By Maurice Smith, SCC President & Bob Armstrong, former SCC Newsletter Editor (May 2015)
The Scarborough Chess Club was created by Bill Christian and Bill Albin in 1960. They had been playing in their back yards, and on rainy days they went into Bill Christian's house. When other friends started to show up to play, Bill's mother decided that Scarborough should provide a facility for chess players. Consequently, she called her local councilor (Scarborough at the time was a separate city on its own, beside Toronto) who arranged for a hall (Macey Hall) to be made available on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The club expanded and Alex Knox became the first President.
The club did well in the 60's. And in the 70's its membership growth was helped by the Bobby Fischer boom in North America. Howard Ridout would officiate Kriegspeil games among mostly juniors. Many of the club tournaments were named after long-time members: The Barker, Frank Tebbs, John Kohlfurst and the Howard Ridout. One day CFC-rated active tournaments were started. 1976 had 70 members and membership included CFC dues. Starting in 1977 Scarborough chess players participated in the annual Scarborough-Indianapolis Peace Games for 20 years. In 1977 the club started a library and in 1978 published an annual schedule. Howard Ridout and other members would promote the club giving simultaneous displays in malls.
Then, in 1979, the club was told that the hall would be torn down to make way for a condominium development. Subsequently the club moved to a Scarborough high school cafeteria at W.A. Porter Collegiate Institute, and then the club really took off, having increased playing space – Macey Hall had had a maximum capacity of about 100 players. For many years the SCC was the largest chess club in Canada with over 200 members. There was casual chess, active chess, speed chess, simultaneous exhibitions and, the backbone of the Club, CFC-rated tournaments.
Many well-known high rated players either called the SCC home, or played in weekend tournaments there. Also, many masters played simuls at the club. Among the players who participated in these different events were: Russian GM Rafael Vaganian, Canadian GM Kevin Spraggett and such Masters as Lawrence Day, Ron Livshits, Brian Hartman, Robert Hamilton, Ian Findlay, Stephen Glinert, the late Michael Schleifer, and David Southam and the late Todd Southam. Also, participants in the past included the late Bryon Nickoloff and Hungarian Champion Geza Fuster.
Those are what we would now call the good old days. In the mid 90's when the club was still around 200 members the high school decided not to issue new permits for community groups and the SCC had to move again. Another high school in western Scarborough, Wexford Collegiate Institute, agreed to issue a permit for the club. The club was now open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and also on Sunday afternoon. However, the Internet was now starting to have an effect on membership with many players beginning to stay home and play on the computer. As membership declined the City increased the cost of permits with the result that at the end of the century the club could no longer afford to use the school. Another move had to be made; this time the club moved in the Fall of 2000 to a basement room of a retirement home, Wexford Seniors' Community Centre. By this point we had just over 100 members, and were the only club in Canada then over 100 members, leaving us still the largest chess club in Canada. This was rather a bleak atmosphere. It was cramped and there were no windows. Most members regarded it as a temporary location, although we ended up staying there for 2 years. This started the low point in the club's history.
In the Fall of 2002, the club was able to find another home in a community centre, with a lot of space – but we did have to cross the Scarborough-Toronto border into east Toronto (Formerly East York) for this – the Stan Wadlow Community Centre. It seemed that the club had turned things around. However, membership remained low, especially compared to the glory years. Then at the beginning of the 2003-4 chess year, the centre raised its rates to an unacceptable level. It seemed that a dark cloud had settled in over the club.
A Faltering Revival
However, there had always seemed to be a certain resilience in the club, no doubt due to the sterling a character of many of its members throughout the years. One of those members, Frank Tebbs, responded to the crisis and arranged with the Legion Hall on Kingston Road, in Toronto, that he attended, to rent their main floor ballroom to the club. This was like winning the lottery. The club moved there in the summer of 2004.
The room was a magnificent one that could hold well over 100 people. The tables and chairs were black and the walls were burgundy with some areas paneled. Military artefacts were conspicuous in many places on the walls. This was by far the nicest, most striking and best location the club had ever had. It was also on a streetcar line and had its own parking lot. Another positive change for the club in 2004-5 was the flexible payment system for members. There were different rates for regular, senior and junior members. Also, members could choose between two months, six months, one year and two year memberships. The club now ran CFC-rated tournaments exclusively. Our President at the time, long time Scarborough resident and Master Bryan Lamb, hoped for new members with our changes, and looked forward to a gradual return to the "glory years".
But this was not to be. Membership continued to decline. Then the Legion rented the room above ours for children's Irish step dancing classes, and we had this to cope with for the first half of playing our tournaments – a most distressing development. At our lowest point, we were getting only about 14-15 players out to our regular Thursday night Swiss tournament. Many of us were concerned that the SCC was entering a near-death experience.
Then we learned that the building was being sold and we would have to vacate and move once more, our fourth move in 5 years.
A Solid Revival
Again one of our stalwart members, Maurice Smith, following the steps of the mother of one of the founders, contacted his local Scarborough (Now part of the amalgamated City of Toronto) councilor, and explained the problem. Again the Scarborough councilor came through for the club and found us a reasonably priced location back in Scarborough on Kennedy Rd., the Jack Goodlad Community Centre. We moved there for the start of the 2005-6 year in September, 2005. It was a modest sized room, but more than adequate for our very- reduced membership at this time. It was close to the subway and had its own large parking lot. It seemed great. Once again the SCC hoped to make a come-back. But by then, clubs all across Canada had seen declining memberships – the internet, chess programs for computers, busier lives, etc. Could the SCC hope to swim upstream, and increase membership when everywhere else it was declining?
Well, the SCC succeeded. Year by year the membership steadily started growing again. By 2007-8 we were getting 60-65 players out to our Thursday night CFC-rated Swiss tournaments. And things were starting to get crowded, as we started to put up more and more tables, filling the existing space. By the start of 2009, we were up to about 80 paid members. By the end of December, 2009, we were approaching 100 members (our official count as of the start of February, 2010, was 97 paid and about-to-pay members). And our home for the last 4 ½ years was no longer adequate – members were getting discouraged at the very crowded conditions – no space to set down score sheets; barely enough room for clocks between boards, and tables so close together you had to bother 8 players to get out to go get a coffee or go to the loo. Again Maurice Smith, who was by now President, came through for the club in flying colours. He had been in constant contact with our Scarborough councilor, and with city Recreation Department staff, advising them we were getting overcrowded and in desperate need of a larger location. He saw a number of locations, but they did not meet all our rather stringent requirements – large room; rectangular tables; good lighting; close to public transit; ample free parking; a cabinet for our supplies, or space to store our own SCC Cabinet and reasonable rent.
In late December, Maurice located our new home, and we moved there for the start of January, 2010 – the Birkdale Community Centre in Scarborough, 1299 Ellesmere Rd. (between Kennedy Rd. and Brimley Rd.). It was a bit further north and east than the prior location, but still reasonable for travel for most members. The room was large, and could hold 100 players. Free parking was available, and it was a 15 minute walk from two Light Rapid Transit stations. We brought our old storage cabinet back into action, and there was a room down the hall for it to be stored, so all we had to do was roll it into the playing hall. The members were thrilled to have space between boards again. In fact, some new members showed up, who had previously been reticent to join because they didn't like the crowding. So going into our 55th year, we are riding on a nice wave of optimism!
What the SCC Did
What was it that the SCC did that allowed its revival back to its glory years, where it again became one of the largest chess clubs in Canada? Let's look at some of the factors we credit with our amazing revival:
One feature of our club has always been that the atmosphere at the SCC is welcoming and friendly, and it has always prided itself on this – all nationalities, juniors and women are welcomed and made to feel at home. Our motto is "friendly chess since 1960"! But this has been a consistent factor. What has been happening differently in the last couple of years that is influencing our growth? What have we done new?
- Good Website
One important thing was to update our website and make it more attractive. It is now very user-friendly, provides all the basic information and presents an attractive picture of the club. Many new members have advised that they found us through a google search! The credit for this goes to our Webmaster for the last number of years, Steve Karpik.
The SCC was interested in rebuilding its juniors' base. We found that after we got the initial small group of juniors back, new juniors were made to feel more welcome, because they could make friends with their peer group members. Our numbers of juniors has really jumped. Now over 50% are Juniors, up from 20% in 2010, and we believe this augers well for the future of the club – these juniors will be with us numbers of years, and may return to us in later life as well. Parents can see that the adults treat the juniors with respect and friendship, an important feature of them feeling comfortable in an adult milieu. We have also found the juniors to be quite well-mannered and respectful. We also play Game/70 min, 15 second increments, which allows us to finish by 10:30 pm (and often juniors play faster), so it is not too late an evening for them. In 2014/15 we started renting an additional room for analysis and where parents can wait. The parents get to know each other, and get the benefit of some socializing while they wait for their kids to finish.
- Better Competition for Higher Rated Players
For the 2014/15 year we changed our program to a three section tournament for all tournaments except for the Club Championship. For this event we have one section, eight rounds, with accelerated pairings for the first two rounds. This seems to please the top rated players and has already attracted more members.
- CFC-Rated Tournaments
The SCC holds 6 official CFC-rated tournaments each year, in which all member partake. Each of these is officially rated by the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC) and the member's official national rating goes up, or down, depending on their success in these tournaments. Members like playing under serious tournament conditions, and the level of competition that it generates. There is no entry fee – it is free to members. And the club pays the rating fees to the CFC, to have the tournaments rated by it.
- The SCC Games Database
In the past, the SCC developed an SCC Games Database. We collected all games each week, and then a few club members entered them in an SCC tournament games database. In September 2012, this SCC service was discontinued. But the SCC is now, in the Spring of 2015, again looking into collecting SSC games, but this time for submission to the Canadian National Chess Game Database, kept privately and voluntarily by CFC member, Hugh Brodie, called CanBase. It is expected that an agreement will be reached in April or May 2015 as to how CCC and Hugh will arrange this.
- Professionally Run
The club is run on a professional basis in terms of holding CFC-rated tournaments that get rated, tournament pairings by computer, finances kept current, tournament games starting on time, tournament results and standings posted on the website each week, etc. Our current new facility where we've now been since January 2010, is pleasant, spacious and more than adequately meets our needs.
- Good Value for Money
The SCC has flexible membership rates, 6 month, 1 year, 2 year options. We try to keep increases to a minimum.
Set out above are some of the benefits of membership which were not available in the past and which may now be attracting new members, and holding existing members. As we head into our 55th year, we hope for continued growth of the club, and its continued contribution to the chess community, providing a friendly place for competitive chess, for those living in the greater Toronto area, and particularly Scarborough. And it is interesting to note that there are generally no cash prizes at the SCC tournaments – players only play for the fun and love of the game, and those precious rating points.