The Campbell Report - Sept/Oct 1997

Time Used For Move One

I've struggled in the past on how much time to charge myself for my first move in a new game played at the 30/10 time limit. Do you calculate the time between receiving your assignment and mailing move one? What if you were on vacation when the assignment sheet arrived or simply weren't prepared to start play? I questioned our tournament director Helen Warren some time ago on this subject and the answer is extremely simple. For your first move as White charge yourself zero days.

Comment on "Books" Column

Donald Corrigan of Arlington, VA wrote the following concerning my May-June 1997 column:

"I am astonished to learn that your May-June column in the APCT News Bulletin has not attracted comment from your readers. ... I may be one of the lowest ranking APCT members, but I still have a lot of enthusiasm for the game. My personal chess library is quite extensive. After checking against your Book Survey I concluded that some things needed to be looked at again ("Chess for Tigers," for instance), and I definitely needed to get hold of "Tal-Botvinnik 1960." But the main thing was to get an idea of what higher-rated players find useful and enjoyable. And, indeed, by devoting three full pages you thoroughly covered in detail just what your readers wanted to know on the subject.

"I often wonder what it is that makes a chess book useful or enjoyable to a chess player. That is why I look for reviews of both new and classic literature. I can tell you, sometimes I pay good money for books that are just above my head. I wished I could have been warned away before I bought a title like "Opening Preparation," which simply was out of my depth. Reviews serve a real purpose for players like myself.

"A lot of chess columns carry material that is simply over the lower-level player's ability to comprehend. What we want to know is how do we go about improving our understanding of what the upper-level chess player already has in his grasp. I think you went a long way towards answering that very need in your May-June column. You are sincerely to be congratulated."

Well, thank you very much! I can tell you that columnists live for responses like this. Very few of us write for the "big bucks." Most of us simply want to serve our fellow chess enthusiasts and share our love of this fabulous art/science/sport with others of like mind. Many columnists work away month after month without a single word of encouragement or any useful feedback from readers. Thanks for your words of encouragement. I would encourage all readers to drop their favorite columnists a note. Let them know you appreciate their work and suggest topics you would like to see covered in the future. Your input is extremely valuable (not to mention appreciated).

Of course, the topic was originally proposed by reader and APCT'er Walter J. Lewis of Jamestown, CA. He and the many strong players who took the time and effort to share their experiences with us deserve tremendous credit. One of the joys of chess is how freely many chess enthusiasts share their knowledge and experience with fellow enthusiasts. Thanks to all who participated in this project.

Book Survey (Continued)

Thomas Morris (APCT 2024) of Albany, NY sent this addition to our book discussion:

"I started playing chess in 1972 at the age of 12, played my first tournament in 1974 and, at the suggestion of my mentor (of sorts) who was a correspondence player (ICCF master class), I took up cc in 1975 as a method of self-improvement. I joined APCT in 1976 because a high school chess peer was in it and said the choices of tournaments were better than USCF and got a decent magazine with monthly ratings (he was right, I never went back). Thanks largely to lessons self-taught in cc, I won the 1978 GA state title and made a Master's rating in APCT around 1981. After dropping out of chess to get a job (I became a physician) I came back to cc in 1993, but my play has not been the measure of my previous life in chess.

"To parrot Jon Edwards, you have to play to learn, and my avenue of choice for study was playing through the games of the greats. My belief is that tactics are a means to an end(ing), but devising the best strategy is paramount to improvement. My five best books:

1. Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games. This was my very first chess book, the Xmas of 1972, and I still think it is the single best book for learning strategy. Now 25 years old, I still think it is a seminal work for searching out ideas in the opening, especially for prosecuting the Ruy. Only recently I found analysis in there for a rare line (and I could not find it anywhere else) which I used to get a great game against an APCT Master. Bobby's incisive remarks on strategy, and the mistakes he made (the mark of a champion -- he learned from them) influenced me a lot. My copy is so worn and brittle it is in 3 pieces, but, after reading Jeremy Silman's blistering review of the recent Batsford revision, am in no hurry to replace it. It is a tragedy that Bobby has not published any of his games from 1968 on, including his match in 1972; if he did he could likely sell it out at a usurious price. I'd buy.

2. Alekhine's My Best Games of Chess, 1924-1937. Believe it or not, this was the book from which I learned quite a bit on endgame strategy (recently Pan Benko paid homage to him in a two-part article in CL this year). Though you get the flavor of what a self-promoter he was (these are selected games and you can count all the "?" marks of his moves on one hand), but when you're WC, it's not bragging. Alekhine seemed to go to great pains expounding on his strategic approach leading to his scintillating tactics, but also some positional strategy and nuances in move order and pointing out that natural moves may not be so favorable. I played through all his games on a board and wondered if I would ever get beyond a "C" rating. Unlike many other WC's, he and Fischer left copious notes on their games solidifying their standing as great World Champions.

3. Nimzovich's My System. I didn't get this book until last year, and it is an excellent, if at times remedial, work. Many of the lessons (passed pawns, blockades, rooks, ranks and files) are covered in other books (sometimes referring to his work), and found on self-discovery in my homestudy. Nevertheless, general strategical principles are covered and well illustrated. This is a better book once a player has progressed beyond the rudimentary stages and is able to assimilate some theory. I think Tigran Petrosian was the best practitioner of the Nimzo style, though sadly Petrosian, who is my favorite of the WC's, left little in the way of annotated games. Others seem to prefer his Chess Praxis, but I haven't read it.

4. The Informants. Not so much for didactic or systematic learning, but exposure to new ideas and exercise. I like to flip thru the books looking at the diagrams and determine what should be done and guess the move(s), and then follow thru. My first one was I-19. I played thru every game in the book (in high school, I had the time). If you keep looking at games especially of your favorite openings and players, something will stick in terms of technique.

5. APCT News Bulletin. What? Am I making a plug for our own award-winning magazine? Well, yes and no. I was a columnist for Helen Warren from 1980-1983, and I annotated games, mostly other people's games, during that time. This was a learning experience as I both learned how to write a column and properly annotate a game. Many of my current games are 'manuscripts in progress' as I write up my strategy and goals (one of the few good things I can say about computers) and some of the essential variations. I tend to be heavy on prose and light on variations (long analysis, wrong analysis). It clarifies the thinking. I highly recommend annotating your own games in order to keep track and reinforce strategic principles. I annotated and submitted several games for publication in preparation for re-entry into APCT, only to discover later that my hindsight remains excellent, but my foresight in my current games was a bit shoddy.

Honorable mentions:

Tartakower's 500 Master Games. The notes are somewhat light, but playing through them is a delight. This is a collection of games played by many players, both great and obscure. In addition to picking out the strategic plans and tactical gems, it makes you aware of the different styles one is apt to be confronted with, and the emphasis is on adaptability.

Kmoch's Pawn Power in Chess. This was one of the first books I bought on my own. At the time after trying to read it, I regretted it, but being 13 (a teenager) an overtly didactic book just didn't suit me. Later if life I found it to be more enlightening. In cc, much of my strategy is based on pawn structure and its consequences, immediate and far-reaching, as many of my games go into an ending. Philador was right.

Chernev's Logical Chess Move-by-Move. This was Jude Acer's favorite book which he said was the main reason he made Master. I, of course, bought one while he was promoting it on a simultaneous tour. (I was +1 -1 against him). It turned out to be a very good book. Though the opening theory is a bit outdated, the strategic principles on playing Queen Pawn games are still valid. This is a good instructional book for beginners as most moves are diagrammed and heavy on explanatory prose. Only recently I found my copy and am re-reading it. This is probably the best first book for a beginner who has little understanding about opening play.

"A caveat: My library is somewhat limited because I've noticed that chess books, like textbooks, are seldom discounted. I have never read any of Capablanca's works, and as much as I admire Karpov, his Chess at the Top was not a great book for learning (his "Grandmaster Musings" in CL actually make for better reading, but how much of this is ghosted by GM Ron Henley? Mednis' How Karpov Wins is a better effort for looking at Karpov games). Though I don't consider Botvinnik to be a great WC, his contribution to organizing the education of chess is legendary, but there is surprisingly little available on his games in terms of annotations (I would expect them to be excellent). Tal's annotations in Karklin's Tal's Masterpieces are entertaining and instructive."

APCT'er Morris invited me to edit his letter but I found the whole content so interesting and well written that I've left in everything. Thanks for the excellent contribution, Thomas!

Uses for Giant Databases

There are some really big databases available now. Many doubt the usefulness of these databases. Many are full of doubles and lack some significant labeling information, such as full names, dates, ratings and sources. There are undoubtedly many outright errors, as well. I personally found one of my games in such a database where the final move was incorrect. A user might be left wondering why my opponent resigned in the "final position" as given. I've heard other reports of moves added or left out, some analysis given as the actual game moves or outright fake games. However, taking these possible problems into consideration, these giant databases are still quite valuable.

A correspondent recently passed along a sad story of his friend viewing a game at the World Open three years ago. The game between Minasian and DeFirmian had gone to a spectacular ending of Rook vs. three connected passed pawns. He very much wanted the game to study and enjoy, but he couldn't find it published anywhere. By searching my Ultimate Database CD-ROM of almost a million games I was able to locate this game and, as he said in a letter after finally getting this game score, "You made my day!" I've got to admit that I quite enjoyed this amazing game as well. ChessBase sells a CD-ROM of a million games called HorrorBase, referring to the well known drawbacks of such game collections. However, as long as you are aware of the possible problems, these huge databases can have a million uses.

Thoughts on Proposing Draws

In recent issues we've covered the topic of resigning. What about the art and proper etiquette of proposing draws? Some recent comments I have received (and some material printed in this column in the past) demonstrate some difference of opinion on this subject. I recently offered a draw in an inferior position to an opponent who turned me down quite good naturedly. Some opponents may have found my "behavior" offensive. Others would say such behavior isn't in the spirit of the game. However, if my opponent had accepted (and it might have happened) I would have been happy to escape with half a point. Past remarks from a strong player indicated that he was offended whenever a lower rated opponent offered a draw.

When is it improper to propose a draw? In my opinion, it is only improper if it is used to harass an opponent, such as by offering a draw on every move. It is easy enough to say you prefer to continue play. All you really need to do is send your next move, though I consider it polite to acknowledge your opponent's draw offer. Another player confessed to me that he had discovered a strong move for his opponent that appeared to give him a winning advantage. In an apparently even position he offered his opponent (of similar rating) a draw, which was accepted. I personally consider this rather clever. He felt it was to his advantage to get the draw, as opposed to continuing and risking that his opponent would find the winning move. Yet I suspect there are some who would disagree with this approach.

If you really want to gain the draw, when is the proper moment to make the proposal? I believe there are some key psychological moments when your chances at acceptance are maximized. Of course, anytime you have a clear advantage your chances are good (if you should want the draw in this situation). Why would you want a draw while holding the edge? If the draw gains a desired goal then such an offer seems reasonable. For instance, against a much higher rated opponent a draw will improve your rating. In a tournament, a draw could clinch first place or an important qualifying position to another event. In a team event a draw could help the team. Whether you are sacrificing your personal results to help the team or grabbing a draw for your own personal reasons (such as improving your rating or fear of losing to a stronger opponent) you have no need to apologize to anyone. If you are happy with the draw then it's your decision.

What if you are trailing in the game? If you are playing a weaker player you may be happy to escape with a draw and may find your opponent happy to draw a stronger opponent. The best moment may be when your opponent is facing some difficult decision, such as which Rook to move to the open file or which pawn to capture with. If you propose the draw when your opponent has nothing obvious to lose by continuing you may have chosen the wrong moment and he may refuse. If you then feel uncomfortable proposing the draw again you may have made a big mistake with your bad timing.

In a 30/10 game another good moment is before a time check when your opponent is short of time. If he has little time to consider the merits of continuing he may just agree. Another possibility is that he'll sit on his move a few days while considering your offer and wind up accepting when he runs out of time.

If you shun all this "competitive" stuff and concentrate strictly on the chess, then you may consider this discussion to be so much nonsense. However, if like me you play correspondence chess at least partly as a sporting event, you may appreciate some of these points and have additional contributions of your own. I'd be glad to pass along your suggestions if you send them to me. Keep in mind that my next deadline is only a week or so after you receive this magazine. I look forward to hearing from you.

Another Reason Not To Resign

APCT'er Stan Evans of Kentucky sent the following comments on the "when to resign" question. I hadn't considered this viewpoint, and nobody else mentioned it, either. See what you think of his practical "down to earth" reasoning:

"One reason not to resign was not mentioned. I have played on in lost positions until move 30 or thereabouts to avoid being on the losing side of the dreaded miniature [my emphasis - JFC]. For the most part many published games are of reasonable quality in terms of level of play by both sides. This is not always true in some short games. I would rather the world not see me at my worst. Of course, one can learn from these mistakes, but I'd rather you learn from your own short losses. There are times when you cannot drag it out without being blatant, however. I would resign under those particular circumstances. I guess the underlying question is whether or not the loser of the short game wishes to see it published as a miniature. Note that this does not prevent the winner from still sending in the game for publication."

A List of Firsts

Recently a rare event occurred ... I mated an opponent. In 33 years of correspondence chess I believe I have delivered mate twice. The first around 30 years ago and the second just a short time ago. Then more rare events starting happening. One opponent claimed a draw by repetition (he was right). In another game we reached the 30 move mark without a single capture. In yet another game both players went over a total of 100 days used. That game had me checking my records for my longest game (most moves) but that personal record seems safe for the moment. There we played 107 moves. Why so long? I had sac'ed material to try for a draw and my opponent was unwilling to agree to a draw with Queen and pawn vs. Rook and two pawns. He finally became frustrated and exchanged his Queen for Rook and pawn and proceeded to lose the King and pawn ending! I also received two cards on the same day ending games. It's unusual to have two games end on the same day.

Ralph P. Marconi of Joliette (Quebec) wonders if any APCT competitor has ever had a stalemate occur. Perhaps readers have recent "firsts" in their cc competition to report. I already have a report from Charles Pote of Rawlins, WY. He reported four game results in one day! I doubt that anyone can top that.

First Tag-Team World Championship

No, I haven't lapsed into a discussion of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) or another professional "wrestling" organization. This is the name attached to a new concept in correspondence chess competition created by chess journalist and APCT member Charles Pote. In full, the "First Invitational Tag-Team World Chess Championship" consists of two games being played by teams of players (Tag-Teams). One thing being addressed here is the situation where a player is much stronger in one phase of the game than another. For instance, I am notoriously weak in the opening phase and play the later stages of the game much better. I was remarking to my wife Anne that I was surprised at how poorly some very strong opponents play when they reach the endgame. She rejoined that it was amazing how some strong players can play so badly in the opening! Well, this type of competition seems perfect for people like me.

I am participating in this first experimental match. There have already been some adjustments to the rules of play reflecting our brief experience. For the "opener" my team has well-known USA master John Penquite, who is currently first board for the ASPCC team in our club match and was once described by Alex Dunne in his Chess Life column as the highest rated USCF player in history. I'll be the "closer." Our opponents are noted chess journalist Charles Pote as the "opener" and USCF master Vine Smith as the "finisher." Put simply, the opening players play 15-20 moves and then turn over the game to their teammates to finish. Some consultation is allowed between teammates and ten days are allowed for passing the game from the opener to the closer. This extra time is provided to allow the second player to adjust to the position before continuing play. Vine Smith has compared this to a relay race and warns that those races are often decided by how well the baton is passed between teammates.

We are playing two games in this experimental (non-rated) match, each team getting a White and a Black. I think this sort of experiment is good for chess and really livens things up a bit. I would like to hear about other interesting experiments in chess competition (not including any changes to the basic game of chess itself). APCT'er Ron Pease of San Bernardino, CA has suggested another form of teamwork where teammate A plays eight moves, teammate B the next 8, then A plays 4 moves, B plays 4, A2, B2, A1, B1. This would get them 30 moves into the game. Then they would reverse: A1, B1, A2, B2, etc. up to A playing 8 moves and B playing 8. If the game lasts this long it's up to 60 moves. To quote Ron, "Maximum panic and pandemonium in the heart of the middlegame!" He certainly has that right.

What are the advantages of the Tag-Team competition in which I'm participating? I see several.

1. I'll get to take over a middlegame position against a strong opponent with a better position than usual (how often I've said, "if only I had my opponent's position ...").

2. The correspondence between my teammate and myself is fun.

3. I expect to learn something about playing openings by watching my teammate's play and listening to his advice about how to continue.

I should add that the pressure on each participant is different in Tag-Team matches. Charles Pote has pointed out that he feels extra pressure to perform well so he won't let down his teammate, who will inherent the position he helps create. This is very different than being responsible only to yourself, as in normal correspondence chess.

If you have any comments or questions about this competition send them to me and I'll pass them along to Charles Pote. In the meanwhile I need to prepare for playing a middlegame resulting from a Sicilian Dragon, an opening I rarely play. This could be educational ... hopefully it won't be embarrassing.

APCT - ASPCC Team Match

As you may be aware, APCT is playing a team match against the ASPCC organization (All Services Postal Chess Club). There are thirty boards with two games per board. The ASPCC has an official web site with standings in their events. If you wish to follow the progress of this interesting match you can check out their Internet site at:

This is going to be a tough match between two fairly evenly matched teams as many of the strongest players in each club are participating. On the top board for APCT is the APCT and USA champion Jon Edwards vs. ASPCC's John Penquite, a really big matchup for USA cc enthusiasts. As I'm writing this column the score is still 0-0.

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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