The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Robert Rizzo, 48, has been a USCF member for more than 30 years. He works on Long Island as a financial analyst at Northrop Grumman Corporation. He is the captain of that company's chess team, which has captured the TOP COMPANY title at the US Amateur Team - East tournament 6 times since 1990. Previously, Bob was also President of his high school and college chess clubs as well as captain of the Fairchild Republic chess team. Bob is a USCF club level director whose credits include directing the American College Unions - International NYS Regional Chess tournament, co-directing the Under-1800 section of several NYS Championships and assisting with the Harvard Cup man vs. computer events.

Bob is the Rules Director and a charter member of the Long Island Industrial Chess League (LIICL), which he was instrumental in resurrecting in 1984. He is also Editor of the LIICL newsletter, The League Leader. As a member of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) he has covered many top-level chess events in NYC including Karpov-Kasparov, Anand-Kasparov and Deep Blue II-Kasparov. Bob is a frequent contributor to the NYS Chess Association's magazine, Empire Chess, specializing in Chess Crosswords and Chess Acrostics. Robert also is an elected NYS delegate to the USCF.

He has been engaged by Barnes & Noble, where he gave a presentation entitled, "Chess in the 21st Century." Annually he directs a Charity Chess Tournament to raise funds for the needy and co-directs an All Star Match between the LIICL and its sister organization, the Commercial Chess League of New York. Mostly "retired" from over-the-board play, Bob now channels most of his chess energies toward correspondence tournaments and has attained the title of USCF Correspondence Master.

Robert Rizzo can be reached at rrizknight@juno.com.

Confessions of a Rueful Postal Player
by Robert Rizzo

Almost everyone who plays chess will agree that the one of the most difficult and unpleasant tasks involves attempting to defend a critically inferior position. It seems that the effort expended to find that elusive saving line for the draw is infinitely more taxing than playing for the win from an advantage, such as your opponent is enjoying. In over-the-board play, especially with today's sudden death time controls, there is generally a light at the end of the tunnel - the torture will be limited to a few hours at most. Also, aside from the residual fatigue, this will not be exacting resources from other games. The postal player may have dozens of positions to analyze at any one time. This makes it especially difficult to balance how much energy should be devoted to the game which is hanging by a thread verses those others which are more static or simply unclear. Of course, the simple answer is not to get oneself into these types of positions. But we all know that this is impossible.

The time spent for each move is up to the individual. Some postalites are just that - postal lights, players who consider correspondence as another form of blitz. They may spend up to 5 minutes on each move before rushing to the post office. These people generally will not agonize over a position on which they did not spend enough effort to feel "invested." But those like myself, who spend several hours and sometimes days on moves, consider each game an investment in time. When I receive a card with a reply which I did not seriously consider or had rejected, I get an immediate jolt of adrenaline. It is quite disconcerting. And, in those cases where it truly was an oversight on my part or a brilliant inspiration by my opponent, I will spend the next few evenings without much sleep agonizing over my self-imposed misfortune.

In the case of sending in a move which was due to analysis from the wrong position, at least the mistake can be rationalized. Of course, causes still need to be investigated so that one's "quality assurance" checklist is amended to prevent the same type of occurrence in the future. But, when the misstep is a result of shallow analysis, poor judgment or simply not spending enough time to delve deeply into the possible variations, well then, it is time to pay the piper ... and rightfully so. One such game of mine is in progress. I am now well into a rook and pawn ending down one pawn. It has been a painful game.

It all started around move 20 when I launched a queenside minority attack. My opponent is a master level player who had contested a long and tough ending with me to a draw in another game not so long ago; hence I knew that I was in for a long struggle. On this particular day I was in a hurry to make a move. It may have been a Yankee game I wanted to watch; or perhaps I had to mow the lawn before an impending storm; or maybe dinner was getting cold and one more minute at the board would have put me in the doghouse for an extended period. Whatever the reason, I did not spend enough time to realize that my move would eventually lead to the forced loss of a pawn some ten moves or so later. Chess laziness. Likely another 15 minutes could have been all that was needed to discover the hole in my analysis. But, alas, the move went out without the ?! editorial. But, then again, my respected opponent needed no such cues to recognize the blunder for what it was.

That 15 minutes of insurance not taken has subsequently cost me hours. 35 moves later - I have agonized over every one. Instead of my typical 1 or 2 hours on each move I have taken perhaps 3 or 4, and in some cases up to 20 or more. After the initial shock I had to determine which way I wanted to defend. It happened that I could actually survive the initial onslaught, which had threats of mates and piece sacrifices. If this were not the case the prudent course would have been to resign immediately, but this game represents that special case where one stands on the knife's edge between defeat and draw. Fortunately, the position was one where I did have some influence over the type of ending I could choose to play. My choices included playing 1) Rook and Knight vs. Queen, 2) Queen plus Bishop vs. Queen plus Bishop or 3) Rooks vs. Rooks endings, all down that one forlorn pawn. After many hours of slaving though the variations I almost settled on the Queen and Bishop ending but at the last moment discovered a zwischenzug for him which cleared up the situation in a hurry. What if I had not spent those last 15 minutes on that variation? I was left to depend upon the Rook ending with the general knowledge that these are the most difficult to convert when up by a pawn ... at least that is what I recall from lessons taken under the tutelage of GM Mednis.

The game has continued now for almost a year since my error. My opponent has judiciously jockeyed to trade pieces while I have been trying to entice pawn exchanges, a real struggle of chess principles. The fact that I am still alive probably means that I have been making some progress toward attaining the draw. The pawns are now 3 on 2 and all on the same side of the board, no passers. It is almost one of the classical endgames, and while I can't find the exact position in ECE, Fine nor Averbach, I follow the general concepts and keep my rook as active as possible. Yet I can still neither find a definite drawing line nor discover a winning theme for my adversary.

Whatever the eventual outcome I can only rue what could have been prevented had I paid a small investment in time a year ago. In addition, the extra time I needed to devote to this game has had an immeasurable effect on my other games. Could it be that I have siphoned 15 critical minutes from one of my current games for the sake of this nightmare and in doing so will perpetuate the horror? Will this prove be a virus, an epidemic which will infect my games forever in the future? Will I continue to pay and pay for my mistake? Perhaps in an strange confluence of games this is another manifestation of the Domino Theory!

In conclusion, it is a question of balance - the game is only as strong as the weakest move. That one transgression has forever eliminated any chance of victory for me. My game still balances on that knife edge of defeat. The lesson here is that no postal move should be taken lightly or as obvious. Consider every card that you receive to contain a potential brilliancy. In the long run one will never save time with shallow analysis as the consequences can be overwhelming. If you cut your analysis short with the proviso that you will delve deeply the next time be forewarned - it may be quite a long think.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert Rizzo

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