On a sunny March morning Rose Forgrove Chess Club and the Yorkshire Evening Post met up to discuss the game of chess. To be more precise, YEP reporter Neil Hudson and Forgrove webmaster David Hirst decided it was high time to give greater coverage to the growth of chess in Leeds. Over a chess game and a cup of coffee, the following article was published in the YEP paper and website to try and spread the word about the great game.
Published on Wednesday 28 March 2012
It is one of the oldest games in history but chess isn’t exactly a spectator sport. Or is it? Neil Hudson discovered a growing interest in the game in Leeds:
"David Hirst is beating me at chess. Not only is he beating me, he’s already let me replay three moves and now he tells me, somewhat ominously, that it’s “checkmate in two.” For those unfamiliar with the parlance of one of the oldest games in history, that means it won’t be long before he wins. Despite the grand heritage of the ‘game of kings’, chess remains largely on the fringe of public consciousness. While the chess world might be the playground of geniuses, it’s hardly Formula 1. Compared to football, snooker or even bowls, chess is, well, let’s face it, a little bit slow. Unless, that is, you’re playing it, and that’s just what David Hirst, a 38-year-old sales team leader from Leeds, wants more of us to do. The father-of-one, fell back in love with the game a few years ago, having initially learned to play in his teens. He wants to get more people interested in playing the ancient game, whether they are newcomers or people returning to a one-time hobby.
“I became interested in chess when I was 13 or 14 but never really took it seriously until recently, when I decided I needed a hobby.
“I’d like to say it’s relaxing, which it is, but it can also be quite stressful at times. What chess does is train your mind. People do Sudoku but chess is even better if you want a mental challenge.
“We are trying to get more people interested in playing the game, or to get them to return to the game.
“It’s a real challenge pitting your wits against someone else, it enables you to get really involved in the game, so much so that you forget about what’s going on outside of that.”
His club, Rose Forgrove, takes its name from a precision metal engineering company, whose employees started the club in the 1960s. It flourished and attracted members from outside the company. However, before the growth of the internet it suffered from a lack of publicity and various negative stereotypes, a fact David wants to change.
“The problem with chess is people think it’s boring. That’s what we’ve got to get away from.
“It’s about educating people as to what chess is about. The internet has been brilliant for chess, because it means you can play a game against anyone, any time, anywhere.
“There are so many different variations of chess today, too, such as speed matches and others where the pieces are randomly placed on the board.
“When we write up match reports, we try to keep them short and exciting, to keep people interested.
“It can be quite engrossing when you get into it, especially when you start playing matches and you are given a grading.
“The grade relates to your level of skill and the games you have played – as you play more games, you accumulate grading points, if you beat someone who has a higher grading than you, your grading goes up even more.
“All of this is kept up-to-date on the Chess Nuts website (www.chessnuts.org.uk), which allows you to keep track of where people are in the rankings.”
But most people’s experience of the game will have been of two apparently motionless men seated opposite one other not talking, just thinking.
It was a concept parodied brilliantly several years ago by sketch show Big Train, written by Simon Pegg, in which two characters enter a stare-off contest, complete with dramatic spoof voice-over detailing every lack of manoeuvre. In Britain, perhaps most will recall the 1993 clash between then reigning world chess champion Gary Kasparov and home-grown prodigy Nigel Short, who at 19 was the youngest chess grandmaster in history. There’s no escaping the game is a mental, as opposed to a physical one, the emotional angst of each player etched out on furrowed brows as they contemplate what could be a fateful next move. There’s no doubting chess is a thinking person’s game, as subtle as it is complex, both tortuous and exhilarating. Perhaps that is one of its greatest assets – that in a world in which increasing emphasis is being placed upon one’s mental health, chess is a kind of mental Olympics.
David said: “It is a mental game, a lot of what you actually see on the chess board is only a quarter of what you are thinking about – most of that you never actually see, it’s never realised on the board but there are threats against your pieces which you have to consider.
“When I became interested in chess a few years ago, I discovered there was a club right on my doorstep – Rose Forgrove.
“However, there is also Leeds City Centre Club, which is new and has some top players and Leeds Junior Chess Club, which is based at Alwoodley Community Centre) and has 25 members aged from seven to 15, boys and girls.”
Since rediscovering his passion for the game, David has taken on the mantle of webmaster for his club and is keen to encourage more people to join.
He added: “We’d love to see more people come down, there’s all sorts going on in terms of matches, competitions, we have the Leeds League, which feeds into the Yorkshire League, meetings take place regularly and there’s a real buzz about it.”
A standard competition chess game will take place over a period of three hours, with each player being given one-hour 15 minutes to complete the first 35 moves, with another 15 minutes added for the remaining moves. Most matches are over in under 35 moves. But it wasn’t always like that. Timed matches were only introduced in the 1880s after chess prodigy Paul Morphy, who was known for his speed, complained his opponent, Louis Paulsen was taking too long over moves – some matches dragged on for more than 12 hours.
During one famous match, after Morphy had moved and an hour had passed, Paulsen looked up and asked: “Is it my move?” Nowadays, it’s a completely different story, with more of an emphasis on speed. In November last year, Leeds Metropolitan University hosted the British Rapidplay championships, in which over 300 players did battle – the event may return this year. This summer, Leeds Chess Congress will take place from July 13-15 and anyone visiting the cafe beneath Leeds Art Gallery can ask to use the giant chess pieces to play on the board marked out in Victoria Gardens, which was revamped in 2011, with chess boards set into the walls.
Rose Forgrove Club, based at Roundhay Parochial Hall, Fitzroy Drive, meets on Wednesday from 7pm, contact Clive Davies on 0113 2688341 or David Hirst on firstname.lastname@example.org; Leeds City Centre Club also meets on Wednesdays at The Old Red Lion pub, while the Junior Club meets on Sundays.
Chess dates back to at least the 6th Century AD, when it was played in the Gutpa empire, India, from which it spread to Persia, Arabia and beyond. Chess is called the ‘game of kings’ because it was primarily played by royalty and nobility – the names of the pieces being set down in the Middle Ages, the rook taking its name from the Arabic world rukh, meaning chariot. The word ‘checkmate’ comes from the Persian phrase ‘shah mat’, meaning ‘the king is defeated’. Time limits were introduced into the game following an 11-hour match between chess prodigy Paul Morphy (1837-1884) and Louis Paulsen (1833-1891) in the 1850s. Morphy, widely considered the greatest player of his time, was a very fast player, while Paulsen would take hours over each move. The first clocks were introduced in 1883.The most famous living chess grandmaster is Russian Gary Kasparov, born in 1963, who played the best British player, Nigel Short in 1993
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