Reliving Past (and Present) Glories
One of the great things about chess is the possibility of experiencing an exciting contest played at a different place in a different time. By reading tournament reports and playing through annotated games we can experience the excitement of the contest. One of my great pleasures is occasionally pulling out my records and reliving some of my best postal chess games.
I keep most of my records from the last decade in a set of three-ring binders labeled on the spine so I can locate any specific tournament quickly. The big office supply super stores usually sell a line of 3-ring binders very cheaply which are suitable for this purpose. For each tournament I have a crosstable and any official correspondence, all the game scores, copies of any annotations I prepared for the games and copies of much of my correspondence with my opponents (I don't keep the postcards, however). For each game I usually have a diagram of the final position, sometimes one sheet with all the final positions in the section. It can be very pleasant sitting down for an hour or so just reliving some of my better moments "at the board." I also sometimes do this for interesting games in progress, usually for games I am winning. It can be very pleasant reviewing just how you obtained a winning position and trying to find additional ways to bring about your opponent's ultimate end. Figuring out different ways to win a "won game" can be a lot of fun and is good for hours and hours of delightful chess analysis.
I have often read that it's important to examine your losses carefully so you can improve your play and avoid the same errors in the future. That sounds like good advice. But this is not what I am talking about here. I'm talking about having fun. Playing postal chess can be a lot of hard work, if you want to do well. What I'm saying is take a break from the work from time to time and just enjoy your accomplishments. Chess is fun! Take a moment to just smell the roses.
Chess and Football
As I sit in my living room on Sunday afternoons with my magnetic set in my hand and postal chess notebook and Post-A-Log near at hand and with the football game on the tube I often compare the two sports of football and competitive chess. There are many similarities. For instance, without proper teamwork and coordination a team cannot be successful. Of course there is the occasional big play accomplished by one player catching a long touchdown pass (or the Queen flashing across the board to fork King and piece). But such plays are usually created by a mistake, such as a defensive player falling down or missing a tackle (or the chess player blundering or overlooking a simple threat).
It's fun looking for comparisons between chess and other complex team sports. Chess is often compared to warfare. I believe it can be successfully compared to professional sports and many other activities as well. And finding such comparisons expands my enjoyment of the "Royal Game." See if you can spot points of similarity between chess and the non-chess activities you follow.
1991 Regional Team Championship Finishes
One of the most exciting and closely-contested postal team events in chess history is finally coming to an end. As the Dixie team captain and newsletter editor I was intimately involved in this tournament and, believe me, holding my breath for six months while the final results trickled in was very difficult. Both the winning Dixie team and the second place Pacific team deserve tremendous credit for playing outstanding chess. My thanks to all the players who participated in this historic tournament.
Team play can be a very satisfying kind of competition. With 140 players contesting 560 games of chess there are many stories of personal sacrifice and extra effort for the sake of the team. One such case was Dixie's board 25 Lionel Houston who suffered a massive heart attack about a year and a half ago. Though in bad health Lionel continued play for the sake of the team. There was at least one player on the championship APCT team in the NTC-1 event who also played through bad health for the sake of the team. A number of the Dixie team players played with the type of dedication they wouldn't have shown if playing simply for their own personal glory and rating points. If you haven't tried a team event and enjoy this type of commitment then I encourage you to do so. The 1993 RT is well underway but there'll be another opportunity next year in the 95RT. I'm already looking forward to it myself.
Congratulations to the Dixie team for wrapping up its third straight APCT Regional Team Championship. And congratulations to the outstanding Pacific team for just missing the championship by a whisker. In the last three RT's the Pacific team has done very well finishing in third once and in second twice. There's some real chess talent on the West Coast.
I feel that Dixie had one advantage over the other teams. Dixie had a regular team newsletter with notes of encouragement from team members and all the latest results, standings and crosstables. By having an opportunity to know the other team members and to keep up-to-date on the team standings every team member could feel the excitement of team play at its best. I encourage those involved in the current 93RT and future team events of any kind to consider publishing a team newsletter. Comments I have received from fellow Dixie team members and APCT Team members in NTC-1 made it clear to me that a newsletter is a very worthwhile project.
The topic of illegal computer use in postal chess competition was raised in the last column. Though I didn't receive the deluge of opinions I expected I did receive a few pertinent comments. APCT'er Nick Barshay of Cleveland, Ohio sent the following contribution:
"People who do not play correspondence chess frequently ask me about using computers as an aid, meaning using computers to cheat. Because this topic comes up so often, I have had to think about how to respond to these queries and still promote correspondence chess.
"I tell them that I would not even consider playing correspondence chess without a computer. It is such a useful tool. I store all of my games in ChessBase. I can make notes, I can show other lines, I can review the moves and see how my plans are developed, and it keeps track of all my games.
"As to the issue of cheating, I have never worried about it. A typical game of chess goes ... say, 40 moves. So I have to send forty postcards at .20 (rounded) not including repeats and results. That is about $8.00 per game. What do I get for this expense? Nothing, except the enjoyment of the game. So what does cheating accomplish? It takes away the enjoyment! As an example say you cheat in a knight section, 8 games. It costs ten dollars to enter, the games cost about sixty dollars and the prize for first is thirty. So you've lost forty dollars and what do you get? You can say your computer has a rating.
"If my opponent wants to use a computer to analyze a game, that is his decision. I will never even know. I believe it can happen, but I don't believe that this is a problem, nor do I believe that it is a widespread occurrence. Thank you for letting me tell you my feelings. I enjoy your column."
Thanks for your remarks, Nick. One purpose for this column is to allow APCT members to express their feelings. And I was glad to see your comment about promoting correspondence chess ... something I think we should all be doing. Ray West of Fairbanks, Alaska sent the following:
"Computer cheats deny themselves the chance to play their best game; to see how good they can get. Whenever I try to plug postal to OTB players I find that they think that all or most of us cheat with computers. Postal clubs that allow computers will soon have real problems, as GM-crushing PC's make the human element inconsequential. Postal chess may be no longer possible without integrity. Maybe it's best not to have a playing program while playing postal. I plan to go over my games with a bad-ass machine when I take a 6-month postal break (when my games are finished)."
Thanks for the input, Ray. In his book The Complete Guide to Correspondence Chess chess journalist Alex Dunne expresses the view that computers do not play postal chess much better than they play chess at fast OTB time limits. On the other hand, people generally play postal chess at a much higher level than they do in OTB. Possibly it will still be a while before the programmers are clever enough to program a computer to do the type of long-range planning and strategic playing that allows the top postal player to stay on top of the computers. I must say I am most impressed by the skill demonstrated by the chess programmers who are behind the quickly-improving capabilities of the computers. It is their human logic that is behind the fantastic successes of computers in recent years, such as the recent defeat of World Champion Garry Kasparov in the first round of the London Intel Speed Chess Grand Prix tournament. People often don't give credit to the hu man intelligence responsible for all of the computer gains seeing only the hardware sitting in front of them.
In the London Intel Speed Chess Grand Prix (one of the PCA events sponsored by Intel) played August 31 through September 3, 1994 15 top Grandmasters and one Intel Pentium computer running the Chess Genius2 software met in a knockout-style tournament. It was played at the time limit of 25 minutes each per game (25/G). Each knockout match consisted of two games plus a tie-breaker if needed. The Pentium/Genius2 combination defeated Kasparov 1.5-0.5 and GM Predrag Nikolic 2-0 before being knockout out by GM Viswanathan Anand 2-0 in the third round. GM Vassily Ivanchuk won the tournament by defeating Anand in the final round in the tie-breaker after they played to a 2-2 tie. Following are the moves of the first Kasparov - Pentium/Genius2 game.
GM Garry Kasparov - Pentium/Genius2 D23 QGA
Taking Back Moves
Chris Caligari of Hudson, New Hampshire, had a few additional comments on this topic: "Very personal thing ... each to his own. I always offer a take-back if I think a clerical error has been made. I never give a take-back to anyone that asks for one (not cricket). I never ask for one myself. If I make a recording error that loses the game I apologize for ruining a good game & resign. No one has ever given me a take-back. I've allowed about 20 or so. Interestingly I won them all ... I think players that do take back a move feel so badly about it that they somehow feel obligated to lose anyway." Interesting theory, Chris. Thanks for your comments.
Pat Rush of Solvay, New York, recently started a game with me as follows: "1. b3 .... wait! Can I take this back?" It's good to see some humor injected into this subject. He went on to add some more serious remarks: "I believe in letting an opponent take back a move unless it's an important game or section, i.e. the Regional Team, Rook semi, etc. E.g., playing a board vs. England my opponent left a Rook hanging. I suggested he re-think the move. He, rather whimsically, claimed that I had made a notational error. I sent him photocopies of our cards and accepted his resignation. The point, I guess, is your opponent's attitude when thinking of letting a move be taken back (I love run-on sentences). The bottom line - I am very pleased to be your humble opponent. I will, humbly, apologize when I attain the upset victory."
Of course I do appreciate a little humor. Sometimes I believe one can go too far, however! Pat added that playing me was "like playing Elvis (well, maybe not exactly like that)." I think this is the first time I've been compared in any way to "The King." Thanks, Pat. And, I might add, as an RT team captain in the 89RT and 91RT, I would not have approved one of my team players allowing an opponent to take back a bad move. That wouldn't have been fair to the team (in my opinion, of course).
The discussion of allowing take-backs is not limited to this column. The July-August 1994 issue of The Chess Correspondent (published by CCLA) had a cover article on this subject by Stephan Gerzadowicz (his opinions have appeared in this column before). I suspect that I was not the only postalite offended by being labeled a bad sportsman by this article and I look forward to the next issue of the magazine to see how the editor deals with my letter to the editor (and possibly many others). This is definitely a very emotional issue with a wide spectrum of opinion.
Grandmasters Make Questionable Agreement
In the PCA World Championship playoffs the participants made an agreement before the matches were played that they would divide the prize money equally (the announced prizes awarded the winners a larger prize than the losers, as is usual). And they made this agreement in a very open manner. I'm really surprised that the sponsor didn't object to this strange agreement. In his excellent magazine Inside Chess (Vol 7, Issue 16 dated August 22, 1994) editor Yasser Seirawan stated his opinion of this action, which he described as "an outrageous decision by the players."
I was interested to see what the USCF Official Rules of Chess had to say on this subject. On page 63 I found it covered under paragraph 20L Manipulating Results. The penalty for making an agreement before or during the game to arrange the result to manipulate prize money, title norms, ratings or for any other purpose is "severe sanctions, including revocation of USCF membership." And the last sentence makes the application crystal clear: "Such agreements include arrangements to split prize money no matter what the result of the game." Interesting. I wonder what would have happened if the matches had been played in the U.S.A. with one or more U. S. players participating?
Postal Chess in Prison
I recently had occasion to correspond with the warden of the Calipatria State Prison in California concerning postal chess. I'm no expert on prison chess but found his letter interesting and somewhat surprising. The subject of my previous correspondence with him was postal chess supplies, specifically the very useful Post-A-Log postal chess recorder sold by APCT. His reply to me indicated the dangers involved in allowing prisoners to pass coded messages and his fear that this would create a threat to institutional security. He quoted a section from the prison's Department Operations Manual as specifying that he was required to disapprove correspondence that contains coded messages.
I remember hearing stories of postal chess players being questioned during the world wars about the strange codes on their postal chess cards. I believe that postal chess was not allowed in some countries (perhaps a reader has a personal story?). I hadn't really thought about the potential problems of prisoners sending coded messages. I am aware that many prisoners DO play postal chess and have even met a few prisoners in APCT tournament play. The last I heard from the postal-playing prisoner at Calipatria was that he had been notified that he could now order postal chess supplies. The above paints an odd picture of a prisoner being allowed to obtain postal chess supplies but not being allowed to actually PLAY postal chess.
Fine Writing Instruments and Chess Poetry
When APCT opponent Chris Caligari of Hudson, New Hampshire, recently told about a remarkable part-time profession of another APCT member Daniel J. North of Harlan, Iowa I immediately wrote Mr. North to get more information. He sent me a letter giving some details of his rather interesting profession. He also said, "It was my intention a long time ago to send you one of my poems." The poem he sent appears below. I showed the poem to Charles Pote, editor of the Rocky Mountain Chess magazine, and he told me he was also planning to publish it.
Mr. North wrote in part: "I make ball-points, 0.5mm pencils, fountain pens, rollerballs & mini pens. Materials used are a plethora of exotic hardwoods, cast polyester (a plastic), Dymondwood (a man-made product where thin wood veneers are glued together using resin under high heat and high pressure ... a superb product), Micarta, Avonite and corian. All the findings on my pens are solid brass, gold or chrome plated. ... Pick up an expensive established name pen and usually it will be quite light in the hand. Light requires you to firmly grip the pen causing fatigue in the hand. Mine have a heft and balance that says write, write, write. They nestle into the crook of your hand, very comfortable! ... The end product will be a totally unique writing instrument. Should I do inlay work with various woods you end up with a totally unique one of a kind instrument. ... If you are interested in a fine set of instruments for yourself by all means let me know. I would do you justice I think.."
I like to high-light various chess-related activities of APCT members. But sometimes it's interesting to note some of the interesting non-chess activities of our members as well. I believe that Dan has demonstrated the kind of logic that chess players develop in his improvement over standard brand-name pens (his increased pen weight). This reminds me of critically checking established opening theory instead of simply mimicking the masters. Sometimes you find a very useful improvement. Check out his chess poetry below and if you'd like more information about Dan North's hand-made pens and pencils drop him a line:
Dan North, 809 Quince Road, Harlan, Iowa 51537-5611.
Face to face two patzers sat
News from the ICCF-U.S. Office
A recent newsletter from Max Zavanelli, the U.S.A. secretary of the International Correspondence Chess Federation, contained some news of interest. In addition to his duties representing American chess players Max Zavanelli is an ICCF Vice President, member of the Rules Commission, member of the Tournament Commission, Deputy Chairman of the Telechess Commission and General Secretary of the Anglo-Pacific Tournament Bureau. He recently attended the ICCF Congress in Scotland as the USA delegate (and also representing Hong Kong and Australia).
The biggest news is the awarding of the ICCF Grandmaster title to Alik Zilberberg, the USA's third ICCF GM and the first GM title awarded to a USA player by ICCF in ten years. Five US players received their IM titles (Frank Camaratta, Isay Golyak, Jerry Meyers, Erik Osbun and Robert Reynolds) and Gina Finegold was awarded the International Lady Master title (only our second such title). I also noticed APCT members Tony Albano and N. Pedersen listed as members of our Pan Am Team with a shot at the IM title. Go guys!
An interesting project by the Rules Commission is a remarkable project of reducing the four pages of rules of play to only one page. It sounds like the Rules Commission is nearing agreement on the final set of rules to present. One rule change sure to evoke much debate is the elimination of the second ETL (exceeding time limit). The new rule would forfeit the game on the first overstep instead of waiting for the second.
One bit of ICCF news of interest to APCT members (not mentioned in Zavanelli's USA newsletter) is the awarding of the title ICCF International Arbiter to APCT member Ralph Marconi of Canada. Congratulations on the new title, Ralph, and have fun with the new duties that are sure to come your way!
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