A CLERGY chess club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, even though its members have rarely met. An advert in the Church Times attracted 14 ministers to the embryonic Clergy Correspondence Chess Club (CCCC) in 1967. The club has never attracted large numbers, and it now numbers 16 members in its four leagues, and a further 14 members who take part in one-off competitions and other games.
In addition to its own four leagues, the CCCC also enters a team in the online chess tournament Scheming Mind.
“The season lasts from September to July, and each game has to be completed in that time,” the CCCC’s President, Canon Tim Partridge, explained. “In the early days, people would send their moves by second-class post, moving to first-class post as the season approached its end. When time was really short, players would switch to the telephone.”
If the game was unfinished at the end of the season, the players could either agree a result, or refer it to arbitration.
A player is expected to make his or her move within a fortnight of the opposing player’s last move, but “it can take as long as you need,” Canon Partridge said. “One of the great advantages for clergy is that we understand when a crisis occurs and you have to take six funerals in a week.”
Today, the game is played by email. In the 1990-91 season, when post was the way to communicate, Canon Partridge and his opponent Canon David Nye used the same envelope to send their moves to each other. It made a total of 78 journeys through the Royal Mail without becoming unusable or lost.
That season, both players each won one of their two matches against each other.
The club has a distinction among correspondence chess clubs in not having to change its name to accommodate the switch from mail to email. “Because we went for an alliterative name when we started, we are probably the only postal chess club that hasn’t had to change its name,” the group’s secretary, the Revd Bruce Carlin, said.
“We are still doing it by correspondence, albeit email, whereas other groups have removed the word ‘postal’ from their name.”
The group is ecumenical, and now attracts “bona-fide lay ministers” besides ordained clergy, Canon Partridge explains. And, while it has had several monks among its players, a bishop has never been part of the club. “I suspect, if anything, that they can only do it in retirement,” he says. “I don’t think the episcopal life allows any time for outside spaces.”