The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Roy DeVault is an active chess journalist and a strong ICCF master-level cc competitor. He has been playing cc since 1961, has written several books (booklets on the first seven CCLA closed championships, "The Leningrad Dutch," "Play the Dutch" with IM Herb Hickman and the very useful "Chess Openings Lexicon"), served as CCLA Games Editor for years and is a current columnist for Tim Harding's Chess Mail magazine. Roy recently contributed "Technology is Changing the CC World" to this web site along with several other previous articles.

Roy describes the following article as a tongue-in-cheek story, with an indirect protest against 'database' chess books. Roy can be reached at devault@datasync.com.

How My Wife Almost Wrote a Chess Book
by Roy DeVault

For openers, my wife doesn't play chess. Well, perhaps, that's a bit misleading. Margaret was a computer professional for 30-odd years, and her hobby was Bridge. In recent times, as she became a semi-retired computer person, she noticed my (almost endless) work on my PC using Chessbase. Like any curious female, she wanted to know how it worked. Soon, her sly devil of a husband had taught her to enter games into CB databases! What a boon! What a worksaver! She can do it!

She soon mastered algebraic notation, because, unlike many of us, she had never seen any other scheme. And, of course, Chessbase was always there to 'honk' at her if she tried to make an illegal move.

But women are never satisfied. Soon, she was griping about the 'move guesser' used by CB. "It hates Morphy's games," she said; "it always guesses wrong." She had other questions, too. "Why does it always want to play Black's Queen's Knight to d7? I have to yank it onto c6 every time." "Why does it always want to play Bishops to h6 instead of g7?", and on and on. Perhaps, I thought, this isn't such a boon after all.

But time went by, and she continued to use Chessbase with increasing speed and accuracy. I decided to teach her to search CB databases, by ECO code. "Pull out all the B34's for me, will you dear?" The next step was creating repertoires, CB's term for an ECO-like print-out of the fruits of a search, arranged neatly in rows and columns.

Then she began to browse new chess books I acquired, and she started asking questions again. "Why do these books look like just like a repertoire print-out, arranged in a slightly neater format, with some guy's name on the cover?" And the best question of all, eyeing a chess book of this type: "where are the words?"

It was time for me to explain to her that a new type of chess book has appeared in recent years, a by-product of the new technology which allows us to have computer databases on our home PC's. These books are characterized by lots of analysis, followed by mysterious little symbols that only we chess pros can understand. Those little symbols tell us which side is doing best in the game. And this new type of chess book is becoming more common than the old-fashioned kind, which told us in words about the games we were studying.

"But," she said, "even if you understand a symbol that tells you White stands better, how do you know why White is better?" Wives sometimes ask the dumbest questions! I explained that strong players like myself (one need not be unduly modest when explaining the mysteries of life to the wife) understand the judgments rendered by chess authors, using the little symbols, very well indeed!

She was undaunted by this explanation. She pointed out that not all players are strong players, and that chess books should be easily understood by weaker players trying to learn. She went so far as to state that any fool with a chess database could write a chess book! She said, "I think I'll write a chess book. There's nothing to it. The funny little symbols are already in most of the games, anyway. I'll just search for all D31's (she asked what D31 was - I told her it was the Semi-Slav), do a repertoire print-out, put my name in the cover, and presto! I'm a chess writer."

"You can't do that!" I exploded. "You don't even play chess!"

Only by the narrowest have I discouraged her (so far) from joining the ranks of chess authors. So if you see a new book appear on the Semi-Slav, by an unknown writer, beware! I'm not sure what she does all day while I'm at work….

Copyright © 1998 by Roy E. DeVault

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