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Man-chess-ter ...

On 3rd September 1817 the Manchester Chess Club was formed - the first ever chess club in Great Britain. Below is an article published in the Manchester Evening News in September 2017 and written by 3Cs' Alan Burke on the 200th anniversary of that occasion ....
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Although chess had been played throughout the country for many years prior to the early 19th century it had always been on an ad-hoc basis with those interested just playing amongst each other but without any fixed agenda as to when and where. However, due to the increasing cotton boom in the Manchester region many people of note made their way to the area and founded several prosperous business concerns. Many of these people were obviously logically-minded and when they found themselves in regular company of those with a similar interest they often began to meet in a more social atmosphere.

In realising that one of their common interests was chess it then followed that they decided to bring a more organised structure to their meetings and thus, on Wednesday 3rd September 1817, a group of 14 eminent gentlemen (including a doctor, a solicitor, a silk manufacturer, a future Mayor of Manchester - as well as the founder of Boddington's Brewery) met at the Albion Hotel in Manchester, now the site of the Morrison's superstore and Travelodge in Piccadilly Gardens and emerged a few hours later having formed the Manchester Chess Club - the very first chess club throughout Great Britain.

Although initially and for many years the Manchester Club flourished and provided the catalyst for other such clubs to be similarly formed, the game of chess - as it is still today in many respects - was often perceived as an elite pastime and failed to spread its wings into the then very limited social activities of those who had been working in a hard physical environment all day and then didn't have the inclination, the time, or indeed the strategic knowledge to play a game which required patience, skill and possibly quite a bit of their valued moments away from the workplace.

Therefore eventually the Manchester Club ceased to be and although recreations of it have been revived at various times, the name "Manchester Chess Club" is currently only a name in the history books.

However that doesn't mean the game itself throughout the Manchester area has gone the same way. Indeed, the Manchester Chess Federation, the organising body of what is now a flourishing chess league in the region, will see 41 teams going into battle throughout its five divisions when the new chess season begins in mid-September. And, although possibly still perceived by many outside the game as only for "the brainy" and a game which is generally played by two men of advanced years sitting for many hours just staring down at the top of a table, it should be noted that at the recent British Chess Championships there were in excess of 1,100 players of various levels of both skill and age, from the under-8s' competition up to the main event featuring 15 Grand Masters.

The Manchester region is actually one of the foremost areas in the land for junior chess and although the aforesaid Manchester Chess Federation organise leagues as adult events there is no minimum age limit for those wishing to play. Last season saw in excess of 150 players of school age - some as young as six - competing in the league against those of more advanced years. One such enthusiast who began his chess career whilst at school is probably now the most well-known of British players, Nigel Short of Bolton, now a Grand Master, as in Stephen Gordon of Oldham, who, when aged 6, originally just went along to watch his older brother at his local chess club but who has now twice won the English Championship and is a respected chess analyst and broadcaster on the chess scene.

From those early days of chess being predominately for the mill owners rather than the mill workers it has now grown more into the lives of people who don't necessarily regard it as "geeky" and is played by people of many various backgrounds. The world's biggest chess event in terms of numbers competing is actually a nationwide competition for those of school age throughout the British Isles, the UK Chess Challenge, which last season attracted 50,000 under-18s and is organised by Sarah Longson of Cheadle, a Womens' Chess Master who herself won the event against all opposition in 1996.

The game of chess is open to anyone and is such a globally-known recreation that two players who can't even speak the same language can still gain some competitive enjoyment from it. Coming up against the locally born and bred players in the forthcoming Manchester league season will be others originally from over 25 countries including Brazil, Hong Kong, Poland, The Philippines, Mongolia, India, Australia and, of course, Russia, although the general perception that the latter is the overriding force in the world of chess is thesedays not the case. The current World Champion is from Norway and at the age of 26 has already held the tile for the past four years whilst he actually took the title from an Indian player.

Age too is no boundary - in 2004 two games took place in the Manchester league featuring Anton Weleminsky of the Heywood club but originally from Czechoslovakia and then aged 96. His opponent was aged 11, a difference of 85 years - one game was won by each player. One of the top chess clubs in the country - indeed the only club to have won the British "Club of the Year" title twice - is the 3Cs club in Oldham which attracts up to 70 youngsters to its weekly coaching sessions. However, it is not just numbers that success is judged by; 3Cs (Childrens' Chess Club) have won the Manchester League Championship for 13 out of the past 15 years and earlier this year qualified against the best in the country to play in October at the Chess European Team Championships in Turkey. To put that into perspective it's akin to a team of locally-born players for Oldham Athletic qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

So, despite the name of Manchester Chess Club no longer being amongst those soon to start their quest for honours in this season's Manchester Chess Federation, the name will forever be a part of history in the chess world - it was the first ! Again, taking a football analogy, the original Wanderers football club are also no longer with us yet will always be remembered as the first winners of the FA Cup.

Therefore to celebrate the foresight of those gentleman 200 years ago the Manchester League will be facing a team from Liverpool Chess Club, which will itself celebrate it's 180th Anniversary in December and is the oldest EXISTING chess club in Britain. The match is being staged at the Albert Square Chop House, formerly the Manchester Memorial Hall, with a 1pm start on Sunday 3rd September 2017 - exactly 200 years to the day since Manchester made history.

1817 Hotel

Pictured is the Travelodge in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, formerly the Albion Hotel and where the Manchester Chess Club - the first such club in the country - was formed on 3 September 1817.