The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - September/October 1998

E-mail Chess

Last time I discussed some problems faced by postal chess players when they switch to e-mail chess. I even suggested some solutions to the "problem" of too rapid response times. APCT'er Glen D. Shields <sleeper@intermediatn.net> sent the following useful comments on this subject.

"I enjoy your APCT column. It's one of my favorites. If I may, I would like to present alternative comments on last month's e-mail versus postcard discussion.

"First, some background. My postal chess "career" began in 1968. I carried a 65-75 game load for many years. I began the transition to e-mail in 1994. When I began the change, my game total was 65 postcard games. I now have 18 e-mail games and 10 postcard games. My goal is to reduce the postcard games to zero and maintain a 15-25 e-mail game load.

"There are many reasons the switch to e-mail makes sense. You identified the major ones in your article. I will not repeat them. You also mentioned several 'disadvantages.'

"You expressed concern that one cannot participate in as many tournaments via e-mail as by postcard. I've found the opposite to be the case. My average domestic postcard game lasts 18 months. My average e-mail game lasts 3 months. Assuming a 75 postcard game load, I am able to complete 50 postcard games per year. Carrying a 20 e-mail game load, I am able to finish 80 e-mail games annually. I play in fewer e-mail tournaments simultaneously, but in more e-mail tournaments each year. My e-mail opponent base has also broadened. I now play more European players and find the experience to be delightful. My e-mail games move faster, but not at a breakneck pace. The delays between moves are long enough to allow me to re-energize, but not so long that I need to re-focus my analysis. I think this has improved my play and has resulted in better games.

"Postcard chess will survive until everyone has affordable access to e-mail. There are stalwarts who will resist e-mail. Emotionally charged letters will be written. Some will quit rather than change. I empathize. Change is frightening, but e-mail is here to stay. Clearing houses, like the one you describe in your article, help individuals make the transition, but in the long run become unnecessary. People prefer to manage their own time. Individuals will learn to manage their game load. As Mom said before she passed away earlier this year 'c'mon in son, the water's fine.' 'Yes Mom....you're right.' That's the only thing that'll never change!"

Joe Fernandez, new to APCT but experienced in cc, e-mailed the following comments:

"I would like to add my 2 cents regarding 'An E-mail Chess Proposal' in the May-June '98 Campbell Report. I agree that e-mail chess is not interchangeable with postal under the current system. However, I feel that it is time for a change. E-mail chess should be the standard rather than the exception (in my opinion). The typical argument against this form of communication is having to decrease the gameload ... as you stated and has been debated in the newsgroups.

"While I find your proposal of using a time delay at the server level interesting, I think it to be unnecessary. I fail to see the point of keeping a move in transit. Why not just change the time control to 10/70? Along with the free 24 hours, that could result in a move every 8 days, about the time of a typical postal game. This time control would allow those of us who play fast to do so, and those of us with huge gameloads (or that like to play slow) to take our time. Plus, I believe that making e-mail chess the norm would increase the popularity of CC by attracting more of our OTB brethren. What do you think?"

A most interesting proposal, Joe. I've never run across this idea before, but it seems to me to have much to say for it. The game could be almost as slow as a regular postal game. However, my limited experience with e-mail chess makes me think this would not be the norm. A player could move quickly when the position dictates and personal matters don't require a delay, and play would slow down during critical moments. I think the idea is certainly worth consideration.


In response to the article "Technology is Changing the CC World" by Roy DeVault (posted at my web site), APCT'er and chess book author Rick Melton sent the following comments concerning the differences between traditional postal chess and e-mail chess.

"With the exception of International play, which I've personally always avoided due to the 'horror stories' from others about its slowness; also the fact that APCT & CCLA competitions -particularly the Championships - offer all the competition I need and can stand ... Why look elsewhere, other than for 'international recognition?' (IM Tony Albano touches on this mentioning the strength of our domestic players in his write-up in [the last] APCT NB.)

"But in offering my opponents to play our current domestic APCT & CCLA Championship games by E-mail - I'm lucky if one in ten agrees! In the current tourns. only 2 players wanted to do so. One other agreed to E-mail only during the 1st 10 moves. Another after we started said I moved too fast (!) and per the rules insisted we return to USPS. One other did want to switch later in the game after he established an E-mail account. In this total of 22 opponents, mostly Masters, I'd call it as the equivalent of 3 E-mail games... Those refusing to play by E (excepting those without PCs), all seem to give the same reasons - they want /need the add'l. time BETWEEN moves to analyze that postcard play affords. There is really no other VALID reason since the time limits are the same for a player regardless of how quickly an opponent responds. But since I hardly ever take time to look at my own games BETWEEN moves - I did find this a bit surprising. (Of course E-mail does also allow for less time fudging too...)

"After playing my Israeli opponent (APCT match vs. Israel) almost 2 years by mail, due to 16-20 day round trips, we switched to E-mail after I got on a year ago, sometimes exchanging 3-4 half moves in one day(!), finishing both long endgames in a month, which would have taken a 3rd year! (We also were able to communicate about everything under the sun, incl. Chess, in a much more meaningful & timely manner - better conversational flow...)

"Given then that E-mail is a boon to International CC competition, let's hear the experiences of others who play domestically re: their reasons for or against E-mail play in tournaments where both can agree to do so or not. After all - it could save one $100. (+ trips to the P.O.) in each 13 man section...

"The facts remain - at this time E-mail is NOT replacing postcards for the great majority of players. Given THEIR reasons it doesn't appear that it will do so for a long time to come... The traditional, slower pace is the speed of their choice, regardless of the faster pace today in almost everything we experience...

"Viva tradition?"

Thanks for your insights on this question of traditional vs. e-mail chess, Rick. It sounds like there will be a place for both forms of the game for some time to come. In my latest USCCC section I had a similar experience in that most of my competitors declined to play by e-mail. I must admit that I would have felt uncomfortable if more than a few of my opponents had agreed to switch to e-mail. Rick Melton invited additional input from others ... and so do I. APCT offers a lineup of rated cc events in both forms of play. Do you have something to say on this subject?

For those of you "on-line" who wish to read Roy DeVault's article referred to above (or to Rick Melton's recent article on "style" in chess), the address of my web site is given at the top of this column.

"Signs You're Playing Too Much On-line Chess"

John Knudsen has created "The Correspondence Chess Message Board" (TCCMB) on the Internet World Wide Web. There are a number of cc web sites with pointers to this innovative resource for cc enthusiasts on the Internet including Knudsen's, Ralph Marconi's, Chess Mail's and mine. Here cc'ers can offer opinions and announcements and discuss various topics of interest. Recently the following list was given under the heading shown above. I found it extremely entertaining and, with permission of the author Guy Bowen, I am reproducing it below.

Signs You're Playing Too Much On-line Chess

  • You have a 2 million game database all of your own games
  • You can only type 20 words a min. but 100 chess notations a min.
  • You think e-mail is for correspondence Chess
  • your mother learned to play chess just so you would answer her e-mail
  • You think of your laptop as your travel set
  • You bought your son a new computer just to teach him how to play chess
  • You keep praying your chess computer is better than your opponent's
  • You think Deep blue is the world chess champion
  • Your on-line rating is 2500 but your USCF rating is just 1500
  • You change chess servers just to meet new people
  • You think Gary Kasparov is a chess program
  • Your opponents always seem to get disconnected when you're one move away from mating them
  • You unplugged your sound card just so you wouldn't have to hear that annoying beeping noise it makes when some one makes a move
  • Your best friends are Chessnet and PCchess but you've never met them in person
  • You refused to play your neighbor a game because he didn't have a computer
  • You can't play on a 3D chess board any more
  • You think a chat room is where you meet people to play chess
  • You can't play on a regular chess board without grabbing your mouse

by Guy Bowen

Former APCT Columnist Earns IM Title

The following message was recently received from former APCT columnist Ian Brooks:

"I just finished my last game in the Pelikan memorial when Parkkinen agreed to my draw offer. It is a game I should/could have won, but my final score of 6/14 meets the norm for the IM title :) I am just waiting for confirmation from the TD, Juan Morgado."

Shortly after that Morgado did confirm the title and the ICCF qualitications commisioner George Pyrich (who was also playing in the Pelikan) also confirmed the title.

Congratulations, Ian! Obtaining an ICCF title is most impressive and a great achievement. I know that Ian's score in the Pelikan did not satisfy him, but with the strength of his competition this is indeed an excellent result, as confirmed by Ian's new ICCF IM title.

This Could Never Happen in CC

There was an interesting discussion on the Internet chess newsgroup recently on the topic of adjusting the pieces during the game. Normally, a player utters j'adoube as he makes the piece adjustments. Frequently this adjustment consists of centering a piece more precisely on its square. Sometimes it's a matter of adjusting a Knight or Bishop to face the "proper" direction. I've heard of some real battles as one player adjusts the Knights to face forward followed by his opponent re-adjusting the Knights to face toward the center or towards one side. You may only legally adjust the pieces on your move. However, the rule book is ambiguous about the legality of adjusting your opponent's pieces (you may clearly adjust your own). Many individuals expressed their opinions about the correctness of adjusting your opponent's pieces, how the rule book should be changed, stories of the interpretations of various tournament directors when this question occurred in tournament play, etc. The following story was by far my favorite contribution to this discussion.

Dr. A. N. Walker of the Department of Mathematics at The University, Nottingham, UK related this amusing story of University OTB team play:

"Many years ago, I was playing for Manchester in an inter-university competition against Andrew Whitely [Oxford]. At the next board, and sharing our table, were Bill Hartston [Cambridge] and Mike Basman [Leeds]. I sacrificed a pawn to reach a position where my Ng4 and Qh4 forked Andrew's pawns on h2 and f2. Andrew played his move, and wandered off to look at another game. I duly played Qxh2+, whereupon BillH leaned across and gently tipped Andrew's king across from g1 to h1. I went over to Andrew to say it was his move; and we had to fight our way back through the crowd that had instantly gathered. The rest of the room was practically emptied of players. There was this buzz of excitement -- 'Amazing -- an international player mated in 15 -- how did he miss it?'

"Of course, Andrew sat down and, with none of the four of us showing the least sign of surprise, played K(h1)-f1. Uproar. 'You don't want to let him get away with it!' I played my move, and the crowd slowly dispersed, shaking their collective heads. We drew, eventually."

Additional Reader Feedback

APCT'er Jim Davies of St. Louis, MO had a few comments on topics in the May-June column:

"I appreciate the fine effort you are doing. Your column is the second thing I look for when the Bulletin arrives (after I check Newman's problem ladder standings) ...

"Ratings are a necessary fact of life for entry into most chess competitions. There has been way too much fiddling with the USCF rating system. I have played during inflationary and deflationary periods, caused by well-intentioned experimentation by chess politicians with little mathematical soundness. APCT ratings have been much more consistent, largely because Helen and Jim do not respond to pressure from others to fiddle with them.

"Faster or slower time limits are always a burning issue. I really have no opinion here since I do not play the 10/30 anymore. When I did play, I found that the system did not matter to 90% or the players, because they are sportsmen who compete and keep games moving. The other 10% try to game the system for advantage. Those who regularly claim zero time have a special feature in their daily schedules that permit this, unlike us ordinary Joes who work a day job, look at the mail when we arrive home, and must use at least one day to respond. I have long advocated a minimum time to be charged (1/2 day or 1 day seem reasonable) to equalize playing conditions.

"There are plenty of players who like both postal and over the board play, which are two different competitive variations on the same game. There is no doubt for me that postal forces me to learn more openings under real circumstances (analyzing positions and trying out different ideas) than I would ever get by just reading the lines in books. There is more incentive to study when there is a game on the line. ...

"I have some comments on chess etiquette, which you have raised many times before. What should be done about opponents who send replies with lots of words pertaining to a dispute which is underway, but send no moves?

"I had two of these in recent months, including one just this week. I readily admit that I have contributed to the dispute, which is over playing conditions. Since I play Descriptive Notation and 3 days/move time control, I operate from a minority position all the time and must plead my case anew with each opponent.

"Should it not be possible for players to have an interchange over a period of several cards until they come to agreement on the playing conditions, but actually play the game at the same time? Do any other players face opponents who send cards without moves (for any reason)? It is often difficult to be diplomatic when an opponent has responded to a polite request with strong language and a refusal to move. I am not looking for penalties here, merely a way to avoid an unpleasant situation and play chess under mutually satisfying conditions."

Thanks for your comments, Jim. Your final point raises some interesting questions. I've had very little problem with my opponents and rarely have received a card without a move (generally this is an inadvertent error by my opponent). As long as people attempt to see the other guy's point of view there is usually little problem. In some cases you just have to go by the rules.

Quoting from the APCT rules of play from the APCT Prospectus, "Notation. Algebraic notation shall be the official system of APCT, but other systems may be used by mutual consent. When there is disagreement about which system is used, algebraic shall be the mandated system." There is a similar rule covering time limits. Players may agree to the time limit of their choice. However, without such agreement, 3 days per move is mandated for Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Thematic, Semi-Class and Class tournaments (except M/E and A sections of the Semi-Class and Class) while the 30/10 time limit is preferred for Regional Team, Queen and Rook events.

Certainly, play should continue using the above mandated methods while discussing mutually agreed variations. I have in extreme cases stopped play while asking for an official ruling on a dispute, but this should only be necessary in extreme cases. Two sporting players should have few problems. It is my view that it is not bad sportsmanship to insist on playing by the established rules. Although I can certainly use any notation, I prefer to play consistently with one notation to minimize errors. For instance, Descriptive counts ranks from each individual player's side (Black's first rank is White's eighth rank) while Algebraic counts ranks consistently from White's point of view. If you are using both notations it becomes easier to mis-label the rank number. Therefore, I would normally avoid using Descriptive. Is this bad sportsmanship? I don't think so.

I would encourage all competitors to assume the best intentions by their opponents and be slow to anger. Often comments that can easily be interpreted as insulting were not meant that way at all. Approaching each possible confrontation with good will and the presumption of innocence can avoid many potential problems. Comments?

More APCT Members On-Line

Last time I listed several APCT'ers with web sites. Here are a few more.

Tom Purser's Blackmar-Diemer Gambit Pages.

Tom Purser maintains this on-line version of his Blackmar-Diemer Gambit World magazine, which he is phasing out to concentrate on his web-site version. There's a wealth of material here for the BDG fan.

Keith Hayward's Pages.

This is Keith R. Hayward's site where he posts his analysis of several of his favorite openings, such as the Bird's Opening, Balogh Counter Gambit, Dutch Defense and some other related openings.

Joseph Hitselberger's Pages

Joseph Hitselberger has a personal site with chess information about the Wisconsin cc championship.

APCT Member Recommends Forsythe Notation

Long-time APCT member Louis J. Sogin sent the following:

"I am a member of APCT for a good number of years and have enjoyed your column a great deal. I am 86 and would have been 87 but I was sick a year. It is just recently (that I) got involved with computers and such, and I discovered JUNO, which is a free E-mail set up. I was delighted to see that your column is available to me. So my message to you is about the FORSYTHE method of sending chess diagrams via E-mail or ordinary mail. I will give an example: Referring to the diagram on page 115 of the July-August issue the diagram would be as follows:


"The above corresponds to the first diagram on pg. 115. Always view positions from WHITE'S side. Numerals are empty spaces. White pieces are in upper case, Black's in lower case."

Thanks for your note, Louis. Louis Sogin thought it would be useful to describe this simple but effective notation to APCT members. I have personally found it useful in the past for sending positions to friends via postcards (before I had the capability of printing full chess diagrams). It is also normal to write the notation all on one line with slashes separating the ranks. The above would become:


Note that the 8th rank is listed first and the 1st rank last (top of printed diagram to bottom).

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell

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