The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - Jan/Feb 1995

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Chess Magazines

There are so many different ways to enjoy our fabulous art/sport/science of chess. One way is to read a wide assortment of chess publications. It's amazing just how many chess periodicals there are in the U.S.A. Recently, after receiving the "Top Ten" list of Charles Pote (former editor of Rocky Mountain Chess), I requested sample copies of a number of local chess magazines, mostly the official publications of state chess organizations. I was pleasantly surprised to see a modest amount of postal chess coverage in some of these publications.

Of course much of the material was of local interest only (tournament announcements, crosstables of local events, etc.). And some magazines are so dominated by this local news that they are of limited interest to the general chess enthusiast. However, a number of magazines display a remarkable array of talent with articles and columns well worth reading. And, of course, there are games you'd never see published by the big national magazines. Games of Master vs. lower-rated player can be very illuminating.

I encourage you to sample these smaller chess publications if you enjoy reading chess material. Some of the columnists for these publications are really excellent and you may pick up some very useful ideas to try in your games. Subscriptions are often quite modest. For instance, the really outstanding Chess Horizons (Steve Frymer, 64 Asbury Street, Lexington, MA 02173) costs only $12 for six issues (one year) and it contains a regular postal chess column by Allan Savage, APCT News Bulletin columnist and 1985 ROOK Champion. The Illinois Chess Bulletin costs $14 for six issues (Ken Marshall, 357 W. Grove, Lombard, IL 60148). floridaCHESS, edited by Don Schultz, costs $10 for four quarterly issues (Steve Miller, P. O. Box 24665, Jacksonville, FL 32241). I also like my new "personally local" state magazine Michigan Chess, which has a postal chess column by IWCCM Christine Rosenfield ($12 for six issues, Tim Sawmiller, 24480 Riverview, Novi, MI 48374). And there are many more excellent magazines available. There are also a few special-interest publications available. One of my favorites is Blackmar-Diemer GAMBIT WORLD, published by former APCT member Tom Purser ($18 for six issues, Tom Purser, 303 Cleveland Street, Box 66, Headland, AL 36345). If you like getting mail (and what postal chess player doesn't) I recommend a good dose of chess magazines. Bad news for "chow hounds." Chess Horizons reports that Chess Chow has ceased publication (very sad).

If you feel inspired to sample some of the available chess publications you can find a more comprehensive list in the USCF Yearbook (published in the April issues of Chess Life). Under Chess Publications you'll find addresses of the various publications (p. .45 of the April 1994 issue). Most of the publishers are glad to send out sample copies to interested individuals. You may enjoy seeing how friends in a previous home state are doing. Games between non-GM players may prove quite interesting and educational. Articles on some rarely played opening lines may provide some valuable tips (not available to your opponents). And many of the people involved in producing these smaller publications clearly demonstrate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that chess can inspire! If you have a personal favorite not mentioned above let me know the details and just why you like it.

A Kindred Spirit

Recently APCT'er Pat Rush of Solvay, NY sent the following comment about receiving the APCT magazine. I have to say that his comments reflect my feelings exactly. He said, "The APCT magazine is my most looked for piece of mailing. I'll sit for hours looking at opponents' (old and new) ratings, check results of games, etc. My wife thinks I'm a little retarded." I'm with you, Pat. I probably spend more time on each new issue of APCT News Bulletin than on any other single chess publication.

A Somewhat Overdue Card

I was going through the day's mail when one particular postcard caught my eye. It had been forwarded from my old address (I moved eight months ago). I turned it over and it had the normal chess moves and other postal chess information recorded. Checking the return address I found that the name was familiar but didn't seem quite right. A check of my records revealed that this gentleman had indeed been an opponent of mine some time ago. And the move in question had not been received till I sent a repeat. A careful examination of the postmark revealed the amazing fact that this postcard had been mailed in July of 1991, almost 3-1/2 years ago! I've heard of mail being delayed before but this is certainly a personal record for tardiness. Have you had any interesting postal chess occurrences? If so, send it in (address at head of column) and share it with us.

Postal Chess in Prison

In my last column I referred to an interesting situation at the Calipatria State Prison in California concerning postal chess. It appeared that a prisoner was allowed to obtain postal chess supplies but not allowed to actually play postal chess, according to a letter I received from the warden. I received a note from the postal competitor involved with this correction: "The warden was not aware that "Security and Investigation" approved my postal play with the notation many months ago. I supplied this 'secret code' so they could tell that it is only a chess board and chess moves. So, if you may, could you list that I am able to play and receive postal supplies ..." Fine Writing Instruments and Chess Poetry

When APCT opponent Chris Caligari of Hudson, New Hampshire, recently told about an interesting 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. Mr. North wrote in part: "I make ball-points, 0.5mm pencils, fountain pens, rollerballs & mini pens. He also said, "It was my intention a long time ago to send you one of my poems." Mr. North has previously had poetry published in Rocky Mountain Chess and en passant magazines.

Face to face two patzers sat
locked in knightly mortal combat.
One was old and one was young,
pawn after pawn at each other was flung.
They ranted and raved, they cursed and they swore
vowing when the game had ended to play no more.
The next day came finding them both at the bench,
nothing could stop them, from chess them wrench.
The king flew like a missile as the old geyser quit;
he was so mad, why he could just spit!
The young lad grinned as he folded the board,
he had another win to go home and record.
"I'll see you tomorrow, you old geyser," he said,
"unless of course you can't get out of bed."
"You young whippersnapper, tomorrow you'll lose,
your swollen ego I intend to bruise.
So you'd best go home and study your game
for when you lose you'll have no one but yourself to blame."
They parted company going their separate ways,
both dreaming of victory and peerless chess plays.
-- Daniel J. North

If you are interested in information on his hand-made pens and pencils (or just admire his poetry) drop him a line: Dan North, 809 Quince Road, Harlan, Iowa 51537-5611.

More on Computers and Chess

Fellow APCT competitor Chris Caligari of Hudson, NH sent the following comments: "Long ago, a younger, greener chessfriend with misplaced belief in computers found himself in a jam. Leaving on vacation in two days and 30+ chess game cards to answer ... what harm, thought he, to let computer program answer cards, just to keep flow of game going? Poor sap gave computer 3 minutes to consider each position and finished up in plenty of time for vacation. Faith in computers irredeemably shattered on return. Knights, Bishops, pawns and even a Queen had all been blundered away. Three minutes only gave computer time to look 2-3 moves ahead -- not good for postal chess. A sadder, wiser chessfriend picked himself up from the floor, shook his head, laughed at himself and said, 'Serves you right, fool!!'

"Even the best programs on the fastest machines take many hours to just look ahead 5 or 6 moves so anyone who entrusts a computer to make his moves has catch 22. If machine needs to be on, say, overnight to properly judge a position, then only one card per day can be answered. To answer the usual half dozen or so daily quota cuts too deep into the available time-slice to provide a meaningful advantage over any good postalite. Hence, I do not worry about computers too much. [cartoon drawn with the caption: I sometimes have to wait for hours before my computer will agree with me!]"

He later added, "Did you know that some of those advertised chess programs have a 'correspondence' mode designed to maximize computer postcard response!! ... About 5-10% of my opponents have admitted to using computer help -- one sent me an 'if move' sequence (about) 30 moves long. I think I've won all those games thanks to computer end-game blunders and a general inability of computers to properly understand Alekhine's Defense!!" Mr. Caligari also sent a printed advertisement for the Genius 3 software marking a claim that it is the "Perfect partner for ... correspondence" His question: "Do you believe enclosed ad encourages use of computers for postal chess?" While it is possible to interpret the ad otherwise it certainly seems to me that it does. Of course using computers is legal in some organizations and may become legal in more as time passes.

Chris Caligari lists the following reasons to be optimistic about his opponents using a computer:

a) No games ruined by clerical error!
b) I will probably win the end-game!
c) My opponent will not understand my opening play very well
d) He'll learn from his mistake not to do it again!!
e) In worst case, if everyone is busing deep thought computer, the game will be decided by the player that overrides his P.C. with a wonderful, inventive human move!!

APCT'er Thomas Morris of Boston, MA sent me a very interesting letter. Following is a part of that letter: "...Back when I was an active APCT player (circa 1976) desktop models were just beginning to make it into the market and they were contemptibly awful. At the time I felt the key to gaining an advantage over an opponent in correspondence chess, within the rules, was how well one can do his research in opening theory. This was more or less a function of money and time in order to acquire and review the Necessary Tomes (sort of like Defense spending in the Reagan era -- more is better (!?)). I stopped playing competitive chess in 1983 and since then had tried to keep my skills from oxidizing by playing on computer chess programs (Sargon 4.0, and later Psion Chess). By 1988 I found myself actually having to think in order to beat my programs, e.g. I was quickly smitten for carelessness and using superficial traps, though pandering to the computer's greed still worked frequently. I was not that intimidated by computers then (cf. NM Jack Young's article in Chess Horizons (Mar-Apr 94) on his opinions on the skill, strengths and weaknesses of computers; the letters to the editor in response are worth reviewing for contrasting opinions), but more worried about computerized databases and future opponents having access to EVERY GAME EVER PLAYED (cf. ChessMan comix, and Jon Edwards' many references to using ChessBase in his column and his Pennington Press advertisement) I can't access (most are PC-based; I'm a Macintosh man) or afford (not everyone, including MDs, are rich). This is really a function of dollars -- this software isn't cheap. Only recently, with World Champion Kasparov getting "fritzed" (cf. CL Aug 94), will winning the APCT Championship in the future be a function of who secretly has a fritz versus who doesn't? It is already evident how the rising abilities of computers have affected chess: the near disappearance of OTB adjournments (and isn't each move/card in correspondence chess just that -- an adjournment?), the recent alleged computer-assisted cheating by "John von Neumann" at a recent World Open, and how the Great Bobby himself had suggested as a match condition changing the placement of the pieces on the backrank as a way to thwart computer use (Ex-APCT'er Max Lawrence's Transcendental Chess organization may allow computer assistance, but the pieces are not set up in traditional fashion, either, which neutralizes practically all opening references and databases).

"... I did use my programs ("the shame of it!" -- IM Silman), albeit early and briefly, because of horrible play already committed on my part, and after I had already exhausted my own abilities in trying to clean up the mess I made. I mention this because: 1. I lost the two games I consulted my computer on (my opponents made no mistakes), 2. I found that it did not add to the mainlines I analyzed, 3. The alternatives it would spit out appeared strategically clueless to me, and 3a. a computer cannot explain the logic of its choices (akin to the physics or calculus problem -- often it's not the answer itself that is important, but rather the method how or reason why the problem is solved). ... Barring computers from postal chess, I think, is much like Prohibition legislation: a worthy ideal, but hardly enforceable, and like the nuclear arms race between the powers, players will get one in defense (but I doubt in deterrence) to the perceived notion the other side has one and is using it. One wonders if the mano a mano of correspondence chess will forever be corrupted by artificial intelligence.

"It's nice to know that there is someone else who uses micro sets to analyze. The last 5 years of my previous postal life was done on a Drueke wooden peg set as I had no room in my dorm for a regular board (I have one of the nice inlay boards; when I ordered another peg set last year because I needed replacement pieces, I got the same style pieces but with a cheesy printed cardboard board in a plastic box. Where has Drueke's standards gone?). ... I'm sorry I can't suggest a suitable replacement, but my experience only confirms that certain set quality standards are in decline."

Thanks for your insights, fellow chess enthusiast. There is no question that computers have changed many things about our game. As a new ChessBase for Windows user I must say I'm really enjoying my computer. If I ever finish my danged Postal Chess Software Package I'll have a good way to keep track of my games on my computer. In the meanwhile I'm experimenting with ways to record my games in ChessBase. It lacks many features for this specific application and in no way replaces my regular manual method but it does allow you to produce a wonderful printout of a finished game, including diagrams at all points specified. As far as the analysis set goes I have to report that my prized set continues to deteriorate. I wish I knew how to go about getting them designed and manufactured to my exact specifications. After decades of use I know precisely which features are needed. In the meanwhile I just continue dreading the day when the one set I have becomes unusable forcing me to switch to another design.

Some Final Comments on Move Take-Backs

John Dufresne of Cresson, PA submitted the following comments: "... Just recently I received a card that read: 10. Be3. So I replied with 10. ... Nc6. A week later I received my opponent's card that read: 10. Bg5 'This was the move (I thought) I sent to you, but you said my move was 10. Be3 ..." So I looked at the 2. c3 Sicilian and found nothing wrong with allowing my opponent his 10. Bg5 move. However, if this move was to upset the position I would have not allowed it. Why? Because he is rated higher than I am, and my postal chess goal is to reach 2275-2300. Unsportsman-like? Perhaps.

"I have been lucky enough not to lose a game by the 'notational error,' but if I were to lose to a higher rated player because of a notation error, look out! ... I'll be there to get back my respect by beating you fair and square. I guess it all comes down to 'do you like to get free points and brag about your rating to friends, a rating that you did not earn because you were not man or woman enough to actually beat your opponent??

"... Or it comes down to: 'Okay, I enjoy this game, I have a good position and my opponent has built a solid defense. Oops, a notation error from my opponent. Let's see. No, this move destroys the value of the game I spent months or years reaching this position and I will not allow a notation error to win for me. I play this game to win with my skills, not my pen! Make another move, please.' ... If I were ever to accept rating points on a notation error I would never ... show that game to anyone for the simple reason that I did not win the game. In fact, that game would be ripped up into a thousand pieces ... so nobody could put the game together and laugh at the way it was won."

Bill Richards of Ontario, CA sent the following: "Would you like a sporting solution to the issue of notational errors, else the debate rage ad infinitum? Incorporate the following into APCT's rules of play: 'Be responsible for what you send. If you commit a notation error, be a good sport and accept the consequences. If your opponent chooses to give back the move, he/she is an extremely good sport. If he/she doesn't, he/she is still a good sport. Complaining when he/she doesn't give back a move is a demonstration of bad sportsmanship.' This would forgive everyone for past disputes and set a precedent for fair expected behavior."

The topic of allowing an opponent to take back a move has generated a lot of discussion which even spilled over to the pages of another publication. And, like the abortion issue, there are plenty of good arguments on both sides, debate could continue indefinitely and few people are likely to change their opinions based on continued discussion. I believe it was worthwhile to air many of the opinions already printed. But, unless I receive something really exceptional on this subject, I believe it is time to put it aside. I must say that I have been impressed by the depth of feeling expressed by many of the people who wrote me expressing their opinions. My respect for the sense of fair play and good sportsmanship demonstrated by everyone who contributed to this discussion is very great. Thanks you everyone! My final recommendation follows.

If your enjoyment of postal chess is affected by a decision about offering an opponent a take-back then do as your heart dictates. You are playing postal chess competitively for a reason. Simply be true to that reason. On the other hand, if you make an error don't expect your opponent to offer a take-back. The mistake is completely your responsibility. I will personally continue playing tournament games where take-backs are not expected, though I would not oppose changing the rules to allow obvious notational errors to be corrected (with an appropriate time-penalty).

copyright © 1995, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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