The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Chris Kantack

I made a rare visit to the newsgroup rec.games.chess.misc recently doing a little research on something for my print column when something caught my eye. There was a posting with the subject "My Correspondence Chess Experience." What I found was a well-written short article describing that person's experience with, and appreciation of, correspondence chess. What a great break from the negative stuff I've been seeing about quitting cc because of the computers or the complaints about opponents not resigning in lost positions! At my invitation, the writer gratiously accepted my invitation to publish his posting here, and he went a step further by expanding on his comments to provide the following article. I hope you enjoy his article and enthusiasm for chess as much as I. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Chris!
-- J. Franklin Campbell

My Correspondence Chess Experience
by Chris Kantack
(posted 6 June 2003)

First a quick introduction: Currently I'm 44 years old. Since I was quite young (age 8), I knew how the pieces moved in chess but I had no concept of how to play the game with any level of skill. I doubt if I played more than 3 games prior to my 38th birthday.

Somehow I caught the "chess bug" about 6 years ago. Initially I played chess games on Yahoo as well as against various computer programs and handheld chess computers. During my first two years of chess play, I built my skill level up to around 1100 Elo (unofficial) but never made further progress. Being the only wage-earner for a family of four, I have a rather limited amount of time to study and play chess.

It wasn't long before I stopped playing on Yahoo. Despite setting up games with no time limit, nearly all my opponents expected me to play rapid or blitz games. I got tired of being cussed at when I wouldn't move a piece every 30 seconds or so. Even when I did find an opponent willing to play a slow game, finding that solid 2 to 3 hour block of time for a focused activity such as a chess game was pretty difficult!

One of the first chess books I ever bought was "The Mammoth Book of Chess" by Graham Burgess. In this book he suggested that many people, especially older adults, who are new to the game, consider playing correspondence chess. With the extra time available on each move, Graham feels that even us "late starters" can learn to play the game very well. So as I continued to learn chess, the idea of trying out correspondence chess was continually in the back of my mind.

About two years ago, I started playing chess "correspondence style" against my handheld computers and PC programs. Playing against the computers in this way gave me a chance to "test myself" to see if correspondence chess might be right for me. I enjoyed many "correspondence battles" against the computers, so around 8 months ago, I decided to try my hand at playing correspondence games against other human opponents.

My first games were on a chess server located at: www.letsplaychess.com Later I joined the IECG (International Email Chess Group) and IECC (International Email Chess Club). I have yet to try my first game on the IECG site. But I have started and continue to play on the IECC.

At first I was very leery of correspondence chess. My belief was that anyone playing such "a slow" game was most likely using a computer to generate their moves. My thought was that the experience would be no different from playing correspondence chess against my own computers.

I'm very happy to say that my fears have been unfounded. My correspondence chess playing experience, over these past several months has been very positive. Here are a few reasons why:

    1. During over-the-board or interactive online games, (with their much faster time controls), I often get overwhelmed by all the possibilities I see in many middlegame positions. With correspondence chess the games are nice and slow. I can easily spend 20 minutes or more studying a position while carefully evaluating all the possible consequences of my candidate moves.

    2. The quality of my play is vastly improved. (Of course, my opponent's play will likely be much stronger as well.) You won't find many blunders in correspondence games. At least not the really dumb blunders that often plague endgames when players run into time control problems

    3. I can pretty much play my game when I want to and make my move only when I'm ready. Most email games provide ample time (usually 3 to 5 days or more) to make your move. If you are ill, have a late day at the office, or other activities planned for an evening, it's no big deal. Just wait until the next day to plan your next move. A vacation break is also usually not a problem as most correspondence clubs provide ample allotments for one or both players to suspend a game for a couple of weeks or so.

    4. The amount of chess play can be increased at any time if desired. That is, if I find my current games going a bit too slow for my tastes, I need only to sign up for an additional game or tournament to provide an even greater challenge.

    5. I can tell that my opponents are not using computers to generate their moves! How do I know this? Because, though I'm not yet a very strong player, I've been winning many of my games and I certainly know that I'm not using a computer! Indeed, one of the reasons why I favor playing on the IECC, is that they strictly forbid using computers to generate moves for any games you play on their site. (I find it unfortunate that, on the other correspondence sites, computer use in any manner is allowed.) True, a person could easily cheat by using a computer for IECC games. However, I find it very satisfying knowing that, if my opponent is using a computer, he or she is in clear violation of the rules.

    6. Correspondence chess is completely free. At least the IECG and IECC (email clubs) have no charges. Even www.letsplaychess.com has a free membership level of service. (Though serious users of this site will likely spend the $15/year or so it takes to be a full member. Full membership provides additional features such as more time controls, reviewing of past games played, and many more useful options.)

    7. Finally, I really enjoy playing against other people. Somehow, playing against a computer, is just not as fulfilling. The computer doesn't care whether it wins or loses. Borrowing a line from ABC sports of yesteryear, a computer cannot feel "the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat". Thru correspondence chess I've played opponents from across the USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and New Zealand. As with other forms of internet chess, correspondence chess is truly a worldwide activity!

In short, I'm having a blast with correspondence chess. If you long for the ability to play at your level of chess understanding (and not to have to worry about the clock) consider correspondence chess. I have the greatest respect and admiration for those of you who can play great over-the-board games. As for myself, I find having two or three correspondence games going on at once (averaging say 1 move per day) is just about the right pace for me.

Immediately below are internet links to the correspondence playing sites mentioned in this article as well as a link to my own handheld chess web site.

IECC home page: http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Midfield/1264/index.html

IECG home page: http://www.iecg.org/

ChessWorld.net: http://letsplaychess.com/

Chris Kantack: http://home.earthlink.net/~kantack/lcdchess/home.htm


© 2003 Chris Kantack, All Rights Reserved.

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