might just make someone regard it as worthwhile. The alternative would be for the BCF to be run entirely by the retired, or by those outside the conventional workplace - I'm not sure that would be a good idea.
     And it's hardly as if the £500 amount is significant. At national minimum wage of £3.70 per hour that's 135 hours. And of course it's taxable. I should be very surprised indeed if the job could be confined to 135 hours a year, with the level of international activity that now exists. I don't necessarily propose that chess workers in the white economy should all be paid - some things must always be susceptible to the peculiarly English habit of voluntary work - but in the circumstances I find this honorarium perfectly reasonable; indeed, perhaps it should be extended to all BCF Directors.

Turning to Neville Belinfante's views on county matches [two letters down], I wish to express my severe disappointment. I surmise that he refers to a Sussex v Herts U125 match at Bognor Regis. If we accept his argument no county chess will be played at any Sussex coastal venue, except occasionally by Kent or perhaps Surrey. The Bognor area has enthusiastic organisers and players - what on earth is wrong with their aspiring to the honour of an occasional county match? And as there are so few home county matches they must take the opportunity where they can. I myself am thinking of suggesting to Sussex that a county match be held at the splendid new venue just used by the Hastings Congress - is this now to be ruled out for each and every county team apart from Surrey or Kent? I think not!
Paul Buswell
rjh: I don't want to be misunderstood. I know some jobs are bigger than others. My unease isn't about paying people, and it certainly isn't about the International Grader. It's about consistency and openness. (Some payments are confidential. They shouldn't be.)
     I'm in Opinion mode on county match venues. I don't know that I'd follow Neville's principle all the time, but surely the opponents' convenience should be taken into account? If you want to play the occasional match at Bognor, and why not, at least you could do it against Surrey rather than Hertfordshire. (Try it against Kent and you'll be away in Thanet next year.) Actually Sussex U125 are the County's good guys. They don't play in the south as a matter of course. This year both their home matches have been in the opponent-friendly north, and the Kent one was about as close to the county boundary as they could have got.

From Cyril Johnson
[extract from longer letter]
Dear Richard
The National Club. Some years ago, we had generous sponsorship which was lost. A previous Council decided to put in a structure where the teams in the Open were charged £32 entry fee and a staggering £100 first prize. The actual costs of putting controllers up, a meal for them, and the venue costs were more than the combined prize fund for the event. No wonder the numbers shrunk.. I submitted some ideas [17.5.01] for discussion. The feedback to date has been nil.
     I agree with Steve Giddins [17.5.01 below] that the rules on eligibility need changing. I removed one anomaly last year. I view myself as the servant of the clubs and counties and will implement their wishes as expressed in consultation and council. Please let me have your thoughts and suggestions.
     I also note the concerns [various letters] about venues for county matches. Some of you have enjoyed Gaddesby and Syston, which replaced a cramped city centre venue on a noisy traffic junction. Both are large venues capable of taking 2 16 board matches, with good car-parking and we try to provide reasonable refreshments. They are also wheelchair-friendly and well lit. May I suggest that such parameters are incorporated into a basic standard. I am a little concerned to hear that some venues have toilet facilities which require a route march.
Cyril Johnson
BCF Director of Home Chess

From Neville Belinfante
Dear Richard
When I used to live in Somerset a few years ago, I occasionally played for them in county matches in the West of England Chess Union. In these WECU matches, there is an unwritten rule that the venue for a match between two counties is a town close to the border of the two counties.
     I believe it would be useful for SCCU county matches if the same idea was adopted as it would increase players' interest in playing. When I lived in Borehamwood, I was asked to play for the U125 team. I played a couple of times at home but declined the offer to play an away match in Sussex. Part of the reason was the venue was somewhere on the coast which meant an even longer drive than if the venue was somewhere near the M25. One of the home matches I played in was against Surrey at St Albans, whereas a venue in Watford or Rickmansworth would be easier for Surrey to get to.
     I hope this suggestion is not too late, and venues for next season have not already been booked.
Neville Belinfante
High Wycombe, Bucks

From Bruce Birchall
[We made a comment yesterday about some BCF officers getting paid and not others. The Times came up, by way of illustration. Bruce takes up the example and goes on from there.]
     Payment for Running a Large Event
As the Times sponsors the Times competition, it would not seem unreasonable that the Controller thereof be paid and be paid a fee rather than an honorarium. It wouldn't deplete the BCF's main budgets, if that is the concern. Sponsors won't blench at the thought of the main organiser being payrolled at far less than their MD gets for his efforts, at a level MDs will perceive as a mere middle or junior management salary.
     Yes I know you were being ironic but I happen to think there is a case for payment when a sponsor pays. You can always donate it to your favourite junior chess organisation, if you feel your amateur status would be besmirched by accepting Rupert Murdoch's money, e.g. you could donate it to be held in Trust for the future of the Times Competition for use in years when the Times reduces or withdraws its sponsorship, so it can continue despite that.
     Or you could even donate it to start off a national schools championship for girls' teams! (teams of girls from single-sex schools or from mixed schools).

Much of the Times money goes on hotel accommodation for the four finalists I believe, and even within the existing budget it must be possible to find a cheaper venue and Bed & Breakfast prices. In my view teams of mainly sixthformers1 are not particularly impressed by posh hotels and might quite like to stay in university halls of residence, to acclimatise themselves to what it will be like when they go to university in the pretty near future (a mere 4 months in some cases) ... which would be perfectly possible as the Times Finals weekend is out of university term though still in school term. Students' rooms will be vacated by the end of June.
     There were a wide variey of students' residences, varying from self-catering cluster flats (6 study bedrooms clustered around a central kitchen) to individual rooms, advertised on the Mind Sports Olympiad website last August (re where to stay for 9 days in late August for the Olympiad). A block booking reduction could easily be obtained for 30+ rooms. Prices at Imperial College were £30 a night including cooked breakfast when I last asked and I stayed in one near Wood Green for £12 a night, self-catering.
     The British Championships held at Dundee in the early 1990s, on campus at Dundee University, provided cheap self-catering cluster flats for competitors and it wouldn't be the first time chess players for a national event had used this kind of accommodation. I would draw the line at spartan Pontins holiday camp chalets however.
     And does it have to be in central London? Does it have to be in London?
Bruce Birchall
     1 rjh: Of the 24 players in this year's event, I should think five will be sixth formers. The number may have been slightly depressed by the fact that one of the schools is a prep school.
     I should make it clear that I'm not opposed to people being paid. There's one chess job I do get paid for. But I'm doubtful about some people in an organisation being paid and others not.

From Steve Giddins
Dear Richard
I notice in your account of the 11 May SCCU Executive Meeting that steps are being taken to redefine "Club Membership" for County match eligibility. "The Director seeks a definition of club membership along National Club lines" you report1. Frankly, I find this astonishing. We have all watched the National Club decline from a position of pre-eminence amongst British club events, to its present farcical state in which it attracted just 8 entries in the Open section last year. A large part of the reason for this is the arcane eligibility rules, which seem expressly designed to reduce to a minimum the chances of anyone being permitted to play for their club. Now it seems that the County Championship is to be similarly emasculated, a proposal made all the more surprising by the soaring number of defaults in County matches.
     The absurdity of the National Club rules was illustrated almost as soon as they were introduced, during the early 1980s. Adrian Hollis, an Oxford don and correspondence chess GM, chose to spend his limited free time playing postal chess for England, rather than turning out against 150-players from places like Didcot and Cowley, in the Oxford Evening League. His reward was to be barred from playing for Oxford University in the National Club championship, on the grounds that he was not an active member of the University club! In similar fashion, a number of English GMs were prevented from taking part, whilst the very people responsible for excluding them were simultaneously moaning about how the leading English players never played in this country!
     I always understood that the BCF and its constituent bodies existed to promote the playing of chess in the country. Evidently, I have laboured under a delusion all these years, and the exact opposite is the case. Why does it matter whether or not a life member of Cambridge University Chess Club is an "active" member? If he wants to turn out in the occasional County match, I should have thought this was something to be welcomed, especially if he happens to be a GM or IM who otherwise plays little chess in the UK. One only has to look at the success of the 4NCL to see that there are a great many players who would be happy to play a few games per year, if they can do so without having to commit themselves beyond the time they have available. If the National Club were to get rid of its absurd eligibility rules and encourage all players to take part, it might regain some of its former stature. Who knows, maybe we could even reach the stage when one had to do more than lose one match in order to get in the semi-finals of the Plate...
Steve Giddins
1 rjh: I was deliberately a bit vague, because I don't know exactly what definition the Director has in mind. It may not be quite the National Club one. I also don't know that anything will come of it. It would presumably have to go to Council.
     The Director also has proposals, published on this site today, for reforming the National Club. He does not mention the eligibility rules.

From Richard Joyce
I believe as captain of the Essex U125 team that I must comment on the competition. Counties are struggling to find teams and captains again with the result that some counties have withdrawn, and others are fielding under strength teams. A quick check on this year's U125 results shows that 50 boards were either defaulted or filled by players graded below 100. All the opposing captains talked of their difficulties in raising teams, typically requiring 30 - 40 phone calls. The result has been the loss of willing captains and then county teams. As far as the chess is concerned, this year all teams were weakened and the matches were close maintaining interest in the competition.
     I am concerned for next year and beyond. I think that the number of players should be reduced to 12, as it was a number of years ago. This would ease the problems of team captains, and, judging by this year's list of players, create U125 teams without depending on U100 players.
     I am aware that many clubs are struggling for members, and in Essex it is being proposed that the numbers of players in league teams should be reduced. I intend to suggest that Essex recommend that the number of players required in County teams should be reviewed, particularly the U125.
Richard Joyce

From Jeff Goldberg
Now that John Philpott's letter [below] has revealed how unlucky we, Essex 1, consider ourselves to be in being deprived of a journey into somewhere in the middle of England to play Midland's 3rd team, I can tell the world that we only came 3rd in the SCCU in order to get this extra round!
     I'd also like to mention the sheer bravery shown by our captain Roy Heppinstall in appearing delighted that we had won by walkover. His bravado was, of course, merely an attempt to prevent his side entering an uncontrollable depression over the matter - and in this aim he would appear to have succeeded totally.
     No doubt John and I will debate at the Essex AGM the merits and demerits of deliberately trying to finish 3rd in the SCCU, and I cannot rule out the possibillity that next year we might just try to win the SCCU even at the terrible cost of foregoing this wonderful extra play-off round opportunity.
Jeff Goldberg

From John Philpott
Dear Richard
In referring in the What's New section of the Website to the Essex walkover against Leicestershire in the Preliminary Round of the Open, you use the phrase "Lucky old Essex". Speaking as a match captain, one of the main reasons that I seek to qualify from the SCCU competition for the National Stages is to have the opportunity to play competitive chess matches against teams from other Unions. I therefore regard the Leicestershire walkover, following on from the lack of an E2 quarter-final opponent in the under 175 competition, as a case of "Unlucky old Essex" since our players are thereby deprived through no fault of their own of the chance to play such a match.
Yours sincerely
John Philpott
50 Cranston Gardens, Chingford, London E4 9BQ

From Roger de Coverly
The website's brief summary of membership schemes [BCF page 6.4.01] caught my eye.
     I could wonder whether this scheme is a stalking horse for some form of compulsory membership. This would take us back to the position before game fee (registered players). A couple of thoughts:
     A trial run for the "popularity" of compulsory memberships would be to introduce them for the BCF congress -- too late this year since the entry forms are already out.
     If an objective is to boost membership numbers to increase credibility with outside bodies, then the simplest scheme would be to offer free membership (no benefits) to all players who had played x rated games over a period of y. This would tie in with one of the A/B/C/D/E categories in the grading list. That's not totally zero cost to the BCF because of the need to collect details and maintain a membership register. If it got 100% support, then the membership count would correlate with active players.
Roger de Coverly

From Bruce Birchall
Bernard Cafferty's letter [19.2.01] raises the question of an adequate standard of facilities for disabled chess players (the term "disabled" is preferred to "handicapped" as it suggests what disables people with an impairment such as limited mobility is social factors such as the design of the built environment (lack of ramps and lifts e.g.) as designed by non-disabled people, and locates the problem in society not in the individual with the impairment).
     Can I suggest the following criteria be used? Venues should be near public transport. They should be in well-lit areas, if play is in the hours of darkness. The toilets available should include a Disabled Toilet, ie with a door wide enough for a wheelchair to get in. The entrance to the building should not have steps. Play should preferably be on the ground floor, but if there is a lift this is not so essential. Refreshment areas, rest areas, playing hall, information areas, bookstalls and toilets should all be on the same level with no internal steps between them.
     By 2004 many public buildings will have to be adapted to be accessible, under the Disability Discrimination Act. It is time chess organisers in choosing a venue swelled the funds of those who are complying early, and boycotted those who are being slow to act.
     I first raised this question in standing against Alan Martin as BCF President in 1994. Seven years on, it is depressing to see how little has changed.
Bruce Birchall

From David Moskovic
Dear Richard,
I'd like to post a response to Bernard Cafferty's complaint [19.2.01] about Cambridge. I think he is not entirely reasonable.
     1) Regarding neutral venues: why should matches be played in neutral venues? This would be much more costly and less convenient to organise. Cambridge University Chess Club is not oozing with money, and relies on being able to get home venues for free. I have not had to travel more than 2 hours to get to a county match, which I deem perfectly satisfactory. I cannot recall ever spending 4 hours travelling to a Sussex match. The Cambridge team always car-shares to get to away matches. Has Bernard considered doing this rather than travelling by train?
      2) Regarding the nature of the venue: there have been no other complaints. Everyone else seemed completely satisfied by the venue we provided this year. I am pretty sure that there are more than two toilets in Christ's college. Did he think to look in the adjacent staircases?
     3) Disabled access: If we had been informed before the match that there would be a requirement for disabled access, we would have met it. In the event, no such need arose.
Queens' College Cambridge 01223 570877

From David Millward
I read Bernard Cafferty's recent letter [below] regarding venues and defaults with interest. I certainly agree that some venues used for County Matches are unsuitable, but I believe that Essex has also not defaulted in the Open. I admit that Sussex is less guilty than Essex of defaults overall - 2 against 4, I think.
     I think you have made a mistake in your U125 table; scoring the 7½-7½ draw between Sussex and Kent as a loss for both sides I suspect.
Dave Millward (work
32 Fir Tree Rise, CHELMSFORD CM2 9HS
rjh: I confess to the U125 error, and it's corrected.

From Bernard Cafferty
The large number of individual defaults this season and the THREE defaulted matches by Middlesex greatly distort the competitive aspect of the SCCU Open section. In older times some matches were played at neutral venues to reduce travel times (it took me just over four and a half hours to get back to Hastings by train last Saturday evening from Cambridge). If such a practice is not possible, then could financial penalties be introduced - a high entry fee could be charged, much of it returnable upon satisfactory completion of one's programme. I believe I am correct in stating that only Sussex have not defaulted at all in this season's competition. Surely a lack of regular first team players gives a chance to lower graded players and juniors who might not normally make the first team?
     Thinking about why players are less keen to turn out than hitherto, apart from the long distances involved, I come back to the aspect of unsatisfactory venues. I already commented about the Herts venue earlier this season. At the Cambs-Sx match last Saturday, I asked before play began where the nearest toilet was. I was told it was on the top floor of the four-storey college building. Having had to use it more than once during play, I counted that it took 65 steps up to reach the single cubicle. A team colleague found a single cubicle one storey lower down, but it is no surprise that queues formed, given that two single cubicles seemed to be the sum total of the facilities in the whole building and had to be shared by visitors with the college students who were in residence there. One could quite easily lose 5-10 minutes on the clock in answering the call of nature.
     The late Denis Mardle, a distinguished Cambridge graduate, played his chess while confined to a wheel chair. Would he have felt able to turn out in the match last Saturday given the facilities available? I think not. So the message goes out - don't think of playing county chess if you are handicapped, or have a weak bladder. I am also advised by team colleagues that parking was awkward and expensive on this occasion. No wonder some think that county chess is dying a slow death. PS I might also mention that a Cambridge player's mobile phone went off more than once during play when he was not in the room. In Belgium there is a tournament regulation that the offending party immediately loses the game by default for this offence. Why should Britain lag behind?
Bernard Cafferty

From Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell
Dear Richard
I'd like to reply to Neil Clifton's message on Open Forum 4.2.01 [two letters down]:
     "The reason we did not take part was that I was given ONE WEEK's notice of this event, which also quite ridiculously clashed with 4NCL. With five (now six) of my top girls committed to 4NCL teams, I think it was quite reasonable that we should object. I emailed Jeremy Mitchell-Fraser (sic) before the event explaining the above points. I repeat here the point that Surrey do not regard this event as having any real validity."
     When the HCA sub-committee met to organise this event, we chose the date after consulting the BCF calendar. We were aware of the 4NCL clash but assumed it was the lesser of various evils, rather than "ridiculous". (It affected the Herts team as well, by the way). If there was a weekend that did not involve a clash of some sort we would of course have chosen that in preference.
     As an aside, Essex did not participate because their internal county championships fell on the same weekend. This was on the BCM website, but not the BCF website (administered by the BCM I believe). As we only consulted the latter (assuming it to be definitive) we weren't aware of this clash until it was too late to rearrange the date. Other organisers should make note - don't just rely on one source of information as we did.
     I sent out the invitations before Christmas, addressed to the County junior organisers listed in the BCF Yearbook. Where a county had more than one organiser listed, I sent the invite to the one I thought would be most likely to pass it on to the appropriate people. Clearly this worked as Neil got the message.
     Speaking to Alan Thorn about the boys / open entry from Surrey, he said he had been trying to contact Neil without success (he was on holiday). He did not feel capable of raising a girls team in Neil's absence. Given the superiority of Surrey girls, I expect the reserves could have been given an outing and probably still won (not that this should be the criterion for entering) had it not been for this administrative problem.
     I am sorry that Surrey girls felt the competition had no validity in their absence, but surely this is better than no event at all. (Do the British Championships lack validity when Adams and Short aren't playing ?)
Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell
Secretary, Herts Chess Association

From Stewart Reuben
I've only just looked at the SCCU forum after some months. Richard Haddrell at the end of 2000 [see response to SR 22.12.00, five letters down] commented correctly that FIDE Ratings have the advantage over BCF that a much lower playing strength is required to become negative. This is perfectly true, but could be solved by simply adding 100 points to all BCF Grades.
      FIDE are postulating extending their system down to 1001 as has previously been discussed in this forum. The reason they are not going down to 0 was that I asked them not to. Confusion would have resulted. It would have led to negative numbers for very weak BCF players. Children under a certain age do not understand negatives.
     Some wrinklies like myself remember when the BCF had bands of 8, not numbers at all. Thus 1A was equivalent to 241-248, 1B to 233-240 , etc. Obviously Sir Richard Clarke who devised the system did not believe we would ever have players stronger than 248. Currently we have 6 such players.
     The BCF would also have thought it preposterous to grade players under 100. Times change!
Stewart Reuben

From Neil Clifton
Dear Richard
I have just read the following words on your website [see SCCU U18 Jamborees, but the words have been changed now]:
     "Surrey Girls, winners for the last five years in a row, must have decided to give everyone else a chance."
Untrue. We take no prisoners. The reason we did not take part was that I was given ONE WEEK's notice of this event, which also quite ridiculously clashed with 4NCL. With five (now six) of my top girls committed to 4NCL teams, I think it was quite reasonable that we should object. I emailed Jeremy Mitchell-Fraser before the event explaining the above points. I repeat here the point that Surrey do not regard this event as having any real validity.
     As regards the BCF U18 Girls, I see in your 'late news' [same page] that it has been fixed for 31 March, another ridiculaous date which clashes with EPCSA Girls in Bolton Lancs. However, in this case, Surrey is virtually unaffected as all our U18 team are too old for Epsca anyway. This almost certainly will not be the case for any other Counties, thus the event will either (1) not take place at all because Surrey will be unopposed, or (2) be a farcical contest which Surrey win easily without meaningful opposition on the lower boards.
     I therefore urge a rethink of the date as regards the girls. April 7 or 8 would be acceptable to us, as would March 24/25. However, even if the March 31 date is kept, Surrey DO intend to enter, even though, as yet I have had no official notification that the event is occurring.
Surrey Girls Organiser
rjh: We are looking at alternative dates for the BCF event. One of the weekends suggested by Neil (7/8 April) is actually impossible, because the BCF resolved to hold the event in term time.
     Please note, incidentally, that arranging this event was a BCF responsibility. The SCCU has only become (sort of) involved, late in the day and at the BCF's request, in order to help out.

From Chris Majer
In response to your Comment of 30.12.00 on the BCF grading system:
     The reason that we are changing to a hybrid system is that this is the basis on which Roger Edwards stayed in Office and this approach was accepted by Council. (The MB subcommittee was asked to establish that this was a feasible approach and concluded that it was).
     You mention the formatting errors. As you know, a data checking program is being produced for submissions. In addition, the grading team is trying to get the central system to generate a better summary file (of what the central system thinks it's been sent) to send back to the local grader.
     Regarding Roger's workload, I discussed this aspect with Roger two or three weeks ago and Roger believes that the majority of the work will be done by the Grading Officer. Obviously, Roger's workload is something that I will be monitoring as work starts on processing files.
     Finally, you state "The requirement for communication between him and local graders looks to be greater, if anything. In fact it's now a triangle, between him and the graders and the Grading Officer, using all three sides of it sometimes." The introduction of a Grading Officer must introduce the need for greater communications, but I fail to see why you think this is a big issue. Also elsewhere you seem to complain that there has been insufficient communication with graders, but are then concerned about the burden on Roger. Isn't this a bit inconsistent?
Chris Majer
in role of Acting Director of Grading

From Trevor Jones
I think county chess should be for people who like playing county chess, both home and away, which by definition involves some travelling. I regard an away county match as more than just a chess match but also a good day out, with a decent meal before the match, and hopefully located somewhere worthy of the visit, ideally an attractive historic town centre or a pleasant country location with suitable public transport. (Maybe others would like to be near some good shops or a good pub.)
     County captains shouldn't select players only willing to play in very convenient matches, although that is of course up to the captains to decide and not the SCCU!
     Back in the mid-1960s when I started county chess, the SCCU (then including Hants and Norfolk) was divided into two geographic sections north and south of the Thames, which seemed quite sensible, even though many matches were then played at a central London neutral venue. To split by strength seems less sensible when there are already effectively different divisions for different strengths - although exactly how they are organised could be re-considered (e.g. different grading limits on different boards, to allow for a weak county with a few very good players).
     Personlly I think county chess would be more fun if you had smaller teams, like in club matches, where you can better keep track of how everyone else is doing and adapt your play accordingly. Instead of 16-board matches we could have 2 or 3 x 6 perhaps (depending on the county and/or competition), possibly but not necessarily run by the same captain. It would also give greater chance of drawn matches, making the final results table more interesting. But it needs thinking about. I'd be happy to share further thoughts if anyone else likes these ideas, but I'll shut up for now.
H Trevor Jones
67 Guildford Park Avenue, Guildford GU2 7NH: home tel 01483 565319

From Mike McNaughton
[We surmised yesterday, in the National Club page, that the low entry from the north might have something to do with the fact that the NCCU run a Club Championship of their own.]
Your comment about the North of England may be correct. I should know, I used to run it. I think you are right about four players per team. The other main difference is that the team operated on an average grading, subject to an overall limit. At least these were the rules when I did it. My feeling is that this is an idea well worthy of consideration.
     I think one of the main problems is the cost of travel. A few years ago you were likely to meet a team which was reasonably local in Rounds 1 and 2; when you get further on to the quarter final or semi final stages distance seems less important because you are in sight of a prize. It worried me that I had to make a pairing in Round 1 involving a trip of 100 miles. Four players per team may help to address the travel difficulty (all the team can go in one car).
Mike McN
National Club Controller, U150 and U100

From Stewart Reuben
In reply to Mike Gunn's request of 15.11 [two letters down] for information on the FIDE Rating System. Arpad Elo wrote a book on the subject. It is no longer in print, but it may be possible to obtain a copy. Mine was stolen.
     The reason the FIDE System and the BCF System work in parallel is that basically the BCF one is simply an approximation That is, it is virtually exactly the same as FIDE in the result range 40-60%.
     The numbering system is different of course. FIDE use 4 figures and the BCF 3. The BCF was right to choose the latter as the fourth figure gives a totally misleading idea of accuracy. Unfortunately we have lost this argument everywhere except in England.
     Thus the equation FIDE = BCF x 8 + 600 works well above BCF 210. I suspect below 200 it should be FIDE = BCF x 8 + 700 but I have done no work to establish this.
     I do not know why the system works. If Mr Gunn understands why the BCF System works, then he can just extrapolate it for FIDE. However it seemed to work perfectly well for snooker when the Sunday Express commissioned me to do an Elo System for the professional players. I made 1 frame equivalent to 1 game of chess and used a k factor of 1.
     The basic difference between ELO and BCF is that the latter assumes a linear relationship between results and difference in rating, even at the extremes. With FIDE the relationship is not linear. Thus difference 36 45-55%. 72 40-60. 110 35-65. 149 30-70...470 5-95.
Stewart Reuben
11 Bevan Court, Clevedon Road, Twickenham TW1 2TS. Telephone 020 8892 6660.

rjh: I'm getting lost. Since I don't understand the FIDE arithmetic, I'll change the subject. I agree about the fourth digit, but I think the FIDE numbering has one advantage. It keeps its zero further out of harm's way! There's a junior in the BCF list with an "A" grade which would be minus fourteen if minus fourteen was allowed. It's not, so they've given him the minimum permitted grade of One. He's the only "A", but there's plenty of other disguised minuses. I think the lowest in the published list is (or ought to be) minus twenty-one. Even that is a healthy +432 in FIDE if my mental arithmetic's right.

From Roger de Coverly
I've posted this to but I'd suggest that it should appear at the SCCU site. In particular the reports of the Management Board meetings record little or no feedback from the BCF's constituent bodies as to what attitude the BCF's FIDE delegates should adopt to these issues. The domestic issue may now just be one of damage limitation.
     A report on the sell-out to FIDE Commerce appears on the BCF site at
     At the very least, the FIDE delegates owe national players an explanation and clarification of the consequences of their actions!
     Particularly the anti-doping irrelevance. It may be a relevant point that "It is important to note that the reason for the Anti-Doping regime is IOC Recognition" but who considers it cheating at chess as to what type of medicine a chess player may have taken? A campaign slogan "chess is a board game not a sport" might not attract much support. Perhaps the compromise is that any player falling foul of the physical sport based anti doping rules should be penalised by some de minimis penalty such as losing a minute of time.
Roger de Coverly
1 rjh: I found this newsgroup under but it wouldn't let me in because I'm not registered.

From Mike Gunn
Having experienced FIDE type ratings on etc I would support Paul Dupré's call [below] for more regularly updated grades from the BCF.
(1) There must be doubt as to whether the data could be collected and processed in a timely fashion.
(2) The workings of the FIDE type system are relatively obscure compared to the current BCF system which can be checked by simple arithmetic. Can someone explain why the FIDE style system works to produce ratings roughly equivalent to BCF grades? I have a copy of Stewart Reuben's chess organiser's handbook which explains how FIDE grades are calculated, but not why the method works. There are statements that it is based on statistics. Now I know what a standard deviation and a normal distribution are and how you can calculate a probability from the area under a normal distribution, but where does the table of probability values in the book and the formula P = 1/(1+10-D/400) come from?

The concept of a regional split was discussed (briefly) at the Surrey AGM. There was no great enthusiasm for or against the proposal. One difficulty is that people don't know whether they are for or against until they know precisely what split is suggested. There was some support for a split which put Surrey and Cambs in separate sections. Paul's suggestion seems to have some merit.
Mike Gunn

From Paul Dupré
(with some Editorial clarifications below)
Dear Richard,
I have just come off the phone with Nigel Dennis, after discussing a grading problem I had with him.
     During our conversion we discussed why we were no longer Captains of our Counties. He mentioned that you refused to discuss a possibility of the SCCU open section splitting into two. Personally I think this is a good idea with the best counties in one section and the "minor" counties in the other section.
     You see I think county matches should still be 20 boards and more competitive. The way things are at the moment Surrey keep getting hammered by the likes of Kent, Sussex, Essex and Cambridge University. Players in Surrey have more competitive matches by playing for 4NCL teams, and therefore prefer NOT to play county games. If we at Surrey were able to play home and away against teams like Berkshire, Hertfordshire and maybe Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire then ar least we get the same number of home matches and away matches. Reduced number of matches would also help. Regular players from 5 years ago no longer play as they don't want to play Chess every weekend (open, under 175 and 4NCL). One good point to finish, we have a least got a warmer and more convenient (for parking) venue at Surrey.
     Looking at the Open Forum, I saw Jeff Goldberg [see 4.9.00 at foot of page and sequels above it] trying to understand the Grading System. To a certain degree he is right with his anomalies. But, the best system would be a combination of the FIDE and BCF grading systems. For example the FIDE system does not re-evaluate each player after every season, it works on a "this is your grade now" and "this is therefore your predicted performance" basis. If the BCF calculated grading using a similar system, but, still within the numerical range it already uses. The enhancements could be that everyone's K factor could change depending on the age and number of games played. Say, juniors under the age of 16 (no matter how many games graded) could have a K factor of 5 (equivalent to a FIDE K factor of 40). Other players over 16 and having played 100 or more graded games could have a K factor of 2 (=FIDE of 15). With results sent in monthly, grades for juniors could go up much quicker. Of course all leagues would have to be graded as rapidplay events, unless they played for more than 3 hours per game with no adjudications or adjournments allowed. This way each player could have 2 grades as now, but with their grades altering monthly.
Paul Dupré
Telephone: 01932 887097 Mobile No: 07932 150169
Address: 13 Russell Road, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey KT12 2JZ
     rjh notes:
Paul is a former Surrey Open captain. I am pleased to give his postal address because he is possibly the first email correspondent ever to supply one! Thanks, Paul. Just for clarification:
(1) I'd like to have it clear that the "you" who wouldn't discuss a split was the SCCU Executive, not me personally! But I think putting it that way is a bit unfair to the Executive anyway. It decided that a split this year was impracticable, on the ground that when Nigel made his proposal there was no time to consult the other Counties. In fact, we were already on the point of publishing a fixture list. As you know, a consultation exercise is now under way with next year in mind. As David Smith says a couple of letters down, there have been few responses so far.
     I believe Nigel's proposal was for a regional split rather than one based on strength. He had travelling distances in mind. Both kinds of split have been used in the past.
(2) The "K factor", as I understand it, is a number which determines how much weighting is given to your most recent games. Established players with a long history behind their ratings have a low K, so comparatively little weighting. Newish players have a high K and their ratings will change faster.

From John Denton
Dear Richard,
The correspondence from Bernard Cafferty, Ken Norman and Stephen Hart concerning the venue at St. Albans which was used for the county Championship match Herts. v. Sussex on 21 October has been brought to my attention.
     Bernard in particular makes a number of points, and I think it is worth taking these in order. The venue is properly known as the Conservative Association Headquarters, and I was unaware that we have been describing it as the Conservative Club, with obvious potential to cause confusion. The entrance to the building is on the junction of Stanhope Road and Granville Road, and, as Bernard points out, the car park entrance is in Granville Road. There is a number '11' at the entrance, though no sign saying Conservative Association. I have asked our fixtures secretary, Phil Gregory, to make these details clear to away captains in future.
     The building was not opened until 13.40 due to an administrative mix-up, and steps have been taken to avoid a repeat of this. The building is normally opened between 13.00 and 13.30 on match days, and the heating turned on immediately. Admittedly, it takes half an hour or so for the building to warm up, but by the time play commences, I have always found the temperature perfectly acceptable.
     Whilst the match did not start until around 14.10, this is hardly a unique occurrence. Many of our away matches (though, in fairness not against Sussex) have started later than this, and perhaps a general exhortation to all counties is needed to ensure prompt starts.
     Ken Norman's letter has been edited, so I cannot reply to any individual points, but I am a little puzzled by his description 'such an unsuitable venue'. Given the steps we have taken to address the specific points raised by Bernard, I believe that the venue is quite suitable for county matches. Stephen's letter does concern me, since there have clearly been earlier problems of a similar nature which were not addressed promptly.
     It is of course regrettable that Bernard and Ken had a less than enjoyable visit to Hertfordshire. I have always found SCCU matches to be competitive but friendly affairs, and we hope that our visitors will have a pleasant afternoon, regardless of the match result. On behalf of the Hertfordshire Chess Association, I would like to extend an apology to any Sussex player who had a less than satisfactory experience on 21 October (and Cambridgeshire players on their earlier visits), and hope that you will be reassured by the steps which we have taken to avoid a repetition of the situation.
President, Herts Chess Association

From David Smith
SCCU County Match Controller
My attention has been drawn to the recent correspondence from Bernard Cafferty, Ken Norman and Stephen Hart [going back five letters or so] regarding the suitability, or otherwise, of the Herts venue in St. Albans.
     Surely these comments and complaints are matters which should be drawn directly to the attention of the County Match Controller. Since taking up that office just over two years ago I have dealt with a number of complaints regarding venues and playing conditions, taking such matters up with the relevant County Officials. It is hard to monitor the results of such approaches but I can say that I have not (yet) received the same complaint twice. Now that I am aware of the Herts situation I shall take the matter up with them to avoid future problems.
     I also noted Stephen Hart's comments with interest, particularly in view of his statement regarding my lack of application of a non existent rule. I would just add that had Cambs remained in the U150 and U125 this season they would have had the benefit of home fixtures against some of the more distant opposition, Sussex in particular. This IS in the rules and every effort is made to alternate venues in successive seasons. Like you I really don't know why Cambs withdrew these teams this season.
     As far as "split" divisions are concerned [see SCCU Page 8.9.00 item 7], the Executive has been asked to investigate the viability of this. I wrote to all County Secretaries seeking views early in September but, as yet, my postman has not been unduly troubled by replies. Now that really is a topic for the Open Forum, and I look forward to seeing some opinions in print in due course.
David Smith
County Match Controller
21 Chigwell Road, London E18 1LR

From Nathan Alfred
With regard to Stephen Hart's letter [below] (The matches as they stand are too one sided...) it is worth noting that of the seven Open matches (on your website) played so far this season, the away team has scored seven points or more on five occasions, winning three matches overall. Of the other two, the Essex away team outgraded Oxon - so only Cambs vs Bucks (six away defaults) was a 'one-sided' match.
     While it is much more difficult to find teams for away matches than home ones (a problem not only experienced by Cambs although our Open team does find it very hard) this problem would be alleviated to some extent by neutral, in-between venues - this would have the effect of increasing the overall number of 'away' matches even if they were a bit closer - a change which does not seem such a good idea.
Cambs Open match captain

From Stephen Hart
(Editorial responses appended)
(1) Cambs Under 125 team have played at the Herts venue [see Ken Norman below and Bernard Cafferty further down] twice: in May 1997 a player from Wisbech went to the 'other' Conservative Club by mistake; in February 2000 a player from north of Peterborough did the same thing and was nearly half an hour late. In February 2000 also, Cambs Under 150 team played there: we were standing outside for half an hour waiting in the cold, the heating didn't work when we finally got in, and my answer was to apply the SCCU rule and put the Herts clocks forward by 10 minutes.

(2) Cambs U125 team are now holding three titles simultaneously: the SCCU title, the EACU title, and the National title (for the second year running) - has this ever been done before?1
     The SCCU controller is apparently unwilling to enforce the playing of matches against distant counties such as Sussex and Surrey and possibly Kent at intermediate venues, going against normal practice elsewhere, e.g. in national matches, in the EACU and WECU (not sure about MCCU and NCCU).2
     However the SCCU method is not an ancient tradition lost in the mists of time because their matches were normally played in London back in the 1970's as far as I'm aware. That is why Cambs cannot enter the SCCU grading limited competitions and Berkshire cannot enter the Open apparently. The matches as they stand are too one sided and away team captains find it almost impossible to put out full teams.3 How about more telephone matches?4
     Finally, has the National Controller reimbursed any county captains for engraving their national trophies in the last two years? Cambs are currently owed £15.90 for two engravings (national rule 26).5
Stephen Hart
rjh responses:
1 I'm sure it hasn't. I don't think a team has ever played in both EACU and SCCU before.
2 He can't. The SCCU Controller uses the SCCU rules. They're on the site.
3 I'm puzzled. Cambs felt able to enter a couple of teams in the grading-limited SCCU competitions last year. Stephen mentions both of them. They came first and second and in nine matches they defaulted two games, one of them at home. Cambs will have had their reasons for not entering this year, but the SCCU venue arrangements are unchanged.
4 More than zero would be an increase. Is Stephen serious?
5 I don't know. I can't answer for the National Controller.

From Ken Norman
I agree with Bernard Cafferty [23.10.00 below] regarding the venue of the Herts v Sussex match... The decision of Hertfordshire to hold a county match in such an unsuitable venue is beyond my comprehension...
Ken Norman
rjh: Ken confirms Bernard's details, in the parts I have edited out. No response yet from Hertfordshire.

From Ivor (BN) Smith
Oxon's records [see Open County match page 21.10.00] must be incomplete. In the 1992-1993 season Essex travelled to Oxon and lost 10½ - 9½.
     [Ivor gives the detailed results 28.11.92, but you'll have to look them up in your SCCU Bulletin for January 1993. The Website's Archive doesn't go back that far, but our paper records beat it into a cocked hat and we assume yours do as well. Tim Dickinson didn't play.]
     I started playing for the Essex 1st team on a regular basis in 1962 and have played in the large majority of their matches ever since. Prior to that, in 1957/'58, I remember playing for Essex on board 95 in my first county match (100 boards) at John Lewis's in Oxford Street. In 1966 the SCCU championship was divided into two sections (North and South) with the North section being :- Essex,Cambs, Middx, Beds, Herts, Norfolk and Suffolk and the South section :- Surrey, Hants Sussex, Kent, Oxon, Berks and Bucks. I do not know when this arrangement started but it must have changed by 1970-'71 for on the 6th of February 1971 Essex travelled to Oriel College, and lost to Oxon by 10½ - 9½. Oxfordshire (as they preferred to be known in those days) scored 4 points on the top 5 boards Their top five were G.S.Botterill 217, A.J.Whiteley 229, A.S.Hollis 210, J.Moles 212 and R.W.L.Mowberley 202. I lost on board 5.
     So as we can see Essex have certainly lost to Oxon on at least two previous occasions. However, since Oxon did not play in the Open section for a number of years in the '80s, it does seem certain that this season's result (10-6 to Oxon) represents the heaviest defeat they have ever inflicted on Essex.
Ivor Smith
P.S. Do the SCCU have records of county matches played in earlier years?
     rjh: Yes. I have SCCU Bulletins going back to number 1 (October 1958), with the odd missing issue here and there. The Bulletin has always printed match results in full, though its coverage is occasionally patchy. Further back than 1958 I can't go, except that you will find county matches in BCMs and Westminster Budgets from the early years of the century, and the Southern Counties Chess Journal before that.
     The regional split was introduced in 1962 and abandoned in 1970. Before 1962 there was already a split, but between "major" and "minor" Counties. There are some details in the Team Champions page.

From Bernard Cafferty
Dear Richard,
I hope I am not monopolising the Open Forum site, as Howard Grist put it recently ... but I feel an account of my experience at the weekend might prove of interest and, perhaps, save some other OAP from picking up a chill when the weather for SCCU county matches turns worse.
     For the Herts-Sussex Open match last Saturday, the venue was stated to be the Conservative Club, 11 Stanhope Road, St Albans. In view of the promised train delays I left Hastings early and arrived before 13.00 hrs, looking forward to a snack and a pleasant warm wait in the aforesaid C. Club. A walk up and down the whole of Stanhope Road failed to find the club. The only building which might have filled the bill seemed unoccupied and carried no other identification than a foundation stone saying it was a school. The pub at the end of Stanhope Road advertised hot meals, but wasn't serving" for a few more hours yet", so I returned to the station and had a snack there.
     Another trip down Stanhope Road. Once again frustration! I finally tackled a passer-by who told me that the CC had closed down some time ago, and taken down their board from outside. He thought the building was now not used. He recommended I try the Conservative Association, some distance away. Yet another walk-round, and I finally come upon a parked car in the car park whose entrance is on Granville Road, not in Stanhope Road. Sussex players Paul Watson and Julian Simpole were sitting in the car, awaiting access to the building. So, I was in the right place, which I had begun to doubt. We got into the building at about 13.40. There were few people around and the setting-up of tables, chairs, boards, sets and clocks (in which at least one Sussex player helped) took some time. The heat was not turned on till entry to the building had been achieved, so for the first half hour or so the place was cold. Oh, yes, the match did not start on time either, which was of concern to me in view of promised train delays that evening - in fact, it took me three and a half hours to get back to Hastings.
     So, could I request, through the SCCU Forum, that the Herts. CA be more precise in their statement of location for county matches, and in particular to make it clear that access to the venue is not granted until shortly before 14.00.

From Howard Grist
At the risk of hogging the Open Forum, I would like to make the following comments to Bernard Cafferty's letter [below] of 8/10/0.
     Firstly, the events list included in the front of the grading list is incorrect, and does not reflect the events actually included in the Grading list which follows. Having done the calculations for this year's list, I also supplied the Grading Director with a list of events that had been included in the calculations, but he decided to ignore this and produce his own. As I do not have a copy of the printed list, I am not able to give a comprehensive list of differences. I did notice that the Hasting Club Championship was (incorrectly) missing from the events list. Other differences in the SCCU area that I noticed were various Hertfordshire events incorrectly listed as rapid play when they were (correctly) graded as standard play. I suspect that there are problems, such as the inclusion of Thanet events in the events list when they were not graded, and the omission of some Herts events that were. If anybody would like a correct version of the events list, feel free to contact me.
     Secondly, Bernard is correct in his understanding that corporate DMs do not have to pay game fee for internal club events. This is mentioned at the bottom of page 60 of the BCF yearbook.
Howard Grist Howard.Grist@RebusGroup.Com
SCCU Grading Secretary

[rjh: Leonard Barden confirms Bernard's remarks on Seniors, noting that some of the players listed are aged no more than 55 or 56. I expect someone pressed a wrong button. On Corporate DMs and Game Fee, I just didn't see what it said in the Yearbook.]

From Bernard Cafferty
Dear Richard,
A number of us out there in the chess community have only recently had a sight of the September 18th (?) grading list. Naturally, everyone looks at the list from his own viewpoint. What struck me most were implausible omissions and the introduction of seeming new errors.
     Con Power, long-serving local Hastings CC grader, draws my attention to the fact that the Hastings club internal events have not been shown as counted, even though they were submitted by him. The Hastings CC is a corporate vice-presidential member of the BCF which means that we do not have to pay game fee, or so I understand.
     [rjh: You'd have to check with the BCF to find out whether the Hastings internal games really went in or not. They might have got left out of the events list by accident. I have never known whether Corporate DMs get their internal grading for free. As far as I know, the BCF have never said so.]
     I note that FIDE's definition of a male Senior is 60 or over, or, a birth date in 1939 or before. I see that there are quite a few new names in the 'best Seniors' list in the new version. Yet a number of these newcomers (I count at least six, including well-known players like David Anderton, Paul Byway and Vic Knox) are stated to have years of birth in 1940, or after, which makes them ineligible for this category. Surely, the point of a corrected list is to take out errors, not to put new ones in?
Yours sincerely,

From Howard Grist
In response to Stewart Reuben's letter of 29.9.0 [three letters down], I find it difficult to believe that FIDE could do a satisfactory job of providing a grading list for the BCF. There are quite a number of significant differences between the two systems. The FIDE system takes no notice of a player's club, requires graders to submit their results in a different format and also uses a different range of numbers for players' grades. These are all formidable problems.
     As to the comment that this would be cheaper than the current BCF system, this is even less credible. This year I organised the Southend Open, a FIDE rated event. About half of the 80 or so entrants were FIDE rated. FIDE rating fees for the event were in the region of £210. The BCF game fee was £162.
     Finally and totally lacking in credibility, is the assertion that the current BCF system does not work. I have spent more time looking at this system in the past year than anybody else has, and whereas I am not going to say that the system is problem-free, it does, as a previous Grading Director said, work "surprisingly well". The grading problems for this year have been due to the operator of the system being unaware of how the system works and a lack of BCF paid assistance in actually running the system..
Howard Grist Howard.Grist@RebusGroup.Com
SCCU Grading Secretary

From Louise Sinclair
Dear Richard
I note with interest Neil Clifton's letter [below] regarding defaults in 4NCL. Since he clearly refers to the NCCL as the captain I will reply.
     We had problems obtaining a female player. Due to this asinine rule I expect other teams will suffer defaults as the supply of female players dries up. Furthermore one player defaulted due to crossed wires involving where he was to be collected thus causing us to be a player short on the Saturday.
     Re Sundays match we suffered from several players having commitments elsewhere over the weekend. Unfortunately the fixtures do not allow me the opportunity to check out the diaries of the respective players thus ensuing no clash of interests.
     I was further hindered when two players decided to commit to playing for another team entering the 4NCL at the last minute without informing me.
     However Mr Clifton obviously has no experience of these very trivial problems and is free to abuse newcomers to the League who are contributing £150 for the privilege of playing in 4NCL. I also find it curious that he expresses concern about "the talented Juniors". Presumably the older players are not so important to the game.
Louise S Sinclair
NCCL Match Captain

From Neil Clifton
Richard, I don't know whether this is the appropriate place to raise discussion about 4NCL, but I note with some consternation that one of the teams in the new Division 3A defaulted no less than three boards in the first round and two in the second.
     I regard this as completely unsatisfactory. Players, many of whom are talented juniors, expend a great deal of effort and money in order to travel to 4NCL matches. They do not do this to sit around and not play because the opposing team has defaulted. I do not know what system of fines, etc. is in force for 4NCL, but I suggest it be made suitably punitive on those teams that default. It is a privilege for a team to play in 4NCL and to run defaults is an abuse that cannot be tolerated at this level. Teams that cannot raise the full complement should be expelled and not allowed to rejoin without suitable security being provided.
Neil Clifton

From Stewart Reuben
Dear Richard,
The notes on the current UK [Chess Discussion] mailing1 caused me to look at your excellent website.
     I was intrigued that some objections at Council were made to proposed rates of play for the FIDE List if it is extended to 1001. No proposals have been finalised as yet and this is one of the many details which will have to be considered. The London League first division is played slow enough for FIDE Rating currently. Indeed it was rated for a couple of years but this proved unpopular. Strong players did not want evening leagues internationally rated. Indeed some players stopped competing.
     I suggested the BCF MB might wish to mandate me to oppose the FIDE proposals because some would see it as being against the interests of the BCF. I was the official representative of the BCF at a meeting in Germany to discuss these matters. However, as far as I know, the relevant MB never even considered the whole issue.
     It seems to me very likely there will remain events in England which are not FIDE Rated. They can still be BCF graded and I see no reason why FIDE should not do this work for us, completely separate from their own. It also seems to me, as I have said, this would probably be cheaper than the current BCF system - which does not work.
     Leonard Barden [14.8.00 below] suspects I binned his views regarding popularising the game among senior players. Wrong. I could raise no interest and life is too short (and so am I). A new senior event is being organised in late November in the West of England. We can send a team to the European Senior Team championship next Spring. As Leonard knows, much better than most, it is very hard to find sponsorship. Virtually all is found outside the confines of the BCF (well, I raised £170,000 during my period of office as Chairman but that was never thought worthy of mention). Leonard himself has raised vastly larger sums. The amount is smaller in total only than Ray Keene's achievement.
Stewart Reuben
1 This is an email group for general discussion of chess matters. It has, we think, about 30 members at the moment. For details contact Carl Tillotson

From Mike Gunn
Concerning Jeff Goldberg's average grade proposal [see last three letters]: it is well known that no grading scheme gives sensible results for lighthouse keepers.
     Consider the effect of the Goldberg scheme for a more realistic situation. Consider the case of 2 players, A has a grade of 100 at the start of the year and B has a grade of 120. Both play the same 30 players with an average grade 120 and both score 50%. Next year A's grade is 110 and B's is 120. Doesn't the same performance merit the same grade?
     Having recently suffered a -90 problem (as opposed to Jeff's +10 problem) I would give my enthusiastic backing to any proposal to discount all results where the grading difference is more than 40!
Mike Gunn
[rjh: Correspondence could run and run, on the +10/-90 problem. On the other point, I think Jeff's answered.]

From Jeff Goldberg
[in response to Howard Grist 5.9.00]
Firstly, may I thank the SCCU grading secretary for replying so promptly. A CD Version of his reply will be available in October and a final correction in December!
     Just joking there. Let's start with the "+10" situation. Howard's suggestion is interesting but not very. In his example a win against a 110 or under would score 180 grade, whereas a win against a 111 would give a 161 result, so in fact you would then have to look at all wins which gave a result of less than 180, not count them in the first calculation, and up them to 180 in the second calculation. Unfortunately this would mean that a win against a 125 would be above the initial grading result average but still below the 180 minimum for a win, making it very very complicated. Additionally one might ask what happens to a player who goes down more than 10 points - does this mean he now loses points on his current grade for a win?
     No, I don't think this would work at all fairly, and I still think that the idea of being able to disregard wins which lower the new grade is a good one providing the minimum of 30 games is maintained. Note that I am now broadening this out a little beyond just +10s into +anythings which are less than the new grade.

On the draw situation, of course Howard is right that it would imbalance the 2 draws = 1 win equation, but this can be compensated by making a win +50 on the mean of the two opponents.
     However, before we start going off into the maths of it, can we just deal with the simple point of whether it is correct to say that a draw between two players should be assumed to have been played equally well by both players for grading purposes, or whether this view is somehow fallacious and it is entirely reasonable for a 140 to get a grade of 180 by drawing with a 180, whilst the 180 gets 140? I could be wrong on this, but I do get a strong feeling that each player should get 160.
     Clearly, though, this problem does not really just relate to drawn games. Let me tell you the true story of Smith and Jones, two lighthousekeepers, who passed the time by playing exactly 30 games against each other each season. Smith was graded 140 and Jones 180, yet at first we thought that Smith was undergraded, as the score for the season finished 15-15!. In the next grading list Smith was 180 and Jones 140! So Jones was over-rated after all? No, not a bit of it, as they finished the next season 15-15 too, and lo and behold Smith was back to 140 and Jones back to 180! An amazing grading system, no? This carried on for many years, yet how ever long they played and finished level their grades never got any closer. Indeed, I have heard it said that it was only shortly after a visit by Stewart Reuben to Trinity House that the last manual lighthouses became automated.
     Of course Howard is right to point out, as he will, that it shouldn't matter whether the 15 points are achieved with all draws or with wins too, but shoudn't the grading system have recognised that Smith and Jones were really the same playing strength, having finished level after so many games?
     I can hardly wait for the replies.
Jeff Goldberg

From Howard Grist
In response to Jeff Goldberg's comments [below] on grading calculations:-
     I note with interest Jeff's comments regarding playing opponents with a grading difference of more than 40 points. However I would have thought that in a truly fair system, the grade would be calculated by firstly ignoring games where the difference is more than 40 points, then applying the grading difference to these newly calculated grades. I know that isn't worded very well, but hopefully an example will clarify this. A player has a grade of 150. He plays 20 games against players graded 140, scoring 80%, a grading performance of 170. He plays 20 players graded 100, scoring 100%. Under the current scheme of things his grade would be 165. Under my idea, he would get a performance of 170 against the 140 players, and then '+10' on this figure for the players graded more than 40 points below his current grade of 150. (i.e, a grading performance of 180) and his new grade would be 175.) I appreciate that the maths involved makes the whole thing unworkable, but it seems fairer to me.
     Jeff's second suggestion, that players in a drawn game should receive the average of both their grades rather than their opponent's grade requires simpler maths to refute. Take two players Smith graded 120 and Brown graded 140. They play two two-game matches. In match 1 they draw both games. In the second they both win one game. The BCF grading perfomance for each match is the same, 140 for Smith, 120 for Brown. Jeff would not change the grading performances for match two, but he would say that for the first both players played to a 130 performance. However as both matches finished 1-1, the grading performances should be the same, or are two draws no longer the same as one win?
Howard Grist Howard.Grist@RebusGroup.Com
SCCU Grading Secretary

From Jeff Goldberg
My new grade will be held down a point or two by some victories against weak players where I only got +10. What would you think of the idea that where a player has played more than 30 games and has gone up by more than 10 points any +10 wins should be ignored (for purposes of the winner's grade but not the loser's) for grading purposes providing there is still a minimum of 30 games? This would be fairer and once the system is really computerised only a few milliseconds more work.
     (Conversely anyone playing more than 30 games and dropping more than 10 points should have -10 losses ignored, again subject to a 30 game minimum.)
     I know that this change would make very little difference in practice but it is essentially fairer.
     Actually, I'd also like to hear a reasoned argument why, in a drawn game, each player takes the other's grade, rather than the mean of the two grades. The latter seems fairer to me, as I assume that in a drawn game both players played equally well (or badly!).
     Maybe you could put these points into Open Forum and see what everyone else has to say, if anything.

Earlier material (lots of it) is in the Archive.

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