For any chess player taking part in congress chess, the ECF’s Tournament Calendar is undoubtedly one of the most useful tools for planning one’s adventures in chess away from the club & league circuit. When the Calendar first appeared, is lost in the mists of time. I know it was around in its original printed format, published monthly, when I first became involved in congress chess back in 1987.
To those of us who were around at the time, the main change since then has been the publication of the Calendar on the website. This came about around the turn of the millennium. In appearance not much changed or has changed since. That is not to say there have been no advantages in going on-line. There have been quite a few. It has saved the ECF a lot of costs associated with distributing the printed form of the list. The list is more up-to-date, and whilst not editable in real-time, new entries and edits of existing ones can occur within two consecutive working days. Active links are embedded in the narrative text announcing each event, so one can download an entry form (mercifully the PDF format is catching on,) load a map to show directions of where the venue is located, click a link to visit the congress website, and finally activate your emailer to send a message to the organiser(s) of the congress.
However, its present format on the website is not without its limitations. If you want to scan the list over a period of more than a calendar month, you can’t do this on a single web page. If you want to filter the list so that you see only the RapidPlay events, or Junior events, etc…. you can’t. Or, if you want to analyse the data in any way, as I attempted to two years ago, it is really hard work, and at the time it was taking far too long and so I gave up. More recently I had the insight that I would be better off printing the Calendar, which when I did it earlier this year it came out on four sides of A4. I was quickly able to get the data I wanted by using the time honored bar-gate system.
What more could anyone want? Well, quite a bit actually. As well as the improvements to presentation I have already indicated above, there is much more we could do for everyone’s benefit by taking as a first step systematising the details as presented and along with this making links to the grading system so that additional information can be easily accessed. For example, one might ask the question “Who is running this event?” There are a large number of congresses run independently of each other, and the contact point could mislead. For example Guy Greenland and I, in our capacities as Congress Director and as Congress Entries Secretary, appear on two separate entry forms; the Warwickshire Open Chess Championship in March and the Leamington RapidPlay Tournament in September each year. One might conclude that the same organisation is running both events, and such a conclusion would be wrong. These two events are run by the Warwickshire Chess Association and the Leamington & District Chess League respectively, both of which are independent of each other. Guy and I just happen to be involved with both. The list also has events listed which run every month throughout the year, as for example with Adam Raoof’s Golders Green RapidPlay congresses on or around the second Saturday each month. So there is much we could improve, which builds on what is already there, which will help to ensure that the congress circuit remains healthily alive and kicking, prospering well into the future. Indeed the congress circuit is fundamentally entrepreneurial and long may it stay so. So how am I going to take this forward?
The key is consultation. To start with my “boss” in the volunteer bureaucracy that is the ECF, Alex Holowczak, will need to be kept in the picture as developments unfold. Equally important is our Webmaster, Andrew Walker. Changes will always have an impact on the website, and there is always the possibility that there will be things to consider on the details in the way they might affect his job.
Next to consider will be fellow managers and other Directors. The Director of Membership, Dave Thomas, who has responsibility for the website, is someone with whom I shall be liaising. As I write this before heading off to Leeds to play in the National RapidPlay Championships, I have arranged to see Jon Griffith (Grading Website Officer) in York on the Monday immediately following the event. I shall be picking his brains about how the underlying web technology can best be exploited. I shall also seek the assistance of Carl Hibbard, who set up the Grading Website around 2004, and maintained and developed it until around 2010. Whilst I shall be hands-on at a technical level where that is initially needed, I will always hand on to any competent and willing volunteer, to carry on once the framework of new developments with the Calendar have been established.
The second most important thing is to get the requirements right. To that end I shall with Alex Holowczak’s help seek to form a consultative panel which is as small as possible, consistent with the range of interest groups. For example I would want to see someone representing ordinary players, another person representing small independent congresses, alongside someone who will guard the interests of the bigger and well established congresses. I will be relying on such a panel to guide the decisions that will need to be taken to further develop the presentation and functions within the Calendar.
Thirdly, the improvements and developments will be measured, tested, and have sufficient support before they are implemented. The approach will be incremental, and users of this valuable facility will notice changes taking place steadily, rather than witnessing a single “big bang” approach.
© Bruce Holland, November 2013
Coming up next: Reflections upon the British RapidPlay Championships 2013.