The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

John P. McCumiskey


  • Age: 38
  • Family: LaVerne (wife of 19 years), and cats (“our children”) Tootsie, Jo-Jo,
  • Pepper, Shadow, & Muffin.
  • Occupation: Network Computer Specialist, US Army Corps of Engineers


  • Learned Chess: 1972 in Alaska
  • First Rated Chess Tournament: May 1977, Memorial Day Open, Anchorage Alaska (I had 4 losses and 1 win, gaining a provisional rating of 1082)
  • USCF Member: 1977-present (Life Member)
  • APCT Member: 1977-present
  • USCF Tournament Director: 1978-present (currently certified as a Senior Level Director, working on Assistant National TD certification)
  • Anchorage Chess Club Secretary/Treasurer: 1978-1982
  • Anchorage Chess Club Tournament Organizer: 1978-1985
  • 1979 Alaska State Junior Chess Champion
  • Sacramento Chess Club President and Tournament Organizer: 1997-present
  • CalChess Board Member 1998-Present

The Lure of Correspondence Chess
By John P. McCumiskey

When I was seven or eight during the late 60’s in Buffalo, New York, a schoolmate of mine was given a beginner’s chess set as a present. One day when we were playing, he pulled out the chess set and asked me if I wanted to play a game. I knew nothing of the game, but the pieces had little diagrams on them showing how the pieces moved around the board so I agreed. I can reasonably say that neither of us really had a clue as to what we were doing. We played chess a few more times, but the game never attracted me. In 1971, my family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. I remember reading about the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Championship Match in the newspaper and somehow understanding the game score. Still, I did not take up the game.

During my sophomore year in high school (1976-77), I noticed my school had a chess club, so I joined the club and started playing chess regularly. Soon, I was hooked on the game. As the school year wound down, I learned about the Anchorage Chess Club (ACC) and began playing there. I joined the USCF and played in my first rated tournament in May 1977. When the organizer told me there wouldn’t be any more events until September, I was very disappointed. I wanted to play in more chess tournaments. It didn’t take me very long to notice the USCF offered correspondence chess tournaments. Not noticing any different events except Golden Knights, I signed up to play in a 4-man event, having no real clue what I was getting myself into! I had to ask one of the correspondence players in the ACC how the whole thing worked. In spite of my lack of understanding I was playing more tournament chess!

September 1977 rolled around and the ACC started its tournament schedule of events so I started playing again. Unfortunately, the events weren’t scheduled frequently enough for my blood (the bane of not living in a big chess mecca), but I had my correspondence games to play. In October 1977, I was talking to ACC member Ed Klingbiel about correspondence chess when he told me of his membership in American Postal Chess Tournaments (APCT). Ed invited me to give APCT a try. I was especially drawn to the wide variety of events APCT has, so I signed up and entered my first Knight section. By the end of January 1978, I had 18 games in progress and I was receiving post cards almost every day (shame on the post office not having Sunday delivery!)! I could play as much chess as I wanted via correspondence and still play at the ACC. Chess nirvana!

By 1979, my play was improving quickly. I was starting to realize the value of correspondence chess in developing my analytical abilities. The more correspondence chess I played, the more I analyzed, the more my play improved. I was only beginning to realize how much study time I would have to put in to continue to improve. Instead of having to crack open some chess book and delve through reams of analysis during my free time, I found it much more attractive to replace study time with correspondence play. I eventually had a game load between 40 and 50 games. True, I still had to use other methods of studying, but that time was greatly reduced.

From December 1985 to October 1986 we moved to Tracy, Modesto, and Sacramento, California due to job changes. Shortly after moving from Alaska, I withdrew from all my correspondence. It was then that I learned what I would miss most about correspondence chess: the people you meet. Sure, there are some players who only want to play chess and nothing else, but there are those who are interested in the social side of correspondence chess and wish to carry a running dialogue with you throughout the game. That’s something you can’t really do in an over-the-board game! I resumed my correspondence play in late 1986. I’ve met many wonderful people through the mails in my 21 years of correspondence play. It is even more fun to meet them in person, to see the face and hear the voice behind the post card! In 1988, a group of APCT players from California and Nevada formed two teams and played at the US Amateur West Team Tournament. I had a great time meeting APCT’ers such as Jon Voth, Clark Mayo, Rudy Vance, and Barry Noble, while getting together again with Bruce Kovalsky, whom I had previously met.

With the huge increase of home computers in the late 80’s “on-line” chess became available. Being a computer professional, this was an attractive way to play chess. Several people I know call this “correspondence” chess. In hindsight, I guess it can be construed that way (a move going from one computer to another). APCT went “electro” on the USA Today in the fall of 1989, so I tried my hand at it. Events were completed at a much faster pace even with the 10-moves-in-30-days time control. I completed a couple of “electro” events, but chose not to enter further sections. I always had the feeling I was in the last minute of an OTB game with 20 moves to make before time control. I also fell into the bad habit of analyzing on the screen and making a move rather than logging off and taking the time allotted to me for my moves. Although the USA Today eventually went defunct and other organizations have come up to take its place, to me this really isn’t correspondence chess.

During the last couple of years, the newest lure of correspondence chess is e-mail chess. If you have an Internet service provider, you can cut the US Postal Service out of the equation. In some ways it is like “on-line” chess, but you actually receive a piece of mail with the your opponent’s move on it. I’ve been following some of the dialogue in newsgroups regarding e-mail time controls, and the pros and cons of e-mail chess. I find the concept more intriguing than “on-line” chess. I just haven’t tried it yet, but I am reevaluating my assessment of e-mail chess and am leaning toward giving it a try in 1999.

Today, there are many organizations that offer correspondence chess and many ways to play. I find that there are many reasons for playing correspondence chess. I guess the bottom line lure is a love of this form of the game. It takes a certain kind of person, a special breed of chess player, to play correspondence chess. Because of how much I like correspondence chess, it will be a lifetime game for me…one where I can get a good mental workout and have a very pleasurable time.

If you have any comments about this article, I can be reached via e-mail at: jmc-lmc@pacbell.net. All comments are appreciated.

Copyright © 1998 John P. McCumiskey, all rights reserved.

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