We have run a successful junior Chess and Go club in Cambridge for more than ten years. We wanted to have a club where juniors could play Go and we reckoned that if we also played Chess and occasionally other games at the club then it would attract a lot more children to join. This has indeed been the case and we have regularly had around 40 members at the start of the school year, and over 20 carrying on throughout the year. Almost all the children who come to the club have not heard of Go when the first arrive but are playing enthusiastically before long.
2. How to get started
We started our club as a joint venture with our local adult Chess club. This seems to work very well, but I guess that it is not essential. After a while we set up a committee to run the club with representatives from the Chess club, Go club and parents.
We have tried meeting in a church hall and in a school classroom. Both of these worked well. One key issue is having plenty of parking. In terms of times of meetings, we have tried Saturday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Friday evenings. We have settled on Wednesdays 6.15pm to 7.45pm and this seems to work well, it is a convenient time for organisers and not too late for most children.
An important issue is to decide how much to charge per session so as not to put people off but to cover costs. We currently (2006) charge 1.50 per child for a 90 minute session.
In terms of equipment, we started off by borrowing sets from the adult Chess and Go clubs, also we got some money from the Ing foundation so we had some funds to buy cheap sets from Payday games. And we were given some Ing stones left over from a London Open years ago (we believe there are still some of these left in London). Over the years we have been donated Chess and Go equipment and books by older local players who are retiring from playing.
We have got people who actively organise the meetings to be CRB checked. This was done through the local council and as long as people are checked as volunteers it is cheap (less than 10 per person) and has to be done once only. On the application we have said that people will run club meetings and may also visit schools.
Whenever new children arrive at the club, their parents fill in a membership form. This gives us contact details including e-mail, and also they give us permission to store the information electronically. At the same time we get parents to say whether they will help running the club.
The main thing we have found that works is to deliver leaflets to schools in September. We get thousands of A5 size flyers photocopied and deliver them to school offices. Experience shows that if you deliver a certain number of leaflets, you can expect 0.5% to 1% of that number to actually show up at your club. For example if you deliver 6000 leaflets you could expect somewhere in the range 30-60 children to actually arrive.
The best children to advertise to are those aged 7-11, in a school that does not have its own chess club. Children have been known to travel some distance to come to the club, so we have advertised to around 30 schools in and around the area, not just to the nearest ones.
It is also useful to get listed on any local registers of clubs and children's activities. And it is good to take leaflets to local junior chess events, for example your local Megafinal of the UK Chess Challenge.
Also people sometimes find us via our website http://www.chessgo.org.uk
We occasionally had special events to advertise the club, including a having a stall in the local library and in a bookshop and in a shopping centre. I'm sure these help to raise the profile of the club but they generally don't result in many new members. Also we try to get local radio/newspaper coverage if any of our members wins anything impressive, this too unfortunately does not tend to get us many new contacts.
We keep in touch with existing members by sending out a regular e-mail newsflash. Nowadays we send this out most weeks. We used to produce paper newsletters, but now almost everyone has e-mail so we just occasionally send out something on paper to the others.
4. What to do at the club
At ordinary meetings mostly the children play games. We put out several Chess and Go sets and a couple of sets for Othello and Oware. We generally have a few drinks and snacks for sale at the club too.
We have usually had a rota of Go players to help at the club, although it is very helpful if you have a couple of people who are keen and come fairly regularly as then they get to know the children.
Often we have a short talk on Chess or Go at the start of the meeting. If you do this, it is important that it doesn't last long and that it isn't too complicated. Anything which is interactive is better, and it often works out well to hand out some puzzles (especially if there is a prize for solving them!). We use one of these short talks to introduce Go in the autumn term to new members.
Twice a year we have a club Chess competition and a club Go competition. We have a shield which the winner keeps for six months. We generally have other small prizes such as book tokens or small boxes of sweets. Sometimes everyone gets a small consolation prize e.g. a creme egg. Occasionally we have a competition for Othello or Oware, just to give a bit more variety.
We run heats of the UK Chess Challenge and UK Go Challenge. These are popular.
Stronger players play handicap games against the juniors using the scheme attached so juniors can see their progress; and it is possible to give kyu diplomas on the basis of this. Another idea is to use the BGA Certificate puzzles.
5. Teaching Go
If we have a lot of new members in the autumn term we teach them Go as a group. We describe the basic rules and get them to try out atari Go. Generally they almost discover real Go themselves by carrying on games of atari Go once pieces have been captured. We tell them how to count up soon though, not later than the second meeting at which they play.
If we get small numbers of children starting later in the year we have to teach them one-to-one. If they come with a friend who can already play, it often works fine for their friend to teach them. If one of the experienced Go players teaches them one-to-one they often will play an 8-stone 9x9 game (giving hints if necessary) which the child will win! This serves as an introduction to our handicap games scheme.
It seems important to give lots of praise for good moves, and not to make too many criticisms. Don't try to teach children too many things at once. Children will often learn something better and more happily from an informal discussion after a game rather than from formal teaching.
6. Special events
Each year we run a congress. This has various chess sections by age and sometimes a section for adults too; and a 13x13 Go competition. One good feature of this is that we can run a Go teaching stall and continuous 9x9 tournament that the junior chess players can take part in between rounds. This generally works very well and we have sometimes had over 40 juniors playing in it. This event is also a good place to meet teachers (we also met some at the local Chess Megafinal) which has resulted in some school Go clubs getting set up.
We have had some extra Go sessions during the summer, and occasionally practice sessions before the Youth Championships. We usually arrange a trip to the Youth Championships and to the UK Go Challenge finals. We strongly advertise local Go events that are suitable for juniors, such as the novices' event at the Trigantius tournament and the regular 13x13 tournaments at the local university club.
7. Spin-off clubs
We have started Go clubs in five local schools now, and we have had visits to four others. These contacts have generally come either from parents whose children have come to the Chess & Go club or from Chess teachers who we have met at our annual congress and/or the local Chess Megafinal.
We would be very keen to see other clubs like ours start in other parts of the country. We are very happy to be contacted to give advice: call Paul Smith on 01223 563932 or email paul.smith25 @ ntlworld.com