On Monday afternoon I was talking to a friend on the World Chess Network. Terry Lanning is a Canadian and sometimes we play, sometimes we just chat. I excused myself because it was time to go to Rooty Hill to play chess.
When he said he would like to go to London to play chess I was surprised until I realised he meant London, Ontario.
He then told me there was no chess club in his town and said, "Maybe I should start a club."
It reminded me of the time I started a club myself, but it was a club with a difference. It mo-o-o-oved.
Many people, myself included, live on the Blue Mountains but commute to Sydney to work. For the lucky ones that commute takes just over an hour; for the others it can be considerably more. I wondered how many chess players filled in that travel time either by reading the newspaper or catching a few ZZZs. Perhaps they would rather play chess.
So I placed an ad in the local paper.
The response was immediate. Initially I got about a dozen phone calls drew up a schedule of who travelled where and on which train. Then it was just a matter of putting players in touch with each other.
I contacted Fianchetto (I think that's Phil Viner) who wrote the Australian chess column. There's so much of historical interest in the column relating to clubs and players who made up the Sydney chess scene in the 1970s that I'll reproduce the whole thing, not just the promo for Commuter Chess.
Chess Column – The Australian, October '78 – by "Fianchetto"|
This year will be remembered as the year of the great upset for many Sydney competition players.
In the Sydney inter-club competition the St. George A-grade team with former Australian champion, Max Fuller on top board, John Kellner, twice NSW champion, on board two and Roy Travers, a former NSW champion on board three, were obviously hot favourites to win.
Canterbury-Bankstown, with Fred Flatow, former national and state champion, was clearly second favourite. No other team was regarded as having any chance at all of winning the top pennant.
However, it was Chatswood's first team which, by defeating St. George 5-0 in the first match and drawing 2½-2½ in the second, led to Chatswood taking the honors. It is of interest that twice former Australian champion John Purdy has apparently regained a lot of his earlier form and in both matches beat Max Fuller.
Former Victorian champion, Frank Hutchings, playing on board two also won both his games against Travers. Ian Parsonage, staging a return to competition chess scored 1½-½ against John Kellner.
The next section, which I'll omit, gave the scores in all grades. It's interesting to note some of the clubs who played: Chatswood, St. George, Canterbury-Bankstown, Maroczy, Bronte, Bankstown, Narwee, Collegians, Smithfield, Wests, Eastwood, Riga, Sydney Uni, German-Austria, Lithuanian, Concordia, Cronulla, Easts, Eastwood, Souths, Blacktown and Ryde-Eastwood. (Rooty Hill, who now field more teams than any other club, didn't have a single entry.)
Do any of you country-city train commuters ever feel like having a game of chess on the dreary train journey to work? Well, if Dave Evans of Blaxland, NSW, has his way this hidden urge will soon be able to express itself.
Dave is inviting fellow chess-playing passengers on the western line to contact him with the idea of staging friendly games during the long trip to town. This of course can be done easily with magnetic sets.
Dave would also like to hear from anyone on the Gosford and South Coast lines who would like to help as co-ordinators in what may well become Australia's first-ever commuter chess club.
The long-range idea is to promote a commuter teams' championship which, of course, would have to be conducted on orthodox lines at a convenient city location.
This seems a tremendous idea which may well appeal to commuters in other large cities.
The publicity certainly helped so I contacted the Gosford Star, located at the heart of another commuter belt. They ran the following story.
Chess – The Gosford Star, Nov. 22, 1978 |
'Rookies' Sought For Chess
First it was card games. Then came chicken and champagne breakfasts. Now commuter chess looks set to take off.
Hundreds of Central Coast residents commute to Sydney each day and they are always looking for something new to pass the time. Chess may soon be the latest craze.
But Gosford is not the first area to hit on the idea of playing the game on the way to and from work.
Commuters to Sydney from the Blue Mountains area began playing the game several months ago.
Commuter chess was the brainchild of a Blaxland man, Mr David Evans, and so successful has it been on the western area trains that he is urging Central Coast travellers to follow suit.
Why does he want people from around here to play chess so badly?
So he can challenge us, of course.
Mr Evans said the chess began after he placed an advertisement in a Springwood newspaper inviting chess playing Blue Mountains residents to form Australia's and perhaps the world's first Commuter Chess Club.
"We now have twenty players meeting on a number of different trains and have had the first of what may become regular social evenings," Mr Evans said.
"And our numbers are gradually increasing.
"We have stolen a march on Gosford's commuters, but would like to share the fun with them.
If any regular passengers are interested in meeting other players, they are invited to contact me (contact details were given). I will be happy to co-ordinate the games until a local resident may be found who is willing to take over."
Mr Evans said there would be no membership fees and no obligations, and the only necessity was a magnetic or peg-in chess set.
"And obviously, not every player needs one of these," he said.
"As soon as we get your club organised you can expect a challenge from the west.
"We think we can knock the stuffing out of you."
Mr Evans said if Gosford commuters came to the party, the South Coast would also then have to be considered.
There may eventually be a commuter teams' championship which would have to be held at a convenient city location.
The promotion worked and we managed to get a Central Coast commuter club up and running but since we had no opportunity to play each other we lost contact. I don't know how long they continued to play. It would have been possible to follow up with a promotion on the Illawarra line (to Sydney's south) but after losing contact with the Central Coast it hardly seemed worth the effort.
During the following year State Rail (who operate the railway system in New South Wales) issued regular monthly bulletins to passengers to keep us abreast of trackwork schedules. I wrote to them and asked for a paragraph about commuter chess. They were happy to do that, but also placed a story about it in their staff newspaper. From there it was picked up by Sydney's Daily Telegraph who sent a journalist and photographer to meet us at Central Station.
Daily Telegraph – Saturday, September 1, 1979|
Lloyd Bunting, John Maguire, Rod Moloney, George Bogan, David Evans
Blue Mountains train passengers have found a way to kill time on their long journeys – by setting up their own commuter chess club.
Instead of staring out the windows for trips of up to an hour and a half, club members match wits with each other over chess boards.
The club, started by Blaxland resident Mr David Evans, has collected 26 members in less than a year.
David said he got the club started by putting an advertisement in a Blue Mountains newspaper.
I like playing chess and so do a lot of other people. It was just a matter of getting together."
Eventually we had around forty players spread across half a dozen different trains, and we'd sometimes get together for a chess evening at somebody's home. The club continued for many years but, with changes in employment and location, the numbers dwindled. I dropped out myself after losing my job in the City in 1991.
Chess certainly filled in a lot of idle, wasted hours.
There's an interesting aside to this story.
Travelling home one afternoon I saw the young guy opposite was reading a chess book. "I've got a set in my bag," I said.
He looked at me, shrugged, and agreed to play. He didn't seem very keen and as soon as we introduced ourselves I realised why. Dan Fardell had just won the Australian Junior Title and was on the way to winning the Alex Szirt Cup at St. George.
He mostly pushed the pieces around waiting for me to do something stupid and I saw an opportunity. The trouble is, it was easy for Dan to see too; so I cheated. To distract him I said, "When in doubt, push a pawn!" and shoved my pawn up the board.
Dan looked at me with what amounted to contempt and said, "I never push pawns without a reason."
Next thing you know he's faced with queen or mate and his mother, who was sitting next to him, said, "I don't usually see people smiling when they play Dan."
I said, "Dan just learned something." Like, don't trust old blokes on trains.
Let me tell you, he had no trouble winning the rest of our games.
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