The Top 5 British Chess Club Websites

 

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Hello ChessJournal fans,

Its been a little quiet on the blog as we have waited to see what the reaction to ChessJournal v2.0 would be but also because I’ve been busy running email campaigns out to as many chess clubs as I could find!

We don’t have a large marketing budget here at ChessJournal HQ (thats why you should tell all your friends about us and share this blog post everywhere) so I have manually contacted the club secretary of over 400 chess clubs in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Canada.  As a result I am becoming very well acquainted with the standard of digital design in the amateur chess club scene around the world…

Some chess club websites are great, some not so great.  When just looking at the British chess club scene it is obvious that many well established chess clubs obviously set up their websites in the mid 90’s and have not touched them since.  This is understandable given the pace of change in digital (for those that don’t know, working in digital is my day job) and that running a chess club is very much an amateur activity.  However, in my long slog through every British chess club website I was astounded by three common pitfalls that a lot of clubs are making:

  • Expired Domains: Kind of fundamental to running a chess club website is to actually have a working website in the first place.  I would argue that the number of broken links or expired domain names across all British chess club websites I visited was around the 10-20% mark.  Im pretty certain these clubs still exist but it must be very difficult for potential new members to contact them.
  • Missing or hidden contact details: Assuming the website was actually working, I was again astonished in 2017 how many chess clubs did not have clear and obvious contact details (telephone or email) for potential new members to get in touch.  I noticed how many clubs were obviously fearful of unwanted spam by either posting broken email addresses deliberately  (e.g. jon – at – chess journal.com) or using layers of CAPTCHAs that were unreadable to even the human eye.  Essentially  as a new visitor to (I’m afraid to say) the majority of British Chess Club websites, I often had to work very hard to get in touch.
  • Not suitable for mobile: In 2017 many modern websites receive over 50% of their traffic on mobile devices.  Again the lack of modern design skills or web templates in the British chess club scene meant that visitors to these websites on mobile phones had to work very hard to use them. Often having to view text very small or rely on pinching and zooming to find poorly designed links.

I realise my above points might sound overly negative but I trust by now that regular readers know that my heart is in the right place and I really want the amateur chess club scene in the UK to thrive.  The three points I make above would go a long way to helping potential new recruits join chess clubs across the country.  Right now , I suspect many clubs don’t realise what a difference a good website design could do to their membership.

It wasn’t all bad however! On occasion I would stumble across a club that had obviously invested in its web presence.  I thought I would pull out in my opinion the top 5 chess club websites in the UK:

  1. Jersey Chess Club: Well done Jersey! In my opinion the best chess club website I found in my long search to contact club secretaries. Clean, modern and responsive for mobile devices. Clear navigation and prominent contact details. I felt the design of Jersey’s website had a touch more class than other top five entrants who were more clean and simple. http://www.jerseychessclub.com
  2. Glasgow Polytechnic Chess Club: An absolute delight of a chess club website from this active club in Scotland.  Great layout, clear links, works fantastically on mobile and a nice nod to the Lewis Chessmen. It was very close between Glasgow Poly and Jersey but I think Jersey just nick it! A close run thing across the entire length of the British isles! http://glasgowpolychess.weebly.com/contacts.html
  3. Hammersmith Chess Club: A really nice designed site that is clean and clear with not just prominent contact details but also upcoming events which really made you want to visit the club. Links to a vibrant social media presence also helped raise Hammersmith into second spot for me. http://hammerchess.co.uk
  4. Battersea Chess Club: Again a nice clear web template with prominent navigation and contact details.  Uses a nice responsive template that adjusts to whatever device a new visitor is using and my favourite part was how new and fresh the content was on the site. http://www.batterseachessclub.org.uk
  5. Forest of Dean Chess Club: Gatecrashing into the top five, this website does exactly what a small chess club needs.  A simple one page website with contact details that reach through your phone screen and hit you in the face! Admittedly the webpage is not optimised for mobile but its such a simple site that this matters little as all the immediate information I need is right in front of me. For a small club this is exactly what you need. A pleasant surprise in my quest to visit every chess club website in the UK. http://www.fodcc.org.uk

A couple of honourable mentions must also go to Newport Chess Club in Shropshire (http://www.newportchessclub.com) who for a moment I thought would win until I realised that the website was so heavy that it took about five minutes for every luxurious page to load.  Looked great just very hard to use effectively, a shame. So close! Also Brighton & Hove Chess Club (http://www.brightonandhovechessclub.org) have made a great effort. Great looking site that captures the essence of Brighton and the beach.  Unfortunately its almost impossible to find the contact details which in my opinion is kind of fundamental. But a much stronger design effort than the lions share of British chess club websites.

So there we are folks.  Whilst I probably haven’t visited every single chess club website in the UK in the last 4 weeks, I certainly feel like I am a knowledgeable authority on the standard of digital design in the British chess club scene.

In other news, its been a month since v2.0 of ChessJournal launched so here is a massive thank you to the hundreds of wood pushers who have downloaded and registered with ChessJournal so far.  A special thank you to all the Facebook comments, emails and tweets we have received telling us how to make ChessJournal even better.  Myself and Matt have already scoped out a number of changes based on your feedback and we aim to deliver v2.1 to you all very soon. I will blog about all the new features being added in the next release as soon as I can.

If you haven’t downloaded and registered with ChessJournal yet then visit our main website here:

http://chessjournalapp.com

I hope you have enjoyed my rambling, tongue in cheek journey on today’s blog!

Until next time

Jon


ChessJournal is the companion app for club and tournament players. Store your games in the cloud for free and analyse them on the go on your phone or tablet.  Leave your laptop at home the next time you visit that big tournament!

You can download ChessJournal on iOS and Android here:

applestore

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The New ChessJournal: Feature List


Hello ChessJournal fans,

Hopefully most of you have noticed by now that ChessJournal v2.0 launched yesterday on both iOS and Android.  If this news is coming as a shock then please do visit our sister website chessjournalapp.com and download the app NOW.

Right then where were we? Oh yes, ChessJournal version 2.0.

When we first launched ChessJournal 1.0 last summer we were flooded with feedback from keen woodpushers who very quickly started requesting new features.  As I have blogged about previously, it became clear that we needed to expand on ChessJournal’s initial offering from 2016, which is why we have spent the first quarter of 2017 revamping your favourite chess players diary app.  In an effort to show you all how much has changed and how much we have listened to your requests I thought I would write a quick blog post listing the major changes and features.  Here we go:

  • Cloud Storage: The big one! You will notice that when you first download the new ChessJournal you will be required to create an account.  This way you can access your personal games collection from any device you chose and it also moves us away from some of the problems we previously had with local device storage e.g. changing phones or having to put the same game into both your iPad and your iPhone.  Moving to a cloud based solution has been a massive endeavour but I think you will agree it makes the ChessJournal proposition infinitely more appealing. Now wherever you are, with whatever device, you can start to evaluate your games.
  • Variations: Another big request from users.  You can now create, evaluate, annotate save and share key variations in your games.  Previously we only provided a “kibitzing scratch pad” to shuffle pieces around but now these important game variations can be saved and explored to your hearts content.  Importantly we have put this feature as part of our premium subscription offering. Whilst we endeavour to keep the bulk of ChessJournal free, we hope you can see both the immense value this feature brings but also our need to cover our costs. I will be blogging in more detail soon on our move to a subscription model.
  • Goals: You can now create and track personal improvement goals in your ChessJournal to help you achieve major chess milestones.  As you progress through the competitive chess season you can link important games that helped you (or hindered you, ouch!) achieve these goals. Both myself and Matt are really pleased to expand the “journal” aspect of ChessJournal.
  • Search Function: Now you can search all your games from the seasons listing page. No more remembering when and where you played that tricky arch nemesis!
  • Import PGN: As well as export you can now import PGN from either your existing chess games database or ChessJournal v1.0. You are welcome!
  • Flip Board: Possibly the simplest and most requested feature we received from you. Its flipping there ok?!
  • Android: Yes you heard me correctly! ChessJournal is now on Android also. Sorry to you patient folk who kept asking me over the last 10 months, but me and Matt wanted to be certain that what we launching on a second platform was right.  In hindsight we learnt a lot of valuable lessons with ChessJournal v1.0 and launching on Android at the same time would have been premature.  However, that situation has now changed!  Get yourself down to the Google Play store and start your ChessJournal today.

 

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We have also made a flurry of interface tweaks that you may or may not notice (for example orientation of the board depending on the colour you were playing) so whilst the look and feel of ChessJournal v2.0 seems familiar, under the hood it is a very different beast that has been carefully tuned in the last three months.

So there we are! We have lots of exciting plans in the pipeline over the coming months, particularly around our premium subscriptions so as always stay tuned.

Me and Matt are committed to bringing the best chess players diary to the market to help you all understand and improve your own games. Thank you for all your support thus far.  If you are enjoying ChessJournal then please do leave us a positive review on the App Store or Google Play.  Every review really helps us drive ChessJournal forward.

Until next time!

Jon


ChessJournal is the companion app for club and tournament players. Store your games in the cloud for free and analyse them on the go on your phone or tablet.  Leave your laptop at home the next time you visit that big tournament!

You can download ChessJournal on iOS and Android here:

applestore

googleplay

How amateur chess players respond to 1.b3 (Larsen’s Attack)

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Whilst everyone anxiously waits for the upcoming launch of ChessJournal Pro (well I know I’m excited anyway), I thought I would write a quick blog post on  my favourite opening, Larsen’s Attack or 1.b3.

I’ve made no secret that this is my go to opening in all formats of our great game and yes I am sure some people reading this are already rolling their eyebrows! As a Class A amateur chessplayer (circa 1800 – 1825) I don’t consider myself an authority on openings (I certainly won’t be blogging on “how to play Larsen’s attack”) but I will say two things on this wonderful opening:

  1. It is theoretically sound.
  2. Amateur club chessplayers haven’t got a clue how to respond.

I have been playing Larsen’s opening for almost 6yrs in the local league and have kept a record of my results and the types of setup that my opponents responded with. It is these statistics that I thought were most interesting to your average wood pusher and the reason for writing this blog post.

Obviously my results are not always decided in the opening but I feel there is a reasonable sample size (60 Games) to enable us to draw some conclusions.

For me, the biggest interest is in comparing how amateur chessplayers respond to 1.b3 compared to professionals. First of all let’s compare black’s first move choice:

Amateurs First Move Responce to 1.b3 (Professional stats in brackets taken from ChessBase)

  • 1…e5: 33% (44%)
  • 1…d5: 15% (25%)
  • 1…c5: 12% (5%)
  • 1…nf6: 22% (16%)
  • 1…other: 18% (10%)

So we can see that club players are typically shying away from creating a large centre when confronted with 1.b3. The obvious central pawn pushes occurring only 48% of the time compared to 69% of the time in professional matches. Perhaps this conservatism also explains the higher likelihood of 1…nf6. Now let’s look at setups.

How Amateur Chess players setup against 1.b3

When studying and learning Larsen’s Attack I have effectively grouped Black’s setups into 6 setups (percentages show how often I have faced these setups):

  • “Big Centre” (12%): Black pushes both central pawns forward two squares and challenges White in a classical fashion;

  • “Little centre” (22%): Black plays e5 and a subsequent d6. A Pirc style set up;

  • “Slav” (3%): Black plays d5, c6 and e6 (with his white bishop inside or outside the pawn chain);

  • “Reversed Nimzo Indian” (23%): Black plays c5, d5 and e6.

  • “Indian” (22%): Black plays nf6, g6 and bg7.

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  • “Other” (18%): Black plays literally anything else such as 1. a5 I have faced on a number of occasions!

As you would expect from such a passive start as 1. b3 there is a varied responce from amateur chess players with no clear winner of an opening responce. However, what you do see is a clear push to more quieter setups, almost certainly as a result of being taken off guard early on. Only 12% of amateur chess players have dared to create a big centre against me in 6yrs!

Finally in the spirit of complete honesty I have broken down my performance against these different setups below:

  • “Big Centre”: 43%
  • “Little Centre”: 38% (ouch!)
  • “Slav”: 100% (only two games)
  • “Reversed Nimzo- Indian”: 64%
  • “Indian”: 58%
  • “Other”: 64%
  • TOTAL: 56%

As I said before, the game is not nessesserily won or lost in the opening but there does appear to be a clear difference in my results compared to my opponents decision to push the e pawn two squares. When my opponent plays e5 I typically score 40%. When they don’t push e5 and choose a different setup I typically score 64%!

So maybe the professional criticism of 1.b3 (as opposed to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack with 1.nf3, stopping e5) is right after all? Or maybe I just know where I need to study 🙂

So there we are! I hope you have found these statistics interesting. I am fascinated in the discrepancies between amateur play and professional. I hope any club players interested in 1.b3 find this article useful, if only to understand where to focus your efforts. My opponents ratings in this sample of amateur games typically range between 1600 and 2000 so very typical of an average club level.

In other news, ChessJournal Pro is ticking along nicely and we are still planning an April launch. I really can’t emphasise how excited I am! I personally have been beta testing the new app for the last week and am loving it (ok I’m bias I know).

Until next time, thanks for reading!
Jon


ChessJournal is the companion app for club and tournament players. Store your games in the cloud for free and analyse them on the go on your phone or tablet.  Leave your laptop at home the next time you visit that big tournament!

You can download ChessJournal on iOS and Android here:

applestore

googleplay

Preparing to launch…


Hello ChessJournal fans!

This week me and Matt have made excellent progress on finalising key development tasks for the launch of ChessJournal Pro. At this stage we are aiming for an April launch simultaneously on both iOS and Android.

I am going to keep the full list of new features and changes quiet until it is actually available to download (if only to make sure everything we want to give you lucky people actually makes it into the final app!). However it is fair to say we are both excited and see a real step change in the ChessJournal offering!

Today I wanted to let you regular readers know that in preparation for launch, we have removed ChessJournal v1.4.5 for download from the App Store. As I have previously blogged, ChessJournal: Pro Edition will be an entirely new app and proposition. I want to extend a massive massive thank you to the hundreds of wood pushers who have downloaded the original ChessJournal and given myself and Matt so much valuable feedback. We really hope you early adopters can see many of your comments factored into ChessJournal: Pro Edition. 

Oh and yes, the import game feature is working lovely 🙂

In the ‘over the board’ world this week I was asked to fill in on bottom board in div 1 of the Bristol league. I was pleased with a solid draw against a stronger opponent but unfortunately the team lost in a combination of blunders and time scrambles (from both teams). It was widely agreed by both parties that whoever won, it certainly wasn’t chess!

Thanks for reading and stay posted for more exciting news in the coming weeks!

Cheers

Jon 

Director of Bizarre Opening Choices

ChessJournal Pivots…

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Its been a quiet couple of months on the blog following the launch of version 1.4 back at the beginning of September.  The reason being is life took over for a while (as well as the new chess season started!) but also its been a period of strategic contemplation at ChessJournal HQ.

As regular readers will know, myself and Matt like to adopt a lean design and development approach to ChessJournal, gradually iterating and adding new features regularly.  The reason for the pause has been two fold:

  • The launch of iOS 10 by Apple scuppered many of our plans as a new range of bugs, especially around keyboard use and scrolling.  What we thought would be a quick fix actually turned into a considerable rewrite of the underlying ChessJournal code (leading to much soul searching over beer).  Thankfully version 1.4.5 of ChessJournal shipped yesterday and is now available for updating, huzzah!
  • A small percentage of ChessJournal users reporting that they were losing games. Matt has donned his finest forensic development gloves and been searching tirelessly for why some users appear to lose their games.  It appears that for those users whose phones memory are almost full the iOS will routinely wipe non-native apps first…charming!

With both of these incidents occurring in quick succession as well as a flurry of new feature requests from you lovely ChessJournal fans, me and Matt have been thinking long and hard on how to move forward.

Its clear that we have a real demand for a feature rich app that helps ‘over the board’ chess players but at the same time we need to address how to help our existing user base when a significant redevelopment of the application is required. Hmmm.

Its time to pivot

Having weighed up all the options available to us we have decided to bring forward an idea we have had for a long time which we affectionately call “ChessJournal Pro” (readers familiar with lean start up philosophies may refer to this move as a pivot!).

ChessJournal Pro is effectively a new app that we have started designing and developing as of this week. Launching a new app provides two major advantages to you, the ChessJournal fan:

  1. We can build in all of the feature requests that you have been sending us into our data model from day 1.  We have learnt so much about chess players needs in the first 6 months of ChessJournal that we couldn’t possible have known when we lunched back  at the end of May!  ChessJournal 1.0 to 1.4 has been a real pleasure to work on but there has always been certain requests (variations analysis for example) that were very difficult to provide without a complete rewrite of the app.
  2. We can move ChessJournal to a cloud based service! Yes I know what you are going to say: “Jon, what about all those blog posts where you said it didn’t need to be cloud based?” `Well I was right and wrong.  ChessJournal 1,4 works great as a local storage app but it is ultimately limited in the long run (just ask the users whose Apple phones are deleting data when their phones memory is almost full…).  Ultimately, local storage on the phone will have limitations across years of use.  A final advantage of moving to a cloud based app is that we can allow users to access their games from any device or platform (hurrah for all you Android users out there!)

“But Jon I have already put loads of games into ChessJournal 1.4!”

Dont Panic! Me and Matt are dedicated to both our existing and new ChessJournal fans.  The very first new feature added to the ChessJournal Pro roadmap was a PGN import feature. Happy days!

Next Steps

We will continue to support ChessJournal 1.4 for the foreseeable future as we finalise and start work on ChessJournal: Pro Edition.  Now would be an excellent time to send in any feature requests that you have always wanted to see in ChessJournal but are not currently supported!

I plan to blog a much more detailed run down of the new app and all its lovely new features in due course but please give myself and Matt time to finalise next steps.

As always thanks for reading and being patient with us.  We are determined to bring to market the best app for personal chess study available and it is no light decision that we have decided to pivot in this new direction.  Ultimately its for the good of all!

Cheers

Jon

 

The Great #chessjournal Challenge

Hello ChessJournal fans!

So the long summer break is finally over and we enter yet another season of cut and thrust ‘Over the board’ chess.  To coincide with the start of the new chess season we launched another update yesterday for everyone’s favourite self study chess app.

Version 1.4 of ChessJournal now contains two key new features.

Social Sharing

You can now create a unique URL for each of your games and share them with club mates through Twitter, Facebook, Whats app, email or what ever takes your fancy.  The keen eyed amongst you will have noticed me starting to test and tweet this functionality late last week but now it is available for all to enjoy, huzzah!

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Myself and Matt are really pleased to finally get this functionality into ChessJournal as it has always been on the roadmap.  We hope you find it useful for those evenings after the dust has settled on the league match from the night before (or on a Monday after that long hard weekend tournament).  Don’t lament that loss or rejoice in the win by yourself.  Its your club mates responsibility to tell you how you could have won that vital extra half point!

Analysis of variations

We have also added a “variations scratchpad” to the app to enable you to explore the key positions that you may have annotated.

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The scratchpad basically lets you open a new board position and shuffle some wood until you find the winning combination that you missed over the board (with a little help from the chess engine should you need it).

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We find the variations scratchpad fits nicely into the dynamic annotation timeline as it allows you to just double check some of your assumptions around the moves that were made (or missed).  You will find the variations scratchpad under “Options” in the dynamic annotations timeline of your games, titled “Analyse Position”.
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Whats next?

That just leaves us with moving ChessJournal onto the Android platform as the last part of our initial roadmap.  We have already begun to look into and test the app on Android and I aim to bring you news as soon as possible about when you will be able to get ChessJournal on the Play store.  What is definitely likely to happen is we will run another sales promotion to celebrate moving onto the new platform.  Probably free for 6 weeks at the time of writing, so please do standby to tell your friends.

The Great #chessjournal Challenge

Finally I wanted to mention an idea we have been floating around ChessJournal HQ for a while regarding measuring the success of keeping a journal.  ChessJournal is built around the premise that we believe amateur chess players can benefit more from analysing their own games and mistakes, than spending hours pouring over 2800 GM games pretending that we fully understand.  Whilst elite game analysis is also important, lets not pretend that the reason for most of our lost rating points is because we couldn’t remember the 16th move of the Berlin defence.

Therefore, I want to encourage all readers and owners of ChessJournal to start tweeting their games to #chessjournal throughout the coming season.  Perhaps even start be tweeting your personal goals for the season.  For example, I am aiming to add 75 rating points to break the 1900 barrier for the first time in my life.  A lofty goal but hey we all have to have ambition!

You can think of it as one giant experiment but I am really intrigued to see how an amateur chess players season wide performances are effected through the regular act of self study and maintenance of a chess journal.  When I have time I will write a full blog on The Great #chessjournal Challenge (maybe we can have prises?!)

Thank you reading and all your messages of support and feedback.  To all ChessJournal fans in the new season, Good Luck!

Cheers

Jon

Download ChessJournal here: http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

 

 

Improvements and summer sale!

Hello ChessJournal fans!

The blog has been quiet during July but the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed a steady release of updates and new features for your favourite chess diary app! Today marks the release of version 1.3 of ChessJournal and inline with our roadmap (published here) we have thus far:

  • Optimised fully for iPad users
  • Added a PGN export feature at the request of many a wood pusher!
  • Added a Dynamic Annotations Timeline feature to radically overhaul the previous annotation option.

It is the launch of our Dynamic Annotation Timelines (DATs) that has got me and Matt really excited and we feel takes ChessJournal to the next level.  We previously acknowledged that the annotation feature felt basic in version 1.0 (a simple text field).  But as of today you can not only annotate individual moves but also immediately return to critical positions by pressing on the annotation number on the left hand side.  We really hope those of you who have already downloaded ChessJournal update soon and have a play with the DAT.  It packs the ‘Journal’ into ChessJournal.

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Unfortunately we were just a day too late for some people thou.  Sadly we received our first 1 star review yesterday with one customer lamenting the annotation feature of ChessJournal.  I really hope they upgrade today and are pleasantly surprised.  My only comment would be thank you very much for the feedback as it really helps validate the direction that me and Matt want to take ChessJournal.

One other piece of news from ChessJournal HQ is a decision around pricing.  I have been regularly (my wife would say religiously…) monitoring our analytics on the App Store and its fair to say that July and August have a noticeable dip during the off-peak chess season.  Therefore to get everybody geared up for the new competitive season we have taken the decision to offer a ‘summer sale’ by giving ChessJournal away for FREE in August!  If you have been admiring ChessJournal from afar then now would be a really good time to give it a try (and also tell your friends).  If you bought ChessJournal already then I’m sure you know how much me and Matt value your support and the early encouragement that you have given us. Thank you!

Speaking of support, in this release we have also added a quick link to leave a review on the app store (on the seasons list screen).  Anybody who works with apps will know how important customer reviews are so if you are enjoying what me and matt are doing with ChessJournal then please leave us some love!

Finally a quick social media update on the ChessJournal community.  We now number 472 likes or followers.  A tidy bunch if ever i saw one!

Thanks for reading and do please continue to spread the news of ChessJournal to your club mates, friends and coaches.  Together we can promote the power of ‘over the board’ chess whilst learning a little about ourselves in the process!

Until next time!

Jon

Download chessJournal here: http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal