The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - May/June 1994

New Address

This columnist has a new address! I welcome comments from readers, especially material I can use in this column. Unless you specifically ask me not to use your comments in this column I feel free to use anything submitted to me, though I may have to edit it to fit it in. So please send me your ideas and comments on subjects discussed in this column or subjects you think SHOULD be discussed. And be sure to use my new address at the head of this column. Your input is the life blood of this column. Postal chess is a lot more than cranking out strong moves. I hope to reflect the spirit of competition, the esthetic beauty, the humor and many other aspects of correspondence chess in this column. And I hope to reveal what APCT members are thinking about, what you think is important, what you think is interesting, what inspires and amuses you. Your continual input is absolutely vital!

Chess Software for Postal Record Keeping

I believe there is a need for a good record keeping software package for postal chess players. In my opinion such a software package should contain certain fundamental elements. Not only should it keep track of your current positions but it should also perform the following tasks:

Allow Easy Entry of Moves, Maintain Current Positions

When an opponent's move arrives it should be easy to enter the new move(s). I prefer using a mouse to enter the moves. Perhaps typing a standard chess notation should be allowed as well. The current position should be saved and be available for easy recall. The user should be able to freely move the pieces about the chess board and with the touch of one key recall the latest "real" position. If there's one task in postal chess I dislike it is the constant resetting of the pieces on my analysis set ... so much care must be taken to return to the original position ACCURATELY.

Maintain Personal Information on Opponent

Name, Address, Rating, etc. It might be useful to have a "comment" section as well to add information about his/her job, family, chess-playing style and so forth.

Maintain Competition Information

Organization, Tournament Section, Time Control in Use, Date Started, etc. It might be nice to have a separate record of the tournament crosstable as well.

Keep Track of Correspondence

How often have you had an opponent answer a question and you have no idea of what your question had been? I keep copies of most of the cards I send out so I can check what I had said to my opponent. This is also useful in case of a question about a recording error or a mistake in a time-used calculation. A software package should retain a copy of anything you send an opponent ... or at least allow you to print a duplicate copy for your records (as I do now). Of course this implies the incorporation of at least a crude word processor for composing your correspondence.

Print Postcards, Score Sheets

The usefulness of a record-keeping system would be crippled if it didn't provide a method of corresponding with your opponent. Printing postcards would be essential. Printing score sheets would be useful as well, since some organizations (such as ICCF) require a copy of the score sheet at the end of each game. The ability to print a version of the game scores including annotations would be nice as well. I keep notebooks with records of my postal games. A printout suitable for inclusion in my notebooks would be important to me. It might be more practical to create a file with your games in a format which can be exported to one of the major chess database programs, such as ChessBase. That would allow the use of a powerful annotation tool which I wouldn't propose including in my postal chess software package.

I have used a crude software package I wrote in BASIC for several years. It doesn't have most of the nice features I have mentioned above. But it does allow printing nice postcards with the diagram of the current position. I have found that it adds to the joy of playing postal chess to be able to send out attractive and very readable cards. I have had many opponents in need of some kind of help as far as producing readable cards!

I would welcome reader comments about desirable features of a postal chess software package. One of these days I hope to actually design and program such a package. But it's easy for one person to overlook important and significant features. One aspect which has worried me is the ability of the software to eliminate notation errors. Does this violate any of the rules about receiving help from another? Clearly any kind of move-generating or analysis capability would create problems with some rules of play. And notation errors along with recording errors have been a part of the game for a long time. But Helen Warren ruled the use of ChessBase legal for recording positions in APCT competition. I've never seen this issue raised elsewhere. I suspect many players would welcome the elimination of these elements from competition. In fact, APCT'er Harry Ingersol of Saint Joseph, Missouri recently wrote, "No, I don't think record keeping software packages violate the rules abo ut getting help. I think that recording errors are an unfortunate, unnecessary part of correspondence chess - I certainly wouldn't miss that aspect of the game if it went away completely!"

Stephan Gerzadowicz Replies

In my last column I quoted extensively from an "Open Letter" sent to me by chess journalist Stephan Gerzadowicz on the subject of taking back moves in postal chess. I mistakenly thought it was a copy of a column he had previously published because of the stationery he used (it looked like a column). Unfortunately, in all the confusion of moving across the country, I am unable to lay my hands on his original document. Though I deny any intentional misrepresentation on my part I thought it only fair to pass along the entire letter I received from him since that column appeared. Hopefully he can get the entire 'Open Letter' printed some time so you can judge the merits of his following comments.

"Dear Mr. Campbell,

"While it was on '14c to Glory' stationery my bit on giving back moves was not a column but an open letter, and could - obviously, I think - have been reprinted in full.

"Or if there really was any doubt, you could have simply inquired about reprint permission. There was - obviously - no hurry to get it into that issue. There was plenty of time. "But no. I think you chose to excerpt my letter so that the ideas would be less clearly presented, making them easier to debate.

"You begin a paragraph saying you understand my viewpoint. But given what then follows, I'm not sure that you do.

"But I AM sure that you made it more likely that The Readers would not.

"Henceforth you may always print anything I send you - in full. Or not at all.

"Sincerely, (signed) Stephan Gerzadowicz."

Some "Musings" from Philip Laren

APCT member and board-prize winner for APCT in the First USA National Team Championship Philip Laren of Irmo, South Carolina sent me what he labeled "Some musings on postal chess for your always interesting column." Following are his 'musings:'

  1. On 'if' moves: I believe postal games when annotated should make a note of when 'if' moves are offered and accepted, as well as when draw offers are made (the latter has already be suggested for OTB chess). This could explain selection of a second best move, if the 'if' response is even worse.
  2. More on 'if' moves: I remember a few years back in Alex Dunne's column in Chess Life some enterprising postal player suggest 'if' moves as a way to get out of the books in a hurry. He had something like 1. e4 e5 with the 'if' move if 2. Na3 then 2...Nh6 or some such eccentricity. This never caught on (to my knowledge) probably because postal players are usually very well armed in the book dep't. However, an interesting extension of this is to create positions ad adsurdum, viz.: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 if 2...Qg4 3. a3 a6 4. Nc3 Ke7 5. Nd5+ Kd6 6. Ke2 Kc6 7. Ne3 Kb6 8. Kd3 Ka7 9. Kc3 Kb6 10. Kb3 Ka7 11. Ka2 Qe7 12. Nd5 Qb4 13. Nc3 Nc6 14. Ng1 Nb8 15. Qe2 Qe7 16. Nb1 Qd8 17. Qd1 and now the game begins.
  3. Two reasons to play on in lost (or even dead drawn) positions: The obvious one, that you are playing two games with the opponent so there is no cost, and the less obvious one, you may be in two sections with your opponent, having finished one game, and the second one dead drawn, but you make your opponent work to make it harder for him to do as well in both sections.
  4. Postal Ratings: These are terribly unreliable not only for the usual reasons pertaining to otb chess, but also, because postal is the only form of chess where you do not know how much attention your opponent is giving the game. Someone playing 8 games may play at 2100 strength but boost him up to 40 games and he becomes 1600. It's like he is giving a simul. I know personally changing jobs reduces the quality of my play considerably. But it works both ways: I swear the only reason I beat Jim Davies once was because of the arrival of his first daughter -- rather distracting!
  5. Correcting Typos: If I make a typo on a card, or change my mind on a move after I have written a card, I much prefer to redo the whole card, rather than cross out and initial. I hate to give my opponent the idea that there was any uncertainty with any of my moves.
  6. "Immortal" games: We have the immortal game, the immortal zugzwang game, etc. One chess editor once described one of my games as the "immortal non-recapture" game! I would like to see nominations for the "immortal transposition" game. My (almost) nominee is: Wohlgemuth-Laren, corr 1985: 1. d4 b5 2. e3 Bb7 3. Nf3 a6 4. Bd3 e6 5. O-O Nf6 6. Nbd2 c5 7. c3 Qc7 8. Ne5 d6 9. Nef3 (about here I began to realize the wonderful transpositional possibilities) Nbd7 10. h3 Be7 11. Re1 O-O and here I offered if 12. e4 e5 transposing right into the heart of a Breyer Ruy Lopez but my opponent did not snatch the opportunity and instead played 12. Nh2 missing our chance for immortality. I would like to see other nominees in this category - 'if' moves give postal chess more opportunities for transposition than otb. In any case, the Wohlgemuth game shows that chess can be very funny sometimes, also.

Thanks to APCT'er Philip Laren for his "musings" above. They contain some very interesting observations about the game we love so much. Correspondence chess presents a rich tapestry wonderful in its many complexities and intricacies. Thirty years of correspondence chess and I'm still discovering new and beautiful aspects to our version of the Royal Game! My involvement with this column has been one of the most exciting and rewarding chess experiences of recent years. The observations I receive from APCT members, such a Philip Laren above, have enriched my understanding and enjoyment of postal chess.

Morphy's Laws of Postal Chess

When I recently moved to a temporary address in Michigan one of my APCT opponents Chris Caligari of Hudson, New Hampshire wrote: "Murphy's law #9 of postal chess: If your opponent moves house - it's always to a longer address!" Later he said, "Maybe it should be 'Morphy's Law for Chess?'" Some additional laws of postal chess he sent along:

  1. The day after buying a year's supply of cards the USPS raises rates and you still have to lick stamps for a year.
  2. When down to your last postcard you will hear from all your opponents in the same day.
  3. When you announce "mate in 7!" your opponent's reply card will contain a "mate in 5!"
  4. The more you enjoy corresponding with your opponent the sooner you will mate him! The less you like him, the longer the game will last.
  5. Your opponent's late card will always arrive the day after you mail your repeat.
  6. The more your opponent cheats on time, the fewer postmarks you will get to prove it.

Chris added, "I forgot to share Morphy's law #1 - You'll always find a better move than the one you mailed on your way back from the mailbox!" He also suggested that it would make a good contest asking for the best "Morphy's Laws of Postal Chess." While I don't plan a contest for the moment I'd still be pleased to hear any suggestions for additions to "Morphy's Laws of Chess."

Another Note on Taking Back Moves

APCT'er Cary Taylor of Triangle, Virginia recently sent the following note on his approach to an opponent asking to take back a move:

"Enjoy reading your column, especially the discussion on ethics. In the Golden Knights I had a good OTB player ask me to allow a take back. I replied if the TD thought it appropriate. My opponent resigned."

Thanks for the note. The subject of postal chess ethics has proven to be of great interest to the readers of APCT News Bulletin. The subject of taking back moves is more controversial than I had realized. But I agree with your approach completely.

An interesting example of taking back moves at the highest level of OTB chess occurred recently at the elite 1994 Linares super tournament (see p. 20 of the April 4, 1994 issue of Inside Chess for a fuller report). It's claimed that there is video tape showing that PCA World Champion Garry Kasparov, while playing Judit Polgar, moved a knight to a square which would have cost him the exchange. Apparently, even though he had released the piece, he picked it up again and moved it to another square and went on to win the game. So even players at the top can be tempted. My favorite quote picked up by Yasser Seirawan was by FIDE President Florencio Campomanes who is reported to have said, "What do you expect from an unrated player?" For those who missed it, FIDE removed both Kasparov and Nigel Short from their rating list when they played their world championship match under the PCA instead of FIDE.

David Kurfman Waxes Poetic

APCT'er David Kurfman of Pennsylvania sent the following interesting observations:

"I enjoyed your 'chessnuts' reference on p. 33 of the Jan/Feb APCT News Bulletin. That pun must be fairly common because I used it in a full takeoff on the Christmas song. This was written in '85 to commemorate a holiday tournament Jack Forest and I went to, leaving behind my wife Cindy and his friend Barbara. I did use to wear some eccentric clothes to tournaments, but I was never into cross-dressing. Barbara's clothes refers to Christmas presents which were a product of her seamstress abilities. I hope you find it amusing, and if you can't use it now maybe next Christmas sometime! [See text below - I can't wait till next Christmas to print this! - JFC]

"On chess courtesy:

  1. There's an interesting pamphlet from Benjamin Franklin that I first saw in its entirety in Inside Chess magazine (Yasser Seirawan's brainchild). I've enclosed that for your interest. [Thanks ... I strongly recommend Inside Chess to all chess lovers -- JFC].
  2. A scripture I've recently adopted to govern my postal play after being plagued by frivolous time complaints (I did finally make one verifiable from one of 40 recent opponents). 2 Timothy 2:23-25a: 'Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness."

Chess nuts boasting by an open foyer,
Jack For'st nipping at his foes,
Yuletide chess makes it hard to retire
And Kurf's dressed up in Barbara's clothes.

Everybody knows rooks coupled on an open file,
Help to make the ending bright,
While Caissa's widows, left alone in the snow
Will find it cold to sleep tonight.

Because their man has gone away,
He's bringing lots of innovations into play,
And every mother's child is going to weep,
If those gambit pawns they're trying to keep.

And so I'm offering this simple song,
That you'll know where we wish to be,
And share a toast that our play will be strong,
So we can boast in victory!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good knight!
Ho, Ho, Ho!

--- David Kurfman

Thanks for the contribution, David. You are indeed a poet of Caissa. And I especially like the part about "correcting opponents with gentleness." Many opponents do not especially appreciate being "corrected" so gentleness is indeed essential.

copyright © 1994 by J. Franklin Campbell

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