The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - March/April 2003

Download Rich Text Format (RTF) version

More Fischer Random, etc.

From time to time I read comments about Fischer Random chess from the elite OTB players. There seems to be a feeling that many FR positions give White too big of an advantage. Some say that regular chess still has a long way to go before it is played out. Many people really enjoy the opening research required to push theory out another move or two.

Of course, many professionals make their living off of opening research. I've heard some really interesting theories about published analysis, though. One theory is that the top players make a ton more money from playing in big tournaments than for publishing articles. One win in a big event can make a huge difference. Therefore, they would be crazy to reveal any important opening novelties in their low-paying articles.

Some people believe we must be careful accepting annotations in the opening books and in publications such as Informant. It is claimed that some players purposely plant bad suggestions in the hope of catching an opponent in a bad line. It all comes down to being responsible for your moves. Whether you use reference books, on-line annotated games, computer analysis of openings … whatever … when you make the move it is solely your responsibility. You'd better check things out for yourself before risking that new line or new move in a competitive game.

CC Players Don't Get No Respect!

Please forgive that bad grammar, but that wording just seemed right. We constantly get the impression that our OTB brethren don't consider cc as "real chess." I've just run across another such reference. While checking out the recent 4-game match between GM Evgeny Bareev and the computer engine HiarcsX in The Netherlands, I went to the official web site and found the following comment describing one of the organization's members.

Jan van Reek's Chess Projects

Jan van Reek became known in chess as a composer of endgame studies. He writes a column on this topic in the journal of the Dutch Chess Federation for more than a decade.

Grand Strategy by Jan van Reek supported by Boris Spassky was published in the year 2000. The quality of this book might be a surprise to some readers, because chess analysis used to be the domain of over-the-board grandmasters. Chess software made it possible for endgame study composers and correspondence players to analyse at a similar level [my emphasis -- JFC].

I can't claim to analyze at a GM level, but I do believe that our top cc players, like former USA world champions GM Hans Berliner and GM Victor Palciauskas and current world champion GM Gert Timmerman of The Netherlands, may be able to match just about any OTB player.

Mickey Adams' Greatest Weakness

The British chess humor magazine Kingpin has a series titled "The Kingpin Questionaire" which it gives to various famous chessplayers. One of their on-line samples lists the following question and answer by GM Mickey Adams.

Question: What do you consider to be your greatest weakness as a chessplayer?

Answer: Calculating variations and correspondence chess (I lost the only game I ever played).

Chess Notation

I ran across the following interesting note concerning chess notation used by the Chinese players. This was written by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam in his article "The Dragon Slays the Eagle Again" in New in Chess 2002 Nr. 6. This was a report on the second in the series of annual matches between the USA and Chinese teams.

"I'd been wondering how the Chinese players wrote down their moves and here I could inspect all their scoresheets. The result of this research was a bit of a let-down. No, they don't draw special Chinese characters, but just use algebraic notation with the letters referring to the English names of the pieces."

This brings to mind a debate on chess notation. ICCF has for many years used Numeric notation where 1.e4 is represented by 1.5254. Some of us were complaining that this notation is error-prone and non-intuitive. The main argument in favor of the notation is that it is independent of language. For instance, 1.Nf3 is written as 1.Sf3 in German and 1.Cf3 in French. Numeric removes this problem by just using numerals. However, a "new" notation called Alphanumeric also avoids the language "problem" by using only the origin/destination squares and not listing the piece being moved. Thus, 1.Nf3 would be written 1.g1f3. You may recognize this as what we used to call "Computer Notation." Complaints about the use of alpha characters seemed reasonable, since some foreign languages use different alphabets. But if you check a Russian book (or a Chinese player's scoresheet) you'll see the familiar algebraic notation. Wim van Vugt of The Netherlands wrote a brilliant article (published at my web site) titled "Numeric or alphanumeric - The final verdict" where he refuted those arguments against using the familiar alpha characters.

With the popularity of email chess there has been a discussion about what notation to use. The famous webmaster (and ICCF SIM-elect) John Knudsen favors the universal use of PGN, the notation that is readable by quite a range of software programs such as ChessBase. This is basically short English algebraic notation with the proper Header information for the computer programs. However, there is a clear bias against using English notation among many non-English using people. It's easy for us English speakers to see no problem with using English abbreviations for the pieces, but there is a lot of resentment out there based on the feeling that we are cramming English down their throats. Of course, it is a valid complaint that they should not be forced to use English. There is already a lot of that in the world already. It is true that English algebraic is the most popular single notation, but a truly international organization, such as the ICCF, needs to accommodate the feelings of all their members. Thus, the need for a notation not based on English or any other specific language exists. To be honest, I could live quite comfortably using a specific language-based notation, such as German algebraic. However, I support the use of Alphanumeric as a languageless notation that is superior to Numeric.

Of course, this may all be mute in a few years when ICCF and other major international cc organizations switch to the use of chess web servers instead of email. This would make the use of notations superfluous, though it should be easy enough to display the games in the notation of each user's choice, say English algebraic for me and German algebraic for my German opponent. The email organization IECG has already made a move in this direction by making a deal with the chess server organization Chessfriends.Com. IECG competitors can now log into the Chessfriends server to play their games. ICCF is investigating creating their own web server in the near future. It is my personal opinion that email chess has little time left as a major method of playing correspondence chess. Email chess is basically postal chess using an improved and faster form of transmission. Server chess will be a completely different animal with a whole host of advantages. However, we're not quite there yet.

Computers … Again

Though I said in my last column that I thought the topic of computers and chess had worn rather thin, the subject continues to be of interest, so following are a couple items I received from readers.

"Lacking Journalistic Integrity"

Walter Lewis of Soledad, CA writes"

"We've worn the 'computers in cc' subject rather thin, but I welcome your opinions and views on any other chess subject." -- Jan. 2003 column

"Here's another subject. Since the members of APCT seem to write you a lot about 'computers in cc' it would seem this is the subject they are interested in discussing. This is an important subject to your readership, otherwise they wouldn't be writing. ALL chess-related subjects should be open for discussion. Nothing has ever tested the integrity of chess the way computers have, and I find your personal wish to ignore the subject lacking journalistic integrity. Here's a question, for whom are you writing?

"I really enjoy your columns, but your attitude towards the readership and what they are interested in is deplorable."

Of course, I apologize to those readers who found my comments insulting. I will continue to cover items of interest to readers, as long as they are related to chess. My opinion is that we've spent rather a lot of time discussing computers. I was simply trying to get input from readers on other subjects as well. Also, at my discretion, I'll edit or ignore material that is just a rehash of material already covered here. I am a computer programmer by profession and have been associated with computers for over 40 years. I continue to find computers and their application to chess quite compelling. I find the subject of "cheaters" using computers of minimal interest, though. Those who believe computers are killing chess will not find a compatriot here. I think computers are great, and I'm personally finding computers are allowing me even greater pleasure in chess. See my topic further down on following "live" events on the Internet. Of course, as I frequently do, I'll add this disclaimer. Those who use computers to generate moves for APCT games are cheating, not because computer analysis is bad but because it is a violation of the APCT rules of play. Don't fool yourself … "blunder checking" and such uses of chess engines cannot be justified in APCT play. It is cheating, pure and simple. The same is true for CCLA, USCF and many other cc organizations.

"I think CB should be banned!"

I received the following note by email from APCT'er Lyle Cherner of Arizona. Note that through the years correspondence chess has evolved into something very different from OTB (over-the-board) chess. In OTB it is strictly forbidden to check reference books or databases. You must play strictly "on your own" during the games, though you may use any means to prepare for competition, from getting the advice of trainers and other strong players to using computer analysis and libraries of reference books to fine-tune your openings. I believe the use of reference books has been a subject of debate in past years. Currently I'm not aware of any organization that bans the use of computer databases, books or magazines during competition in cc events (if you know of any such organization, please let me know). Lyle makes reference to using a ChessBase database during competition below. APCT Director Helen Warren has specifically stated that using computers to look up material, such as in a database, is the same as looking up moves in opening books, and it is allowed in APCT play. Now to Lyle Cherner's message.

"Looks like the subject of computers in APCT is rearing its ugly head again. I have expressed my opinion privately numerous times and now I wish to do it publicly. After reading Steve Morgan's letter in the latest bulletin as well as the strong warning on the Rook Final assignment, it is apparent that APCT is continuing its hypocritical position on computer use in CC. By allowing ChessBase in CC play, it is allowing a 1200 player to play like a Master. My Database now includes over 2,000,000 games, and all of them are at Master level. Also included in my database are countless games played by computers including the World Championship Computer tourney. In most every game I have played, there has been moves that CB found that I would never have. CB also tells me the odds of winning with the suggested moves. This is legal? I think CB should be banned! I understand, and disagree strongly with, the argument that CB is nothing more than using a book. It is not generating moves. While technically this may be true, who has the time to research 2,000,000 games to find the games that will help? Steve Morgan pointed out that his rating went up over 130 points since the purchase of CB. My rating is up over 300 points. By not allowing 'Move generating' programs such as Fritz, APCT continues to show a total lack of understanding of Fritz type programs. Here is a note I sent to one of my opponents recently:

'My opinion on computers is that they should be allowed in all CC play. Lets face it, there is no way to stop it, and with the allowance of chess databases, moves players would never have found are played in most games. Fritz type of games really are only about 1800-1900 rated on a typical machine used with a typical setting. It is time to admit they are being used. I would guess most cheaters give up pretty quick as they find out that good players are beating them with regularity.'

"I do not use move generating programs as I beat Fritz with some regularity, and realize my moves are better than its after the opening. Most of the time I have a strong position before I am out of CB."

The Postal Player's Wonderful World. Is it???

Recently a message was posted on the Internet web site The Correspondence Chess Message Board (TCCMB) under the above title.

Per Söderberg of Sweden said, among other things, "As a postal player I always have time before I write the card and it's posted. Time for more thinking. When playing by email I have sent off moves before they were processed properly and lost games due to this." He added some other advantages of playing by post, such as exchanging Christmas cards, magazines and other items. This caused me to think about my own feelings about leaving postal chess behind. Following is an edited version of my response.

"Until recently I also held out for postal chess. I found that for me email chess was error prone. I have finally worked out my email methodology and, after playing postal for many years (and working out all the details of my postal methodology), I have finally been converted to email chess.

"However, it should be recognized that the noble postcard has served us well, for a much longer time than email chess will exist. Things are changing much faster now. Today we have Chessfriend.Com, tomorrow (well, maybe in a few years) we'll have the ICCF chess server. Email chess will be in the same place as postal chess today in the very near future ... useful to a handful of people who don't have access to the new technology or who have their own personal vision of what cc should be. I will not lament the passing of email chess with its careful editing requirements and other difficulties. Server chess will be a much bigger advance over email than email was over postal.

"A few years ago I went to the local print shop and had card stock cut for several thousand blank postcards. For many years my practice was to print my postal chess cards using my computer printer. The cards have gradually evolved over the years. For several years I used a dot-matrix printer with a chess font I designed myself. This has been a great outlet for my personal creative efforts. Much of the joy of postal chess was in the creation of the physical cards. I tried index cards, but they weren't heavy enough. So I had a print shop cut card stock for me. After printing a card I would print it again on a sheet of paper for my records, kept in a 3-ring binder. I could get three card images on one side of a sheet of paper. This way I had a permanent record of what I sent and what I said. I had dreams of going to color. Each card was a work of art, something I took pride in. It is with some regret that I see the passing of postal chess into the past. I am down to my final postal game with a Latvian opponent. My new tournament is strictly via email.

"I still have my old Lindt chocolate rack sitting next to my desk where I filed the received postcards. I'll be putting it away soon to make the space available for more useful items. All those neat foreign stamps ... the interesting postmarks and handwriting of my opponents ... the occasional picture postcard showing my opponent's home town or country attraction ... the personal chess history I could touch. All progress seems to be accompanied by a loss. Yes, it was expensive and time-consuming, and cards got lost or delayed, leading to very slow games. I won't miss those things. But something is never-the-less going to be lost and lead to future musings about the "good old days." I have a couple thousand good quality 4x6 inch heavy card stock papers I can make notes on now. My fat notebooks with copies of all those cards I mailed will be filed away, maybe to be seen again one day when I rummage through my old papers. As with the passing of an old friend, these things will be missed. We go bravely into the future, but sometimes glance over our shoulders at what we're leaving behind. Fortunately, I don't expect to play email chess long enough to get so emotionally attached. It will be easier to embrace server chess. With all the systems design work I've been doing to determine the requirements for a chess web server, I'm already more emotionally attached to server chess than to email chess, so I won't miss email chess at all. However, there will always be a spot in my heart for postal chess."

I think in the near future email chess tournaments may very well become a thing of the past. But, somehow, I think some people will continue playing chess by post card. With all its disadvantages of slow transmission time, expense and time-consuming requirements for preparing the physical cards, I think some people will retain their love of postal chess and will continue to play a few games using the lowly post card.

A Golden Age for Chess Coverage?

Recently I've been enjoying chess more than ever before, at least as a spectator. My opportunities to attend great chess events has been quite limited in the past. I observed two rounds of the famous Hastings chess tournament in England in 1972. I've played in a few simuls over the years against players like Samuel Reshevsky and Tigran Petrosian. I played in one U. S. Open in Boston in the 1980's. I was the match photographer for the Lev Alburt - Nigel Short match in 1985. These events were exciting for me, but they were also limited in number.

Now, with the advent of the Internet, we can experience a wide range of chess experiences. We can listen to chess authorities on Internet radio and watch games as they are played all over the world. Here is my recent schedule for Internet chess enjoyment.

I followed the games at the annual Corus super-GM tournament played at Wijk aan Zee in The Netherlands. Each day I followed the games of players like Viswanathan Anand, Judit Polgar, Vladimir Kramnik, Evgeny Bareev, Ruslan Ponomariov, Alexey Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Anatoly Karpov, Loek van Wely, Michael Krasenkow, Teymour Radjabov and Jan Timman. Sometimes I watched on the official web site, other times on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). On ICC I was able to open six or more windows, each with its own game. With the new sensory chess boards the moves can be communicated directly to the computers and then onto the Internet with very little delay. Meanwhile, I was tuned into Chess.FM, which had expert commentary I could listen to as the games were played. Host Tony Rook has various expert commentators to explain the moves. This coverage was in the early morning, as the Europeans are about five hours ahead of the USA Eastern time zone. After a while coverage of the USA Championship began in the afternoons. I got to see the outstanding veteran chess players along with the talented younger players battling it out for the USA title. What a thrill to watch the final tense game that finally led to GM Alexander Shabalov defeating young IM Varuzhan Akobian for the title. What a game!

There was a 3-way tie for the Women's title, so the next day I watched a playoff match of 15-minute chess. Those pieces were really flying around the board! Perhaps the Internet coverage for speed chess events still lacks something, as delays in transmission led to whole collections of moves being made instantaneously instead of one at a time. Still, it was quite exciting. Congratulations to WIM Anna Hahn for winning the playoff and the USA Women's Championship title.

There was only a short delay between the end of these two tournaments and the start of the match between World Number One GM Garry Kasparov and the computer chess engine Deep Junior. Once again I can follow the games with expert audio commentary from the Chess.FM Internet radio station and the ICC graphical coverage showing the moves on the board. There is another man vs. machine contest going on in The Netherlands between GM Evgeny Bareev and HiarcsX. It seemed strange not to have audio coverage as I watched game 2 of that match. I'm getting spoiled already! However, I did check out the ChessBase playing site Playchess.Com. I got Fritz 8 for Christmas, which included a free membership for the Playchess site. I didn't care much for the JavaScript player version used at the official match site, but the Playchess.com coverage was good. Their simulated 3-D view of the board is rather neat.

Talking about 3-D views of the chessboard, the Kasparov vs. Deep Junior match is being sponsored by the 3-D graphics company X3D Technologies. They manufacture equipment allowing a true 3-D image to be broadcast on the Internet. Using two cameras for the binocular capture of the image and special glasses, which allow your two eyes to see separate views of your monitor, they can create a 3-D image that floats in front of and behind your computer monitor. The match is being broadcast at the official web site in 3-D as well as in the regular fashion. I'm very tempted to rush out before game 3 to get a pair of these glasses and the required software so I can watch the remaining games in 3-D. What a world we live in!

So, we may lament the intrusion of computer engines into our world of correspondence chess, but when you look at the whole picture you have to admit that computers have led to a golden age for chess spectators. More top players are getting web sites of their own, more chess events are being broadcast on the Internet, chess news and analysis is being published as it happens, and the whole chess world, along with the rest of the world, is fast shrinking. I correspond daily with my opponents in Romania, Greece, France, Germany, England, Hungary, etc. and following tournaments as they occur in every corner of the world. I'm looking forward to the Linares super tournament in Spain. In another area ChessBase has just updated their 2.5 million game database to 2.7 million games, and it's all searchable via the Internet.

Now the major problem is finding time to follow all this great chess coverage on the Internet. My wife, who shares the same computer room with me, has become very familiar with people like John Fedorowicz, Dr. Danny Kopec, and a host of Grandmasters whose games are being covered. I even won a trivia contest on Chess.FM and should be receiving a fleece pullover any day now.

Question: What world champion held the championship for a single day.

Answer: Dr. Max Euwe, who was named by FIDE as world champion after the death of Alexander Alekhine. One day after the FIDE assembly made this decision the Soviet delegation arrived and insisted on a new vote. As a result, Euwe was removed as the officially recognized champion, so he held the title officially for that one day.

"The Miracle Man"

Last time I reported on the return to competition of Peruvian GM Julio Granda Zuniga. A recent interview by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam titled "The Miracle Man" was published in New in Chess 2002 Nr. 8 and shed more light on the situation. He talked to Zuniga at the Bled Chess Olympiad, where Zuniga has a fantastic result of 10 points out of 13. It turns out the Zuniga originally quit chess to work on his farm, which seemed a better thing to him to which to devote his time. He ran for a local political office but then dropped out of the race. He said, "But I resigned as a candidate because I had felt that God existed and realized that it was better for me to be a farmer than a politician or a chess player."

His return to chess was for a very plebian purpose, namely to pay the bills. He said, "… I don't like to be in debt. At that moment the Peruvian federation called me and asked if I wanted to play in the national championship and told me the conditions. That was a difficult decision, but I understood that if I played I could pay my debts. So, I accepted." The rest is history. He won the championship and went on to very successfully represent his country in the Olympiad.

Kasparov Web Site Is Kaput

Kasparov Chess was recently shut down. Rumors are that it lost millions of dollars. A bank in Israel who had loaned them money filed suit against the site's directors trying to force them to re-open the site to protect their investment. In fact, Kasparov had been scheduled to play a couple exhibition games against Deep Junior in Israel to promote his match with Deep Junior in New York City, but he cancelled out of fear that he would be arrested in Israel because of the bank's legal action. Reliable reports on what is going on with the site are not available, but it seems clear that this excellent web site is now a thing of the past.

copyright © 2003 by J. Franklin Campbell

Home Column Menu Previous Column Next Column