The first chess club in New Zealand was formed in September 1863 in Dunedin, while the New Zealand Chess Association came into being in the 1870s. The association, refounded in 1892, conducts the annual championship, usually held in the Christmas – New Year period. The Australian master C. J. S. Purdy stated in 1955 that New Zealand holds the record for annual tournaments for a national chess championship.
New Zealand was one of the earliest countries to make use of telegraphic interclub chess as a method of play. Christchurch beat Nelson in two consultation games in 1866. The first interclub match was played between Canterbury and Otago in 1869. The Bledisloe Cup, presented by the Governor-General in 1933, was until recently competed for annually in this way.