The Campbell Report - March/April 1997

APCT'er Creates Colorful Postcards

In the last column I speculated about how to use color in the design of a postal chess postcard. My enjoyment of correspondence chess has been enhanced for many years by designing and printing my own postal chess cards. Now that my printer was dying I was considering purchasing a color inkjet printer and I asked for advice on how best to use color. To be brief, my new printer is an HP LaserJet 5L, which produces excellent quality print, much better than my old dot-matrix. However, I'll have be satisfied with an improvement in print quality, not a major redesign of my cards. This is not a color printer. One reader did answer my plea for suggestions, however, and his comments are produced below for your information, enjoyment and inspiration.

Remember John D. Tregidga of Woodinville, WA? He was featured here in May-June 1996 for his incorporation of chess designs into houses. He has shown his imagination once again in the design and printing of interesting postal cards. Read his comments below:

"I have you beat by a year and a half. I've been producing the "Amazing Technicolor" postcards for some time now. My lament is that I was the only one doing so. It makes me glad that you plan to also. This is how I set up my cards (and I'll send you an example).

"Hardware: Pentium P-166 with Canon BJC-4000 color printer

"Software: Aldus Pagemaker, WinJepg +386 (graphic file converter) and CM5000.

"I use CM5000 in postal mode to keep track of and create full color 3-d chess diagrams, which I then export out to clipboard in Win95 as a graphic file. I then paste the image in WinJepg and rescale, adjust contrast, crop and export as a .tif file. Aldus pagemaker is then set up with a 4x6 postcard that uses different fonts and colors to show the game header, player's name, time used and moves. By using a computer I almost always print the entire game on each card that I send. There is an area set aside for the importing of graphic files that is my chess diagram, this is automatically updated each time I load a particular player's card from the '.tif' file database. I then print the 'diagram side' of the card, flip it over, reinsert it back into the printer, and call up my address file for each player, which has the address and another spot for inserting graphic chess photo's on the front.

"These 'chess photographs' I have accumulated off the Internet various 'chess' sites. There are over 100 different photos (some of me playing chess) in full color, so I change the photo each time I print a new card to my opponents!! I get the most positive comments from my little works of art, and I'm so glad that I'm not the only one doing it anymore. WARNING: it takes more time to do all this that it does to play the game. [grin] But it is sure fun and pretty. I'll send you an example as the yardstick for any future chess cards you may produce."

First I must apologize for not joining you, John, in the production of color postcards. I am trying to refine my B&W cards a bit and am enjoying my greatly improved print quality. Even though I won't have color available I'm still hoping to pick up some hints from your samples for improvements or enhancements I can make to my cards (such as incorporating photographs or other graphic images). I strongly encourage others to join us in our enjoyment of producing high quality postal chess cards. One big advantage of printing chess cards is the excellent "readability" of the cards. I don't know how many times I've received a card and had difficulty reading my opponent's move. Even worse, sometimes changes of addresses are unclear. It can be disappointing to get an interesting story or message from an opponent and not be able to read a few key words. Even if you don't go to "fancy" cards I would still encourage you to print or type your cards to improve clarity. Many have taken that first step of printing address labels for themselves and their opponents. Take the next step and print the whole card!

I later received this additional note from John:

"I've just sent the card in the mail today. ... Sorry to hear that you did not get a full color printer. Now that they are so cheap there is no longer any reason not to do all one's printing in color. I send out invoices, letters, check prints, and postal cards in full color now. With the advent of the Web and the terrific chess resources available world wide there is no reason not to draw on that pool of information and graphics. I routinely search the Internet for new graphic chess images, each time I log on. I then download, convert and import them into my chess cards. I have even started getting my own photographs converted to digital when I get them developed, so I have accumulated several chess related photographs of myself that end up on my cards. I've even thought of splurging on buying a digital camera, so I could set up the board position and take a 'self-portrait' while I make the move, then import the image directly onto my chess cards as the official 'diagram.' In full color, naturally. That way I could send pictures of myself glaring at my opponents."

Very amusing, John! You certainly have some original ideas. Unfortunately, your examples haven't reached me before my deadline. Fortunately, fellow APCT'er Walt Stephan of Upper Montclair, NJ provided a sample of a card you sent him. On the back are the game details (in different colors, naturally). There are two 3-D views of board positions with green and black squares and pieces in red and ivory. Even the address side uses color. This sample had a nice portrait of a young Mikhail Tal gazing at a game position. Most impressive!

Observant readers may see a conflict in this advice and my stated views on chess as a sport and highly competitive activity. One way to win at correspondence chess is to make fewer mistakes and to pounce on an opponent's error, including nailing an opponent who makes a notation error or analyzes an incorrect position. Printing a diagram on your postcard may actually help your opponent to avoid errors. In most cases this benefits both players. I admit that I occasionally omit a diagram when the position is critical and my opponent's opportunity for error is great. However, I do print a diagram in the vast majority of cases. A diagram also enables you to share interesting positions from other games. Yes, postal chess competition is very much a sport where you are seeking the point. But it's also fun, and printing neat postal chess cards and sharing interesting positions are part of that fun for me. Every player must decide for herself/himself where to draw the line between the competitive nature of chess and the artistic and enjoyment side of the game. I encourage every cc player to pursue greater enjoyment of the game through additional enjoyable and interesting approaches.

Don Dostal, Chess Poet

APCT'er Don Dostal of Omaha, NE sent the following note and poem for our enjoyment:

"Hi Mr. Campbell ... (the following poem) is a fictional work and any similarity to real life people was not the intent and is coincidental. It is only meant to help people laugh (please print the above lines as my disclaimer).

Pawn to Queen Seven

My baby has left me
Because I play too much chess.

She stood there in her silky dress
And she said, "Honey, you're the Best
Class E player in the West!"
With brains I am truly blessed.

She was 44-22-36
But all I could do were gambits and chess tricks.

Now she was going to leave
Because I just couldn't see
That she needed me.
But I was worried about Bishop 3.

Being with her could have been heaven
But if I could play Pawn Queen 7
I would win my postal game.
She said, "Honey, that's lame!"

To our relationship chess was like a cancer.
I asked myself "What would Bobby do?"
But a tax protest wasn't the answer.

I told her, "Darling, I meant no offense,
I just had to play the Nimzo-Indian Defense."

For her I did not have time
Because chess was so sublime.
She cried, "Why couldn't I gamble, smoke or drink
Instead of play chess and think?"

Life with her might have been heaven.
But now we're playing Pawn to Queen Seven.

More On Offering Postal Chess Draws

Barry Walker of Dekalb, IL sent his comments on the topic of offering draws discussed in previous columns.

"I'm just writing to say a few things about offering draws in APCT chess. Personally, I'd say higher rated players becoming contemptuous of offers made by lower rated players is unsporting. Offering draws can become psychological tools in chess as much as unorthodox openings. An arrogant mind to me is a defeated mind. Chess players should have the capabilities to know if a draw is close by, or if it is a bluff. It's just a part of the game."

It's hard for me to disagree with your comments, Barry. Of course, I suppose it could be considered a "psychological tool" to express contempt for an opponent's draw offer! Sorry, just joking ... I don't think it's ever sporting to display contempt for an opponent, no matter how high or low rated.

Famous "Signoffs" Continued

Chip Chapin of Honolulu, HI sent the following:

"One strong player, who I won't name, said, 'Talk to you soon,' which was nice (he liked to chat). But I couldn't help but to think there was a hint of 'Don't take too long and find a good move' in there."

Jack R. Clauser of Shiremanstown, PA wrote, "In the January-February ... issue, I enjoyed and may use (Rick Callaghan's) daughter Susan's chess closing, "Long live the King." Your daughter Margaret's closing (cute, but not usable) sounds like something my Erin Margaret (goes my Maggie) might have said. My Maggie is 14 years old. Kids sure are a pleasure and a pain."

For those of you who might have missed it, my daughter Margaret suggested the signoff "Die you scum-sucking freak!" Yes, you're right Jack, this really isn't useful, at least I don't think it is.

Another Difficult Computer-related Question

Walter Stephan of Upper Montclair, NJ asks the following difficult question: "If I write a computer program to help me play postal, including analysis, would it be wrong for me to use it?"

That's an interesting question, Walter! Using a computer to help analyze a position is often considered improper based on the concept of receiving help from others. Old, pre-computer rules of play of many organizations didn't allow consulting other players. A logical extension of this rule (in these days of wide computer availability) is to not allow using a computer or software to help analyze. But, what if you wrote the program yourself? In this case you might claim not to be receiving the help of others. All the logic being applied is your personal invention. You have, of course, mechanized your thinking process and the computer is providing help in this sense. I suspect we could come up with a number of other examples of using a mechanical aid that would not be considered improper, such as using a database program to rapidly search thousands of games for specific positions or opening play. Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Walter.

Henry L. Barzilay of Babylon, NY had another, different computer related comment. He said, "I wish to convey my respects for the Time and Labor given to 'The Campbell Report.' I fully agree with Rick Callaghan's comments, re: 'signing a pledge' as to the use of computers 'to generate moves for a specific game.' In addition (and as a suggestion), on the first card sent in any opening game, use the word 'COMPUTER.' I, for one, will be very appreciative with said 'honest intent' and will commence play without any bias or doubt. Who knows, I might even win against greater odds on the opposite side of the board."

Of course, in APCT play it is expressly forbidden to use computers or software to help evaluate positions or generate moves. There is no need to sign a pledge in APCT competition if you play strictly according to the rules of play. Helen Warren expressed the official view of APCT even more forcefully in a recent editorial. You may feel more confident if your opponent stated in plain language that he/she would abide strictly by these APCT rules of play. However, in the absence of any such written commitment, it would still be absolutely illegal to use a computer in this fashion. If you want to use your computer in this way (legally) you'll have to play in ICCF or TC competitions.

A Sad Tale and a Warning To Database Users

Over the last several years I've started to depend more and more on my computer and my chess database. I've recorded all my current postal chess games in my database. When I receive a move I go to the database and update the game score. I then analyze the position by moving the pieces around on the computer display using the mouse. The database records my analysis saving me the time of writing down notes. In fact, it saves ALL of my analysis, not just a few of the more important ideas I used to write down manually. This is a fantastic labor-saving device and has become a standard part of my postal chess methodology. You don't even have to keep a written record of the game. When the game is over you can have the database program print out a complete game score with your notes and as many computer-generated diagrams as you wish. It sounds ideal ... or does it?

Take a warning from my sad experience. I may have become overly dependent on my chess database. Fortunately, I still do keep a written game score and an updated Post-A-Log position ... for most of my games. However, I don't keep any hand-written notes. I've also become accustomed to analyzing positions almost entirely on the computer screen.

When my computer failed I was in a sorry state. I simply stopped my postal chess activities for a week till I got it back from the shop. The motherboard was replaced and the computer was once again functional. I wasn't prepared for what happened next. ChessBase refused to function. It has a copy protection scheme that is designed to fail if it detects that it has been copied to another computer. I don't know how it does this, but replacing the motherboard must have been enough to cause problems. A call to the ChessBase USA office got the promise of a new diskette that would get me going again (note: I was using CBWIN 1.0). The fellow I talked to said he was a fellow postal chess player who used ChessBase the same way I did. He understood exactly how I felt. This was in mid-December. After waiting for two weeks I started sending emails to the ChessBase USA office. Finally, the president of CB-USA returned my email (after returning from his Christmas vacation). He also promised to send me a diskette. Some time later I started sending a series of emails about not receiving the second promised diskette (using the "squeaky wheel" theory). Two days later I received a new v.1.11 of ChessBase (postmarked two days before receipt).

Now I would surely be set. I loaded the updated version and plugged in the "dongle." Their new form of copy protection uses a "dongle" plugged into the printer port. Without the "dongle" plugged in some of the critical ChessBase features are disabled. For two days I was in "hog heaven" as things started returning to normal. I started chipping away at the big pile of moves that had accumulated during the previous 3-4 weeks. After two days my postal world came crashing down again as the software stopped recognizing the "dongle." I could move the pieces around and analyze, but I couldn't save any new moves or any analysis of positions. Perhaps this had something to do with installing my new laser printer.

I loaded ChessBase onto another computer and plugged in the "dongle." Amazing ... it worked! For some reason it doesn't work on MY computer. I can't blame a company for wanting to protect their investment. However, I'm pretty unhappy that I can't use the software that I purchased for a pretty good price. Is it ChessBase's fault that their "dongle" doesn't work on my computer for some reason? Perhaps I'm too close to the problem to answer that question impartially.

It's been about six weeks now since the computer originally failed. I'm still not able to save games with new moves and analysis. My postal chess methodology has taken a hit and I still haven't settled into a comfortable routine. I've allowed this episode to affect my games adversely (in one game I dropped a pawn to a line I had made a note of in my database ... but I had to reply before gaining access to my notes and didn't notice the line on that occasion). I wasn't prepared for this failure of both hardware and software and I've paid a dear price in terms of lost games and bad positions that will be dogging me for months.

Later note: I've discovered that, by disabling my printer by assigning it to a different port, CBWin1.1 works fine. I just have to continually toggle my printer "on and off" and reboot Windows occasionally. I'll probably try installing a second parallel port separate from my printer port just for the "dongle" in an attempt to get around this irritant. To be fair I should say that the ChessBase USA office finally provided me with support, though the "dongle" copy protection scheme is still giving me trouble. I also really like this updated version of ChessBase (I changed from CBWin1.0 to CBWin1.1).

Another related note: ICE (the company that publishes the outstanding Inside Chess magazine) is famous for their excellent toll-free support for the Chess Assistant database program. However, they have announced that they are no longer selling or supporting this product. We'll have to await developments to see who will provide sales and support in the future, but for now CA users in the USA are apparently without support. I plan to purchase a copy of Chess Assistant in the ICE "going out of CA business" sale to find out first hand if I'd be happier with that database. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated for years and is currently not available in a Windows version.

So, be warned ... if you are using a chess database (and they are wonderful and quite addicting) be prepared for the worse. Keep complete records independent of the computer. Either keep a written record or print out the records from the computer on a regular and frequent basis. If you keep extensive notes in your computer you may want to print them out frequently as well. You probably already retain your opponent's cards ... you could probably reconstruct the game from them. But that isn't a pleasant alternative. When you select your database software keep in mind any copy protection schemes they use that may bite you. ChessBase has recently switched to using "dongles" to protect their software. This certainly seems better than their old scheme, but when you're one of the few who has problems with this method you will also be unhappy. Also, consider the reputation of the company providing the software. Are they known for good service? This didn't seem that important to me till I ran into a problem. Now it seems paramount.

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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