The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - July/August 2000

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ICCF Presents "Live" Coverage of cc Tourney

The subject of "live" Internet coverage of correspondence chess games has provoked a lively debate in recent months. It is sure to be a high-profile topic for discussion at the annual ICCF Congress, to be held in the USA for the first time this September in Florida. I intend to be there and, as the ICCF Press Officer, publish daily reports at the ICCF web site.

Some feel publishing games is incorrect. In the past this has been attempted in only a limited fashion. Stephan Gerzadowicz published some very interesting articles in the past showing his current tournament positions in major tournaments, such as the US Championship (USCCC). He would give the moves and diagrams and provide his notes for the games. He would also give his estimates of his chances such as 40% win, 50% draw, 10% loss. It made for interesting reading. His articles provoked little controversy, probably due to being published in print magazines where the game positions would be several months out of date. With Internet publication, however, publication can show the positions right up to the current moves.

Some opponents don't like seeing their game positions and moves published in this manner. One argument is that it is unfair to give opponents a chance to see how they are playing a particular opening. They may be using the same opening vs. several players (I often play in this manner). If a published game is a move or two advanced then the player's plans are displayed and an opponent can avoid your plan. An opening innovation you spent hours (or even years) preparing may only be usable once, since other opponents are forewarned. Some players simply don't like to play in front of an audience. They say this creates additional pressure. Some say publishing current positions invites people to send you advice, something most players feel in inappropriate. It is also against the rules of many organizations, such as the APCT.

On the other hand, I like to think of it as making cc a spectator sport. Some don't believe this is desirable, but I consider it the most exciting development in correspondence chess in years. It is also highly entertaining to me to be able to follow the play of some stronger players. I currently post the "live" positions of my games in two ICCF NAPZ Master Class Sections as well as those of Senior Master Mark Morss in the 13th USCCC Final and Senior Master John Mousessian in the ICCF Arne Henriksen Memorial Invitational tournament. These are very popular features at my personal web site.

Because this sort of coverage is new and many players are unaccustomed to this kind of coverage, I have applied the ICCF motto "Amici Sumus" (We Are Friends) to my coverage, and I have obtained permission from all of my opponents. A few of Mousessian's opponents objected to "live" coverage, so I removed their games. A couple players requested a 3-move delay in publication, and I have also agreed to this. This is all very much in the experimental stage now, though. Hopefully in the future it will become a standard feature of on-line cc coverage and guidelines and/or rules of play will be in place to govern such coverage.

The ICCF has taken its first step in this experiment by making on-line coverage an integral part of a tournament. And what a tournament it is! Six of the top ten players in the world in the latest ICCF rating list are participating in the Millennium Email Chess Tournament (a double-round robin event) and all 30 games are being carried "live" at the ICCF web site. The limitation is that there is always at least a 3-move delay in publication. In reality, it is more than 3 moves, since the web pages are only being updated once a month. Still, these are spectacular games to follow. Check this list of players:

  • Ulf Andersson, Sweden (2805)
  • Gert Jan Timmerman, Netherlands (2738)
  • Joop van Oosterom, Netherlands (2684)
  • Hans-Marcus Elwert, Germany (2681)
  • Harald Tarnowiecki, Austria (2676)
  • Erik Bang, Denmark (2661)

What a line-up! Ulf Andersson has taken the correspondence chess world by storm since he turned to cc recently. He has risen quickly right to the top of the rating list and is a formidable opponent. The OTB world has seen a number of Super-GM tournaments in recent years. For cc enthusiasts who enjoy being spectators, this is our answer to the OTB world. It will be interesting to see how this tournament affects the discussion of "live" cc coverage on the Internet. Of course, I'll report any decisions made on this topic at the ICCF Congress.

Fight Breaks Out at Chess Tournament

A friend at work directed my attention to a news report by Reuters on April 26, 2000. Under the title "Chess Players Face Bans Over Punch-Up" there was a story about a fight in the Doeberl Cup Grand Prix tournament in Canberra (Australia). One player had finished his game and was felt to be disrupting the play of another player, whose game was still in progress. Witnesses reported that the two started trading punches and grappling with each other and had to be separated by the other players.

Said an onlooker, "It is one of the most disgusting things I have seen at a chess tournament. How can an intellectual pursuit degrade itself in this way?" I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank goodness we cc'ers conduct ourselves more correctly. Why, I can't remember the last time I punched my opponent!

Reaction to Pankratov-Leko Game

APCT'er Ted Greiner of Pennsylvania wrote the following concerning a game given in the last column:

I enjoy reading your column in the APCT NB and I thought that I would comment on the Pankratov-Leko game presented in your latest article. I thought the most interesting part of this game was Leko's comment on the losing move, 24. . . . Qc5. He claimed that he was busy with other things just then and played a suggestion from Fritz without checking it. While some may applaud the downfall of the computer in this case, I find this disturbing. What kind of example does this set, when GM's use the computer for their cc games? I'm afraid that our hobby is changed forever (and not for the better). To my mind the blackest mark against Kasparov's name is the way he has accelerated computer use into chess.

Many people are concerned about the intrusion of strong chess-playing computers into our art/sport/science of correspondence chess. I don't have any answer yet, but I think we need to find some approach in the near future to avoid the bad side of computer influence on cc. The ICCF has, at least for the moment, just given up on controlling the use of computers, feeling any rules against using computers are useless, since the enforcement of such rules would be impossible. As far as I can see, the only way to deal with it is to trust people to follow the rules of play voluntarily. I myself don't see the profit in cheating since the main benefit of winning is self-esteem, the knowledge that I achieved a result. Knowing that I had done it by cheating would destroy any self-esteem I might hope to gain. Apparently some gain satisfaction from winning by cheating … this is what many people have told me, so I guess I must accept it … it's a funny world.

What about the ability of computer chess engines to play well under cc conditions? In the past chess engines were weak. As programming improved and the speed of hardware advanced, the results became more impressive. Still, it was felt that people benefited from the extra time used in cc much more than computers. Strong cc players still expect to beat computers. But this is in question now. The best chess engines have become powerful cc opponents. The match at my web site with Senior Master Steve Ham of Minnesota taking on two chess engines Fritz 6 and Nimzo 7.32 is demonstrating the abilities of chess software to be highly competitive at the highest levels. None of the four games have been decided yet, but the engines are putting up a heck of a fight (see report below).

On the other hand, Master Volker Jeschonnek has defeated his opponent Wchess 2-0 in a 2-game match carried by ICCF NAPZ Director Ralph Marconi at his personal web site at

Wchess isn't one of the top-tier chess engines, but Volker Jeschonnek won very impressively in both games. A player, such as Volker Jeschonnek or Steve Ham, who is willing to risk loss in such a public match, is to be congratulated. In this case, Volker is to be congratulated on his complete domination in his match. Steve Ham still has a lot of work ahead of him facing the much stronger Fritz and Nimzo engines.

Here is an interesting bit of computer chess news that's just been made public. Israeli computer chess expert Uri Blass has announced that he will finish with at least 6.5 out of 7 in the Israeli Corr. ¾ Finals. I don't know the strength of competition, but at least one of the wins came against an IM. Uri Blass said that the secret behind his success was the total reliance on chess engines, primarily Junior 5.9. He let the engine make all the moves in every game. There's a strong possibility that he will agree to participate in a future computer chess challenge match as the computer operator. The current match with Steve Ham is testing the idea of a typical cc opponent using a computer to generate moves. I am the current computer operator and I'm no computer chess expert. How much more dangerous would an opponent be who is an expert in fine tuning the chess engine to play at maximum strength? Would there be a noticable increase in the computer's playing strength?

Current Status of Steve Ham vs. Computer

The match between Steve Ham (ICCF 2508) and the Fritz 6 and Nimzo 7.32 chess engines continue at my web site. These are being tough contests, a real challenge for the human player. Steve Ham's summary of the current status is that he is worse in only one of the four games. I generally let the computer work on each position for 16-20 hours. I've noted little change in the computer's evaluation after it's worked on the position for an hour or two (using a 500 mhz Pentium III computer) so it seems quite practical to play numerous games using a single computer. For complete coverage of this Computer Correspondence Chess Challenge check my web site at:

Steve Ham continues to annotate these four games heavily with detailed notes following every move. It is quite an experience reading his commentary of the games as they are being played. Here are the moves to date:

Ham,S - Nimzo 7.32 [E32]
Computer Chess Challenge, 1999
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0-0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 b6 7.Bg5 Bb7 8.f3 h6 9.Bh4 d5 10.e3 Nbd7 11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Bxd8 Nxc3 13.Bh4 Nd5 14.Bf2 f5 15.Bc4 c5 16.Ne2 Rac8 17.Bb5 Bc6 18.Ba6 Rcd8 19.Bc4 b5 20.Ba2 c4 21.0-0 N5b6 22.Bg3 g5 23.Bc7 Rc8 24.Bd6 Rfd8 25.Nc3 Nd5 26.Nxd5 Bxd5 27.Bb1 Nb6 28.Be5 Bb7 29.e4 f4 30.Bc2 a5 31.h4 Nd7 32.Bd6 Kf7 33.hxg5 hxg5 34.Kf2 c3 35.b4 Nf6 36.Bc5 Nd7 37.Rad1 e5

Nimzo 7.32 - Ham,S [B78]
Computer Chess Challenge, 1999
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.0-0-0 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Nxh5 15.g4 Nf6 16.Bh6 Nxe4 17.Qe3 Rxc3 18.bxc3 Nf6 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Rh2 Rg8 21.Ne2 Kh8 22.g5 Nh5 23.Rdh1 Rg7 24.Qxa7 e5 25.Qxb7 Qxg5+ 26.Kb2 Qd8 27.Rd1 Be6 28.c4 Bxc4 29.Qb4 Qc7 30.Nc3 Rg8 31.Qxd6 Qb7+ 32.Ka1 Qxf3 33.Qxe5+ f6 34.Qd4 Rc8 35.Ne4 Ra8 36.c3 Bb3 37.Rb1 Bg8 38.Rf2 Qg4 39.a4 Qe6

Ham,S - Fritz6 [E86]
Computer CC Challenge, 1999
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Be3 e5 7.Nge2 c6 8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.0-0-0 a6 10.h4 b5 11.h5 Nxh5 12.g4 Nhf6 13.Bh6 b4 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Qh6+ Kh8 16.Nb1 Rg8 17.g5 Nh5 18.Ng3 Qf8 19.Qxf8 Nxf8 20.Nxh5 gxh5 21.dxe5 dxe5 22.Rxh5 Ne6 23.g6 Rxg6 24.Rxe5 Rg3 25.Nd2 Kg7 26.Rh5 h6 27.Rh2 c5 28.Be2 Nd4 29.Rdh1 Be6 30.Bd1 Rh8 31.f4 Bd7 32.Nf1 Rg6 33.Bh5 Re6 34.Nd2 Bc6 35.Re1 Kf8 36.Bd1 Ke7 37.Rh5 f5

Fritz6 - Ham,S [B52]
Computer CC Challenge, 1999
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.c4 Nc6 6.Nc3 g6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nf6 9.0-0 Bg7 10.Nde2 Qe6 11.Nd5 Qxe4 12.Nc7+ Kd7 13.Nxa8 Qxc4 14.Nb6+ axb6 15.Nc3 b5 16.Bg5 Ne4 17.Nxe4 Qxe4 18.a4 b4 19.Re1 Qf5 20.Qd2 Ra8 21.Be3 Ke8 22.h3 Ra5 23.Bb6 Rd5 24.Qe2 Qd3 25.Qg4 e6 26.Rad1 Qb3 27.Rxd5 Qxd5 28.Rd1 Qb3 29.Rxd6 Qxb2 30.Qd1 Qa1 31.Qxa1 Bxa1 32.Rd1 Bf6 33.Kf1 h5 34.Ke2 Be7 35.Kd3 Ne5+ 36.Kc2 Nd7 37.Bd4

A "Toilet" Move? … Not in CC

I found this characterization of a chess move in the wonderful publication New in Chess (issue 2000 Nr. 2). In his notes to Kramnik vs. Adams, Vladimir Kramnik wrote the following after the move 26.h3: "According to the classification of Nigel Short, this is a typical 'toilet move'. The point is that chess players sometimes find themselves in the following situation: the desire to visit the room with the 'toilet' sign outweighs the desire to sink into thought and to delve into the heart of the position, the result of which is neutral moves of this sort, which do not spoil anything." Note that once again we find a significant advantage to playing correspondence chess. We never have the need to make a "toilet move"!

copyright © 2000 by J. Franklin Campbell

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