Bulletin No.63 – The Confessions of a 4NCL Captain

Keith Gregory (pictured above)  has kindly written the following bulletin of his experiences of being the captain for the Wessex 4NCL teams. 

A brief history of 4NCL

So where did it (4NCL) all begin… ?

Whilst it is now a major chess institution in the UK and a “chess-home” to many GMs, IMs etc. the 4NCL didn’t always exist!

It was created back in 1993 by Chris Dunworth, who was inspired by the French & German National chess leagues to see if something similar could work in the UK.

In 1993-94 just 6 teams competed in a 10 round, double all-play-all – see the table below.

To delve deeper into this little snapshot of history check out some of the still familiar names by clicking on the team codes in the above table or by exploring 4NCL in the following link http://www.olimpbase.org/index.php (look in the left-hand menu for 4NCL).

An extract from there…

For most of the past decade, while England had a strong claim to be the world’s second strongest chess nation, our leading players were making cross-channel trips at weekends to represent clubs in the French or German leagues. And apart from the professional opportunities for grandmasters, the continental clubs offered far better facilities for ordinary players too.

The ‘4 Nations Chess League’, brainchild of Chris Dunworth, hopes to change all that. In its first season, its Premier League has attracted six powerful teams. It got off to a good start when the Barbican team, led by grandmasters Murray Chandler and Mark Hebden, were beaten by Bristol, who could not even boast a single International Master. The title will be decided after five more weekend rounds in Bolton, Cheltenham, Covent Garden, Liverpool and Maidstone.

It has grown pretty much every year since and has spawned Junior 4NCL leagues, Female 4NCL leagues, and 4NCL weekend and week-long individual tournaments.  And of course, in 2020, with COVID lockdown stopping all OTB chess, the 4NCL Online league was born! To give a sense of just how popular it is nowadays, the Online 4NCL season 3 had 264 teams playing i.e. 1000+ players participating each round (including 32 from Wessex Some Stars each round).

Wessex 4NCL is born

Recollections are a little hazy but very roughly the Wessex team was born when Bob Noyce, Arthur Brameld, and Tony Corkett met in a pub one night and agreed to be the first 3 Wessex captains, each doing a season, starting in 1996. Here is their first ever line-up with a few familiar names 😊

Through from 1999/2000 to 2012/13 the first team was captained by Ian Upton (two seasons), Tony Corkett (for a further four seasons) and Mike Yeo (who did a mammoth eight season stint).


In 2002/3 a second team was introduced and was captained by Allan Pleasants, then Ian Clark, and the Allan again. In 2011 with players retiring / transferring there was a collapse of the first team, and Wessex 2 effectively became Wessex 1 and we were back to one team!

Then in 2013 Mike Yeo retired from chess and Allan Pleasants, who had previously done an excellent job as second team captain, took over to become first team captain.

The Wessex Captains.  Top Row: Bob Noyce, Tony Corkett, Arthur Brameld, Ian Upton. 

Bottom Row: Allan Pleasants, Mike Yeo, Ian Clark, Keith Gregory.

Along the way they fielded some incredibly strong teams – here is one from then 2002 season with a 2300 on board 7…

And perhaps Wessex’s best single match result was achieved in Division 1 in 1999, holding the mighty Wood Green to a 4-4 draw.

You will notice that Martin Simons is still going strong. The rest have either retired from chess or moved to other teams. In fact Martin has played an astonishing 219 games for 4NCL Wessex  since 1997 when he made his debut.  Here are the “100 x 4NCL Wessex Games Club” – with many still active of course.

So how did I get involved ?

The first stage was as a player. A local chess buddy of mine, Tony Corkett, had mentioned in 2002 that the 4NCL Wessex squad was recruiting and looking to expand to two teams and asked me if I might be interested – I said yes, “I’d give it a go”….and a week or two later “some guy called Allan Pleasants” who was to become a great friend and chess colleague, phoned me to say that Wessex had definitely decided to enter a second team which he would captain and invited me to join the squad – the slippery slope began…

The second stage was as a captain. In August 2015 Allan polled around for somebody else to pick up the reins and I offered to “give it a go” (bit of a theme here…)

We then had a bit of a Wessex chess resurgence with new players joining from Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex, and a few returners so in 2017 we were able to re-introduce a B team, followed by a (first ever) C team in 2018 and even a D team in 2019. It was great to see some of our lower graded (below 100 ECF) players getting a chance to enjoy the “luxury” of the 4NCL environment and play alongside and socialise with some of the “heavy hitters” i.e.  190/200 ECF)

All in all, the history of OTB teams is summarised in the table below (with some degree of uncertainty over which captain did which season in the first three years) …

(1) For 2001/2 Ian Upton was the manager and Tony Corkett the captain  of the Wessex Team
(2) For the start of 2006/7 Ian Clark was captaining the Wessex 2 team from afar as he was on Safari in Africa! Mike Yeo kindly helped out.

The 2019-2020 4NCL season ground to a halt with COVID in Round 3 during March 2020 and we have not played OTB since. The current outlook is for the 4NCL league to re-start in November 2021.

With COVID lockdown we have switched to 4NCL online where we are currently fielding 8 x 4 board teams, with 2 teams in Div 1 where GM such players as Gawain Jones, Mark Hebden and Danny Gormally amongst others regularly pop up.

Life as a 4NCL captain

Being a 4NCL captain has been great fun and given me a chance to sharpen up my Microsoft Excel pivot table skills. With a squad of around 50 players playing in 4 teams in 11 rounds across 5 weekends it would have been horrific juggling bits of paper around!

The Wessex squad is one of the friendliest squads in the league and we routinely socialise on the Saturday evenings, ”between rounds”, typically at a local pub, Chinese, Thai or curry house.

Although we have some very strong players and some not quite so strong players everybody mixes in and some of the post-drink analysis on pocket chess sets can get lively to say the least!

In terms of memorable moments…

I will never forget when one of our players turned up @ 14:55 for a 14:00 start, after traffic problems, thinking he had already been defaulted and ambled towards the boards to take a look – we managed to convince him to sit down and play a move, any move(!), with about 2 mins to spare. 😊

At the other extreme I once had a phone call on a Friday evening from one of our players saying he had arrived ready for the weekend yet the hotel did not have a reservation for him – it turned out he had arrived a week early!

Job Advert

As I move firmly into my 7th decade I have decided to step back as captain for the 4NCL Wessex OTB teams (although I will happily continue to run the online teams / tournaments) and let somebody (even) younger and enthusiastic take over…

If you are interested, please contact me for more info.

With 6 months before 4NCL OTB league resumes there’s plenty of time to mull it over and it would be great if we had a new captain (or captains for each team?) in place by the end of June.

With only 5 weekends per year and venues / dates all known far in advance it’s a relatively low-stress role and the players are all very helpful & flexible – we’re very lucky to have no “prima donnas” in the squad and all are happy to rotate if necessary to share out the games.

So …………… give it a think and let me know… 😊

Keith Gregory, May 2021


Anyone who has played for Wessex in recent years will testify what a fantastic job Keith has done in terms of both organisation and engendering a great team spirit.  Thanks, Keith, for all your hard work and enjoy your Wessex retirement!

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