City of Derry Chess club thriving after returning to the boards
City of Derry Chess Club are celebrating their return to the boards after their second ever closure in their 70 year history.
The club sit down for a game every Thursday in the Verbal Arts Centre and club Chairman Ronald Simpson, who joined in 1984, said the number of club members is very healthy at the minute.
Ronald said: “Chess has been played in this city for years and years and in the early 50s, a few guys wanted to play more so they put an ad in the ‘Journal’ asking if anyone wanted to play. They met up and decided to form a club. “In those early days, they were playing in someone's garage or a shed somewhere around Marlborough Terrace. Eventually, they moved on and got themselves premises on Carlisle Road. The first competition they had was around February 1952, so around 71 years ago, and a guy called Arthur Holloway won the first few competitions. There was two guys, Eddie McGlinchey and Eugene O’Hare who were friends and rivals for years – they had played all sorts of things like snooker, poker, and other competitive games. They then moved on to chess and they were so competitive with each other, they kept getting better and better. They spent a lot of time studying so one person would learn something and then the other would learn more to beat him. Finally, Eddie, who was the better of the player at the time, won the Ulster Championship in 1959. So, of course, Eugene decided to really study, and he went on to win the Ulster Championship three times in the 60s! He went on to play for the Irish chess team then. They were playing in countries like Yugoslavia and Tel Aviv.
"There was people coming to the club from Omagh to play, which was a big journey in the 60s, and travelling back home after their game. Eventually, Omagh formed their own club and you had clubs forming all over Ireland then. They were all travelling to play team matches and, towards the end of the 60s, the club lost its premises and all its equipment in a bomb. So, the club closed for a year or two. After Bobby Fisher’s 1972 World Championship game, the interest in chess just rocketed again. The club reopened in 73 and had a lot of new players coming in from St Columb’s College, Foyle College and other schools. We had a few other players who went on to become Ulster Champions.
“In the early 90s, we had some kids come into the club who were very good. We had good players back then anyway but these were just that wee bit better. The Gillen twins and their older brother Peter were great and they really strengthened the chess team. It got to the stage where Belfast teams didn’t want to play us in the draw because they knew they wouldn’t win!
"Covid was only the second time the club had ever closed, the first being after the premises was bombed, and the numbers have doubled since our recent reopening. We now have 35 names for this competition and are expecting a few more on the night.
"An ex-club member came to the club last week with his young daughter, who’s four years old. She had great Polish but didn’t have much English so her father was acting as her translator. I was setting up a board as I was chatting to her father and hadn’t realised that the box had extra pieces so, I put two white queens down by accident. She told her father that I had set up the board wrong - correcting me at four years old! It was fantastic to see her playing. Our Treasurer is 83 so we have a wide range of ages.
"I started playing chess when I was in Foyle College. I was sitting in the library and I spotted a book about how to play chess. I picked it up, learned how to play chess and discovered the school actually had a chess club. I went along to that and they put me on the team straight away. I never touched a piece when I went to university and when I came home, I was sitting about waiting to get a job and my mum told me there was something in the paper about a chess club starting up round the corner – this was a new chess club called the Waterside Chess Club in 1984. I went up and they put me on the committee straight away. It was there that I learned about the City of Derry Chess Club so, I went there and they put me on the committee too!
"Alan Turnbull, the Treasurer, is extremely good with kids. He used to run a club for kids and went round school teaching kids how to play. It was so popular that the schools were ringing him to ask him to visit their school too. Alan is in his early 80s now and has other commitments so he doesn’t do the schools anymore but he loves sitting down and teaching still.”
One of Alan’s students has now taken on the role of Marketer in the club, after returning to chess during lockdown. Adam McCallion is in charge of the social media for the club and said it was great to see his old teacher again after so many years.
"It was really surprising to see how many people are into chess here,” Adam said. “After I started marketing it, there was so many people wanting to know more about it and saying that they had been playing over lockdown just like I had been. Most people play online with random people all over the world but it’s great to be able to sit over a board here. You see two dimensionally on a screen and you can miss things that you wouldn’t miss in person.
“Chess is a combination of memorisation, creativity and problem solving skills and you could learn how to play in around half an hour. Not many people see chess as exciting and if you look at it from the outside, you could think that it’s boring. But when you play it and you understand positions and ways of playing, that’s when it gets exciting. Every game is a different story. Each opening and position on the board is like a new game.”
The club is thriving but say there’s always room for more around the board, no matter the level of experience.
"Children come along, even adults too, and they find it a bit daunting,” said Ronald. “But within a few minutes, you’re sat down playing chess and you get sucked into the game. You have to be able to see things in your head, to see what the outcome of your moves could be. We’ve all sorts in the club – different ages, genders, nationalities – and we welcome everyone. As I always say - we only ask two questions in City of Derry Chess Club; can you play chess and do you want a game?”
The club gathers at around 7.15 on a Thursday in the Verbal Arts Centre before sitting down to play at 7.30. Everyone is welcome, even people who have never played chess before. For more information, follow City of Derry Chess Club on Facebook.