The radio discussion follows a formal UK Government announcement this week on a funding package of just under £1m to develop chess in England, which will be shared by the English Chess Federation, local authorities, and primary schools in disadvantaged areas. Culture Secretary Liz Frazer said the investment is focused on young people, and designed to help give them, “someone to talk to, something to do and somewhere to go.” She also stated chess teaches young people important skills, including critical thinking and patience.
Caitlin invited Harry Marron, who manages junior club Lenzie Chess Academy, to join her for the discussion on providing young people in Scotland with greater exposure to over-the-board chess. The conversation featured the following points:
Caitlin: “We’re quite a new Club, we had to take a break during the pandemic, then we came roaring back in 2022. We have 45, 46 members now, last year we had seven, there’s been an absolute boom in popularity. We have quite a wide range of people, all different backgrounds. The main reason I got back into chess was over lockdown… I had a revenge arc to learn and beat a friend! What’s nice about chess is, you don’t need anything fancy, whether you are new or a Grandmaster, you always have the same board, the same pieces.”
Harry: “Chess is more popular to young people than it has been for a long time. It’s thriving in Scotland – during Covid young people started playing online… Queen’s Gambit was very entertaining and the chess part was done particularly well. Parents watched and they encouraged their children [to play].”
Caitlin: “We have tennis courts, outdoor gyms, basketball courts – outdoor chess tables isn’t anything different. We go to random picnic benches at the moment and bring some chess boards along. What you find is, people come walking past and go, “Oh – chess!”. It’s almost always that they play chess as a child and haven’t played in a while and come back. Being physically visible is really important, and promoting chess to young people is really important.”
Harry: “I had a five year old visit Lenzie, who is now the number 2 ranked under 9 player in the world. Although he knew how the pieces move, I taught him. He has sight, determination and a tremendous work ethic. At the top it’s 1% talent and 99% hard work. But there’s a lot of creativity in chess too.”
Caitlin: “We play in pubs and cafes around the southside, we currently play in the downstairs area of a pub! People think of chess as being in a big silent hall, and you’re not allowed to talk or do anything, but times are changing, it’s in parks, pubs, cafes. There’s more than sitting silently for three hours. I like the chess side – the focus, the patience – and also the social aspect. It helps with social connections, people have said they came to the Chess Club when they had their schooling disrupted and they were a bit isolated, it was really helpful to have a shared common interest.”
Listen to the full broadcast here. The chess discussion took place on the 24 August show with Stephen, and started at 10:50am (1h:50m into the 9am-noon broadcast). It will be available for one month following broadcast on the BBC Sounds app and website.
Meanwhile, following our recent letter to Alison Thewliss MP, Alison has helpfully written to the Prime Minister to ask for clarity on whether there are plans to extend, or proportionally match, the UK Government chess funding package in Scotland. We will share further developments when a response has been received.
What is it like to be part of Glasgow’s Queens Park Chess Club?
Each month, Derek Rankine (Club Secretary) interviews Queens Park Members and asks them to share their experiences and perspectives. This month, we hear from the Chess Club’s power couple, Chris Dinwoodie and Jackie Logan.
Chris, 40 (“Jackie is convinced I’m 41”), is a magician and show producer who performs at weddings, corporate events and comedy clubs, and runs the successful Enterteasement monthly variety show. He was born in Rutherglen and now lives in Burnside. Jackie, 34, is a salon owner, nail technician, nail tech teacher and general “giver of fancy fingers”. She lives in Cambuslang.
The couple joined Queens Park at the start of the current 2022/23 season. Chris is rated 1025 with Chess Scotland and 1668 rapid on chess.com. Jackie is working towards a national over the board rating. She reached 1103 on chess.com rapid in 2022, but has since dropped to 928. Both are participating in the Beltrami Club Championship, and playing for Queens Park in the Dunbartonshire Chess League.
Derek: Can you recall your earliest chess memory?
Jackie: My Dad taught me when we were young, but only the basic rules. I never won a single game – therefore I hated it!
Chris: My Dad taught me and my older brother how to play when I was about six.
Chris – you come from a chess-playing family. What was that experience like? Lots of inter-family rivalry, or supporting each other to play and develop?
Chris: My Dad was a pretty strong player, 1910 at his peak. He’d tell us about his chess results but my brother had no interest in playing with me, so my games back then were mainly against the computer, which always won. When I started playing my friends, I could beat them most of the time, but I wanted to beat them every time.
So I joined the same Chess Club as my Dad – Cambuslang. That’s when I learned how little I knew about the game. Fortunately, my Dad taught me a few things when I joined the Club.
Jackie – outside of the Dinwoodies, do any of your family/friends play chess?
Jackie: My Dad still plays a bit. He’s a technophobe though. He only plays against the computer and is convinced if he signs up to chess.com people will steal his identity!
What is it about chess that you most enjoy?
Jackie: Winning haha! I’m very competitive. I love the thought process and the thinking it takes, but also that anyone can make a bad move at any time!
Chris: I like how fair the game is. The pieces move the same way, for novices and grandmasters, from seven year olds to 70 year olds.
Do you prefer to play chess online or in person?
Chris: I’m much better online, but I prefer playing in person. I like the feel and aesthetics of the of the pieces. I’m also a big fan of making ‘interesting’ moves. The moves where you don’t know if there’s anything in them, but it just complicates things. When you make those moves and you see your opponent’s face, it’s always fun. It’s part of the bluff, sitting there, trying to act like you’ve calculated something special. When in reality, you don’t have a clue.
Jackie: Definitely online. Over the board chess makes me nervous, mostly because it’s frowned upon to shout profanities when face to face! I also feel the board just doesn’t look right in real life. I prefer everything in 2D, haha.
How did you meet?
Chris: We met on Facebook. A mutual comedian friend posted something and we got to chatting on his thread then we became Facebook friends. A few years later, Jackie came to the show I run, and a couple of months later we had our first date on Valentine’s day.
Jackie: He forgets to mention he asked me out for coffee about once every few months and I kinda always palmed him off haha! After two years, we had our first date, and I don’t think we’ve been apart since. We recently celebrated our nine year anniversary!
Congratulations! Has chess featured much in your relationship?
Jackie: Not until Covid. I watched The Queen’s Gambit and I figured I’d give it a go. I was hooked from the start. Once I started winning I literally DREAMED about chess and would sometimes watch people walking about and imagine them as chess pieces! Weird, I know.
Chris: I wasn’t playing chess for the first few years of our relationship, and then I caught the bug again. Jackie used to be annoyed when I played Internet chess. But then Covid hit, we were bored one day, and we started playing. After that, Jackie started playing more than me.
Over the board chess makes me nervous, mostly because it’s frowned upon to shout profanities when face to face!
What led you to join Queens Park Chess Club at the start of season 2022/23?
Chris: We’d previously went along to join Cathcart Chess Club, but it was a bit formal and quiet for Jackie, especially as she was still pretty new to chess at the time. Queens Park is pretty close to us and, truth be told, the fact Govanhill Chess Club* finished bottom of the online chess league the previous season, we thought they might appreciate the players. We’d no idea what it had become.
Jackie – you went to one of our introductory sessions on over the board chess. Did you find it helpful?
Jackie: Definitely. I had no idea about writing moves or even how to. Or how the timed games worked. It was definitely a great way to start and see who also was new to the Club!
How are you both getting on in the Club Championship?
Chris: I won my first match using a combination of luck, prayers and time pressure. I was holding on by a thread and my opponent was short on time. I was too embarrassed to offer a draw because I was so far behind, but I was praying my opponent would utter the word, “draw?”. However, the illusive checkmate never came and the flag fell, and I got the guilty win.
My next match was against one of the Club’s strongest players, Craig Thompson. He was starting to get control in the middlegame so I considered sacrificing my Bishop, but on second thought I thought it would be a bad idea to sacrifice a Bishop against such a strong player… so I sacrificed the Rook instead. It was a good laugh, but when I put it through the computer, it basically said I was an idiot. I won my third match against Gemma.
Jackie: Ermm… pass!
I like how fair chess is. The pieces move the same way, for novices and grandmasters, from seven year olds to 70 year olds.
Jackie – like many Chess Clubs, Queens Park is mostly male. Do you think the Club could be doing more to encourage women to join?
Jackie: Maybe hire Magic Mike in for a game? I joke – I think maybe having a woman’s league or beginner lessons, or reaching out to some of the girls’ forums on Facebook, would help. I know for sure there are girls who play! I think they would definitely come along if they knew other women were there.
You both run successful businesses, and chess can be a time-consuming hobby. Is it a challenge to integrate it into your working lives?
Jackie: I find it hard to get along to the club at times, especially as I work late a lot. But playing online I usually always squeeze a game in during my lunch… and normally have to resign when someone turns up early for their appointment!
Chris: To be honest, sometimes it feels like it’s hard to integrate my working life around chess. Being self-employed, it’s a hard discipline, and chess and social media, are an easy escape.
Jackie – as someone who runs a nail salon, do you have any comments on general fingernail standards in the Glasgow chess scene?
Haha. Chris – I recall you said you experimented with incorporating chess into your magic act. Can you tell us more about that?
Chris: Yeah, I integrated two different things. First was a trick with a white pawn and a black pawn. The spectator had to put one in each hand and I’d be able to identify which hand the correct colour pawn was located in, no matter how many times they’d change their hand or their mind. It didn’t fit my persona, so it quickly got abandoned.
For my comedy, I used to tell a true story about when I was at the Chess Club and Members started surrounding my table and saying things like “That’s an interesting position”, “I’ve never seen that before”, “Wow! I wish that was me!”. When I looked up. they were looking at the TV above us. Which was showing a Channel 5 adult film.
Maybe someday, they will say those things about your chess. What one piece of advice would you give to those who are new to the game?
Jackie: Don’t worry about your grading. Don’t even worry about winning. Take your time, use your time wisely, and always think, “what does that move do?”, after your opponent moves, and before you make your move.
Chris: Don’t memorise openings. Learn the principles. Then focus on learning checkmates, because there’s nothing worse than missing a mate in one. Plus knowing what mates look like helps you to put your pieces in the right places. After that, ask better players what they would do, and what their thought process is. That’s how I learned how to go from a hobbyist to a Club player.
Club Members surrounded my table and said things like “That’s an interesting position”… turns out they were watching an adult film on the TV nearby.
Good advice. Do either of you have any chess-related goals?
Chris: I’d love to get to an over-the-board grading of 1500.
Jackie: I would like to get back up to 1000 on chess.com and WIN A GAME IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP!!!
Thanks both! Our interview series will continue next month. Last month’s subject was musician Wull Swales.
What is it like to be part of Glasgow’s Queens Park Chess Club?
Each month, Derek Rankine (Club Secretary) interviews Queens Park members and asks them to share their experiences and perspectives.
The latest interviewee is Wull Swales, 35, a Support Worker who helps people to improve their confidence and independence, and work towards their goals. Wull, who is also an accomplished rock musician and performer, grew up in Twynholm in Dumfries & Galloway. He attended Music College in Greenock, and now lives in Auldhouse, Glasgow.
Derek: Did you learn the rules of chess in childhood?
Wull: I have memories of learning how the pieces moved when I was in Primary School. A child-minder and friend of the family taught me. In my adult life, up until last year, I remember playing a handful of games on my phone sitting in the back of a tour bus, doing pass and play.
What triggered your immersion in chess in 2022?
I don’t want to say Beth Harmon… but I think the show piqued my interest, and I liked the idea of learning. Then at the start of summer 2022, I saw a post on a community page from Marianne Burns about local casual chess. I joined the group chat and found out about the chess meetups in Queens Park. But before I even went to one of the Thursday or Sunday gatherings, Rhys McCrosson posted in the chat, does anyone want to meet up in Queens Park and play one on one?
So I packed up my Poundland board, and we spent a few hours playing and talking in the sunshine. We worked on some fundamentals and as I could feel myself being drawn further and further in, Rhys started telling me about the Chess Club, and that I should visit on a Tuesday evening when the new season started at the end of August.
What is it about chess that appeals to you?
There’s a few different things. Firstly I think it’s important to use different parts of your brain. The part of my brain that craves learning and challenging myself loves chess, in the same way the creative side of my brain loves music, songwriting and fantasy novels. I definitely have a bit of a competitive streak in me. I really enjoy just trying my best over the board against someone who’s there to do the same, both of us truly enjoying doing it.
I also play Magic The Gathering competitively. There are big debates online on what is the hardest game ever to play, and chess and Magic are often featured. Both involve a mixture of tactics, assessing board states, strategizing within the game, making choices that make your opponent’s life harder, capitalising on their mistakes, and recovering from losing positions.
I really love the social aspect of chess and Magic too. I’ve had a great time getting to know people and hearing about their passion for the games. I love the spirit of healthy competition. I travelled across UK, Europe and the US playing Magic and making great friends along the way. I’ve already met so many great people through Queens Park Chess Club. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing more chess tournaments and league games too in Glasgow and Scotland.
How did you get into playing chess online?
A lot of people on the WhatsApp chat were talking about chess.com and Lichess, reporting that they are both good platforms to play on and improve. So that’s where I went. I still do a lot of my playing on both. I really enjoy playing different time constraints as well as doing lessons and puzzles.
I’m trying to pay more attention to game analysis, looking at where my games have gone wrong and how to try not to repeat mistakes. Analysis is also about looking at the good moves you didn’t see and committing certain patterns to memory.
You took Rhys’ recommendation, and joined Queens Park Chess Club in Autumn 2022. Did you feel that was the natural next step in your improving journey?
Chess in the Park was such a lovely, wholesome thing. People in the sunshine having a nice time, curious passers by stepping in off the path, joining for a game before going about their day. I looked forward to it every week.
The Queens Park sessions had given me so much passion for the game, and the Chess Club was the clear progression. I knew the Club was an opportunity to play more and push my skills with fantastic developing and experienced players alike. I knew I would be learning not only about playing the game itself, but about tournament play, rules and etiquette.
Has the Chess Club been helpful to your development so far?
The Chess Club has been incredibly helpful. I remember being at my first Club night, when Rhys and yourself ran a Beginner’s Session. During the intro, you said, “this may be your first time recording moves”, and I was already feeling challenged and out of my comfort zone – in a good way. I was already a little unsettled, as it was only the second time I’ve played inside a building!
I’m a strong believer in the idea of, you can’t always win, but you can always learn. I try my best to ask questions and analyse positions and games with whoever I’m playing. Often, I do this even with games I’m watching. Everyone at Queens Park has been fantastic, sharing their skills, knowledge and learning resources, to aid my development so far. I have improved a lot.
“I’m a strong believer in the idea of, you can’t always win, but you can always learn.”
You have been playing in the Beltrami Club Championship, our five round internal classical tournament. Before it began, you told me you were certain to get five losses, and would look to use these losses as a learning experience. Having played two rounds so far, both against experienced, nationally rated players, your prediction is already way off. Can you tell us a little about both games?
I would be delighted to.
I thought so!
Yeah, five losses, that’s exactly what I thought would happen. My friend Luke, a fantastic chess player who represents Hamilton Chess Club, recommended the book “Chess for Tigers” by Simon Webb. The author writes a lot about the mental preparation for the game – which I think is important. I tried to take this into account. Tigers don’t lose. Tigers asses each situation and carefully consider their actions. Tigers always take their opponents into consideration. Tigers play to their own strengths.
So in Round 1, I had the pleasure of playing Iain Shields. I had played him before a few times, both online and in person. He is a fantastic player, with good opening theory that leads into interesting, unusual middlegame positions. I set myself up and mentally prepared to play to my strengths: no-thrills, solid fundamentals, make positive trades, play to the centre, develop pieces efficiently, and castle quickly to protect my King.
Iain played the Scotch Opening, which I wasn’t very clued up on. My fundamental approach was going well, but I ended up a pawn down early. I was keeping pace with the clock and making decent moves, but gradually I fell behind. Overall, I played well despite losing. I went over the game with Iain and Rhys and was proud of my efforts. I had played to my strengths, as best I could.
The second game had a different outcome, right?
I was chatting to Graeme McKinnon, and he said, with the Swiss pairings system, as the rounds go on, I will have more evenly matched games with players on similar scores, who are closer to my level in experience and ability. But when the pairings went up, I realised I had another strong opponent, who was hundreds of points higher rated – Jass McNeill. Like Iain, I had played Jass before. He had been a massive help in my development during games at Queens Park and in the Club.
This game, I had the White pieces. Up until a few weeks before, I would play 1.e4 only and focus on fundamental opening principles from there. But I started looking at alternatives, and began playing a bit of the English opening. 1.c4 can be quite an explosive start, and I was really enjoying it. I watched some YouTube videos by Grandmasters, and instead of memorising moves, I learned about ideas relating to seeking control of the centre from the side. I was really enjoying learning it, and I thought, if nothing else, at least I’m going to have fun playing an opening I enjoy, with a player I like and admire.
The game itself was incredible. I started with a standard English set up. Jass found strong diagonals for his Bishops. I utilised my Queen and a strong central pawn set up a lot of central tension. Then I castled kingside and Jass queenside. Next, a bloodbath on the b and c files! I ended up slightly ahead, and when the dust settled, I was advancing dangerous pawns, using my Rooks and an active Queen to support them. I managed to promote a pawn, Jass sacrificed a Rook, I set up a check, and my attacking momentum was flowing in waves.
Then a question appeared: do I actually have mate here? I looked at the board for a long time, knowing it must be mate. Surely? My heart was pounding with excitement, but my head was racing with doubt. Have I missed something, could this really be a forced win? Finally, I went for it. I played the move, touched the clock, and Jass lifted his hand for the shake. It was an incredible moment. Relief, joy, and a sense that all of my hard work over the last seven months had come to fruition.
Congratulations. Your victory was fêted in our new weekly newsletter with a special ‘Wull S the Giant Killer’ illustration by Graeme and a full record of the game. Next up, you have registered to play an International Master in a simultaneous exhibition, and to represent Queens Park in the Scottish National Chess League. Are you looking forward to those experiences?
I’m really thankful to the club to have these kind of opportunities. They’ll be valuable learning experiences. I love to learn and to try new things in this beautiful game we play, and I look forward to representing a Club I’m proud to be a part of in team events.
“My heart was pounding, my head racing… finally, I played the move, and Jass lifted his hand for the shake. It was an incredible moment of relief and joy.”
Can you tell us about some of your highlights in music?
There’s been a few incredible moments. I spent a week recording in Chicago with the legendary Steve Albini, with a brand new bass waiting for me as I stepped in the studio. There’s certain bucket list things you don’t expect to achieve – it was an incredible experience. As a performer, it would maybe be playing the Wickerman festival. I went to my first Wickerman when I was maybe 16, 17. The local bands were a big inspiration for me. They made me think, “I could do that too”, and helped shape my goals. Going back and playing the Wickerman Souls Tent ten years later was incredible.
I also had the incredible privilege of playing at my own wedding – my wonderful wife Lynsey encouraged me to play a few songs. The band were mutual friends who I’ve deputised for many times in the past. It was just a beautiful day. Getting to share my skill with the people I love the most was incredible. And the chant of “Mammy Mammy Mammy F-ing Swales” for my Mum in between songs was amazing!
Playing the BBC Big Weekend was a really fun experience too. We were on the Introduction Stage with Royal Blood, and Katy Perry was headlining the main stage, she was unbelievable. Me and the drummer sneaked away to get a quiet beer at some point. We got stopped by security trying to get back, as there were “a lot of fake passes”. We had to prove our ID by showing them the BBC live stream – that was pretty cool.
It’s interesting, I’ve thought about this too. I think both music and chess have a basis in maths or science. You take basic principles, expand your knowledge, and test things out with a specific goal in mind. Then the beauty of creative art kicks in. You try different approaches and see what happens. That’s where the magic is born, in music and in chess.
Do you think there are strong parallels between learning a musical instrument and learning to play chess, such as deliberate solo practice, testing your skills as part of a group, and performing in front of others? Or are they fundamentally separate disciplines requiring different approaches?
There are definite links between the two. Building up basics, understanding what notes are, and how to build chords, could be considered similar to learning about how chess pieces move and interact with the board. Similarly, learning different scales has parallels with learning specific openings, and new techniques like bending guitar strings, are like learning about when to fianchetto your Bishop, and transposing chess board positions is similar to inversions of chords. With both, as your skill improves, you learn about how to build up in different ways to reach a specific goal.
There are genre characteristics too. The Sicilian opening is the jazz of chess, whereas the Ruy Lopez could be punk rock. I’m sure someone else could put it a lot more elegantly, but at its base level, there are definitely similarities. It’s the end result where they differ. You look to win in chess, while in music, the goal is to share your music, thoughts, feelings, emotions, grooves and energy.
Have you tried to expose your band members to the game?
I’ve been trying to encourage anyone I can to try it out.
We are both fans of the Californian band Weezer. What is your take on singer Rivers Cuomo’s song Chess?
Yeah I 100% love Weezer! “The Blue Album” is one of my favourite albums of all time, and three decades on, they are still producing some absolute bangers. Chess is an incredible song. It gives a 1960s Beatles/Quarrymen vibe. I guess it’s a metaphor for life, and how all the decisions you make affect how you develop as a person.
Even though there are things that make it harder sometimes, you need to roll with the punches, and try to anticipate your next move. You choose what parts of yourself you need to develop and that helps you grow – in chess as in life.
Through the local ‘chess in the park’ WhatsApp group, you have been sharing your journey of improving from a novice rating of 317 rapid on chess.com in July 2022 to over 750 in January 2023. Other group members have been impressed with your progress, especially in finding some elegant tactical ideas and mating nets. Are you pleased with your steady improvement?
I am delighted with my improvement so far. I remember in the early days of playing, people would be making comments like “and then the natural thing to do would be to transpose in to the Benoni…” or something like that. I would nod politely as if I knew what they were on about, while thinking, “OK Wull, just remember the horsey can move in an L shape!”
So I really like having a better understanding of the game, so I can start to handle situations better, read the board well, and make good moves. I think it was Todd Anderson (Magic The Gathering player) who said, “you don’t need to know how you’re going to win from turn one, but you should always have a plan”. Which is what I’m trying to focus on now.
“Music and chess have different genres: The Sicilian is the jazz of chess, whereas the Ruy Lopez is like punk rock.”
What tips would you share with a complete chess beginner, who has just learned how the pieces move?
Find fun in fundamentals, develop your pieces, castle early, try to control the centre of the board and take free pieces. Rhys put me on to ChessBrahs on YouTube – GMs Eric Hansen and Aman Hambleton. They have an excellent “Building Habits” series of videos. I watched and rewatched a bunch, following simple rules to help build up standard habits for good gameplay, while avoiding traps.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think it’s important to ask questions. If you don’t know why your opponent did something, ask them after the game. Analyse your games when you can, in person and online, and see where mistakes and triumphs are happening, so you have less of the former and more of the latter.
Is the English your favourite chess opening?
Currently, yes it is. I’m really enjoying playing it, and learning more and more about it as time goes on. In another comparison to the music, it’s the drop D guitar tuning of openings. It starts you from a new place and helps you develop fresh understanding from different viewpoints. I also love playing the Modern Defence as Black (1.d4 g6), using an early Bishop fianchetto to pressure the centre.
Do you have any chess goals – online or over the board?
Online over the next six months I will fight to exceed 1000 rapid rating on chess.com. In person, I will play in more tournaments, soak up the magic that chess has to offer, and work towards a Chess Scotland rating. I’d like to play one of the weekend Congress classical tournaments this year, with five long games in three days.
But mostly I just want to improve as a player and enjoy the ride. And of course, I still need to learn when it is natural to transpose into the Benoni.
Thanks for your time Wull!
This series will continue with a special double interview next month. For those who missed it, last month’s interviewee was Ash Angappan.
Image credits: Martin McKeown (main image of Wull performing); Club President Graeme McKinnon (illustration of Wull & Jass in weekly newsletter – created with the help of artificial intelligence).
As of November 2022, Ryan has a rapid rating of 1609 on Lichess and is working towards a Chess Scotland grading.
Derek: Hi Ryan! Who introduced you to chess?
Hi Derek, thanks for inviting me. I’m not sure I can really credit anyone to getting me into chess other than myself. I think a lot to do with it was sheer curiosity. Chess is so ubiquitous, you can’t avoid it.
If I were to think of any reason as to why I gravitated towards chess, I’d say that I’ve always had a love for games of all sorts: board games, video games, card games. No matter the type of game, it’s a lot of fun learning how they work, how to get good at them, what strategies work, and why they work. When a game is known as ‘The Game of Kings’ and ‘The Ultimate Game of Strategy’ it’s hard not to be interested.
When any game is played at a high enough level you always hear, “it’s like a game of chess” – and I wanted to see how true that was by learning the game. If I were to credit anyone in teaching me, it would be IM John Bartholomew’s YouTube channel. His videos really helped me to understand ideas beyond how the pieces move, like basic opening principles and tactics.
I understand you didn’t play much chess growing up?
No, not at all. I started playing in 2017 at the age of 23. I have a friend who tried to get me to play chess when we were younger, but I wasn’t interested. I saw him again earlier this year and we had a few games, which I won. I think younger me would be happy with that.
Did Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit and the online chess boom during the pandemic play a role in maintaining your interest in chess?
Yeah, definitely. My Lichess account has a huge period of inactivity from early 2019 until early 2021, a short time after The Queen’s Gambit came out. I knew I was going to love the show from the first trailer I watched, but I don’t think I could have predicted just how good it would be. I think it’s one of my favourite shows ever.
I’ve told so many people to watch it, and so many times I heard back: “I really loved it, even though I don’t have a clue about chess”. It was really great watching this big surge of interest in chess, and I didn’t want it to pass me by having stopped playing for a while. Now I think about it, I realise I’ve only been playing actively for three years.
You joined the Thursday Chess Group last year. How did you hear about the Group – and why did you decide to go along?
I joined in December of 2021, so I’m one of the longest tenured attendees. It’s been great watching it grow and transform.
Towards the end of lockdown, I felt like my life was so confined to my flat. I was working from home, and a lot of things were not back to running as normal. I was really excited to go out and do something on a weekday locally.
I saw the Thursday Group advertised in a Facebook community for my local Glasgow neighbourhood. I sent a screenshot to my girlfriend saying: “Do you think I should go?” She said, “Go for it”, and I’ve been there almost every week since.
You play with the Thursday Chess Group most weeks. For those who haven’t been, what is a typical evening there like?
One of the best things about the Thursday Group is that so many different people come. There are different people to play and catch up with every week. You get vastly different games – and vastly different conversation topics.
You can play anything from serious, timed games, to fun, casual games with loads of chatting. We’ve played four-player variants like Hand & Brain and alternating turns. You can spectate games. You can analyse positions with a group. You can learn opening and endgame theory from stronger players. There’s so much to do.
I’ve had weeks where I visited for an hour, and weeks where I stayed until we were asked to leave when the bar closed at 11pm. I’d really encourage people to try it out if they want a taster of over-the-board (OTB) chess. It has just moved from Brodies Bar to a bigger space in a new venue – the Corona Bar in Shawlands. Anyone interested can drop in anytime from 6pm until closing on a Thursday night and there is also a WhatsApp group they can join.
Why did you decide to join Queens Park Chess Club?
It just made sense to me. I was playing with a lot of the members on Thursdays and Sundays in the park, and having really good quality competitive games. I was surprised, after only playing online and in the bar, that I was getting some wins against Club players. I had expected the Club players to be at a level above.
It made sense for joining the Club to be the next step in my chess journey. To officially join a Chess Club, and compete in tournament games and league matches, seemed like an exciting place to go next. So I happily went to their first Tuesday night meeting this season, in Wellcroft Bowling Club at the end of August.
Did you have any preconceived ideas of what a Chess Club is like? How did the reality of Queens Park match your expectations?
I didn’t really have any clue what a typical Chess Club was like, having never been to one. I guess there’s a stereotype of Chess Clubs and serious players, but I didn’t really expect anything negative. Especially after a bunch of the Queens Park players started coming to the Thursday Group, and invited me to the Sunday sessions.
I had a great time on my first visit. I was expecting it to be really quiet while games were played, but it’s not like that at all. It’s not wholly different from playing in the bar. There’s plenty of chatting and laughs to be had, despite being more of a serious environment.
On Thursdays, you can play anything from serious, timed games, to fun, casual games. You can play team games, spectate, analyse, learn theory. There’s so much to do.
In your initial months, what have stood out as memorable experiences in Queens Park Chess Club?
Taking part in my first tournament, the East Kilbride Allegro, has probably been the highlight so far. I went 2/5 with one win and two draws, which I was very pleased with. My first win was the first game of the day, which felt really good and took a lot of pressure off.
I was fortunate to have the first game be against you, Derek, again because I felt a lot more comfortable playing against someone I knew. My aim was always just to get at least one win OTB, so I was really pleased to get that out of the way early. The time control, 20+10, seemed a lot more palatable than jumping straight into an hours-long classical game for my first real competitive experience. It wasn’t such a big jump from mostly casual games with no clock, or 5+0 or 10+0 games online. So I’d recommend an Allegro to anyone looking to start playing OTB at a competitive level.
I also fortunately won my first classical game in our friendly against a combined team from Strathclyde & Glasgow University. This felt like a totally different experience to the quicker time controls. I enjoyed it so much that I put myself forward for the league match against Bearsden B in Dumbarton Division 2. That match was another highlight. While I unfortunately lost, I was happy with my position during the majority of the game, and I played a lot of good, hard to find moves.
Yeah, I knew you would bring up our game! It was a brilliant win – you outplayed me positionally. Do you actively train and develop your chess?
Thank you, Derek! Yes, I do tactical puzzles most days, both a mix of rated puzzles on Lichess in order to progress to harder to grasp ideas and positions, and easier unrated puzzles on my phone, which helps with pattern recognition and trying to find simpler tactical combinations more quickly.
I also use the Lichess study feature and opening explorer every so often when I’m trying to learn ideas about specific openings and expand my knowledge of the middle game. I’ll also play a lot of unrated blitz, so I don’t have to worry about any rating points, but I still get the experience of pattern recognition and finding tactics without any pressure if the game doesn’t go well.
As mentioned earlier, I’m playing most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, so I’m getting my fix OTB too. I also watch some chess YouTubers so I’m taking in a lot through osmosis that way – although that’s mostly for entertainment purposes.
You play online and over-the-board, casually and competitively, and at various time controls. Do you have a preferred format?
I used to swear by 5+0 online, a maximum of 10 minutes for a game, but since starting to play OTB I much prefer playing in person. I’d really encourage online players to try some casual OTB if they can. I find it to be a much better environment for actually improving at chess with less stakes. You don’t have a rating to worry about, and people are really nice, helping you improve and not letting you make massive blunders, because then the game isn’t fun for either of you. I’d say my preferred format right now is OTB, either 10+0, or untimed.
What advice would you give to those just starting out on their chess journey, who are looking to develop their skills?
Remember to have fun. Chess is a game, and games are for fun. You’re going to lose a lot, but losing is the quickest way to learn, so don’t be discouraged.
After that, learn to develop your pieces quickly and actively, and focus on tactics. Putting the majority of your time into finding tactics like pins, forks and skewers is the quickest way to improve at a beginner level, in my experience. If you can, get to some OTB events, and join a local club or group. This will make chess a much more social experience, one I’ve found a lot more enjoyable than playing anonymous people online.
Do you have a favourite chess player, current or historic?
I don’t really know who my favourite player is. I always love seeing Magnus Carlsen play, because he’s arguably the strongest player ever. I love the romantic era of chess, with beautiful sacrifices and checkmate patterns, I could never play like that so it’s always great to watch games from players like Paul Morphy.
I also think Garry Kasparov is my pick for the greatest ever, he was the strongest player for the longest period of time, when chess was going through its most dramatic shift with the rise of engines. If I had to pick one player to be my favourite, I think it would Kasparov.
My chess ambitions? First and foremost, to keep having fun. I wouldn’t want it to turn into a chore.
What’s your preferred chess opening with White?
I play the Queen’s Gambit when I can. I’ve had a few openings as white through the years – the Ruy Lopez, the London System, the Scotch. I like openings that allow for quick development. I picked up the Scotch purely because I’m Scottish – which isn’t a great reason to play an opening, if we’re honest!
What attracted you to Queen’s pawn openings?
When I was first starting out, 1.d4 seemed offbeat and unexpected, even though it’s a close second to the more popular 1.e4. I liked the idea that I might be taking the Black player a little out of their comfort zone, and not have to deal with the mountains of 1.e4 variations.
After 1.d4, Black usually has the choice of which variation to go into from there, but if I don’t get a Queen’s Gambit, I’m pretty comfortable with all responses at this point. This just comes with experience.
Going to the Chess Club on Tuesdays, the Thursday Group and the Sunday morning sessions, plus online play and training, is a significant time investment each week. Do you have any issues balancing chess alongside family, work and social commitments?
I thought it would be more of an issue than it has been. I don’t really get up to much during the week after work, so I usually make it along to the local meetups. I like the flexibility it has given my schedule, even though it’s more of a commitment, playing so often.
There are so many options that even if I’m busy one day, I’ll usually be able to attend the next session. When I was just playing on Thursdays, missing out one week, meant I was waiting almost two weeks between OTB games. Now if I miss a Tuesday, I’ll probably be able to make it on Thursday and then on Sunday. It’s really great having so many options to play in a small area of south Glasgow.
When I was playing online exclusively for a few years, an official FIDE rating seemed so alien to me, the kind of thing only professionals should have. That of course isn’t the case, and I’m well on my way to getting a Scottish grading. My next goal will be to use it as a baseline and push up to the next milestone.
I think small, personal goals are the key to improvement and enjoyment for me. I went 2/5 at my last tournament, next time I want 2.5/5 and then 3/5. I lost my first classical league match, and it’s an aspiration to get my first win this season. And most importantly is getting more consistent.
I have played some really good games, but I lack consistency and some of my games are not great to say the least. I think consistency is the basis for improvement. So once I get more consistent, then I can focus on improving.
Thanks Ryan, and good luck for the rest of the season. I’ll look forward to interviewing another Club Member next month. Meantime, readers can check out what Alex Radevic and Rhys McCrosson had to say.
Alex: I learned chess moves when I was a child, but I got interested in the game only when I was around 15. I didn’t get to play chess as much as I wished – my parents don’t play, and at school, none of my classmates played either. So mostly I played chess online.
Tell us about your experience with chess clubs in Scotland.
In 2015, I emailed a few clubs close to Glasgow’s west end, where I lived at the time. John McIntyre – President of Phones Chess Club – kindly responded and invited me to join. Eventually, I ended up playing for Phones B team in Division 2 of the Glasgow Chess League for a few years.
After that, I didn’t play chess for some time, as I had other priorities at that point. When I moved to Shawlands in the south of Glasgow, I found Queens Park Chess Club – then known as Govanhill Chess Club – on its Facebook page. My former captain, Colin Paterson, who helped set the club up, also recommended Govanhill to me. So I decided to go along to a session early in the 2021/22 season.
I also went to several meetings of the Thursday Chess Group in Brodies Bar next to Queens Park, including some of their first gatherings in Autumn 2021.
I have played in several chess tournaments in Scotland. I think the 2017 Edinburgh Congress was my first serious tournament, and my most memorable one.
What do you like most about Queens Park Chess Club?
I like the enthusiasm of all members, the willingness to help each other improve, and to involve more people in the game. If I had to pick one thing, it would be the friendliness, and the warm welcome to new members of different ages and backgrounds.
What do you think the Chess Club could be doing better, or differently?
The club could meet more than once a week, and organise its own chess tournaments.
Queens Park Chess Club is known for its friendliness, and the warm welcome to new members
Is chess significantly more popular in Lithuania than it is in Scotland?
You have a large collection of chess books, in English and in Russian. What do you like aboutbooks, compared to digital chess resources?
I like the overall experience of using physical books rather than ebooks, videos etc. I get less distracted and I focus more easily.
If you had to pick only one, what book would you recommend to a newer player (sub-1000 elo)?
Probably, “How to Beat Your Dad at Chess” by Murray Chandler. It is a strong collection of checkmating patterns.
How about a book recommendation for an intermediate player (around 1300 elo) looking to improve their general play?
For general play, Capablanca’s “Chess Fundamentals” is still excellent. It covers the key fundamentals of chess strategy and the most essential endgames.
Lithuania hosted many high level events in the Soviet era, which hugely raised chess interest across the country
Do you have any general advice for new Queens Park Chess Club members?
If you are new to chess, and want to improve, play longer time control games and analyse them afterwards, especially the games you lost. Do not rely on an engine too much, but try to identify mistakes yourself.
Also, do not be too harsh on yourself for not winning games; what matters most is experience.
Once you have some experience and are comfortable playing over-the-board, start playing competitive chess. Join Queens Park’s Club Championship and start playing for one for our teams in the Glasgow or Dumbarton league. Our captains this season are Rhys, Caitlin and Jass, and members can talk to them about playing on a league team.
You are particularly strong at King-and-pawn endgames. Do you have any tips on how to convert an advantage in these types of endgames?
A main general principle of endgames – especially when Queens are off the board – is to involve your King as early as possible. The same rule applies to King-and-pawn endgames.
Make your king active as early as possible, centralise it, occupy more space. As for pawns, the creation of a passed pawn makes your chances of winning the game higher.
Do not rely on an engine when analysing games you lost; try to identify mistakes yourself
Do you have a favourite chess player, current or historic?
I do not have single favourite chess player. I admire many games of Alekhine, Capablanca, Tigran Petrosian, Fischer, Karpov and Carlsen. These players represent different playing styles, but in my opinion, Magnus Carlsen is ultimately the best player. He combines both the attacking and positional styles of previous generations.
What are your future chess ambitions?
To play good chess, and try to raise my national Chess Scotland classical rating to 1600. To be honest, combining work and family life and achieving significant results in chess is very hard! So I am trying to make realistic aims for now.
Rhys: I started playing chess when I was a bit younger. The first thing that stood out for me was actually the geometry of the game. Then I saw it appear in different TV shows and movies, and when I was a child, I honestly just liked how the characters that played chess were portrayed.
Nowadays though, the main attraction is the fact that it is truly a game that is open to all regardless of your background. The game is rigid, tough and almost scientific – yet so aesthetically pleasing to look at.
How long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing on and off since I was around six. My Dad, and my Mum’s friend Laura, both tried to teach me the game. I didn’t really play much until I was eight, when I played my Dad most weeks when I went to visit him. I joined the chess club in my Primary School in the south side of Glasgow when I was nine, and I participated in School tournaments between the ages of 10-11.
I quit chess on the last day of Primary School, despite being my School’s number one player, after being heavily taken for granted at the prize giving ceremony (super petty stuff – I know! I was a child though…)
I didn’t play much again until I was 13-14, when my friends encouraged me, and I decided to play my Dad every few months. I really started playing regularly again around fifth year of school, when I was 16 years old, on the worst apps you could imagine. By this point, I was playing most days.
By the time I started studying at the University of Glasgow, I’d fully adopted the game again. I was playing pretty much every day, sometimes for more than an hour a day, mainly as a way of procrastinating from my seemingly never-ending workload! I continued playing nearly every day until the end of my degree, when I reached 1500-1600 rapid on chess.com.
When did you join Queens Park Chess Club – and why?
Shortly after finishing my degree, in the summer of 2021, I stumbled upon Queens Park Chess Club under its former name of Govanhill Chess Club. I went along to one of their outdoor chess sessions at the Queens Park boating pond on a Sunday morning, and then to Wellcroft Bowling Club where the club meet during the week, and I’ve been a regular member ever since.
I had actually wanted to join a chess club for a while, but because of the pandemic and everything being shut, I just didn’t have the option. When I found out about Govanhill Chess Club, I decided to go ahead and check them out. I felt I was finally strong enough to start taking the game a bit more seriously and the club was so local to me – at the time I was living in Eglinton in Glasgow, close to Queens Park. It was a perfect fit.
I would encourage new members to set small, realistic goals. Chess is hard. You’re not going to improve from 1000 to 2000 in a year.
Was winning the Club Championship your personal highlight of last season?
It’s hard to say really. It probably was the highlight of the season for me, but I also had some decent games that I was pretty proud of (amongst many that we don’t talk about…).
One of my favourite games of the season was against our south Glasgow neighbours, Cathcart. I was on board #1 with the black pieces. I was fortunate enough to face the King’s Gambit, an opening I am highly confident playing against. I hit my opponent with a lesser known side-line that they were clearly unfamiliar with. Let’s just say, white’s opening didn’t exactly go as planned.
What do you like most about Queens Park Chess Club?
The diversity of the members. It’s that simple. The diversity was the first thing that struck me when I joined, which makes sense, given Govanhill is a remarkably diverse community. It’s this diversity that demonstrates the fact that chess truly is a game for all demographics and backgrounds.
Another thing I really appreciate is the incredible democratic approach that the Club Committee takes towards decision-making. This is entirely in line with my principles. I recently decided to join the Committee, become a team captain, and help manage its social media on Facebook and Instagram, and its clubs on chess.com and Lichess.
What do you think the Club could improve on?
While I think the Club is generally good on diversity, I’d really love it if it could improve its female representation. It’s not entirely the Club’s fault – many women simply don’t play chess, for multiple reasons, but I think it’s mainly because of historical biases that have culminated in a very male-dominated game.
Things don’t need to be like this. Hopefully the club can become more proactive in attracting women to the game, because I like to think everyone connected to chess in Glasgow and Scotland would agree that it could only be for the better.
Do you play, learn and improve, outside of the Club?
Yeah, definitely! I spent years playing chess without a club. At this point, I’m pretty used to teaching myself things. There are a number of online videos and website resources I use to support my development.
What could the Club do better? It could be more proactive in improving its female representation.
Do you have any chess aspirations for the coming season?
The aim is definitely to try and retain the Club Championship title, although if someone more deserving wins in 2022/23, then I can only use that experience to improve my game.
Aside from this, It would be pretty nice if I could lead my team to a promotion to Division Two in the Glasgow Chess League, but it remains to be seen what level of opposition we will be facing in Division Three.
Queens Park Chess Club is taking in lots of new members on the back of summer outreach activity across the south side of Glasgow and online. Do you have any advice for those coming to a Chess Club for the first time?
Honestly – make realistic goals.
Some people just want to come, play a few informal games, have a drink and a good chat, and we completely welcome that. Other people come to the club with the intention of improving their game.
For the latter, it can be so easy to start engaging with the game and setting yourself the goal of going from, let’s say, 1000-2000 within a year or two. The truth is – it’s not going to happen. Chess is hard, man. It’s better to set yourself a series of relatively small goals like going from 1000 to 1050 by the end of a period of months, and then 1050-1100 by the end of another few months, and so on.
Just enjoy the game and learn to appreciate the good times when they come. Don’t get bogged down with every single loss because, statistically speaking, you’re going to lose… a lot. You’ve got to learn to lose before you can learn to win.
Thanks to Rhys for making the first move in this interview series. Look out for more member interviews throughout the 2022/23 season.