The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Roy DeVault has been an active writer of columns and books on chess for many years. He served as Games Editor for CCLA for 5 years in the 80's, in the process publishing small books on the first 7 CCLA closed championships. In 1992, Chess Digest published his first full-length book "The Leningrad Dutch", and he followed this with two later works for Digest, "Play the Dutch" (with IM Herb Hickman) and "Chess Openings Lexicon." Currently, he writes a column for Harding's Chess Mail, and contributes to the "IECC Journal."

Roy has played correspondence chess since 1961, encompassing nearly a thousand games. In 1997 he switched over entirely from postcards to email chess. He is active in ICCF play, with over a hundred games completed, and holds a master-level 2235 rating in ICCF, and a rating around 2350 in IECC.

Roy can be reached at devault@datasync.com.

Technology is Changing the CC World
by Roy DeVault

It is obvious that the world of Correspondence Chess that many of us have known and loved for many years is in a period of exponential changes. The explosion of technology resulting from the Internet and home-use PC's is both profound and challenging. The implications of these changes are multi-faceted, and are only now beginning to be explored by those who face them.

At the first we must consider the availability of databases, and the PC tools required to search them. If we go back a few years, how many of your opponents really researched the openings you were playing? How many had a sufficiently large game collection to find relevant examples of that opening? And, even more importantly, how many, possessing plenty of 'book' information, bothered to exhaust the available data by a manual search?

I've had a large book collection for many years, but I know that I often lacked the energy or enthusiasm to perform a lengthy 'paper search' of all available materials. I would often look at ECO, maybe at MCO, perhaps at a few Informants, in the opening move selection process. Was I typical? Probably. But all that has changed. Now I have multiple databases, and search tools (I happen to use Chessbase), and it is so quick and easy to look up games by various criteria that I always do so. Since ECO codes are inadequate (has anyone besides me noticed this?), I usually search my databases by position. When one has large databases, searching by ECO code returns too many 'hits', and so position searches are the tool of choice to narrow the data to a manageable level. Another great advantage of position searches is that transpositions of moves are not a factor in finding desired information.

Am I unique in this approach? I think not. I've noticed that it is getting harder to gain an opening edge than it was only a few years ago! Of course, I'm playing via email these days, so by definition my opponents have a PC. If they have a PC, avid chessplayers are likely to have both databases and move-generating software of one sort or another. Conclusion: easy wins are becoming a thing of the past! Opponents seem to refrain from blunders with depressing regularity.

Is this bad for chess? Certainly not! Utilization of available technology has raised the level of chessplay among amateur and GM alike. The skills required to gain an edge are now at a more demanding level. In other words, we have to play better chess to succeed now than we did before. Each of us, to some degree, must accommodate ourselves to these new realities. The result, when we do so, is a somewhat improved standard of play, and that, I would argue, is a good result for the game, and for our enjoyment of it.

Another aspect of the new CC world is very interesting: the future shape of tournament play. Is OTB play to become more and more rare? Consider the expense, physical energy, and inconvenience of traveling to week-end tournaments. When I was a young chessplayer, it was common to undergo this experience, in order to meet strong opponents, enjoy the thrill of competition, and the satisfaction of exchanging ideas with other players. Now, one can do all these things from the comfort of one's home, at a tiny fraction of the expense. And all without the dread of facing Monday morning at work mentally and physically tired. It is not totally true that we will miss 'meeting' our opponents if email events substitute for OTB. It is already common to ship pictures, sound messages, even home movies, across the web. Soon, one will 'meet' one's opponents electronically as one wishes.

I believe the major impact of email chess in the short run will be on small, local tournaments. More and more, I see tournaments being organized on the web which match - in character - our beloved weekend Swiss events. Will this cut into attendance at the OTB events? Gradually, it will. As it becomes common for players to have email access, so it will become common to contest many events in the new medium. We are not yet at that point, but I believe it is rapidly approaching.

As was pointed out by John Knudsen in a recent article on this website, this evolutionary change in tournament organization may render our current national correspondence chess organizations obsolete. Indeed, the impact could extend to the USCF itself! When there are many free tournaments available on the web, what purpose do the national organizations serve? Even 'entry-fee' tournaments on the web, which return cash or merchandise prizes, are growing in popularity. Are our venerable CC clubs (APCT, CCLA, USCF, NOST, etc.) to wither and die? Are they to be replaced by IECC, IECG, and ICCF? Slowly, gradually, I believe that this will happen, because I believe that PC's in the home will soon become as common as TV sets.

Of course, these changes will not happen overnight. There are still many active players using postcards, and many hotly-contested events played primarily via post. But the balance between email and postal is shifting….

In summary, both the quality of CC play and the quantity of games contested are on the rise. Even if technology coaxes few new players into the arena, the players already active are contesting more games because of reduced transmission time. This is a positive change for all chessplayers. Technology is providing the biggest boost to our great game since the Fischer era!

Copyright © 1998 by Roy DeVault

Home On the Square Menu Previous Article Next Article

Webmaster: J. Franklin Campbell
Contact Webmaster