ICCF Congress in India
The International Correspondence Chess Federation has once again had a successful annual Congress, this time in the chess-crazed country of India. Just tonight I set up another web page at the ICCF Congress Web Site (http://correspondencechess.com/congress/) of photographs of this exotic location, these taken by the Danish delegate Søren Peschardt, The current world cc champion GM Tunc Hamarat (Austria) has also promised photos, to join those of Swedish delegate Per Söderberg and NAPZ Director Ruth Ann Fay, a member of the USA delegation. ICCF is experiencing some exciting times now, with the addition of competition on the ICCF Server, a web site allowing games to be played by logging into the site and moving pieces on a diagram using a mouse. Naturally, new rules of play are required, so this was part of the business of Congress this year (to approve the new rules of play). Both the postal and email rules received some tweaks in the on-going effort to improve the rules of play.
APCT, through the ICCF-U.S. office, is a member of the ICCF. This means APCT members are eligible to play in International tournaments sponsored by ICCF. I recommend this to players of all strengths. The ICCF-U.S. office offers events such as NAPZ Master Class, Higher Class and Open Class (NAPZ includes countries that mostly use English and will include a high percentage of Americans), the popular USCCC preliminaries and finals (USA Championships), plus access to all ICCF International events. If you're interested check the order form at the http://www.iccfus.com web site for current selections. There are also about a dozen thematic tournaments started each year with various different openings, a Fischer Random event and many other interesting tournaments. If English is your only language you won't run into any difficulties. In my experience many opponents can communicate in English, but if you have some language skills you may get some excellent opportunities to put them to use. Through the years I had several chances to practice my German, though I still remember that Sunday morning a German opponent decided it would be nice to resign by calling me on the telephone. I normally struggled over my correspondence with him in German (giving him too high of an opinion of my German capabilities), so hearing German on the phone after being awakened by my wife was very challenging.
New USA Titles
Each year the ICCF Congress confirms the titles earned during the previous year and awards certificates and medals. This year four USA residents received new titles:
Eliminating the "Phony Day"
One of the achievements of this year's ICCF Congress was the elimination of the so-called "phony day" in email chess. ICCF measures time used in days in all competition: postal, email and server. To avoid issues with different time zones the rules allowed a player in email events to claim he received a move the day after it actually arrived. This meant if I received a move early on Monday morning and replied before midnight on Tuesday, I could claim zero time used. The idea was to eliminate problems when an email delivery was delayed or a time zone consideration would cause a problem. In reality, this usually meant the time limit was not the official 60 days for ten moves as established for ICCF email play but was 70 days for ten moves, with many moves made using zero time.
The new email rules allow a move which arrives after 8:00pm local time to be claimed to have arrived the next day. This means, effective, that a player is responsible for checking his email at 8pm. After that he may wait till the next day to check the email without worrying about the move having physically arrived the previous day and charging himself an extra day. There has, naturally, been some objections. Even though the "phony day" has been unpopular on the correspondence chess message board, some found this solution even worst. Some claimed if they received a move at 7:59pm and replied at one minute after midnight, they would be charged one day for just over four hours of time. Others pointed out that the Tournament Directors would face more work as players disagreed about the arrival time of moves. Some predicted players would time sending their moves to arrive just before 8pm in their opponents' time zones. I believe all this arguing is a lot of nonsense. I personally think this is a big improvement over the "phony day", but we'll see how it works out in practice.
No Input from APCT Readers This Time
I usually try to include some input from APCT'ers in this column. Sorry, I received nothing at all this time. If you care to express your opinion on a correspondence chess topic feel free to write me. You can find my web site URL at the top of this column for contact information (click on "Contact Webmaster" either there or at The Campbell Report web site (http://correspondencechess.com/campbell/).
Create Your Own Chess Web Site
For those of you with some computer skills you might want to try creating your own web site. I was a programmer, but didn't have any knowledge of designing or coding web sites when I started. I got a good book and a free web site (you can search and find many sources of free web sites) and started putting up web pages. I did have a natural selection of material with my old APCT columns, so my first project was to post my columns. Soon I was writing articles, collecting a set of links to other chess sites and writing articles. Slowly things expanded till I have hundreds of web pages now.
There are new software tools that make wonderful things possible. Many free websites come with simple editors allowing you to set up web pages with no programming experience. Programs like ChessBase allow you to create web pages to let your viewers play through games right on the computer monitor, and you can do it with the click of a mouse.
If you don't want to master creating web pages you can easily find other webmasters eager for material, so writing articles or annotating games for other sites is very possible. Not interested in web sites? … write articles or columns for magazines or your local chess club newsletter. Spread your wings and try something that will stretch yourself. Mastering some new facet of chess culture will make chess more fun and introduce some excitement into your chess life.
World Champion at ICCF Congress
In previous columns I mentioned the public pronouncements of current world champion GM Tunc Hamarat (Austria). He did not approve of the lower requirements for winning the world championship, saying the tournament sections were getting smaller and the requirements to gain entry into world championship events were getting easier. I'm happy to report that he attended the ICCF Congress in India (where he received his world championship plate engraved with the crosstable from the World Championship final). Here he discussed his views and exchanged ideas with various ICCF officials and delegates. In the end he was appointed to several ICCF commissions (committees) dealing with these matters, so his voice will definitely be heard. Excellent!
Is the OTB Classical World Champion Chicken?
Most of you are aware that GM Vladimir Kramnik retained his world championship title by playing a drawn match with GM Peter Leko. It was an interesting match is some respects. Of the 14 games there were a large number of short draws. At the end Kramnik showed his class by playing some fighting chess when he was backed into a corner, requiring him to score a win at the end of the match to get the drawn match and retain his title.
A short time after the match the Russians held a strong championship event called the 57th Russian Championship Super Final. Some top players were seeded directly into this strong event without the need to qualify, including Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik had earlier committed to playing in this event, but at the last moment he sent a doctor's letter saying he was unable to compete due to being exhausted by his world championship match. Even later, just the day before the event started, Karpov also backed out without a real pretence of an excuse. The sudden withdrawal of Kramnik, though, appeared as though he was afraid to compete against a strong field. Is he showing the same fear that forced Fischer out of competition? Certainly, it was possible that he wouldn't have been at his strongest after a difficult defense of his title, but still calls of "chicken" have been heard. Recently he has even stated that he doesn't feel compelled to play the winner of the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match for a unified title. Is he ducking a possible Kasparov match like Alekhine ducked a return match vs. Capablanca?
By the way, I understand that the rules for the Kramnik-Leko match specified penalties for the players if they failed to refer to the match as a match for the Classical World Championship.
Draws in Over the Board Chess
People often decry all the draws in OTB events, especially the short "Grandmaster Draws." People say it is bad for chess and drives away sponsorship. Both the spectators and sponsors come away from a short draw with a bad taste in their mouths. One major event that led to mass dissatisfaction was the 2003 USA Championship, where there was a big tie for first going into the final round. The spectators were excited watching the last round, expecting some hard-fought chess as people strived for the championship. Instead, game after game ending in short non-fighting draws. It felt like we were cheated!
The recent Kramnik-Leko world championship match has generated more of this kind of talk. The ten draws lasted 18, 23, 43, 20, 21, 16, 35, 17, 34 and 65 moves. So we had four decisive games, four hard-fought draws, and six draws averaging 19 moves per game. Practically half the games of the match were "non-games". Both players had their reasons for being satisfied with these short draws, and both players were playing to win the world championship, not please the spectators or sponsors. That is understandable if unpopular. If we want fewer short draws the organizers need to find incentives for the players to play on.
Recently, I suggested (in a letter to the editor published in Chess Life) that we consider scoring a draw as 0.4 point for White and 0.6 point for Black. My idea (I don't believe it was original with me) was that White has a slight advantage, so award Black more than White if a draw is achieved. This also gives White an incentive to work for a win. The friendly draw between friends would also be less attractive to the players since one player would benefit more than the other. However, my idea has its flaws. It makes the draw more desirable for Black, who can only achieve 0.4 point more for a win. In tournaments with unequal Whites and Blacks this might also be unfair. Like the idea often mention of awarding each player only 1/3 point for a draw, it doesn't seem very practical.
An interesting story I read recently described a last-round encounter between Dutch GM Jan Timman and one of his long-time chess friends. His friend needed a draw in the last round to gain his GM title. However, Timman did not agree to a quick draw. Rather, he played to win. Winning this game "deprived" his friend of his GM title. Apparently, this severely strained their friendship. I applaud Timman for his competitive spirit and believe it was his friend, who wanted a cheap half-point, who was wrong. On the other hand, the USA championship I mentioned earlier had at least one set of good friends meeting in the last round. They simply never play a competitive game, always agreeing to a short draw. Should we expect more of players in important events? Is it actually unprofessional and insulting to fans and sponsors to play non-games, collect their prizes and go home?
In my opinion, the only real solution to GM draws is to make it to the players' advantage to play for a win, or at least play on seriously for a decent number of moves. How can this be made attractive to players? The only things I can think of are money and future invitations. But just what specifically can we do? Can the prize money be linked to number of moves played somehow? Perhaps a scale of fines could be created to levy against players according to the number of moves made, something like a 1% reduction for each move less than 35 in all the games. If you're playing for $500,000, as with some of the most important matches, a 20-move draw could cost you $75,000! I once won $60 for winning the Kansas State Championship tournament. There a 20-move draw could have cost me $9.00. Can anyone come up with better incentives for players to extend their games and avoid these short draws? If we fined players for draws less than a certain number of moves, could we construct proper rules to allow for exceptions, say for saving a lost game with a sacrifice leading to a perpetual? We wouldn't want to see players simply moving pieces back and forth in order to reach a certain move count. Tricky.
It's been said that draws are simply part of chess. On the other hand, draws are not attractive to the viewing public or to sponsors. Perhaps it is a mistake to try to turn chess into a professional sport. Maybe it is just not suitable, just as making chess an Olympic sport seems to be a failed idea. Chess is a great activity. It is fun … it is intellectually challenging … it can be enormously exciting and competitive. But maybe it just can't be a good profession. Perhaps OTB should be like correspondence chess where we play for the love of the game and of competition, not for money.
FIDE and Drug Testing
I don't believe we'll ever see anything as bizarre as drug testing in correspondence chess. However, it is certainly a reality in OTB, at least at the highest levels. Two players were recently penalized for refusing a drug test at the Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Mallorca (Spain). In its quest for Olympics recognition, FIDE has a drug testing program, to put it in line with other sports. This is controversial and has the support of very few of the players.
Two players were stripped of the points they earned at the Olympiad team championship. They were minor players (non-professional players) on low-ranked teams, but it sets a precedent. The players involved were Shaun Press from Papua New Guinea and Bobby Miller from Bermuda. Penalties in the future will be more severe, according to FIDE, and will involve suspension from play in FIDE events for a couple years.
More Absurdities for FIDE
It's impossible for me to determine what exactly happened and who is to blame, but in a bizarre incident that was widely reported FIDE Vice President GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili was beaten up at the Closing Ceremony of the Chess Olympiad. As he approached the stage to argue that errors were being made in the presentations the local security guards stopped him and a confrontation occurred, leading to Azmaiparashvili being beaten and taken to jail. I can't report on the final disposition. He was released from jail a few days later but plans to return for a court appearance. The photos of Azmaiparashvili with his black eye were quite dramatic. I wonder … has a cc competition ever led to such a confrontation?
"2005" USA Championship (OTB)
As I write this the USA OTB Chess Championship is underway in San Diego. GM Alex Stripunsky and 17-year-old GM Hikaru Nakamura share the lead after eight rounds. In this 9-round event 64 players (49 men and 15 women) are playing a Swiss system where the top scorer is named USA Champion, and the top-scoring woman is named the USA Woman Champion.
The funny thing, though, is last year's championship was the "2003" championship. What happened to 2004? The official web site (http://www.uschesschampionship.com) has this cryptic note: "The event is titled "2005" because, due to an awkward contractual conflict, the US Chess Federation held a 2004 Women's championship earlier this year. There will be no 2004 US championship." I assume this was written by the webmaster Mig Greengard, who is known for his interesting writing style. What did he mean by "awkward contractual conflict"?
As I understand it, the 2003 women's champion was to be given an automatic position on the Women's Olympiad team. However, the championship had a surprise winner, WIM Anna Hahn. She has a relatively low rating and was not wanted on the team. Apparently, they found a loophole in the regulations. If they had another women's championship before the Olympiad, the new champion could be given the automatic place on the team, not Hahn. The championship was arranged, Hahn declined her invitation to play, and a new champion (for 2004) was crowned. This "solved" their problem, and they put together the women's team they wanted. "Awkward" does seem to be a reasonable word for it. The women's team went on to win their first-ever medal by finishing second in the Olympiad competition, an outstanding result (China took first place, Russian edged Georgia on tie-break for third).
Earlier, people wondered what they would call the current USA championship … 2004 Men's championship and 2005 Women's championship? The solution (to just call it the 2005 championship) seems the best approach to me. After all, the reigning champions will hold their titles almost entirely during the year 2005. There's a good question, though. If another "awkward contractual conflict" occurs in the future, will they do the same thing? In 2006 could they be playing for the 2008 championship?
copyright © 2004 by J. Franklin Campbell
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