The future of Division 1

Promotion and relegation between Divisions 1 and 2 isn’t working. There is a gulf in grading that has gotten wider over the past decade: nine of the ten Division 1 teams, at some point this season, had a higher-graded player on board 5 than the eventual Division 2 winners had on board 1. (The team that didn’t, finished four points adrift at the bottom.)

The result is promoted teams having to be persuaded to go up. I’ve heard as many grumbles over the years from teams unwillingly inserted into Division 1 as from teams unwillingly excluded. But if we have a slightly smaller Division 1, like this year’s 10, we end up relegating a Leam Lane Aces or a Jesmond Knights. I am very reluctant to make Jesmond’s first team prove they can win Division 2 with a perfect score. It would be a novelty for a week, then it would be like London Irish in the Championship.

I see the problem as one of supply and demand: when there used to be 30 clubs in the league, it was a privilege to secure one of approximately 12 places in Division 1. Now there are 12 clubs, it isn’t. Clubs who feel strongly that they should be represented in Division 1, already are, with room to spare. And so players who feel strongly that they should be playing in Division 1 are better off speaking to their club’s Division 1 captain than trying to win Division 2. In geek-speak, the algorithm that sorts players into divisions by skill is too efficient, since it operates in real-time within clubs rather than annually at the League Meeting, and a too-efficient sorting algorithm causes stratification.

I see two options:

  1. Chop Division 1 in two. Have a Premier League and a Division 1 with a strict limit of 6 teams each, playing each other twice. Edinburgh went down this road in the mid-00s when they had the same problem. There would need to be a transitional season where teams know that they’re fighting for a place in the top 6. If we simply took the top 6 teams from the season just finished, Morpeth would kill me.
  2. Make Division 1 an “Open” division. You don’t have to be promoted to it, you just enter it, but you enter it to win it (or because you like testing yourself against the top players). There is no carrot for finishing third-from-bottom. Conversely there is no stick to force the Division 2 champions to make the step up, so that team would be “pyramid champions” (of the world’s smallest pyramid) and be eligible to defend their title the following season. Optionally, Division 1 could be treated as a separate county from 2 and 3 for eligibility purposes. So if you’re a Keen Konstantinos, you can play for one club in Division 1 and another club across Divisions 2 and 3.

I would prefer option 2 over 1, because option 1 could just give you twice as many games against the same people, but I would prefer option 1 over the status quo.

Does anyone feel strongly that they want to keep the current Division 1 and not do either of those things? (Click here to leave a comment)

Chris G


  1. Maybe considering a better way of locking people into their top teams might be an option . Or what about taking the average team grade score and allocating extra points if the average grade is much lower .

    or penalising teams for postponing games with less than 2 weeks notice because particular players cannot play. A charitable fine or something ,the bigger clubs will find it easier to find Substitutes, yet it they seem happier to move matches around .


  2. Chris,
    It’s really good you are trying to develop the leagues. The proposes options are interesting.
    I have some ideas also.
    Think there should be more game opportunities for play so your idea of playing each team twice makes sense
    I don’t think that teams should be able to postpone fixtures.
    I think we could have play offs and a grand final to decide the champions and lower playoffs

    It might be good to have leagues closer geographically eg zone north

    Teams should be 4 players only to level the black and whites like the chess Olympiad

    You could have squads of 6 with 4 to count
    This would help captains

    With 10 in a league it would increase games to 18 plus the play offs. If players could play then 6 could play 6 you could even award a slight points bonus for fielding more players

    I also think we should create a quickplay cup with 2 games in one evening.

    Lots of good work has gone on developing the league and I just think it needs to be freshened up a bit

    The gaps between the div 1 top teams and say div2 are big maybe you could introduce a handicap system like the cup to make the league more competitively equal or just calculate both the champions and the handicap champions.

    Its important to create more opportunities and more excitement.

    Best Regards
    Martin Seeber


  3. I agree with Martin that it’s good to be thinking about ways of freshening things up and coming up with new ideas. But I’m not sure that the situation has changed radically in, say, the last 15 years that a major shake up in the Division 1 structure is required.

    As long as I’ve been playing chess in the North East (which is pretty much exactly 15 years) Division 1 has always been stratified with approx 4 title chasers, approx 4 middle-of-the-roaders and 4 relegation battlers.

    The problem last season was that with a reduced league size of 10 we ended up with 4 title chasers, 5 middle-of-the-roaders and my colleagues in Morpeth B as the sole relegation near-certainties (exacerbated by a quirk in the fixture list which saw Morpeth A and B playing on the same night more times than not over the season).

    So a simple solution would be to return Division 1 to 12 teams and thus make sure that there are a group of teams battling it out for relegation and no one team is doomed to failure. A league with the opportunity for shock results is more exciting than a Division 1 of 6 teams where you are playing the same old faces every week, in my opinion.

    I think (memory might not be perfect…) that Division 1 went from 12 to 11 and then to 10 teams as the total number of teams across all three Divisions dropped to a low point of something like 25-26 teams. If we have 30 teams again next season, then Division 1 = 12 teams, Division 2 = 11 teams, Division 3 = 7 teams playing each other twice would work well – not least because everybody gets to play an extra game or two.

    Finally, I like Martin’s rapidplay cup idea – we had that when I played in the Surrey league yonks ago and it worked well with two games (one with white, one with black against the same opponent) played in the one evening. But clearly it could have the potential to make fixture planning more complex for the League Conductor…


  4. Regarding Chris’s comments on the NCA website, I am not sure this is the proper way to put forward proposals for the League. The League Conductor can put these forward to a) The Executive Committee, which next meets in June; b) the League Meeting in September. It is the League Meeting which makes decisions about the composition of the Divisions.


    1. I think Chris is only trying to get a community opinion on the matter to see what works best for everyone instead of being restricted to opinions from the executive or people at the league meeting. I’ve done this many times on website matters and it’s a good way to get the whole community involved and give them an option to voice their opinions. Ultimately, the decision will be made at the League Meeting but he can take the points from comments left here on board.


  5. Dear All

    Speaking as a player from Jesmond Knights…
    Whilst there may be a gap between leagues 1 and 2 in terms of average grading there is very little difference between a lot of teams in division 1.
    Also I felt that the league this year was extremely competitive with no single team dominating it – indeed some of the top teams dropped points to those in the relegation battle.It was annoying how many games Jesmond lost 2-3 but that’s another matter!
    Chopping the league in 2 would mean more games against the same opponent rather than a number of opponents – this would probably make things a bit more stale than fresh.


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