How to start a local chess club

Chess clubs used to form the foundations of organized chess.  There used to be thousands of chess clubs in the 20th century, before the Internet.  It was the chess club that the master developed his skill and the average chess player improved his game.  The chess club has the potential to hold rated and unrated chess tournaments and matches, and various other types of completion.

As a past Secretary, Treasurer, and President of two state chess associations (North Carolina and Ohio) and the President of chess clubs in North Carolina, Dayton, Ohio, Palo Alto, California, San Antonio, Texas, Melbourne, Florida, and a dozen military bases, I have been involved in creating and running many local chess clubs over the past 40 years.  Here are a few helpful hints in starting a local chess club.

Starting a local chess club usually originated among a few friends who play chess at work, school, or in the homes.  The friends decide to organize their chess activities and start a club.  I have found chess players at work by playing at lunchtime with a chess clock.  Chess players will flock to watch and also play blitz chess.  I have also played in local tournaments and found local players that were interested in a club, or a school that had several chess players, but no club.

If the group of players want to get as many new players as possible to join the new chess club, it is usually necessary to hold a preliminary meeting to discuss and adopt resolutions covering the details that will be included in the club’s Constitution.  After the initial meeting, another meeting should be held to adopt the club’s Constitution, elect officer’s (usually a minimum of President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer), and the completion of any other business.

Arrangements should be made to hold the preliminary meeting at a suitable time and place.  It can be held in a private home, but it may be better to hold it at a Community Center, or library, or perhaps a restaurant or café, especially if they are going to eat there.  I have had small chess clubs where the members met at someone’s house, then rotated to other members.  I have found rooms not used in community centers, libraries, and bookstores to hold chess meetings.

You have to decide if membership is restricted or not and if there are any dues.  A college club may restrict the members to students and faculty.  A company may restrict the members to employees only.  Many chess clubs have no restrictions at all, or allow guest membership.

You have to decide where the club will meet, and how often.  Inquiries should be made to determine the availability and rental of a meeting place, unless you can find a library or community center or book store or restaurant or school that would give you a meeting place for chess.  Usually a club meets once a week, but you may try for several times a week as not everyone is available on certain days or weekends.

You have to decide what amount will be charged for annual dues.  You need to anticipated annual expenses, including rent, buying chess sets and boards, chess clocks, score sheets, tournament prizes, stationary, postage, purchase of chess books, advertising, cost of a chess magazine if so desired, etc.  A club needs income to prosper and grow.  Some clubs charge over $100 a year, while others charge as little as $10 a year ($20 with magazine subscription). 

Special, low dues should be proposed for junior members.  Young players must be encouraged to join the club.    You may also want to think about lower dues to women.  A chess club with women is always more successful than an all-male chess club.

Resolutions should be written that cover the name and purpose of the club, the membership qualifications, the meeting place, the days and times of meetings, and the membership dues.  If the resolutions are successful in passing, then a Constitution should be drafted and arrangements made to nominate the permanent officers of the new club.  There should be lots of examples of chess constitutions online at various chess clubs around the world.

Word-of-mouth advertising may be sufficient to bring together enough players to start a small club, but paid advertising and publicity in the local newspaper may help.  Many newspapers will print (paper or online) such an item in their society or neighborhood news columns.   If there is a chess column in a local paper (very rare now), the editor of the chess column should be given all the details of the chess club.  Also check online chess sites on the Internet.  Many online chess sites, such as,  allow you to advertise a chess club or tournament.  You may also want to make up flyers of some kind and post them around town in libraries, schools, community centers, etc.

You may want to call the local TV and radio stations and find out how to get them to do a public service notice on a chess event or club meeting.  I’ve been able to get free radio time when announcing a chess tournament or a meeting of a chess club.

If the names and addresses of chess players in the vicinity are known, or can be obtained, a letter or email should be sent to each player, inviting him or her to attend the chess club.  The USCF may have a list of names and addresses of members in your vicinity for sale.

If you are holding a preliminary meeting, the meeting should be conducted on a semi-formal basis.  You may want to observe the basic rules of parliamentary procedure, which can be found in Robert’s Rules of Order or similar book, or found online.

A resolution should be offered, giving the name and purpose of the chess club.  For example:

Resolved, that an organization to be known as the XXX Chess Club shall be formed, and that the purposes of the organization shall be to enable its members to play chess, to conduct tournaments and matches, and to provide instruction, entertainment, and social life in chess for its members.

A resolution should be seconded, and the chairman may ask if the group is ready to vote.  Questions may be answered, and any suggested amendments are voted on.  When all discussion is over, the chairman will ask the meeting to vote on the resolution (as amended, if any changes have been adopted).  If the majority votes in the affirmative, the resolution is passed and another resolution may be offered.  A committee may be appointed to draft a Constitution to be voted on in the next meeting.

After all the business and if nothing else comes up, a motion is made to adjourn to meet at a certain time and place.  If seconded and adopted, the meeting adjourns.

If you do not wish to have so much formality, create a chess club and a program of activities to stimulate the interest of the members and make them want to attend the sessions.  Something new and different may be planned for each meeting, or special events may be scheduled once a month.

Most important are the competitive activities of the chess club.  Every member must be given every opportunity to play in various kinds of chess tournaments, matches, and other contests.

One activity is to have a chess club ladder contest.  A player’s position on the ladder indicates his rank.  The strongest player is at the top of the ladder.  He is the number one player.  Players move up and down as they win or lose against other players on the ladder.  A contestant can challenge a player of higher rank to fight for his position on the ladder.  I have seen peg boards made with the members listed in order of strength.  Some are vertical and others are in the form of a pyramid.

A more modern method of conducting a ladder competition uses rating points to rank a player.  Ratings can be established from players who are members of the US Chess Federation and have a USCF rating, or FIDE rating.  Some online sites have a rating system, but they may be inflated than normal over-the-board ratings from rated tournaments.  Always ask any potential new member and all existing members if they have a rating (USCF, FIDE, Correspondence, blitz, online site, etc).

Developing a team spirit is one of the best ways to hold a chess club together.   A member who gets on a team represents his club.  He now plays for the club, not just himself.  If there are other chess clubs around, then get involved or organize inter-club matches.  Matches can also be arranged between teams composed of members of the club itself. 

Tournament play is usually the major reason for club membership.  Practically every chess club holds an annual tournament for the club championship, and perhaps a trophy or plaque to the winner.  You can also have gambit tournaments, 5-minute chess tournaments, random chess tournaments, 30-30 tournaments (30 moves in 30 minutes), junior tournaments, odds tournaments, etc.

Special events, such as a simultaneous exhibition by a grandmaster (if available), or just a strong player, is always a good idea.   If you do get a visiting master, it might be a good idea to invite the local media for the publicity.  Top players usually charge $20 - $40 a board.  In the past, I have had former US champion GM Walter Browne, GM Viktor Korchnoi, GM Larry Christiansen, GM Eduard Gufeld, GM Eugenio Torre, and  International Master John Donaldson all give simuls at one of my chess clubs.  I also had GM George Koltanowski do his famous knight’s tour.   And I have done 50-board simuls myself.

If you get a club going, take pictures of members at club meetings and tournaments, and put them on a bulletin board and on the Internet.

Finally, find volunteers that will help you with club activities.   Don’t try to do all of it yourself.