The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - September/October 2000

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Chess Piece Collector

Chess columnists often hear from interesting people with interesting stories. I recently received the following:

Dear Mr. Campbell,

I came across your email address thru Chess Mail. Someone had suggested that we check it out. My son collects individual chess pieces. He is 20 years old and mentally disabled. He can't play chess, but loves the different pieces. He has been working on this collection for the last 6 years. It is slow going, but fun. We are looking for other chess piece collectors who might have some extra pieces to sell or swap. We haven't been able to find anybody else, but there must be some out there. We would appreciate your help if you know of any. Thanks.

I sent some suggestions on where chess pieces might be found. My personal favorite is the British Museum, where the famous Isle of Lewis chess set is housed (they have since sent a representative collection of pieces back to the Isle of Lewis, a major event which inspired a big chess festival in celebration). Back to the story & since I saw this set in person over 25 years ago in London this has been my favorite set. The world just hasnt been the same since then. There are many replicas of this set available, including one made by the London Museum using the original pieces to make the molds. They now offer a few individual pieces from this set, and I plan to put them on my Christmas list for this year. Hopefully Ill possess a replica White King from this set by the end of the year!

You can imagine how pleased I was to receive the following message from Debra:

Thanks for your help! We really appreciate your taking the time to share your ideas. They are great. I will get a piece from the British Museum for him for Christmas and check the other avenues you have suggested.

Man, this message made my day! I cant say how pleased I am knowing that this young man and I will both be enjoying owning a piece of chess history after Christmas. The King, Queen and Knight are all available as individual pieces (actually playing chess with a set of non-Staunton pieces doesnt appeal to me, however).

If any of you out there would like to contribute to the chess passion of this young man please send the pieces to me. If you want a piece returned in exchange Ill try to arrange this also. I could also put you in direct touch with this family. If you have extra pieces sitting in your closet, if you have an interesting set and dont display all the pieces, if your club has a box of spare pieces sitting around, if you have an incomplete set which cant be used anyway, if you (fill in the blank) & perhaps you would consider sharing a few pieces with this enthusiastic collector. This is just one more way to share our common love of the game. Unless you request otherwise Ill mention any contributors in this column. Im sure this young man and his mother will be thrilled to receive a nice collection of chess pieces from APCT members, especially if there are some interesting and unusual pieces included. Of course, any information on how to find other collectors for them to contact would be most appreciated.

From the pen of Ted Bullockus

Im sure most of you are familiar with the famous USA cc personality Dr. Ted Bullockus. I was quite pleased to receive the following from this grand gentleman of cc:

Your article in the May-June issue, APCT News Bulletin - memories. I lived in Iran in 1969 - Louis Statham visited me there... game with him is game #1 in my ?forthcoming? book on the Alapin Gambit. Ken Smith agreed to publish it in 1995 ...then only 260 games ... but cancelled when Tim Sawyer came out with his brochure. Now 510 games, last game with Heemsoth... Three years ago, visited chessfriend in Germany, his sister was married to an Irani, and they were leaving the next day, (with a suitcase full of medicines) .. and he said he could make arrangements for a ty for me, if I wanted to come there again...but, since, wife died, and I remarried, and she does not want to go. The chess club in Tehran was open every evening, always over 100 players...and the Kings in every set had the "cross" at the crown, removed.

Cheers, Ted Bullockus (Sun City, Ca)

Thanks for this description of your personal experience with chess in Iran, Ted. I hope your book sees print soon.

Speaking of Books

Chess Mail publisher and book author Tim Harding has just published a new book titled, Startling Correspondence Chess Miniatures. Tim has promised me a review copy and hopefully I can give a first-hand report next time, but for now Ill depend on John Knudsens review to tell me what I would expect of any Harding production. 100 outstanding miniatures are promised along with some tactical exercises. If it sounds appealing to you, I would suggest not waiting for any reviews but just purchasing the book. I cant believe you wont enjoy it. Watch the magazine for a listing & Im sure APCT will be carrying this well-produced book.

And, speaking of books …

Whatever happened to him?

I was recently corresponding with Robin Smith about the crosstables for the USCCC finals. Hes currently leading the 13th USCCC finals (US CC Championship) with 7-0 and was interested in checking past USCCC performances. His checking revealed the outstanding performance of David C. Taylor in the 7th USCCC (1987-90) where he finished this strong tournament with 13½-½. This led Smith to ask the following:

I just looked at the crosstables of previous USCCC's on the links you provided. I doubt I'll be able to match David Taylor's accomplishment of 13.5/14 in the 7th ... a full 2.5 points ahead of second place. Wow!! I KNOW how hard that is. Whatever happened to him? Does he still play?

Well, what a coincidence. I had just received a pre-publication copy of a book written by Taylor. Ill quote from the cover letter:

Prior to beginning this work in earnest, Dave successfully played the Ponziani in the 7th U. S. Correspondence Chess Championship (which he dominated with a score of 13½-½!). After that, he retired from correspondence play, since then concentrating his efforts on the creation of this work.

This work is a 36 chapter, 80-page spiral-bound book titled Ponziani Power, covering this opening in great detail (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3). Im no opening expert, so I cant speak to the technical quality of the book, but it is an impressive production, with contributions from Rick Melton that go beyond simple publication. Those of you familiar with Ricks 1996 book Secrets of a Chess Master will instantly recognize the similarities in production values. This book is clearly a labor of love by our 7th USA champion that will surely please those interested in trying out this provocative opening. Rick Melton thought enough of it to postpone finished up his sequel to Secrets & till next year to help Taylor get this book published, which speaks volumes about what he thinks of this book.

USA Fields Strong Team for NATT5

Max Zavanelli, ICCF-U.S. Secretary, has announced the team that will represent the USA in the North Atlantic Team Tournament V (NATT5) event. Alan Jones will serve as team captain, and play begins December 30, 2000.

  1. John Moussesian (2478)
  2. Jerry Weisskohl (2436)
  3. Konstantin Dolgitser (2431)
  4. Jason Bokar (2418)
  5. Quin Shea (2416)
  6. William Boucher (2414)
  7. Gilbert P. Drysdale (2407)
  8. Dany Kopec (2447 Unfixed)
  9. William A Jones (2372)
  10. Michael Millstone (2362)

IM Douglas Eckert (2361) and Andrew Katz (2405) are the reserve players, and the above team order may be altered. The USA team finished in 2nd in NATT4 behind a powerful English team.

Correspondence Chess Inspiration

To quote from the May-June edition of this column:

My first correspondence chess hero was, without a doubt, the Fifth Correspondence Chess Champion of the world Dr. Hans Berliner. His book on the championship tournament The Fifth Correspondence Chess World Championship, with co-author Ken Messere, was my cc bible for some time. I played the Alekhines Defense, following his practice in that tournament.

I received this pleasant note from the outstanding Canadian cc competitor

J. Ken MacDonald, who was equally impressed by this volume: I also did the same thing after reading my favourite chess book of all time! I took up the Alekhine and did well with it!

Of course, the Fifth World Champion Dr. Hans Berliner had done very well with the Alekhines Defense in this tournament. It was a useful weapon to have as Black and he grabbed me with his infectious description of this defense in his book. But Im not so sure it was any technical merit of the opening that helped me. Im more inclined to believe it was the inspiration I drew from this incredible chess player and first cc world champion from the USA. He played amazing chess, winning the world championship by a large margin. I found his example as inspiring to me as many found Fischers OTB example. Im pleased to hear that Im not alone in my admiration of this wonderful chess publication.

More “Live” cc Coverage

While live coverage of correspondence chess on the Internet continues to be a topic of heated discussion, major events are starting to move to this wonderful style of presentation. I can tell you from personal experience that posting games live on a web site is very labor-intensive. The action is exciting and fun to follow, but it takes some real dedication to keep the games updated on a regular basis. I myself cover just over 40 games at my web site, and it keeps me hopping (especially the email games, where moves seem to arrive hourly)!

Last time I reported on the remarkable Millennium Email Chess Tournament, featuring six of the top ten from the current ICCF rating list. This event has now been joined by the Capa X Anniversary GM Tournament matching three very strong Argentinian players vs. three other world-class players in an invitational all-GM event sanctioned by the ICCF. The players: Roberto Gabriel Álvarez (ARG), Rubén Berdichesky (ARG), Juan Sebastián Morgado (ARG), Hans-Marcus Elwert (GER), Grigory Sanakoev (RUS), and Olita Rause (LAT).

There are several top-ten players here including former cc World Champion Sanakoev and world number six Ms. Rause. We are promised monthly updates.

One feature of the coverage of these big on-line tournaments is that they arent updated daily. In fact, they are updated monthly, plus there is at least a 3-move delay between the moves played and the moves displayed. This insures that there is no advantage gained by opponents observing your other games. If you happen to have the same position with two or more players then your opponent in each game doesnt know which move you may be planning next.

Personally, I understand the 3-move delay, but I find the monthly posting rather pathetic. As a toiler in the field I can understand it from the point of view of labor, though. Man, thats one tough job.

Current Status of Steve Ham vs. Computer

The first result is in! Senior Master Steve Ham was held to a draw by Nimzo 7.32. It was a disappointing game for Steve, since he held a likely winning advantage, only to have the computer lock up the pawns, preventing any possible penetration. To quote Steve Ham,

I hereby congratulate Nimzo 7.32 for playing well enough to be able to draw with me. Please re-read my commentary to Whites 42nd move, where with remarkable precognition, I wrote about my laziness in going for the kill by giving away too many ½ points. Clearly, my tendency to psychologically relax when Ive earned a large advantage is an area where I need to work on improvement.

This draw is agonizing, though. The computer program is too ignorant to recognize the draw because it still favors White by 1.21 pawns after searching to a depth of 24/46 ply! How would you feel about converting a big advantage into a draw with an opponent too stupid to know that its a draw? Probably not half as bad as I feel in allowing the draw, given the public nature of this match game. Still, I dont mean to pick on the extremely powerful Nimzo 7.32. Misjudgment of this position is apparently common among chess programs. Postings at The Computer Chess Resource Center reported the following: after 15 ply Fritz 5.32 favored White by 0.63 pawns, Goliath 2.7 favored White by 1.63 pawns, and Crafty 17.10 liked White by 1.87 pawns. After 16 ply, Chess System Tal 2 favored White by 1.67 pawns. This supports my belief that while top-level chess programs are extremely strong when allowed to calculate for long periods of time on very fast computers, their ability to accurately evaluate positions is quite suspect and often totally wrong. One viewer e-mailed me to say that his chess program sometimes favored itself when given both sides of the same position!

In summation, Nimzo 7.32 played extremely well & much better than I expected. My perception is that it is a powerful tactician, especially in open positions (see Nimzo 7.32-Ham). However, in closed positions where no clear plan is present, it tries to resolve matters tactically, which is intrinsically incorrect in correspondence chess. However, it was able to escape with a draw here because I too have certain weaknesses, chief of which is laziness when turning a big advantage into a win. My perception so far is that Nimzo 7.32 is a superior tactician than Fritz 6a, but the latter performs better in closed positions.

Of course, Steve Ham played very well, but like any human player had a few moments of inconsistency. This is certainly a strength of the computer … no relaxing, no overconfidence, no blunders of the normal fashion that all humans must suffer. The computer engines have performed surprisingly well, though. Many of us have been surprised by how well Nimzo and Fritz have performed in this match.

In a recent OTB tournament played in July 2000 in Dortmund, Germany Deep Junior, playing on a very powerful PC, was able to play even with top Grandmasters at standard time limits finishing with +2 -2=5. However, its losses seemed embarrassingly easy when the GMs played a form of anti-computer chess, which took advantage of the computer engines weaknesses. However, poor Peter Leko was knocked out of equal first in the event when he lost his last-round game to Fritz.

Stay tuned for future reports on the remaining three games. It looks like Ham will need a little luck to even up the match since hes trailing in two games. With the experience gained in this match hell be looking for revenge against another top chess engine. The author of this unnamed chess engine has challenged Ham to a 2-game match. The final arrangement still must be agreed upon, so for now I must maintain silence on the identity of this powerful chess engine.

Ham,Steve (ICCF 2508) - 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 38.Rh1 Nxc5 39.dxc5 axb4 40.axb4 Rxd1 41.Rxd1 Ra8 42.Bb3+ Ke7 43.Ke2 g4 44.Kd3 Rd8+ 45.Kxc3 Rxd1 46.Bxd1 g3 47.Be2 ½-½

copyright © 2000 by J. Franklin Campbell

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