A few tips from the College Chess Committee
Starting a college chess club
Many people have asked us how to start a school chess club and get it off the ground. It may seem very difficult to get a chess club running at a university, but if you are dedicated, and put in some time, you can easily get one going in no time. There are many university students that will be interested in playing chess at a university club. You don’t need to put in much time advertising, it is likely that there was a club in the past, and you may even have the resources available to you that are already built.
All it takes is one leader to get your club off the ground
Three years ago, while scanning the web for other chess clubs, I signed up on an old UCLA chess club mailing list. There was no activity, but I sent a message out asking if the club was active. Within a day or two, I received many responses back and other students asked ‘I have been signed up on this email list for the last year, and I wondered the same’. It turns out that there was no club, but the old email signup list was still running from the old club that existed a few years ago. A few students posted to the list, but when they only got a few responses from other students, and not anyone on the chess club, they gave up. I sent out another letter to the students that responded and said ‘hey, go to your student affairs office and start a club!’.
It was interesting to hear the response, one or two students emailed me back saying ‘I never thought of that, but I will do that…’ At UCLA, after the post, a few students went to the SAO, and started the club up again. Two years later, UCLA is now an active club, and even has a master player playing for them. Here is the key– all it takes is some leadership from one or two people to get things going again.
Don’t worry about your playing strength. Every chess club president at the UW for the last 4 years have been moderate players, at best. Our current Co-President is on the JV team, and the other Co-President has been the 4th strongest player. None of the past presidents were master level players. It is much more important to have a solid organizer lead the club than someone who plays a strong game of chess. What is needed is good leadership.
Get the Student Affairs Office to help you
You will need to gain official club status as soon as possible. The Student Affairs Office will help you get a club up and running if you are dedicated. Sometimes the SAO office will state that you need to have x number of people to sign up before a club can be made. If you don’t have the required number of students, be creative, and lie if you have to. If you need 5 people, get your student friends to sign the petition. They don’t have to play chess, just get anyone you can to sign the required paperwork to get the SAO behind you.
You will need the resources that they can provide you, and if you need to be creative in order to get around some of the roadblocks, do so! Once you get them to accept your club, you will have a webpage, and various other tools to advertise your club and get more participation, but you need to first get your club off of the ground.
You may need to also have a constitution in order to appease the SAO. Right now, don’t worry about being perfect; you just need to get your club in official status. There are many club constitutions available online. I will post the UW’s constitution for your reference. If you need people to be officers to gain official status, and you don’t have 5 officers, again, be creative, and lie if necessary.
You can always have your elections later when you have an active club, and then change the SAO office documents as necessary. I have seen quite a few clubs fail waiting to get the required 5 officers, or waited too long to draft a formal constitution; these clubs failed within a year. Don’t let the SAO regulations slow you down, you will need the resources and have the official status that they can give you. Once you finally clear the SAO hurdles (which is quite easy to do), now it is time to use the SAO’s resources to help you advertise.
Now that you have the SAO behind you, they will give you the keys to various resources. Often, they will give you web space on a university server, and will provide email lists. Use them! It does not matter if your page is not perfect, or your HTML skills are weak. Find someone to help you if necessary. The point is to make your club known, not to show off your skills in web design. Most SAO’s also have events for student organizations at the beginning of the year to allow the clubs to advertise themselves. Take part in them if you can.
Another technique to advertise (and to get revenue) is to play chess in public spaces. At UW, we often get a few of our members to play in the cafeteria, and have advertising materials with us. The advertising materials don’t need to be perfect. We have often used normal pieces of paper with our meeting times, and our webpage and contact info listed. You should be able to pick up a large handful of chess players if you go out and play in crowded university spaces.
We have also used the same approach to gain financial resources. Our master player, and our speed chess demon got together at a table outside, and offered to play anyone for one dollar. If anyone could beat them, they would give the player 10 dollars. I put up $40 dollars to the club for this event, and we did not lose one game, and came home with $50 extra bucks, and we also gained some new chess players.
Once your club is up and running, find a university staff member to help you
It is amazing to see how many clubs die after a year or two when the original leader graduates. If you really want a strong club, you need to find someone that works on campus to help you provide consistency. If you can find a faculty member, he or she will also be able to talk to the university leadership, and they may be able to eventually provide your club with scholarships.
This requires long term planning, but in order to have chance at this opportunity, you will need a faculty member to help you. If you can’t find a faculty member, try to get a university staff member to help you. Hopefully, the staff member will be around long after you graduate, and he or she will be able to help keep the club, and it’s culture that you helped to build, alive.
Once you have a strong club, start to compete
Once you have a dozen or so members in your club, plan to test your team strength and build camaraderie by having competitions. There are quite a few very visible college chess tournaments, such as the Pan-American games and the US amateur championships held in various places around our nation. Often, you can also get your university SAO to help fund a Grand-Master player to play an exhibition. If you don’t have the inclination to compete nationally, you can simply set up a match with another club in your area, or compete in the online College Chess Tournament at www.tatiana.net/iccl.
You may be able to host various tournaments at your local university. The UW set up a tournament, and we attracted a few Master Level players around our own state. If you need assistance setting up a tournament, there are many resources to help you.
If you have any questions, or need further assistance, don’t hesitate to contact the USCF College Chess Committee. Our email addresses are available at http://www.tatiana.net/iccl/index.cfm?page=contact. If you want some expert expertise and receive tips about getting chess scholarships for your school, be sure to contact Alan Sherman and James Stallings from the UMBC and UTD clubs, as well as Hal Karlson from Texas Tech. They all have been instrumental in promoting university chess and were able to gain scholarships for their university chess players. There are also other resources, such as the USCF Forums and the Susan Pogar chess blog.
You might also want to contact the USCF, or ask for a local club to help you. The local organizations will also be able to promote your club and will likely put up a link on their website to help advertise you. It should not be hard finding someone to help you, there are many people dedicated to promoting chess in America, and they will be happy to help you! If you have any questions, please ask. I will be more than happy to help you. I hope that anyone else with college chess club experience will also offer some advice.