Some people seem to think I’m lost in nostalgia. There’s a genuine resurgence of chess going on in the schools around here. Hundreds of kids are playing, so obviously I’m just looking at the past through rose-colored glasses and refusing to acknowledge that the chess scene has been rebuilt. I’m sure there’s even some who think the only reason I haven’t come around to this conclusion is that I’m not in control of the current chess scene. It’s not my achievement, therefore I don’t want to acknowledge it.
So, for those cynics I’d like to present some numbers from a Milwaukee Recreation Department document. It’s undated, but from external evidence I’d place it in the late 1950’s. It summarizes participation in the first 23 years of the Milwaukee chess program.
During the first 23 years of the program’s operation, they held 7,382 adult tournaments and 36,626 playground tournaments. In addition, they organized 1,602 matches with teams from other cities, and 1,478 chess exhibitions.
Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Before you dismiss it as hype, remember there are 17 social centers and 72 playgrounds covered by this report. That means every playground averaged about 22 tournaments during the year. Since the standard practice was to hold tournaments at the end of most organized classes, and there were multiple classes every week on every playground, that’s not as incredible as it perhaps first appeared.
During the same period they held 29,614 classes at the social centers and another 115,126 classes at the playgrounds. There was also a league (actually several leagues — by 1936 there were 14 leagues) with regular team play, as well as individual tournaments. The 23-year total of attendees was 340,182.
Before you completely boggle, remember this: the numbers here come from the period 1930-1952, about a decade before the program peaked. They are just a fraction (albeit a healthy one) of the program I saw when I was a young visitor to the city. Until present numbers rise to a significant portion of these figures, perhaps the scoffers will be willing to grant me the right to feel a little disappointed by the current levels of activity.Interview With Arpad Elo Oldest Recorded Games? blog comments powered by Disqus