The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Following much discussion on TCCMB Wim van Vugt of the Netherlands wrote the following article summarizing many of the opinions expressed there and adding his own mathematical analysis. Wim has previously written the "On the Square" article Numeric or alphanumeric - The final verdict, where he carefully analyzed the pros and cons of notation systems. Now he tackles the difficult question of female chess performance. This article is a somewhat larger version of his Dutch language column "De Vliegende Hollander (3)" which appeared earlier on the Nederlandse Bond van Correspondentieschakers (NBC) web site (follow the "Columns en Artikelen" link at the top to his column dated 2003-08-13).
-- J. Franklin Campbell

Freedom, inequality or brotherhood?
by Wim van Vugt
(posted 27 August 2003)

Wim van Vugt

During my holidays I only occasionally was able to log in at TCCMB. It's often the case that summers give us a quiet time and periods in which little or nothing happens. One person may prefer going on holiday to a far away country while another may prefer participating in the wide variety of summer tournaments. The chess tournaments of Amsterdam, Vlissingen and Gent are only a few examples available for the Dutch and Belgians. The latter tournament with its tempo of 2 rounds per day dictates that you inevitably fall into a rhythm of chess, eating, chess, drinking and sleeping. Often sleeping is the first victim, soon followed by the level of chess. Many months later the new ratings are evidence of what you have really done. A very particular event close to my own home is the so-called Kroegloperstoernooi (Pub Loafers Tournament) for duets, teams of two players. The Amsterdam quarter "de Pijp" (the Pipe) is proud to be considered the area with the highest density of pubs per square mile in the entire world. On a sunny Sunday in July 40 pubs, pothouses and terraces together host over 200 players. For many years the current CC world champion Gert Timmerman has participated but often another duo won the first prize.

Let's return to the discussion on TCCMB: this summer was certainly the hottest since the foundation. A veritable forest fire had broken out after a hasty remark about Mia Poppe being excluded from further participation in female championships due to the allegation that her husband Frans Huybrecht actually had played her games. It's hard to stop if it happens, but it's equally difficult to prove such behavior. The storm only broke out in all its fierceness after someone told us that he got a personal email from Olita Rause where she admitted to receiving occasional help from her husband Igors Rausis, who is a very strong OTB grandmaster. It didn't take long before the validity of separate ladies titles for IM and GM came into the firing line.

This discussion still continues and even grows more intense concerning whether or not those titles are founded in a real difference in strength between men and women, or if they have been called into being only for propagandistic reasons. The late Dutch GM Jan-Hein Donner was very clear about this question: "Women can't play chess." But now he is dead and gone there is hardly anybody who dares to say this out loud. There even exists a persistent anecdote in connection with this bold statement. Donner was once again in his favorite Cuba, and be sure: not only for chess! On a warm and sultry summer evening he was again haunted by his pacifist friends who pressed him to not say that anymore. His resolute answer must have sounded like thunder: "OK guys, you are right. But black women can't play chess!"

All kind of complex theories were presented on TCCMB proving that male and female brains are fundamentally different in their construction and that women are generally considered less capable of playing good chess. My contribution to the thread "A funny but serious question & IQ" was the remark that the apparent differences "men=sports&hunting vs. women=shopping&gathering" said more about learned behavior, determined by society and surroundings, than about some inborn difference in capabilities. Do women have an infirmity?

I wanted to find out if there was something connected with chess, something that can be proven beyond doubt, that would demonstrate a difference or disadvantage of women compared to men. To achieve this I decided it was appropriate to use the Dutch rating list of OTB players, because nowadays all kind of chess players, ranging from 800 to 2600, are included in the system, a pool of 15,000 players of which only 3% are females. I am currently working on the German list, which is 5 times larger. With this collection of data you have a complete population to examine, and comparisons can be made between male and female characteristics of the statistical distribution. It was no surprise to me that these distributions showed the famous bell-curves. More striking was the discovery of a significant difference of 160 rating point in favor of males, the means being 1660 and 1500 (stdev=240 both). And I still can hear Donner's burst of laughter resounding

So the answer is: YES, there is a significant difference. But take note: this is not the same as saying that women have less ability for chess, it's only an observation not an explanation! Instead of concluding that females are born with an infirmity, an even more plausible explanation for this gap of 160 points can be found in the fact that they generally start to practice chess at an older age. This is determined by culture, not intelligence. They often learn it at school at the age of 8-12 years, then forget everything about it and start to practice again when they have found a nice boy friend who also plays chess.

And yet the argument hadn't abated when an announcement was made by the so-called ALL ROMAN CONSULTING company offering services and help for your finished as well as ongoing games at the cost of $20, being approved by the Ethics Standards Council. Of course this was a joke. But if anyone thought such didn't happen in real life then their hopes were quickly dashed!

Shortly thereafter it became known that Peter Hertel, a GM rated 2653, had offered his extensive services in CFC Magazine No. 03/2003:

Training offer by ICCF-GM Peter Hertel

Peter Hertel offers to:

  • Analyse your finished games with you, in order to check the games for errors.
  • Analyse games of you and offer you a report, where he lists your strong and weak points. Based on this he recommends what to do to improve your game.
  • Preparing with you an opening repertoire which suits you.
  • Lectures about chess strategy, tactics and endgames.
  • If you have special training wishes, this is possible too.

Peter's speciality: Correspondence Chess Consulting
Do you have problems in your current games?
Peter Hertel offers to help you!

To be agreed with Peter Hertel directly.
If you are interested contact Peter by Email: [email address deleted]
Inquiries are possible in English or German language.

This hit like a bombshell. Is consultation allowed? Is it ethical? No, was the unanimous answer of all who reacted to this announcement. But what if you show your game to a friend? And if he asks you why you had put your rooks at d1 and e1 instead of c1 and d1? And when he asks you if you had seen that there is an interesting pawn sacrifice imminent? As long as that friend isn't stronger than you it will not make much difference, many thought. But if he is 300 ELO points stronger? Someone worded this dilemma very concisely: "Consulting with God is Highly Unethical."

After a few days Peter Hertel announced in a long emotional reaction that he was so impressed by the wealth of criticism about the ethics and non-ethics of this behavior that he had decided to stop his "services" immediately. Freedom to receive advice had led to an utter degree of inequality.

But has this practice of consulting therefore ended for good and all? I am afraid it has not. Anyway, Germany and many East European countries have built a firm tradition of mutual consultation. Almost the entire CC world looks jealously to the vast quantities of prizes and titles taken away by the Germans at the yearly ICCF congresses, many more than might be expected based on the number of CC players alone. Is this is Brotherhood in its optima forma?

Another troubling issue here is the use of computers. Fritz and friends are powerful these days. Are they allowed? The discussions about consultation and the silicon monster have much in common. Sergey Grodzensky, one of the candidates for the soon to elect ICCF presidium, holds the opinion that "It is obvious that growing computer strength is threatening to traditional chess tournaments."

But at the same time he doesn't see it as a real threat since almost everybody can afford them nowadays, and so this equalizes all. He asserts to have "theoretically shown" that in CC games the person has much greater chances for victory against a computer than in OTB games. What "theory" this is is unknown to me.

A completely different matter is a team match. When everybody has agreed that "consulting with God" is really unethical, what must we think when one team is holding its own against another team? But here I can see two different issues: consulting for individuals; and consulting for team games. The answer is not necessarily the same for both.

An example may be my own team The Gambiteers Guild, which has so far scored about 60% in the Champions League. At the beginning we had agreed not to influence each other's results by giving any comment on our ongoing games. Now after a year of play we feel that other teams must have consulted within their team members, and now I am not so very much convinced about our original ethical standpoint. One must not be more Roman Catholic than the Pope himself, is a Dutch saying.

At any rate, an allowed consultation process has had an enormous positive catalytic effect on our team spirit: the match against Dave Taylor. From the beginning it was clear to us that we were playing against the great Goliath with a wild dog gambit that nobody trusts except Thomas Winckelmann and us. And I must confess that it was a near thing or else we would have lost in all kinds of endgames Dave was willing to allow us. Against all odds, even Dave firmly believed in his imminent victory, but we dragged the draw from the fire. Look for yourself and try to find what Dave missed.

The Gambiteers Guild - Dave Taylor, 2003
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.f3 c5 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.fxe4 Nxe4 9.Qe3 Qa5 10.Bb2 f5 11.0-0-0 Nd7 12.g4 Ndf6 13.gxf5 exf5 14.Nf3 Bd7 15.Rg1 0-0-0 16.Ne5 Nd5 17.Qe1 g6 18.Bg2 Rhf8 19.Bxe4 fxe4 20.c4 Qxe1 21.Rgxe1 Nf6 22.dxc5 Bf5 23.Rd6 Nh5 24.Red1 Rxd6 25.cxd6 Nf6 26.c5 Ng4 27.d7+ Kc7 28.Rd6 Rd8 29.Nxg4 Bxg4 30.Be5 Bxd7 31.Rxg6+ Kc8 32.Rg7 Re8 1/2-1/2

© 2003 Wim van Vugt, All Rights Reserved.

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