The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - Jan/Feb 1994

Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood

Rick Melton's letter below inspired the following discussion. The above title comes from a book by Edward Lasker, I think. I've never read the book but the title left a strong and lasting impression. Different people play chess for different reasons ... and most people play chess for different or multiple reasons depending on the situation.

I was attracted to chess by the beauty of the game. Chess is often referred to variously as a sport, a science and an art. The scientific precision and creative artistry of the game is compelling. The excitement of the surprising sacrificial attack, the unexpected brilliant move, the harmonious cooperation of the pieces in an attack and the quiet win based on solid positional play all are part of the sciece/art attraction of chess. But we must not forget the "sporting" part of chess, which reveals itself in the competitive nature of the game.

Many of the sporting features of chess are very familiar to OTB (Over-The-Board) players ... time scrambles, blunders, catching opponents in unfamiliar openings, and more extreme tactics such as staring at your opponent to distract him/her, wearing unusual clothing or glasses, moving quickly when an opponent leaves to use the facilities, creating complications when your opponent is in time trouble, etc. Of course, there are many tactics available to the postal chess player as well, some which may be considered bad manners or inappropriate behavior by some and gamesmanship by others.

If moves ... Sometimes "if" moves are given hoping to talk an opponent into making an inferior move. Sometimes they are offered hoping to discourage an opponent from making certain moves, from entering certain lines of play. And sometimes "if" moves aren't given in obvious situations just to gain time. Is this inappropriate behavior or gamesmanship:? It depends on your viewpoint.

Playing On ... Playing on in a lost or obviously drawn position. You can be objectively lost but still have winning or drawing chances, particularly against a much weaker opponent. A famous GM once said that you never win a game by resigning. I agree. Of course, once the complications are gone (and time-used isn't a consideration) a player should probably resign a lost postion. One exception is the 2-games on a card event, where there is nothing to lose by playing on. If your opponent is distracted by a second game he/she may spend less time on the game still in question. This is one reason I don't care for the type of tournament requiring two games with each opponent. What about playing on in a drawn position? Of course, a chess game starts with an even position (possibly even drawn?). One player can outplay an opponent in an even position and win the game. In a team event your team may need the point badly. A player may play on in such a position trying to squeeze out a needed win, even at the cost of playing unsoundly and risking a loss because the win is absolutely needed. So what do you think?

Violating the Rules ... Giving illegal moves to gain time, cheating on time, using chess computers illegally, etc. These things go beyond gamesmanship and cannot be condoned in any circumstances.

I'm sure you readers could come up with many more examples of gamesmanship which could be considered improper behavior by some and good gamesmanship by others. In OTB chess R. J. Fischer certainly tried many such tactics, and very successfully, too. And there are many features of competitive chess that don't belong to the science/art category of chess. Blunders, time mismanagement, bad if moves, recording errors, etc. litter the competitive postal chess arena. They are all part of the game. Yes, it's much more satisfying to beat a strong opponent with superior play. Yet every good win usually contains one or more moves that can be labeled as errors by your opponent. Was my one big win over Jon Edwards ruined for me by the major oversight that gave me my winning chances? No ... I was overjoyed! Would I have been more pleased to have won without such a major oversight? Of course. But I wouldn't give up a single win in competition by ignoring an opponent's error. Just watch those football players celebrate when an opponent fumbles giving them a scoring opportunity. Of course, many fumbles, blocked kicks, intercepted passes and other "blunders" are caused by aggressive play and are forced errors.

When I'm competing I have a single purpose .. to win the game. I try to compete in an honest and fair way and I get a lot of enjoyment from the science/art features of the game. But if an opponent "fumbles" I jump on the ball and try to make him/her pay for the mistake. I enjoy chess for fun a lot. But I also practice chess for blood. Any comments?

More Postal Chess Etiquette

Reader response to the postal chess etiquette topic keeps trickling in. Following are some remarks with a few comments of my own interspersed (my comments are in italics).

Rick Melton (Fountain Hills, Arizona):

Your etiquette column is a good read on a subject not often covered. Here is my 2-cents worth.

Some gripes - but some not without humor

  1. Strong, experienced players who just stop playing in a lost position - causing the adjudication process (nuisance) = Rude, inexcusable behavior.
  2. My cards often take much longer to reach my opponents than do his to get to me. For some reason this gets longer in difficult positions!?
  3. Once a good player in a drawn R&P ending refused my draw offer by stating he was a master of these endings (I guess I should have resigned, having been properly intimidated). Instead, I just schlepped along, over my head, until he was dead lost. His last move was to just stop playing!
  4. One player announced a vacation a couple days after receiving my move (a piece sac' offer). But he forgot to send his reply with his announcement! (How "convenient" to take 3 weeks to examine a critical position.) [This is a violation of APCT rules and should have been reported to the TD. This is comparable to a time-overstep. - JFC]
  5. Players who give inferior "if" moves (hoping you'll swallow the bait).

    I too enjoy 'fun' or pleasant conversations in P.C. Probably 3 out of 4 prefer silence and that's OK too. I'm guided accordingly.

A Couple of things I disagree with:
  1. Not to give an "if" when the answer is forced. Also, the idea of nothing to gain by offering "if's." P. C. takes long enough - why drag out the game longer than necessary (each exchange probably averages 2 weeks).
  2. Feeling glee when offered an "if any" with a hole in it. If you win due to a clerical blunder - it's not your chess that won (neither is your opponent's chess blunder for that matter). You notch the point - but what accomplishment is it? Far better to win due to better chess! Those who drag out dead losses are hoping for some miracle, which also has nothing to do with chess!

Finally, in my opinion - for the sake of uniformity, and to reduce time cheating - the postmark should be King (I use it - most often I respond the same day & mail the next, charging myself 1 day; if I get it in the box the same day, which is infrequent - I take 0; on moves received Saturday, I usually charge myself 2). It seems most players use this same postmark system.

With a 10/30 & 30 day timeout rule - why do so many players use exclusively 0 time? You can't "bank" that much time for a problem position as the "no response after 10 days plus transmission time" rule calls for a repeat, followed by possible forfeit if that's not replied to. [You may take longer than 10 days for a move in a 10/30 game, or course. But to avoid problems you should notify your opponent that your move will be later than usual. Even if you don't and your opponent sends a repeat card, I know of no penalty. - JFC]

... I often get cards with a 2 day discrepency - i.e., date of reply to postmark. In one sense, players who like to play faster (to keep the game more fluid, rather than as just a series of positions to analyze), are penalized by those who stretch the time rules beyond recognition (as in 1, 2, 3, 4 and A above). The postmark rule would serve (to some extent) to tighten up players who are a bit "casual" with the time rules. I see no negatives w/ the postmark rules. There are some in the present system. Thanks for your interesting columns!

I do know a few negatives for the use of postmark. In the Metro Atalnta area postmarks are applied in Atlanta. I found that cards mailed even early in the day still received the following day's postmark. I often went to the post office to get hand postmarks to avoid the day penalty while playing ICCF games (unlike APCT, ICCF uses postmark as the official "sent" date). Sometimes (often) postmarks are not present or are unreadable. And sometimes the local post office leaves off the postmark but the receiving post office applies one serveral days later. Is that the official "sent" date for the postcard? And what about multiple postmarks with different dates? No matter what system you use there are problems.

Thanks for your kind remarks and interesting responses, Rick. Some of your comments inspired me to write the Chess for fun and chess for blood section at the top of the column. - JFC

Ralph Marconi (Joliette, Québec, Canada) - For the second time recently a reader wrote me a letter and then became an opponent. In this case I was assigned to a ROOK semi-final section with Ralph. Following are excerpts from his recent letter, received before he bacame a new opponent.

... Reading through your last few columns has inspired me to write and share with you, and I hope the rest of the APCT, my ideas and also to introduce myself. I'm amazed how much your ideas re: postal chess etiquette and other things mirrors my own, but on to that a little later.

Well, it's been rearly two years since I joined the APCT back in January 1992 and (I) don't regret the decision in the least. I'm very impressed with the layout of the magazine and the quality of content. The service has been superb. I have just completed my first two APCT tournaments and I must confess I've really surprised myself on doing this well, this quickly. ...

Let me introduce myself before I continue any further. I'm 39, married to a French Canadian (Therese) ... two daughters. ... Although I've been living and working here in Québec since 1983 I still retain my USA citizenship. ... My postal chess experience spans just about 20 years, beginning my 'career' in 1973, around the height of the so-called 'Fischer era." ... I started playing in postal tournaments in the USCF: Golden knights, class and rating tournaments. When I moved to Québec I joined the CCCA (Canadian Correspondence Chess Association) and in 1983 I joined the CCLA. In addition to 'domestic' tournaments I also play in ICCF tournaments, finally ascending to the master level of play. I currenltly hold an ICCF ELO rating of 2250. One of my goals in ICCF play is to obtain an ICCF IM title, and perhaps eventually the ICCF GM title also. By the way, I don't see much news, discussion or international postal games in the APCT news Bulletin. ...

Now on to postal chess etiquette and some comments and observations. I, too, have always made it a personal policy to write letters of introduction and sometimes a closing letter when the game has been completed. I usually just send a card, however. Acting in a courteous manner is of paramount importance and I wholeheartedly share your views in this. Being a tournament secretary for almost 8 years now [in ICCF - JFC] I can tell you from personal experience how much I hate to deal with silent withdrawals. If you really want to get (a) TS pissed off at you then just withdraw silently. I have absolutely no use for these people. And, personally, I feel they should all be placed on a "Blacklist" and banned permanently from postal competition. Sincere and serious postal players should not have to put up with such discourteous individuals!

Discussing the game in general I too feel is improper. So, when I see an opponent of mine is starting to chatter about our game, then I try, using as diplomatic language as possible, to say this is uncomfortable, but will be more than happy to exchange a postmortem analysis after the game. This I think is quite fair and potentially instructive.

Quickly: I agree it's the height of insensitivity to tag your opponent's move with a '?'. I know I would not apreciate it. However, I have no problem with the tags '!' or '!?'. They are compliments, in my opinion. I would never ask an opponent to resign under any circumstance. It's simply not in the spirit of chess and rude. But wow have I been tempted in my 20 years! Although I sympathize with Ben Miramontes' situation and others like him, I still feel it's improper to ask for a resignation from your opponent. Can't offer any solution at the moment. In general, I like to receive result updates, but neither expect or feel obligated to pass along this information. But I have. Absolutely: RESPECT your opponents. Fortunately, I have only had border line cases where players had used abusive language with me. I let it pass thinking perhaps I was being oversensitive. Your advice under the Respect Your Opponent is almost word for word my views! Bravo!

Exactly! Clerical errors are part of what makes postal chess unique and is an integral part of this format. Chess players entering this arena simply must learn to be careful and learn good record-keeping habits. Period! I still feel the occasional twinge of pity when I win a game because of a clerical error, but then I remember those times when I've made these 'howlers' myself and then I feel better.

Well, thats about it for now. Since I've broken the ice, so to speak, I guess from time to time you'll be hearing from me. I think your column is a wonderful part of the APCT News Bulletin. I congratulate you on doing a great job with it. Darn it, only wish I thought of it first!

I would like to make a special appeal through the pages of your column to all those APCT players who have been debating with themselves whether they should try international play. A good way to get your feet wet in this fascinating arena is to try an APTB (ICCF Anglo-Pacific Tournament Bureau) tournament first. I say this because players from member countries speak English for the most part, so there's no real language barrier, and transit times are probably a bit faster among these countries as well. ...

You have followed the route taken by many serious postal chess players. First get a taste of postal play through the USCF postal chess organization. Then join a more dedicated organization, such as CCLA. And finally join APCT, the finest postal organization in the USA (at least this is my personal opinion - of course our convincing victory in the National Team Championship indicates our pre-eminent position as the strongest postal chess club). This column use to carry ICCF news but the ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli no longer sends out those informative news releases of past years. I've heard so little about the ICCF in the past couple years I was wondering if they were still active in the USA. So don't expect much international news here.

Thanks for your views of postal chess etiquette. I find a variety of views most interesting and thought-provoking, expecially when there are new insights or disagreements. We're a diverse organization and all benefit from a free exchange of ideas. Thanks for your input.

Chess Humor In a Local Newspaper

It's unusual to find chess mentioned in a local newspaper but APCT'er John Helmbrecht of Coatesville, PA sent this clipping in from his local paper:

In Conclusion, Well, some DO talk a lot. Reader Bill "Curly" Conners wants us all to hear about some loquacious chess players. During a break in a tournament, they stood in the lobby of their clubhouse, bragging about their various moves. This caused a bystander to remark: "Chess nuts boasting on an open foyer."

I hardly know what to say, John (groan).

copyright © 1994, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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