As long-standing members John Stevens and Ramon Sharma prepare to play in this weekend's Windsor Graded Tournament, aside from wishing them luck, it also provides an opportunity to explain what they are all about.
A couple of years ago I stumbled across a reference to Graded Squash Tournaments and sought about finding out what they were.
I asked around the club and was pointed towards a player whom I barely knew at the time called Ed. It seemed that of all the players in the club he was the only one who regularly entered them. He explained what they were and since then I and a few other members have entered them, but in a discussion with a fellow player from Flitwick recently, it dawned on me that maybe it would be worth explaining in writing what they are and share some experiences.
Let's start with some FAQs
What is a Graded Squash Tournament?
The best answer is that they are festivals of squash.
They are competitions officially recognised by England Squash and Racketball and until recently a player could log their results at these tournaments and have a national ranking. (The module that used to have that has been disabled by ES&R and I am not sure when it will be replaced)
Will I play professionals?
No. The grading system is fairly easy to understand and you will only play people in the same Grade.
What Grade am I?
Grade A is County Standard
Grade B is Team Player
Grade C is lower team player
Grade D plays in internal leagues
Grade E is an improving player
Grade F is new to the game
What format do these competitions take?
It depends on the number of entrants, but usually there is up to two games to be played on the Saturday, with semi-finals and finals on Sunday.
How many games do you play?
A player is guaranteed at least two games, with first round losers dropping into a plate competition.
How often do they occur?
They are quite sporadic, but it depends on how far you wish to travel, there is usually one per month within an hour of Luton.
How do I find out about them?
Not only do you get to play competitive squash against players of a similar ability, but you get to see some incredible players at very close quarters. Without exception so far, all players at the top of the ladder are happy to talk to you, pass on tips and are generally very approachable.
The ONLY downside, is that if you win your match you have to mark the next game on court, which is pretty daunting if you have never done it before, but rest assured there are always plenty of other players to give you a hand if needs be.
Ramon Sharma and John Stevens are entering Windsor (which for Ramon, due to the high number of entrants kicks off with a match this evening, 23rd Sept) and they share their thoughts below.
"I did my first Graded Tournament at the beautiful Croydon Esporta Club - indoor tennis courts, swimming pool, etc, a stark contrast to the Lewsey Squash Centre! That was just over two years ago and since then I have played in around 10 and frankly, would play in one every weekend if a) I had the time, and, b) there was one to attend.
Like John I never knew they existed until Paul Main introduced me to them - it's not like the Masons everyone really is welcome, they often just aren't advertised very well.
I love going to different clubs and seeing their set-up and playing against total strangers, but most of all I love meeting and talking to the elite players as they are all so approachable. Many have been happy to get on court with me during the tournament and give me a few hints and tips. The only worry is when you end up drawn against a precocious teenager who can hit the ball better than me - then it requires the use of all my experience, rather than technique, to prevail!
I am pretty evangelical about them now and look forward to the day that we can host one at Lewsey, until that day I would encourage any member to give it a go, whatever your ability or age - my 13 year old son even enters them now when the opportunity arises."
"I have played squash for about ten years, admittedly with a twenty plus year break between years six and seven! Since joining Dunstable Squash Club, now Luton and Dunstable Squash and Racketball Club I have been an active, if not overly successful, participant in the leagues and internal tournaments.
The prospect of playing in an external tournament always appeared daunting as they are full of "County and Team Squash" players so never considered it. Until that is I was told about graded tournaments which pit up to seven different grades of players against players of similar standards. I have the claim to fame of playing in the same tournament as Joey Barrington, admittedly he was Band A and in that tournament I played at Band C, usually I enter in Band D.
I have now played in six graded tournaments, with similar levels of success to that achieved internally!! Can you believe the first match in the first tournament was against Paul Main, I thought what was the point of going all that way to lose to someone I play every week!! That was the exception rather than the rule. And I would thoroughly recommend others to take part as you get to play different people in a proper tournament atmosphere and you get to see some very good players play some very good squash.
I will be playing in the Windsor Graded this weekend for the third time. Last year I lost in the first round 9:11 in the fifth to the eventual winner. I still say he was a ringer as he was a former Buck County Veterans champion, that's probably just sour grapes. I have seen he is playing again this year but at least he is in the other half of the draw, although Ramon Sharma isn't so I could end up playing a regular opponent again, hopefully not with the same result this time."