The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Recently discussions on TCCMB returned to the topic of excessive accumulation of time in ICCF competitions. Many players save up hundreds of days of time, which can lead to the game slowing down to a crawl at the later stages. Whether due to intentional stalling in a losing position (the "Dead Man's Defense", as phrased by John Knudsen), loss of interest, mallace, or laziness due to a lack of any kind of time pressure, the huge accumulations of time lead to unpleasant situations where opponents can avoid moving for long stretches of time. Many people consider the time controls that allow such huge accumulations of time to be inappropriate and harmful to the game. Such delays can certainly limit the pleasure of playing correspondence chess and discourage people from participating in ICCF events.

The main purpose of time controls is to insure the orderly progression of the game. The introduction of the 60/10 time limit with unlimited accumulation of time has proven incapable of performing this primary function. In his usual fashion, Wim van Vugt of the Netherlands has examined this problem from a logical and mathematical viewpoint and made recommendations based on facts, not just feelings. Wim has previously written the "On the Square" articles Numeric or alphanumeric - The final verdict and Freedom, inequality or brotherhood? and provided an English translation of one of his Dutch language columns "De Vliegende Hollander" (which appears on the Nederlandse Bond van Correspondentieschakers (NBC) web site) titled How much difference does it make?. It is my pleasure to publish this article, based on research performed for a similar article to appear on the NBC site. To read his Dutch columns just follow the "Columns en Artikelen" link in the top navigation bar of the NBC site and look for links to his columns.
-- J. Franklin Campbell


The ideal time allotment
by Wim van Vugt
(posted 5 June 2005)

Wim van Vugt (photo by Frank van der Wolf)

Recently a lively discussion has arisen again about the best time schedule that can be applied for ICCF email and server games. In my view there need not be any difference between these two forms of correspondence chess. A characteristic of CC is that the reflection time is counted in days, not in hours, minutes and seconds. The current 8pm rule could easily be changed into a server analogue, saying that if a move is sent back within 24 hours ZERO days are counted, and so on. Such a unification of the rules would be my preference. But even if this slight rule difference remains between the two types, one can still look at how the allotted time is spent and saved up.

The recently mentioned problems about abuse of huge amounts of saved-up time just to drag on a game (often a lost position) are not a new problem. It returns to TCCMB with a rather constant frequency of once per year and after the discussion is over we may sadly conclude that nothing is done to repair the problem. And so we go on in circles.

Many solutions have been proposed, such a 40/10 instead of 60/10. This is the standard tempo of IECG and could solve a lot of problems which have been caused by the over-luxurious 60/10 which should have been the equivalent of the postal 30/10. But it's far from a true equivalent of that, although the postal transmission time can be 3 days on average. The difference is that postal CC gives you only 3 days reflection time as soon as the move arrives in your postbox while email and server grants you with 6 days, or even 7 days if you cleverly make use of the length of a day=24h.

The problem is not the slow pace of play itself but the abuse of saved time in a later stage of the game, when the sea of time isn't needed anymore. Proposals to limit the carry-over time to 30 instead of 60 days per 10 moves seem to solve the problem in a very simple way. A second type of proposal uses the Fischer clock idea: 30 days at the start and 3 days per move extra.

Another proposal limits the carry-over until a maximum of 100 days reflection time is saved up. This also is an elegant way to solve the problem.

There can be various sub-variations of the three proposals mentioned above, and they all have in common that the pace of play is speeded up a little without changing the current average use of time much. But still all of these proposals have met fierce resistance reasoning that the tempo is speeded up too much.

Let's compare the three proposals in order to see what's real and what is subjective.

Proposal 1: 60/10 with maximum 30 days carry-over

This proposal has first been brought in on TCCMB by Vytas Palciauskas in a slightly different form. He used the concept of "3 phony days" whereby of the 6 days reflection time per move only 3 days could be saved. A year later the proposal returned to TCCMB, brought in by Ken Reinhart looking at 10 moves as a whole. Of the time that remains from the first 10 moves only 30 days at most may be carried over to the next group of 10 moves, and so on.

The ultra-fast player here has 60/90/120/150 days for 10/20/30/40 moves, respectively. And thus a quick player using only 1-3 days per move can easily save 150 days at move 40. This amount may continue to grow after that. There is no ceiling.

Proposal 2: 30 + 3/1

This is the Fischer clock idea. It can be compared to #1: 30+30/10 is the same as 60 days for the first 10 moves. Next 30 days per 10 moves are given. The only difference is that the Fischer clock gives the days per move, not per 10 moves. Also here a quick player can easily save 150 days at move 40. Also here there is no ceiling.

Proposal 3: 60/10 + carry-over until 100 days maximum is reached

This idea came recently to the forefront, proposed by Franklin Campbell. It guarantees 60/10 as a minimum for every 10 moves, but also guarantees an upper ceiling of 100 days. Here even the quickest player never can collect more than 100 days.

The third proposal is fundamentally better than the two preceding ones, because of the ceiling of 100 days. This should be more than enough to slow down a game for three months. Such a deliberate delay, although still conform the rules, is an absolute horror to me and I guess to many others as well. Too often it has been practised by a player facing a lost position.

Now more fundamental analysis is given of how the allotted time of 60/10 is used. A number of TCCMB posters have provided information of their saved time and that of the opponent as a function of moves performed, including a WC finalist. In total it comprises the data of 120 different games. When these data are put together it can be seen that if player A uses little time then player B generally uses much time, and vice versa. A compensation effect, which was mentioned by Marius Ceteras about a year ago. This means that TA+TB is more constant per move than TA or TB alone. The sum of these times is less dependent of the individual player than the separate TA or TB themselves are. So I looked at TA+TB and the accumulated saved time SA+SB as a function of the number of moves N. It turned out that the sum of the used time approximately tends to go to 6N: TA+TB 6N; the sum of the saved time SA+SB 6N. The reflection time given by the rules is 12N for both players together. This means that about half of the time is used and the other half is saved up for later use or to provide a feeling of safety. In fact, the average use is therefore about 3 days per move while 6 days are available.

This use of 3 days per move slightly varies when the game progresses. The mean accumulated saved times at move 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 were 35, 65, 94, 122, 148 days per player. From this it follows that the mean consumed total time becomes 25, 55, 86, 118, 152 days respectively. For a cluster of 10 moves (move 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc.) these consumed times then are 25, 30, 31, 32, 34 days. This is roughly 30-35 days on average.

Instead of looking at mean values one could examine the upper 25% (slow player), middle 50% (average player) and the lower 25% (fast player). The resulting table of used times by each of these groups then becomes:

Move Fast Average Slow
1-10 16 days 25 days 38 days
11-20 20 days 30 days 44 days
21-30 21 days 31 days 46 days
31-40 21 days 32 days 48 days
41-50 22 days 34 days 50 days

Looking at this phenomenon it becomes clear that the current 60/10 tempo is too slow. There is no need for 6 days per move at all and it leads to disproportional huge amounts of saved time that sometimes has been abused to slow down a game to a pace of one move per year instead of one move per week.

Contrary to the general belief that the first opening moves are played within a few days, it also often happens that these moves are chosen very carefully even if everything is still theory. From the above table one can see at a glance how much time is generally spent by whom and in which stage of the game. Saving up huge amounts of time is not in line with the rather constant need for about 5 days per move at most.

Instead of one of the above mentioned three proposals another simple model could solve the accumulated time in one stroke: abolish the carry-over time completely! Just give 60/10 to accommodate the slow players, although 50/10 would do equally well and would have my preference.

No saved-up time anymore. Then also the much debated and ambiguous "40-days-no-move" rule 3b can vanish. Two problems solved at one stroke. And then only remains the question how to get the ICCF congress in motion in such a way that they really want to solve problems.

© 2005 Wim van Vugt. All rights reserved.

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