The Campbell Report - November/December 1997

Very Fast Fruit Flies?

There has been a lot written about the Deep Blue match victory over GM Garry Kasparov. I won't rehash that discussion, which mostly consists of irrational drivel anyway. However, I did read a very interesting review of the book Kasparov versus Deep Blue by Monty Newborn. In the 6 June 1997 issue of Science (the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) reviewer John McCarthy of Stanford University produced my favorite quote so far.

"In 1965 the Russian mathematician Alexander Kronrod said, 'Chess is the Drosophila of artificial intelligence.' However, computer chess has developed as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila. We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies."

New American ICCF Titles

ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli recently announced that the following titles were awarded at the ICCF Congress held recently in Argentina.

Grandmaster: Joe DeMauro.
International Master: Dan Fleetwood and John Timm.
International Arbiter: Tom Dougherty.

There is a possibility that the USA will hold the ICCF Congress in the year 2000 in Florida. IECG (International Email Chess Group) is now officially part of ICCF.

The USA team for the preliminary round of Olympiad XIII was announced. Alex Dunne will act as team captain. The six players (in board order) are: 1. GM Joe DeMauro, 2. Jon Edwards (US Champion), 3. IM Gary Kubach (North American Champion), 4. IM Bill Maillard, 5. IM John Timm (1st/2nd place Zonal Champion), 6. IM Dan Fleetwood (1st/2nd place Zonal Champion). Go Jon! Go Team!!

APCT'er Donna Kremen To Challenge Cubans

A telephone call from Ray Kremen provided this additional news related to the ICCF Congress. Cuba requested a 12-board match with the USA. The format would include one woman and one junior participant. Since there is no direct postal service between the USA and Cuba, all moves will go through the ICCF-U.S. office, to be transmitted via email. Starting in January 1998 this match will be considered a "friendly" match and no arbiter will be appointed. However, the games will be ICCF rated. It sounds like an interesting concept. ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli invited APCT'er Donna Kremen to represent the USA as the woman participant and she immediately accepted. Good luck to Donna and the rest of the USA team. Even more, best wishes for a truly friendly match with the Cubans. May international friendship take another step forward via the wonderful world of correspondence chess. Amici Sumus.

Another View on Time Recording

This column often carries opposing points of view regarding cc etiquette and sportsmanship. I consider it important to be open to opposing viewpoints and to seriously consider subjects from others' points of view. Recently I noticed that a number of opponents in major APCT tournaments were leaving off date and time used information required by the APCT rules. One opponent consistently omitted his received/replied dates in a Super Queen game. When I pointed this out I got the reply, "Whatever ..." My first response was to be offended. After I settled down I started thinking about my advice to others to consider the other guy's point of view. So I tried not to assume the worse and asked my opponent about his reason for omitting this information. I got a very interesting and thoughtful reply from Nathan Sills of Atwood, CA. I am printing much of it below. I think he presents a point of view shared by quite a few other players, and he states his position very eloquently. Thanks to Nathan Sills for his permission to share his comments with my readers.

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"You pose an interesting question. I am not sure exactly how to answer it, or if what I am about to say to you makes any sense. I will give you some background on me and perhaps it will make some sense in the context of my own experience. Please don't find any of this offensive. I came to my point of view quite independently. I also do not feel victimized as some of those who complain about how things change. Life is just like that.

"My first postal experiences were quite wonderful. I was 17 and was in boot camp at Great Lakes. The guy that introduced me to postal was Bill Verbias, a high school buddy in Flint, Mich. He was only about a 1750 player but he could beat just about everybody blindfold. I could beat everybody but him and had never read a chess book. I didn't even know there were such books. In the service I had no books, and my set was made from a drawn diagram and pieces cut from paper. It was actually illegal to have a real chess set in my locker. There was a mystery to chess I could find nowhere else. I was very drawn in and couldn't understand how some players could see so much. This was in 1966. By the time I got out of the service I was almost playing "A" strength. I played little over the board. I didn't like to be in an interesting position and not have time to enjoy it. This is what happens over the board quite frequently. I also hate losing in the opening and never having a chance to play the way I could if I got a decent game. I think I peaked about 1974. I was always between 1100 and 1200 in CCLA, which you know was a strong expert in those days.

"I played 22 years straight without a break, sometimes carrying as many as 100+ games. I may have well played several hundred games in APCT in those days. As time went by I suffered some burnout with chess. In the beginning I only had a few books ... MCO10 and the Horowitz book and, of course, "Ideas Behind the Openings." By 1980 there was so much chess literature out there, and when I looked up openings I had dozens of Informants to go through. It got to be less chesswork and more bookwork.

"Around 1988 I noticed a difference in some of my opponents. Apparently computers were already starting to be used in helping solve people's games. Some of my opponents who I knew were rated 1500 for years started playing much stronger and beating me at times. I still liked to play postal, but it was getting to be too hard to keep up with everything. So I sold all my books and took up a new hobby! I also got a form of blood cancer that put me in the hospital a number of times. I was very successful at model car contests. I won so many trophies that it made chess seem like a hopeless situation. But, then again, I am a life 'class A' player. There are a lot of us out there and duffers may be the backbone of chess. I spent seven years with my new hobby. There are a lot of politics and problems with that hobby, too. I was always fighting with the conditions. Now I have cut back on this hobby and am just playing some postal to try it out again.

"OK ... so what does this have to do with not keeping time. Okay ... I almost always make my moves on time ... many times the same day. I really don't like to be bothered with worrying about if my opponents are moving within the time limit. Firstly, I don't believe I am really a strong player. I am basically just fodder for the 2100+ players. I only beat players over 2100 once in a blue moon. ... I no longer struggle over lost or difficult positions. I just resign them. If I have a bad opening, I resign them. If a player is too slow or annoying, I resign them. If I am in a fairly even endgame and it looks like my opponent is going to drag it out into infinity, and I don't want to put any more effort into the game, I resign them.

"Just for kicks I went to a club the other night to play speed chess, to see if I could play over the board anymore. Apparently, some 2250 in the middle of his tournament game thought he would come over and crush the new guy and then get back to his game. I beat him on time in about an even position. He came back to find me later. I lost five games in a row to him. They were all very close and in some games the positions were very close or I was better and we both had less than a minute left on our clocks. I found myself sleeping on the clock a couple times, so I just resigned rather than busting my butt to try and win on times. My opponent never cracked a smile or an expression and later told his friends that he just crushed the new guy. That was not really true. The games were close. I just don't have that killer instinct anymore and perhaps my health makes it difficult to concentrate or sit still, but I do want to play chess but I don't want it to depress me, cause hassles or whatever.

"Chess players are still the arrogant, small-minded people that I remember getting away from back in the eighties. Chess is only a game or hobby or whatever. Models are just toys on the shelf. A 1500 player with a computer and a database is still a weak player no matter what he thinks of himself, or no matter if he can beat masters. It is all meaningless. The joy in chess is using your own mind to think things out as in life, and you remain responsible for your decisions. I only have an occasional player complain that I haven't kept time. I resigned to the last one before the game was really over, and he was cruel about it like I was burning the American flag or something. I am still the player I was many years ago, but as you know things change. I have heard about a number of ex-experts who are now "B" or "A" players and they always make it sound like they don't belong where they are. I want to avoid all this stuff. I am a lifetime "A" player, and that will not probably change unless I eat, sleep, and dream chess. That wouldn't happen unless you put a gun to my head ... and I would say shoot me ... please. Perhaps I don't belong in serious chess sections because I am not really serious about it. This is just one of my many hobbies. I don't intend to buy any new chess books, improve, jump through any new hoops to try to enjoy chess more than I do.

"I have been losing a lot of games through clerical errors and bad openings lately. It seems my eyes are much worse when they get tired, and I am out of date with theory. That will soon be factored into my rating, which is bound to go down now. I don't care. I don't really care if Bobby Fischer hangs himself. He did as much damage to chess by being a weirdo as he did good. I don't care what, who, or whom is popular this year. Some days I don't feel so well and it is a joy to hang out with my chess games in or out of bed. I am not too far from the end of my life and still find chess enjoyable and beneficial to my existence. One of these days my opponents won't ever hear from me again because I will be in a box and probably nobody will write them that I died. I won't bother anybody much in Q-176. I will take my few draws and maybe a win or two, play my moves on time unless I am sick or unable to answer, and hopefully none of my really bad games will be published. ...

"My last semi-class I lost almost every game. Perhaps I am playing too many games or answering my cards when I don't feel good. I don't know. I know I can play a tough game when I hang tough. I don't know if anything I said will provide anybody with any insights in chess or postal tournaments. I don't really like the present time ... I like the past better ... but it is adjust or get out. ...

"I don't think I have kept good time since I have been in the club. It is hard for me to get to work on time! As I said before, I didn't mean to offend you in any way. I would usually not answer such questions. If you are hoping to come in near the top, I wish you luck. I admire hard work and inspiration."

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Thank you again for sharing your viewpoint and your history with us. I appreciate your frank and clear statement of your position, and your story of how you got involved with the art/science/sport of chess is most interesting. I should note that Nathan has replied quite promptly on every move. I certainly don't have any plan to officially complain and expect to have an interesting and enjoyable game. Perhaps some readers will express their own viewpoints on your approach to the game.

Be Bold In Pursuing Chess Goals

Chess is a wonderful activity with dozens (hundreds?) of ways to enjoy and participate. My advice is to be bold in your approach to the pleasures of chess. I enjoy playing the game, composing and printing my chess postcards, photographing chess events, solving problems, etc. But I haven't even scratched the surface at finding ways to participate in chess. Here are a couple of examples of people finding a way to make their own unique contribution to the game.

Dr. Arpad Elo. He may have been a reasonably strong player but his major contribution to chess was his creation of the famous ELO rating system. By creating a firm mathematical basis to ratings he made it possible to make accurate assessments of players' accomplishments in competition.

Dr. Joel Altman. This Foxboro, MA optometrist has found numerous ways to enjoy the game. For me his major contribution was the organization of the Nigel Short - Lev Alburt match in 1985. I don't think anyone expected him to succeed in organizing this major event. This event will live in my memory as a major chess happening in my life.

My advice is to not be satisfied with enjoying just a few aspects of chess but to search for additional ways to explore and enjoy this marvelous art/science/sport.

Reporting Problems to the Tournament Director

I've recently encountered a most difficult competitive problem in the current ICCF U. S. Correspondence Chess Championship (USCCC). After my 30+ years of cc I've now run into my most irritating opponent so far. While most of my games have finished or are in their final stages, this one is barely past move 20. There have been numerous repeats and illegal moves resulting in a very slow game. Though I have occasionally complained to a tournament director concerning an opponent's behavior in the past this is the first time I've sent in numerous complaints. Many of my fellow competitors have confirmed that he is pulling the same delaying tactics with them. So what's the problem?

The tournament director has allowed my opponent to get away with his improper behavior based, at least partly, on the fact that he hasn't received similar complaints from his other opponents. What's this? Some of these guys have complained to me. Apparently they didn't report the problems to the tournament director. As a result my complaints have appeared to be isolated instances. Perhaps the TD even dismissed my complaints as without merit.

My point is that such behavior should be reported. I believe a tournament participant has some responsibility to the other players to report bad behavior to the TD so that the TD will have a complete picture of the offending player's behavior. Do you agree with this attitude?

Of course, the most irritating thing about this whole incident is that I had thought I had the better position. Now it appears that the game is about equal. Now that really is irritating!

Chess Terminology

I received the following from USCCC opponent Randy Ryan of Hamilton, OH. I had sent him my final position with another opponent where the game had ended in a draw by repetition of moves. It appeared as though the first player to vary would be at a significant disadvantage.

"Boy, that final position reminds me of a term we referred to as draw by mutual fear."

An Interesting Postal Methodology

APCT'er Ted Houser of Portland, OR described his very interesting (and different) approach to cc competition. He normally spends no more than 15 minutes on any move. In our game he has still used zero time due to his speedy replies. This enables him to maintain a game load of over 100 games. Check the rating list for something even more remarkable. Using this approach Ted has managed to forge a tremendous 2346 rating and claim a spot in the APCT Top Ten (as of the Sept-Oct 1997 rating list).

He commented, "Yep, works for me. I played a lot of Blitz Chess as I was growing up in the 60's. I seem to see the moves better that way."

I've seen email chess compared to blitz before but never standard postal chess. I certainly can't argue with his success, though. Thanks for the interesting comments, Ted.

Ted has one time-saver that is worth mentioning. He prints out some very nice chess postcards which provide a "fill in the spaces" format, something like some cards you can buy. I like his better than the commercially available cards. They also provide a personalized form of communications. I like the big smile face with "Hi" in its mouth. And the front of the card has a very nice graphic of chess pieces and partial chess board with "Ted" inscribed on the King. This is all printed on a standard U. S. postal card. Places for the dates and time used and the moves (for a possible two games) are provided. He just fills in the information and is ready to mail his move(s).

The "Vine Smith System of Notation"

I was discussing Algebraic Notation with Charles Pote recently. I was observing just how many forms there are of AN. Some people indicate captures with an "x" (e.g., "Nxb5"), with a ":" (e.g., "Ng5:") or with nothing at all (e.g., "Ng5"). I've seen "axb5" and "ab" omitting the numeral. It just seemed to me that Algebraic Notation isn't as standard as some discussions would imply.

That provoked the following comments from Charles.

"Your discussion of various systems of notation is worth a column. I'll give you my comments now, just in case you want to use them later. In my opinion, the most simple and easiest to use system of notation is International Numeric Notation. There is no question in my mind but that Numeric is far superior to every other system of notation. That now having been said, I'm against universal adoption of International Numeric for one reason. I have too much money invested in all kinds of cute figurine chess fonts. So, until the International Numeric advocates find a way for me to use my figurine fonts I must give (it) a big thumbs down.

"Another system of notation recently came to my attention that your readers might enjoy ... The Vine Smith System of Notation. Vine came up with a splendid idea to replace our present confusing symbols, such as !!, !, !?, ?!, ?? +-, ... and all similar nonsense, with only three symbols ... (a smile face, a bland face with a straight line for a mouth, and a frown face). Think about it for a minute and I'm sure you'll agree that Vine's system is easy to learn and would clearly convey our meaning. Imagine, if you will, the delight an opponent must feel when, after working for days on a difficult move, it's returned with a smile face."

Imagine, indeed! Thanks for the great suggestion. I'll have to get more details from Vine Smith, my opponent in Charles Pote's experimental Tag-Team match.

Topics for the Next Issue

Next time I'll relate how my first "Tag-Team" game is going. John Penquite has just "handed off" the first game to me and I (with fear and trembling) have posted my first move of the game. I had no idea that I'd feel so much pressure. As described in the past, in "Tag-Team" chess the first player makes moves 15-20 till he has determined that the opening is over. He then "hands off" the game to his teammate who makes the remaining moves. The two opponents perform the same way. Imagine the situation of having one of the finest players in the USA playing your opening for you. Then you take over and, within a few moves, you ruin the great position he had obtained. Just how embarrassing would this be? How would you feel in this situation? That's the sort of thought that has created unprecedented pressure on me to find the best move. I'll let you know how I've survived next time.

Also, I plan to review the British chess magazine Kingpin. After reading a sample article at The Chess Cafe on the Internet I decided to investigate this publication, that appears to have some of the same qualities as the long-lamented American magazine Chess Chow that was once published by GM Joel Benjamin. If you have some opinions of this publication drop me a line immediately and I'll include your comments.

As always, I hope to relate the ideas and comments of a variety of readers. If you feel strongly about a chess subject or have some interesting news, please send it along immediately. Till next time, as Ted Houser's beautifully printed chess postcard says so colorfully, "Good Chess!"

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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