Wednesday 22 January 2020

An Interview With Jo Hutchinson

The London Chess Conference of 2019 has been mentioned here before and today we continue our occasional look at some of the highlights of the fascinating weekend.

Last week we featured some of the remarkable work done by Kineke Mulder in the world of community chess. This time we present our interview with Jo Hutchinson, which was the centrepiece of the session on Dealing with Stereotyping.

'We have, over the course of the weekend, heard many inspiring stories from our excellent guests, covering many aspects of chess teaching, playing, organisation and various other activities.

Our next guest is unusual as she is extremely active right across the board: teacher, organiser, ambassador, social media and, of course, as a player – currently in England’s top 50 women players and improving all of the time.

We will start the session with a talk to and from Jo Hutchinson.'

When did you start to play chess?

I started to play chess at the early age of five. This probably came about as I was one of three children all born with a couple of years of each other. So to give my mum and dad some quiet time we all went to visit my grandparents every weekend where we stayed for a few hours each day. There we learnt to play numerous card games, dominoes and chess. My grandad was the chess teacher. I can’t remember him actually teaching the game; only playing him.

My friend also had an input in the game at a similar age, however we usually resorted to playing with the pieces like action men rather than on a board and moving the pieces accordingly.

My grandad never gave us any chances; always playing to win. We were never put off with losses, same as cards and dominoes although we did win some of them, it was just routine to play and, inevitably, lose at chess.

Did your interest in chess continue at Primary School? Was anything in place for young chess players?

Although my grandad beat us at chess regularly, it turned out that we could all beat children of a similar age to us. I became the infant school champion and graduated to becoming the first ‘girl’ chess champion at the junior school. The Headmaster at my junior school loved chess and took numerous players, myself included, around many local tournaments. I don’t recall winning tournaments although I was close once. I received chess medals and trophies from the Head as I was always at the top of the chess ladder. I had children at the school who wanted to improve their chess so would pay me with packets of crisps.

When I left the junior school my younger sister replaced me at the top of the chess ladder and she never received a medal or a trophy. I guess the fascination of a good female player had passed. She has always been disgruntled by this.

When a chess match was set up at the comprehensive school I went along hoping to win the prize. However, I finished in second place due to a stupid blunder on my part. Once this tournament had finished so did all chess at school, I believe. There wasn’t any publicity for duplicate matches or in fact the continuation of a chess club; if there had been I may have popped along. On the positive side, when I was thirteen I actually beat my grandad for the first time, although this was more to his bad play than my good...or so he said! Although our games were more evenly matched after that.

Was there any chess at your Secondary School? 

I stopped playing chess in my first year at the Comprehensive School and didn’t return to it until I had my own children and wanted to encourage them to play. I found a local chess club run by Mr & Mrs Turner (Matthew Turner's parents) and never looked back. I started playing in local leagues and my children picked up the game quickly.

How did you rekindle your interest after the wilderness years? 

I started work as a Teaching Assistant in a mainstream primary school. My Key child had ADHD and could play chess. So I looked into starting a chess club at lunchtimes and it thrived. I held the club (sacrificing my lunch breaks) four days a week to teach chess. I had sixty pupils in all, possibly 70% boys. A colleague (Rosie) and myself started taking children around the country to enter competitions. I discovered that if children want to learn the game they taught themselves. I spent less than 10 minutes at the start of each session showing them different things then left them to it.

Over the four years that I was there, our children drew respect at each school they visited. Their behaviour and attitude towards others and chess itself made us very proud. Three years on the trot we played in the English Primary Schools Chess Association ('EPSCA') tournament where we qualified to play in the finals in Wales. Rosie and I arranged for the children to stay in Wales for those weekends. We never qualified for the next round but we finished in the top three a couple of times. Brilliant, as they only had Rosie and myself teaching them. They were up against some of the top schools which had the advantage of excellent chess coaching, some of whom were Grandmasters.

Did the club develop your interest further?

Whilst running a chess club at this school I also started one at my children’s school so they could interact in such competitions. My children entered the British Land Chess Challenge organised by Mike Basman. In the following years Mike and I would become friends and he even tried teaching me a thing or too - although I don't think I was the best pupil he’d had (argumentative and stubborn are possibly words he would use to describe me).

Rosie and myself became the Lincolnshire Under-11 Chess Coach/Manager. In all our chess visits to different tournaments, schools, and counties, Rosie and I never encountered any animosity. We received nothing but praise for what we had achieved and it ‘was a breath of fresh air’ to the chess world.

How long did that phase last and what happened next? 

Unfortunately time moved on. Rosie and I left the Lincolnshire coaching/manager due to various reasons and I had a job offer in a Special Educational Needs School which I took. I started a chess club there and the children took to it like a duck to water. There were a lot of behavioural issues but rarely over a chess board. The Turners moved away from Scunthorpe much to my dismay (I used to pop round for a cheeky whiskey) and I took over running the evening chess club.

My son loved playing chess while my daughter found it very stressful, often crying before her opponent had even arrived. She was good at the game and beat many people but retired at the ripe old age of 10 as we found it wasn't worth the tears. I did take them to a chess social in London, part of the LetsPlayChess chess site. I loved meeting and playing these people I’d played on the site and my son did too. However, my daughter just sat in a corner on her phone and didn’t enjoy it one bit. She doesn’t play any more and has never regretted quitting (she’s now 25). Whereas my son still plays. He’s busy with work and just bought a house so doesn’t play many over the board games.

Work started getting a little stressful, as the SEN school had grown enormously in numbers and incidents were of a regular occurrence, so I cut my hours and tried getting into schools to teach chess. I sent out over 25 fliers to local schools with three getting back in touch. So I started, and still teach at these three primary schools with an average number of 14 pupils in each. 

You have a strong connection with junior chess in Hull. How did that come about?
I crossed the Humber a few times to play chess and after chatting to Mr Greep was soon enlisted on the committee to help with the junior side of things. I shared ideas, examples etc and, although Hull is only 40 minutes away, I have found it difficult to actually get stuck into things. This is mainly due to time, travel and not knowing the area.

I have since been involved with junior coaching in Hull, helping the likes of Charlie Storey and Sean Marsh. I also helped organise Ginger GM (Simon Williams) to play in Hull’s annual simultaneous display.  Everything went well except I was taking the photos and my SD card broke. I have attended a CSC Training Day and played in an International Women’s Tournament, organised by Mr Marsh.

I have made many friends through playing chess, some of these friendships have lasted years and I still see them regularly, others I just have to drop them a line and they are there. I think I have been extremely lucky to have discovered this game. I can’t think of anywhere else I would have met so many different, intriguing people, the vast majority are absolutely lovely.

Have you encountered any discrimination during your chess journey?

I have to say that, apart from raised eyebrows, I haven’t encountered any discrimination of any kind. This is possibly due to being an average player and having no real pressure on the results of my games. I’ve had a couple of people who haven’t been happy when they have lost. One just walked away from the table and didn’t shake my hand; I wasn’t worried about it as he was probably the same with men too. I got the result and that was all that matters to me - not his behaviour.

What are the most noticeable differences between women and men chess players? 

Because I had children at a youngish age I couldn’t have contemplated leaving them while I took myself away (chess, or whatever reason) or even taking them with me. I did stay out late on match days and they accompanied me to the odd simul or social. It’s hard to say that if creches had been available to aid me playing chess, if I would have taken advantage of them.

It would have been a struggle to improve my play by studying chess with having children (and a husband) as there wasn't a lot of spare time for such activities when they were younger. Although Mike Basman did try when they were a bit older and the guys at the club were helpful too. I think it is different for men as they don’t have the responsibilities women have in bringing up children.

Has there been a notable difference between women and men in your chess clubs in schools? 

Both my primary schools were very active chess enthusiasts but, as far as I am aware, no other female, or men, from these schools play chess.

Thank you very much, Jo Hutchinson!

Jo's chess journey has continued since the conference, with various roles for CSC at the London Chess Classic, a position as Training Day assistant in Hull and a spell of arbiter training in Harrogate.

Monday 20 January 2020

London Crew Reunited

The crew of the famous London Expedition of 2019 were reunited last night for a very enjoyable celebratory evening.

We revisited Hollywood Bowl and Pizza Hut, two of the venues utilised as part of our secret preparation back in November.
It looks like I may have told one joke too many...

The juniors and adults had quite different bowling styles
Catherine was the evening's top scorer. She had so many strikes
we were starting to think she must be Arthur Scargill in disguise
Of course, we liked to give the juniors a chance...

...but then we sometimes liked to proved to the juniors who is boss
My previous blog report was from the Isle of Man. This time it appears to be from the Isle of Woman
With our heroes
The chess players turn all Shakespearean. '2p, or not 2p...'

Let us now take a look at the final scores.

Who won?

Adults 413, Juniors 375 (last time it was Adults: 389, Juniors: 366 - so we must all be improving!).

Thank you, everyone, for an excellent evening.

Plans are now afoot for the next reunion!

Saturday 18 January 2020

CSC Training Day Tour 2019-20: Isle of Man

Having started 2020 is fine style with a very successful training day in Hull, there was only a short time back on Teesside before my tour resumed.

Regular readers may recall our particularly ambitious expedition to deliver a training day on the Isle of Arran back in 2018 and this new venture to Isle of Man brought back many memories of that fine day.

Five schools on the Isle of Man already enjoy regular chess sessions. This training day was to help start phase two of the project, in order to help the setting up of regular chess lessons in five more schools. There are 32 state-run primary schools on the island and CSC will now be impacting on almost one third of them.

It had already been a busy week (tough, late chess match on Monday night; late gig on Tuesday night) and then I had a full day at school before immediately starting the journey from Teesside. Trains, a plane and a taxi were all utilised. 

 'What's in the tube, sir?'

'A chess board.'

'A chess board...!?!'


It was at that moment the man with gloves arrived and asked me step to one side...

This week's near-collapse of Flybe was averted just in time to keep the expedition going


'A room with a view...'

I met up with the island's new CSC tutor, Natasha, and we took time on the evening to discuss the day ahead over chips and rhubarb crème brûlée. 

Time flew by and it was already Thursday when we checked the time...

Howard Dobson, the key man behind the whole plan of introducing chess into more primary schools on the Isle of Man, took us to the venue The Professional Development Centre (Santon Old School).

It was a very pleasant journey, giving us the first glimpse of the island in (almost) daylight.

Santon Old School (we are 'old school' too)
Wherever we go, we will find tea
'We are here!'
Memories of a bygone age still echo from the walls
Howard making the opening remarks

It was soon time to put the eight brave delegates to work. If they had been expecting a dry day of slides and note-taking they soon had to change their expectations, as before they knew it they were testing their thinking skills over a range of mini-games and other activities.

The course of a game can often be determined by a glance at the demeanour of the players...
...part two...
Natasha addressing her future chess colleagues
Intense fun
Howard, a no-nonsense person who knows how to get things done,
was happy to present some of his favourite chess problems too.
It was an excellent day from my point of view and - unless I am very much mistaken - everyone else enjoyed it too.

All too soon it was time to leave the Isle of Man and start the journey back to Teesside. This turned out to be more complicated than it should have been, as a whole load of trains going North from Manchester were cancelled, leaving me to patch together an unlikely-looking last-chance four-train patchwork of a plan which only just worked and finally got me home a shade before 1.00 a.m. (almost time to get up for school the next day).

I want to return to the Isle of Man for more training days.

Thank you to Howard, Natasha, the excellent delegates and everyone else who helped to make the day such an enjoyable success. The new school sessions are starting very soon and I am sure Natasha will make them inspirational. 

Meanwhile, the CSC Training Day Tour continues to expand and the forthcoming dates can be found here.