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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"The Campbell Report" - July/August 1996

Go directly to "Computers in cc" discussion

Tony Albano Success in Horowitz Memorial Open

Congratulations to APCT Top Ten player Tony Albano for his high finish in the recently concluded Al Horowitz Memorial Open. He finished the finals just half a point behind the winner Chris McLaughlin and tied for second place with IM Isay Golyak. Thanks to APCT'er Ralph Marconi of Joliette, Quebec, who was the Tournament Secretary for this ICCF event and provided this information.

Giant Team Match Underway

Ralph Marconi is also team captain for the North American Pacific Zone team in an ICCF 100-board friendly match against the South American Zone. The following APCT players are taking part on the board numbers indicated: 3. Michael Brent, 8. Ted Greiner, 11. James Skeels, 12. Ralph Marconi, 19. Stephan Gerzadowicz, 26. Travis Norman, 35. Michael Guillot, 40. Allen Wright, 47. William Bivens, 63. Marek Raczynski, 76. Chris Caligari, 82. Stephen Wead and 84. Jefferson Green.

Reasons for Losing and a Challenge to Readers

I recently asked chess journalist and APCT member Roy DeVault of Gulfport, MS for some advice to help me improve my play. He replied with these very interesting and useful ideas:

"The question of chess style has always intrigued me. Most players know what you mean when you refer to a style of chess play, but can they define or illustrate any style other than 19-th century, Morphyesque play? I think not. Of course, we are addressing something very abstract, and it may well be true that the elements of chess style (wasn't there a book years ago with that title?) are in the eye of the beholder. I would be fascinated to know a good player's opinion of my style. Does it resemble, in some small way, the play of ??? who? I haven't a clue. Do I play in the style of Alekhine?, Spassky? I don't know. If I knew, I would offer an opinion as to your style of play, but, as I said, I don't really know how to define chess style. I AM sure that all players have a style, even though they aren't GM's. Perhaps this would be good subject material for your column. Invite readers to give their ideas as to how to define chessplaying style. [There you have it, readers, a challenge! -- JFC]

"Regarding your 'I need to go back to basics...' One thing I noticed in playing over a bunch of games I lost was that, as a general truth, I did not stand badly out of the opening. My losses were attributable to one of these:

1) A lack of alertness at a crucial point. In many cases, I made a "routine" move when the right move would have prevented my opponent from gaining an advantage. The move I made was actually a blunder, but it looks all right at first glance. I think this comes mainly from a lack of appreciation of the opponent's possibilities.

2) Pressing too hard for an advantage in an even position. This was a bugaboo for a long time, but I've finally conquered it. When one has no advantage, as frustrating as it may be (time invested in the game, need to win for Tmt. standing, etc.) one has to play quiet, solid chess and accept a draw if that is what comes.

3) Lack of confidence in one's own ability. By this I mean the feeling that if "I don't do something soon, he'll overwhelm me." That feeling is most often a false one. I've had to train myself not to panic in positions where I'm getting nowhere, and to look to what I can do to set my own house in order.

4) Mis-evaluation of the position as more favorable to me than it really is. See (2) above. This is interrelated with (3) also. It causes one to do things like launch an attack when one should be consolidating.

"One of the hardest things to do in chess is to make useful moves (Petrosian was the best) when there is nothing much to do in a position. Many of my losses came from trying to force something instead of playing "Petrosian-like" chess. In that situation, both players are waiting for the other to make a mistake. Have faith that it will be him! Even if you sit quietly on the position for a time."

Thanks, Roy, for a very interesting and insightful discussion. I hope readers take note of your challenge above.

Simply Enjoying Chess

Roy DeVault also supplied the following commentary.

"I recall SM John Jacobs, who taught a chess class in Dallas, saying once in class that his favorite chess activity was playing over a Spassky game while enjoying a glass of wine. I do it without the wine (I prefer coffee)."

After I asked permission to quote this in my column he added:

"I like the idea of the John Jacobs' quote. He is a pleasant, friendly fellow, and would not mind being quoted at all. He does not write on chess but has had his little class (8-12 -- varies) going for years. He reviews great games or presents an opening system or studies a recent well-known game in detail. He has a demo board ... and lectures about 90 minutes ... Last USCF rating I knew for him was 2385.

"The notion of chess to simply enjoy is a neglected one. People don't 'stop to smell the roses' as often as they should. Everyone has some favorite players, and enjoying their best games without a compulsion to study can be very enjoyable."

A Matter of Postal Etiquette

APCT member Phyllis Kuehn of Saginaw, MI contributed the following concerning the use of good postal manners. I agree with her comments ... what do you think?

"I have enjoyed almost all of my postal opponents over the years, finding them courteous and, sometimes, very friendly. If my opponents like to write notes, I write notes; if they do not, I just send the moves. But a small minority have annoying habits, and I wonder how others feel about this. Once in a while, I find what I think is quite a good move (I wish it were more often), but I wouldn't dream of announcing this or emphasizing it by placing an exclamation point after it. I think it shows very poor taste to brag about your own moves. After all, it may not turn out to be as good as you think. Often it is simply good luck resulting from another person's error, and that is not a reason to think that you are especially brilliant. (Often games are won by the player that makes the fewest errors.) In short, I feel that awarding your own moves exclamation points is tacky.

"When I see someone doing this, I am offended. I get an impression of that person which may be totally off base. He strikes me as rude, self-centered, and arrogant--one who feels he is far superior to the rest of us mortals--essentially someone not easy to like.

"I will occasionally attach an (!) to an opponent's move. A particularly good move which I did not anticipate might lead me to comment in this way. But not if he's done it first! No way! And the only punctuation I will ever attach to a move of my own is this one: (?) when it is deserved."

[Thank you for these observations. I feel much the same. I take particular offense when an opponent labels one of MY moves with (?). Fortunately, this (perceived) rude behavior has been very rare in my experience. Like you, I believe it is important to be courteous and sensitive in our correspondence with our opponents. -- JFC]

APCT'er Finishes Ninth Book When Maurice Ellis of New Castle, PA recently mentioned the following, I wrote him for more information. He said, "For historical record, I took 333 of my APCT games and copyrighted a book of them. This is my 9th book so far." Following is his reply.

"You asked me to tell you more about the other books I've written. Well, here are some:

Lydia's Opening (1. h4) & Gracik's Opening (1. f3) -- Contains original analysis.

The Ellis Gambit (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 (Nd2) dxe4 4. Nxe4 e5 -- Games and analysis.

More Postal Games of Maurice Ellis - Over 100 APCT postal games.

Opening Book Routine for Chess-Playing Programs

"I've also written books and monographs on the French, Grunfeld, King's Indian and King's Gambit. I'm getting material together for a couple more books. I don't write them to make money, just for fun. For those into computers, those interested can find my books at the Library of Congress, Unpublished Works section."

[Thanks for the information, Maurice. You've found additional ways to enjoy our marvelous game and present a good example for the rest of us. -- JFC]

Another Chess Challenge

Under this heading last time I gave a problem submitted by Dennis B. Jessup of W. Paducah, KY. I found it more challenging than expected. To briefly repeat, create a position that can be reached legally where White has only one move and it checkmates Black. The best solution has the smallest piece count before the move where each piece (counting both White and Black) has this value: K=0, P=1, B/N=3, R=5, Q=9.

Tim Blevins of Lawrenceville, VA sent: White - Kh8, Ph7, Pd7. Black -- Kf8, Pf7. Move: 1. d8(=Q)++. Count: 3. He added, "I would say you will have quite a few 3 point solutions for this problem." Jessup said this is the solution he had in mind.

Paul Sholl of Moline, IL wrote, "The best I can do on the problem is (White -- Kh2, Rh1, Pg2, Pf3, Pf4. Black -- Kh4, Pg3) -- 9 points. Maybe having White in check is kind of sneaky, but I'm not Sam Loyd. On another topic: like you I prefer the term 'chess geek' to 'chess nut.' But I prefer 'chess nut' to 'chess dork.'" [I couldn't agree more! -- JFC].

Jack R. Clauser, II of Shiremanstown, PA sent: White: Ka6, Pb6. Black -- Ka8, Pc6, Bb8, Nc4. Count: 8 points.

My best solution: White: Ka6, Pa5, Pb6, Pa7. Black: Ka8, Pc6. Count: 4 points. Part of the challenge was proving this position could legally be reached.

All the above are clever and attractive solutions. Tim Blevins achieved the smallest count by "bending the rules" slightly, perhaps the cleverest move of all. His pawn move is the only legal move available. Choosing to promote it to a Queen creates checkmate. On the other hand, I could find a move that doesn't deliver mate, namely 1. d8(=N). So did he "bend" the rules or break them? I'm not really sure, but I am sure that he was clever.

I proposed the question on the Internet and got nine replies. FM Ralph Dubisch of Seattle, Washington and NM Noam D. Elkies of Cambridge, Massachusetts independently sent White: Kh6, Ph5, Pg6, Ph7. Black: Kh8, Pf6. Note that this is identical to my solution but mirrored on the opposite side of the board. Elkies also gave White: Kh6,Pg5,Ph5,Pg6,Ph7; Black: Kh8 (with the same point count and mate) but pointed out that the position could not be legally reached. Per Erik Manne suggested that all pieces (non-Kings) be counted as one point. This allows more flexibility and some clever and pretty solutions. The best I found was a 3-pointer.

Charles G. "Swifty" Thomas of Spanish Fort, AL wrote: "Dennis Jessup's May-June challenge reminded me of an old 'problem' involving a forced mate in six! I don't recall the book or the composer, but the reader was teased with something like 'Can't do chess problems? Too complicated? Try this mate in six. Don't think, just move.'" The position given: White - Ka8, pawns on a3, a7, c7, d3, d6. Black - Kc8, pawns on a4, b6, d7. [Now this is a clever composition! I can see why you thought of it here. -- JFC].

Our resident expert on problem solving APCT columnist Newman Guttman of Evanston, IL sent the following:

"Thanks for printing my note on the change-color mate-in-one [see March-April 1996. The original problem was to find a position where White delivers mate by promoting a pawn to a Black piece. Guttman's solution was White: Kh5, Rf7, Pg7, Black: Kh7, Rh8. -- JFC]. In wondering whether there has been further activity by your readers [no activity -- JFC], I remembered (finally) that I own a (French) problem tester for fairy chess that handles this kind of thing. In reading its repertory, I see that it recognizes three kinds of piece-color changes: 'magique,' where a non-King changes color each time it moves; 'volage,' where a non-King changes color only the first time that it moves to a different-colored square; and 'hypervolage,' where the piece changes color every time it changes square color (my dictionary tells me that 'volage' means 'fickle').

"These fairy-chess rules made me realize that Jessup and I were subconsciously working under yet another fairy-chess stipulation, that the problem length was one 'ply,' where White has the move. That's a very narrow stipulation (you know that the computer-chess people refer to 'ply' as a 'half-move').

"I ran the Jessup and my 'compositions' through the tester for 'volage' and 'magique.' Jessup's is sound (1.Pb8=B) only under 'volage.' Under 'magique,' there are two solutions: 1.Pb8=Q and 1.Pb8=B. I had two 'compositions.' (1) With Qf7, under 'volage,' 1.Pg8=N is the one solution, but under 'magique,' there are five solutions: 1.Pxh8=Q, 1.Pxh8=R, 1.Pg8=Q, 1.Pg8=N, 1.Pg8=R. (2) With Rf7, 'volage' has the one intended solution 1.Pg8=N, but 'magique' has three solutions: 1.Pg8=Q, 1.Pg8=N, 1.Pg8=R.

"It's a headache figuring out these results. Consider my case (2) above, with Rf7. After 1.Pg8=Q, it is Black's move with a BQ on g8. 1...Qxf7 is illegal, since on capture, the Q becomes White, leaving the BK in check. Similarly, 1...Rg7 to interpose. But 1.Pg8=B is not a solution because 1...Bxf7 stops the mate by legally capturing the R. Unless you hear independent clamor from your readers, it's doubtful that you want to open this can of fairy-chess worms in further columns."

[I don't intend to pursue a discussion of 'fairy-chess' in this column, but I thought the readers might enjoy this glimpse into a strange (to me) and different area of chess, the world of fairy chess. Thanks for your contribution. -- JFC]

Member Supports Legalizing Computer Use

Paul Sholl of Moline, IL sent the following thought-provoking commentary on using computers in postal chess.

"I just signed up for my second year with APCT because I very much enjoy being a part of this club. Now I want to join the discussion on ethics and computers I read in the March-April APCT NB.

"First, it is not unethical to receive a suggestion from a chess database's move guessing algorithm. It is a violation of the rules. When you enter an opponent's move, your last keystroke solicits help from the algorithm. Even waiting until after you mail the card does not eliminate the violation if the algorithm remains engaged, because its guessed move might suggest a plan.

"Second, it is a profound violation of the rules to run Fritz for thirty or forty minutes to see if he agrees with your move, or even to run Fritz for one second. Fritz may tell you you've overlooked a four mover (or a one mover) that drops a piece, but that doesn't mean you've made a 'transmission error.' It means you've blundered.

"Third, there is a world of difference between using Fritz to help you research a line and using Fritz to generate moves during a game. Kramnik helps Kasparov prepare for opponents. He doesn't run out onto the stage during a game, call time out, and sit down with Kasparov to analyze a critical position. To me the differences are clear.

"Now, having said all that, I favor legalizing the use of computers in all aspects of play. Nothing can be done to stop people from using them. They're using them now. And, if people think nobody's silly enough to be Fritz's slave and mail his postcards for him, I think they need to think again. I know chess players and, while they have many good qualities, competitive does not begin to describe them. You've said you hate losing. I also hate losing. Many chess players hate losing. If a person hates losing bad enough he'll even submit to Fritz, follow his orders and run his errands, if he thinks Fritz will keep him from losing."

Thanks for your excellent comments, Paul. I believe the situation of the postal player is significantly different from Kasparov's position, though. A postal game is played over a long period of time. Most players will spend some time during this period studying their favorite openings. I think there is considerable room for discussion about the ethical and unethical methods of pursuing this study. Things are not clear to me at all.

Computers in Chess "Gray Areas"

APCT'er Lee Edwards of Nashville, TN sent the following email message:

"I am sending you by snailmail copies of two articles which I wrote regarding computers in postal chess for the Tennessee Chess News [Thanks -- JFC]. Although the articles were written in 1990, the march of technological progress has already rendered some of my comments obsolete.

"It seems to me that the use of computers in postal chess has brought up not only fundamental ethical issues, but also fundamental problems for the Philosophy of Law. I am a lawyer and have taught legal ethics (sometimes called an oxymoron) to paralegal students. Perhaps we had better leave some of the ethical issues to the professionals, like Stuart Rachels, but it seems to me that there is a certain merit to the argument that one should not pass laws or rules which are, by their very nature, unenforceable.

"I am also involved in the sport of table tennis [me too! -- JFC]. The International Table Tennis Federation attempted to ban the use of certain glues containing organic solvents, principally trichloroethylene, on the ground that the glues could be harmful to one's health. Many top table tennis players affix their sponge to their rackets with a fresh layer of wet glue before every match. This has been found to increase the amount of spin imparted on the ball. I argued against the ban, on the ground that, except in major tournaments like the Olympics or World Championships, it was simply impossible to enforce. It was legal for adults to buy trichloroethylene based glues and the equipment necessary to detect fumes from these glues in parts per million was prohibitively expensive. [This is not like testing for the use of drugs in the bloodstream. No one was sniffing glue, particularly not for the purpose of enhancing their performance. The glue was simply part of the equipment].

"On the other hand, there might be instances where it would be wise policy to pass rules which are unenforceable, because of the moral persuasion of the law. For example, it might be a good idea for Congress to enact a spending limit for Presidential Candidates, BUT WITHOUT ANY CRIMINAL PENALTY. Such a law would probably be unconstitutional as violating the freedom of speech, but the stigma of violating the law might give certain plutocratic candidates pause.

"The problem of cheating with computers is not confined to postal chess. There was, for example, the infamous "John von Neumann" incident where a player appeared at one of Goichberg's big money tournaments and apparently received instructions by radio from a confederate who was using a computer. It would also be possible to cheat with a computer in on-line chess played at blitz or tournament speeds. Another obvious difference between postal and OTB tournament chess is the influence of money. There are no professional correspondence chess players and large prizes are seldom awarded. On line chess has several advantages over traditional postal chess. For one thing, there are seldom any disputes over whether and when a move was received, although there are annoying disadvantages, such as having the network or one's own computer crash, thunderstorms, Acts of God, War or the Public Enemy, etc.

"I believe that the fundamental question is whether the goal of postal chess is to provide fair, meaningful competition, or whether the goal should be to find the "truth" regarding the soundness of a particular chess position. Obviously, the goal of OTB and most on-line chess is fair competition, but some postal players are looking for the ultimate truth. Maybe there is even a difference between regular postal players and those, like myself, who primarily play in thematic sections, with the thematic players being more truth oriented.

"Your columns have pointed out a number of "gray areas." For example, if I am playing in an Evans Gambit thematic, am I prohibited from playing Evans Gambit speed games against my computer? Even if I start from "book" positions set up in my computer before I entered the Evans Gambit thematic? Does it make any difference whether I set up the positions or whether the computer reaches them "naturally" from its own book knowledge?

"Another "gray area" is the use of hybrid chess playing-database software, heuristic or .lrn files, databases of solved endings, or databases with "intelligence", pattern-recognition, or "move-guessing functions." I use my Zarkov program, not for determining my moves, but simply for storing my games, which is both legal and ethical, but I have encountered the problem of entering a position before remembering to disable the automatic analysis feature. Am I then prohibited from using any move I see displayed by the analysis function?"

[Thanks for your comments above, Lee, and for the columns you sent me. Your columns made some good points, too (sorry that space doesn't allow more details here). I believe our continuing discussion of the "gray areas" will help us to eventually come to a decision about how to deal with computer usage in chess. This discussion has certainly broadened MY understanding of the complexities of this issue and my feelings have changed as a result. -- JFC]

More From the Gerz

Stephan Gerzadowicz of E. Templeton, MA sent the following:

"Mr. Y (as you seem to prefer, Mr. C) suggests that I dwell on Mt. Olympus. I am flattered and amused, but not in ways he intended. The folks up on Olympus were not all famous for their well-developed Moral Sense. ...

"On computers -- There is a Tortured Legalism abroad in the land. People pick through the fine print to tell Right from Wrong. Folks -- IT'S NOT THAT HARD. You understood when you were seven years old that in a one-on-one contest it was cheating to get help from your brother or your father or your uncle Fritz. You compete on your own. If you win, you win. If you lose, you have a chance to learn something. If you cheat you win nothing, learn nothing. Using Fritz is cheating. You cannot get help from another player. Or from a 'move guessing algorithm.' The two are exactly analogous.

"I am beginning to understand why some people like email chess. It is such a bother to write out your computer's move on a postcard. Now Mr. C's computer can play Mr. X's machine without help from either humanoid. They in turn can spend more time at work, earning money for more software."

A cover letter from Mr. Gerzadowicz contained the following:

"In one case I wasn't sure what you were talking about. Thus, in your Scenario B, what is this 'ways to incorporate the computer into his game?' I assume you mean he plugs it in and the computer spits out a move. That's 'proficient at using the computer to determine a good move.' Then you say 'his' rating has improved to 2000. WHOSE RATING?? The computer was always 2000. The human is still 1600. Neither has 'improved.'

"What worries me most about you computer people is how you slide into euphemism and sophistry -- and spend so much time there that you forget where you are. It's really very simple. Anything it is illegal and unethical to ask of another player, it is illegal and unethical to ask of a computer."

Thanks for your comments, Mr. G. I agree that winning by cheating is not at all satisfying. What's the point? I like the feeling of achievement when I accomplish something. I also wouldn't deny anyone else's right to enjoy the accomplishments of their computer (if they find that satisfying), as long as they play within the rules. Of course, playing within the rules in APCT competitions dictates that you must not use your computer to evaluate or generate moves.

Now for my disagreements. First, it is simplistic in the extreme to believe that being 'proficient at using the computer to determine a good move' is the same as plugging the position into the computer and following its recommendation. I consider that approach rather stupid and laughable. By using chess software as a tool you can certainly improve your play. I won't go into detail but, with a little imagination and ingenuity, any postal chess player could improve his play without blindly following the moves generated by the computer software. I think it would be a lot of fun developing such approaches. Of course, I do not experiment or use a move-generating device of any type in my APCT competition. That would be cheating, and I don't cheat. I believe a majority of other APCT'ers also play strictly by the rules.

Secondly, I believe it is inappropriate to use the "name calling" technique of criticizing those with different views. I get enough of this from conservative politicians. I'm particularly irritated with the comment, "What worries me most about you computer people is how you slide into euphemism and sophistry ..." I admit that I shy away from calling people liars and cheats in print. I prefer a more gentle approach. Is that slipping into euphemism? Am I equally guilty of sophistry? I consider myself reasonably intelligent and logical, but I'm sure I am sometimes mistaken in my conclusions. Still ... sophistry? My readers will have to decide for themselves. I will just have to remain irritated. One of my objectives with this column is to provide a forum for debate and discussion of topics impacting on chess (postal chess, in particular). I believe name calling detracts from this objective, and I will consider editing out such comments in the future.

Mr. G. reminded me of a flight of fancy I wrote for this column in July-August 1991. I don't usually repeat material, but it's been some time and it seems appropriate, so here it is.

The Future of Correspondence Chess ??

Once there was a postal chess player who got a computer. After buying a chess-playing program he started letting the computer suggest moves occasionally. Then he began relying on the computer to find all of his moves. After purchasing a scanner, several megabytes of memory and some Artificial Intelligence software it was possible for the computer to directly read his opponents' cards. Another program was able to make some sense of the correspondence and make 'reasonable' replies. With the addition of a 24-pin printer with cut-sheet feeder the computer system was able to do it all.

Now when friend postal chess player receives a card he scans it into his computer. The computer (with appropriate sophisticated software) then deciphers the message and moves, computes the proper response, composes a reply and prints the post card. All our friend has to do is pick up the mail, feed the chess cards into the scanner and load the proper blank post cards into the printer. And he can now lean back and really enjoy his postal chess games to the fullest.


copyright © 1996, 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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