The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"The Campbell Report" - November/December 1999

"Best Postal Magazine"

I would like to congratulate Helen and Jim Warren for their recent recognition by the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) for the continued excellence of this magazine. The APCT News Bulletin has once again been named the Best Postal Magazine for 1999 in their annual chess journalism competition. In addition, the Warren Junior Program (a program to deliver chess instruction to school children on a regular basis in Illinois schools) was recognized as the Best Chess Promotion. Congratulations to the Warrens for this well-deserved recognition!

When To Resign

Stephen Wead (Illinois) wrote some time ago concerning the issue of when to resign (I unfortunately misplaced his correspondence for a while). Here are his interesting comments:

Re: the difficulty of getting some players to see the light and resign their games, you quote on p.112 of the July-August Bulletin a player who opines "I guess when to resign has become my favorite topic. I'm becoming more and more annoyed lately...."

Yup, those nasty old ornery chess players who just keep on pursuing their own gratifications at the expense of one's own! Why, who would've ever thought a chess player would do such a thing?? So selfish. Just so terribly unfair.

When I notified him of my oversight and asked for permission to use his comments in this issue he added the following:

I don't know if my cryptic comments are worth printing though I have no objection. I was a little more sarcastic than I might have been, but I really think that putting up with players who won't resign is simply a part of the "skill set" a CC player needs. Why in the world would one expect an opponent to make one's life easier rather than harder? The concept "opponent" is rather different than the concept "friend," after all. Unless someone is breaking the rules, there's no case to be made against them. I say quit whining and take the opportunity to perfect one's endgame technique.

Computers (Again)

Stephen Wead also added some remarks concerning the use of computers:

I doubt you have noticed, perhaps Helen has, that I have not participated in any postal chess for quite some time. The reason is rather simple: computers.

At the time I stopped, I had recently completed a game vs B. Clark. Before we go any farther, I hasten to add that Mr. Clark is a fine gentleman, an honorable person, and an enjoyable opponent. I had defeated Mr. Clark in a really very nice game, and shortly after a second game began, Mr. Clark had written a letter to APCT in which he mentioned that he had obtained Fritz and was using it to keep track of his correspondence games. However, when entering a move Fritz was so fast it would immediately suggest a move, and sometimes it would give him pause and perhaps the move he was about to make would cost him a piece; of course he would rethink his move and make another. And with this he did not think there should be a problem.

Mrs. Warren was adamant in saying that was a violation of APCT rules. It is hard enough to play chess, especially postal chess, without an opponent having assistance of this nature. This could get into a long drawn out statement, but I will refrain since it has been beaten into a well used plow share. The only further comment I would make is that those who think Fritz et al play only at IM strength or weaker should perhaps ask Judit Polgar and others what they think.

Having read Mr. Clark's statement, I pretty much lost interest in postal chess at the time. And I decided to obtain a computer - after all, my daughter had one and was calling me to ask me questions concerning computers and I didn't know anything about them. You may remember this, I even emailed you just to see if the email was working. (I was a real newbie at the time!!)

Now I know a bit more about computers. And software. And hardware. And graphics, printers, and a bit more. And Fritz - including Fritz 4.01, Fritz 5.0, 5.01, 5.03, 5.16, and 5.32. And Chess Base, and - but you get the idea. So let us return to the "problem" of Fritz "suggesting" a move. If you want to abide strictly by the "book", and your ethics are causing some internal conflict as far as Fritz suggesting a move, try this:

Open Fritzie. Call your data base, load your current game. Prior to inserting your move, look at the task bar. See where it says "Set Up"? (I'm set for 1024 x 768, I am not sure about 640 x 480 resolution and that is for another time). Click on it. Now, where the menu reads: "Screen Layout", open that up (click). Ah ha! See where it says "Search Info display"? Uncheck it. Click ok. Back out and go back to your board. You can insert moves, play games all day and night long, and you won't see Fritz suggesting a thing. You have blanked out that part of the screen. If you want it back, simply do the process over and recheck the search info. As far as Chess Base and it's move suggestions (which are not reliable at all!), I suspect there is a way to prevent that also, maybe in the .ini file or somewhere, but I haven't yet looked.

Will I be returning to postal chess? I suspect so, and when I do, I won't be using the assistance of Fritz or his cousins. But I will use the data bases which are the same thing as using the "books". But not right now. I have recently purchased a house for some experimental renovation, and that takes some time.

First let me comment on quitting cc because of computers. I've read this comment from numerous people. Many are concerned about the use of computers in cc competition. I would never recommend that anyone quit because of some possible computer use. My stand on this subject is that there is nothing inherently unethical about using computers if the rules allow it. Few USA cc organizations allow computers for analyzing positions, certainly not APCT (strictly forbidden). If someone cheats by using a computer to help analyze tournament positions, I consider that their problem. I often play superior opponents and enjoy the challenge. If they are great natural players, or are assisted by computers or other players, is of little consequence to me (though violating the rules should be of considerable consequence to them). Why worry about it ... it's out of your control. Losing the many benefits of cc play is too big of a loss for you, though. Don't let the behavior of others dictate the pleasure you take in the game and the competition.

Several players have replied to my postings on the Internet The Correspondence Chess Message Board to point out the India and Australia have rules very much like ours, forbidding the use of computers for analysis. Others, such as Canada, Germany and Brazil share the ICCF viewpoint. Many other countries have abandoned any constraints about computer use, as has the ICCF (the feeling is that there is no effective way to enforce such a rule so it isn't sensible to have it). The debate is sure to continue, since there are so many people on both sides of the issue with very strong opinions.

Recording Time

Joe Shipman of Princeton, NJ (an opponent of mine in the 14th USCCC tournament) wrote:

I enjoyed your latest column. I frequently post a card with the "sent date" as the date I posted the card, even though I know the postmark date will probably (but not always) be a day later (or two days later if there is a Sunday involved). About 2/3 of my opponents accept this, the rest use the postmark; I ALWAYS accept my opponents' "sent date" even when the postmark is later. I have often been tempted to stake out the mailbox, but I know that if I did I could never in good conscience use this "sent date" policy again. However, if one has put as the "sent date" the date the postman actually picks up the card, and one stakes out the mailbox with a replacement card ready, so that there is no deception about the thinking time, then I think it is possible to justify a mailbox stakeout on the grounds "it doesn't count until the postal worker actually picks up the card". (I'm not saying I accept this justification, only that it is a possible one.)

Two dilemmas I HAVE encountered in this area

  1. once the mailman was sick and didn't pick up mail at my home mailbox, and I had a chance to change my move (I didn't, but I think it would have been OK to)

  2. once a card I had sent with a losing move was rejected by the post office and came back to me (I sent another card with a better move and a corrected date, though the position was still very inferior and I will probably lose the game). I may have done the wrong thing here, but this was an extreme and unexpected temptation! The same issue arises if you receive a request for a repeat after you have sent a blunder; I wouldn't dream of sending a different move in this case, and in any case it would be very risky to because your original card might arrive late.

Sending a different move when you were specifically asked for a "repeat" is clearly a form of lying, because you would have to lie about the received and sent dates in order to pull it off.

A rule clarification that might help: "It is illegal to solicit the assistance of the postal service in order to withdraw or replace a card, or to send a different move when asked for a repeat." The appropriate punishment would probably be forfeiting the game in question. I don't think there should be a rule covering the anomalous situation of a card being rejected by the post office.

On other dilemma that can arise: once my wife sent a card I had lying on my desk, even though I had been planning to consider the move some more before sending the card. If I had in fact wanted to make a different move, I would have immediately telephoned or FedExed my opponent and the TD and explained the situation (insisting that my wife verify this by talking on the phone herself or sending an explanation in her own handwriting). (She knows not to make this mistake again!) In such cases, or in the cases where the postmark is improperly late (for example because the card was stamped twice, as sometimes happens, and only the second stamp was noticeable), I imagine that an affidavit filed by the player would suffice for an appeal.

What do you think?

You have raised some interesting points, Joe. Of course, the ICCF rules are different pertaining to the calculation of time used. I have generally used your approach of dating my "Sent Date" as the one when I expected the post office to postmark it, but under APCT rules this isn't necessary. The date you deliver your move to the postal service (place in mailbox) is the appropriate date. I don't count placing a card at my home mailbox as a sent date, since I could easily retrieve it and modify my move.

ICCF requires the use of the postmark, which governs the official sent date (when readable). There's no point to discussing the various tricky situations here, since they could fill a book! However, normally you just use the postmark if readable and otherwise accept your opponent's claimed sent date. In the APCT rules there is no mention of postmark. If I'm playing an ICCF game and mailing a move after the last USPS pickup at the box, I date it the following day (expected postmark date). If I'm playing APCT, I use the date I actually (physically) place my card in the mail box.

Some of the other situations you mentioned are not so clear. Many players take a relaxed attitude towards the time regulations. In general, time does not play a role in a game, in my experience. However, there are those occasions where I must be careful not to overstep and move a little faster than normal. That's just part of the game. Also, some don't like the bookkeeping and recording requirements of the 30/10 rules. I've never minded this myself and simply use forms that assist me in keeping proper records. I print all my postcards on the computer, using a standard format with places for all the required date information.

Changing moves on cards returned by the post office? ... when a repeat is required? These situations require a little thought. I believe you are correct that a repeat move should not be changed. I'm not so sure about a postcard returned for some reason (lack of postage, error in addressing). I guess there's little difference between this and a repeat move, only the repeat here is not at your opponent's request. The postcard left at your house mailbox for the postman to pick up is different, though. Here I believe the card is still under your control. I also believe it should be dated appropriately (when the postman is expected to pick up your card).

A wife that mails your postcards for you does present an interesting situation. Very considerate, to be sure (at least as far as intent). I agree that this should not happen a second time. Those not in the business of cc competiton can't be expected to understand, so some instruction is certainly in order. Your suggestion to send an affidavit if required seems reasonable to me. As a TD I would be inclined to accept such evidence. If I were your opponent and you explained these circumstances, I would accept your explanation and allow a different move without involving the tournament director. I woudn't accept this explanation a second time, however!

More Reader Input

The following from Clark Mayo (and other readers identified later as I report their comments) covers multiple topics touched on in previous columns, so I'm just going to present it all together lumped under this general heading. Thanks to Clark and all the others who sent me their thoughtful and most interesting commentary! Now to Clark Mayo's input:

No reason that you'd remember me, but we played in an '87 CCLA N.A. "A" prelim (you've improved significantly since then, and I've done just the opposite!). [Note: a most gentle way of discussing his victory over me. -- JFC] I remember quite an interesting and enjoyable game, and an even more interesting (at least to me) "conversation." I'm a long-time admirer of your "Report" in the APCT NB, and having just (belatedly!) entered the on-line world of the web, I thought that I'd share some thoughts about some of your recent columns. (An interesting part of cc, don't you think, is that old postal friends/acquaintances/opponents can turn up after 12 years - at least in my world, more often in cc than they do in "real life"?) [By the way, I'm an inveterate user of parentheses; either it reflects my tendency to look at multiple sides of issues, or my fragmented personality - depends which friend of mine you ask.]

Please ignore anything that is now "old news" -

  1. Re: K v. the World=like you, I've been intrigued/amused by some of the off-beat suggestions for moves, though on the whole the 'team' seems to follow expert opinion pretty closely. My own analysis has for the most part followed the experts until the end game, and I've learned some things by figuring out why they are right and I'm wrong (I would, for example, have taken the pawn at g3 a few moves ago if they hadn't convinced me why not to do it). Thanks for alerting me to the Russian gm web-site by the way!

  2. Re: "Chess ratings...Measure or Reward"=it's interesting to me that some postal orgs award and take away points for early WDs (the "reward" theory) and others do not (the "measure" theory). You perhaps remember a big discussion that CCLA had on this issue a few years ago. On the whole I think I favor measure over reward; I'd rather not get rating points for an early WD (they are always available later on by adj), nor from someone who is beating me but has to WD for important reasons.

  3. Re: "Time Control Option"=I see the pros and cons of both sides, I think, but have come to much prefer 10/30 to 3-day; the major reason is that I really like being able to budget my own time on my own terms (as in my work), and I don't mind the record-keeping. I agree with you that 10/30 (and longer, for email) is "the wave of the future," much like algebraic/descriptive notation was a few years ago and e/snail mail is now.

  4. Re: Sanakeov's World Championship at the Third Attempt=I love his passion for the game, and his willingness to share that publicly! I differ with some of his "postal player's code," though. Instead of "Excess is harmful," I think I'd quote William Blake that "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." The reason for this - at least for me - is that I never know what is "enough" (what my limits are, in chess or running or relationships or whatever) until I've discovered what "too much" is. Sure, if you want to be a Sanakeov or a Berliner, radically limit the number of games you play. Otherwise, find out for yourself how much you can handle, and what your own balance of fun and competitiveness is. (For me there have been times in my life when 10 games were too much, and other times when 50 were not nearly enough!) Another point of difference in that "there is no such thing as a half-serious tournament." To me, that is what social sections are for - to try out new openings or risky moves that I wouldn't play in a "serious" tournament. [Yes, I would agree with you. In general, however, the passion for and appreciation of correspondence chess displayed by Sanakoev in this book is extraordinary! Gregori Sanakoev is now one of my true chess heroes. My friend John Knudsen (famous for his cc web site "The Correspondence Chess Place") recently met this former cc world champion at the ICCF Congress in Thun, Switzerland and reports my impressions based on the book were borne out by his personal observations of this cc giant. -- JFC]

  5. Re: resigning=I've never asked an opponent to resign, and never will, just as I never will otb (it's his/her decision). But -- I came close in a postal game a few years ago when I was up a Q, 2Rs, a N and 2Bs (my opponent had a N and three pawns). Just this winter I played an otb tournament game, and my opponent dropped a piece in a complicated exchange just 20 minutes into the game. He looked at the position for about 15 minutes, and then got up and left the room, not to return until his flag fell over an hour later, when he came to the board and, without saying a word or looking at me, packed up his board, set and clock and then left. I later heard him remark to someone that I hadn't beaten him, he had just "lost on time." Perhaps some of those "silent withdrawals" feel the same way! [An incredible story! ... just "lost on time" ... that guy has problems. His behavior was unethical, in my opinion, and merited removal from the tournament, though I'm not sure there was a legal basis. There's no question that was rude behavior, though. -- JFC]

  6. Re: Chess for Tigers discussion in Jan/Feb=James Howe remarks that "chess is 90 percent tactics, 10 percent positional play." I'd guess more like 60-40 positional, myself, but more importantly, I wonder what the top APCT players would say? Did you get much feedback on that point? Would you want to ask high-ranked players? [I didn't get any other feedback on that. However, there is clearly a difference of opinion concerning the advice give my GM Webb in his book. I consider it good practical advice for a serious competitor, while some consider chess more art than sport and believe his ideas have little to do with chess. Harding's excellent book "Winning at Correspondence Chess" is much the same, good practical advice on how to win a competitive game, as opposed to how to improve your skills at playing the game.. -- JFC]

Well, I'll spare you any more for now. Once again, I really appreciate your consistently thoughtful, balanced and caring column, Franklin - thanks!

Tim Blevins of Waverly, VA wrote:

I have followed the discussion in your article the past two issues concerning the timeliness of resignations. I have a comical anecdote concerning myself I'd like to relate. I once had a opponent resign for me!!??

First, I would like to say that I will not hesitate to resign a lost position. But I would not feel comfortable asking an opponent to resign.

In 1996, I was playing an opponent who had to be hospitalized for an operation, so we lost contact. I had a losing position in that game but I wanted to make two moves to see if I could improve my situation before throwing in the towel. Finally, three repeats and 60 days later I received the following message from my foe: "I thought since you were losing that game, you probably sent a card resigning, and that I hadn't received it. Therefore, I reported the game to Helen as a win for myself."

Needless to say, I was all out of sorts. I stewed for a couple of days, then decided that if my opponent needed the rating points that bad he could have them. But, if I were in the same situation today, I would demand the game continue, and force my opponent to checkmate me!

[I understand your feelings and would have reacted the same. In fact, I would have reported this opponent's behavior to the TD and asked for a forfeit! This sort of behavior is more than unacceptable, it must be illegal as well. If the TD ruled that the game should continue, then I might very well follow your suggestion to make him mate me. Sometimes the heart rules the head and we do things we might not normally do. I'd be interested in hearing additional opinions by readers on this situation. -- JFC]

Now, a second subject. I have a terrible time with foreign pronunciations. Words such as zugzwang, Gligoric, Unzicker, Botvinnik and Trifunovic drive me up the wall! To your knowledge, is there a "complete pronunciation" floating around anywhere? I would think it to be a value to many.

[I don't think I can help you there. Surely some reader can send some suggestions for resources. Please, don't send in your guidelines for pronunciation ... I prefer not to get into those details here. However, does anyone know of a trustworthy guide to pronunciate? By the way, I notice discussions on the Internet periodically about such things, such as how to pronouce "Alekhine" and "Euwe" ... but I'm not sure which opinions are accurate. You may rest assured, though, that you aren't alone in your confusion. -- JFC]

Russell House of Edwardsville, IL wrote:

My comments on chess ratings can only be positive. Knowing the ratings, I know what to expect in a game. I keep an eye on mine vs. the opponent's, but they (the ratings) are not everything.

Time Controls ... well, if it wasn't for time controls the games would last forever. The biggest problem (I think) is players do not understand how to keep track of the time whether it is G/80 or 10 moves in 30 days. You are going to have people who will figure a way to manipulate the controls.

As far as sending a repeat ... I send mine 30 days after I receive my opponent's last card regardless of the time control.

[You have a very practical approach to these issues. I particularly appreciate your simple approach to sending repeats. Thanks for your input. -- JFC]

Bill Stone of Illinois wrote:

I can appreciate Mr. Ware's questioning of the 30/10 time control (I am still somewhat nostalgic for the descriptive notation I grew up with), and I am glad that the APCT allows the three day time control to be used by mutual agreement. In fact, it might be a good idea to offer one or more pawn sections with the older time control, to see how many agree with Mr. Ware.

However, I think your objective discussion of the issues makes clear that the advantages of 30/10 outweigh the disadvantages. But let me add a minor point: you raise the question "when do you send a repeat [under the 30/10 rule]". I think the answer is implied in the rules, which state "more than ten days may not be taken for any one move without notify [sic] the opponent ahead of time with the previous move."

Thus, one estimates the time in transit both ways, adds ten days, and then sends a repeat. Seems clear to me. It's true that compared to sending a repeat after three days (plus transit time) this could add seven days to the game, but I don't think the problem arises very often (except for the rare player who cheats on transit time--under ANY time control system).

PS This time control discussion is, I think, a good example of how "The Campbell Report" serves the APCT well by bringing up points that otherwise might never be ventilated. Keep up the good work.

[Thanks for your comments, Bill. You have a very sensible suggestion for when to send a repeat, plus ... you got me! I missed that quote you gave from the new Prospectus concerning the ten-day rule. If asked I would have said that APCT has no such rule, but there it is in print. There is often some confusion among cc competitors about the rules of play, since many people are familiar with the rules of several organizations, and these rules often have subtle but important differences. For instance, people often believe that the date sent is determined by the postmark. It is for some organizations, but not for APCT. I am always grateful when someone points out an error I've made, especially one in print. Thanks again, Bill. -- JFC]

Michael Ware of Shirley, MA wrote:

Enclosed a SASE for a copy of your Postal Chess Form. Am also enclosing a copy of my form. I borrowed a medieval scribe from a picture (cover) of Chess Life. He's actually keeping chess notation (algebraic, no less) probably an anachronism like his sunglasses? His notes could be read at one time ... he was lamenting that he'd lost his place and would just start over and "do you think he'll mind?"

[A most interesting form, Michael. It appears to be both simple and effective. If it works for you then continue using it, by all means. The extra ornimentation is a nice touch. -- JFC]

I'd place sacred runes down the border if I thought it might improve my play any. (smile) [Me, too. -- JFC]

I'm taking your advice and plan on requesting the 3-day time control from all future opponents. Resisting change must be a part of The Human Condition? We grow less flexible. Thank you for inviting APCT members to express a preference rather than simply accepting the dictates of authority. I think it makes for a healthier group. I'm kind of curious to learn if anyone felt the same way. [Both players must agree to use an alternate time limit, of course. Personally, I'd be reluctant to agree to the change. However, many do still prefer the old 3-day time limit, especially for less formal events. When both parties agree, then it makes perfect sense to me. -- JFC]

Thanks for the form!

Robert Patterson of Columbia, SC wrote:

Evidently I missed getting the Prospectus you referred to in your response to Michael Ware's letter re: time control. Some folks are right picky on time control while others I've played are less concerned. I use the standard Post-A-Log recorder to keep track of the games and there's no space on their forms for time taken. [I also use the Post-A-Log, even though I also record all my games using ChessBase as well. It's really convenient having a "hard copy" of the game positions. I often carry them with me when I know I'll have some time on my hands or when I'm traveling. I recommend this excellent recording tool to all cc competitors. However, I consider those little score sheets provided with the Post-A-Log useless! I simply throw them out immediately. While compact and designed to fit the Post-A-Log, they just aren't designed to contain the data I want to record. -- JFC]

If I don't receive any cards in the mail for a while I check the received and answered columns for the dates. If a month has elapsed and no move has been received I send a repeat card and leave a stick-um note on my record to show a repeat card was sent and when.

Please tell me what month the prospectus came out and I'll order it from APCT. That way I won't be in the dark when an upset opponent starts quoting club rules and regulations to me next time. A lot of times cards I receive either have no postmark or an illegible one. Does the prospectus cover that, too? If you can't tell when something was mailed, how do you accurately charge reflection time? [I noted "July 1999" on my copy, so I suppose it was that issue. I'm sure APCT would provide you with a replacement copy on request. The change in time controls was pointed out to me, and there may be other changes as well. Every serious competitor should have a copy of the rules. There's a good chance these rules will be posted at my web site in the near future. -- JFC]

Seems to me all this confusion sort of takes away something from the enjoyment of the game. Just my opinion, though. [I'm sure many share this viewpoint. I personally prefer to play strictly by the rules, but I do find it unpleasant when there is a difference of opinion. Some people simply don't care for dealing with rules, feeling they detract from the chess-playing experience. I can understand this very well for casual play, but for serious competition I feel that following the rules should be automatic, no discussion required. It should be a non-issue. Opinions? This could be an interesting future discussion topic for this column. -- JFC]

copyright © 1999 by J. Franklin Campbell

Home Column Menu Previous Column Next Column