A recent posting by Mig Greengard at his Daily Dirt Blog asked "Lights Out for Clubs?" He had just been to the St. Petersburg chess club to find its doors closed and the building in disrepair, and he wondered whether chess clubs will survive at all in this age of online play. The question was provocative and got some comments and discussion going (including my own contribution). The most interesting response, though, came from a member of the MetroWest chess club outside of Boston:
"Our club, the MetroWest Chess Club (just west of Boston, Mass, USA) is thriving. We are a one-night-a-week only club that regularly draws 75-90 players every Tuesday night. We have an expert do a lesson each Tuesday early; then we play one round of a Swiss event (one each month, 4 or 5 rounds depending). We have a seperate Chess School on Thursdays now, and we run a scholasic event on Thursdays in the summer. We have a *huge* web site at http://www.metrowestchess.org (check it out for ideas).
"Part of our success is a system to train and retain volunteers; particularly Tournament Directors (which I am one). Also, we've incorporated as a Not-for-Profit corporation and have a full slate of officers, board members, etc.
"Our club President is a major driving force behind all of this, but one of his main goals is putting procedures in place so that he, or any one person for that matter, isn't necessary for running the Club. The procedures also help cultivate volunteers to replace those who tail off due to burnout, and more importantly, spread the load of work so there *isn't* burnout among us.
"We were the USCF Club of the Year in 2003, so we must be doing something right ;-)"
I had been to the MetroWest site several times of late, trying to "check it out for ideas" as the writer suggests. I have already noted in an earlier posting the excellent class they are running on building an opening repertoire using Larry Kaufman's "Chess Advantage in Black and White." I was impressed even then by the activity at the club, which they have kept track of diligently and even graphed. Looking at the chart of monthly attendance averages, I was at first struck by the fact that they averaged over 100 attendees a night in the Fall of 2003! But a little more looking and I was happy to note that back in the 1990s, their attendance was actually not that much greater than our own. And the first thing that seems to have tipped the balance was that they built a website in 1997. From that point forward, the club attendance began to climb dramatically.
I'm not suggesting, though, that building a website is sufficient to build a club. But it is a good first step and offers club members a vehicle for encouraging other positive practices. I am almost ready to make a list of those so we have things to think about.
Here is my wish list:
1) Tournament Directors. I did not realize how easy it is to become a club tournament director. I want to get a large group of us (anyone willing) to take the plunge and become official club directors. To that end, we should purchase several copies of the 5th edition of the USCF chess rules.
2) If we start building up a base of tournament directors, we will be able to run rated tournaments, including tournaments on Saturdays or other days than club nights. Mike Wojcio and Bill Cohen were able to organize several such Saturday events in the 1990s, and it might be worth trying that again.
3) Lectures, simuls, chess courses, and other events help to advertise the club and can be used to draw in more members. Steve Stoyko is working on a class to start late summer or fall.
4) Scholastic events and classes to help build up a young cohort of players. There was some discussion of meeting a bit earlier, and one argument for that is to encourage more young players to attend. The Dumont Chess Mates, for example, begins 5:30-7 as a scholatic club before the regular club runs from 7-11. That sounds like a good model to work toward. Of course, we have to start by cultivating some local talent.
5) Incorporating as a not-for-profit in order to solicit donations and create other advantages.
6) Do more to cultivate volunteers among our membership.
7) Do more to work with the local community to promote the club among residents or locals.
8) Build up a lending library at the club from donated books, magazines, and other materials. MetroWest has quite a list, and even a director of their library.
I will continue to look at other clubs (especially through their websites) and to research our own history in order to get more ideas to help build up the club. The website has been a good start, but more local action is needed to make a difference.