Lewis in line for top accolade for inspiring juniors

The driving force behind the meteoric rise of junior chess in Shropshire has been nominated for a top national accolade. Chris Lewis of Newport Chess Club has organised major junior tournaments that have attracted entries from across the country, helped set up junior chess clubs in libraries in Ludlow and Market Drayton and helped to inspire a boom in interest that now sees 50 juniors belonging to senior chess clubs in the county.

He has now been nominated for the English Chess Federation’s Contribution to Junior Chess Award for 2023. Matthew Clark, Shropshire Chess Association president, said Lewis had shown “inspired leadership” through his work with Shropshire Junior Chess Club, which meets weekly in Shrewsbury, and organising major junior events such as the annual UK Chess Challenge Megafinal in Wellington.

In his citation for Lewis, Clark said: “In 2019, Chris took over as Shropshire’s head of junior chess. At that time, there were very few juniors playing serious competitive Chess in Shropshire.  Chris started a Shropshire Junior Chess Club at the Nerdy Café in Shrewsbury on Saturday mornings and this became very successful after the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these players have successfully progressed straight from the junior club into the Shropshire Chess Association league giving a much-needed boost to the competition. Shropshire Junior Chess Club was one of the very first to be recognised on the ECF development pathway.

“Following the success of this project, Chris moved on to organise Shropshire megafinals in 2022 and 2023 and a Shropshire Junior Chess Congress in 2023. Entries to these events have grown exponentially. We were delighted when 56 players entered the 2022 Megafinal. Then 74 players entered the 2023 Junior Congress and 116 players entered the 2023 Megafinal. The 2023 events attracted players throughout the country. 

“Chris has put in particular effort to attract local entrants. This has included some days spent travelling up and down Shropshire delivering leaflets to every library in Shropshire, through which Chris has established additional contacts that he has then followed up on resulting in additional junior clubs being established or new juniors identified. Chris was also one of the organisers of Shropshire Chess Congress in January 2023. This event enabled a number of junior players to demonstrate their progress against experienced adult players. Chris is already planning for three more tournaments in 2024.

“As a result of Chris’ inspired leadership, there are now more than 50 active junior chess players in Shropshire. Newport Chess Club now has 16 active junior players, Telepost Chess Club in Shrewsbury has 13 junior members, Telford Chess Club now has four junior players and all these clubs intend to enter junior teams in next season’s Shropshire Chess League.  Worried about the lack of opportunities for older juniors, Chris recently started his second junior club at Newport to provide opportunities for over 10s to learn and progress their game. 

“Shropshire juniors coached by Chris have achieved a string of successes in county and regional events in 2023. One player placed first in the Shropshire Congress minor section in his first ever congress. Another was first in the U9s Nottingham Junior Rapidplay, and U10s Shropshire Megafinal and second in the U10s Hereford Megafinal. A third was first in the U11s Shropshire Megafinal and second in the U12 Shropshire Junior Congress.

“As treasurer of Shropshire Chess Association, Chris has led the way in converting the association into a charity with the aim of promoting chess in our county.”

The citation also details Lewis’s work as a volunteer with various initiatives on the local chess scene including supporting tournaments in neighbouring counties.