The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - March/April 1999

“Why Are We In Here Learning Chess?”

“Chris Depasquale’s Chess Column” for December 19, 1998 in The Age published in Australia had the following story which I found particularly interesting. If you are on-line you can find this and other Australian chess columns listed at the web site:


“When I entered the classroom Nicholas was demonstrating to the class of eight-year-olds the famous game Paul Morphy played against the Duke of Brunswick during a performance of Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville. The first thing that struck me was that Nicholas displayed the patience of a saint, answering all the questions, and explaining in detail why each move was played, and how the final winning combination worked.

“The second thing that struck me was how engrossed the students were, following each move, trying to understand every nuance. All except one child, who seemed intent on disrupting things for everybody else. The question he asked was, ‘Why are we in here learning chess, when we could be outside kicking the footy?’ The answer Nicholas gave him blew me away.

"Because at some time, later in life, you will need chess. At some stage in your life, God willing, you will be too old to kick the footy, but not old enough to just curl up and die. Some time in your life you will be ill, or bed-ridden, but will still be able, and wanting, to exercise your mind. Some time in your life the weather will not make football possible, but you will still want a game that is fast, and skillful, and enjoyable.

"You should learn chess because some time in your life you will be alone, but you won't want to be lonely. Because some time in your life your flight will be delayed or canceled, and you will have unexpected time on your hands. At some stage in your life you will need to overcome language barriers, and you will be able to use the universal language of chess."

"Saint" Nicholas has a message to all readers of this column: Teach somebody you know to play chess this Christmas.”

Feedback from Previous Columns

John McCumiskey of Sacramento, California wrote:

“I'd like to put in my $.02 worth on the "Play on or Resign?" and "Dragging the Game Out...Ethically Bad?".

“If I am down substantial (whatever that is) material and have no reasonable play, I will normally resign the game and save what ever the USPS is charging for post cards at the moment. I don't need to torment my opponent or myself anymore than necessary.

“I do take great joy in trying to make my opponent suffer as much as possible when a game is dragged on when a game is clearly resignable. Clearly, resignation is the opponent's choice. However, I have found such games help sharpen my technique for future games. I've also played a few games where a much higher rated player made me play out a clearly and easily won endgame (more of that technique stuff again).

“I do have a problem when any player in a clearly lost position (and I am demonstrating proper technique) starts to delay the game in any manner. Bad sports like this make the game more of a problem for everyone. I will be the first to admit that I generally will give players more time than recommended before sending a first repeat. If the need to send "first" repeats continues, I become more of a stickler for the letter of the rules. I don't like having to be that way, but sometimes it is necessary. This may seem like sour grapes but I keep track of these regular "repeaters" for reference in future sections we might play in...I will keep closer track of them.

“Regarding the 10/30 rules, I have opponents who do not confirm any of the information. It's not my responsibility to give reminders about providing such information since every player is responsible for knowing the rules. As long as I have such records and confirm the information while my opponent does not, I don't believe any claim made in these circumstances could be valid.

“Regarding the diagram in your January-February column, I make the assumption that this has been a King and pawn endgame for a few moves. Chances are about 99.99% I would resign this position, especially if I know my opponent has the technique or has demonstrated the technique in advancing the g- and h-pawns, showing the ability to win the endgame in correspondence. If I were playing someone I knew had very bad endgame technique, I might play on a bit farther...over the board!

“End $.02.”

Thanks for you two cents, John, though I value your opinion much higher than that! I would also like to commend John McCumiskey on his fine web site “Welcome to the Sacramento Chess Club” (listed in my list of links titled “Sites by APCT Members” at my web site “The Campbell Report”). Like many other APCT members, John is active in promoting our fabulous art/sport/science in his community.

Walter J. Lewis of Soledad, California wrote:

“I would venture a guess that you’ll be getting lots of mail regarding Chess Pride magazine [note: I have received no other letters, but when I posted an announcement on an Internet chess newsgroup that I had added two new items to my web site, the Chess Pride review plus info on Chess Life being reduced in size, all the discussion revolved around Chess Pride magazine and gay rights issues -- JFC]. A strange idea indeed, however, as long as my opponent makes all his moves with his own pieces and keeps his hands off mine, we can play!

“I would also like to say that even though I didn’t agree with Ian Brooks recommendation of Chess for Tigers, I did follow many of his recommendations that he wrote about in his articles and have been quite pleased with the results. I would also like to thank him for his reply in your column to my letter.

“To play on or resign? I feel my opponent has the right to play until mate, and I will not object if they do so. However, I don’t do it myself.

“I have found that chess is just too much fun to allow an unpleasant opponent to take that away from me. I have also had the good fortune to play some of the nicest people I’ve ever met through chess. I not only learned a lot about chess from them, but they taught me much about sportsmanship.

“Over 20 years ago I was a nothing of a chess player, but somehow hit on the right ideas and luckily won games from two APCT masters, Keith Hayward and Fred Bender. I had great respect for them. I knew it must have been irritating to them to lose to such a weak player, yet they both praised my effort. I was walking on air I felt so good. After I returned to earth, I told myself that I would emulate their sportsmanship for as long as I play cc. Keith and Fred stand for all the good things in chess; it was an honor to play them, and it is even more of an honor to consider them my friends.”

When Chess Positions Appear ...

I have a first impulse every time I spot a chess set on television, in a movie or in a store display. My eye instinctively zeroes in on that lower left hand square to see if it’s Black. Often the chess set is only really visible for a second or two, so I’ve trained myself to look immediately for the tell tale sign of a chess board set up improperly. From comments I’ve recently read by others I know I’m not alone. If there’s time I quickly scan the board for a reasonable configuration of the pieces. I’ve often wondered how it’s possible for the board to be oriented wrong over 50% of the time. You would think that it would be oriented correctly more often than not simply because pure chance would dictate that it be right half the time and you would expect that occasionally someone concerned would know the correct orientation. But, I swear, about 2/3rds of the time it is wrong.

Of course, if you stick around to listen to the dialog you’ll realize that non-chess players seem to know only one chess term ... checkmate. After two people stare at the position in deep thought one will suddenly make a move and announce checkmate, to the surprise and consternation of his/her opponent. I thrill at the occasional scene that, though it be flawed in various ways, never-the-less shows a correct chessboard with legal and reasonable moves. Years ago the opening stage of the James Bond thriller “From Russia With Love” with the chess match so beautifully staged was wonderful! I could chuckle at the strange match conditions but still enjoy the real chess game, created from an actually played game. More recent movies such as “Dangerous Moves” with Liv Ullmann, “Knight Moves” with Christopher Lambert and “Searching for Bobby Fischer” show what appears to be real chess. But we can’t expect much when a chess set is used as a prop in the occasional TV show or advertisement. I’m afraid my eye will continue to target that lower left corner to once again confirm that the majority of people in our society know approximately as much about chess as I do about brain surgery.

Movie "Too Cerebral" for Local Viewers?

The Internet has many resources to offer the chess enthusiast. Though my special interest is cc, I retain an interest in most areas of chess. One of my resources is the Connecticut Chess Magazine edited by Rob Roy. It arrives in my electronic mailbox about once a month and contains chess news primarily from the Connecticut area. Interested parties can check http://www.connchess.com. The following caught my eye, a tournament report which I'll just quote in part:

"This was the last chess tournament to be held in Waterbury. ... Our program never received any help from the Waterbury school system. They fail to encourage youth to learn this game that fosters intelligence. The already-established players in Waterbury were too timid to face the strong players that travel here to compete. When the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was released a few years back, I waited for it to show in a Waterbury theatre. When it never came I called the theatre to ask why. They said the movie was "too cerebral" for the Waterbury audience."

I've noticed an attitude that I don't like. As with the cartoon character Homer Simpson, many are careful not to attempt anything that might be considered difficult. This "dumbing down of America" is a disturbing trend, perhaps one explanation for the lower testing scores by our students. We chess players both benefit and suffer based on the public perception of chess as a highly intellectual and difficult game. On the one hand, people immediately make positive assumptions about our superior intelligence when they learn that we play chess. On the other hand, people are scared away from our beautiful game, assuming it is only for intellectuals and Mensa members.

Perhaps our superior intelligence, indicated by the mastery of chess, is a misconception. For instance, when I heard about the above-mentioned movie, my enormous intellect told me that the movie had something to do with Bobby Fischer! Silly me.

The “Fischer Interview”

The chess community has been buzzing recently about a rare Fischer sighting. He agreed to be interviewed by phone on a radio program broadcast in The Philippines. Apparently, Fischer was in Hungary and GM Eugene Torre called him up from the radio station located in Baguio City, Philippines. It’s always possible, however, that this was a giant hoax. The interview was recorded and made available via the Internet in audio form, and all reports indicate that the interview degenerated into a sick attack on Jews and that Fischer’s language became “overly colorful.” If the interview was legitimate I’m sure we’ll be hearing more.

Alligators and Beer

One great thing about correspondence chess is the many different aspects that can be enjoyed. One area that many find satisfying is the opportunity to serve their fellow enthusiasts by performing some useful duty. One example is Soeren Peschardt of Denmark, who recently took on the duties of webmaster for the ICCF website at http://www.iccf.com/

APCT members are certainly well represented in the ranks of chess volunteers. Our champion and USA champ Jon Edwards gives time to his local community helping youth learn the joys of chess, Ralph Marconi serves as the captain for the Canadian team in the ICCF Olympiad, Tom Purser maintains a web site for BDG enthusiasts, Joseph Hitselberger maintains information about the Wisconsin cc championship, John McCumiskey created and maintains a web site for the Sacramento Chess Club, Daniel Callahan is the webmaster for the Alaska Chess Page and I published a monthly newsletter for my team in the APCT Regional Team Championship for six years and a quarterly newsletter for the APCT team in the NTC-1 championship. Countless others have served as team captains in APCT competitions and extended help on a personal basis to new postalites. A number of APCT’ers write regular columns and articles for this and other chess publications. There is much pleasure in serving your fellow cc enthusiasts. Just as the teacher often learns more about a subject than the students, the chess volunteer can expect to derive more pleasure from chess than the casual competitor. I encourage you all to watch for opportunities to serve the chess community. Every two years the opportunity to captain a team in the APCT Regional Team Championship presents itself. Simply inviting friends to join APCT is a service both to APCT and to the chess player. Carry your camera with you if you attend a local chess club and document events and personalities. “Now, what’s this about alligators and beer?” I hear you asking. Several people, including Ralph Marconi and myself, recently worked on documenting some important North American Pacific Zone ICCF tournaments on the Internet. The ICCF is caught between the desire to present a uniform, professional appearance and to actually get work done, which depends on volunteers scattered all over the world. This sometimes leads to an uncomfortable balancing act. However, the ICCF webmaster Soeren Peschardt sent me the following message concerning our work on these crosstables: “... I welcome you all as website/crosstable-colleagues! I also hope to meet you all at the ICCF Congress 2000 in Florida. Let's go eat some alligators and drink a lot of beer!” And thus my inspiration for the above lines.

copyright © 1999 by J. Franklin Campbell

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