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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"The Campbell Report" - Sept/Oct 2003

New Correspondence Chess Book

Caissa Editions has just published a new tournament book of interest to cc players. First Anglo-Pacific Invitational Chess Championship by American IM Erik Osbun. The tournament was the first major event organized by the Anglo-Pacific Tournament Bureau, which later became the North American/Pacific Zone of the ICCF. It started in 1985 with a strong field of players from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. The top places were won by Roger Chapman (NZL), Claude Pare (CAN), Max Salm (AUS), Chris Van Dyck (USA) and David Eisen (USA). Walter Muir was the other USA participant. The tournament director was International Arbiter Maurice Carter.

This is a nice 6"x9" paperback of 182 pages with 135 games in FAN notation, all deeply annotated by author IM Erik Osbun, aided by notes from the players. This isn't one of those database dumps, either. Of course, a lot of analysis is given, but here are some samples of the type of descriptive notes you'll find scattered through the annotations:

  • "This move causes Black's game to set up as if in concrete. The flexible and better line is 12 Nc5 as Savon played." (game 4)

  • "White sells Black a tempting pawn at d6 for the privilege of jamming with the two Bishops, an idea stemming from the game Fischer-Olafsson, Stockholm, 1962. Is the pawn easily swallowed, or is it a bone in Black's throat?" (Game 59)

  • "White offered a draw. He should have played 17.f3 and hoped for the best in the complications to come. After the text, Black will make the most of his Bishop pair." (Game 89)

  • "Not really unreasonable in the circumstances, but this wing break generally works better with the Knight at f6 instead of d7. Naturally, 10 e5 11.d5 Ne7 12.Nc1 f5 deserves serious consideration instead of the risky text move." (Game 113)

I personally appreciate such descriptive notes, which make it easier for me to understand the games and to follow the plans of the players (also, this adds to the pure entertainment value of the book). There are lots of historical references and game fragments from GM praxis in the notes. There are adequate diagrams, the text is easy to read, and there are good indexes in the back of the book (by players and by openings). Caissa Editions (Dale Brandreth Books) is well known as a publisher of quality chess books. I urge all cc enthusiasts to get a copy of this excellent book. Hopefully we'll see more correspondence chess books published in the future.

You can obtain this book by sending a check for $24.00 to: Caissa Editions, P. O. Box 151, Yorklyn, DE 19736 USA

USCF Executive Director Resigns

On August 7, 2003 it was announced at the U. S. Open Championships in Los Angeles that Executive Director Frank Niro has resigned, citing "health reasons". You may recall that Niro edited this magazine for a short period before suddenly disappearing to take the job at USCF. Then he had a heart attack in early February 2003, but apparently made a full recovery and resumed his job.

Ramblings from the "Last Chess Player"

I received this note from Ken Chaney (Houston, TX), which he labeled, "Ramblings from the 'Last Chess Player'":

Before you make a chess move, be sure you have "theoretical support"! Don't dare make a move that "leads to complications". Consult your 150 book library. Check your two-million game database. Ask your computer for a suggestion. Kid yourself by believing you are a chess player and your research contests are chess games.

I just ask one favor. If you ever find a good reply to 1.e4, let me know!

Thanks, Ken. Certainly you have provided some thought-provoking comments here. I have read on numerous occasions that correspondence chess and over-the-board (OTB) chess are not the same. Indeed, many top OTB players have experimented with cc only to find that they can't compete at the same high level in cc. Some very strong cc players have dismal OTB ratings. We play the same basic game of chess, but the details of competition are very different.

It takes more than chess ability to succeed in either kind of chess competition. A player with a keen competitive spirit will do better than someone with equal chess ability but without the drive to succeed. This is true for both forms of the game. What are some of the non-chess skills that help a player to compete in chess?

Over-the-board chess

  • Good nerves
  • Excellent memory
  • Stamina
  • Physical conditioning
  • Rested condition
  • Youth
  • Good visualization skills
  • Time-management skills

The OTB player must be able to sit at the board for hours with good concentration. This requires good physical conditioning with the stamina to maintain your concentration for the entire length on the game indeed, for the whole tournament. Here youth is a big advantage, since you lose a little of these skills with each year. Without good physical conditioning even youth won't be enough, and without proper rest you'll also suffer. Since you can't move the pieces as you analyze (as you can in cc) you need to be able to visualize the board. Some top players are known to analyze by staring at the ceiling or otherwise play without sight of the board. Of course, time pressure is part of the OTB game and you must manage your time well to avoid time pressure blunders.

Correspondence Chess

  • Good research skills
  • Solid bookkeeping skills
  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Good methodology

Many critical OTB skills are unimportant in cc competition. For instance, physical conditioning may be generally helpful, but it isn't really necessary in cc. Stamina and a good memory may also be useful, but they also aren't necessary. Visualization is a good skill in many endeavors, but in cc we can move the pieces about the board, making visualization and good memory less important. Instead of needing to remember all our opening lines we can depend on our notebooks and computer databases to help us remember the opening moves we intend to make.

As Ken Chaney highlighted above, research ability is an important part of today's cc competition. I was recently playing in an invitational event and four Romanian opponents used the same opening novelty against me, giving me a lot of trouble [correction: only two of the players were Romanian]. They did a better job of researching the opening than I. Bookkeeping has always been an important part of cc, since an incorrectly recorded move or a typo in our correspondence can lead to an immediate loss. This is less important than formerly, due to the wide-spread use of software to record moves and generate correspondence. Many times the email I receive from an opponent was generated by his software, which effectively removes one step in the move transmission process that formerly produced many of the errors.

Patience is certainly required of cc competitors. With delays between moves measure in days and weeks instead of minutes, we must be prepared to play a game for a long time. A loss of patience resulting in a single rushed move can spell disaster. Perseverance is necessary to get through those months of being tortured in a bad position before we can finally save the half point or turn the game around. CC is not for the weak spirited!

Of course, it is important to have a good methodology receive the move, record it properly, analyze the correct position, record your new move correctly, compose and send your move accurately, and do all this in a timely fashion. When I first played some games by email, my old postal methodology didn't fit the bill, and before I established a solid methodology to use in email chess I struggled a lot. When I try server chess I'll probably run into similar problems.

A Note from Richard Morris

Richard Morris of Holley, NY dropped me the following note:

"I played on your team (South). I lived in Florida then. I now live in Western New York near Rochester. I would like to learn about a chess program called Chess VGA where do I get one, USCF or another place? Franklin, I am 80 years old. I plan to play as long as I can. I have a bad heart."

I ran across three letters from readers that I received in April and had lost (I need to be better organized). I apologize for not replying earlier. Richard vividly illustrates a point I mentioned above in support of correspondence chess. Though he's no youngster (neither am I) and his health has suffered (same here) he can continue to enjoy the marvelous game chess. CC is a game for life, not just youth, and can be enjoyed for an entire lifetime, even for those with bad health and/or disabilities. Thanks for the letter, Richard. I'm sorry I can't help you with Chess VGA I can't find any information on it. I remember fondly those days when I played on the Dixie Chess Team in the APCT Regional Team Championship, first as a player and newsletter editor, then as team captain. Those were wonderful times. Playing on a team makes the contest even more fun, in my opinion.

Chess in the Media

As I watch television or movies or listen to the radio, my ears always perk up when chess is mentioned. Here are a few gems from my recent experience.

Sheriff Bill Gillespie, "In the Heat of the Night"
"Romance is like chess. One false move and you're mated."

Allstate Insurance ad on TV (as best as I could record it)
[Shows chess board with all the black pieces in place, no white pieces]: "Say this is you ... yah, you're the King [shows King cupped in hand, places it on board]. But being the King isn't always easy, so when you're with Allstate you'll have 50,000 professionals to help you [places the eight pawns in position], from claims adjusters that can help you fix a broken castle [shows the two Rooks, places them on board] to emergency assistants to ride to your rescue [shows Knights, moving them in a trotting motion and placing them on the board] to lawyers who go to court with you if you need them [shows two Bishops and places them on the board]. Your Allstate agent [shows Queen carefully cupped in hand] who knows the moves to help, helping you, the King, feel protected." One significant feature of this ad is that the board is oriented correctly and the pieces are all placed correctly on the board!

A quote of Emanuel Lasker, Chess Today (16 July 2003)
"By some ardent enthusiasts chess has been elevated into a science or an art. It is neither; but its principle characteristic seems to be ... what human nature most delights in ... a fight."

John Fedorowitz commenting on game on Chess.FM radio (9 August 2002)
"That Bishop on b7 is crud."

Let Sleeping Opponents Sleep!

While listening to Chess.FM coverage of the Dortmund Sparkassen tournament in August 2003 the subject of players falling asleep during games came up. Fortunately, this is not such a problem in cc. A story was told of a game that ended in a short draw. One player fell asleep. After his opponent noticed, he reached over and touched his shoulder. When his opponent looked up the player suggested a draw, which was quickly accepted. The guest analyst was GM Roman Dzindzichashvili, who told his story of falling asleep during a tournament game. His opponent was a young Yasser Seirawan. Dzindzichashvili had a superior game and was winning, but he was also sleeping. Some young ladies walked by near the board and were chatting. Yasser politely asked them to be quiet. However, Dzindzichashvili did wake up with a few minutes remaining on his clock and was able to finish the game with a win. We'll have to speculate on how accurate his story was, but it was most amusing.

A couple days later the guest commentator was GM John Fedorowicz. He related how he once fell asleep at the board. When he woke up and saw the people gathered around his game he thought, "who are all these people in my bedroom?"

Receiving Assistance in CC Competition

I received the following from Walter J. Lewis of Soledad, CA:

"I think the suggestion by Nikolai Vlassov to allow the use of assistance, including assistance by computers, to gain entry into OTB chess tournaments is moronic. Do we now allow class "C" players with access to mainframes & money to hire GM assistance to "win" a spot to "compete" (?!) in the world championship? That's just ludicrous. This is equivalent to allowing a student to receive help during SAT's, so they can enter a university they can't function in.

"ICCF's stance on computer use is reprehensible. The idea that what cannot be prevented is no longer forbidden is a weak way to get around its responsibility. It has always been illegal to receive help from a third party in correspondence chess.

"Some correspondence chess organizations are seriously lacking in integrity, and these organizations will acquire the featherweights of correspondence chess. Fortunately, APCT has continued to adhere to a strong code of ethics."

At first I didn't recall this incident. A quick search of my columns turned up my mention of Nikolai Vlassov in the March-April 2003 column (Mr. Lewis' card arrived in April). I understand the zeal in this letter, though I don't completely agree.

It does seem strange to suggest that players be allowed access to computers and human assistance during Internet games when the events they are qualifying for would not allow such assistance.

I don't agree with the ICCF stance that actions that cannot be prevented should not be made illegal. I will continue my observations in the topic below labeled "The Rules Define the Ethics". I will say here, though, that most ICCF administrators are highly ethical and their actions, in my opinion, are not "reprehensible." I know many officials and can only admire their dedication and hard work. I don't always agree with their conclusions, but they have some very good reasons for them. As in many things, there are honest differences of opinion.

I believe allowing or not allowing computer or human assistance is a matter of choice, not of ethics. APCT and the other domestic USA organizations have consistently forbidden such consultation, and I respect those rules. My personal feeling is that chess should generally be a one-on-one contest, but there is a place for many variations. Is there no place for a person who enjoys using his computer to help find the very best moves? or even to let the computer make all the moves without human assistance? I think there should be a place for everyone, though not necessarily in any given organization. For instance, APCT does not allow the use of computer engines to generate moves or analyze positions during play. This is pretty clear. People who want to play some games using computer engines can find other competitions where everyone is on the same, level playing field and all can use their engines.

The Rules Define the Ethics

Many will agree with the viewpoint that rules that cannot be effectively enforced should be avoided. Some even say that such rules contribute to undermining respect for the rules. The feeling is that the mark of good rules is effective enforcement. This is a powerful argument. However, there is another viewpoint I would like to express, namely that the rules aren't just a set of laws to enforce, but rather the rules of the game define the game.

For instance, is it ethical to receive advice from another player? This cannot be answered in a vacuum. Recently there have been several on-line contests between experts and teams of consultants, such as Dave Taylor (10th USA Champion) vs. a team made up of visitors to the TCCMB message board and IM John Knudsen vs. Rest of World. Not only was it correct for the team to consult one another, but it was central to the contest. Some players have expressed great pleasure in participating in such a consultation match. How about computer use? There have been a series of matches played using "Advanced Chess", a system allowing a player full access to the chess engine of his choice. No one would argue that these players were being unethical it was just part of the contest. So, what makes the use of a computer engine or consultation unethical in other circumstances? It is the rules, of course.

Carefully crafted rules will clearly set forth what is legal (ethical) and what is illegal (unethical). Chess is a game, a competition, not life. In real life we are often faced with ethical decisions not covered by laws. A cashier gives us too much change. We think, "this makes up for the times I've received too little change and didn't notice" or some such thing. Is it ethical to keep the extra change? I think not. In OTB our chess opponent doesn't notice his flag is about to fall. Do we point it out to him? Would it be unsporting to just sit there and watch him lose on time? In cc our opponent writes down a conditional move, but he leaves out an exchange of pawns in the string of "if" moves. This loses a piece. Are we obliged as ethical chess players to point out his mistake and not take advantage of his oversight?

I think in competitive chess it is completely appropriate to take advantage of our opponent's mistakes, whether it is misjudging his position or writing down the moves incorrectly. In OTB chess it is our opponent's job to watch his clock, not ours. In life, if a cashier makes a mistake and gives us too much change, the situation is completely different. There are no written rules for life (of course, the legal system offers a limited set of rules, but we may legitimately disagree with some of them). Life isn't a game defined by rules of living. Chess, on the other hand, is a competition that is defined by the rules of play.

In the case of the ICCF rules where it was decided to not have a rule against using computer engines, I say there is no ethical problem with using computers. However, many people believe it is inappropriate to use computers it goes against the spirit of the game, at least the way many care to contest it. I think there is a place for competition with computers and without computers, but the rules should be clear in either case.

Are rules simply something you shouldn't be caught violating? If so, then the ICCF situation may be correct. However, if the game is defined by the rules, then the rules should reflect our vision of the game how it should be played. If our vision of the game is a one-on-one competition without consulting with humans or computers, then the rules should so state, whether or not it is practical to enforce any specific rule. Then people can choose the organization, or specific competition within an organization, that specifies in the rules the manner in which we wish to play the game. There's nothing inherently unethical about using consultation during the game many people quite enjoy it, I understand. However, if the rules forbid such consultation, then it isn't the same game. The competitor who uses consultation when the rules forbid it has chosen to play a different game and to pretend it is the same game the opponent is playing. I don't understand the motivation for playing in this unethical behavior. What satisfaction is to be gained by cheating?

The rules should specify our ideals for the game. I will not join those who say, "Everyone uses computers I expect it." In APCT play I expect my opponents NOT to use computers. That is my expectation. The fact that there are cheaters in this world does not affect my expectations of my APCT opponents or those of any other organization. To expect people to violate the rules is a form of corruption of the game, I believe. Expecting violations is a form of approval.

ICCF-U.S. Project to Archive Major Events

Many of you are aware that I am webmaster for both the APCT and ICCF-U.S. web sites. The ICCF-U.S. office is a peculiar organization that represents USA players to the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). In most countries the chief chess organization is a member of ICCF, and members of that organization may play in ICCF events. In the USA no single organization represents all our cc players. Instead, we have this umbrella organization which represents the members of APCT, CCLA and USCF. In previous years NOST and TCC were also part of the equation. ICCF-U.S. also organizes some specific domestic events, such as the USA Championship. As part of the North America/Pacific Zone of the ICCF (NAPZ), the ICCF-U.S. office also participates in NAPZ events and organizes teams for international competition, such as matches against other countries.

I have recently been working on a project to document these events on-line. So much of the information about these events is difficult to find. So I have established web pages which document the crosstables and games of many of these events. For instance, there are now on-line crosstables for all the USA Championships (USCCC tournaments) from the first to the latest, as well as ICCF Master Class sections within NAPZ, NAPZ Championships, North American Invitational CC Championships and other competitions. I believe this is some of the most valuable work I've done in chess journalism, as it provides this information on-line where people researching such events can find it. You can find links to these new archives at the ICCF-U.S. web site at: http://www.iccfus.com.

Early USA Championship Information Wanted

I've hit a snag in the project mentioned above to document all the USA Championships. I cannot find crosstables for the preliminary rounds of the first five events 1st USCCC through the 5th USCCC. The first four events were organized by CCLA before the ICCF-U.S. office took charge. If you have information, even on a single section in which you may have played, please let me know. I doubt I'll even attempt to collect games from these early events which covered roughly the years 1972-1982, but I would dearly love to put together a complete set of crosstables. I've got feelers out to various people who may have some of this information, but so far I've had no luck. The only section I have a crosstable for is the one I played in (the 4th USCCC). Your help is requested!

If you played in some of the later events, drop by the ICCF-U.S. site and refresh your memory on who you played and how you did. I got a lot of pleasure seeing those opponent names again. It could bring back some pleasant memories. Soon I hope to start creating a database of the games of the 14th and 15th USCCC preliminary rounds I have about 1,500 games in the form of score sheets just waiting to be entered into a database. What fun that will be!


Free counters provided by Andale.

copyright © 2003 by J. Franklin Campbell

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