The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

In May 1998 the thought-provoking article "On Style in Chess Play" by Roy DeVault was published at this web site. Rick Melton, a strong cc Master and author of the book "Secrets of a Chess Master," has some interesting viewpoints on this subject and addressed some of them in his book. He graciously responded to my invitation to write an article on this subject for this web site by sending the following. I look forward to the revised edition of his book, which will contain much of the following and should be out in late '98 or early '99. An interesting profile of the author follows the article. -- J. Franklin Campbell

Some Thoughts on Style in Chess
by Rick Melton

In the interest of "practicalizing" the subject of Chess Style particularly for the non-professional player - certainly including the Correspondence player - I hold that everyone should develop his own approach via early identification and attention to his individual strengths and weaknesses. A player's natural proclivities, reinforced by successes, enables him to determine where his own preferences actually lie - those to which he should remain true regardless of current vogues and trends he may observe in his studies. By default the usage of naturally developed and matured aptitudes will serve to benefit performance.

All players automatically and unconsciously develop Styles of play perhaps without realizing how their playing preferences and patterns differ from others (unless they have given the matter careful thought). However, focusing on this area will enable them to identify Styles of their peers, affording them the opportunity for insights to benefit their performance.

In my book "Secrets of a Chess Master" (pub. 1996), some examples were given, differentiating various Styles from what I would call generic play.

Simple illustrations of generic play necessary for all of us to master would be mating with K & R vs. K, or developing Knights before Bishops - i.e. everybody does it ... On the other, hand if a player is most comfortable attacking the center from the wings - it is a stylistic preference as is a consistent partiality for fianchettoed Bishops. These are only broad brush examples. Much more goes into stylistic preferences used effectively in move selection. The one best move, particularly in a difficult position, cannot always be determined - even in post-mortems. But the move that proves itself effective in getting the job done is the one to seek - and that is very often best chosen by using your own preference for where you want the position to go - where you will be at your best. This is deployment of your own Chess Personality ...

To minimize the importance of this element is to try to reduce Chess to a finite solution such as mathematics. It is no such thing ... The game only takes its course from the playing Styles of the two at the board. Cognizance and further employment (yes, and exercised control) of this key element can only benefit the player perceptive enough to utilize it to advantage ...

A deeper discussion of this unheralded but vital component to our Chess arsenal is planned for the upcoming sequel to "Secrets ..."

Refining it further is the player who selects his Openings based on where his best talents lie, regardless of the latest variations preferred by the GM's. A vivid illustration of this is the Center Counter player. At the very first move he steers the game into channels he may have played hundreds of times, leaving White little choice of a 2nd move. Unless such a selected Opening is completely unsound, does it not follow that our hero gives himself an edge - no matter how slight, in the ensuing positions? Games are not decided in the Opening - therefore, whenever possible, the ensuing Middlegame of your choice is most desirable to strive for - i.e., one that suits your Style of play, your favorite type of position (albeit not everyman's).

We all probably agree GM's Tal and Petrosian, both giants among equals, played on opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum - playing the game the way they enjoyed it most (or at least finding it most effective - for THEM). One was happiest opening up the game with combinations - while the other relished extreme positional maneuvering. When such players are able to steer the game into positions where they are at their best against a player of contrasting Style, relative strength may take a back seat to the demands of that player's favorite type of position - even between equals. The same holds true at less than GM levels.

One commonly seen scenario is the "argument" of the material oriented player in a game with a gambiteer - where both feel quite justified in their positions. The former believes he will be able to carefully nurse the extra material through thick and thin to a won endgame. He has some previous experiences confirming his ability to do this. He is up a pawn. The latter is happy with his open lines, speedier development and initiative - comfortable with the course the game will take. He believes he is up - his position outweighing the material, AND he has been there successfully too many times to count. Both are happy with their chosen viewpoint in the ensuing argument. It is a question of Style ...

Also prevalent are games where one player is forced by his opponent to play in a position where he's not comfortable; hence, as a fish out of water - he's at a disadvantage. We are, unfortunately, not all players for all seasons as we might like to think ... e.g., the positionally oriented player vs. the more "classical" or "open up the game" type player ...

A really insightful comment on this subject was penned by GM Seirawan in the current issue of Inside Chess in his notes to the game Polgar-Karpov, Budapest 1998, referring to Polgar's tactical 15th move. "Typical Judit. She is playing for open lines and the attack at all costs. Positional players would have reacted with ..." - and he gives the positional variation. This tells us a player might anticipate an opponent's move choices at times - to advantage, by knowing his Style - aiding in preparation for that opponent as well.

So we see marked, inherent Style differences enable - no cry out for - stylistic, personalized choices from us all - obviously frequently available to us - in some instances much more subtle ... Again, we cannot always determine the absolute best move to make; nor should we worry about achieving elusive perfection. Most of us are playing for fun (as well as blood) anyway ... Play what comes most naturally - to you ...

Little has ever been written about Chess Style - thereby neglecting this area of education for the player. Perhaps the top teachers (GM's also gifted as teachers) have shied away from the subject because their own definitive examples of stylistic preference would disclose some "secrets" in their own play and in their preparation opposite the Styles of their rivals. We see the importance of this type of preparation in almost all sports ... Therefore, we need to analyze both our own - subjectively, and our rivals - objectively.

Just as our fingerprints are unique to us - so is our Chess Style - our signature - give it free reign! Or, instead, we can blindly follow current Opening vogue (really only the preferences of others since Chess has still not been "solved"), prescribed by those who are perhaps of very different bent. In doing so, we subordinate our own talents, positive (as well as negative) experiences, and predilections to try to ape supposed "state of the art." This is to err in judgment, only serving to detract from our own potential. Besides - new never is necessarily better. To subordinate/omit "old" Opening lines - the M. O. of many current Opening books - is a disservice to players who need them for comparison and evaluation. No less than GM's Fischer, Botvinnik and Kasparov reached back beyond the "currently in favor" for their inspirations ... So then should their disciples ...

Be true to yourself, imprint your own Style, not that of another with whom you can't really identify (or of a 20 move "book" line played or analyzed by someone else). The truth is in each individual Chess game. It is only the truth of that one game - nothing more - but nothing less either ... So let it be your own truth ... how you sign your games ...

Copyright © 1998 by Rick Melton, all rights reserved

Author Profile by Rick Melton

Started out in B'klyn, NY (1st 7 years). Learned Chess age 6. Grew up in Queens. Began to really look at Chess age 9 or 10. Represented Jamaica HS age 13 NY Interscholastic Individual Chpship. Mostly sports thru HS - but also local Chess club and CC play throughout.

Married at 21 to Coed - while we both attended CCNY. B.A. Economics, English - Philosophy and Psych minors; followed by stint in the Army (Sgt.) - then on to a special training program with corporate giant in the banking business, and raising a family ... Moved further out to Nassau then Suffolk counties on Long Island. Played boards 1 & 2 (team captain) for Citicorp in Bankers' League thru '60's (we took 6 chpships in 7 years), Board 1 in L.I. Industrial League for Nassau County CC, numerous weekend Swisses.

Taught classes, adult ed. and for children local schools; also tutoring individuals on request. Move at AZ 1978, bringing wife, children, father, moth-in-law and big GS in 2 cars - allowing time for a great family road trip touring the country for 30 days.

Semi-retired, former Banker, then Retailer (video store, auto, books, vending machines). Collector and (performance) car consultant, Financial Consultant, Real Estate investments.

Current Hobbies: Chess (since childhood), Casino Gaming, Writing, Table Tennis, Special & Muscle cars, German Shepherd Dogs, automobile travel, spending as much time as possible with my wife and 5 children & their families.

Daughter no. 3 married last Nov. was last to leave the nest. All dtrs. married - 2 sons still "batching" it somehow - fitness buffs (built like brick walls...).

Former Hobbies: Basketball, Tennis, Bowling, Poker, Checkers ... Collecting Chess Tournament lit. and periodicals.

Chess: Correspondence only today - playing 45+ years - less 3 year break in mid 80's. Currently ranked #8 in APCT, somewhere in top 10-15 CCLA; playing in both seeded League Championships concurrently (strangely - no doubt masochistically - I'm the only player [dumb enuff] to do this, and for the 2nd time in as many years!). Got to find out what's causing it ... (Terminal Addiction, that's what! - signed: understanding & patient wifey Annette). Previously played with Chess Review and then USCF when they took it over.

Heroes: Alekhine, Fischer, Tal.

Likes: Fast correspondence play incl. Email; speed Chess ...

Dislikes: Zero tolerance for Time Cheats (they surface at ALL levels ...).

Misc: Over 55 published games (CR, CL, Inside Chess, NY Times, APCT, CCLA, Chess Chow, and books by GM's Larry Evans, Ray Keene & David Levy, other various periodicals and books).
Game of Year Award (Chess Chow) - 1993, judge GM J. Benjamin
Game of Year Honorable mention (APCT) - 1995, judge GM L. Evans
Several promotions for schools and locals - simuls, instruction, etc.

Other Books:
Complete Book of Chess Tournament Crosstables V.1 1851-1948, and V.2 1949-1967 ( both pub. Fall '97).
All 3 books can be ordered from Chess Digest, APCT, or directly from me:

Rick Melton
Box 17777
Fountain Hills, AZ 85269 (USA)

(Email inqs. to: VikingRic@juno.com).
CT books are $25 ea., [both for $40. +$2. domestic P&H if ordered from me, during July & August].
Secrets... is priced @ $20 (+ same P&H)

Copyright © 1998 by Rick Melton

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