The Etobicoke Chess Club is going somewhere. Where you may ask? Nobody knows! Not the members, not the board of directors (Jeremy, Thomas and I), not the co-founders, not even the founder himself. Everyone has an idea though. And it’s not just a simple idea – it’s a GOOD idea. Everybody feels it. The regulars feel it when they walk in, buy their drinks at Second Cup (we can’t love you more Second Cup!) talk to other regulars, new members, visitors, then play the game they simply love and having a good time doing it. The new visitors will walk in and get an immediate sense of something different. Maybe it’s the community at the ECC, maybe it’s the incredible warm atmosphere, the socializing, the laughter, the competitive yet chilled vibe of the location, the learning….my god – the LEARNING! They literally can walk in and get a free chess lesson on how to improve their game. And it’s not just a lesson that they need to book an appointment for. They get the lesson…
On the spot.
Tuned for their style of learning.
Who does that?
Which chess club offers that level of commitment to detail, growth and puts it into action immediately in front of a visitor? That’s just crazy! It’s like the only way that could happen is if incredible people who have a passion for chess and for helping others were conducting and leading the activities of a chess club…
…and that is us. A club dedicated to free chess accessibility. The visitors that walked in now feel the same vibe – this club is going somewhere. And it’s all based on one word that defines the club in a deep and meaningful way.
As the Community Outreach Director and the head chess instructor, my goal is to reach out towards the public and introduce everyone to the club through any means. Social Media (Facebook, website, Instagram, Linkedin, Youtube), word of mouth, conferences, social gatherings, email, phone calls etc. I also focus on our membership and keep them engaged – not just with activity of what’s taking place at the club, but by hearing all of them. ALL of them. Giving everyone the opportunity to be heard is so powerful in our community. We are always constantly evolving, trying new things, taking risks, failing sometimes, but succeeding often. My goal is to keep the image of the ECC intact and allow others to discover this club’s uniqueness just like how I first did. Back in February 2017 actually.
Like it happened yesterday.
I actually remember the strong urge to just go home after my interview and sleep. Ignore this “gathering” entirely. I first noticed the Etobicoke Chess Club (was not called this at first!) on Meet Up when I joined Pub Chess after meeting Liza at her event on Wednesday. That itself was a miracle that I attended and discovered Pub Chess MeetUp as my Wednesday evenings at the time were being filled by Toastmasters (Public Speaking/Leadership development). This was at a time where I started to get back into chess. I finished my interview around 2:00PM on Thursday and was driving on the 401W thinking if I should go to Second Cup and do some work and wait for the MeetUp to start. When I looked at the title and saw “free” I didn’t think much of it. I was a type of person that would pay for events I attended if I enjoy and felt it was worth it, but I can see the attraction the word “free” has; plus I never heard of any chess function being free before.
So I arrived at Second Cup and did some work. I wanted to get some intelligence on the function so I spoke to one of the Second Cup staff members. Funny enough his name is the same as mine. Matthew or “Matt” as he preferred. Matt told me that every Thursday there is a very small gathering who arrive and play some chess off to the side. By now I was a bit intrigued. It started to look legit! It sounds bad to say it now but it’s true. It’s very hard through websites, social media etc to show that you are legit and real. Now that I knew this gathering was likely to happen – I made sure to keep my mind open and have no expectations. That’s often important when you encounter something new, or someone.
I then met Jeremy who brought this very “nice” (HIDEOUS) chess set/board.
Seriously, who plays on that? Even though I still make fun of it now, I have an odd feeling that there will be a time when I will become fond of it’s shrewd awkwardness. I might even receive it as a gift one day. (Shutters)
Anyhoo, I met Haroon and another chess player and we were a party of four playing chess. We had some games. Was enjoyable – chess is always enjoyable. Then I started to listen to Jeremy who shared his vision with me. He wanted to start a chess club which he would name it the Etobicoke Chess Club. His goal was to make it free for everyone to play. A gathering like this where people can play chess and have fun doing it. That’s when it hit me. Image.
The image of right now: Sitting with a couple of chess players playing chess, I felt that even though there was nothing special about the games, it was the atmosphere – something was different. It was lighter, more enjoyable, more fun. I realized when I thought about it more that I actually laughed during this chess session today. I usually don’t laugh during chess. Not that I don’t have a sense of humour (I most certainly do!) but chess in general does not give one the opportunity to laugh. This chess session was anything but general though.
The image of what it could be: At that moment I had a flash of the future – of what Jeremy’s vision would be. People walking in saying hi to everyone, playing chess, learning chess lessons, laughter all around, a community being born, and all being free, accessible. Free and accessible was the important part I realized of the club. Due to the internet being free and accessible, many choose to go online and play chess because it is very easy to start and play. With every positive in life comes a negative though and online chess does miss one aspect – the human connection. The psychological pressure and tension one can feel when your opponent is across from you. The energy between two chess players as they fight it out viciously to the end, not by word or actions, but by thought. There is no other feeling. A level of concentration so deep that I sincerely doubt one can achieve just by looking at a screen at home. A club however not charging people to play chess and emitting a very relaxed and fun atmosphere would be infectious towards chess players. I am the first one to admit it sitting there right now.
People don’t believe in causes – they believe in people taking up the cause. I liked Jeremy’s vision and what he wanted to do. I knew that with my skill set in chess, by ability to teach, communicate, connect, my facilitating experience, but most of all my passion for chess and helping others become their best would help make Jeremy’s vision come to fruition. All I had to do was act on it. And make that image that Jeremy, and now I see, become true.
And so it has.
It’s now July and it’s no longer two chess players seeing the vision of the ECC, but over forty. After having last two week record attendances of 28 and 23, it is getting more clear that people are not only enjoying the experience – but they are passing the word to others. ECC is powerful. Image is powerful.
And this image is only the beginning.