The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - May/June 1998

Changing Moves on a Card

Have you ever had an occasion to write a move on a postcard and then change your mind? Most of us have certainly had this happen. I've received a number of cards with corrections or modifications. Of course, when you modify a card for any reason you should sign or initial the change to avoid possible confusion at a future date. Your signature at the bottom of the card indicates that you wrote the card. Anyone could modify a card later and claim the modification was made by the sender. If the modification is initialed by the sender then there is no misunderstanding. An opponent would be justified in refusing to reply to a card with a modification that isn't properly initialed or signed. However, in practice there are other considerations.

I've received cards with a move marked over by a marking pen. Certainly the ink covers the unwanted moves nicely, but I've found if I hold it to the light just right I can sometimes read the original moves from their indentations. Even moves heavily scribbled over can sometimes be discerned. I can almost never resist the temptation to figure out the moves my opponent had originally recorded and attempted so earnestly to obliterate. Sometimes this can give a clue to the thinking of your opponent. Sometimes it can be amusing to see the howler your opponent narrowly avoided. Once I had a subtle trap for my opponent. The marked-out move indicated that he came within an eyelash of falling into my trap only to catch it at the last moment. So close and yet so far!

When I recorded my moves by hand on my postcards I sometimes made changes. I resorted to various techniques to avoid my opponent's reading of my undesired writing. For instance, if several moves were obvious possibilities, I would sometimes write them all down, one on top of another. Then when I marked over the moves my opponent couldn't tell which was the real move I had originally recorded or which were the moves I wrote on top of it. As much as I wanted to figure out my opponents' marked-over moves I didn't want them to be able to discern mine.

Now I print all my postcards using my computer. My old techniques of hiding my original intentions by overwriting unwanted moves doesn't work. I just sent a card where I originally gave an "if" move. Later I decided not to send the "if" move ... it gave away my plan and my opponent had a second move he could make to avoid my plan. What could I do? If I simply marked over the "if" move and my opponent took the effort to read it, then he could still figure out my plan of attack and avoid it. Well, it cost me the 20-sent stamp I had already applied to the card but I simply discarded it and printed out a new card without the unwanted "if" move. Considering the total cost of a game of postal chess (in postage and time), I believe this was a reasonable investment.

The techniques I had developed for reading marked-over moves came in handy recently. I received a postcard in a little plastic bag. The postal service had somehow managed to apply an even coating of carbon covering the entire back of the card. It took all my skill to read the message but I was able to do it and continue the game without delay.

"Ping Pong Diplomacy" with Cuba

Max Zavanelli, ICCF-U.S. Secretary, recently distributed a News Release detailing a chess match that should be underway by now. In a move reminiscent of the breakthrough in USA-China relations Max Zavanelli accepted the challenge of the Cubans to an innovative "friendly" match between our countries. Instead of touring the country, as the U. S. Table Tennis Team did in China, the two countries will square off to a correspondence match on 12 boards, two games per board.

To quote from the News Release:

"This historic event is the result of an invitation put forth by the Cuban delegate at the 1997 ICCF Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The players will send their moves to their country's team captain who will forward the moves by email to the corresponding captain.

"The teams will consist of 12 players who will play 2 games, one white and one black, against their opponent. The teams include one junior and one female player. On the first board will be Marc J. Lonoff, former US Champion and Pablo Salcedo Mederos, Cuban Champion 1997-1998. Richard Aiken, a former Golden Knights Champion, will be on our second board. Donna Marie Kremen will play Nery Maceiras Moya, Cuban Woman Champion 1996/1998. Our junior, Matthew Traldi, has qualified for the 1998 Pressman All-American Chess Team."

Good luck to our team members, including APCT'er Donna Kremen. Hopefully there will be a lot of good chess and our team will be more competitive than the table tennis team was in China. More to the point, though, hopefully this will help lead to better relations between our countries and the motto of the ICCF will prevail, Amici sumus! (We are friends!).

Donna Kremen Continues to Popularize Chess in Chicago Area

APCT'er Ray Kremen of Gurnee, IL continues to keep me up to date on the incredible interest generated by his wife and fellow APCT member Donna Kremen. The latest news provided was a copy of a Chicago Tribune article on Donna's cc activities dated January 2, 1998. It had a nice picture of Donna analyzing at a chess board plus a close-up of a page in her Post-A-Log album. Overall, it was a very nice article describing postal chess and the Kremen household activities (it reported that the Kremens had 168 different games going, between Donna, Ray and son Mike, all three APCT members). It's great to read such a positive description of our favorite obsession in the popular press. Donna's achievements in the postal chess community has created sensational interest in the Chicago area and I salute her.

In addition to the Cuban match reported above Donna is playing board one on the USA Women's Team in the Olympiad preliminaries and board two on the Women's' Team in the current Olympiad Finals. Good luck to Donna and her teammates in their pursuit of excellence.

Of course, sometimes reports on chess in the popular press are wildly inaccurate and downright humorous. This is my favorite quote from the Chicago Tribune article: "Ray Kremen said that he has gone from teaching his wife how to play to watching, often in awe, as her status in the game has risen. 'I can't tell her what to do,' he grumbled" (my emphasis -- JFC). I can report from my personal observation that Donna's success has generated a lot of reaction in her household but "grumbling" is not one of them! Go Donna!

Faster Time Limits?

APCT'er James F. Brown of Alabama sent me an email containing, among other things, the following comments: "I am new to the APCT and look forward to many good games in the future. I have heard nothing but good about the organization from those familiar with it. A possible future topic for discussion is the extremely long time frame required to complete a section! In my opinion, 10 moves in 30 days is about twice as long as is needed for one to make good, well-thought out moves. I can't imagine why one could not play a game in say 10 moves in 15 days."

Very interesting ... could a serious game of cc be played at this fast time limit? Though I usually finish a game in far less than the total time allowed, I frequently experience some time trouble in the first ten or twenty moves. When an opponent catches me in a tricky opening position or I experience a bout of depression or other illness or experience some of the distractions associated with family life, I find myself using a lot of time. If this occurs at the early stages of the game and I haven't had time to build up a backlog of unused time then I can experience real time problems. The first time I overstepped a time limit I had buried my opponent's card under a pile of papers on my desk. Since I hadn't recorded the move in my notebook it was as though the card had never arrived. Two or three weeks later when I accidentally ran across the card I discovered that I had overstepped the time limit by a couple of days (I had noted the received date on the face of the card).

I guess for serious competition I would not favor reducing the time limit. However, there are many different types of competition. Is there a place in our schedule of events for a "speed correspondence chess" event? Some players may prefer faster time limits even in the most serious events.

After 20 moves my APCT opponent Ted Houser of Portland, OR still hasn't used a single day. His results and tremendous rating hasn't suffered. I've had other strong opponents that habitually moved very quickly. Many make it a habit of making their moves within a short period of time. Perhaps this concept of faster time limits would find a large, appreciative audience out there. It would force most of us to analyze our positions while waiting for our opponents' replies so we could determine our moves quickly. A most interesting idea!

Postal Chess Good Practice for OTB?

Recently my APCT opponent Stefan Paszko of Haverhill, MA posed a most interesting question. He asked, "Do you think that postal play is a very effective way to practice for OTB play? I'm looking at it from the point of view that postal players don't have a chess clock ticking away while they're deciding their moves. Your thoughts appreciated."

This is a thought-provoking question. Many times I've read that a player has taken up postal chess to improve his over-the-board play. The simple and obvious answer is that postal does allow a player to learn openings in greater depth and allows for better play based on the additional time allowed to study positions. But is it really that obvious that a player's OTB play will benefit?

Of course, there are general benefits to a player's overall understanding of the game. I suspect many players study more effectively when a rated game is involved, not just general study. If you have an isolated Queen pawn and look at examples of games involving this feature, you will follow up your studies with a practical example. Continued study of this feature during the play of the game over a period of weeks or months will help cement your understanding of how to play this type of position. Postal chess provides a wonderful laboratory for studying specific types of positions.

How about openings? Being able to consult books and databases during the game may very well provide an opportunity to learn some openings better. In my own experience I've found this to be of very little benefit to my OTB game. For one thing, openings that are ideal for postal chess may not work well at all for you in OTB play. There you will not have your opening references to help you ... you'll have to have all that stuff memorized. Also, you may find very complex, even downright messy, openings work well for you in postal. These openings may be a very bad choice in OTB, where you don't have the same time to analyze and ability to move pieces about on the board that you have in postal. I've made many moves in postal chess that I wouldn't have dared to try in OTB.

Postal chess and OTB are very different animals. The rules of play are the same, but the environment of competition is very different indeed. Gambits that provide excellent practical winning chances in OTB may just be plain suicide in postal. Grabbing a pawn may be inviting disaster in OTB but be the best path to victory in postal, where you can milk the position for every defensive resource without worrying about blundering.

Playing chess (including postal chess) has to be good for your game in general. You can't expect to play well if you don't play often. However, I have my doubts about postal chess being specifically useful for improving your OTB play. I play postal chess for its own sake and generally prefer postal over OTB. It's my preferred kind of play. Your opinion may be different and you may have insights I've missed. Your views are invited.

Postal Chess Is "Good Medicine"

Based on comments from others and from my own experience I can say without doubt that postal chess provides a kind of "good medicine" in a person's life that can be invaluable. Whether it be physical pain caused by illness or injury or mental pain caused by family problems or personal tragedy, chess can provide a refuge of great value. On occasion I find myself dwelling on some personal problem, unable to sleep or dismiss the unpleasant thoughts. However, when I think to change the focus of my thoughts to a current postal position or type of position I've been studying recently, I find both a distraction from my daily problems and a delightful source of pleasure that elevates my spirits and gives me joy. I can't help but think that chess is an ideal activity for us as we grow older. As family and friends die and our health deteriorates we will still have the pleasures of chess. One outstanding feature of chess is that all can enjoy it at any skill level.

I often think of that wonderful quote from that chess genius of the past Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) who said, "Chess, like music, like love, has the power to make men happy."

http://correspondencechess.com is the web address of John Knudsen's excellent Internet site for correspondence chess. He has a nice selection of chess quotes available to those with Internet access.

APCT King Champion Featured in Chess Life

Under the title "Absolutely The Best!" Alex Dunne paid tribute to APCT'er Stephen Barbre in the February 1998 issue of Chess Life magazine in his regular cc column "Check Is In the Mail." Dunne regularly salutes the best postalites in the country. In this issue he pays tribute to Barbre, who also has won the USCF elite tournament the 1994 Absolute Championship. Congratulations to Stephen Barbre for his well-deserved recognition not only within APCT but by the USA postal community as a whole.

By the way, Stephen Barbre is defending his championship won in the first APCT King tournament. For a complete lineup see page 3 of the January-February 1998 issue of this magazine. Among the 13 entrants there are eight competitors rated over 2300. That's one tough competition!

Chess Ratings ... How Important?

Chess ratings provide an important and useful function in chess competitions. In OTB Swiss system events they are used to create reasonable pairings. In team events they are useful to determine board order. They can provide evidence of improvement in chess skill over time. You can get a good idea of the strength of a competition by checking the ratings of the competitors.

Rating systems were created to provide a measurement of an individual's playing strength. But, in practice, what do ratings mean to individual chess players? I suggest that ratings are viewed as rewards (or penalties) for success (or failure) in competitions. I think this partly explains the popularity of ratings among players. If you play in a tournament and do moderately well, you may not advance to the next round, you may not win a cash prize or trophy, you may not even break fifty percent, but if you gain a couple rating points you may feel quite pleased with yourself. I've experienced the thrill of defeating an opponent rated several hundred points above me ... what a great feeling!

I'm a supporter of ratings ... like so many others I keep a close eye on my rating and celebrate each increase and bemoan each time my rating takes a nose-dive. I've broken the magic 2200 Master barrier twice, perhaps my biggest thrills in chess competition. I've also had failures against much lower rated opponents (sob).

While ratings may be a wonderful idea, there are dangers. Underestimating opponents based on low ratings can be disastrous. I usually play my best chess against my highest rated opponents ... you should expect the same of your lower rated opponents. Some people don't care much about their ratings and play erratically. You may run into one of these competitors who plays incredible chess if the game is of particular interest to him while dropping points to weaker opponents if the games don't hold his attention. If this case the rating may not reflect an opponent's playing strength in the least.

There is one drawback of being a rating-watcher. Every rated game requires the greatest of concentration. There's no room here for trying out wild ideas just for the fun of it. You can't just relax and play strictly for the joy of playing. Occasionally I just log onto the Internet Chess Club and play a few unrated games for the fun of it. Till I was described in the TC magazine by the club director as a sophist I kept a few games going in the Transcendental Chess postal organization just for fun. It's nice to be able to just relax occasionally and play a game of chess. However, those ratings keep me concentrating on every move, attempting to avoid those blunders and recording errors that can lose games. I also have a clear goal in APCT play ... to regain that Master rating I had for a few fleeting moments.

An Email Chess Proposal

Postal chess has always had one significant drawback. The postal system isn't always dependable (or even acceptable, in some countries). International postal events were often marred by lengthy delays, particularly with the Eastern European countries. Many times I waited 6-7 weeks for moves from Russia, Poland and other countries from that area. The cost of postage can be considerable, as well. It is therefore easy to understand the enthusiasm many people have for email chess. ICCF is currently making adjustments to incorporate email into their tournament schedule. Many domestic organizations have established email sections. You can currently play rated email chess in APCT.

However, it would be a mistake to consider email chess interchangeable with postal. I've heard of postal players substituting email games for their postal games (in the same numbers) and getting into trouble. The "problem" is the lack of transmission time. Though it is usually thought of as an advantage, the almost-zero transmission time can cause problems for those not accustomed to it. For example, if you and your opponent usually use about two days per move, that means you have to make a move once every four days. Compared to the normal ten or so days in postal chess this is a significant difference. If this example, you would be making 150 percent more moves in a given time period than in normal postal chess. If you didn't adjust your game load down by more than half, you could find yourself in a real time crunch.

The reliability and speed of transmitting your moves by email is undeniably attractive. The solution of reducing your game load to less than half your normal postal load may be much less attractive. By reducing your game load significantly you eliminate much of the diversity in your competition (fewer opponents ... fewer game situations). You also must limit the scope of your competitions. You would have to pick and choose your tournaments with great care.

Here is my proposal for combining the best features of email play with the attractiveness of a larger game load (allowing for more tournaments in your schedule). The tournament organizers could provide a clearing house for receiving and transmitting moves. Using this clearing house (which could certainly be automated), each move received would be transmitting to the opponent after a pre-determined time delay. Say a delay of three days was selected. In the case of each player using two days per move, this would mean an eight day delay between mailing a move and receiving a reply, close to a regular postal game. The very real email advantages would still be there (reliability, no unusually long postal delays or lost cards, none of those extremely lengthy delays associated with certain foreign countries, lower transmission costs). However, competitors would still be able to carry conventional postal game loads and play in a large variety of tournaments. Some players make full use of the postal transmission time to work on their games. These players may be reluctant to make the switch to email, since it would require a change in their approach to the game. This proposal would eliminate the necessity to change that approach.

This proposal would provide one additional benefit to the organizers, if properly implemented. Since all the moves would be funneled through the organizer's clearing house all the game moves could be recorded for a complete record of the games of the tournament. I can visualize a wonderful web site where each tournament would have its own page, which would allow viewers to examine any game finished in that competition. For special demonstration games, the moves of games in progress could be made available to the viewers. Game reports could be automatically filed and tournament crosstables could be kept updated on a continuous basis. Older tournaments could be archived for future access by users. It would also be possible for the clearing house to catch illegal or ambiguous moves and eliminate time delays by immediately getting corrections (with possibly a note to the opponent documenting the problem). Time penalties and time oversteps could also be dealt with automatically (of course, it would be necessary to have a tournament official available to correct any possible mistakes by the automatic system and to deal with appeals). To implement all these ideas would require a fairly complex clearing house software system, but I suspect the basic idea of inserting a specific time delay between moves could be done with some existing systems.

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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