The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - January/February 2003

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Fischer Random Follow-up

Last time I spoke of Fischer Random chess possibly being the wave of the future for chess. Just a few more comments on this topic follow.

Reader Steve St. Martin of Bloomington, MN pointed out that my statement that there are 980 starting positions was incorrect. He then went on to demonstrate mathematically that there are 960 starting positions. Thanks for the correction, Steve! Perhaps this explains why in some circles FR Chess is known as Chess960.

John Vehre wrote:

It is always interesting reading your report in the APCT news bulletin and to see a discussion of alternatives to classical chess for correspondence play. FischerRandom and other variants may be the way for correspondence chess to have a future, although FischerRandom does not entirely address the impact that computer analysis has on the game. Still, even with that limitation it offers another phase of the game like endings where the computer does not shine and perhaps should be explored by postal organizations. If anybody has ever tried playing a PC program from a Random set up you quickly see that even the better ones like Fritz and Junior, at least at this time, do not play the opening phase particularly well without their built in books.

Reasonable variants like Grand Chess or Gothic chess, which are played on larger boards with additional powerful queen-like pieces, are other avenues that might be worth exploring. Unlike Shogi, which is another decent alternative for CC play and also relatively popular, these variants at least allow those who have developed an understanding of classical chess to transfer that knowledge to the newer game. One last suggestion I might throw out to the readers of the APCT news bulletin is that even a slight adjustment to the classical game like changing the QR to a piece that moves like a Bishop or a Knight would eliminate computer interference for a good part (at least until the piece is exchanged off for its compadre) of the game without requiring any special equipment. This like FischerRandom also would throw out current opening theory, which has its pros and cons, although unlike FischerRandom would allow the development of new opening theory. After all many still seem to like studying that phase of the game!

The comment about the opening phase of the game is quite telling. The strong chess computers use an opening book for the starting moves, instead of relying on the capabilities of the chess algorithms to produce opening moves. This "opening book" would not be available for Fischer Random chess and would throw a computer on its own from the start.

As a webmaster who likes to present chess games on the Internet I was interested to see if any software provided support for FR Chess. So far I haven't found much. It would also be useful to be able to save games in a chess database for later viewing or sharing with others. Just how are FR games saved on a computer? Since I mainly use ChessBase for my personal chess storage and viewing of games I contacted the company in Germany to discover their plans. I contacted Mr. Peter Schreiner of ChessBase GmbH in Germany and got this short statement: "thank you very much for your email. In the moment we don't have any intentions to support 'Fischer Random Chess.'"

Well, so much for that. I don't see how FR Chess can become the wave of the future without database support. How can we study games from major FR competitions without a method of viewing the games? PGN format (algebraic) still works perfectly well, but there will be no using PGN readers or database programs to view the games. ICCF's beloved numeric format is insufficient and would need modification since the normal notation for castling doesn't work. The normal method of entering the castling move using a computer mouse wouldn't work, either, since the current method of moving the King isn't appropriate. In some FR chess setups castling wouldn't even involve moving the King it would remain in place! There are problems to solve and, apparently, no one is working to solve them. Perhaps my prediction that FR Chess would become popular was a bit premature.

The USCF Absolute Project

Many of us are members of multiple cc organizations. I am personally a member of USCF and CCLA as well as APCT. Following is an announcement from the USCF Correspondence Chess Committee concerning their project to archive information about their premier cc tournaments.

If you have ever participated in the USCF's top cc event, the Absolute Championship, we ask that you please respond to the following letter. The USCF Correspondence Chess Committee has launched the "Absolute Project" with the specific aim of preserving the history of this significant series. A letter was sent in October to all past and present Absolute tournament (1976-2001) participants whose address was on record at the USCF offices in New Windsor, NY. Not all of the letters were delivered due to a number of possible reasons. It is hoped that this posting will help to reach those players with whom the USCF has lost contact. Games may be submitted in any form - on hand-written score sheets, in pgn or Chessbase files, as Excel or Word files, etc. All game scores should be submitted to the USCF Correspondence Chess office either by mail, fax or email as given below. Any other related materials such as copies of nomination letters, crosstables, adjudication letters, player bios, player photographs and the like would also be quite helpful. The USCF Correspondence Chess Committee thanks you in advance for your assistance with this worthwhile project.

Postal Address:
Absolute Project
USCF Correspondence Chess
3054 US Route 9W
New Windsor, NY 12553
Fax: 845.561.CHES(2437)
Email: JoanDuBois@uschess.org

A Letter About Computer Use

I love receiving mail from readers. APCT'er Steve Morgan of Maine sent the following interesting comments.

It has been a couple of years since I've written to you but your most recent column in APCT News Bulletin on Centaurs left me with more than a few questions and thoughts. I've just started playing some ICCF sections and was unaware there is unlimited use of computers allowed. I am assuming this means you can use the computer to generate your moves for you if you wish? That certainly changes things doesn't it?

But I also thought aren't all correspondence players that use a computer in some way, shape or form a centaur?

I have read with interest for some time how many strong correspondence players say you can't do without a large database of games. Truth is it's still not that easy even when you have one. Until this past year I had limited use of databases and did not have a strong chess playing program. I played my games as if playing OTB and my rating reflected that. I have been an OTB expert for over 20 years and my postal rating was about the same but usually lower. After my debacle in the 2001 APCT E-Mail Championships I decided I needed to get serious. My wife and son gave me a new computer in May for my birthday and I upgraded to ChessBase 8 and bought Fritz 7.

I purchased Fritz after I sent a few of my losses out to chess friends around the US to have them analyze them for me only to have them come back with many a line given by Fritz. I thought heck I can do that. I built a database of all my games played in the last four years. I came to the conclusion that I needed to do away with playing most of the gambits and risky openings and play things a little more solid. I research all my openings to excess and review all the completed games, using Fritz among other things for improvements. I also purchased ECTOOL and have cut down my notation errors (which were far too frequent) to next to zero.

While I still have my share of bonehead moves, my openings have improved dramatically and I've seen a rating jump of 130 points in the last few months and there is little doubt in my mind I will hit the CC master rating in APCT. But the truth is I'm putting in many many more hours in looking at games through the ease of the computer and its analysis made easy for someone who wasn't always very thorough. At first I actually felt guilty about playing some move or line found in games that I had not thought of myself, but then saw an interview with Anand and he was talking about a game he was analyzing that Hiarcs found this move that he and his second hadn't seen and he used it to win a game. I thought heck that's not a whole lot different than what a correspondence player does except we use our notes and they have the God given ability to remember it. I don't know if that makes me a centaur or not. The Middle games still get fuzzy and end games take a lot of analysis, but there are games where using the machine within the rules has helped me gain an edge.

Have enjoyed your columns for years and your efforts in putting live games on line to follow has been terrific. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for your comments and observations, Steve. Over the years correspondence chess has evolved into what we have today, where skills in research are an important ingredient in success. Researching openings and studying master games with similar positions is part of cc, and computers allow us to do this more efficiently. I see nothing wrong with this and it just isn't the same as allowing a computer to make moves for you. All organizations that outlaw the use of computer generation of moves in cc games still allow use of computers for record keeping and research. In particular, APCT forbids the use of chess engines to generate moves and analyze positions, but the use of computers for record keeping and searching of databases is explicitly allowed.

It's always encouraging to see people questioning the ethics of play it shows that people are interested in playing fairly and ethically. There are always questions that are difficult to answer. I recently read an article by a noted OTB chess arbiter concerning the practice of players recording a move on their score sheet before actually making the move. After consideration they would sometimes change their mind and make another move. A practical problem was that they would sometimes forget to change the written record, creating an incorrect record of the game. An ethical question also arose considering the forbidden practice of taking notes during the game, strictly forbidden in OTB tournament practice. Is writing a move not yet made taking notes? This is not as trivial as it seems. Is using ChessBase or a similar program to record moves by moving a mouse on a diagram the same as getting help? After all, the program doesn't allow illegal moves and generates correct notation, which allows the competitor to escape the penalties involved with making these errors. Have you ever lost a game due to a notation error or because you set up a position wrong? This won't happen if you use a computer to help you. So, in APCT competition, where you aren't allowed to use a computer to help you make moves, is this legal or not? Pretty tricky, eh? This is just one of many possible questions about what is legal when using computers to analyze isn't allowed.

Fraudulent Announcement of the Death of Leko

Recently I received news that GM Peter Leko had been killed in an auto accident. The well-known chess journalist Sam Sloan had widely reported on this news. Eventually, someone from the ChessBase company called Leko's home and was informed by his wife Sophie that he was "fast asleep in bed, snoring gently." Sloan's face was red, of course, and he has been busy posting further messages about trying to discovery the source of this fake story.

Of course, Leko's death would not only be tragic news, but the upcoming unification of the World OTB Championship matches would have been affected. Leko is scheduled to play a match vs. GM Vladimir Kramnik around May/June 2003 with the winner to play for the world title against the winner of a similar match between GM Garry Kasparov and GM Ruslan Ponomariov.

The on-line chess magazine Chessville published an interesting poll (serious?) concerning the unification matches.

Who will win next year's Chess World Championship Reunification?

A) Garry Kasparov
B) Vladimir Kramnik
C) Peter Leko
D) Sam Sloan
E) Ruslan Ponomariov
F) No one; the reunification process will fall apart.

I found this both amusing and thought-provoking. Which answer would you choose?

Kasparov Web Site Apparently Fails

I recall a few years ago when the Club Kasparov web site appeared. This Russian web site wasn't too bad and was tied in with the world champion. Later there was an influx of money and a new web site Kasparov Chess was designed in Israel with a big staff and a number of chess professionals involved. It became the number one site with excellent graphics and web site design. The constant addition of quality chess material and news reports by top chess players made it a vital site with tremendous appeal. Then came the layoffs with many of the journalists and professions being removed, apparently in an effort to reduce costs. Recently, the web site became unavailable. There was no announcement you just can't find the web site any more.

There is naturally a lot of speculation. Perhaps this is a temporary problem and it will re-appear in the future. I've heard rumors of legal problems. A number of people signed up for the "for pay" part of the site where you could receive chess lessons and special lectures and annotated games. I even saw an offer by a competitor who promised to honor the commitments made by Kasparov Chess (made by the World Chess Network). I hope the web site recovers and returns. It was one of the most interesting and informative web sites devoted to chess till recent months, when the site ceased being updated. I will watch for future statements by GM Kasparov I'm most curious to hear what he has to say about this. So far, mum's the word.

ICCF Publishes First Book

Recently the International Correspondent Chess Federation (ICCF) celebrated its 50 year Jubilee. As part of this celebration ICCF has been gathering material for its first book "ICCF Gold." It contains a history of correspondence chess and the ICCF with contributions from numerous country chess organizations. There is a limited printing and as of the writing of this column books are being shipped. If you wish to order a book for $24 you can contact the ICCF-U.S. office.

The early reports by people with copies is that it is an excellent book. I look forward to receiving my copy, especially since my cc opponent from England reported, "There is a good colour photograph of yourself in it!" Well, I can't wait to see that!

Another fine book to add to your library is Tim Harding's excellent "64 Great Chess Games" (304 pages). It has been well received by the reviewers, and anything written by this outstanding author should find a home in any cc-lovers library. I just read another short review by Ireland-based GM Alexander Baburin in his interesting daily chess newsletter Chess Today (distributed by email). Sometimes it's amusing to read comments about cc from people unfamiliar with our delightful world. He says, "Correspondence games tend to be ignored by most players and databases, meaning that they can be a fruitful source of new ideas for the sneakier players among us. They also tend to feature very sharp and offbeat openings, most of which look pretty awful but some of which are very effective surprise weapons." He also says that he likes this book and comments that it is well researched.

As a subscriber to Baburin's publication Chess Today I can add that it is also an excellent publication, a great source for news from the world of OTB chess. One of the two technical editors, preparing it for English readers, is APCT'er Ralph Marconi, who is also the ICCF Zonal Director for the North American/Pacific Zone (NAPZ).

14th CC Olympiad Final Begins

As I reported before, the USA has qualified for the final of the 14th CC Olympiad, which starts December 27, 2002. I just received a copy of the start papers from team captain Tom Dougherty. The teams participating in this top team tournament are (in order of team average rating):

  1. Germany (2599)
  2. England (2566)
  3. Czech Republic (2541)
  4. USA (2533)
  5. Argentine (2522)
  6. Lithuania (2517)
  7. France (2514)
  8. Denmark (2503)
  9. Switzerland (2501)
  10. Russia (2495)
  11. Hungary (2472)
  12. Romania (2443)

The USA Team in board order is:

  1. GM Alik S. Zilberberg
  2. SIM Stephen L. Jones
  3. SIM Daniel M. Fleetwood
  4. SIM Gary L. Kubach
  5. IM Christopher T. Sergel
  6. IM Jeffrey L. Tilghman

Team Captain: Thomas J. Dougherty
Alternate: IM Tony Albano

I also noticed that the England board 2 is APCT'er GM Dr. Ian Brooks.

Congratulations to the USA on qualifying for this prestigious world championship event. Good luck to all the team members. We have a strong team and I expect them to represent us well.

Americans Qualify to the World Championship Final

Thanks to Jason Bokar for pointing this out. Both SIM John Timm and GM Alik Zilberberg have qualified for the XIX world championship final. Congratulations to these two outstanding USA cc competitors!

Chess Web Servers

I am just becoming familiar with chess web servers. They provide a way to play correspondence chess by going to a web site and entering a move on the screen using your mouse. This is a replacement for the post card and email messages. One advantage is that they can maintain many of the records normally kept by the player, such as the dates of moves, time used and the moves. They also eliminate the need to agree on a particular chess notation and can also eliminate disputes about when moves were sent/received and automate certain functions such as reporting results to the tournament director, apply the result to ratings calculations, update crosstables, etc.

I've never played on a chess server myself, but I am now involved in designing a new server for the ICCF as a member of the ICCF Web Server Expert Group (WSEG). This is being a lot of fun, as well as a lot of work. An excellent resource is the article written by Tim Harding in the 3/2002 issue of Chess Mail magazine.

This is a difficult and long-term project which won't result in a web server for a while, but it is a good example of finding another way to get involved with correspondence chess. One of my favorite topics is finding new ways to enjoy our fabulous art/sport/science of correspondence chess. Whether you collect chess on stamps, design your own chess forms, carve wooden chess sets, photograph chess events and chess personalities, collect chess autographs, write articles for magazines or try playing Fisher Random chess I encourage you to try something new.

Here's a personal story I've never told before. I met my wife Anne at Yale University. We were both graduate students, her in Linguistics and me in Celestial Mechanics. I showed her my chess records and the chess forms I had personally designed. She was so impressed that she got to know me better, resulting in a marriage that's lasted 33 years so far. Invest a little time and effort in a new aspect of cc and you never know where it may lead!

Correspondence Chess on the Radio?

A new way to enjoy chess on the Internet has recently been introduced Chess.FM. The Internet Chess Club has started broadcasting chess shows on Internet Radio. You can check it out at their web site at http://chess.fm. Chess book seller Fred Wilson has a regular show. The next show at this time will feature GM Lev Alburt. I heard one very entertaining show with cc'er Allan Savage a while back. I've had some brief discussions with Chess.FM guru Tony Rook (surely one of the great chess names) about putting together a future show devoted to correspondence chess. Things have been on hold during the holidays, so I don't know if anything will come of it, but the idea of correspondence chess on the radio is electrifying! I'll let you know if such a show becomes reality.

Well, gang, I don't know how the cc radio show will work out, but this is the beginning of my 15th year at APCT News Bulletin. It's been quite a ride so far. Thanks to Helen and Jim Warren for making this possible. Drop me a line some time. I always welcome input on any cc subject and am happy to publish your comments in this column. We've worn the "computers in cc" subject rather thin, but I welcome your opinions and views on any other chess subject. Write me at the addresses at the head of this column. Email messages are particularly welcome, but by all means don't let that stop you from sending me a letter or postcard.

copyright © 2003 by J. Franklin Campbell

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