Crunch Time Cometh
Local associations are getting round to deciding what to do as regards grading after June 2018. This matter is on the agenda for the following meetings:
The YCA end-June 2018 grading list is expected to be produced as usual, and leagues already signed up to the ECF system are expected to have their result submissions to the ECF created from Chessnuts as usual. After June 2018, although it is expected it will still be possible to enter results and see them displayed, there will be no more grading shown alongside people’s results, and no more annual lists.
Unattributed views expressed below are those of the writer, not the YCA or any other organisation.
1) Problems to be Addressed
Local associations will need to address the question of how they publish their match results etc. There used to be bulletin editors, and most associations now have websites, so publishing results should not be “rocket science”. Associations potentially have a year’s grace regarding result publication, as results should still be enterable into Chessnuts for 2018-19, though one has to adopt the hypothesis that, after that at the latest, an alternative needs to be found.
More pressing is grading of results from 2018-19 onwards, and even Summer League results of 2017-18. Local associations will need to address whether they want their results for 2018-19 onwards to be graded, and, if so, how.
2) League Grading Option 1
The simplest option is joining the ECF system, effectively requiring players to be ECF members, at a minimum membership cost of £16 per player (£5 for juniors) in 2018-19 (probably £17 for adults in 2019-20). See below for what you get for your money. As the ECF has most of the population of England from whom to find people to operate its grading system, the sustainability of the ECF’s grading system is presumably greater than that of Yorkshire’s. ECF-graded leagues can enter their results into the ECF’s web-based “League Management System”, essentially as they would have entered data into Chessnuts.
Interestingly, or not, applying the Bank of England’s inflation converter to the sum of £16 in 2018 gives values in the 1970s to 1980 which approximate to the cost of BCF Registration in that period.
It has to be said that joining the ECF scheme could result in some “co-lateral damage”: loss of players from clubs, loss of teams from leagues, and even loss of clubs from associations.
3) League Grading Option 2
An alternative is to write your own local league grading system, to produce a local league grading list. This has similar feasibility problems as does keeping Chessnuts going, but is actually more feasible, due to the much reduced data volume of a single league, and to the fact that it need not be web-based, making a greater field of programmers potentially available. However, local grading lists, though largely usable for internal league purposes, would carry next to no weight outside internal applications. You could adopt more-manual methods, as in the past.
4) League Grading Option 3
Attempting to borrow, in some way, grading systems from elsewhere, has somewhat bizarrely been mooted recently, as in the past. Accordingly, somebody (with no official status in the YCA or any local association) has attempted to investigate the Welsh Chess Union’s 4-digit grading system, which does not, however, use web-based data entry. By chance, the chief WCU grader is 74 years old, and so about the same age as Jon Griffith. He, not surprisingly, has said he cannot grade Yorkshire. (The proposer of the idea would presumably assume the role of new YCA Grader, using the Welsh system.) The whole idea is a total non-starter according to one local league secretary, for reasons “too numerous to list”, a view with which the writer concurs. One might, incidentally, sense sustainability issues for the WCU’s grading system. In Wales, seemingly, just as here, those willing to do the data entry can’t cope with the technical side, while those able to deal with the technical side are unwilling to do data entry!
5) League Grading Option 4
Of course, chess was played for many years without grades!
6) Grading of Congresses and other Individual Events
Beyond Leagues, there is the matter of congresses and other individual competitions like club championships. Most if not all congresses are normally ECF-graded. At present the ECF’s LMS doesn’t cope with congresses, it seems, which is presumably because it’s too closely based on Chessnuts.
Some congresses in Yorkshire use pairing software which incorporates the facility for creating ECF grading data submissions. For others, the problem will arise as to how to get their results sent to the ECF in the prescribed format. Accordingly, as an organiser of such congresses, the writer has become an “ECF grader”, and written a program to computerise the process of congress data entry, a programming task easily done in a few days, so why the ECF doesn’t provide software isn’t clear.
This means that the writer is in principle available to ECF-grade congresses and other individual events, such as club championships, in Yorkshire.
7) About the ECF
Some people may wonder what they would get for their £16 (£5 for juniors). One has to remember that the ECF has laudable objectives and projects such as might be expected of a national organisation, but lacks a suitable source of money. Its government grant for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was lost a number of years ago, so its main source of regular general revenue (apart from sponsorship and donations) is membership fees charged to players. Since most players want a grade, but are not really interested in anything else the ECF does, that means payment for grading.
A common problem for some players stems from the idea of the common player possibly funding things like appearance money for professional players representing the country, so it is to his credit that ECF International Director Malcolm Pein endeavours to find sponsorship to cover such costs, which means the strength of England teams can be weakened by less-than-hoped-for levels of sponsorship.
As it happens, the latest ECF Newsletter addresses the question of what the ECF does, the relevant text reading as follows:
. . . . all currently for £16 (£5 juniors) per annum.
Who could say “No”? Well, that’s what we’ll be finding out over the next 6 months!
8) The Post of YCA Grader
So, isn’t the YCA obliged to grade local league games? Well, no.
The post of county grader, of any county, was one a county in membership of the BCF (as was) was obliged to fill, as the country’s part in the overall national grading system. It was that county’s ECF Grader. Also, the county paid a membership (“levy”) fee to the BCF. Local leagues piggy-backed “for free” at the expense of players and clubs in the Yorkshire league, which the YCA saw as a way of supporting chess throughout the county.
Local graders performed grading calculations on local league results &c, then passed them to the county grader, who collated material, adding in some of his own, and then passed the whole lot to the Union grader, who repeated the process at the higher level, sending details for players over a certain level to the BCF grader. The “grading list” was the Union grading list for most players, though a Combined Union List was produced nationally for players at the higher levels, such as 185 or above.
Yorkshire raised its county membership fees payable to the BCF by requiring Yorkshire league players to have BCF “Registration”; such BCF Registration fees collected could be offset against the “levy” fee payable, and the amount raised and sent to the BCF slightly exceeded the levy fee. Nothing was charged by the YCA to local leagues for providing a central grading service. Thus local leagues piggy-backed “for free” at the expense of players and clubs in the Yorkshire league.
The politics of BCF/ECF fund-raising and its ultimate tying to grading meant Yorkshire for some time produced its own grading list to protect the interests of the local leagues, without making any charge. The fact of computerisation to the point of making the system effectively unsustainable has meant that that facility can no longer be provided.
These days the fees for ECF grading are charged to the originating organisation, hence the appointment of a “grader” falls to the organisers, not some higher body. The obligations associated with the post of YCA grader are thus primarily concerned now with grading submissions to the ECF, which would now be 99% covered by the YCA Competitions Controller entering results from the YCA League into the ECF’s LMS. “Get out of Jail Free” cards, which have been available all of the writer’s lifetime to local leagues, have to fall by the wayside.
Jon Griffith is 74 (maybe 75 by now), and his non-rechargeable batteries are running low. Accordingly, since before the start of 2017-18, he had been trying to find help with data entry of congresses and other non-league results, and for someone to take over responsibility for running the site in the longer term. On 16/02/2018 he told the Committee of the YCA that no suitable candidate had been found and that he was having to pull the plug, as above.
Apart from the need for aptitude in various aspects of web computer programming, a suitable applicant would need to be very keen to become thoroughly committed to the idea of running the site and all associated aspects of chess grading administration required, and also be (or become) an ECF grader. The very fact of the grading-data entry process in Yorkshire having moved to computerised data entry via the web has inevitably meant the number of potential successors to the post of Yorkshire Grader, as Jon has remoulded that post, is vanishingly close to zero. It’s difficult enough to fill any post in chess organisations these days, so to require special qualifications combined with the necessary level of commitment to the abstruse cause of grading is too tall an order to be very realistic.
Over the years, associations in Yorkshire have very slowly been moving to ECF grading. Having all of a given player’s results graded in the same system, rather than having two grades reflecting different sets of data, is clearly preferable from the point of view of grade calculation. Accordingly, the Leeds league, the Yorkshire Chess Association itself, parts of the Bradford league and just recently the Hull league have all moved to ECF grading. For the players involved, the Yorkshire grades are largely superfluous.
To still have data from the ECF-graded leagues entered by those organisations into Chessnuts means the Yorkshire grader has to undertake to generate the ECF grading submissions for those leagues. On top of this, for congresses not using pairing software which generates the ECF submissions, if their results are to be included in the Yorkshire grading system then their results need entered by the YCA grader and ECF grading submissions need then to be created – to a fairly tight schedule. This all requires great commitment to the cause, and perhaps more than the “job specification” suggested. This all requires obsessive dedication to the job.