The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - September/October 2005

Fun Quote

In an article celebrating the 80th birthday of GM Wolfgang Unzicker Chess Today quoted an old story by GM Unzicker. At the reception of the Hastings chess congress in 1954/55 Ludek Pachmann reported that his mother had switched the positions of the Knight and Bishop on the board when she taught him to play chess. Paul Keres remarked, "that is something one needs to keep in mind when studying your opening books." Of course, Pachmann wrote some of the finest opening books of his time.

Another source of quotes is The Correspondence Chess Message Board. Wim van Vugt places a new quote at the top of the message board each week. I particularly like the currently displayed quote by the Magician from Riga Mikhael Tal: "You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one."

MegaCorr4 CC Database

SIM Tim Harding (Ireland) has announced the availability of his updated database of cc games MegaCorr4 (by the time this magazine is delivered to you). I have found the previous versions very useful and interesting and strongly recommend this product. As with past versions, this one will contain databases in ChessBase and PGN formats plus issues of his magazine Chess Mail in PDF format. You can read more about it at the Chess Mail web site:


The cost is about $45. Americans can order copies through the ICCF-U.S. office:

1642 N. Volusia Ave., Suite 102
Orange City, FL 32763

You can find an order form at the ICCF-U.S. web site. Click the "ICCF-U.S. Store" link at the top of the web site:


Hydra Crushes Adams

In perhaps the most dramatic man-computer contest to date, the Hydra computer played a 6-game match vs. GM Michael Adams (England). The final result of five wins for Hydra and a single draw was a big surprise. Hydra was billed as the strongest chess computer in the world with 32 processors and state of the art software. Adams got a draw in game 2 as White.

The prize fund was innovative with prizes awarded per game. A win was worth $25,000 and a draw worth $10,000. This means the Hydra team won $135,000 while Adams went away with $10,000, not a good payday for Adams (though I suspect he got an undisclosed appearance fee). Many commentators considered Adams a poor choice to challenge the computer based on his strength (tactics). This is generally thought to be playing into a computer's strength, while strong positional play is considered the best approach to defeating the machines.

I rather liked this quote, taken from a ChessBase account of the match. Hydra's chief programmer Chrilly Donninger said: "In our quest to prove the power of Hydra we could not have hoped for a better outcome. This is a far more difficult opponent than Kasparov, and Adams has played extremely well. So we are very pleased with the performance of our machine."

Of considerable interest to correspondence chess players is the fact that ICCF GM Arno Nickel recently won the first two games of a projected 4-game match vs. Hydra (the second two games have yet to be played). This correspondence match is taking place on the ChessFriends server. Apparently, Adams faced an upgraded version of the Hydra software. It will be interesting to see if they use this upgraded version for the last two games against Nickel, and what GM Nickel's results will be.

USCF Endorses Drug Use!

There are reports that the USCF had announced support for a supplement called brainSpeed, marketed by the Natrol company. Chess Today (June 30, 2005) gave this quote from USCF President Beatriz Marinello: "Clearly chess is a game of the mind and working at the top of your mental processing powers is critical to tournament play. We are delighted to be embarking on this alliance with Natrol and we see a direct connection between brainSpeed and our membership. We look forward to many unique events together in the future."

In a June 8, 2005 press release Natrol Inc. made this announcement: "Chess masters and fans at the 2005 US Open Chess Championship will get a sneak preview of Natrol brainSpeed(TM), the new cognitive health supplement designed to help improve mental agility, promote attention and maintain memory. This innovative nutritional product hits the chess world June 11, 2005 at the famed Riviera Hotel grand ballroom. In a twist on chess tradition, Natrol and the US Chess Federation will present the brainSpeed Human Chess Challenge, a regulation match where two world-famous Grandmasters control a gigantic chessboard featuring human beings as the chess pieces."

In a later statement by President Marinello on chessninja.com (July 2, 2005) she said, "The deal with Natrol was my mistake, I accept this and I am sorry for it. Toni Speyer, Vice President of Marketing for Natrol mentioned the following in his statement: 'First, brainSpeed is not a drug, it is a nutritional supplement. Just as there are nutritional supplements (e.g. vitamins) for the body, brainSpeed is a nutritional supplement for the brain. Not only was this product developed based on solid scientific research and safety studies, it even offers consumers an on-line test so they can see for themselves if it works. Second, Natrol is a 25 year old health and wellness company and is known for the integrity of its formulas as well as its "A" rating for Good Manufacturing Practices by the National Nutritional Foods Association.' What was misleading was the aggressive way how this company is marketing this product. People can buy this product over the counter in any vitamin stores across the nation."

USCF is in the middle of an election. Her opponents are labeling this product a "drug" while she is saying it's a natural supplement like vitamins. I couldn't find anything on the USCF web site. The US Open tournament description didn't have any mention of the "brainSpeed Human Chess Challenge". I haven't formed any personal opinions about this "performance enhancing" whatever. I'm sure we'll hear more about it, though.

A few quotes from the next issue of Chess Today are interesting. GM Tony Kosten said, " there seems to be 3 different 'brainSpeed' products, and none of them are drugs as such, simply different combinations of nutrients (like vitamins), which are known to help brain function well. There doesn't seem to be anything new here, similar things have been available in Health Food shops for many years, and are quite harmless. If there was really a drug that improved your chess I guess we would all be using it pretty soon!"

Another quote from GM Ian Rogers said in part, "Within days of making the announcement, the USCF were forced to cancel the match, stung by complaints that they were promoting drug use. In addition, critics noted that Natrol, the manufacturer of 'brainSpeed', had recently been fined $250,000 for making unsupportable claims for another of their products. The new drug - or more accurately herbal supplement - works by targeting the cholinergic system and thereby, according to Natrol, helps 'accelerate reaction time, improve decision making velocity and promote mental acuity'. (The same could be said for nicotine, another drug which targets the cholinergic system)."

Reader Input

An email arrived from Alex Herrera with some analysis of the Elo equations mentioned in a recent column plus the following comments about ethical behavior and time controls in correspondence chess.

For time controls in CC, to deal with a range of behaviors we most consider unethical, how about a sliding (possibly exponential) time charge based on the time spent on one move? For example after 14 days of reflection the time deducted would increase to 1.5 "days" per real day. At 30 days of reflection time for 1 move the deduction would be 3 "days" per 24 hours and so forth.

There have been many ideas presented for dealing with undesirable ways some players use their accumulated time in cc play. With the normal time limit of 60 days per 10 moves in ICCF competitions this allows for huge amounts of time to be accumulated. I have a game where I anticipate having over a year of time accumulated by the time the game ends. In APCT the time limit is faster (30 days per 10 moves), so such huge amounts of accumulated time is not possible, but it is not uncommon in ICCF play. The problem being addressed by Alex is the situation where some players get a lost position and start using all their accumulated time, instead of simply resigning. More on this in the next topic.

This is certainly an interesting proposal by Alex. The only time it would come into effect is when a player is taking a large amount of time for a single move. In general I like the concept of the sliding scale. With chess servers becoming more popular, it becomes practical to use more complex methods of calculating time used. Some have suggested using a "Fischer clock", meaning you get some many days added to your accumulated time each time you move.

There doesn't seem to be a consensus about the best way to solve the problem of huge amounts of accumulated time, or even agreement that it IS a problem. Some people say it is their time and the players can use the time any way they wish, including using large amounts of accumulated time late in the game, whatever the position. It will be interesting to watch the upcoming ICCF Congress in Argentina in October 2005 to see if any changes are made. I have submitted a formal proposal to limit the amount of time that can be accumulated. Others have submitted different proposals.

William Gillespie, an inmate at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in California, sent the following:

I have played chess from age 8. I am 43 now. I have a life sentence for a non-violent, non-serious conviction under the California 3-strikes law. I have been incarcerated for just under 9 years now. My attorney tells me I may be out, a citizen again, in 1-06. That depends on the assembly passing AB-50 this December. The 3-strikes law will be amended. It has to be. California is starting to take responsibility for its mistakes pertaining the 3-strikes law so there can be a change.

Chess for me is a way of life. For the last 8-plus years in prison, playing chess has made it easier for me to tolerate being incarcerated. My message for your readers is, all things are possible with chess. Please publish my message, along with my address. I welcome all letters.

Very Truly, William Gillespie (APCT active Master 2255)

William Gillespie #K-71660
P.V.S.P. D2-142
P. O. Box 8504
Coalinga, California 93210

Thanks for your letter, William. I hope you get some interesting correspondence from APCT'ers.

Ethics and Time Usage

I have discussed this issue on numerous occasions, but a critical component of the discussion is exactly what should be considered unethical, or more simply what should not be allowed. Since I may be repeating myself from past columns I'll be short.

If a player continues to play and use a lot of time, even when the position is a dead loss, is this something that should be somehow stopped? Should a player be considered "unethical", or is he simply doing something he has every right to do (without criticism)? Generally, a player may play till he is defeated, but is this correct play? It can be quite frustrating to have an opponent play on and on in a lost position, particularly if he is using a lot of time.

Is it fair of us to attempt to limit the options of an opponent who is completely lost? Maybe maybe not. This is definitely a difficult question. I still believe there should be a limit to the amount of time that can be accumulated. Early in a game players have to play at a certain minimum pace. Later in a game, if the players have accumulated a lot of time, the pace of the game can slow to a snail-like pace, which for me somewhat spoils the experience of playing cc. In APCT play such huge accumulations of time isn't possible, and a player must notify his opponent if he intends to use over 10 days for a single move. In ICCF play that number is 40 days, and it is not clear exactly how this rule is enforced.

Why might a player use a lot of time and continue playing in a lost position? Here are a few ideas.

  1. He finds looking at the position painful and so he doesn't.
  2. Even if the game is totally lost, he finds analyzing the position so unpleasant that he doesn't. As a result, he considers it possible that the position may not be so bad as he thinks, so he plays on in hopes that something good will suddenly appear later.
  3. "You can't win by resigning", so he postpones the inevitable.
  4. Losing will drop his rating, so he postpones the loss and thereby postpones the rating loss till later. This may allow the player to reach his record high rating by counting his wins but postponing counting his losses.
  5. Maximizing his rating by postponing his rating losses might allow qualification to events with rating limitations.
  6. The player might be so mad at losing the game that he refuses to resign.
  7. The losing player may recognize he is lost but want to see how his opponent uses his advantage to force the win. This might be particularly useful for weak or beginning players.
  8. The losing player simply has no idea what is going on or may be a novice at competitive play. It just doesn't occur to him to resign.

I'm sure other reasons could be added by readers. Is it fair to impose special limitations on players? One idea I had was to allow a player to request a special adjudication. If the TD could determine the game was basically over he could adjudicate the win immediately, but if there was any question at all he could allow the game to continue. But ending even super-obvious situations could be considered an inappropriate abridgement of a player's rights. Perhaps the player with the winning position should stop complaining and just force mate.

When it comes to ethics there is always a lot of disagreement. Is it ethical to ask for a move take-back in the case of a notation error or analyzing the wrong position? Is it ethical to refuse to allow a move take-back? We get a lot of disagreement on these basic questions. It is best to be slow in accusing an opponent of bad ethics. I had an opponent complain because I proposed a conditional move he considered inferior. We really need to tread carefully when we discuss ethical behavior.

ICCF Elections

ICCF's annual Congress is approaching, and this year it will be particularly important, in my opinion. After the resignation (due to health and personal issues) of its President Josef Mrkvicka (Czech) at the beginning of the year the organization suffered a small crisis. A second major resignation over leadership style and personality clashes occurred when Chris Lueers (Germany) resigned as World Tournament Director. This reduced the Executive Board from nine to seven members, with three of them American: Max Zavanelli (Deputy President & Development Director), Grayling Hill (Finance Director) and Ruth Ann Fay (North American/Pacific Zone Director).

I have covered some of the details in earlier columns, but I believe part of the problem has arisen based on new financial pressures due to the cost of the new chess webserver. It is a really nice system, which not only allows playing chess via the Internet but also is being expanded to perform many administrative duties, such as calculating ratings and recording results from non-server tournaments. The server is properly seen as a requirement for maintaining the organization in the 21st century. CC players are shifting their playing preferences to using chess servers and away from postal and email chess. It is also important to automate as much as possible to remove the work burden from the volunteers. For example, I spend hours every week updating on-line crosstables for the ICCF Champions League competition. Server tournaments have automated crosstables which require no such volunteer effort, and they are updated immediately, not after a delay of player report of result TD recording the result and reporting it to the web page updater web page person updating the on-line table. But developing and running a chess webserver takes money.

Nominations have closed and two people are running for the position of President. Mohammed "Med" Samraoui (Algeria, but living in Germany) is the current Zonal Director for the Africa/Asia Zone (one of four zones in ICCF). I have had only good personal experiences with Med and have only received good reports from my friends. He is a highly respected member of the ICCF Executive Board and is reportedly supported by many. I particularly find his attitude towards the need to restore the concept of "Amici Sumus" to the organization (the ICCF motto which means "We are Friends"). The recent misunderstandings and disputes over leadership style and direction ICCF should take have created strains in this great concept.

The second nominee is Claudio Javier Goncalves (Argentina). He is not known personally to me, but the little I have heard about him is encouraging. With the Congress being held on his home ground he may be a strong candidate. It would appear that ICCF will soon have excellent leadership with their new President.

Unfortunately, there is no nomination for the important role of World Tournament Director. If no one is nominated by the Congress, this position will have to be filled by appointment. It must be difficult for any volunteer organization to fill such jobs, since they require a great deal of time, effort and enthusiasm. It will be difficult to replace the former WTD Chris Lueers.

Congress will take place in Villa La Angostura Neuquen, Argentina October 29 - November 5, 2005. I will be trying to get reports from Congress to post on the Internet at:


There are still some bad feelings following the recent disputes. Due to its location, many of the regular attendees will doubtless be missing. In the Congress I attended I noted how useful it is to meet face to face with other volunteers. There is a camaraderie that is difficult, if not impossible, to have with distant communications (email, letters). Small personal disputes and disagreements can seem very minor when you are meeting face to face. At such times it is easy to let friendship and good will take over and dominate the situation, where with email it is all too easy to fire off an offensive message, even without really meaning to.

One difficulty that must be dealt with is the need to face the new realities of the world. People are finding many alternatives for playing chess. Some of the private chess servers are very attractive, and many offer free or quite cheap play. With the ICCF you must enter events through your national federation (ICCF-U.S. for Americans). There are fees for most events, so play may be perceived as expensive. Personally, I feel cc is a bargain in today's world. I can pay an entry fee and play a server tournament with International opponents for a fraction of the past cost of postage for postal events. However, some people see the current national federation structure of ICCF as a problem for attracting new members. There is probably a good solution to this, if it can be found. Good leadership during this difficult transition to the global on-line world is critical.

CJA Awards

For a second year in a row my web site "The Campbell Report" (all these columns are archived there) has received the award from the Chess Journalists of America for "Best Correspondence Chess Web Site".

An article at my site "The Process of Creation: Correspondence Play and the Growth of Chess in Texas a Century Ago" by Neil Brennen won an Honorable Mention for "Best Historical Article".

Some other major awards:

Chess Journalist of the Year Frisco Del Rosario

Best Chess Column Dan Heisman: "Novice Nook" at http://www.chesscafe.com

Best Correspondence Chess Magazine Joseph Ganem: The Chess Correspondent

A complete list of the awards will be published in The Chess Journalist and in Chess Life. You can see this information on-line at:

copyright © 2005 by J. Franklin Campbell

Home Column Menu Previous Column Next Column