How to develop England Juniors?

National developments, strategies and ideas.
Wadih Khoury
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How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Wadih Khoury » Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:04 am

As I was wandering on Internet, I ended up somehow comparing the 2005 and younger junior cohorts in the 5 main big Western countries. While I did expect some challenges for England, I didn't expect the following:
  • France: 2000+: 33 ; CM: 3 ; FM: 4 ; IM: 1
  • Spain: 2000+: 34 ; CM: 0 ; FM: 2 ; IM: 0
  • Germany: 2000+: 36 ; CM: 2 ; FM: 2 ; IM: 0
  • Italy: 2000+: 11 ; CM: 1 ; FM: 0 ; IM: 0
  • England: 2000+: 6 ; CM: 1 ; FM: 0 ; IM: 0
As you can see, while France, Germany and Spain have a similar amount of 2000+ (with France either having a lucky cohort or having a better structure to produce titles), Italy and England are massively lagging behind, even though they have roughly similar populations.

I am sure this has been debated to death, but why are the England juniors so far behind, and what can be done to change that?
After all, England managed to get to #3 I believe in the 80's, and I am sure juniors of that time still had to deal with school, A levels, Uni or work.

Some arguments I heard:
  • Juniors in England drop chess after secondary school due to competing interests: I am sure this this is the same in all countries. And many persevered in the 80's, so what changed?
  • There is no money in chess: I'd argue there never was, so doesn't explain the decline, nor why other countries have a better take up
  • Parents force their kids to focus on studies: again, I don't see why it would be different in other western countries.
  • There no advanced/elite clubs for juniors: Maybe? It's true I don't know as many advanced junior clubs than in let's say France. When you go to a junior individual event, you can see al the children in the club polo, with 1-3 club volunteers or coaches, with training in between games, etc.. A whole support network. Also, there are very few holiday chess camps in England.
  • Chess costs a lot after all with travels, books and coaching: Other countries manage it, so maybe they are more efficient by pooling resources in clubs? It costs much less this way (also, by acting as childcare, the chess clubs save money to some families)
  • Other countries have more state support (at national, regional or even municipal level)
  • Other countries organise many more opportunities for juniors to play titled players and meet them. (e.g., last week MVL spent the day at one of the Parisian chess clubs. Many other clubs regularly have super GM's or strong GMs visit or lecture. There are many simuls offered too.)
I am sure I forgot many, many, many other valid points.
But the question remains: what are we missing, and how to improve?

NickFaulks
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by NickFaulks » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:19 am

Wadih Khoury wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:04 am
  • France: 2000+: 33 ; CM: 3 ; FM: 4 ; IM: 1
  • Spain: 2000+: 34 ; CM: 0 ; FM: 2 ; IM: 0
  • Germany: 2000+: 36 ; CM: 2 ; FM: 2 ; IM: 0
  • Italy: 2000+: 11 ; CM: 1 ; FM: 0 ; IM: 0
  • England: 2000+: 6 ; CM: 1 ; FM: 0 ; IM: 0
The Europeans are possibly wondering why they are trailing behind India.

Forget 2000+, take a look at 2250+

24 players, including 6 GMs and 3 IMs.

A big part of the difference is presumably cultural. In India, excelling at chess is seen highly meritable and potentially lucrative. In Western Europe, not so much, with the UK being at the other end of the scale. Here, I get the impression that if a student is very good at chess, their school may be questioning whether they are wasting time which would be better spent on mindless geography coursework.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Matthew Turner
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Matthew Turner » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:33 am

Go to a chess club in France and it is completely different to the UK, you'll see young people having a beer, a sandwich and chatting alongside playing. A significant factor is national service - this provides a pool of youngsters to work within chess clubs and also some finance from government. I appreciate that these are slightly older players than Wadih is talking about, but these are the role models that keep the teenagers playing when other competing draws on their time kick in.

Wadih Khoury
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Wadih Khoury » Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:04 am

NickFaulks wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:19 am

The Europeans are possibly wondering why they are trailing behind India.

I ignored other countries on purpose, as the economics and state support levels are very different in India, Russia, Armenia, turkey, etc...
I compared countries of similar (relatively) sizes, economies, state intervention, etc...

Roger Lancaster
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Roger Lancaster » Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:54 am

Is the explanation partially due to almost all England juniors having low FIDE ratings relative to their ECF grades/ratings in which case, if the ECF figures are the more accurate indicators of their playing strengths, the FIDE ratings consistently under-estimate those playing strengths?

Wadih Khoury
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Wadih Khoury » Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:17 am

Roger Lancaster wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:54 am
Is the explanation partially due to almost all England juniors having low FIDE ratings relative to their ECF grades/ratings in which case, if the ECF figures are the more accurate indicators of their playing strengths, the FIDE ratings consistently under-estimate those playing strengths?
Yes, there is the very valid argument that there are not enough fide rated events in England.

However, I would say this mainly impacts the lower end of the junior population (maybe under 150 or 130?). Determined higher end players can find many open sections that are fide rated.
If there is one fide tournament per month, and an improving junior can get 20 points on average per 5 round tournament, then there should be plenty of scope to hit 2000 by the age of 15.

I went and checked the ECF rating website, and there are 26 2000+ in the U15 (fide age), which is much better.
However, if like me you believe the ECF conversion to be about 100 points too high, you could end up as low as 11 players with an effective strength of 2000+ fide.
We are effectively saying that we have 11-26 2000+ in that age group vs and average of 35 for France, Germany and Spain. That's 25% lower at best, 70% lower at worst.

Matt Bridgeman
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Matt Bridgeman » Mon Oct 26, 2020 1:21 pm

I think the sense of community goes a long way. In England it’s less likely that young people are in friendship groups with other strong players the same age, especially the further north you travel in the country as the talent thins out enormously. The power of friendship groups is explored in Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ excellent new book, Chess Improvement. For example, insights into how James Moreby took a lot of his motivation to improve from being part of a strong group of players at school. Having an actual chess tutor on staff at school seems very rare, but must be incredibly productive if the right bunch of strong juniors come together. It would be nice to get some insight from Matthew Turner regarding how this is structured at his school?

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Mon Oct 26, 2020 5:31 pm

"It would be nice to get some insight from Matthew Turner regarding how this is structured at his school?"

I helped out in a very small way at a local boarding school and discovered that the boarders have "activities" after school hours so there are a lot of competing interests. So if football (e.g.) is scheduled at the same time as chess, it may be that football wins? I wondered if Matthew had a similar issue.

It may be that whatever school you're at, the teachers have many demands on their time (loads of marking, preparation etc.) and don't have the time to do after-school clubs?

Wadih Khoury
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Wadih Khoury » Mon Oct 26, 2020 5:59 pm

Matt Bridgeman wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 1:21 pm
I think the sense of community goes a long way. In England it’s less likely that young people are in friendship groups with other strong players the same age
....
Yes I did note that a team/community goes a long way to give them hooked and motivated to stretch their limits.

Thing is, as a few parents explained to me, there are no "strong" clubs in activity that can keep the children progressing, so often what happens is:

- children start in the local junior chess club, often a social club with little formal training.
- the moment they hit let's say 80, they move on to a more proper club, with 1-2 hours training and 1-2 hours playing. These clubs then find the following problem. Player A reaches 140, and is no longer learning from the other younger children. He keeps winning 80% of his games, gets bored, until parents take him off the club (either to play in opens or moves to an non-junior chess club). Player B who was 120 now finds himself in the same situation. He may hang around for another 6 months until he hits 140 and faces the same issue. Circle repeats ad infinitum.

This seems confirmed by one of the managers of one of the bigger clubs in the South: they struggle to keep their juniors pas a certain point. Note that a club like Nomad in France can keep 11 year old Marco Materia at 2300+, because they still have older players stronger than him, younger ones able to cause him problems, a team in the junior premiership (which is a big deal in the world of French chess), classes with GMs twice a week (I think) and occasional visits by the likes of MVL

As I was told, there is a lack of proper elite junior clubs (and the plural is important) to keep things competitive enough and to create that sense of community (although I am fascinated by the Coventry Chess Academy which has more than a few brilliant juniors, with a good team spirit and a great blog that keep parents informed of all their exploit. Kudos to their organisers and parents! Too bad it's far away from where we live).

The ECF Academy somehow does create this sense of community, with groups of similar levels, but it only happens 4 times a year, plus any international event. Not nearly enough.

Alan Walton
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Alan Walton » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:29 pm

Matt Bridgeman wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 1:21 pm
I think the sense of community goes a long way. In England it’s less likely that young people are in friendship groups with other strong players the same age, especially the further north you travel in the country as the talent thins out enormously. The power of friendship groups is explored in Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ excellent new book, Chess Improvement. For example, insights into how James Moreby took a lot of his motivation to improve from being part of a strong group of players at school. Having an actual chess tutor on staff at school seems very rare, but must be incredibly productive if the right bunch of strong juniors come together. It would be nice to get some insight from Matthew Turner regarding how this is structured at his school?
It depends how far north you go; 3Cs are still going strong after 40+ years; and it doesn’t matter what age you are we still all socialise and all commit to the club, and we continue producing strong players

Matt Bridgeman
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Matt Bridgeman » Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:03 pm

Alan Walton wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:29 pm
Matt Bridgeman wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 1:21 pm
I think the sense of community goes a long way. In England it’s less likely that young people are in friendship groups with other strong players the same age, especially the further north you travel in the country as the talent thins out enormously. The power of friendship groups is explored in Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ excellent new book, Chess Improvement. For example, insights into how James Moreby took a lot of his motivation to improve from being part of a strong group of players at school. Having an actual chess tutor on staff at school seems very rare, but must be incredibly productive if the right bunch of strong juniors come together. It would be nice to get some insight from Matthew Turner regarding how this is structured at his school?
It depends how far north you go; 3Cs are still going strong after 40+ years; and it doesn’t matter what age you are we still all socialise and all commit to the club, and we continue producing strong players
Yes the 3Cs is definitely the standout club I think in the North West, but still 55 miles from where we are in Lancashire. And I suppose the North East equivalent is Forrest Hill. I can't think of many of examples in the North which have a deep spread of young players from strong club standard to FM level.

Joseph Conlon
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Joseph Conlon » Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:09 pm

There are many answers to this question, but one (which I have alluded to before) which seems to be missing today is something playing the role the BCF Junior Squad had in the 1980s/1990s (and also earlier in the 1970s according to Roger de C). The first big event I won was the junior squad U7s and I got given the trophy by Nigel Short which made me well chuffed (cf comment about meeting titled players).

The junior squad had a role in offering the combination of both serious chess and social camaraderie, by travelling as a parent-free residential group with a coach and manager to international opens (e.g. Guernsey/Isle of Man/Hastings) or similar events - such events were a week surrounded by serious chess and chess players. So as examples: when I was 13 I went to Guernsey for the October half term, when 14 I went to the Isle of Man open. For each I was spending a week sharing rooms with similar-aged juniors, surrounded by chess.

There were also the home events - for example the summer Smith&Williamson Young Masters, which had the format of a residential 9 days at a boarding school gathering many of England's top juniors together

For an example of the typical strength of the top section, with me performing dismally, see
https://theweekinchess.com/html/twic298.html#7

There were also various lower sections, in a 9 round all play all format, so in total catering for juniors from grade ~130 upwards, and age roughly 11+ up to about 21.

Finally, there was also the squad championships itself, which were several days over the Easter holiday, again in boarding school facilities.

So this meant that a 'typically' strong junior (say in top 10 of age group), from the age of 11/12 onwards, could easily have ~20 days a year at junior squad events where they were at a residential chess event, without their parents and sharing a room with one or more other juniors - and this is without including events like the World or European juniors. Can the same be said now?

My recollection is that this system catered well in terms of both chess development and social development for all juniors except true prodigies - Luke McShane being the clear exception, who was head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of talent - and also provided a social glue through being residential. And certainly the system produced juniors strong and competitive at world level - from my year group, Nick Pert won the world juniors, Karl Mah won the European juniors, and even I can say that I once finished ahead of Lev Aronian at the world juniors.

I'm a bit sceptical of the idea that stronger local junior clubs are what are missing; I certainly don't remember them as a feature of the 1980s/1990s. It seems inevitable that regional clubs can develop players up to national level, but almost by definition national-level players will be stronger than the opposition available locally.

Richard James
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Richard James » Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:56 pm

Joseph Conlon wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:09 pm

I'm a bit sceptical of the idea that stronger local junior clubs are what are missing; I certainly don't remember them as a feature of the 1980s/1990s.
Richmond Juniors?

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Tue Oct 27, 2020 12:07 am

"For an example of the typical strength of the top section, with me performing dismally, see
https://theweekinchess.com/html/twic298.html#7"

Quite good opposition though! And many still playing...

I recall various Junior Squads at Guernsey - a good idea, although we adults groaned when we played a junior of course (although sometimes you got the chance to win before they got too good). One year the JS comprised 26 of the entry of 102 so that was perhaps a bit much. Tony Corfe was good as the leader, as he impressed on the players that if they misbehaved, that others would blame "English Juniors" rather than an individual. There were rarely serious problems. You need the right leader though - one of Tony's predecessors was confronted by an angry Dutchman saying that two of the juniors were cheating by discussing the game, and the leader said, "Nothing to do with me!" and ran away. Not a great example...

It was a good opportunity for the juniors to play a proper tournament and build up camaraderie over the week, and to discover that the 50 year-old player rated 1900 might just know more than them.

Joseph Conlon
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Re: How to develop England Juniors?

Post by Joseph Conlon » Tue Oct 27, 2020 10:30 am

Richard James wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:56 pm
Joseph Conlon wrote:
Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:09 pm

I'm a bit sceptical of the idea that stronger local junior clubs are what are missing; I certainly don't remember them as a feature of the 1980s/1990s.
Richmond Juniors?
I am a great admirer of the wonderful work Richmond has done over the decades - and the Complete Chess Addict was my absolute favourite book as a child. However I felt, then and now, that clubs like Richmond are very good at developing a large pool of juniors who are competitive at the national level, but that further development to being internationally competitive requires national structures. So eg if in one age group Richmond has the nos. 5, 11, 14,17,18 out of the top 20, that is fantastic for one junior club but that no.5 player needs national groups for their full progression.

In a similar vein, I felt that Richmond's historic strength in EPSCA events doesn't necessarily lie in their top few boards, but the fact that there is very little drop off in quality below that.
Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Tue Oct 27, 2020 12:07 am
I recall various Junior Squads at Guernsey - a good idea, although we adults groaned when we played a junior of course (although sometimes you got the chance to win before they got too good). One year the JS comprised 26 of the entry of 102 so that was perhaps a bit much. Tony Corfe was good as the leader, as he impressed on the players that if they misbehaved, that others would blame "English Juniors" rather than an individual. There were rarely serious problems.
I remember hearing that speech - although time blurs whether it was Ian Cowen (RIP), Peter Purland or Tony Corfe or someone else making it (or all of them at different times). As an adult one recognises the less attractive sides of teenage group dynamics, although chess players are probably better than average!

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