The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - Jan/Feb 1996

Go directly to "Computers in cc" discussion

Atlantic Team New APCT Regional Champions

I was very involved in the previous three APCT Regional Team Championships won by the Dixie teams. And I was recently happy to be the first to offer my congratulations to the Region 1 Atlantic team captain Jonathan Edwards when his team clinched the 1993 RT championship, breaking Dixie's string at three in a row. Now I'd like to congratulate the entire Atlantic team on their dominating victory. This powerful team just mowed down the competition in a most impressive performance and dominated the board prizes. The Dixie team upheld their traditional tough team play by wrapping up second place. Congratulations on some great chess to all of your who participated in my favorite of all APCT competitions!

APCT Members On 4th North Atlantic Teams

Several APCT members are participating in the upcoming 4th North Atlantic Team Tournament. Two players on the 10-board USA team are APCT members, Tony Albano and N. Eric Pedersen. Also participating (for England) is APCT'er Ian Brooks. This is an ICCF tournament with IM title norms available. The countries participating are USA, England, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Norway, Spain, Portugal, and Iceland. Good luck, APCT'ers!

A Miniature from Linares

Here's a miniature game likely to be widely published. It's unusual to see a 2620-rated GM opponent taken out like this! Get out your chess set and take a look ... it's definitely worth the effort.

Miguel Illescas Cordoba (ESP) - Matthew Sadler (ENG)
Western Eu zt(3), Linares ESP, 11/14/95, Result: 0-1
1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nc6 4. Be3 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. d5 Na5 7. Nf3 Bd6 8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Qxa5 a6 10. Nb1 Nxe4 11. Kd1 c3 0-1

Do We Need To Change Chess for TV?

There seems to be a trend recently for modifying the way OTB chess has been traditionally played. The game is being speeded up for television, for instance, to make it more "interesting" to the viewers. The recent PCA championship was played in a glass enclosure on top of the World Trade Center in New York City in a circus atmosphere to make it more appealing. Many of the big GM tournaments are being played, not only at a very fast time limit, but also in a knockout format (loser of a mini-match is eliminated without further play), similar to tennis tournaments. When I visit my local club I'm able to play an entire tournament in a single evening because of the rapid, smash time limits. Where is this trend leading us? Where will it all end?

Chess has long had a "geeky" reputation in our culture. We chess players are often viewed as being weird, pursuing a hobby requiring long periods of hard thought. I won't even mention the amazement expressed by people hearing about postal chess for the first time! We should all fit right in with those heroes of that wonderful movie "Revenge of the Nerds." That's OK by me! I don't understand the need to change chess to suit the non-chess playing public. Chess is chess. If it never becomes the number one American sport, I can live with it. In the meanwhile I'll just continue enjoying my postal competition and won't worry too much about not getting my games published in Sports Illustrated.

Another Ticklish "Computer Assistance" Question

The availability of computers and a vast array of clever chess software continually requires us to ask questions that never occurred before. Take this example.

Many players regularly use their computers to study and analyze openings. Database programs, such as ChessBase, allow the use of "analysis engines" which evaluate the currently displayed position and suggest possible moves for consideration. There's nothing unethical or vaguely unfair about using computers in this fashion (for research, study and training). However, say a player was working on his favorite opening using his computer when a postal game arrives at one of the positions he is studying with his computer. Is he ethically required to stop his computer-aided research at this point? If so, when should he feel free to resume his studies?

I would say that the APCT rules would require that he immediate cease his research. I don't honestly know when he could ethically resume his opening research with this opening. It's messy ... whatever your answer to this question I would encourage you to look at it from the opposite viewpoint. The current rules of play are very much like some of the laws being applied in ways unforeseen by the original lawmakers. Perhaps the best solution is a completely new look at the rules of play now that the computer revolution has come to chess.

More Feedback on Computer Use in Postal Chess

There has been a lot of response to this topic. Thanks to everyone who has contributed their viewpoints on this important and controversial topic.

Myles E. Lampenfeld of Oakland, CA sent this:

"I love your column. It's the one I can read without a chessboard [thanks, that's my intent, and I always appreciate positive feedback! Sorry about the above game score. - JFC]

"I'm computer literate (this is written on Mac MS Word) but hardly articulate. I don't know much about computer chess programs, although I have strong feelings about their use in postal chess. I don't know ChessBase, but the 'move guessing' algorithm sounds unfair to me. Isn't the guessed move or guessed square a suggested move? It can be if the player has overlooked that move or even if the player hasn't bothered to look at all . Isn't the guessed move the best move, according to the algorithm? Whether you've asked for computer help or not seems irrelevant if that help is given. You've asked by turning on your computer.

"While you may not have used anabolic steroids, you may have used some performance-enhancing substance. I would prefer to play in the completely drug-free section. The problem then becomes where to draw the line. All computers? Or select those programs that do more than others? This reply will probably be one of a dozen about this controversial topic."

You state your point well, Myles. I stumbled on this particular question quite innocently with no thought of using computer assistance. However, I'm reluctant to give up my chess database program for recording and displaying positions in my current games. It's much more convenient for me than continually moving pieces around on my little magnetic set. It would seem best if the 'move-guessing' algorithm could be turned off when recording or analyzing active postal chess games. My guess is that this feature will NOT become available. The quality of the move "suggested" by this algorithm is questionable. However, with computers and software continually being upgraded, this algorithm may get quite good, at least in some positions. You do make some good points.

On a similar note, Gregory J. Conlon of Jenison, MI sent the following email message: "I read with interest your article on computers in postal chess. If I may throw my hat in the ring on this one, I vote 'no' on using computers in any way relating to ongoing games. To use ideas generated by artificial intelligence by definition is a denial of the game itself, in my view. The Game is supposed to be One on One, period. Of course, one may play games, analyze and learn by using computers or studying books. However, when game time comes, it should be 'mano a mano!'"

Ian Brooks adds the following comments:

"Here is an interesting question you might like to ponder on the acceptable use of computers, etc. It might also be an interesting one to throw out to the readership. It seems that there are both legality and ethical questions in this one.

"APCT, like most organizations, does not allow the use of move generating algorithms, but does allow the use of game and position databases. Where do Ken Thompson's endgame databases fall? These databases contain the rigorous solution to a number of 3 and 4 man endings. Is it acceptable to consult these databases if you reach an ending that has been solved?"

Oh no, another question that may cause brain damage! At first sight it seems unfair to be able to consult a computer in this situation, but I can see no difference at all between consulting an endgame database and a library of books. The books are allowed. Using the obvious comparison, databases are also allowed. It would seem to me that this kind of consultation is completely legal and ethical. I believe some would disagree.

Ted Greiner of Camp Hill, PA recently brought to my attention that this subject is being discussed elsewhere, as well:

"After reading your essay on 'Computers and Postal Chess' in the latest APCT NB I decided to send you a few items that you might find of interest.

"A year of so ago, John Nunn wrote in New In Chess and in Correspondence Chess [published by the British Correspondence Chess Association] that computers meant the end of serious, competitive correspondence chess. It launched a debate in Correspondence Chess about whether this was so. I enclose copies from the Autumn 1995 issue with the latest opinions. Peter Sowray hits it right on the head and gives my view better than I could. I find that I've got to re-think the correspondence chess goals I've been aiming at for the last 20 years.

"By coincidence, on the same day I received my APCT NB, I got a letter from a German opponent in an ICCF group. In my previous letter I had speculated as to which chess-playing program was strongest. I did not know, but I suspected, that he had a program and was using it in our game. I enclose a copy. He not only states why he uses the computer, but gives the latest analysis, confident that I can't benefit from knowing it. He also offers a string of conditionals, leaving off where Chess Genius and Fritz3 diverge. I'm fairly certain at least one other opponent in this group is using a computer in our game.

"Finally, I mention another gray area for computer use. Say you have a favorite book line that you play from 3 or 4 times a year. You go to where the theory leaves off and play a couple dozen training games, saving the analysis. Is this any different than switching your computer on when you get the same position in an actual game? Or, say you are at move 8 in a variation, is it okay to have the computer analyze the position you expect to reach at move 15?"

Thanks for sending the material, Ted, and thanks for your thought-provoking discussion of this subject. You certainly have asked some difficult questions. The letters from readers in the Correspondence Chess magazine reflect many of the same views and opinions I've heard here. Peter Sowray was very eloquent in his discussion of why he was giving up postal play because playing with a computer as an ally didn't fit his objectives. Another letter pointed out that participation in postal chess events wasn't dropping off (indicating that computers weren't driving players out of postal chess). I'm unclear about the ICCF view of computer use. I've had individuals tell me that the ICCF had no rule against computer use, but I haven't verified this. I scanned my ICCF rules book (page after page!) and could find nothing very useful. ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli has promised a new concise set of ICCF rules soon, which may help. The vague reference "The playing regulations of the FIDE are also valid for correspondence chess in so far as they are not altered under paragraphs 1-10 (for instance, obviously 'touch and move' does not apply)" isn't very helpful. Actually, the "touch and move" that is so cavalierly dismissed is actually written into the rules of postal play of the Transcendental Chess Club!

Composer of Original Pawn-Promotion Mate

A couple issues ago I wrote about a chess problem requiring that mate be delivered by promoting a pawn to an opposite colored piece It was with great pleasure that I received the following letter from Joe Fliegel of Pinole, CA:

"Re: Pawn Promotion Mates. The White pawn promotion to a Black Bishop was composed by me between 50 and 60 years ago (I'm currently 75). I submitted it to the old American Chess Bulletin (published by, if memory does not fail me, Herman Helms). I wove it into a very short story about a loss-averse King playing with an underling who lacked proper regard for the healthy connection between his head and his torso. In the diagram, I have the King saying something like, 'I grow tired of this game, sirrah. Mate me in two moves, or let the game be proclaimed a draw.' The problem appeared in some issue of the old ACB. About 4-5 years ago I resubmitted it to Larry Evans, for what reason I no longer remember. Anyway, he chose not to publish it.

"I found your commentary on the ethics of computer usage very interesting. One of the reasons I gave up postal chess maybe a decade ago was the increasing improbability of getting an opening advantage against players who might be ranked 500 points or more below me. My last (and current) [USCF] postal rating is 2329. It doesn't appear in the yearly [USCF] listing of postal masters because it covers only twenty-four games ... one short of the necessary twenty-five to make the master title kosher."

Thanks for the note, Joe. Chess is indeed an activity for life. I would encourage you to join APCT and get back into the postal wars once again. In my opinion, the world of postal chess allows us to experience the art/science/sport of chess as no other form of the game allows. Within APCT you'll meet some of the best competitors and most ethical sporting individuals to be found anywhere.

On the same subject I received the following by email from Herb Wolfe of Omaha, NE:

"I believe I have found a 5-point solution, which appears to be the optimal solution. White: Kc1/c2, Bh8, Pg7, Black: Ka1, Pa2. Move: 1. g7-g8 (=Black B) mate.

"I got it by playing around with various mate in the corner ideas, and happened to remember a similar position. I realize, however, that there is a slight flaw in how realistic the position is, in that Black must have chosen to play a2 on his previous move, rather than moving the King to a2. Other than that, the position is entirely possible to reach. Further retro-analysis would also require that some sort of capture had to have occurred on g7."

You have certainly risen to the challenge presented by Dennis Jessup in the last column! For those who missed it, the challenge was to find a position where mate is delivered by promoting a pawn to an opposite colored piece with the minimum of material on the board, where you count K=0, P=1, B/N=3, R=5, Q=9 (both colors). Another challenge would be to find a position where the pawn must be promoted to the opposite colored piece. Of course, with composed problems the composer may place whatever restrictions s/he may desire, such as the position must be reachable in a standard chess game.

Revisiting Win/Loss vs. Draw/Draw

Ian Brooks of Jeffersonville, PA sent the following comments by email:

"I just re-read your column in paper form now that I have the Nov-Dec issue [it's common for APCT columnists to exchange their columns by email before publication as a courtesy and possibly for critical review -- JFC] and started thinking about the win-loss / 2 draw issue. I came to the conclusion that, for me at least, the answer depends to a large extent on whom I am playing. In most cases I would rather take two draws since I absolutely hate to lose (almost as much as I hate to draw).

"However, when I think of my two game match with Juan Morgado, the answer is clear. I would rather have a win and a loss than two draws. Losing to someone that much better than me is expected, but winning is a result I can always look back on as a real achievement. Two draws would, of course, be a good result, but beating someone significantly better than you is so much harder than obtaining the two draws.


When I first started reading this message I was surprised. Why would the identity of your opponent influence your feeling about this question? However, when I read the rest of the message I understood Ian's point very well. I'm sure I would feel the same way. While achieving draws against a highly rated opponent is a good result, actually defeating such an opponent is something special, much more special than two draws. My thoughts? I agree completely.

Retrograde Analysis Problem from Last Issue

Dr. Ted Bullockus of Sun City, CA took the Retrograde problem published at the top of my last column one step further. I mentioned that there was a solution in three moves, as well as the four move problem I presented. He sent in the following solution: 1. e4 e6 2. Bc4 c6 3. Bxe6 dxe6. Dr. Bullockus also mentioned that he had a book on the Alapin Gambit coming out soon and was using "The Theory Machine" to produce diagrams. He asked if there were other methods for producing diagrams in various sizes. One of the great advances for people producing diagrams is the availability of TrueType fonts for Windows, where you can produce diagrams of any size with the greatest of ease. I am just starting my newsletter for the Great Lakes team in the 95RT using ChessBase and the fonts available from Steve Smith (see my May-June 1995 column for details). There's a lot of talent in the APCT organization. Dr. Bullockus is just one of many APCT members producing chess books, articles, etc.

Some Additional Input from Readers

Stephan Gerzadowicz of E. Templeton, MA: "On Pimm's question, anyone who would send one move and then take advantage of a lost card to change that move would steal lunch money from little children. Ask us a tough one."

Chip Chapin of Honolulu, HI: "In response to Mr. Pimm's poser of sending a bad move, opponent not receiving it, and now can you ethically send a better move? Personally, I think not. But say you send the improvement, and your opponent later receives the original card with the blunder? Could be sticky! No?"

Otis Burgess of Philadelphia, PA: "I remember reading your comments in your article about playing strength diminishing with BIG GAME LOADS. I agree!"

Bill Clark of Sarasota, FL: "I guess I will jar you also as my feelings are the same as Fred Bender. I only keep track of my results in a section as long as I have games going. I will keep my crosstable up to date. As soon as I finish my last game the crosstable goes to the trash can. If I win a prize later it is sort of a bonus. The one exception is in the team tournaments. I do tend to keep a lot better track in those events as an opponent's standing might tend to influence his thinking sometimes regarding a draw offer. I usually play for the love of the game, but in a team event you also must consider your obligation to the team." In another letter he related, "I'll throw in my 2-cents worth regarding computer subject matter in you column. I'm all for it ..."

copyright © 1996, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

Home Column MenuPrevious ColumnNext Column