The Campbell Report - May/June 1997 Part 1

APCT'ers on Chess Olympiad Team

Recent APCT recruit Donna M. Kremen of Gurnee, IL has been selected to represent the USA on board one in the Preliminary round of the Ladies Olympiad VI. It will be a real challenge to maintain the success of the former two correspondence chess Olympiad teams, who both qualified for the Finals. Good luck (and good chess!) to Donna and the other three team members in their pursuit of excellence.

News flash! Donna Kremen has been invited to play board two on the Ladies team in the Finals of Olympiad V! Best wishes to our women representatives in this most challenging and rewarding of competitions. And who is scheduled to play board one in the finals? ... Dr. Christine Rosenfield, another APCT member! At this time the team lineup for the finals in Olympiad V is as follows:

Board 1: Dr. Christine Rosenfield
Board 2: Donna Kremen
Board 3: Vivian Schmucker
Board 4: Chris Hendrickson (captain)

More "Signoffs"

Dr. Hollis Boren of Raymond, MS sent the following to add to our previous discussion of postal chess "signoffs." Thanks to my former Dixie teammate for adding to this subject.

"As always I enjoy your chess column enormously. You're simply the BEST. No kidding. [how can I resist reproducing a letter that starts like this?! -- JFC] ... I hadn't paid much (any) attention to the closings contest, but this last issue's remarks starting me to think (?), well almost. I am surprised by the lack of any use of the rook in these witticisms -- and insights(!).

"Immediately one thinks of "ROOKS AWAY." It's analogous to bombs away from World War II. After an opponent clobbers me I feel like saying, 'You're rooking me.' Well, the suggestive wording is a bit restrictive, like an opponent's pawn on the sixth rank.

"Maybe the rook is just too civilized for polite usage among our collection of mental giants, artists, scholars and such who play at this mere child's game. Never-the-less, I have an active ID, at least for my age. So UNSPOKEN at the end of each card, regardless of position (another suggestive analogy), is my closing sentiment 'ROOK YOU!'"

"Who studies positions? Why, chess players and romantic 'significant others.' So, why not choose 'Positionally Yours?' As a follow-up move ask 'Your Place or Mine?' or 'Let's Rook." Sorry, I just came to Rook Around. 'Up My Rating' is very snobbish. 'Down Your Rating' more so. 'Up (or Down) your rating' are best prohibited."

Following this note Dr. Boren listed the following possible signoffs: Never Yours, Your Rooked Servant, Mated, +- Nudgingly Yours, + Forcingly Yours, Hope it's a Hot Check, # At Last, Finally Yours, Another Game?

David LeClair sent this note: "At Charles Pote's suggestion I have ordered a 3 year subscription to the APCT News Bulletin and a subscription to Chess Mail. I enjoyed your article in the APCT sample they sent me (Jan-Feb 97) and inspired by the content have decided to experiment with more colorful closings. I suppose an endless variety is possible. At first thought two appeal to me. If I am feeling kindly to my opponent: 'May your pawns reincarnate' and if feeling more adversarial, a take off on one mentioned in your article: 'Long live My king.'"

"If Move" Opinion

Walter Stephan of Upper Montclair commented "My biggest gripes about postal opponents: 1) Dropping out without saying 'boo' and 2) Not giving "if" moves in totally obvious situations."

I've read very different (and conflicting) opinions on giving "if" moves. Some suggest never using "if" moves as they can lead to errors. I know I've won more than one game due to faulty "if" moves. I have a personal viewpoint concerning the use of "if" moves that you may disagree with ... however, here it is.

The use of "if" moves can help make the game more enjoyable by eliminating the time delays involved when one or more "obvious" moves must be exchanged. What fun is it to receive a move when you have only one legal (or realistic) move for response? It's just a matter of doing your bookkeeping and getting your response in the post, a waste of time and postage.

I think sending "if" moves in such situations is the "polite" and thoughtful way to play the game. Following an unbending rule of "no repeats" seems counter-productive and unnecessary for a competitor capable of playing quality chess. What do you think?

Some Thoughts on Resigning

Resigning a lost game is rarely an easy thing to do. However, it is often the appropriate thing to do. Following is a strongly held position by one of APCT's premier players on this subject. Thanks to Allan Savage for sharing his viewpoint.

"There are times to play on and there are times to resign. Most cc players have a good sense of the difference. But some players don't, and if they happen to be APCT Masters, they should be exposed for the shame that they bring to our glorious game.

"One Master opponent of mine has played on a full piece and pawn down for over 20 moves. The position had zero counterplay and I continued to make sure there was not an ounce of hope. Most of this has been in a greatly simplified endgame, and now we are down to Kings and Pawns, where I have an EXTRA Knight.

"It is high time that APCT take an official stance on such behavior. The Canadian Correspondence Chess Association (CCCA) distributes this statement to all members along with their rules of play:

"THE FIGHT TO THE FINISH regardless of odds is NOT recommended in ordinary individual competition! Unless an early checkmate, stalemate, or perpetual check is in prospect, a player should resign as soon as an opponent gains a winning advantage in material. Why waste time and postage on a forlorn hope? Resign like a gentleman, enter a new tournament and start a fresh batch of games!...." [emphasis in original]

"Some may not agree with such a statement. Some may think it is too brazen. I think the APCT should adopt it. There should be no room in this fine organization for players (especially Masters) who demonstrate such insulting behavior. Deadbeats such as my opponent give cc a very bad name."

Thanks, Allan. I've never advocated early resignations when there are prospects for creating complications and getting back into the game. You've described a very different circumstance here. Should resignation be a matter of good cc etiquette or should there be an official policy on the subject? I think that's a good question.

Book Survey

The following letter and suggestion for a topic arrived from APCT'er Walter J. Lewis of Jamestown, CA.

"A number of years ago a poll was made where the top grandmasters listed what ten books they would want if stranded on a desert island. The results really stirred quite an interest. Here is my proposal on a similar theme: ask all APCT Expert/Master class players to list the Top Five Books that took them from the lower classes to where they are today. ...

"Jon Edwards is a gifted teacher and chess player. I'd love to know what he would recommend for a player with a few books and a place to study! [You're in luck, Walter ... see below -- JFC] Do I spend my two hours study on strategy, endgames, tactics? How should I study, one hour on My System, 1/2 hour on tactics and 1/2 hour on endgame? ...

"Postal Expert/Master; what to study and how to get there?"

Thanks for the great topic, fellow cc enthusiast! Your idea certainly sparked my interest so I went ahead and got a good sample of opinions to start off this discussion. Following are contributions from a number of APCT Experts/Masters along with several others garnered from the Internet (all but one came to me via email). Of course, I welcome additional contributions for next time. The only potential problem with this topic is that some books that were useful to players on the way up may be out of print and unavailable now. Fortunately, many of the classics are still available or have been reprinted.

I'm impressed by the thoughtful replies I've received so far (and reproduced below). Besides specific book information, these chess experts/masters have provided many additional insights and interesting comments. I hope you enjoy these contributions as much as I do. If you are an expert/master level player please consider mailing/emailing me your book experiences for future columns.

Jon Edwards (APCT 2440): My five reflect my feeling that players must do 2 things in order to improve. (1) play!; (2) study the games of the great masters. Here are my five, not in any particular order. My copies of the first four are totally dog-eared! 1. Tal-Botvinnik 1960 (Tal), 2. Piatagorski Cup II, 3. Zurich 1953 (Bronstein), 4. My 60 Memorable Games (Fischer), 5. ChessBase (not a book in the traditional sense, but it's now the best way to gain access to key information)

Ian Brooks (APCT 2363). I am not sure that I can come up with 5 books, but 2 at least come to mind. I am equally sure that I do not need to tell ANYONE in APCT that the main one for me is Chess for Tigers! Another one is How to play the English Opening by Povah. Probably a 3rd would be How good is your chess by Barden. After that it gets pretty murky. I don't tend to read books much, but concentrate on database work.

Maybe just as interesting is the books that I have not read. I have never read My System, Pawn Power or Chess Fundamentals to name but a few. I really am self-taught with little formal background. I make up for it by having a lot of experience in my lines, hard work and, I think, practical approach. One of these days I plan to read the classics and great player game collections and am sure that I can learn a lot from them to improve my game.

Allan Savage, CC-IM (APCT 2349). The most influential chess books on my development were: 1. My System by Nimzovich, 2. Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces by Kmoch, 3. The Middlegame in Chess by Fine, 4. The Art of Attack by Vukovic, 5. Think Like a GM by Kotov.

My System provided the greatest influence. Kmoch's book showed both Rubinstein's attacking games and his tremendous endings. Fine's book on the middlegame is one of the best and clearest written middlegame books and a model for many that followed it. Vukovic's book on attacking still has no peer. And Kotov's book is the best of his series and illustrates thinking methods that work.

I would also like to mention that I read Fine's Basic Chess Endings cover to cover at a very early stage. Though I wouldn't recommend doing that for everyone it did give me a feel for the endgame. Today, I would recommend Rook Endings by Levenfish and Smyslov, Capablanca's Best Endgames by Chernev, and Practical Chess Endings by Chernev. Chernev's book on Capablanca is outstanding and is probably the best book he ever wrote.

Ralph Marconi (APCT 2169): "I wish had a list of the five most influential books that helped me improve my chess, but I can't come up with such a list. I'll just mention that Nimzovich's My System and Chess Praxis helped me a lot in understanding the subtleties of chess strategy and tactics. And The Classic C.J.S. Purdy: HIS LIFE, HIS GAMES and HIS WRITINGS should have a prominent place in every chessplayer's library. Unfortunately it may be very difficult to obtain now. I only managed to get my copy from the sale of another chessplayer's library. I'm not sure if it's still in print, but if you don't have it and can get a copy, get it! Oh, yes, another good book and one of my first chessbooks is the woefully outdated (theory wise, but still excellent on explaining the basic principles) How to Win in the Openings by I.A. Horowitz, published in 1951.

Seth D. Rothman: "I'm a USCF rated expert in both OTB and postal. I made the leap from 1700 to 2100 after reading two books of Kasparov's games -- My Best Games and The Test of Time. My top 5 or so books (not in any order): 1. Informants, 2. The Test of Time by Kasparov, 3. Capablanca's Best Chess Endgames by Chernev, 4. The Art of Defense by Andy Soltis, 5. The Art of the Middlegame by Kotov and Keres.

The Informant is the best book on the market -- and not for the games and annotations. If you want to improve, try solving the exercises in the back of each issue. The other books are on my list because they teach attitude. In making the leap from B player to Expert, I learned more about opening variations, positional play, and endings, but mostly I developed a stronger will to win. I stopped quitting in bad positions, no longer got discouraged by having to defend, and didn't stop trying to notch the full point in the endgame.

Other great books (honorable mention): 1. The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played, 2. Zurich 1953 by Bronstein, 3. Alekhin's Best Games by Alekhin/Nunn, 4. My 60 Memorable Games by Fischer, 5. Pawn Structure Chess by Andy Soltis.

Inspired by your question about master/expert books, I asked some friends who are masters or experts to give their picks. I've noticed some interesting things -- 1. Almost nobody names opening books. I find this a bit amusing and paradoxical. I have heard these same people, in defending their favorite openings, exclaim things like: "I made master once I started playing this opening" etc. Sharp openings in particular tend to get a lot of credit. "I picked up 200 points once I started using the Benko Gambit/Benoni/Pelikan." Yet, none of these people will say that it was Fedorowicz's book on the Benko, Nunn's book on the Benoni, or Sveshnikov's book on the Pelikan that put them over the top. 2. People name the books they think they're supposed to name -- i.e., the "great" books. First a caveat, then I'll explain what I mean. The caveat is that people have actually read the great books, so perhaps it's not surprising that they're named so frequently. For example, I have read few tournament books, but I have read Zurich 1953. Why? -- Because I heard from a stronger player that it was a great book. It was and I learned a lot from it. It gets an honorable mention on my list. But this is not always the case. On the recommendation of a stronger player, I also read My System. However, at the time I read it, I didn't understand most of it and got little out of it. I find that many people had a similar experience with Nimzovich -- My System is long and hard to read -- yet the book is almost universally named. I got far more out of Soltis' book, Pawn Structure Chess, which I read a couple of years and a couple of hundred rating points later. Soltis' book made my honorable mention list, My System didn't. 3. People frequently name best games collections, rather than "instructional" books. Perhaps this is a form of hero worship. Perhaps playing over annotated games is the best way to learn chess. I once asked the strongest player I knew what he looked for in a chess book, detailed analysis or explanation. He said, "insight."

Bill Gray (ASPCC 2182). Picking the five most influential books on my chess development really wasn't all that difficult, although there were a few others that were close to making the cut. I suspect your lists will have similar titles, especially for those of us born in the forties or earlier. Without further ado, here is my list: 1. My System, Nimzovitch. This was The Bible - the one book every aspiring chess player had to read, or at least pretend they did. The concepts developed in this classic are every bit as valid today as when they were written. One of these days I'm going to get my dusty old volume out (and its companion CHESS PRAXIS) and reread. 2. The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings, Fine. With all the databases and opening tracts that are published these days it may be hard to believe such an unassuming little volume could have such an impact. But this book taught me to forget about prepared variations and to concentrate on developing a Plan - even if not the best, it is still better than no plan at all. I think too many players today rely on memorization of pet lines from published games. 3. My Best Games of Chess, Alekhine. Without a doubt the greatest collection of chess games ever published. For those of us who were contemporaries or came before Fischer, Alekhine was the player everybody wanted to play like (but didn't). This collection not only stands out because of its incomparably beautiful games but because of the brilliant (albeit occasionally self-serving) annotations. I still get a great deal of pleasure playing over these games! 4. Basic Chess Endings, Fine. Still the best work ever published on the chess endings. I believe lower rated players pay too much attention to the openings at the expense of the endgame. While it is certainly true that "before the endgame the gods have placed the opening and the middle game…" there has never been a truly great player who was not also a great endgame player. I believe learning how to play endgames will develop a greater "chess sense" than anything else. For all its errors and typos BCE is still the best endgame book. 5. My Sixty Memorable Games, Fischer. It would be hard to leave this off anybody's list. This book probably influenced the growth of chess in this country and elsewhere more than any other. There are other good game collections - such as those of Keres, Reshevsky, Botvinnik, Marshall, et al - but this one was probably more popular than the rest of them combined, and with good reason. The games are terrific, the notes are clear and incisive.

It's hard to find any modern books that compare with these. It would be interesting to find out which books have influenced/are influencing the young players today. Do they still read Nimzo? The idea of tapping your readership for lists is a great idea with many possibilities! For instance, you could ask for the funniest or strangest incidents in postal chess (e. g. I remember some years back an opponent announced his own untimely demise. It seems he was losing his games and couldn't bear to resign. It would have worked, except one of the players wired flowers, whereupon his wife blew the whistle on him and revealed that the "miserable worm" was indeed very much alive!) Or the longest postal game (I'm still playing mine, vs. IM Walter Muir in the 95 Hawver -we've just gone past move 80. I would think postal games would average less moves than OTB. What do your readers think?) Anyway, just some thoughts that might make an otherwise excellent column even more interesting.

May-June 1997 Part 2

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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