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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"The Campbell Report" - July/August 1999

Doug Eckert and Keven Embrey Qualify for the ICCF IM Title

Many of my readers will be familiar with the name Doug Eckert of Cordova, TN. Max Zavanelli, the ICCF-U.S. Secretary, recently circulated copies of his letter to Doug congratulating him on obtaining the International Master title. His qualification is based on a superior result in the Pappier Memorial B tournament.

Shortly after hearing about Eckert’s success another letter arrived similar to the one mentioned above. This time it was a copy of a letter addressed to Keven Embrey of Powder Springs, GA, who has also achieved the IM title. His qualification came via the VI Pan American Tournament.

One of the duties of Max Zavanelli as the Secretary of the USA office of the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation) is to submit the required applications for titles to the Qualifications Commissioner. Those of us involved in international play through the ICCF are indebted to both the ICCF-U.S. Secretary and his right-hand man Bob Meinert for representing USA cc players so well. Thanks guys! And congratulations to Doug Eckert and Keven Embrey, who will officially receive their titles at the September ICCF Congress in Switzerland.

Grigory Sanakeov and his Love of the Game

A few years ago it was difficult to find material being published specifically for the correspondence chess enthusiast. While still dwarfed by the publications aimed at the OTB competitor, there are some excellent books now available for the cc’er. I treasure my old copy of the 1971 classic Correspondence Chess World Championship by GM Dr. Hans Berliner (5th World Champion) and IM Ken Messere. This was my first volume devoted to cc and I found much to inspire me in this record of Berliner’s route to the world championship. I even followed Berliner’s example and played his Alekhine’s Defense in my most critical games.

Now we have some wonderful books devoted to cc. Some are Tim Harding’s Winning at Correspondence Chess, Chess for Tigers by British GM Simon Webb, The Chess Analyst by USA Champion Jon Edwards, The System by GM Dr. Hans Berliner and Secrets of a Chess Master by Rick Melton. There is also the excellent international magazine Chess Mail published by IM Tim Harding. I recommend all of these publications to correspondence chess advocates.

When I heard about the book Der 3. Versuch ... “Mein Weg zum Fernschach-Weltmeister” by Grigorij K. Sanakojew (the 10th World Champion) I knew I had to have a copy, even though my poor German predicated that I’d obtain minimal real benefit from it. The interview published in the April 1997 issue of Chess Mail told me this was an interesting person with a special love for the game that would produce a book worth owning. Now I can not only own the book but also read it. The English version is now available with the title World Champion at the Third Attempt by Grigory Sanakeov. The book contains 59 deeply annotated games along with introductory material describing Sanakoev’s cc career, culminating in his winning the world championship (on his third time in the finals, as the title indicates).

First I want to quote from the forward of the book, to give the reader the flavor of his love for the game.

“I hope that readers of this book will want to follow me into the splendid world of chess by correspondence, and that their lives will be filled with an expectation of wonders which are so rare in everyday reality. These wonders may appear in the shape of a humble postcard affirming that the game is going as you predicted; or a brilliant idea which occurs to you on a bus; or victory in a tournament, confirming you as the boldest, the most penetrating, the strongest player in your district or town or country, or in the whole world (does it ultimately matter where?); or there may even be wonder in nothing more than the constant communication with an opponent a thousand miles distant. In every case you will overcome the routine of your life; it will become fuller, more thoughtful, more interesting.

“Living in constant expectation of your opponent’s moves gives you a different perspective on the trivialities of existence that so often exasperate you. Is your neighbour’s unfriendliness all that serious when your move demolishes the entire opening strategy of your faraway opponent in Australia? Who cares about foul weather if your adversary falls into the trap you devised during the fine autumn of last year? Why should anyone be upset by the smug pomposity of an official when they know full well that their innovation in the Caro-Kann would never occur to him in his life?

“Follow me, dear reader, and you will see that postal chess is a wonderful thing, accessible to all. Are there many things in our lives that answer to that description? It may be ages since you last played over the board; you may be hopelessly out of date with present-day opening theory; you may be in poor health or over-worked or unhappy in love; your finances may be in a terminal mess; never mind! All this quickly loses any significance once you have entered a postal chess tournament. In a while, a dozen friends or even more will have entered your world and become your companions in creativity as well as your rivals in the contest. You will begin a new life full of joy and effort, hopes as well as disappointments. This new life will accept you without any conditions except one: you must come to love correspondence chess, because mastering it, like winning the love of a child, is impossible by any other means.”

Would I be risking ridicule if I admitted that these words brought tears to my eyes? This man puts much that I feel into words and brings my feelings to life. Here’s another interesting excerpt describing his “postal player’s code”:

  1. Excess is harmful. Be moderate in your appetite for postal chess. Twenty-five to thirty commitments should be quite enough to keep you happy.
  2. There is no such thing as a half-serious tournament. In every game your reputation and self-confidence are at stake.
  3. Don’t be too confident and don’t send your opponent provisional continuations if they aren’t absolutely forced. Leave yourself the option of re-checking your analysis; give the opponent the chance to go wrong.
  4. Against all the buffetings of fortune -- fight!

There are many more such comments and observations filling this book, making it a fabulous resource for ideas and inspiration. You could spend much enjoyable (and edifying) time with this book without ever resorting to studying the games and analysis. However, you’ll find many of the top names in the cc elite among Sanakoev’s opponents in this book (Estrin, Morgado, Nyman, Õim, Palciauskas, Rittner, Simagin, and others). The notes to the games consist of much more than lines of analysis. This descriptive material is really wonderful and will give the reader a much deeper understanding of the positions. I strongly recommend this book to all who are interested in cc, whether for the art, the sport or the science aspects. Sanakoev both loves the game and is devoted to the competition and will communicate this to the reader very clearly.

Mr. Sanakoev is one of those rare individuals I would like to meet in person; I want to shake the hand of a person who feels this way about my beloved cc and who has contributed such a wonderful book to the benefit of our cc culture.

Even World Champions Get Carried Away

In the February 1999 issue of Chess Mail there is an interview of the 11th World cc Champion Dr. Fritz Baumbach. Following this interview are a few annotated games. I found the following comments to a critical game in the tournament where Dr. Baumbach won the championship of particular interest. The game began: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 O-O 8.Ne2 Qd7 9.O-O b6 10.Be3 Bb7 11.f3 Nc6 12.Bb5 Qd6 13.e5.

Now things got interesting. His notes:

“This thematic move now gains a tempo. I posted the card with this move just before Christmas, on 23/12/83.”

13. ... Qd5

“During the night I woke up at about two o’clock and thought of the game, horrified: what if Black plays 13. ... Nxe5 14.dxe5 Qxe5 attacking both bishops? I got up and analysed until morning but could find no refutation.

“I therefore went back to the mailbox and waited for it to be emptied, my mind grimly set on persuading or bribing the mailman to return the card, or, if the worst came to the worst, even to steal it myself. The mailman was obliging, turned a blind eye to the regulations, and helped me look for the card amongst a mountain of Christmas mail.

“Christmas was a period of intensive analysis, resulting in the following: 15. Qd3 (only move) 15. ... a6 (if 15. ... Rad8, or ... Rfd8, then 16.Bd4 Qg5 17.Ba6! with advantage) 16.Bc4 Rfd8 17.Bd4 Qg5 18.Rf2!! [additional analysis omitted -- JFC] ... I finally posted the same card, only with the thinking time changed, on 28/12.”

Considering that the tournament ended in a three-way tie (Baumbach tied with Nesis, his opponent in this game, and with A. Mikhailov but won the title on tie-break) this win proved critical. I find it interesting that he retrieved his postcard but, in the end, re-posted it without changing his move.

Was Baumbach the first world champion to display such behavior? I understand through my readings on the Internet in The Correspondence Chess Message Board (I have a prominent link to this message board at my web site) that the first world cc champion Cecil Purdy of Australia performed a similar stunt, staking out the postal box till the postman arrived. I understand this story is documented in one of Purdy’s many books. Apparently, Purdy led the postal employee to believe that he played a prominent role in Purdy’s achievement of winning the world championship! Well, perhaps he did.

In response to my request for permission to reprint this Baumbach story in my column, Chess Mail editor Tim Harding added this interesting tidbit:

“ ... I recently heard an even more extraordinary story about a player ringing the US post office from Australia, at great expense, hoping to get a blunder returned before it could be delivered to his opponent!”

Resigning

Chip Chapin of Honolulu, HI contributed the following comments on the topic of when it is appropriate to resign a bad game:

“I guess when to resign has become my favorite topic. I’m becoming more and more annoyed lately when opponents won’t resign clearly lost games. Maybe they’re thinking as the saying here goes, ‘the monkey will fall out of the tree.’

“The problem is that I can’t say anything because I’m not supposed to. So, which is more unsporting: to make a comment like ‘don’t you ever resign?’ or to play on without even hope of drawing? Oh well, I’ll try to think of something more enlightening to write about next time.”

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments, Chip. I’ve always out-of-hand dismissed that idea of making such a bold comment to an opponent, such as suggesting that they resign. You’ve caused me to reconsider my uncritical dismissal of the idea of bringing the subject up with an opponent. In my articled on “Good Correspondence Chess Etiquette” published in Chess Mail I said, “Do not ask your opponent to resign.” I still feel it is inappropriate, but I’m not so sure it is clear-cut. Are there circumstances under which it would be appropriate to suggest resignation? How about simply asking what your opponent’s reason is for continuing? Possibly the opponent is a beginner who doesn’t understand the concept of resignation.

One reason not to make such comments to an opponent is to keep the correspondence congenial. I’ve always been a strong proponent of all competitors playing strictly by the rules. In the 14th USCCC (USA cc Championship) I had an opponent who repeatedly left off required information (on his postcards), such as date received/answered and time used. The rules are very strict and call for immediate time penalties for every transgression. I kept applying the penalties and telling my opponent that he was required by the rules of play to record this information. I thought it was a non-issue ... the rules require it, the penalties were clearly stated and I applied them to my opponent. Years of cc competition had trained me to record this information automatically. It’s just part of the game. However, the whole issue turned my game into a nightmare with unpleasant correspondence flying in both directions. My opponent said in all his years of competition he had never bothered with this record-keeping nonsense and never had any complaints. He thought I was being unreasonable.

Not wanting to play this game in such an unfriendly atmosphere, I suggested that we continue play with all the time penalties dropped and with an agreement to play promptly and without recording the time used. This was a difficult decision for me, since it goes against my nature. Realistically, I knew I had no chance of winning my section and advancing to the finals (I was ranked 11th out of 13 players by rating at the beginning) and wanting to play the game without bad feelings, I made this accommodation. In fact, we have had a quite interesting game and a pleasant and interesting correspondence. I doubt that I would have made this exception if I thought I had a realistic chance of winning the event. By ignoring the rules concerning record-keeping, I am leaving myself open to problems, if my opponent suddenly become extremely slow (I couldn’t accuse my opponent of violating the time limits without the proper documentation). In fact, could the tournament director forfeit both of us for ignoring the rules concerning documentation?

You know, nothing seems as clear cut now as when I was younger. Some of those “absolutes” of prior years no longer seem so certain. I’d be happy to receive your comments and stories about these kinds of dilemmas. Have you faced difficult decisions in your cc competitions?

When Chess Positions Appear ...

As discussed previously, my eye is immediately drawn to the lower left-hand corner of a chess board any time one suddenly appears on TV, in a movie or in a store display. This also occurs when reading magazines. I was recently quite started to find a glaring example of an incorrect board in one of the finest chess magazines in the world. In the 1999 No. 1 issue of New in Chess published in The Netherlands there was a fine article remembering the recently deceased GM Efim Geller. On page 52 there is a very nice photo of GM Geller at home with his wife Oksana and son Sasha. And there, at the lower left in front of Geller, is a white square! As Robert Harrison of Danville, Virginia told us last time, white goes at the right. It reminds me of a similar situation some years ago on the cover of Chess Life where the same mistake occurred.

In the case of Chess Life it was a matter of editorial sensibilities that the picture would be more pleasing if it were reversed. How often can a reader detect the right-left reversal of a picture if there isn’t any obvious clue, such as a sign on the wall or some other text. Possibly this points to an editorial staff that isn’t knowledgeable about chess, or perhaps publishing professionals simply place appearance above accuracy in some cases. At any rate, I am always astonished when this sort of error occurs in a chess publication. Or perhaps in the Ukraine or Russia when the picture was taken, it was common to play with the board oriented in this unfamiliar fashion.

By the way, for those interested in following the top players and top events in the world of professional OTB chess, I recommend this outstanding publication (if you can afford its high price, approx. $11 an issue in the USA). A second publication I’ve recommended in the past (Inside Chess published in the USA by GM Seirawan) has only a short time remaining as a print magazine, as it will only be published through January of 2000. Yasser has decided to go strictly electronic after that, with an expanding web site replacing the print version. He has determined that the competition from the Internet is just too strong to fight. If you can’t beat them, join them!


copyright © 1999 by J. Franklin Campbell

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