Crikey was back inside the Box Hill town hall in Melbourne this morning for the
first time since wagging school and riding the bike to John Howard’s
ill-fated tax policy launch during the 1987 federal election. Political
junkies will remember that then Treasurer Paul Keating exposed a major
accounting blunder in the document and John Howard’s credibility as the
man to deliver smaller government and huge tax cuts never recovered.

There was a huge press pack and only a handful of punters at the
launch. Howard came outside and a couple of local school girls with fish
and chips all over their fingers shook his hand and declared their
support for Bob Hawke, after which I grabbed the great man’s hand and
said, “Don’t worry John, I’m with you mate.”

Today’s event was an address to 30 of Australia’s best junior chess
players after an invitation from grandmaster and Crikey subscriber Ian
Rogers, not to be confused with the publisher of banking ezine

Rogers, 45, is the son of June Factor, who used to lead Friends of the
ABC in Melbourne, and his career record includes 5 draws with Russian legend Boris
Spassky, 3 draws with former world champion Anatoly Karpov and a very near victory over the recently retired Garry
Kasparov before time beat him in 2001. He rates his two wins over
that other Russian champion Victor Korchnoi as the highlight of his career but in June this year he
lost to 12-year- old Japanese Australian Junta Ikeda, who was strutting
her stuff this morning.

Rogers estimates that about 15 chess professionals make a reasonable
living on the global chess tour and another 500 get by, 200 of whom are

After chatting to a few of the participants and organisers today, it
really becomes clear that chess gets a poor deal in Australia. Why the
hell do we pump more than $100 million into the Australian Institute of
Sport yet chess gets diddly squat from government?

Chess is the second most popular junior participant sport in Sydney
after soccer with an estimated 150,000 players, yet only two of the 500
global grandmasters are Australian; Rogers, who achieved the rank in
1985 and Darryl Johansen, who got there in 1995.

So much for the clever country! We haven’t got a university ranked in
the top 100 and we punch well below our weight in brain sports like
chess, even though we have huge participation at school level.

The lack of support for chess permeates all tiers of government. Can
you believe that Box Hill Chess Club, the largest in Australia with 250
active members, is being evicted from its home of the last eight years
in Carrington Rd, Box Hill, by the local Senior Citizens Club?

The seniors lease the building from the City of Whitehorse which,
unbelievably, has lost a copy of the contract and therefore doesn’t
know its rights. As of January 1 next year, they won’t have a home even though they currently pay $150 a week in rent.

What hope is there for chess when a local council can’t get its act
together to tell the senior cits to do the decent thing and let our
biggest club continue using the facility three nights a week so the
greatest brain sport of them all can prosper in supposedly cerebral

If anyone has a solution to save the grand old Box Hill Chess Club, or
would like to banter on about the wonders of chess, drop us a line to
[email protected]