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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"The Campbell Report" - May/June 1996

Go directly to "Computers in cc" discussion

APCT'er Builds "Chess Set" Into House

The readers of this column know that I encourage chess enthusiasts to find as many ways to enjoy the Royal Game as possible. Therefore, I was extremely pleased to received information about APCT member John D. Tregidga of Woodinville, WA applying his appreciation of chess to his profession as a Residential Design Specialist. If I receive appropriate photos before the deadline I'll include them, otherwise I'll try to get them in next time. Here are John's own words describing his project.

Chess Board in Floor

"As a fan of postal and Over The Board Chess, I have noticed that my love of the art of chess has started expressing itself in my work. I am a residential Architect by profession. Recently a speculative home design I created was completed, and I thought I would share this unique game board with your readers. The enclosed photograph shows a second story game room, in-floor, 48" square glass block relight 'chess board.' I personally like all kinds of chess boards, but the larger the better. This is my first board I have custom designed into a house plan I created for someone else.

"I told the developer it was a secondary skylight over the dining room below, by putting a skylight directly over the 'glass-block' in-floor chess board. This served the purpose of providing natural light from above, in a space that usually would not have anything but a coffered ceiling.

"p.s. my next 'in-home' chess board idea is to do a vertical board that is also a wall between one room and another. Kind of like a semi-transparent room divider with 12"x12" grid/niches that define the playing surface."

Wow, what a great idea! I'm impressed by the creative efforts of John Tregidga and encourage others to follow his example. If you have personal examples of expressing your love of chess in non-traditional ways please send me your story for use in this column.

Kasparov-Deep Blue Match

John Helmbrecht of Coatesville, PA very thoughtfully wrote me concerning this popular match sending along a pile of local newspaper clippings and the official program book called "The ACM Chess Challenge." Thanks for all the fascinating material, John, I really appreciate it! Here are his personal observations concerning this very interesting match between the human world champion and a famous specialized chess computer.

"Since I live in the Philly area and I had the opportunity to attend one of the games from the Kasparov-Deep Blue match, I feel it is my "duty" to report what I observed! I've included a program and some newspaper clippings for 'your reading enjoyment!'

"Observations:

"As you can see from all the newspaper articles, this match got a lot of press in the Philadelphia area. A few times the news made the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I attended game two of the match - Kasparov's first win. There were about 200 people in attendance. We watched in the 'analysis room' where Seirawan and Ashley commented on the game and answered questions from the audience. Although the game took nearly 6 hours to play, the time flew! That's because Yasser and Maurice did a really excellent job in keeping the comments lively! The PC program 'Fritz' helped them in their analysis which we could all see on a big overhead screen. I felt like I was in 'chess school!'

"After the game, an excited Kasparov came into our room to talk. He received a standing ovation; I think most people were rooting for Gary to whip the computer. Gary really is an excellent ambassador for chess - he's full of energy, excitable and interesting to listen to.

"Most notable quote - Maurice Ashley: 'In this match, Gary feels that he is defending the dignity of the human race!'

"My observation - Gary's attacking style probably falls into the computer's strengths. You could see Gary trying to refrain from attacking and playing more positional. It would be interesting to see how Karpov (a super positional player) would have fared."

Thanks for your very interesting report to your fellow APCT'ers! You really made the match "come alive" for me. I tried to follow the match on the Internet. I was surprised that IBM made the same mistakes that Intel had made during their Internet coverage of the Kasparov-Anand match. To their credit IBM did clear up most of the problems by game six, which got excellent coverage. Unfortunately, that was the last game of the match! If IBM covers another chess event on the Internet I would expect very good coverage.

Another Chess Challenge

Dennis B. Jessup of W. Paducah, KY previously sent in a chess composition challenge (see p. 206 of the Nov.-Dec. 1995 issue). Herb Wolfe of Omaha, NE responded to that challenge (p. 26 in Jan-Feb 1996). Jessup has sent in another challenge:

"Well, as you stated, Herb Wolfe has certainly risen to the challenge of finding a position where mate is delivered by promoting a pawn to an opposite colored piece with the minimum of material on the board. Using a point count of K=0, P=1, B/N=3, R=5, Q=9 (counting both colors prior to the mating move) my best effort was six points. Herb has topped it with five! I did not think it could be done. This is a good example of how important it is for a chess player to be able to conceive new themes -- whether by reason or intuition. Herb's theme will go into my bag of tricks! And, his position does meet all the criteria including, 'The position must be realistic' (possible to reach).

"Here's another composition problem I'd like to present to interested APCT'ers. Compose a position in which White has only one legal move and that move results in mate. Use the following criteria:

1) Both Kings must be on the board.

2) The position must be realistic (possible to reach in a standard chess game).

3) Find the most economical setup (fewest number of points on board) using the point count mentioned above.

"I'll send in my best effort for the next issue of the News Bulletin and would be curious to know how many APCT'ers respond."

Don't worry ... you'll know who responds. I acknowledge almost everyone who sends comments on subjects covered in this column. A warning to correspondents: if you write me prepare to be quoted! Though longer letters must be edited for length and I occasionally correct errors and/or grammar, I usually pass along just about everything I receive. Keep those letters and cards coming, readers! Please make your contributions as readable as possible (some are very difficult to decipher). The APCT is loaded with talented and thoughtful people with important and interesting things to say. I want to print as many of these interesting things as possible in this column.

Leader Of An Anti-Computer Clique?

I must apologize to Charles G. Thomas of Spanish Fort, AL for my too-frequent references to his criticism of too much chess material in this column. Here are his comments:

"Ere I am forever branded as the leader of an anti-computer clique (hinted at twice in the March-April "Campbell Report"), let me set the record straight. There's computer stuff and computer stuff. For example, Bill Clark's description of his chess database setup was (with all due respect, Bill) esoteric and deadly dull, while his ideas on the ethical use of computers were cogent and most interesting.

"So don't bunch up all of the computer-related stuff into a geek section. I'll miss a lot of good stuff if you do. Just be judicious about the amount of hard-core software material you use."

Thanks for your comments, Charles, and please accept my apology for injecting a few too many of my "humorous" references. I'm afraid that this column will always reflect my personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, as hard as I try to showcase the thoughts of the APCT membership. As for Bill Clark's description, I found it fascinating and not at all dull. Perhaps my entire column could be considered a "geek section." I fit the classic definition of a nerd (or geek). My shirt pocket always contains at least three different colored pens plus a pocket flashlight. And for years I carried a pocket protector with at least six different mechanical pencils (lots of different colors), lead pointer and eraser for marking up computer listings. One of my favorite movies? Why, "Revenge of the Nerds," of course!

Ultra-sophisticated Opening "Database" System

Chris Caligari of Hudson, NH contributed the following delightful and useful comments in an email message. His approach makes a lot of sense. I also find his almost unique proper use of the term "literally" quite refreshing (normally I find that when people say "literally" what they mean is "not literally!").

"Enjoyed your last column. Boy would you get a kick out of my ultra-sophisticated opening "database" system. I keep little "bookmarks" of player name and section stuck into the appropriate pages of my good old fashioned paper book library. The bookmarks move from volume to volume with each transposition until the game is out of book (literally!). Why no hi-tech? I like to constantly reread the theory behind each position I reach, especially by transposition. It helps my understanding of the game much more than an "automatic response" type database would."

A Computer Enthusiast Replies

Mark Koski of Michigan sent the following remarks by email. I think you'll find his comments both interesting and educational.

"Ever since you started your column in the APCT News Bulletin, I've been reading and enjoying it. I agree totally with Mr. Thomas' comment (in the November-December issue) that it is the best thing in the News Bulletin [Hey, thanks. I love to read comments like this! Of course, I had to include this comment to provide the proper context for what follows. -- JFC]. But I have to disagree with Mr. Thomas on another point: there isn't too much computer related material in your column, for me anyhow.

"As a cerebral palsy quadriplegic, my computer makes life a whole lot easier for me, including playing postal chess. Before I had my computer and went into the "electronic age" I had to type out my postcards on an electric typewriter, while keeping the positions of my games on USCF postal chess albums because I couldn't use anything else. It was a lot of work for me, especially when I knocked an album on the floor and the pieces scattered all over! Now, with my computer, the positions are safely tucked away on my hard disk, preventing accidents--except, of course, heaven forbid, a hard disk crash. Playing electronically exclusively now, I don't have to type out postcards and then worry about getting them mailed on time. By the way, I've been an APCT'er since 1974 or thereabouts.

"Another thing that I have to lend my two cents worth is the subject of using computers to make moves. I don't much care if my opponent is using a computer for that purpose. If he/she wants to do that, then so be it. What I don't know won't hurt me. I love the challenge of chess, and there's nothing like trying to discover the best possible moves on my own. After all, why play if you are going to let a computer do it for you?"

Thanks for your input, Mark. You've been an APCT'er almost from the beginning of its existence. Congratulations on refining your approach to correspondence chess and thanks again for sharing your story with your fellow APCT'ers!

A Chess Funeral? ... No Way!

The following is from Tim Blevins of Lawrenceville, VA.

"I have a few comments to make about computers and their impact on OTB and postal chess. First, I'd like to say I don't believe computers should be used to generate moves in postal chess, no matter the situation. When I read "A Deep Blue Day" (March-April '96 APCT NB) I got the feeling I was being informed of a funeral instead of a game of chess. Would the chess world have halted had the computer skunked Kasparov 6-0? No, I think not! Furthermore, I believe a 6-0 win by the machine would have been the best thing for chess since the Queen was given unlimited movement in any direction. Why? Because we never learn anything in victory. A loss would have inspired Kasparov and the whole chess world to rethink the game. Alas, new ideas, new concepts, new strategies would have been born. And that would have been good! Deep down I believe our fear of the computer ruining our game is preceded by the fear of having our egos bruised by a machine.

"And, last but not least, I read with interest Stephen Wilkins thoughts in your article (last issue) (concerning) his fear that a computer would be built that could solve the game. Now, I'm not going to say that will never happen. But I've got a feeling that, like time and space, chess may be infinite. It just might go on and on forever."

I'll have to paraphrase from memory, but your last comment reminds me of one of my favorite email "signatures," a quote from Einstein I think ... "Two things are infinite, space and man's stupidity. And I'm not really sure about space." I like your almost poetic view of chess. I also feel that, in the long run, computers must have a positive effect on our favorite board game. Kill chess? ... no way!

The "Move Guessing" Algorithm / Email Chess

As discussed before in this column, some of the more powerful chess database programs offer a useful feature for entering games, namely a "move-guessing" algorithm. When you point the mouse to either a piece to move or a destination square, the software guesses the move you intend to make based on a simple evaluation algorithm. When it guesses correctly, it speeds up move entry by allowing you to simply let the mouse button up without moving the mouse to another square. This speeds up move entry more than you'd think. The potential problem is that, even though simple minded, this algorithm DOES suggest a move. If you are entering a move in an ongoing game this is, in literal terms, a suggested move and a violation of the letter of the rules about receiving help. Frank C. Vogel III of North Kingstown, RI sent the following analysis.

"Here's my opinion on the issue concerning the move-guessing algorithm of some computer programs. The use of this device is definitely unethical under the current rules against computer use. The crux of the issue is that the computer provides a move that may not have been found by the postal player working on his own. Especially since this is supposed to be a recommended move.

"The next topic I would think would be of great interest to most all APCT players. This is the growth of correspondence chess through E-mail, both within APCT and all other correspondence chess organizations. If Helen Warren has the available information, you could publish what the current ratio of E-mail games is to regular postal games. How many APCT players currently use the E-mail option and what is their ratio of postal games to E-mail games? How many players intend on obtaining a computer/modem in the near future and getting their feet wet with this wave of the future trend? (I, for one, am purchasing a Pentium computer with modem in the next two months and will jump headfirst into this new form of chess.) We'll also be able to correspond with people like you in near "real-time" by sending comments and suggestions over the Internet lines.

"The future possibilities are intriguing. With the exploding growth of banking by computer/modem, APCT could in the future perform almost all functions via the computer/modem. Registration, payment, game results and even prize funds could all be handled over the computer. This trend could virtually signal the end of correspondence chess in the postal form. Tim Sawyer tells me that his average rate of moves in his E-mail games is 20 moves per month. This makes the USPS obsolete in terms of correspondence chess. I hope this provides some food for thought for one of your future columns."

Thanks for your thought-provoking discussion, Frank. The first issue of the move-guessing algorithm is a difficult one for me. I use ChessBase to store all my current postal games. I like the convenient way it allows me to keep track of my thoughts on continuations when I'm analyzing a current position. Each line I try out is neatly recorded for later reference. However, I can't turn off the "move-guessing" algorithm. If, for instance, I try a move which results in immediate loss of a piece the move-guessing algorithm suggests another move. Even the simple logic of this algorithm catches most blunders losing material. If I pause to see why the computer is suggesting a move different from the one I was trying to enter then I might see that my intended move is a blunder. On the other hand, you'd just have to laugh at some of the moves suggested by the computer. This isn't a high-quality move-generating program. I'm thinking of switching to the new Windows version of BookUp, which doesn't have such a move-guessing algorithm.

I won't attempt to analyze the ratio of email to postal players. You can check the email results published in this magazine in the "Game Results" section near the front. I note that the last issue listed a lot more postal game results than email results. I do think it's a little early to predict the end of postal chess, though. I am currently enjoying a few email games, mostly of the friendly unrated variety. It's fun, the games move along fairly fast, and most of my opponents are foreign. Steve Kelly warned me some years ago of considering email chess a straight substitute for postal. Because of the limited time between moves you have to be careful not to get overextended. If you habitually play 50 games by postal you might want to keep down to a dozen games by email. If you like to spend the week between moves in postal looking at your positions, you'll miss this in email chess. If you like to keep six or eight tournaments going at the same time you'll probably find postal chess the only way to go. If you like to play quickly and get games finished then email will appeal to you. I suggest experimenting with email with a few games before making any large commitment. Personally, I'll probably stick to postal for most of my serious chess and play a few email games for fun. I predict that email chess will get more popular as more chess players get computers. But it's a different form a competition and I also predict that postal chess will be with us for a long time ... I sure hope so, anyway.

More Reaction to Previous Subjects

Daniel Pimm of Yorktown Heights, NY sent the following:

"I'm writing in response to the questions and comments of Chip Chapin and Steve Gerzadowicz who were responding to my "Poser" in your column Nov-Dec '95 [postcard not delivered .... is it OK to send a different move on the repeat card?].

"Chip Chapin's follow-up question (Jan-Feb '96) cuts right to the core of the problem. If the original card should arrive it would (according to the rules) retroactively supersede any move sent subsequent to it. Much to the embarrassment of the sender.

"Stephan Gerzadowicz's Holier than thou response was a bit harsh. The question may have been easy from Mt. Olympus (where Stephan evidently lives) but mere mortals such as I must still struggle with such things. Perhaps I can pose tougher problems for Stephan at the chess board, perhaps not, but I can assure him his children's lunch money is safe.

"There is a dichotomy of mind that perhaps I alone would suffer from, but I think not. The "Purest / Sportsman / Nice Guy" in me says, 'Send the same move. You sent the move and you live with the consequences, it's only a game!' But the Alter ego blood thirsty competitor who wants to castrate his father (Freud?) says, 'Send the Right Move. I want to win!' It's a Left Brain / Right Brain -- Jeckle & Hyde kind of thing

"Anyway. I was surprised when you said that Helen Warren 'didn't see any reason not to send any other move I wished' (see your response to my original question Nov-Dec '95). While the situations were very different the rule governing it is the same. And, just for the record, I did not send a different move."

Maurice Ellis of New Castle, PA sent the following interesting observations and opinions:

"With computers having such massive opening books I can see the offbeat openings such as 1. a3, 1. Nc3, 1. d3 and 1. b4 making a resurgence. Many years ago I had an old Radio Shack computer and a medieval chess-playing program (as Black it would play something like this: 1. d4 a5 2. e4 a4 3. Nc3 a3). Since there were no stand-alone opening books available at that time and since I couldn't afford a program with books in it, I sat down and wrote my own opening book. It could handle as many lines as I wanted by using the RENUMBER in Microsoft BASIC. It used DATA statements (DATA e2e4, d7d5, e4d5), had a routine to connect the book to the program and transpositions were handled by another routine. Rather crude, but cheap and fast when playing either side of the board.

"OK, I admit it. I'm a "chess geek" too, since I often wait each day for the familiar face of my carrier. I've been known to stand on my front porch for an hour or more.

"I agree with Michael Mays that it helps for players to share results from play. It often gives me an idea of who I have to concentrate on to win a section.

"I'm afraid I have to disagree with Mr. Mays concerning his objection to using print space on such openings as the Grob. I agree that it is seldom seen - I've only played against it once in 600 postal games - yet I am always interested in adding new material in my pet lines. I've often used offbeat openings so I can appreciate the effort behind such openings as the Grob."

Thanks for your comments, Maurice. I also had a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer (affectionately known as a "Trash 80"). You were very clever to program in your own opening book. However, I rarely spend more than 5 minutes (at a time) standing on my porch waiting for the mail delivery. I do often make ten or twenty trips to my mailbox, though, checking for the arrival of my precious mail. My mail rarely spends more than 5 minutes sitting in the mailbox. It's a sad day when the post doesn't contain any chess-related mail. Thanks for writing, fellow geek!

On another subject Stephan Gerzadowicz of E. Templeton, MA wrote the following (I have substituted "Mr. X" for the actual player name to satisfy my own sensibilities ... my apologies to SG for this slight alteration). By the way, Stephan, thanks for the beautiful card from the St. Louis zoo!

"Mr. X astonishes me. He claims to see no difference between using a computer before a game has begun and using a computer to generate an actual move in a game as it is being played. An exactly analogous situation is the difference between getting lessons from a GM and asking that GM to suggest a move in a current CC game.

"It is illegal and immoral - BOTH - to get analytical help with a position in an ongoing game, whether that help comes from a human or a computer. He would justify computer use, 'Especially as the rule cannot be enforced anyway.' But neither can the rule on getting GM help with a current position. Does he suggest we abolish THAT rule?

"He goes on - 'Another thing I do that I'm really not sure is quite ethical ...' STOP. Boys and girls - if you are not sure something is 'quite' ethical, you don't do it. Any questions?

"As it happens, what he does is clearly NOT ethical. Or legal. He has 'Fritz' check his moves before sending them. 'Wrong' moves are discovered. He says this is 'usually' because of a recording error. But obviously not always. Sometimes the move is just 'wrong.' Exactly as a GM would have pointed out. 'Wrong' moves are also known as 'mistakes.' They may result from fatigue or carelessness - or lack of ability. Whatever. Mr. X prefers to avoid them. Or Fritz does. I'm not sure which. It seems not to matter. Mr. X says - 'I try not to use my computer to make my moves.' He TRIES not to?? Astonishing.

In a second note SG adds, "I hope it need not be pointed out that Mr. X is also cheating when he gives a game position to his computer and compares moves. That is EXACTLY the same as giving the position to another player and asking, 'What do you think I should play here?' That is, it is both illegal and unethical."

Another Hypothetical Scenario

In my never ending search to make sense out of the impact of computers on our beloved postal chess I have come up with another scenario.

Scenario A: One postalite rated 1600 works very hard to improve his understanding of the game. After working very hard for two years his has improved his game and his rating has risen to 2000.

Scenario B: Another 1600 postalite gets a computer and chess software. After working very hard for two years finding the best ways to incorporate the computer into his game he becomes quite proficient at using the computer to determine a good move. His rating has improved to 2000.

Question: Is there any difference to you which player you face in competition? Does it matter to you (if both players play at a 2000 rating level) which opponent you are competing against? Without the computer, player B would likely still be playing at the 1600 level. It's possible that he/she is having loads more fun playing using the computer and playing at a higher skill level. Ignoring the question of violation of current rules, do you see a problem with some players using computers and do you believe there is a threat to the future of our glorious game? If using computers were made legal, would it really matter?


copyright © 1996, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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