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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"The Campbell Report" - September/October 1999

GM Kasparov Plays CC Match vs. The World!

Microsoft has announced a very interesting chess match and created a nice web site to promote and carry current information concerning this match. The match is now deep into the opening, as I write this column. With each side having only one day per move the game is moving along at a rapid rate, for a correspondence chess game. Kasparov has obviously prepared well for this match with some opening surprises up his sleave. Perhaps an unexpected side effect is the involvement of some really strong players, through various web sites.

As set up, Microsoft's web pages show the current position along with the advice of four young players which the voting public is free to accept or reject. Only the move with the most votes is made, independent of any opinions by the experts. The USA is well represented on this panel of young experts by the USA women's champion Irina Krush. In fact, it has been with some pride that I've watched her become the leading light of this panel, with the most insightful and comprehensive analysis of the four. Other web sites have chimed in, but the most interesting is the Russian GM Chess School site, headed by GM Alexander Khalifman (2615). A few other leading lights at the school are GM Peter Svidler (2715), GM Konstantin Sakaev (2650) and GM Vladimir Epishin (2575). I was particularly impressed by the presense of ICCF GM Gennady Nesis on their staff.

It's extremely interesting to watch these GM's working on a cc position. Move by move the analysis is presented. As the game has progressed I've noticed that Irina Krush has been in contact with the GM School and have shared their analysis. It's all been very interesting watching this match evolve and seeing the world ganging up on Kasparov. It should be pointed out that Kasparov probably has a small edge as I write. All this chess talent arrayed vs. the Kasparov team (I assume he has a team) is producing an historic match. Microsoft is certainly getting its money's worth in the form of advertising, as there has been sensational interest in this match.

Here are the moves made so far (as of August 1, 1999):

Kasparov - Rest of World
1. e2-e4 c7-c5 2. Ng1-f3 d7-d6 3. Bf1-b5+ Bc8-d7 4. Bb5xd7+ Qd8xd7 5. c2-c4 Nb8-c6 6. Nb1-c3 Ng8-f6 7. 0-0 g7-g6 8. d2-d4 c5xd4 9. Nf3:d4 Bf8-g7 10. Nd4-e2 Qd7-e6 11.Nc3-d5 Qe6xe4 12. Nd5-c7+ Ke8-d7 13. Nc7xa8 Qe4xc4 14. Na8-b6+ a7xb6 15. Ne2-c3 Rh8-a8 16. a2-a4 Nf6-e4 17. Nc3xe4 Qc4xe4 18. Qd1-b3 f7-f5 19. Bc1-g5 Qe4-b4 20. Qb3-f7 Bg7-e5 21. h2-h3 Rxa4

What are the disadvantages in this match? A weak point for the World team is that their analysis must be made in public, in order to share the advice of the experts with the voting members of the world team. So all this advice is not only being read by team members but probably by the Kasparov camp as well. There are not going to be many surprises here. Also, it is clear that the voting members of the world team aren't always taking the advice of the experts. In fact, we can question the intent of some world team members (anyone who cares to register as a member through the web site can vote on the moves). Check out the following positions to see what I mean.

c9909a.gif
Kasparov - Rest of World
After 4. Bxd7

A fairly clearcut position. Black must recapture the Bishop with either his Queen or Knight, a matter of opinion which is best. Would you consider 4...Kxd7? The World team did, by a count of 3%. In addition to these three legal moves, 0.98% of the world team voted for other moves as well, moves that didn't get Black out of check.

c9909b.gif
Kasparov - Rest of World
After 14. Nb6+

In this position the RoW team voted to move 14...axb6 by an overwhelming vote of 97.73%. While that's a pretty big vote, who were the other 2.27% who voted for any other move (obviously losing the Queen)?

c9909c.gif
Kasparov - Rest of World
After 17 Nxe4

Here the World team voted to recapture the Knight on e4 by 95.9%, maintaining rough material equality (Kasparov just capture Black's Knight on e4). So over 4% of the remaining team members voted for a move leaving White up a piece. What was the second biggest vote-getter? 17...Ke6, of course!

This match is being quite entertaining, apparently not just for the superior chess being played! What is the explanation for the odd moves receiving votes? Voters who don't play well? Voters who don't know how to play at all? Voters who enjoy making the most illogical moves they can find? I suspect all three are valid. I suggest anyone who wants to catch the end of this match (presuming it's still going when you read this) to check out the Russian GM Chess School web site at: http://www.gmchess.spb.ru/

Chess Ratings ... Measure or Reward?

This is a recurring question ... what is the purpose of chess ratings? Of course, they provide a variety of useful services. For instance, they can be used to provide help in the following areas:

  • Establish seedings into tournaments
  • Allow balancing of strength of opposition in a set of preliminary events
  • Establish favorites in events followed by the public
  • Provide credentials for players applying for entry into top events

I believe ratings provide another immensely important benefit, namely as a reward for a good performance. This rather flies in the face of the purpose of ratings, namely to measure the true skill level of the players. There are many divided opinions on how effective the ELO rating system is at measuring playing skill, but it is a popular rating system and apparently does a pretty good job. However, the "reward" facet of rating systems should not be ignored.

When I play in a strong tournament and finished with a negative score, is this a competitive failure? I don't usually consider it so if I've managed to improve my rating along the way. Even a single win vs. a much higher rated opponent can compensate for an otherwise bad event. Have you had similar feelings?

Sure, I love the feeling of creating a superb game of chess, of finding the "truth" of a position. It's fun winning a won game and drawing a bad position vs. a strong opponent. The lure of chess begins long before a player becomes aware of chess ratings. There is a beauty on the board that is undeniable. It is also true that chess is a competitive arena where participants seek to improve their status and sporting results. Just as a football game can have statistics strongly favoring one team, the final score is the most important thing in the end. In chess, a good playing effort is important, but in the end it is winning and losing that is important to many people. A player's rating is a good measure of his/her results. Even if that rating isn't strictly accurate as a measure, it can be an end in itself. Maintaining a competitive consistency while other players drop out may not mean that you play better chess, yet it will often be reflected in your competitive results, with an increase in rating.

I think many organizations recognize the importance of "ratings as reward." Otherwise, why would I have received a win "with rating credit" in a current ICCF event when an opponent withdrew from play, without any need to submit the final position for adjudication. Why did the rating of a player who recently withdrew from all his events plummet by hundreds of points? When he resumed play his rating certainly didn't reflect his actual playing ability. It was useless for the purposes listed at the top of this section. The loss of all these rating points was rather a punishment for his unfortunate act of withdrawal.

Reward or measure? Can the same rating system be used effectively for both purposes? I don't know, but I'll certainly continue my quest for points, as though they are trophies to place on my mantle. I partly want a higher rating in order to qualify for some strong tournaments so I can play against the best. However, I can't deny that rating points are indeed a reward in themselves.

Time Control Opinion

Michael Ware of Shirley, MA expresses his opinion of the APCT time controls in the following message:

I was disappointed to see that APCT is changing over to a 10/30 time control and scrapping the 3 day control. I personally liked the fact that APCT had this unique time control, that seemed to work well. A player could estimate when a reply would be forthcoming from an opponent. Wonít games (some) go considerably slower now? It also seems yet another chore to keep track of my time ... your time ... another distraction from the chess. The card is loaded now with information. Any discrepency will require a letter to straighten out. Opponents arenít likely to admit to a time overstep, they would be more likely to claim an extra day in transit.

Perhaps someone could let me know how itís an impovement. Why is 10/30 better? When does one send a repeat?

Michael Ware has asked some significant questions. In fact, I was unaware of this change in APCT policy until his letter arrived. However, if you check the APCT Prospectus recently distributed to APCT members in this magazine youíll find on page 5, "The 10/30 time control is the official time control for use in APCT tournaments." However, the next paragraph specifies, ďBy mutual agreement only, players may use the three day time control (three days for each move).Ē

Will games go slower? It's hard to say, but it is certainly possible, since a player's option to take a large number of days for selected moves is removed. My guess is that it would increase the length somewhat. Of course, that can result in a higher quality game with fewer blunders based on being forced to reply quickly, under all circumstances. When do you send a repeat? With a unfixed amount of time allowed on particular moves this does become a problem. I've sent repeats when it was unnecessary. I've also waited much longer than needed to get the game going again following a lost card. There are no easy answer here and Mr. Ware has spotted a weakness in the system.

When I first started playing postal chess in 1964 the 3-day limit was commonly used. Itís a simple system with minimal book-keeping requirements (you just list the date received and the date replied, no need to keep track of time used). On the other hand, the 10/30 system that has become so popular in recent years does required keeping track of total time used. You could compare it to OTB chess. There, however, the player need not actually record the time used on each move, rather the chess clock keeps the accumulated time recorded for both opponents. I must admit that Iíve always found the time used for each move extremely interesting and often recorded this time, even though it is never required in OTB play.

The disadvantage of the 3-day (or any fixed) limit is that some moves required more time than others. The 10/30 limit is more like the traditional OTB chess clock where the important thing is the accumulated time. There are specific time checks, such as 40 moves within 2 hours. Same for 10/30. Each ten moves there is a time check. If you use ten days for a difficult position that is OK, as long as youíre within the time limit at the 10-move intervals. I have on occasion used more than ten days on one move, such as recently when I was working 13-hour days on an emergency project at work and a piece sací arrived in the mail. I simply didnít have the time to respond properly. At times Iíve also just hit a stale period where I couldnít seem to find the inspiration to put in the work required to play my best. As all postalites know, ďOne bad move nullifies forty good onesĒ (I. A. Horowitz). Itís better to wait out these periods than to spoil your game(s). The 10/30 time control allows this. I recommend putting a little time ďin the bankĒ during the early stages so you have the flexibility later to burn some extra time, whether for studying a particularly complex position or weathering some private non-chess storms that rip you away from the chess board from time to time.

Of course, using this time control does come with a cost. You must keep track of the time now, and you are required to record these times on the card, as Michael Ware has observed. In fact, Iíve encountered the occasional master who objects to these requirements and refuses to record the time used. I strongly urge such players to suggest a mutual agreement to play at the 3-day per move limit, which is allowed under APCT rules. However, if your opponent does not agree, then the default time limit of 10/30 must be used.

To simplify my record keeping (and I really donít mind doing this required bookkeeping at all) I have designed my own form for use in a standard 8Ĺx11 ring binder. Iíve layed out the date fields and time used in the most straight-forward way I could think of to avoid confusion. Iíd be glad to send a copy to anyone who sends me a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), which could be photo-copied for your use. If you have email I could send you a copy via an email attachment in either Word or RTF format. When I played the 3-day limit in all my games I used the smaller 5Ĺx8Ĺ ring binder pages, but with all the additional information required for the 10/30 time limit I found it easier to use the larger page size. Personally, designing my own chess forms has always been part of my enjoyment of cc. If you have a computer with a decent word processor and printer you could easily do the same.

I enourage you and other APCT'ers to simply start recording the times. This time limit is extremely popular world-wide. In my opinion it takes little effort to record this information, once you get use to it. A good form helps you keep the information straight. You can also agree with opponents to use the 3-day limit, which may not be a problem in the less advanced sections. I suspect most opponents will insist on the 10/30 time limit in the more advanced events, such as the Rook or Queen tournaments. Mr. Ware's first letter arrived just at the deadline for my last column and I had already submitted it for publication. A second letter has arrived from him, which I'll give below. I would like to point out to future contributors that there is a significant delay between a column being finished and the magazine arriving in your mailbox, close to a month. With a 2-month interval between issues this delay can stretch out to three months between the arrival of a letter to me and the publishing of my subsequent column. For this column (Sept-Oct 1999) I am submitting it to APCT at the beginning of August. Please keep this in mind. Also, I am always delighted to receive input. I consider such input essential to the effectiveness of this column. I want to express not only my personal views and experiences but also those of other chess enthusiasts, particularly those of APCT members. Please, send your comments to me by mail or via email (both addresses are at the top of this column). Now, on to Mr. Ware's second letter.

I'm disappointed that you've chosen not to open any debate re: the recent changes in the APCT time regulations. Am not surprised that you wouldn't use my letter as I'm probably too caustic for mass consumption, but the issue I raise is a legitimate one in which members have an opinion. The three day time constraints were unique to APCT play and probably kept many games moving along at a dependable pace. I have one opponent now who in just two moves has claimed 11 and 8 days transit time and charged himself with only 2 days each in reflection time. Of course, this could also have been done under the old rule. I don't mind an opponent overstepping the time constraints occasionally; life has its eddies and flows. But, as Judge Judy would say, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." It's insulting!

p.s. I deeply enjoyed the Grigory Sanakoew quotes you provided in the July-August issue. They were especially meaningful to this prisoner postalite!

I should point out that I often don't reply directly to the sender of a letter, even a most interesting one, but rather respond through print in this column. As pointed out earlier, this can result in a very lengthy delay, and I apologize for the appearance of ignoring a letter. I urge you readers to write me when you have some interesting news and/or some opinions on subjects of importance to the cc world (or our smaller APCT world). I particularly appreciate emails, since I can easily cut and paste your remarks directly into my column. I usually add such input to my very next column and, I guarantee you, I never ignore such input. As I said earlier, I consider your input essential to the fulfillment of the mission of this column.

I agree that there are some advantages to the 3-day limit. I encourage those who would prefer a return to this time limit to write directly to APCT and to express those opinions. I also believe the 10/30 time limit is the wave of the future, perhaps being modified to 10/40 or 10/50 for email events. Thanks again for your letters, Michael! I look forward to hearing from more readers in the future.

A Brush with Fischer

Hardon H. McFarland of Willow Grove, PA sent the following interesting story:

In one article you mentioned Bobby Fischer. Iím not much of an OTB player but I did play him in a 1964 simultaneous. He beat me rather easily with an Evans Gambit. When I resigned he was quite gentlemanly and pleasant. Before playing he gave a talk and reviewed one of his games. I remember him calling a questioner ďa walking book.Ē He also said he wasnít US Champ that year because he didnít play. He said it as a matter of fact, not in a boastful way!

copyright © 1999 by J. Franklin Campbell

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