Starting a South-west Winnipeg casual club, meeting at Mark’s place, Saturday June 8, 2pm

I’m following up on my prior post on growing our local casual chess scene.

To make a long story short, I’m calling an organizing meeting at my home on Saturday June 8, 2pm. This will be specifically to organize a new, south-west Winnipeg group focused on casual chess in a dedicated and booked location. My home is in south-west Winnipeg on a major road with a direct bus route from downtown. I’m not posting my address, but folks can email to express their interest and get a private invite. Let me know why a new south-west Winnipeg group interests you and what you may be able to contribute as a co-organizer.

The time has come for Winnipeg to have chess meetups that are not just in free, public spaces like coffee shops, malls and public library tables. A casual chess club can really take on a life of its own when it has dedicated space where folks can enthusiastically discuss the game.

This is how Rudolf Rocker Chess Club started, with a weekly meetup on the 3rd floor of 91 Albert St.

That was never a group I was able to carry on my own, we had other very committed volunteers.

That multi-use venue was very affordable, but it came at a price. Sometimes our booking was bumped for better paying customers. At times this was with very poor notice that interfered with our special events.

The venue was also not operated sustainably and eventually shut down.

Two of our core volunteers also moved on in life.

In recent years, another meetup was added to the scene with a dedicated, booked space, the chess program at Robert A. Steen Community Centre taught by Jordan. It’s grown to have both an intro day (Tuesdays 4:30-6pm) and advanced day (Wednesdays 4:30-6pm) during the school year (Sept-June).

I must confess, I haven’t had a chance to check out the great work Jordan has been doing, but I might do so soon.

Though it is an all-ages program, the time of day very much makes this an after-school program. Great timing for kids and their parents, but not an evening or weekend slot that works for the maximum number of adults.

As such, there is still a gap to fill in Winnipeg’s chess scene: a consistent, well advertised, booked location for casual chess, with timing suited to a maximum number of adults. Folks might even want to make it exclusively for adults or a hybrid model where we only accept exceptional youth players by invitation/application. We’ll discuss that.

Furthermore, I’ve heard countless times that not everyone is comfortable with downtown (The Forks included). We are a sprawled city. Suburbanites like their space and their free parking.

So, let’s find out if that can translate into action. South-West Winnipeg is home to the largest new residential neighbourhoods, some of the city’s wealthiest districts both historically and currently, and is already an epicenter for a lot of local chess.

Is this corner of our city ready to invest in building a first-class casual chess club?

Can this eventually grow beyond a once per week meetup? Could it even grown to have its own clubhouse?

Booked spaces have financial costs. To be sustainable, I believe this kind of club will need to charge a membership and/or gate cost. The old Rudolf Rocker model of asking for support by donation and holding special event fundraisers isn’t going to work to sustain a higher rent.

Furthermore, we can and should be open to private and business sponsorship, both for cash and in-kind support (equipment, space, food, etc). Potential sponsors are asked to email and to indicate what they would be looking for to offer their support. We’re smart enough to not just ask for a lot of money no strings attached so make these things clear to us.

But, any and all sponsorship can’t be expected to replace the need for member dues. Generally, what the providers of grants and other sponsorship like to see is that other people are also chipping in. Other people’s money is a sign that people care. Sometimes this even takes the form of a matched donation campaign.

I’m also publicly asking the Manitoba Chess Association to consider what its support of this could look like. The chess community can always count on their website being a place to post and the chess association has often been able to provide equipment loans and sometimes even logistical support for community tournaments. The equipment side of things can even support the bootstrapping of a new chess club — fundraiser tournaments could generate revenue to buy equipment and once a club has enough equipment of it’s own it no longer needs to borrow and potentially could even store at a permanent rented venue.

The chess association is also in a position to provide some financial support, which it should consider, but it is never going to just simply write a cheque, no conditions attached. Like any other grant funder, there is always going to be a question of other people’s money going into an initiative and a need to see that there is a real and serious organizing committee putting in the work to make a chess club possible.

Potentially the MCA could even provide the legal and financial umbrella for a new club, if the organizers of a new south-west casual club even want that and if the MCA board saw it as appropriate.

What we can’t expect is the existing group of MCA volunteers to put in the on the ground organizing work. They’re already doing plenty as the local CFC affiliate in organizing tournaments. It’s really great work that we should celebrate and build upon.

What a new group will need is a lot of new people and new energy. I am also not going to carry the load. When it came to Rudolf Rocker Chess Club, I never did. Some had that impression because I did a lot of the public communications. But truth be told, there were other exceptional volunteers in our 91 Albert days that did more. In addition, I alone was not responsible for all the uptick in casual chess that we had at Millennium Library as pandemic restrictions lifted and later at The Forks Market. The most notable credit for that goes to Stefan who has been doing this almost every week for over two years now and there is also a further cast of people that have helped him out.

But here is what I offer.

  1. Initial organizing meetings can be held in my living room, conveniently located on a bus route on a major street in South-West Winnipeg. We’ll probably need more than one! We’ll stop meeting at my place when we start having an actual club in a proper public space.
  2. As a member of Skullspace, I have access to a low cost space downtown to hold fundraiser tournaments with enough tables to seat about 20 players. Obviously a south-west club should aspire to have its events in South-West Winnipeg (duh!) and eventually in its regular venue, but if we need to bootstrap the organization with fundraisers at a cheap downtown venue, then we can do so.
  3. I have control over a bank account that was established for Rudolf Rocker Chess Club. (an unincorporated, non-profit voluntary association). We can transform this into a shared account for an unincorporated association of independent* chess clubs, providing a form of common infrastructure for such organizations. (By *”independent”, I mean any group that is outside the CFC, FIDE, and Chess N Math systems. I think it’s healthy for a chess scene to have both clubs and events inside and out those systems, particularly for lowering barriers to entry.)
  4. I have experience as a organizer of both local chess and other things. Part of that is my philosophy around embracing beginners. In particular, I bring an understanding that low level players do not have a fun time in a casual setting just taking loss after loss against strong players. A thoughtful club doesn’t make that people’s exclusive first experience. Most people don’t learn a lot from just getting hard lessons on the board. These moments sure makes for great chess scenes in TV shows and movies though!
  5. I have a paid account on (Winnipeg Casual Chess and Tournament listing) with 474 followers which I’ve been under-using for advertising local chess. Would eventually like to transfer this to a organization and have the entire local chess scene use it. I may also just drop it.
  6. I’m an information technologist by trade and can offer some assistance in that regard, particularly when it comes to domain names and websites.

What I can’t do is become the next president, secretary and treasurer or other key executive member of a new club. I’m going to help get this started but it will be other people that make it real.

Ultimately I’m an urbanist at heart and more interested in the fun I can organize downtown and in the rest of the inner city. I’m going to help with this to take some pressure off our downtown scene and because I ultimately believe that more chess begets more chess.

The biggest decision a south-west Winnipeg group will have to make is to select a suitable, bookable venue. In my last post I mentioned a homework assignment in that regard: go and see the bookable rooms at the following library branches: Bill and Helen Norie (by Pan Am Pool), Charleswood, Fort Gary, and Pembina Trail.

And talk to some churches and other places of worship. They’ve got the cheapest, most underutilized spaces.

There are also City of Winnipeg community centres, but their spaces are in high demand for sports and other physical leisure programming. What has made Jordan’s group at Robert A Steen CC a success was the organization directly sponsoring their chess program. The after-school aspect may be a key part of that. But, don’t rule anything out. Feel free to approach other community centres in south-west Winnipeg with under-utilized spaces.

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