However, my main purpose of this post is to address the future direction of the National Club Championship.
The build-up to the 2015 NCC was, to put it mildly, shambolic. Amidst suggestions emanating from the ICU Executive that all sorts of rules were being broken, the 2015 event was initially going to be downgraded to a mere FIDE-rated team event, then postponed and finally re-instated.
Perhaps we should not be that surprised that the organisation of this year’s NCC has gone a bit awry. From virtually its very beginnning, the Championship has been plagued with poor organisation and a failure far too often by the Irish Chess Union to take a firm grip on the event.
After this year’s difficulties the ICU Executive is promising a review of the Rules to ensure that the problems that befell the 2015 NCC never arise in the future. However, merely tinkering with the Rules is not going to solve the underlying issues. A radical rethink is needed.
The NCC was instituted in the 1950s as a knock-out competition, starting off in the provinces before reaching a national stage. This was later whittled down to four qualifiers from the provincial leagues and in the mid-1970s the NCC became an all-play-all weekender. Not infrequently some of the provinces would not send a qualifer, weakening the rationale of the competition. When the Ulster Chess Union departed from the ICU in 2005, this exascerbated that situation and in 2009 the NCC was thrown open to any club in Ireland, subject to a rating strength proviso.
The 2009-onwards Rules initially produced an increase in clubs entering but that has now tailed off and it may well be unrealistic to expect large numbers for the NCC if it is held outside Dublin.
So we might conclude that the old rationale for the NCC has gone but the replacement format has not worked.
So here’s a suggestion for a revamp. Let’s look at turning the NCC into a proper National League, with the possibility of multiple divisions.
- Played over 5 rounds in one weekend (Friday night to Sunday afternoon)
- Six team all-play-all “Premier League”
- Multiple Divisions
- One-up, one-down promotion and relegation
- Open only to clubs competing in a provincial League
- Second (etc) teams allowed but not entitled to promotion to top Division
Most of the other rules would remain much as before. The player eligibility rules might need a bit of a tweak, but I wouldn’t suggest a radical overhaul. My guess is that most clubs don’t want the possibility of flying in a team of GMs and IMs and the current rules do a reasonably decent job of that. One change I might tentatively suggest is that each squad could only contain a maximum number of non-IRL registered players, eg 3 in a squad and only 2 in any single match.
The format of 6 players plus two reserves and FIDE rated, four hour sessions should remain. The sheer numbers of clubs playing league chess in Leinster means that for multiple Divisions to work and to retain continuity of entry year-on-year, the event should be held only in Dublin (ideally in a non-city centre hotel).
I would also find another spot in the calendar for the event; it’s present position just before a run of tournaments – Malahide, Ennis, Drogheda – is far from ideal and I would suggest slotting the new-NCC in the one-month plus gap between Bunratty and Cork.
So how would Year 1 of my proposal look? For the “Premier League” I would suggest qualification might be along these lines:
- 2015 winner of NCC
- First two in Armstrong Cup
- Winner of Munster League
- Winner of Connacht League
- Winner of the new Scarry Cup
Perhaps in Year 1 it might be best to start with a Swiss format for League 2, with the possibility (if things go well) of introducing further all-play-all lower Divisions gradually. After the first edition of the new-look NCC, promotion and relegation would take-over in determining what clubs played in the various Divisions.
Addressing the organisational deficit, I would suggest the ICU set up a broadly-representative sub-committee to oversee the event – if for no other reason that to ensure compliance with those pesky Rules and dealing with any issues about qualification (eg if replacement teams need to be found).