The Current Uptake of Inter-County Over-the-Board Standard-Rate Team Chess
The start of the 2022-23 county-match season seems an appropriate moment to look round the rest of the country to see what is happening there.
The table below attempts to indicate which counties currently participate in traditional inter-county team chess in the 5 Unions, and of course those who do not. Some Unions do not run competitions in all categories corresponding to those run by the ECF (Open, U-2050, U-1850, U-1650, U-1450 and Minor), though they retain the right to nominate counties to participate in those follow-on ECF events. Some counties are affiliated to a Union but do not participate in events run at the Union level. Some counties do not affiliate to a Union, in which case they are shown in the table according to their earlier Union affiliation. The primary basis of the table is current fixture data held on the ECF League Management System, supplemented by data held on Union websites.
The MCCU is the only Union to run its own “Minor” competition. The WECU seems never to have discontinued (or else at some time resuscitated) the pre-1993 First Team and Second Team competitions. While its constitution provides for both the 1st & 2nd Team events as well as rating-limited events, for 2022-23 only the former is evident on LMS, suggesting rating-controlled sections are no longer run, for the present at least. Perhaps relevant is the fact that the WECU is currently keen on on-line county competitions, though still not in rating-limited sections.
SCCU and WECU work on an all-play-all twice basis, whereas the other three work on only an all-play-all-once basis.
For reference, the approximate share by the Unions of England’s population:
Over time, support for traditional county chess competitions has waned.
Prior to 1993, the English County Championships run by the BCF did not include grade-limited (later rating-limited) competitions. Unions tended to run both a first-team championship (supplying nominees for the English Counties’ Championship which started in 1908) and second-team championship (to which, seemingly, no national championship corresponded). As remembered by the writer from playing for Devon while at university, 50 years ago all relevant counties fielded teams in the WECU Union’s first-team competition and most also in the second-team competition, as, from memory, was the case in the NCCU prior to 1993. The BCF also ran a Minor Counties’ Championship broadly for counties not having achieved anything significant in recent seasons, however that was defined, though the concept of a Union-level “Minor” competition was, prior to 1993, pretty meaningless.
From 1993, the BCF introduced competitions for teams whose players were graded below some cut-off, with the former County Championship becoming “Open” as opposed to the new grade-limited competitions, while the Minor Championship became one for teams limited by players’ average grade and other grade-related considerations. The retained term “Minor” might seem no longer appropriate to an average rating-based competition. The cut-offs and number of grade/rating-limited sections have of course evolved over the years.
Whilst the grading/rating-limited competitions facilitated greater numbers of players participating in county matches, and allowed counties of disparate overall strength to compete on roughly equal terms, the new system was progressively challenged by developing factors. Firstly, over the past 60 years or so, there was a progressive proliferation of weekend congresses catering for the club player as opposed to just the elite. Secondly, the development of the 4NCL seems to have offered a format preferred by some who might otherwise have been more open to the idea of inter-county chess. These first two factors have resulted in a “calendar” which is bursting at the seams, and county chess seems to be part of what has had to “give”. Thirdly, there seems to have been an increasing antipathy towards travelling long distances for a single game of chess in one day, and consequently a single game in one weekend, whereas a weekend congress typically affords 5 games in a weekend. The recent increase in on-line chess may have contributed slightly to the erosion of inter-county chess, but that is a pudding yet to be proven by its being eaten and fully digested.