Additional material added 18/9 – Ed
It has involved hours of travelling from one side of the county to another, organising events and helping to set up new community clubs. But the hard work and dedication of Shropshire’s Chris Lewis has all been worth it.
Lewis’s tireless efforts have helped inspire an unprecedented boom in junior chess in Shropshire. Not only have dozens of juniors joined established chess clubs in Shropshire over the past year, but a record three junior-only teams have entered this season’s Shropshire Chess League. An annual junior chess congress has been established in the past two years in the county, Shropshire now also hosts an annual Megafinal of the UK Chess Challenge that has seen entries rocket in recent years, and community chess clubs have been established at libraries in Ludlow and Market Drayton – towns that don’t currently have senior clubs of their own.
It has not gone unnoticed. Lewis, who lives in Market Drayton and plays his chess for Newport, has now been named the winner of the English Chess Federation’s contribution to junior chess award. He’s beaten off stiff competition to win the accolade – this year’s ECF Awards attracted a record number of nominations from across the country and were whittled down to 11 winners across seven categories.
The news has been greeted with great pride among the Shropshire chess-playing community, while national awards organisers have also passed on their congratulations to Lewis for his work promoting the game. It has also helped the county capitalise on the rise in popularity of chess brought about by Netflix’s drama “The Queen’s Gambit”, which captivated audiences worldwide during the Covid-19 pandemic and led to a huge increase in people of all ages taking up the Royal Game – firstly online and then over the board once Covid restrictions were lifted.
Lewis became Shropshire’s head of junior chess in 2019 when there were very few juniors playing competitive chess in the county. Since the end of the pandemic, he has travelled the length and breadth of the county to provide equipment for newly-established chess clubs and offer advice. He also runs Shropshire Junior Chess Club every Saturday morning at Shrewsbury’s Nerdy Café. He established the county’s UK Chess Challenge Megafinal at Charlton School in Wellington. 56 players entered the 2022 Megafinal – and this more than doubled to 116 players for this year’s competition, including competitors from across the country. In addition, 74 players entered Shropshire Junior Chess Congress earlier this year. The county now has more than 50 active junior players – many of whom are giving established senior players a serious run for their money in league matches and individual competitions.
Yet despite all that has been achieved, the man behind it all has remained typically humble and gracious. “Thank you to those who nominated me,” said Lewis. “It means a lot. The past two years has seen a meteoric growth in the game across the county and it’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of it.”
But Lewis is not finished yet, and already has ambitions to set up fresh competitions, creating more opportunities for juniors to take up the game and hone their skills. He said: “Junior players can look out for more chess events in the near future- including the creation of a Shropshire Schools Chess League.”
Matthew Clark, president of Shropshire Chess Association, said: “This is great news. Chris is a very deserving winner and we are so proud about what he has achieved for junior chess in Shropshire.”
Stephen Greep, chairman of the ECF awards committee, described the junior chess section as “hotly contested”, and said Lewis would be presented with a trophy and a £250 cash prize to be used to help continue support efforts to promote chess in the county.