Hackney Chess Club’s origins date back to the early 1970s when some disgruntled Islington Chess Club members set up shop in Hackney. Certainly our entry into the London League was not exactly auspicious, we had to plead our case at the League AGM not to be kicked out in our first season for defaulting too many boards. Having dodged that bullet, we won promotion every year and came 2nd in our first season in Division 1 where our first team is still one of the top teams today. There was also success in the Middlesex League and the National Club Championship; and Hackney players became a visible presence on the weekend circuit, making friends and attracting recruits by making chess a social and competitive experience. Some of our home matches were played on decorating tables in a pub landlord’s son’s bedroom (welcome to competitive chess in the 70s). And in 2016 we were crowned Club of the Year by the English Chess Federation in recognition of the excellent work we do in the community, opening chess to juniors and women and being one of the most inclusive clubs in the country.
But it has taken us some time to get to such illustrious heights. Having started our opening gambit in the early 70s, we have always benefited from members putting in great shifts to help the club prosper. In the early 80s we had Roy Brown, Andy Dunn, a very young Rob Wilmott (now a top chess coach) and Terry ‘The Croc’ Donnelly who to this day continues to tie opponents in knots with his encylopedic knowledge of chess openings. In the mid 80s the club used to run its own annual quickplay at the Wally Foster Centre in Homerton and we even had a chess column in the Hackney Gazette.
Our first venue was The Willow Tree in Balls Pond Road, followed by an old Labour Club on Dalston Lane where we balanced boards over beer barrels. The prestigious Chess magazine one referred to us as “the notorious Hackney Chess Club”. Anyone who knows our members today would never believe that description could be anything but fake news. As we stumbled from pub to pub and had teams in the London and Middlesex Leagues, we found a knight in shining armour (enough chess references, ed) in the form of Peter Thompson, a graphic designer and keen player who bankrolled the club. This was not Abramovich-style bankrolling, it was more organising and driving us to games. And there are plenty of old timers who remember the early days – our first team captain Bob Eames, now an FM (Federation Master ) and a member for 30 years; Peter Burgoyne, who runs our third team and Francis Chin who has been chief organiser and treasurer for 20 years. These were the foot soldiers who held the club together for years.
We have always been a big club and for the past 15 years we have boasted at least three teams in the London League (today we have six teams), and we have teams in the Middlesex League and 4NCL. And we still move from pub to pub for some competitive games; our roster has included the The King Henry, The Lion, The Prince, Red Bar and Gorki House but there is only one pub that is really our ‘home’ and that is of course The Rochester Castle, or The Roch as it is affectionately known. We have made the Stoke Newington High Street pub our club venue for around 15 years; our legendary Saturday night beer and blitz sessions are well attended (if a tad boisterous) and we seem to have at least one new face a week there.
Social media and word of mouth have made us one of the most popular clubs in the UK and beyond (we have contacts with a club in Gijon in northern Spain). Each week we field on average two new enquiries from people who have moved to Hackney or from parents in the borough who enquire about our junior coaching. We enjoy socialising but we never forget the serious business of competitive league chess and to round off what is proving to be a momentous season for us, we had 24 players representing three of our teams in a London League evening in March 2017. And how proud we are, that after all these years as some of our more senior members are approaching retirement, that we have a group of talented youngsters playing for us in Division Six of the london League and who are ready to carry on the tradition of our great club.