Plans are afoot to establish a National Mind Sports Centre where chess and Go and other strategy board games can be played. The project is a joint venture between the English Chess Federation and the British Go Association. It has long been desired to find a place to play league games and competitions and to hold gaming events. Teaching and training would be part of the mix to encourage the next generation into the boardgame realm.
The latest initiative arose from Go player T Mark Hall who left a substantial legacy for the establishment of a centre in London. He fondly remembered the place where he played go as a youngster and wanted others to revive the concept. We are all familiar with the problem of finding a space for community activities. Pubs and church halls serve the purpose but are not ideal.
The original National Chess Centre was in the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street. John Spedan Lewis was a devotee of the game. Unfortunately the Centre was bombed during WW2. After the war, a number of coffee houses, such as the Prompt Corner in Hampstead, open from 10-midnight, kept the spirit alive. It was popular with intellectuals such as George Orwell and European emigrés but eventually all these unique places disappeared.
A recent trend is the rise of board game cafés in which patrons pay a board fee and are expected to buy some drinks and maybe a meal. These are popular with young adults who are to be found socialising in fashionable places like DraughtsLondon in Shoreditch.
Chess and Go have traditionally been played in relative silence, certainly at the higher levels. This factor has made it more difficult to find suitable venues and to attract people to clubs. Bridge, being an inherently social game, does not suffer the same problem. The Casual Chess Club which is held daily in the BFI bar off Tottenham Court Road shows that playing chess in a bar with chatter and music in the background are not always incompatible. There is scope for more than one type of playing area within a venue.
The latest plan is to concentrate all the activities related to mind sports into one place and to combine flexible game playing spaces with in a cafe and a merchandising outlet. The revenues generated from the commercial activities will help to defray the cost of the game activities. Fundamental to this plan is the acquisition of a property which will cost at least £3 million. There are many issues to be resolved regarding funding options, corporate structure and charitable status.
Amanda Ross, who runs the Casual Chess Cafe, has been commissioned to conduct a feasibility study on the National Mind Sports Centre. She will outline her current thinking in a presentation at the London Chess Conference on Monday 12th December 2pm – 4pm. This session is open to all and does not require registration at the conference. Please come along if you would like to share your ideas and enthusiasm about how to achieve this laudable objective.