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):
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.
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).
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