The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

The following article was written by the noted OTB competitor National Master Randy Bauer and describes his viewpoints on correspondence chess. It is always interesting hearing what non-cc'ers think of our passion. It is particularly interesting when a player (and writer) of Randy Bauer's quality is the source.

I heartily recommend a visit to Randy's outstanding chess site at Randy's Revealing Reviews (you'll want to bookmark it, I'm sure). I also would like to express my appreciation to Randy for taking the time to communicate with the cc community. If you care to write directly to Randy Bauer he can be reached at: Randy Bauer -- J. Franklin Campbell

I'm Not Prejudiced, Really...
(Some of My Best Friends are Correspondence Players)

By Randy Bauer

I'll admit it:  I'm not a big fan of correspondence chess.   Don't get me wrong -- I admire the games and the players who put so much time and effort into them.  I just don't like the pace.

To me, chess is a one-on-one struggle between two minds with an immediate winner and loser (except, of course, when it's a draw).  We bring our knowledge and experience to the board and the player who does a better job of coping with the problems at hand, within the timeframe created, should emerge victorious.  I like the tension, the need to come to grips with your emotions, the intuition.

The following position, which occurred in a game of mine from 1989, helps explain my perspective:

In Bob Long (2040) - Randy Bauer (2230), black has been doing well for quite some time.  Up two pawns and with white's minor pieces poorly placed, black should be able to win "as a matter of technique."  No doubt a move such as 33...Be7 would eventually do the trick, but I became fascinated by the opportunity to get my pawns moving.  Even though it was largely intuitive, I ventured 33...Bxf2!??.

After 34.Kxf2 f4 35.Nxe4 g3+ 36.Bxg3 fxg3+ 37.Ke3 Nf4  (second diagram) black has a very strong attack.  While he doesn't have the easy material advantage he enjoyed previously, the white king is exposed, his minor pieces under attack or threatened with attack, and the g3 pawn also a bit of a concern for white.

This was as far as I calculated when going into the line, but I was pretty confident in my assessment that black should be able to come up with something concrete.

long.gif (7711 bytes)

In fact, my assessment, at least in the practical sense of this game, was correct. 

My opponent tried 38.Nxg3 but after 38...Ra3+! he suddenly finds that he has problems with underdefended pieces and pins.  The end was now easily calculable:

39.Bd3 Nxd3 40.Rxd3 Rxd3+ 41.Kxd3 Bg6+ 42.Ne4 Rd8+! (the key in-between move that forces the king into yet another pin) 43.Ke3 Re8 0-1.

While not a great game by any stretch, it is typical of my over-the-board play when I'm playing well -- calculated risks backed by decent calculation.  In fact, I won this tournament and the state closed championship a few weeks later.


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I'm sure that a postal player, confronted with the position after 33.b4, would be able to do an exhaustive analysis of the bishop move and all its ramifications.   Based on that, he could decide, after 2 or 3 days of work if necessary, whether to play 33...Bxf2.  While this is no doubt fascinating and absorbing for some, it doesn't make the hair stand up on the back of my neck the way playing the move did in that particular tournament game.

I guess we all seek our thrills and spills in our own special way.  I know many correspondence players who are downright truth seekers and view each game as a sort of chess theorem that they will seek to solve.  I guess I'm just more of a sausage maker.

Did I Mention I Busted My Own Favorite Line Via Postal Chess?

I've played very little postal chess in my day (actually just one tournament), but I will be the first to recommend it as a method for working on specific openings or variations.  In fact, I found a refutation to a pet line of my own because of postal chess.

In the 1989 Iowa state closed championship, I won the tournament largely on the strength of a pivotal second-round victory with black over several time defending champion Mitch Weiss (a postal player of considerable ability, I would note).  In that game, I got a very nice position out of the opening via a little-used variation of the Najdorf Sicilian.

After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 6...e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 Nbd7 10.g4 h6!? we had reached a position that I have played on several occasions.  I was attracted to this move by the fact that there was practically no theory on it but black's idea, of playing ...g5, was thematic. 

After a bit of a think, Weiss followed the logical route mentioned in John Nunn's book on the Najdorf Sicilian with 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.h4 Qb6 13.Nb3.

In 1988, all Nunn gave was 13.Nce2 g5!? without further comment, and I did a fair amount of original analysis on that position. After the game, I analyzed the game quite a bit with NM Dan Harger. His suggestion was 13.Nde2 g5 14.hxg5 hxg5 15.e5. Then 15...Rxh1 16.Qxh1 dxe5 17.f5! causes black some problems, but 16...Be7!? looks playable.

Interestingly, Nunn gives a little further information on Harger's 13.Nde2 in his 1997 book. He gives 13.Nde2 g5 14.e5 dxe5 15.fxg5 e4 16.Qxe4 hxg5 17.h5 Ne5 18.Nd4 Bd7 19.Rh3 0-0-0 as unclear, based on Molvig-Kristensen, Copenhagen 1995.

At the time, I thought 13.Nb3 passive, as it removes the knight from a strong central post, and the knight does nothing but watch for the rest of the game. Nunn also ignores it in both his 1988 and 1997 books. However, when I repeated this opening in a preliminary game of the 1994 Iowa state postal championships, I found an interesting idea for white that I'd been oblivious to.

13...g5(?) 14.hxg5 hxg5 15.Rxh8+ Bxh8 (diagram)

Although this seemed logical at the time, it weakens the dark squares and hands over control of e5 without a fight. Of course, 16.fxg5? would be no better, as after ...Ne5 black's knight dominates the board and white's pawns are fractured.

The testing try, which I found while analyzing my postal game, was 16.Nd2! Suddenly, the d6 pawn is a big weakness and the knight coming to c4 controls the e5 square as well.

weiss2.gif (5724 bytes)

I could find no satisfactory method for black and concluded that 13...g5 was in fact an error. In my postal game, I avoided 13...g5 and played 13...Qc7, offering to repeat the position. My opponent chose something else and I ended up winning the game.

In the Weiss game, however, I secured a nice game after 16...Be5!   This may seem strange, since black generally bases his play in these types of positions around securing a knight on e5, but here it is the right decision. For starters, after 16...Ne5 17.Qh3 the dark squared bishop is uncomfortably placed and hard to activate. Second, the bishop on e5 absolutely dominates the board. It has no counterpart, and it simultaneously supports the weak d-pawn, threatens to block the f-file if necessary via ...Bf4, and also keeps an eye on the c3 knight. No other minor piece on the board does so much.

The game continued with 17.fxe6 fxe6 18.Qh3 White logically aims at the black kingside via the open h-file. Another plan would have been to attempt to utilize the open f-file, but after 18.Be2 Qd8! black re-deploys his queen to the kingside with good play.

It's important to note that all the long term prospects are black's. His two bishops are potentially very strong (and his dark-squared bishop already the best minor piece on the board), and white's g and e-pawns are targets. That means that black can defend by offering queen trades.

18...Qf2! (Diagram)

After I played this move, my opponent thought for 16 minutes. I think he was realizing that black was taking control of the game. Black's move maintains his dark square grip while re-deploying the queen to the kingside. Now on Be2 or Bd3 black plays ...Qh2 and, if necessary, ...Qf4+ Black welcomes the trade of queens, since in any endgame the white light-squared bishop will be the worst minor piece on the board because of the e and g-pawns, and black's dark squared bishop will be the best. The other point of black's move is that 19.Qh5+ Qf7 20.Qxg5?? Bf4+ wins the queen. Weiss3.gif (5656 bytes)

Although white appears better developed, neither of his knights is doing much, and his light squared bishop is severely constricted. Black's position is solid, and if he develops his queen bishop, he's got much better long term chances. The game continued 19.Bc4 Nb6 20.Rf1 Qh2! 21.Qd3 Nxc4 22.Qxc4 Bd7  with black having a clear advantage that was converted into a win.

Retiring Undefeated from the Postal Game

That 1994 Iowa state postal championship was my only postal tournament, and I won it without losing any games and conceding just a couple of draws.  I'll admit that I was the highest rated (at least in terms of over-the-board ratings) player in the event and didn't face top flight postal competitors.   None of the games was particularly memorable or good.  Probably most frustrating for me was the fact that rather than getting to play some knock down, drag out slugfests, I mostly found myself in "grind it out" games.  The following, against a high A-player over the board, was typical.

White:  Randy Bauer     Black:  Eric VanderLinden    1994 Iowa State Postal Championship Final

1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 e6 4.e5 Nge7 5.Nf3 b6 6.a3 Bb7 7.Bd3 Qd7 8.Ne2 0-0-0 9.0-0 f5?! (Even though this move is often played in these lines, I don't like it. Black cedes the central advantage based on the e5  pawn, and it makes it hard for him to get his pieces involved.  Plans based on ...f6 would at least give some counterplay, although 9...f6 10.c3 fxe5 11.dxe5 looks like a solid edge for white, especially since black has so much trouble organizing ...c5.) 10.Bd2 h6 11.b4 Rg8? (Black needed to play 11...Re8 to give the knight a retreat on d8.  Now white can absolutely bury black's queenside minor pieces.) 12.b5! Nb8 13.a4 g5 14.a5 f4 15.axb6 axb6 16.Qb1 (A form of "creeping" move that that prepares an attack on the a-file, affords greater protection for the b5 pawn, and envisions c2-c3 with a strong bishop-queen battery on the b1-h7 diagonal.) 16...h5? (Black thinks that he is attacking, but it is an illusion -- his pieces aren't active enough to support this "offensive." White, with all his minor pieces engaged, now initiates a counterstrike.) 17.h4! (diagram)

17...gxh4 (17...g4 18.Ng5 f3 19.Nf4 fxg2 20.Kxg2 is clearly good for white -- his minor pieces are active and targeting weak points like e6.) 18.Nxf4 h3 (18...Nf5 19.c3 threatens a painful Nxe6, so black diverts the knight from its strong post.) 19.Nxh3 Nf5 20.Bxf5! (White gladly eliminates the only active black minor piece.) 20...exf5 21.c3 Be7 22.Re1 (White prepares the advance e5-e6, which will further hamstring black.) 22...Qe6 23.Nhg5 Bxg5 24.Nxg5 Qg6 25.e6 (End of story.   Neither black minor piece has any future, and white can improve his position at will.) 25...Rde8 26.Re5 Rgf8 27.Qd3 h4 28.Qh3 Rf6 29.Bf4 Rh8 30.Re3 (Black, with no useful moves, is in positional zugzwang.) 30...Re8 31.Qxh4 R6f8 32.Qh7 (Black's queen is the only piece that could possibly hold the defense together.) 32...Qxh6 33.Nxh7 Rh8 34.Nf6 Re7 35.Rae1 c6 36.Bd6 1-0 (Black is hopeless after 36...Rg7 37.e7 or 36...R7e8 37.Nxe8 Rxe8 38.Rf3.) vander.gif (8883 bytes)


Putting the Fun Back Into Chess

This past summer, chess publisher Bob Long (of Chessco/Thinker's Press fame and also the same Bob Long I out-combinationed in the example above) held a chess festival in the Davenport/Moline metropolitan area.  It was not well-attended, but it was a unique and very enjoyable gathering.  Among the featured presenters, which included GM Lubosh Kavalek and IM Nikolay Minev, was U.S. Correspondence Champion Jon Edwards.  From my vantage point, his participation was the highlight of the weekend.

I'd never met Jon before, but his enthusiasm for chess in general and correspondence chess in particular was infectious.  He talked about his successes and failures, his methods, and the mania that had often gripped him in the midst of a correspondence chess game. 

I must admit, I was impressed!  This guy sounded like he played correspondence chess the way I played the game over the board.   Indeed, we shared a few analytic tidbits and tales over the weekend, and have since traded an e-mail or two.

Then, a short time ago, I learned that Jon had published a book, The Chess Analyst.  I bought it, read it, and really, really liked it.  I would encourage you all to do the same.  This is the sort of labor of love that should be encouraged and rewarded.  It's an excellent book that sheds a nice light on correspondence play in the same way that Stephan Gerzadowicz did with his Journal of a Chess Master (also published by Thinker's Press, by the way).

Who knows?  With these kinds of examples, there may be a place for correspondence play  in my chess future yet.

Copyright © 1998 by Randy Bauer, all rights reserved

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