Scarborough Chess Club checks into new home

After an unsettled 50 years, the Scarborough Chess Club (SCC) may have finally found a permanent home.

The SCC, for much of its half-century existence, has moved from venue to venue due to operating costs and fluctuating membership. For the past year, the SCC has met in the Birkdale Community Centre.

“It’s a great facility. It’s the right size for us and it’s really accessible,” said SCC treasurer Andrew Philip. “As long as we pay our dues on time, it looks like we’re going to stay here.”

This stability is a welcome change, said club president Maurice Smith.

“We were at Macey Hall [when the club started in 1960], which was around Victoria Park and Danforth, and we’ve moved at least seven times since then,” said Smith, who joined the SCC in 1976.

The club almost closed on many occasions due to enrolment trouble in the face of computer chess dominance in the ’90s and 2000s.

“People started playing chess on the Internet and I saw membership start to drop,” Philip said. “We were down to about a dozen people in the mid ’90s. It looked pretty grim.”

More players are now favouring face-to-face chess over online chess, Smith said.

“Now with the young players, they start learning on the computer and then they come to the chess club,” he said. “There was a downturn but now the Internet seems to be helping us.”

In the 2004–2005 season, the club again came close to folding because of membership and venue woes. The club’s home at the time, Royal Canadian Legion Hall Branch 42, was up for sale, which led to the SCC’s fourth move in five years, to the Jack Goodlad Community Centre.

“About five years ago at Goodlad Community Centre on Kennedy, we were down to probably our lowest: between 20 and 30 members,” Smith said. “People were just staying at home and playing on the computer rather than going to a chess club.”

Though membership turnover remains a problem, a spike in the number of younger players is keeping the club healthy and competitive.

“Interest has grown,” Smith said. “We have a lot of young players now. I played a 7-year-old two weeks ago and he was crushing me.”

The SCC celebrated its Golden Jubilee this past summer and plans to continue promoting chess in Scarborough by sponsoring tournaments and inviting grandmasters like Alexei Shirov to give lectures.

“He played simultaneous games with club members,” Smith said about Shirov’s last visit. “He played 25 members of the club at once. Two of us beat him, six drew him and he won the rest.”

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