The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Neil Brennen
"The Historian"

I recently received the following email from Neil Brennen full of details about what he considered a crisis in writing about the history of correspondence chess. For those of you not aware of his pet name, he was branded "The Historian" in on-line discussions as a term of derision. Of course, Neil immediately assumed this title and proudly posted over that name in future postings, rather rubbing his opponents' noses in their own terminology. Since then his friends have happily been referring to Neil as "The Historian".

Here are a few quotes from on-line sources:

"I think that his 'history articles' are worthless because he wrote about anonymous chess players who lived centuries ago. That article is so bored, and I think nobody could read it to the end." -- Goran Tomic, "Strike a light" columnist for Pakistan Chess Player, writing about Neil's 2004 CJA award-winning article The Champion of the North: James Jellett's Adventures in American Chess published at this site.

"As the editor of the Pennwoodpusher who views himself the best editor the magazine has ever had, Brennen is more interested in pursuing diatribes and invectives online than being a role model for players in the Keystone State. His postings online are indicative of a person who has a high opinion of himself. He is quick to point out that he is the 'chess historian'." -- George Mirijanian

"What is most remarkable is that anybody pays attention to anything he writes and bothers to respond to him." -- Sam Sloan

To his friends Neil is, and will remain, "The Historian". So ... back to his "confidential" email reproduced below. If I have learned nothing else during the recent "ICCF crisis" it is what to do with confidential emails ... publish them as quickly as possible! Happy April First, everyone.

-- Franklin Campbell

Confidential Email from The Historian
(posted April Fool's Day, 2005)

For Javascript Replay of all the games (in a separate window) click here


Dear Franklin,

I'm sorry I haven't written anything for The Campbell Report for a while, but I confess I am undergoing a crisis. No, it's not just middle age - I avoid that by acting immature - but something more serious. Something that strikes at the heart of my identity as a correspondence chess historian - as, in fact, The Historian. I must warn you, Franklin, this is so earth-shaking a revelation that it will knock your socks off!

I think all the good games of correspondence chess have been published already.

I hope you were sitting down when you read that sentence, Franklin. I know it will come as a shock to you, but I am beginning to think the well has run dry. I've been to the White Collection in Cleveland, the Cook and Spackman Collections at Princeton, the Willing Collection in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania State Library's newspaper collection, and I keep coming up empty. We have to face the fact that there may be no more quality unknown correspondence games for chess historians to recover.

Take, for example, Cleveland. (No, not literally, Franklin. Michigan has enough cities.) I spent a few days at the White Collection in October, researching a number of subjects, and I copied a lot of material related to correspondence chess. Among the many games I found were several on correspondence chess by telegraph. I had high hopes of producing a fine article for The Campbell Report on the subject, a better one than the Staunton/Electric Telegraph essay by John What's-His-Name, that "other" historian you strangely insist on publishing (yeah, he's won awards - but he's not The Historian!) But then I run smack-dab into this mess, played between the chess players of Norristown and Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Or at least the game was played by the chess clubs of those cities - from the game score its hard to tell if any chess players took part:

Norristown - Doylestown [B01]
Telegraph Game, 01.12.1858
1.e4 d5 2.e5 d4 3.Bc4 e6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 Nge7 6.d3 Ng6 7.Qe2 Bc5 8.Bd2 a6 9.b4 Ba7 10.a4 Nce7 11.Na3 Nf5 12.Qe4 Ngh4 13.Nxh4 Qxh4 14.Qxh4 Nxh4 15.0-0 0-0 16.Rfe1 Bd7 17.b5

17...axb5 18.axb5 Bc5 19.Bg5 Ng6 20.c3 Bxa3 21.cxd4 Bb2 22.Rxa8 Rxa8 23.Be3 Nh4 24.d5 Bxe5 25.f4 Bc3 26.Rc1 exd5 27.Bxd5 Ra1 28.Rxa1 Bxa1 29.Bxb7 Bxb5 30.Be4 f5 31.Bd5+ Kh8 32.d4 Ng6 33.Be6 Ne7 34.Kf2 c6 35.h3 g6 36.Bb3 Nd5 37.Bxd5 cxd5 38.g4 Bd7 39.Kg3 Kg7 40.Bf2 fxg4 41.hxg4

41...Kh6 42.Be3 Kg7 43.Bf2 Bc3 44.g5 Bb4 45.Kf3 Bd6 46.Be3 h6 47.gxh6+ Kxh6 48.f5+ Kg7 49.fxg6 Kxg6 50.Bd2 Kh5 51.Ke3 Kg4 52.Kd3 Kf3 53.Bh6 Bb5+ 54.Kc3 Ke4 55.Bg7 Bc7 56.Kb4 Bc4 57.Kc5 Bb8 58.Kb6 Bf4 59.Kc5 Be3 0-1
Wilkes' Spirit of the Times, December 12, 1858

Time has drawn a cover over the names of the participants in this deathless struggle. Would that Time had covered up the scoresheet as well. What a disaster. Could have ever imagined that winning a piece up was so difficult? And what's with that little Black King two-step on moves forty-one and forty-two? I don't think either side deserved to win. Now, a game like this is hardly fit for The Campbell Report, is it?

So I turned my attention to another oddity, circulation games. I'm sure many of your readers will think "circulating game" refers to the sort of group analysis some ICCF Olympiad teams engage in when in a difficult position on one board. But the term "circulating game" had a very specific meaning in the nineteenth century, and was used for a casual game in which one player made a move, and then mailed the game onto another player for the next move. In essence, it was like a chess chain letter, but presumably without the dire consequences for not participating, and accompanied by no requests for financial assistance to Nigerians.

Chess editor Gustavus Reichhelm, in his Philadelphia Times column, printed a number of such circulating games. One of them from 1884 has its primary, and perhaps sole, interest from the list of players who were sucked into it. Aside from Reichhelm himself, participants included Alexander Sellman of Baltimore, Maryland, who played in the 1880 American Chess Congress in New York and the 1883 International Tournament in London, and Mrs. J. Gilbert of Hartford, Connecticut, the noted female correspondence player. And no less a player than Wilhelm Steinitz joined in for a move. The game below, perhaps fortunately, doesn't appear in any collection of Steinitz's games. I've included the names of some of the players after the moves they were responsible for:

Circulating Game [D07]
1.Nf3 C. F. Stubbs, St. Johns 1...d5 2.d4 Nc6 3.c4 dxc4 4.d5 Nb8 5.e4 Nf6 6.Nc3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bc5 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.0-0 e5 James Roberts, Philadelphia 11.Qb3 c6 12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Nd5 Qd6 J. B. Johnson, St. Joseph's, MO 14.Rad1 Nd4 15.Nxd4 Mrs. J. W. Gilbert, Hartford, CT 15...Bxd4

16.Kh1 0-0 17.f4 Bg4 18.Rd2 b5 19.Bxb5 Rab8 20.Qa4 D. E. Hervey, Newark, NJ 20...f5 21.exf5 Bxf5 Wilhelm Steinitz, Brooklyn 22.fxe5 J. Munez, Brooklyn 22...Bxe5 Alexander Sellman, Baltimore 23.Bc4 Ben Foster, St. Louis 23...Kh8 Seguin, New Orleans 24.Rdf2 Gustavus Reichhelm, Philadelphia 24...Be6 Judge Galbraith, Jackson, MS 25.Nc3 "Mr. Boothe, of Vicksburg" 25...Rxf2 A. H. Whitfield, Grenada, MS
Philadelphia Times, October 5 and 19, 1884

A. H. Whitfield submitted analysis to C. F. Stubbs showing the win for Black - 26.Rxf2 Bxc3 27.bxc3 (27.Bxe6 Qxe6) 27...Qc5 28.Rf4 Bxc4 - and the game ended. While it was hardly great chess, it's not entirely without interest, since Steinitz was involved. I wish the postman had delivered the game to Steinitz at White's sixteenth move, since he may have found the exchange sacrifice 16.Rxd4!, or even the simple win 16.Qg3. But what am I to do with the other circulating game Reichhelm favored his readers with in the autumn of 1884? What a train wreck….

Circulating Game [C39]
1.e4 Von Hoene, Covington, KY 1...e5 H. H. Rogers, Buffalo, NY 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 H. E.Perrine, Buffalo, NY 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Calthorp, Syracuse, NY 5...Bg7 6.d4 Burlingame, Elmira, NY 6...Bxe5 Scripture, Rome, NY 7.dxe5 h5 8.Bxf4 Nc6 9.Nc3 Nge7 10.Bc4 Ng6 11.Bg5 W. J. Ferris, Delaware 11...Nce7 George Tatnall, Delaware 12.Nd5 J. W. Barker, Philadelphia 12...b5 Marcos del la Puente, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Times, September 14, 1884

Although not given in the game score, 13.Qd2 was probably played by Charles Martinez of Philadelphia. Reichhelm says in his column that Martinez played a move that forced mate or win of the Queen, and chess engines seem to think 13.Qd2 wins. Two additional moves were made by W. Johns and Reichhelm, but no other moves were recorded. Fifteen moves and it was over. Lucky us. How is a great historian, nay, The Historian, supposed to hang an article on such a nail as this!

And the brevity of this immortal game underlines another problem that I discovered on arriving back with all the "goodies" from the White Collection. So many of the games I found were just Caissic cases of murder. As Hobbes (the philosopher, Franklin, not the comic strip tiger) might describe them, these correspondence games tended to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutal, and short." Witness the following squib from the 1912 correspondence tournament of the Pennsylvania State Chess Association. Don't blink, Franklin:

George Baker - George Miller [D00]
PSCA CC , 1912
1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.c3 Nf6 4.f3 e6 5.Bg5 exf3 6.Nxf3 Be7 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Qe1 h6 10.Qh4 hxg5 11.Nxg5 g6 12.Qh6 Re8

13.Bxg6 1-0
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 1912

I was at my wits end, Franklin. Were all the trappings of my success as The Historian going to disappear - the international fame, the lucrative publishing contracts, the personal trolls on chess newsgroups - were they all going away? Would my glamorous career as The Historian dwindle to that harsh fate suffered by former Chess Life editors - forever posting flames on rec.games.chess.politics? Had the well TRULY been pumped dry by John What's-His-Name and that Irish guy with the Mega-disc thingie?

No, Franklin! It was NOT so! While in my pit of despair, I came across the following game in the Literary Digest chess column. It first appeared in the Hungarian newspaper Pesti Hirlap, and was played in a "Telegraphic Correspondence Tourney" run by the paper. Aside from the pretty combination Black plays, the notes by Geza Maroczy are worth the price of admission themselves. And Georg Marco has a comment on the game as well:

Ben Mihaly - Mayer Gyorgy [C42]
Pesti Hirlap CC, 1904
Annotations by Geza Marocz
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nf3 [More to be recommended is 3.d3 or 3.Nc3 ] 3...Nxe4 4.d3 [The predilection used to be for 4.Nc3 with the continuation 4...Nxc3 5.dxc3 f6 etc.] 4...Nf6 5.Nxe5 d5 White must retreat his Bishop, and it is now obvious that the opening is not in his favor. 6.Bb3 Bd6 7.d4 0-0 8.0-0 c5! 9.c3 Nc6 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.dxc5 Bxc5 12.Bg5 Qd6 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.Bc2 There is no better defense against the threatened ...Ba6. 14...Re8 [Better than 14...Ba6 ] 15.Qd3 Bg4!!

This move is the initiation of a beautiful and well-thought-out combination. White has no adequate defense. The game is one of theoretical interest. 16.Bd1 [16.Qxh7+ is not good. For example, if 16...Kf8 17.Bd3 (Black threatened ...Qxf2+, etc.) (17.Qh8+ Ke7 18.Re1+ Kd7 and Black wins.) 17...Ke7 (Black is now threatening ...Rh8.) 18.Bc2 (To make room for the Queen) 18...Rh8 19.Qd3 Rxh2 20.Qg3 Bd6; Insufficient also is 16.Nd2 , for example Herr Marco's variation 16...Be2 17.Qxh7+ Kf8 18.Rae1 g6! 19.Nf3 Bxf1 20.Qh6+ Kg8 21.Rxf1 Re2 and Black wins easily.] 16...Re1! A masterly move, with an exquisitely beautiful combination to follow it. 17.Bf3 [If White had played 17.Nd2, he would have found the following surprise in store for him: 17...Qxf2+ 18.Kh1 Qg1+ 19.Rxg1 Rxg1#] 17...Bxf3 18.Rxe1 [If instead 18.Qxf3, Black would have won as follows: 18...Qxf3 19.gxf3 Rae8 20.Na3 Rxa1 21.Rxa1 Re2 etc.] 18...Bxf2+ 19.Kf1 Bxg2+ 20.Kxg2 Bxe1 21.Qe3 Bh4 22.Na3 Qe7 23.Qxe7 Bxe7 24.Nc2 Bc5 0-1
Literary Digest, February 4, 1905

So Franklin, I am returned to my modest, humble self, and the chess history community will be happy to know I will be able to continue my reign as The Historian untroubled. And perhaps I will have an article for The Campbell Report for you soon.

By the way, I hope you will keep this letter confidential. Too many people assume emails can be published even when they are intended as private correspondence. I'm glad you'd never do something like that.

Best wishes,
The Historian


© 2005 Neil R. Brennen. All rights reserved.

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