The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Robert Rizzo
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.

Opening Angst or a Patzer’s Paranoia?
By Robert Rizzo

As a postal player is often wont to do, I tend to be somewhat predictable regarding my choice of opening lines. I follow the latest developments of Informants, New In Chess and other like theoretical sources and from time to time tinker with an experiment or two, but, in the ultimate, there are just some old favorites which (until busted) will be relied on again and again. So what is wrong with going down the same tried and tested path? Simply put, I fear ambush at every move. Would a Brinks driver follow the same route every day? Of course not! Predictability is a potential liability. In correspondence chess this danger is magnified as opposed to over-the-board play. In over-the-board, round-robin or match play opponents know who they will face in advance, but they can hardly anticipate every opening let alone zero in on specific sub-lines in their preparation. In postal, though, once a few moves are made your opponent may delve into the vast database reserves to find if you have played this line before. With days of reflection and transit time available to do this research, it is not difficult for a top flight player to find your past games, discover your tendencies and dissect them for the smallest nuance of weakness. The question then becomes when to diverge?

I know that this fear is mostly unfounded and that my opponent has more to do in life than to employ vast resources in time and effort just to get a small edge against me - doesn’t he? But am I now compromising the best moves in order to avoid a situation that only exists in my own mind? What is a paranoid player to do? I’ve got it! I’ll research through all the literature, I’ll scour every correspondence web site, I’ll purchase every available game database collection and I’ll turn the tables on my opponent. Yeah, I’ll get him before he gets me! So I try to find my opponent’s games and generally hit a brick wall. First is the problem of documentation. As I go to my database of choice and search on my million plus games, I am often plagued by misspellings, syntax errors and convention variations. Should the first name initial follow directly the comma or should there be a space? If the first initial is correct is the name indeed the same? Oh yes, and when I do find a fit, invariably the color is wrong. Back to the drawing board.

By now I am realizing that my opponent could not possibly be putting in this much effort that has become all consuming on my part. But wait, why did he send me six conditional if moves? He must know something. He must have knowledge of a novelty which completely overturns the foundations of the Najdorf! Surely he must have completely and neatly catalogued every game I’ve ever played. I’m ruined! Not only that, four other games I’m playing with the same line are now suspect! But surely this must be sound - it was a favorite line of Bobby Fischer! Maybe I can contact Bobby and find out what my opponent may have in mind! Does anyone have the area code for Eastern Europe? At last I realize the truth of it all. This is a diabolical plot by my opponent to have me waste valuable reflection time on book moves thereby limiting my analysis where it really is needed in the middlegame. Oh, how clever!

Okay, let's try to think this out rationally. This opening line that he is suggesting must be in the latest version of “Beating the Sicilian.” It is probably a secret improvement which refutes Kasparov’s analysis in the Informant game that I am following. Let’s see . . . no that is not it, neither has NIC covered this line in its previous 45 issues. I have a better idea. This is foolproof. Why not take the role of my opponent, and then I can dissect my own moves and find the flaw on which he is obviously zoning in? After all, who best to know which moves I am going to make than myself? After several hours of this approach I have come to the stark realization that I am getting nowhere. Is it really possible that I am losing from either side of the position?

My angst is suddenly interrupted by the sound of the mailbox. Isn’t every postal player’s hearing keenly attuned to the sound of their mailman’s daily delivery? As I retrieve the mail I see that another five postcards have arrived and the game in question is one of them. It is the moment of truth ... I’m sure that his novelty is here! I can hardly bear to look. With trepidation I turn the card over. What is this! My opponent has declared a time-out for the next two weeks. This confirms all my fears. He is on to something. Now I am certain that he has zeroed in on the killer move and simply needs more time to conclusively confirm the soundness of all variations. I knew I should have varied earlier. Why didn’t I decide on a Dragon in the first place?

So now I must wait and worry some more. After another two weeks my nerves are frazzled. I am feeling quite ill. When the anticipated move finally arrives I am shocked by the fact that it leads to quite drawish endings. My database contains 54 games with that move and 46 of them ended in draws. Indeed, every game since 1994 has ended in a draw. What’s more, my opponent has offered a draw! So he has nothing! I have only anguished over my own self-generated insecurity. Then the realization finally hits me; the truth is that all along my opponent was suffering the same as me, wondering what devious plan I had hatched. I am not alone ... the correspondence chess world is awash with paranoid players. I am feeling much better now.

Copyright © 1999 Robert Rizzo, all rights reserved.


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