The Hobsons Bay Chess Club was formed in 1974 when the Altona North Football Club Secretary Kevin Brown was looking to expand the club into a much larger sports club. At the same time Robert (Bob) Grieves had been introduced to chess and was playing friendly games over the kitchen table at home. The football club changing rooms were Nissen huts, located on the site of the present McDonald’s outlet on the corner of Blackshaws and Millers Rds in Altona North. In earlier days similar huts were used as accommodation for migrants to Australia – many chess-playing migrants. The winter nights were especially cold but this hardy group consisting of Bob, John Vranes, John Dunlop and football club secretary Kevin Brown would play until 3am on Friday mornings and still try to go to work that same morning!. The days were all too short for chess, but that wasn’t the fault of chess!!. Geoff Page became the first club champion in 1974. When the sports club was established soon after at Fifth Ave Altona North, Bob asked Kevin Brown if chess could become part of the club to which Kevin replied – “why not chess?”. Sports club committee member Max Fry donated $100 to buy sets for the chess club and the small group were “on the move”. Alex Vincan became the second club champion and the first at what was to be the long-time home of chess in the western suburbs. At about the same time other clubs were formed at Altona (Altona Beach CC) and Altona East (Altona CC). It was here that Harry and father August Schultheiss, Peter Albantow, John Zonius, Costa Dimitriadis, Karl Kottek , Johan Licht and newcomer Peter Caissa kept chess going in the West. The three clubs did not have much contact except for a Team Championship between Altona , Altona Beach and a club in Melton who fielded a young player with a bit of talent – Stephen Solomon!. Not long afterwards Altona Beach closed and the members joined the “alphabet club”, Altona North Brooklyn Youth Sports Club Chess Club – phew! , better known as ANBY, very soon followed by the demise of Altona East.
Now the home of chess in the West had a good, central venue and a reasonable membership to keep it going. Bob Grieves and Kevin Brown would promote the chess club at every opportunity. During the 1975 street parade of Operation Recreation (now Bayside Festival) held annually in Altona, the two protagonists took to playing chess at a table, while being towed along on a trailer! The club has been a regular part of the Festival and the Williamstown Festival ever since and has found many talented “living-room champions” during it’s Festival simultaneous exhibitions, now members of the club. Club champions came in three’s! Shoe-store owner George Cagalj brought class to the club winning the championship in 1978, 1980 & 1981. His run blocked temporarily in 1979 by the young John Gedeljovski. Peter Caissa then took over winning in 1982,83 & 84 (with Hartmut “Harry” Schultheiss) . Peter also won the Deer Park Championship ahead of Mario Zoppi and Sandor Varga , while also being a member of the ANBY B Reserve VCA Winter Interclub Champions team. The Best In The West Open in 1982 started a tradition of bringing top players from home and overseas to the western suburbs. In the inaugural event Peter was part of a 4-way tie for first and shared the spoils of $70 for his trouble! Ten years later Latvian player Leonid Sandler would take home $1000. The Best In The West would become a “who’s who”of Australian chess. Jamieson, Johansen, West, Chapman and Jordan doing battle with Sandler, Gluzman, all the Kagans, Sirota, Dinh Duc Trong, Ilan Manor, Women’s Grandmaster Daniela Nutu-Gajic and Sven Zeidler. Many of whom now make their home in Victoria. Harry Schultheiss took over as club champion between 1984 & 1986 until Mario Zoppi returned to competitive chess and commanded the years 1987-1989 when Stanislas (Stan) Christodoulou, the Greek-Egyptian candidate Master from Switzerland came to the club. Stan has the continuing notoriety of holding the “Guiness Book of Records” Australian record for playing the most opponents in a 24 hour period.
In 1991 the club through Peter Caissa, Mario Zoppi & Harry Schultheiss with Victorian Chess Association President Gary Wastell and later local “chess identity” Andrew Ballam began the latest chess-innovation – “Chess Chat”, the local community radio program dedicated to chess. This was the first radio chess program in Australia, heard on local station Stereo 974 every Sunday night. The program reached out to chessplayers all over Melbourne and brought the best in the world to our living rooms via talkback. In 1994 the program was highlighted in the German chess magazine “Europa Rochade”.
With Stan the level of skill at the club rose and the championship would not be dominated by one player for the next ten years. Filipino Ronald Enano (1991), Mario Zoppi, Dean Hogg, Christodoulou and Dimitri Tsirongas ( a former top Greek junior ) would rotate the title until the turn of the century when former Essendon member Mark Salanowski and Dallas Gatti shared the honours in 1999. Enano returned to the club and won the title in 2000 & 2001. With the demise of the ANBY Sports Club in 1997, the chess club became a nomad, residing in various unlikely venues in Altona and Williamstown. The club committee had had enough of wandering and the following year as Hobsons Bay Chess Club and with an increasing membership , chess moved to the ADASS Centre in Walker Close, almost to the very spot where Bob Grieves & Co froze their pawns off in Nissen huts all those years ago. The ultimate “Knight’s Tour”!! While Ronald Enano added a third title in a row in 2002, the club was forced once again to “hit the road”. In early 2003 “Joan Kirner House” in Williamstown rose from the refurbished, former local courthouse and was seen to be the best place for the many judgements that would be made over the chess board. With larger tournaments being planned, the club has always been on the lookout for the “right” venue and as luck would have it, the Williamstown RSL – the gateway for people entering Williamstown – became the home of chess in the western suburbs at the end of 2003. With this new change came a new champion – originally from Bristol (UK), later Oklahoma City (USA), Miles Patterson brought “professionalism” to the club by taking the title.