The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - January/February 2001

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Steve Ham vs. Computer … Difficult Decision

There have been no new results in this Master vs. Computer match since last time but an interesting situation has occurred. Here is the latest position:

Fritz 6 vs. Steve Ham
After 66. Rd7

For a number of moves now Fritz has been shuffling pieces back and forth. It appears that Black has good drawing chances with the pawn protected by his Bishop. Swapping pawns leads to a drawn Rook vs. Bishop ending. As agreed, we would have declared the game a draw based on the Nalimov Endgame table bases, which indicate the draw after such an exchange. However, there appears to be a clever winning scheme based on getting White’s King to a8 and forcing the Black King to move away. Since the Nalimov Endgame table bases only cover endgame positions with five or fewer pieces (and we have six here) Fritz cannot find a forced win using this tool. This leads to the question of when to declare the game a draw.

It would appear that Fritz is not going to find this subtle winning plan. Must we play 50 moves before called an end to the game, or is it reasonable to conclude earlier that Fritz cannot find this plan? We don’t want to extend this game needlessly, but we must not appear to be taking improper steps calling the game a draw. Where is the balance between giving Fritz every chance to win this game and ending a boring ending with pieces simply being shuffled back and forth?

Believe me, I’ll be glad to have this four-game match ended. It’s been an extremely interesting experiment, seeing how well two top chess engines could perform at cc time limits. I’ve also received much more traffic at my web site than normal, as many people are following this match and reading Ham’s extensive notes on the games. However, it has been an extremely large amount of work for both Ham (playing and writing extensive notes) and me (working the computer and posting the moves and notes at the web site). We could both use some rest!

Senior Master Steve Ham of Minneapolis, Minnesota has tested the engines and we have all been surprised at the strength of the computer chess engines, with Nimzo 7.32 taking one mini-match with a win and a draw. Ham followed the Kasparov vs. Rest of World line and appears about to draw (though a forced win might be available to a human player of the White pieces) in his game with Black vs. Fritz 6. The other game is pretty even, but Ham hopes to demonstrate the superiority of human long term planning in that game.

An interest side comment: when I installed the Nalimov Endgame table bases (which the Fritz engine can use to evaluate positions with one less piece on the board than exists in this position) I noticed a lot of hard drive activity when I started an analysis of the position. Fritz looks at every legal move, so many of the lines lead to the removal of a piece from the board. In each of these lines it can find the solution to the position by consulting the Nalimov Endgame table bases, so in each of these lines the chess engine accesses the Nalimov Endgame table bases on the hard drive, leading to a lot of hard drive activity. I normally fire up the computer when I go to bed, allowing Fritz to run all night and all the next day, till I need the computer in the evening. When I start Fritz analyzing this ending at night it sounds like a bee hive with all the buzzing of HD accesses. The first time it happened it really shocked me. I hope this match isnt leading to a shorter life for my computer!

For the latest match situation check my web site. The address is given at the top of this column.

A New Respect for Tournament Directors

I have played many tournaments during my 36 year cc career and never given much thought to the plight of the poor tournament directors. That is till now. You see, I am directing my first event. When the TD for the ICCF Pacific Area Team Championship IV tournament became ill, I was asked to replace him. I was reluctant, but finally I decided I could not let my friend down, the new North American/Pacific Zone (NAPZ) Director and fellow APCTer Ralph Marconi (Canada).

At first it was a lot of fun. I kept careful track of all completed games, created an on-line crosstable and results report for the team captains and participants, maintained a database of all completed games for later publication by ICCF, and reported results each month to Tim Harding (Ireland) for his magazine Chess Mail. I also sent in a semi-annual report to the ICCF Ratings Commissioner Gerhard Bender (Germany) and certified results to the ICCF Qualifications Commissioner George Pyrich (Scotland) for the players obtaining title norms. This is great stuff! But sometimes the fun comes to an end.

The complaints started coming in concerning slow play by opponents. I had to communicate with captains to try to sort out the problems. I had to announce my decisions concerning penalties. I had to sort out the various claims and counter-claims and deal with objections to my remedies. I had to deal with my decision in one case being reversed by the tournament arbiter. What a mess! Someone has to do this job but I can guarantee you, you don't make many friends in this position!

I've always prided myself in fulfilling my obligations and delivering on my promises. However, as a TD I'm finding myself failing in unfamiliar ways. I hate dealing with complaints and investigating problems. I find that I always have something more important to do, something that can't wait. So I put off these nasty little problems till tomorrow and then tomorrow once again. As a TD I'm pitifully incompetent.

I've read statements by players complaining about the slow resolution of problems by tournament directors. Now I understand how that can happen. I'm on the other side of the fence and find my performance lacking. I guess I'm not cut out to be a tournament director. It's a difficult and in many ways unrewarding task. I now appreciate how truly difficult it is to be a TD, an official arbiter of the rules of play. The balance between enforcing the rules of play and encouraging the sporting play between individuals is sometimes most difficult to find. People with a real love of competition and of the royal game can come to very different conclusions, and these opinions can be very strongly felt. My readers, pity the poor tournament director and offer her/him your sincere efforts to resolve problems peacefully without resorting to demands for justice and even revenge.

The Moral Lessons of Chess (Gerzadowicz)

I recently heard from our old friend and chess philosopher Stephan Gerzadowicz. He has been spending his time in New Jersey working for the International Charter School in Trenton. Part of his school duties is instructing the entire student body in chess, as chess is considered by the school to be of great educational value. I have in front of me a photo of Stephan in front of a class of eager students with hands raised to respond to his points concerning a position on a demonstration board. I believe Stephan Gerzadowicz is providing a valuable service to a large number of young people with his work.

Stephan sent me a copy of some of his correspondence with a friend. Following are quotes from this correspondence with Vic which you may find both intriguing and thought-provoking:


I was intrigued by your comment, Ive learned the Moral Lessons that chess and shogi have to teach me.

Moral Lessons!

What do you have in mind, I wonder.

Honesty, certainly.

"On the Chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite. Our little Chess is one of the sanctuaries, where this principle of justice has occasionally had to hide to gain sustenance and a respite, after the army of mediocrities had driven it from the marketplace. And many a man, struck by injustice as, say, Socrates and Shakespeare were struck, has found justice realized on the Chessboard and has thereby recovered his courage and his vitality to continue to play the game of Life." -- Emanuel Lasker

Responsibility maybe. That what we do has consequences. We know these things, of course, but rarely is it so starkly clear as in Chess, to the smallest Detail.

Objectivity, I think. But Moral? I think so. That we have a DUTY to reject emotion and prejudice in much decision-making, that Good Things flow from doing so, that violence is done to the fabric of Chess and of our Souls when we do not.


Moral lessons of chess? I certainly agree with your points of honesty, responsibility and objectivity. Id like to add balance -- that is a feeling for how forces are distributed which in turn tells you when to attack and where and when to defend.

And I'd also like to add the limits of rational thought. That is, we can't analyze everything. Sometimes we just have to go on our feeling for the position. One of my favorite quotes is from Najdorf, who said, "If that move is wrong, then chess is wrong!" (I love the assumption that chess is right. But I also like what this shows about his feel for the game.)

I agree 1000% -- chess is indeed like life. Perhaps it teaches one more thing -- when to move on. I love the way HDT [Thoreau -- JFC] lived life to its fullest and then went on with no regrets.


But Vic,

Are those Moral Lessons? Perhaps. Certainly recognizing them as valid would foster moral behavior.

And I'd like to add that TRUTH IS BEAUTY. I think that that is what Najdorf was feeling. He was making both an Aesthetic and a Moral Judgment.

Another friend, Glenn, is bothered by computers outplaying man at the highest levels.

It is so difficult for me to identify with that concern that I am sure I do not fully understand him.

Sure, we play to win. It is our nature. But that can't be all! Be it Chess or Tennis, Go or Golf, there is Pleasure in the activity. And for the attentive, more than pleasure. There's the feeling of Change, of Growth, of Learning. And THAT is as hardwired into our nature as is the Will to Win. If you beat the other guy you pass on your genes. But if you learn more about how things work you do too. The urge for either is pretty specific; ways of satisfying the urge are not.

So the psychological payoff is the same be it from success at Chess or from winning by locking antlers, from learning Rook and Pawn ending or learning when the Nile will flood again.

And that is unchanged, however often Deep Blue may beat a Humanoid. And, further, how the computers play is not interesting to me. I don't mean results, but method. The number-crunching, looking at EVERY move, however silly. That is so different from the way we play that the methods cannot be compared. AND WHO CARES anyway.?! I still do Math mentally or on paper rather than with a calculator, not because I'm a mindless Luddite but because it is Good for me, Valuable to me. I used to turn over my 4,000 square foot garden with a shovel rather than with a "free" Roto-tiller. The shovel did a better job, but only slightly so. I used it for my sake, not the garden's. I KNOW more, for the doing.

People grumble about calculator-dependent kids who dont know how to do Math. And why is that a problem? Because the kids then miss lessons on the Structure of Logical Thought and (even) the Nature of the Universe. And I do not think I exaggerate the importance of this. People should also grow their own potatoes, at least once. And not for the potatoes. And THAT is why we play Chess. And why what Deep Blue can do has no more significance to me than what a two-ton tractor can do in a potato patch.

You say you are struggling with a large creative writing project, procrastinating most of the time. And ask if I had that problem doing my books. Never. Can't identify.

Do you want to write? Or do you want to … have written? Author? Or BE an author?

The two are as different as Deep Blue and my potato patch.

If you can't sit down -- today -- and write something just for the Joy of the Doing of it then you are wasting your time and should -- quickly -- find something that brings you that Joy.

Thanks for sharing your correspondence with us, Stephan. You have many fans within APCT. I don't always agree with you but I always find your viewpoints interesting, thought-provoking and consistent. Thanks again.

The OTB World Championship

We have a relatively simple situation in correspondence chess when it comes to the world championship. The ICCF runs competitions and the winners are recognized as the sole world champions. In Over the Board chess it is no longer so simple. When Kasparov bolted from FIDE some years ago he was still widely recognized as the world champ. The championship was validated by his personal position and authority. Now that he has lost to Vladimir Kramnik the situation is clouded.

Many people made light of Russian GM Khalifman's win of the FIDE World Championship last year in Las Vegas. Since that time hes been given the opportunity to compete with the best in some major competitions. This has led to his adjustment to this kind of competition, and his practical results have been getting much better. He is currently still competing in the FIDE World Championship in India, having defeated GM Peter Leko and drawn with Anand (the tie-break hasnt been played yet as I write this). Perhaps he will repeat as FIDE champion and his reputation will make people more accepting of his title of World Champion.

Has the OTB World Championship Been Sold?

Exactly who controls the World Championship now? If you dismiss the FIDE knockout tournament as a legitimate event, then is it Braingames that controls the championship? Kramnik is known as the Braingames World Champion. He and Kasparov signed contracts with the Braingames organization and apparently this means that Kasparov signed away his control of the championship to a commercial organization. They control the title to the advantage of their organization, not according to some concept of fairness and legitimate competition. For instance, Kasparov had a bad tournament and was clearly off form. He valued his championship very highly and is anxious for a rematch. This is not part of the Braingames plan, however, and there is no rematch clause in the contract. Kasparov may not get another shot at the Braingames world championship for many years. Instead, Braingames apparently plans to have Kramnik play a championship match against a computer!

Kramnik and Kasparov are not allowed to compete in the FIDE world championship, I believe. I suspect this is a decision by Braingames to avoid any possible dilution of their title based on their champion not being able to win the FIDE event. For whatever reason, I'm sorry to see this split in organized chess. I guess we'll just have to live with multiple world champions, as in the boxing world. I do question the idea of a commercial company owning the world championship, though. I believe the current situation will make the FIDE title more respectible. With the opportunity for all the top players to participate and for many players to compete in scheduled qualifying events it appears more fair. Things are still not clear, though. I hope one day our OTB brethren will become as logically organized as we are in the cc world.

copyright © 2000, 2001 by J. Franklin Campbell

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