North East Online League – Progress Report

May 13, 2021

So far, there have been 3 seasons of the North East Online League, with a total of 14 clubs taking part. Teams of 4 players each have entered from: Tynemouth & Morpeth, Tynedale, Forest Hall, Gosforth, Jesmond, Newcastle University, South Shields, Durham City, Durham University, Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Thornaby, Billingham Synthonia and Leeds CCCC (Leeds, although not in Northumberland, Durham or Cleveland, entered as a last minute replacement for Durham University in Season 3. Durham University pulled out after 1 match due to upcoming exams).

The format of 6 teams per division, all-play-all with 5 matches per season, has worked well. Games have been played on at the time control of 45 minutes plus 15 seconds per move. Feedback has been very positive, and players have adapted extremely well to playing online. Team captains have done a brilliant job in ensuring full teams turning out every 2 weeks on Tuesdays. In Season 1, 11 clubs fielded a total of 20 teams. In Season 2, 13 clubs fielded a total of 24 teams. In Season 3, which finishes on June 8, 12 clubs are fielding a total of 24 teams.

The Divisional Champions were as follows –

Season 1
Division 1 – Durham City A
Division 2 – Durham City B
Division 3 (final group) – Tynedale

Season 2
Division 1 – Durham City A
Division 2 – Durham City B
Division 3 – Gosforth Ivy
Division 4 – Billingham Synthonia

Season 3 – leaders (after 3 out of 5 rounds)
Division 1 – Gosforth Empire
Division 2 – Gosforth Nomads & Durham City B
Division 3 – Durham City C
Division 4 – Tynemouth & Morpeth Colliers

All games have been ECF online rated, and this has encouraged more players to pay ECF member and supporter fees for 2020-21. Because of the local nature of the league, most players and teams know each other well, and this has reduced concerns about cheating online. One Fair Play case was investigated, with a player’s games being sent for analysis by Dr. Ken Regan’s software, and the results reviewed by an independent panel of three leading players resident in the North East. The panel found that, while the player’s games seemed of higher-than-expected quality, it was not proven that they were receiving any outside assistance during their NEOL games. The decision was taken to keep the player under observation but not to ban them from the League. One encouraging statistic is that, out of a total of 680 games played, only 10 boards were defaulted (less than 1.5 %).

Another major innovation was the use of the ECF’s League Management System to register teams and record results. Most teams managed to pick up the new system quite easily, and it has the advantage of ensuring that games are automatically ECF rated. It is not planned at this stage to organise a Season 4, as it is hoped that OTB chess can restart in most clubs. As well as over-the-board matches, one option for the remaining months of 2021 may be for teams to play each other in hybrid matches (where they play online, but each team gathers at their home club venue).

While the experience of organising the league has been at times challenging, I have enjoyed it immensely. I would be prepared to continue running either the North East Online League or an OTB Northumberland League using the ECF League Management System, if clubs and/or Northumberland Chess Association wished me to do so.

— Tim Wall, Organiser, North East Online League