The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - March/April 1994

Columnist Moves to Michigan

After living in Georgia for nine years and participating in the last three APCT Regional Team Championships playing for the DIXIE team, I have made a move up north. So in your future correspondence please use my new address given above. This is just a temporary address while we look for a house so check future columns for my latest address.

Lev Polugaevsky on "Postal Chess"

Polugaevsky wrote an intriguing and very different chess book titled "Grandmaster Preparation." After being encouraged by former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik to write a book he rejected the idea of a book of his best games. He considered himself too young to write such a book. He felt his best games were still in front of him and he wasn't yet ready to write a book summing up his career. So he came up with an unusual book divided into four chapters.

The four chapters cover the following topics:

  1. how he came to write the book and choose the topics
  2. the history of the Polugaevsky variation of the Sicilian Defense
  3. the analysis of adjourned games
  4. how to prepare for decisive games

I recommend this book to serious chess players. I find some comments in the chapter on adjourned games particularly interesting. Here the GM says, "... in principle ... analysis, and the study of openings, are two aspects of a common form of creativity. In each case a part is played by intuition, general positional understanding, and experience. In each case, in contrast to a tournament game, a move can be taken back, and one does not have to keep spasmodically looking at the rising flag on the chess clock. But on the other hand, it is shameful to permit oneself a mistake, which is so common during play, it is shameful not to find the strongest continuation, and it is shameful to overlook a study-like win if there should be one, or the sole possibility of saving an apparently hopeless game.

"I know that this is what a number of leading grandmasters think. And I also know that if, as a rule, a strong player analyzes an adjourned position more deeply and more accurately than a player of lower standard, then if the analysis is indeed carried out with maximum intensity, this contributes to the development and improvement of the player. After all, the positions analyzed are normally rich in possibilities, since games where the outcome is clear are not normally played on. There is no better way of replenishing your supply of ideas and of teaching yourself to pay attention to nuances, than by searching for the strongest continuations, both for yourself and your opponent. But if a player becomes carried away by his analysis 'in one direction' only, and if he does not so much study the various positions as 'revel' in them, and in his positional or material advantage, how many times do we witness surprises on the resumption!"

These comments are certainly interesting on their own. But, while reading them, I suddenly became aware that he could be talking about postal chess! Is there really any difference between analyzing the adjourned position in an OTB game and working out a move in a postal chess game? It's as though the game were adjourned after every opponent's move! This chapter of the book could prove a valuable source of inspiration and instruction to the postal chess player in how to analyze a position and determine the best move/plan. And it seems to me that Polugaevsky is in perfect agreement with those OTB players who take up postal chess to improve their playing skills.

APCT Members Contribute More Ideas

APCT members continue to send in their views on topics covered in this column:

Bill Jones: "Initially I played postal to improve my OTB, which has worked well, but postal has taken a life of its own."

Ken Hamilton: "Spiky columns invite spiky responses, right? Here's mine -- overtly pressuring opponents to resign games ranks with retracting moves or such childishness and is unfair to others in a section. However, sending barrages of 'if' moves (if you dare!) as 'drop it' hints has to be OK. On the other hand, 'diehards' deserve respect. I'm one myself in 'important' games. p.s. Dropouts? Make'em your x-word puzzles -- adjudicate."

George Arons: "The Campbell Report" has progressively segued to the forefront as the eyes and ears of the chess community. It is in this context that I write, in a memo overdue.

"In the Jan-Feb 1994 issue of the Bulletin, in Jon Voth's column anouncing the winners of the Best APCT Game from the First National Team Championship, I looked forward with the greatest of anticipation to playing through the game scores, which were lavisly described as 'captivating,' 'beautiful' and 'outstanding.'

"Visualize my dismay! -- I was unable to follow the text through from beginning to end. Each game score was broken into, again and again, with reams of variations and sub-variations. I couldn't -- to save my life! -- recapture the continuity of each game.

"I call to your attention Herb Hickman's chess column in the Sunday Star-Ledger: He simply gives the entire game score and FOLLOWS-UP with his analysis. How obvious! How clear-cut!"

[This illustrates an important difficulty in writing for a wide audience ... you can't satisfy everyone. Personally, I very much dislike the very system you prefer. I have difficulty following the analysis in Robert Byrnes New York Times column, which gives the simple game score with comments buried in the text of the column. I thought the games selected as the best were indeed captivating, beautiful and outstanding. And I found the basic game scores tremendously enhanced by the variations and sub-variations given. I do selectively skip some analysis and frequently go over games for pleasure without consulting any analysis. I find Voth's use of boldface font for the actual game moves makes it easy to go over a game without consulting the notes. I've seen numerous books, however (including ECO's), where it is extremely difficult to find where the main line continues in the mass of notes. More care should be taken by writers and publishers to make their material more 'user-friendly.' Thanks for your viewpoint. I believe one measure of the strength of an organization is how free the members feel to express their diverse viewpoints. -- JFC]

Richard Mangus: "... My ex-wife moved me from OTB to playing solely postal chess. She asked, 'The whole weekend? Just playing chess for all weekend was a twilight zone concept. She's probably right. Of course, postal means playing the whole week.

"I have a question: how many (percentage-wise) chess players also play games like Ogre, Battletech, Traveller and various war games and role-playing games? My experience is that only about one in 16 postalites say yes when I ask about it. But half of players of other games play chess from time to time and maybe 10% have tried some kind of tournament and/or postal chess. I, for one, also play Ogre, etc. (Ogre is a tank/infantry war game). I enjoy your column ..."

[Thanks ... I'm glad you enjoy the column. I enjoy the comments and viewpoints I receive from readers like you. I agree about the 'whole weekend' concept. When I play OTB I prefer the one game a week approach. Though I often gleefully spend the entire eveining on postal chess activities I don't particularly enjoy spending a whole weekend in unfamiliar and generally uncomfortable surroundings. Personally, I don't play any of the games you refer to, though I do enjoy the occasional game of checkers. I find the game of chess so compelling and all-consuming that I just don't have time for other games right now. Well ... I don have the occasional session of Tetris or computer solitaire. -- JFC]

Some Additional Comments by Richard Mangus

[Following is the text of a later letter received from APCT'er Richard Mangus. My wife had to come from another room to see what was wrong with me as I read the letter. Richard had me 'rolling on the floor.' Read his contribution to our discussion of chess etiquette and see what YOU think. -- JFC]

There has been some discussion of chess etiquette in the bulletin lately. I thought I would offer a few do's and don'ts.

  1. In over-the-board chess, if you are losing, refrain from loading your revolver before the end of the game (refrain from explaining the row of nicks on the barrel).
  2. When your opponent makes a bad move, don't sing out, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer!" It may disturb other players.
  3. If your opponent is a psychiatrist, don't talk to your chess pieces.
  4. After the game, cheerfully return all captured men.
  5. Don't blow kisses across the board to your opponent.

    Sometimes a tournament is played one game a week, like the Charleston, WV Chess Club Championship. To make up missed games sometimes players play a game at one player's home. In this circumstance the following advice might be useful:

  6. When playing at your home, don't show your collection of serial murderer memorabilia to your opponent.
  7. When playing a make-up game at an opponent's home and their family is present, refrain from asking, "which one of these kids is yours?"

    In postal chess:

  8. In cases of a dispute over the position, don't glue pieces to a board and mail it to your opponent collect, COD (it's OK if you pay the postage yourself).
  9. Don't tell your opponent, "I know where you live." This won't work if they have a P. O. Box anyway.
  10. On the first move, never announce mate in 20 (unless they open 1. a3).
  11. Never sign up your opponent with a book club.
  12. Never send your opponent a copy of Reinfeld's "Invitation to Chess."

Ed McMan might say this is every rule you will ever need for chess manners ... wong, checker-breath! I'm sure there are lots of other rules, some unfit for the pages of the APCT News Bulletin! I enjoy your column in the bulletin.

p.s. One more rule of etiquette for postal or OTB: never ask your opponent if you can include one of his games in your chess book you are preparing to be titled, "Impending Chess Disasters."

APCT Team Recognized by ICCF-U.S.

The following appeared in the latest ICCF-U.S. News Release #17 published by the ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli:

"Congratulations to the APCT members for displaying superior chess skills in winning the 1st National Team Championship by an overwhelming margin. Special congratulations to Team Captain Jon Voth and Tournament Secretary Jerry Benner for an outstanding job. Alex Dunne's column in the November Chess Life provides a detailed report of the tournament. CCLA has clinched second place. A full set of crosstables and review of results will be in the next newsletter."

Thanks for finally recognizing the fantastic APCT Team result. And thanks to the team members who scored the points and put APCT in the record books as the finest postal chess organization in the USA!

Gerzadowicz on Taking Back Moves

Prolific chess writer and columnist Stephan Gerzadowicz sent me a copy of one of his old columns "14 Cents to Glory" from the outstanding regional magazine Chess Horizons, published by MACA, the Massachusetts Chess Association (the title may give you an idea of when this column was written). He noted, "I am dismayed to note that this little essay has not gone out of date."

Since I haven't asked for permission to reprint the column I'll just mention some highlights emphasized by Gerzadowicz. He quotes a 1982 column written by George Wills stating, "A society is disoriented when proper moral judgment is supplanted by a morally constricted legalism, the notion that whatever is legal - whatever there is a right to do - is morally unobjectionable. ... in sports, as in life, generally, comportment should be controlled by a morality of aspiration more demanding than a mere morality of duty."

Gerzadowicz also highlighted the comment that a recording error is the moral equivalent of accidently touching a piece in OTB play. "If you brush a Bishop with your hand in reaching for a Rook, you do not have to move the Bishop. Why? Because the 'touch' was not a chess mistake." He also notes, "So too, sending a move clearly not the one intended is not a chess mistake. I grant that recording moves correctly requires skill. But not a skill I wish to contest. We are playing chess."

So, is the refusal to allow an opponent to change a move obviously not consistent with the position an act of poor sportsmanship? Stephan mentions Bill Paulson's assertion of this in an Alex Dunne column in Chess Life. Dunne disagreed with Paulson saying, "Bill's generosity is admirable, but it is misplaced." Stephan says, "Sorry, Alex, I'm with Mr. Paulson. Of course, it is legal to accept an opponent's recording error; it would be impossible to have a rule saying otherwise. But that doesn't make it right."

Well, I'm solidly on Dunne's side in this debate. Gerzadowicz is certainly correct about the impossibility of composing a rational rule which would allow a player to change a posted move. And he makes a good point about how wrong it is to accept something as morally correct just because it isn't illegal. I wish all of our politicians agreed with Stephan on this point. I like to differentiate between chess-as-competition and chess-as-art. If I were playing an off-hand game with a friend then I'd allow many irregularities, such as taking back moves. If I were playing a practice game experimenting with a new opening I wouldn't want to spoil it with a recording error (I would want to correct the error). But if I were playing in a ROOK or QUEEN section I believe it would be incorrect (and unfair to the other competitors) to allow an opponent to change a move.

I understand Stephan Gerzadowicz's viewpoint. It is based on a legitimate point of view. Perhaps there should be a special organization or tournament section where the purpose is to produce beautiful chess games, not score points. Perhaps there is already such an organization out there somewhere. However, there is a possibility of opening a "can of worms" here. Personally, I would be happy to continue as things are, where each individual player takes full responsibility for recording moves correctly and keeping full and accurate records of every game in progress (unlike Gerzadowicz I am happy to contest the skills of recording moves correctly within the scope of postal chess competition). This is a "competitive" viewpoint where good chess is just one element. But chess is a beautiful and compelling "game" fully worthy of Gerzadowicz's quest. I tend to place his approach to seeking beauty and perfection in the world of compositions instead of competitions. But that's just my opinion.

What do you think, fellow chess enthusiasts? Do you think along the lines discussed above? Would you feel that good sportsmanship would require you to offer an opponent a chance to change his move in the case of an obvious non-chess error? Or would you, along with me, delight in a chance to nail an opponent who gave an inaccurate "if" move? There's probably some middle ground here. And, I must admit, I'm often sorry when an opponent spoils an interesting and well-played game with a gross blunder. But, then, I remember being irritated with an opponent once when he died just as the endgame was really getting interesting!

copyright © 1994, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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