Friday, April 21, 2006

How much would you pay to join?

We've previously covered the topic of tournament entry fees, but a couple of recent posts got me thinking about chess club membership costs.

The first by Robert Pearson talks about his preference for playing OTB "far more than any other form of chess." In this context, he discusses the value of the physical place to play, i.e., the chess club:

The atmosphere of a chess club is comfortable, like a good pair of jeans, to me; silence during the games but for the ticking clocks, animated post-mortems, the occasional 'difference of opinion.'

I've always felt the chess club was a special place for players, at its best far more than just a place to play. It embodies social, community and historical elements which enrich the overall experience. I'm thinking about full-time places like the Marshall Club in New York and the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco. While not as impressive a space as these, I contend that our own Boylston Chess Club captures much of this same spirit and I'm sure there are others. While there is nothing wrong with playing a weekly tournament game at a local coffee shop or community center, I think it is difficult for occasional, "temporary" spaces like these to engender the same experience.

If you believe as I do (and you may very well not), then you must eventually ask yourself what it is worth to join and support such a club. In the second post, Dennis Monokroussos gives his answer:

On the one hand, I'm familiar with the plight of the nomadic club - our local club has gone from one bookstore to another, was briefly located in a pub and now meets in the deli section (after it closes) of a local supermarket.... On the other hand, I have to admit that unless Kasparov was giving members-only lectures, I would not pay $200 for a year's membership. Further, I know that plenty of others would find such a fee prohibitive.

Let's put aside for the moment those players who simply don't have the economic means to pay for a club membership (most clubs offer non-member rates for individual events and I can't imagine the BCC turning away a player for purely economic reasons, although I suppose we'd probably deduct their entry fee from any prize they won). Among the rest, we've found scores of people willing to invest $125/year to be members of the club even though it might be more economically feasible for them to pay an extra $5 for the 10-12 tournaments a year they participate in. Obviously they see some inherent value in the club beyond this pure economic calculus. And, quite honestly, without them the rent could not be paid and the club would not exist. In New York, the Marshall charges up to $325 /year and many are willing to pay.

Do you think there is value in full-time, permanent chess clubs? If so, how much are you willing to pay to ensure their survival?

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