Shropshire’s national chess league team has suffered an unfortunate “relegation by reorganisation” – prompting a fresh appeal for players to step forward to help restore the side’s former glories.
Shropshire and Friends has provisionally been placed in division four of the over-the-board 4NCL for the 2022/23 campaign following a rejig of the league’s structure. It is a particularly galling blow for the team, which finished sixth in last season’s 16-team division three central after a difficult campaign. The top five sides from that division have all been allocated places in the new division three west for the coming season.
Only one Shropshire team has been entered for the coming season after struggles to fill two six-board teams last year – but captain Charles Higgie said he would be delighted to field two teams if there was sufficient interest and urged anyone interested to make the most of the opportunity to experience chess at a national level.
For many years Shropshire’s first team competed strongly in division three north, narrowly missing out on promotion to the second tier on several occasions. Last season a third central tier of division three was introduced to help regionalise the lower levels of the 4NCL further. But in the wake of a reduced number of teams that plan has been changed. Now division three will be split into two 12-team east and west divisions, while the remaining teams – including Shropshire – will play in a sole division four.
The struggles to attract players to play chess over a weekend in venues such as Leamington, Warwick and Daventry is in sharp contrast with growing interest in Shropshire for the 4NCL Online competition, where players can compete from the comfort of their living rooms on Tuesday evenings. Shropshire and Friends has entered four teams in the upcoming online season, while Telepost Dark Knights will enter two teams for the first time. It comes despite Shropshire’s own online league facing an uncertain future, with a motion to axe it defeated amid strong debate at the county association’s recent AGM.
Higgie said: “I would be delighted to field a second team in the main over-the-board 4NCL. We thought it best to just field one team for now as we struggled to get a second teams for some weekends last season, and you get hit with big fines if you default boards. They are great weekends. There’s the chess side but also the camaraderie of a group of players enjoying each other’s company, analysing each other’s games and helping each other improve. You sometimes get the chance to see some of the big-name grandmasters if we are playing at the same venue as the top two divisions too.”
Meanwhile, a number of events are being held locally ahead of the start of the new season. Newport Chess Club will host its latest summer blitz event on Tuesday (September 6), while the division two rapidplay league winner will be decided by a one-night competition due to be held at Telepost Chess Club in Shrewsbury on September 19. Entries have also opened for next season’s Shropshire Minor Individual competition, with players having until September 23 to enter. Details about all three events can be found at www.shropshirechess.org