The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

John S. Hilbert
I would like to express my appreciation to John S. Hilbert for his continued contributions both to this web site and to the body of chess literature in general. He presents an example to all in his careful attention to detail and scholarship. This is his eighth contribution to The Campbell Report, including the second article to appear in this On the Square series. For anyone interested in the history of correspondence chess in the USA I suggest a reading of all of his interesting and informative articles. Check out the On the Square Menu for his other articles at this site. --- J. Franklin Campbell
John S. Hilbert, 45, a federal attorney and previously an English Instructor at Louisiana State University, was born in Moorestown, NJ. His degrees include a BA, MA, and Ph.D. in English, and a J.D. with practice experience in environmental and Social Security law. He has in the past served on the editorial board of The Henry James Review as well as The Buffalo Law Review. He currently lives with his wife, Linda, and young daughter, Robin, near Buffalo, New York, where he finds himself sinking ever deeper under piles of chess books, xeroxes of old chess columns, and photos of chess players. He is the author of Buffalo Chess Tournaments, 1901 and 1894 (Caissa Editions 1996) and Napier: The Forgotten Chessmaster (Caissa Editions 1997). He also edits a revived journal of chess history, Lasker & His Contemporaries (Issue 5 is now available through its publisher, Chessco), and is ever seeking new material for future issues. A third book, New York 1940, a detailed story of the first United States Chess Championship under the auspices of the then-fledgling USCF, has been completed and with luck should be out shortly. Currently John is working with co-author and fellow chess historian Dale Brandreth on a detailed biography and game collection about the notorious Norman T. Whitaker, chess master and criminal. Readers who have recollections of Whitaker and would care to share them are invited to contact John at jshchess@aol.com.

Emil Kemeny and the Value of Correspondence Chess:
An Historical Perspective

By John S. Hilbert

Readers who have bravely plowed through some of my previous contributions to this site know of my interest in Emil Kemeny during his years in Philadelphia. They especially know of my respect for his chess columns as they appeared in the Philadelphia Public Ledger during the 1890s. (See, for instance, "Chess Columns: Now and Then"). Kemeny was born on January 13, 1860, in Budapest, Hungary. He lived for many years in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, before returning to his native homeland in the first decade of this century, where he eventually died in the city of his birth on May 1, 1925. Not a correspondence player himself, as best we know, he still deeply appreciated the wonders and benefits of correspondence play.

Walter Penn Shipley wrote of Kemeny in his chess column in the Philadelphia Inquirer for July 25, 1925, some of which was reprinted in the American Chess Bulletin for August 1925. Shipley had known Kemeny for many years in Philadelphia, was clearly fond of the man, and considered his death a grievous loss to the chess community. "Emil Kemeny," wrote the aging Philadelphia lawyer and strong amateur player, "…was tall, standing over six feet in height. Kemeny was a genial companion with a keen sense of humor, well read, spoke several languages fluently and besides being an able chess player was passionately fond of good music. We first heard of Kemeny as a chess player in New York in 1891 and presume he came to this country about that date. In 1893 he moved to Philadelphia. He held a position for some time with the Pennsylvania R. R. and edited an exceptionally able chess column in the Philadelphia Ledger for several years. Latter he had a column in the North American, the latter column being taken up by the late G.C. Reichhelm when Kemeny left Philadelphia."

Shipley continued his story of Kemeny. "In 1903 Kemeny went to Monte Carlo to report the Monte Carlo Tournament for the North American. He published at Philadelphia for one year a weekly entitled the American Chess Weekly. This paper contained a full account of the Monte Carlo Tournament of 1903. So far as we know, it is the only book containing the games of this tournament." Chess historians and those more generally interested in the history of our game have a good deal to thank Kemeny for regarding Monte Carlo 1903. If one looks closely at the 1983 Olms Edition of The Monte Carlo Tournament of 1903, one will notice that in fact the entire substance of the work is but a collection of Kemeny’s articles, which in fact were a "special series" of his American Chess Weekly, running from April 29 through June 18, 1903. One suspects, too, though the Olms Edition casts no light on the subject, that the annotations to all the games from the tournament were done by Kemeny as well. One can see, however, under the American Chess Weekly headings that were included in the Olms Edition reprint, that Emil Kemeny was listed as "Editor and Publisher," alone, of the magazine.

Shipley also wrote that Kemeny "was a brilliant chess player, though for a master was not particularly well posted on the openings, but depended for his success on his skill in combination play in the middle game." In fact, during the mid-1890s, Kemeny was one of the strongest players in America, though he has been almost entirely forgotten today. He won the 1892-93 Franklin Chess Club championship tournament, and incidentally the Championship of Philadelphia, the nation’s second strongest chess metropolis, with a score of 14-4, a full point over Shipley himself, with whom Kemeny drew both their games. The next Franklin and city championship, that of 1893-94, however, showed Kemeny crushing his opposition with twenty-two wins and two draws, to finish 23-1, a full three points ahead of Mordecai Morgan, a brilliant correspondence player in his own right, and four and a half points ahead of the third place finisher, Hermann G. Voigt, a very strong player who would later be a competitor in the Anglo-American Cable Matches.

Though Kemeny did not compete in the Franklin and city championships for the next few years, his playing strength by no means diminished. Nor was his reputation lessened among Philadelphia players, who invited him to open the season at the Franklin Chess Club on November 28, 1896. There he gave a seventeen board simultaneous exhibition, winning fifteen and drawing the other two. Here is an example of Kemeny’s play at the time, from that very exhibition.

Kemeny - Amateur
Franklin CC Simul (1:17)
November 18, 1896
Scotch Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.c3 Nf6 6.0-0 0-0 7.cxd4 Bb6 8.d5 Ne7 9.e5 Ne8 10.d6 Ng6 11.Nc3 Nh4 12.Ng5 g6

Diagram A
After 12...g6

13.Nxf7 Rxf7 14.Qd5 Nxd6 15.exd6 Qf8 16.Bh6 c6 17.Qg5 Qd8 18.Rae1 1-0

Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 30, 1896

But Kemeny’s efforts in 1896 were hardly limited to such exhibitions. Earlier in the year he had challenged Jackson Whipps Showalter, United States Champion, to a match, which was duly played. Though Kemeny lost, the final score of 7-4 with 4 draws was certainly a credible performance. Just how credible a performance? In 1897 the great Harry Nelson Pillsbury, victor of Hastings 1895, would defeat Showalter in match play, but only by the astonishingly close score of 11½-9½. And Kemeny, despite losing his match with Showalter in 1896, played well against his antagonist when the Kentucky-bred champion returned to Philadelphia early the next year for some offhand games. His annotations to one such encounter appeared in the Ledger the day after it finished, and this attractive game truly deserves to be rescued from oblivion.

Showalter - Kemeny
Offhand, Franklin Chess Club
January 20 & 21, 1897
Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c5 5.Bg5 cxd4 6.Qxd4 Nc6 7.Bxf6 gxf6 8.Qh4 Bb4 9.e3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Bd7 11.0-0 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Ne5 13.Be2 Ng6 14.Qb4 Bc6 15.Rfd1 Qe7

Black had considerable difficulty in developing the game. Castling on the queenside was too dangerous, and White, with Qb4, tried to prevent ...0-0.

16.Rd6 0-0 17.Rad1 Rfd8 18.c4 Rxd6 19.Rxd6 Rd8

Diagram B
After 19...Rd8


This play looks quite promising, but by proper defense the pawn will become weak. Of course Black was obliged to advance the e-pawn first, otherwise he had no good place for the Queen.

20...e5 21.h4 Rxd6 22.cxd6 Qe6 23.h5 Nf8 24.Nh4 f5 25.g4 fxg4 26.Bxg4 Qxa2 27.Bf3 Qa4 Black thus forces the exchange of Queens at the cost of a pawn, yet he had hardly a better continuation. Qg4+,. followed by h6, was threatening, and Black had no better play to prevent it.

28.Qxa4 Bxa4 29.Bxb7 Kg7 30.Nf5+ Kf6 31.e4 Bb3

Best. Black now threatens the advance of the a-pawn. White was obliged to reply Kf1 or Ba6, as shown in the continuation.

32.Ba6 Be6 33.Ne7 Nd7 34.Nc6 Nc5 35.Nb8 Nxe4 36.d7 Ke7

Diagram C
After 36...Ke7


White could not well play Bc8, threatening Nc6+, for Black would have replied ...Bd5, stopping the knight from making that move.

37...Kxd7 38.Nxe5+ Kd6 39.f4 f6 40.Bd3 Ng3 41.Nf3 Nxh5 42.Bxh7 Nxf4 43.Kf2 Nh3+ 44.Ke3 Ng5 45.Bc2 Nxf3

The exchange leaves Black with two pawns ahead, yet the win is an extremely difficult one. If White succeeds in sacrificing the bishop for the f-pawn then the game is drawn, for the King stops the a-pawn.

46.Kxf3 Kc5 47.Ke3 Kb4 48.Kd2

Diagram D
After 48. Kd2

48. …f5

The winning move. If White now captures the pawn then the bishop prevents the White King from getting into the corner. The continuation is a very neat and instructive win.

49.Kc1 Kc3 50.Kb1 f4 51.Be4 Kd4 52.Bg2 Bd5 53.Bh3 f3 54.Bg4 f2 55.Bh3 Bc4 56.Kb2 Ke3 57.Kc3 Be2 58.Bg2 a5 59.Kc2 a4 0-1

White has no defense. His King must remain on the queenside to stop the advance of the a-pawn and Black easily wins with ...Kf4, followed by ...Kg3. The White bishop is then forced away and Black wins by queening the f-pawn.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 22, 1897

As strong a player as Kemeny was, he was in fact best known for his annotations. He contributed extensively to the fledgling American Chess Magazine, perhaps, in its initial stages, the finest chess magazine ever produced in the United States. The magazine published Kemeny’s picture in its October 1898 issue, writing of him that he stood "at the head of analysts in the department of game criticism in this country," and concluding that "not since the withdrawal of Mr. Steinitz from the New York Tribune has the analysis of games been conducted in so complete and entertaining a style as Mr. Kemeny presents them."

Kemeny’s contributions to the Philadelphia Public Ledger were voluminous. His column did not appear at regular intervals, and indeed would have been radically curtailed had it done so. Many months his column appeared anywhere from a dozen to twenty or more times. Between January and July 1897, he published, deeply annotated, no fewer than twenty-three correspondence chess games, the overwhelming majority of which were specimens of play from the then current Continental Correspondence Tournament, run largely by his friend and fellow Franklin Chess Club player, Shipley.

Kemeny gave a great deal of attention to correspondence chess in the Ledger. And at times, in his introductory comments, we learn just how much he valued correspondence play in general, as well as of his admiration for its proponents. Though there is no record Kemeny himself ever played correspondence chess, his personal choice not to participate does not appear to be a reflection on his opinion of that form of the game, as his statements in the Ledger make clear.

Kemeny obviously was well aware that the added time available to correspondence players allowed them to study positions in detail and, accordingly, to in general conduct games at a higher level of expertise than otherwise would have been possible. In the Ledger for January 15, 1897, for example, he wrote that "in correspondence play, where three days time is given to each move, high grade chess may be justly expected, but such flawless play in a complicated position, as exhibited by Mr. Ferris in the present contest, must be regarded as a rare occurrence." And so he presented a very interesting game from the Continental Correspondence Tournament.

Ferris - Kaiser
Continental Correspondence Tournament
Final Round, 1896-1897
"Dutch Opening"

1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 Nf6 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nge2 b6 7.0-0 Bb7 8.f3 Nc6 9.e4 fxe4 10.fxe4 e5 11.Nd5 exd4

Up to this point the moves are identically the same as in the Steinitz - Tarrasch game, Hastings tourney. The latter, instead of capturing the d-pawn, continued ...Be7.

12.Bf4 Rc8

He could not play ...d6, for White would answer a3, followed by b4, winning a piece.

13.Ng3 g6 14.e5 Nxd5 15.cxd5

Diagram E
After 15. cxd5

15. …Rxf4

Brilliant play, which, however, does not prove perfectly sound. Of course, should White capture the rook, Black would continue ...Nxe5, and he would be more than compensated for the exchange. White, however, selects a much superior play, which wins a piece, as the progress of the game shows.

16.dxc6 Rxf1+ 17.Bxf1 dxc6 18.Qb3+ Kg7

He could not play ...Qd5 on account of Bc4, winning the Queen.

19.Qxb4 c5 20.Qd2 Bd5 21.Ba6 Rb8 22.Qe2 Qe7 23.b3 c6 24.Bd3

Necessary, for ...b5 was threatening, closing in the bishop.

24...Re8 25.Re1 Qe6 26.Be4

Diagram F
After 26. Be4

28. …c4

If there was a chance of escape for Black it certainly rested with ...Qxe5. Black would remain after the exchange of Queen and rook with three pawns against the knight. Considering the fact that here was a double pawn, and that White's King was near enough to stop the advance of the Black pawns, it would appear that White's game was still the superior one. Mr. Ferris, who conducted this game so admirably well, stated that he expected ...Qxe5, but a careful analysis satisfied him that he would have won with knight against three pawns.

27.Bxd5 cxd5 28.Qf2 d3 29.Qd4 Re7 30.Nf1 Kg8 31.bxc4 dxc4 32.Ne3

Diagram G
After 32. Ne3

32. …d2

An ingenious [move], which causes, however, the loss of the c-pawn and d-pawn. A defense, to be sure, was quite difficult. White threatened Qxc4 as well as Nd5, followed by Nf6+. The text move gave Black some chances, for, had White answered Qxd2, Black would have played ...Qxe5 and could have guarded the c-pawn. White's correct reply, Rd1, makes this play impossible.

33.Rd1 Qxe5 34.Qxc4+ Kg7 35.Nf1 Rd7 36.Qb4 Rb7 37.Rxd2 a5 38.Qb2 Qxb2

The exchange of Queens is forced, but evidently it gives White a sure and easy win.

39.Rxb2 b5 40.Ne3 b4 41.Nc4 Rb5 42.Kf2 Kf6 43.Ke3 Ke6 44.Kd3 Kd7 45.Kc2 a4 46.Kd3 Kc6 47.Nd2 Kb6 48.Kc4 Ka5 49.Ne4 Rb7 50.Nc5 Rf7 51.g3 Rf1

Diagram H
After 51...Rf1


The final stroke. This ingenious play forces the exchange of rooks and Black's position becomes hopeless.

52...Rc1+ 53.Kd5 Kxb4 54.Nd3+ Kc3 55.Nxc1 Kb2 56.Kc4 a3 57.Kb4 1-0

Should Black play ...Kxc1, then 58. Kxa3, followed by Kb3 or b4 and the advance of the a-pawn wins. If Black plays ...g5, then White answers g4. If ...h5, then White plays h4. But Black is unable to guard the a-pawn and that gives White a win.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 15, 1897

Kemeny also appreciated that the care and detail correspondence play permits does not lend itself to cheap and flashy "brilliancy." Such "tinsel beauty," as it might be called, presupposes that one’s opponent has made a horrendous blunder, or else has been incapable, in the time ordinarily permitted through, say, play over the board, to find the deeply hidden, saving continuation. "Chess by correspondence, as a rule," Kemeny wrote, "does not give much scope for brilliant playing, for the contestants have ample time at their disposal, and are thus enabled to select pretty safe plays." Of course, Kemeny well appreciated those occasional games that seemed to go against his own rule. "The game [concluded] in the Continental Correspondence Tourney last week, between Messrs. Maguire and King, was a rare exception. The former adopted the Petroff Defense, selecting the ingenious continuation introduced by Mr. J.P. Morgan. He sacrificed an exchange on his fourteenth move and a bishop on his next turn. This enabled him to announce a mate in nine moves."

S.T. King - E.S. Maguire
Continental Correspondence Tournament
Final Round, 1896-1897
Petroff Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4

A continuation introduced by Mr. Steinitz. It is doubtful, however, whether it is superior to 3. Nxe5, as usually adopted.

3...exd4 4.e5 Ne4 5.Qe2 Bb4+ 6.Kd1 d5 7.exd6 f5 8.dxc7

At this stage of the game White has the Ng5 move, which results in the gain of a piece, but it gives Black an almost irresistible attack. Steinitz adopted it successfully against Pillsbury in the first round of the St. Petersburg tourney, but he did not care to venture it anew in the third round. The ex-champion then varied his play, adopting the dxc7 move, as played in the present game.

8...Qxc7 9.Nxd4

Diagram I
After 9. Nxd4

9. …Nc6

A splendid move, which was introduced by Mr. Joseph Palmer Morgan, of this city. His analysis shows a win for Black in pretty nearly every variation. The text move, in connection with the ...Bd7 and ...0-0-0 play, demonstrates that White's continuation, commencing with his fifth move, is not based on good position judgment.


At this stage of the game Mr. Steinitz played 10. c3, which perhaps is somewhat better. However, it would have resulted in defeat had Pillsbury continued ...Nxd4, followed by ...Bd7, instead of ...Nxd4 and ...Qd6.

10...Bd7 11.c3 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Ba4+ 13.Ke1

13. b3 was not any better. Black would have answered ...0-0-0. If then 14. bxa4, Black answers ...Nxc3+, followed by ...Rxd4+, and if 14. cxb4, then ...Rxd4+, followed by ...Re8 wins.

13...0-0-0 14.Qd3

He could not play 14. Nd2 on account of ...Rxd4. If then White plays 15. cxd4, Black answers ...Bxd2+, winning the Queen.

14...Rxd4 15.Qxd4 Rd8 16.Qxb4 0-1

Diagram J
After 16.Qxb4 0-1

White's play was pretty nearly forced. After the text move Black is enabled to announce a mate in nine moves: 16...Rd1+ 17.Ke2 Ng3+ 18.fxg3 Qe5+ 19.Kf2 Qe1+ 20.Kf3 Bc6+ 21.Kf4 Qf2+ 22.Kg5 Qe3+ 23.Qf4 Qe7+ 24.Kxf5 Bd7 mate

Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 13, 1897

Kemeny clearly had, in Shipley, an inside source for the games from the Continental Correspondence Tournament, an event that arguably began modern correspondence tournament play in the United States. Assisting Shipley in directing the event were Arthur Hale and John Welsh Young, also of Philadelphia. Seventy competitors began the tournament, which was conducted first in sections in a Preliminary Round followed by a Final Round. Shipley wrote of the tournament, which had begun in late 1893 and continued even in 1898, at the time he was writing about it for Gustavus C. Reichhelm’s book, Chess in Philadelphia (1898), that the tournament included "many of the best-known players of this country," and "was the largest and strongest Correspondence Tournament ever inaugurated up to that date this side of the water."

But the Continental Tournament, important as it was for the development of correspondence play in America, was not the only correspondence event from which Kemeny selected games for annotation in the Ledger during the first half of 1897. As a native of Budapest, Kemeny no doubt kept up close watch on chess developments in the land of his birth, and especially the first correspondence tournament to be held in Hungary. In introducing the following interesting game, one that includes a very attractive and rare genuine Queen sacrifice, Kemeny took the opportunity to further elaborate on his views on correspondence chess: "Chess by correspondence has of late become popular, and, though it requires considerable time to play a game, the result, as a rule, proves satisfactory to the contestants. Errors and oversights are minimized and in the majority of cases the game is won on its merits. Correspondence play especially benefits those who do not reside in the large cities and have, therefore, but few chances to meet opponents of equal strength. But the best feature of correspondence play is the quality of chess it produces. Ample time being given, the contestants are enabled to penetrate the position much deeper, and very often players of average strength conduct a correspondence game in a way that would do credit to a master." Such no doubt was the case in the following game:

Dr. Kamjuresky - George Mayer
First Hungarian Correspondence Tournament
1896 - 1897 (?)
Giuoco Piano

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4

d3 is a more conservative play. The text move renders either the e-pawn or the d-pawn weak.

5...exd4 6.e5 d5 7.Bb5 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.0-0 0-0 10.h3

Loss of time. White evidently tried to prevent Black from ...Bg4, followed by ...Bxf3, which would make White's d-pawn extremely weak. He should have played Be3, followed eventually by Bxc6 and Nc3.

10...f6 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Nc3 Ba6 13.Re1 fxe5 14.Nxe4

White having neglected the Be3 move, his position became difficult to defend. He could not play Nxe5 on account of ...Nxf2; nor could he play dxe5, for Black wins with ...Bxf2+. The play selected is not satisfactory. Black, gaining [open lines] for Queen, rook, and both bishops gets an overwhelming attack. Be3, sacrificing the pawn, was probably better.

14...dxe4 15.Rxe4 exd4 16.Ng5 16. Qb3+

followed by Ng5 was much better. Black then could not play ...Bc4 and ...Bd5, which practically gave him a winning game. 16...Bc4 17.Qc2 Bd5 18.Re6

White had no better play. Had he played Rxd4, then ...g6 would have been the reply. He could not move Re8 on account of ...Rxe8. Had he moved Rh4 then ...d3 followed by ...Bxf2+ would have won for Black.

18...d3 19.Qxd3

Diagram K
After 19. Qxd3

19. …Qxg5

A brilliant sacrifice of the Queen, which forces a win in every variation. Black evidently has foreseen this splendid continuation, for if it was not for the Queen sacrifice his position would be a hopeless one. He could not defend with ...g6 on account of Rxg6+ forcing mate in a few moves.

20.Bxg5 Rxf2 21.Re3

This move hastens the defeat. He should have played Kh1, and if ...Bxg2+ then Kg1. If then ...Rd7+, White moves Qe3. White then is several pawns behind, yet he has some drawing chance on account of bishops being of opposite colors. White could not well play 21. Qxd5 on account of ...Rxb2+, followed by ...cxd5 with two pawns to the good.

21...Rxg2+ 22.Kf1 Rf8+ 23.Ke1 Rxg5 0-1

Diagram L
After 23...Rxg5 0-1

After this move White resigned. He is still ahead in material , for he has the Queen against two bishops and two pawns, but his position is a hopeless one. His rook at e3 is attacked, and Black also threatens ...Rg1+ winning the other rook. He cannot play Rg3 on account of ...Bf2+, followed by ...Rxg3. If he moves Kd1 then Black might continue ...Bf7, threatening ...Rd5, winning the Queen. If White moves Rc1 then Black would win as follows: 23...Rxg5 24.Rc1 Rg1+ 25.Kd2 Rg2+ 26.Kd1 Rff2 followed by ...Rg1+ and ...Bf3+, or if White plays 27.Ke1 then 27...Rxb2 followed by ...Ba5+ or ...Rg1+. White, of course, has many other plays on hand, but it is quite easy to find the winning continuation for Black.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, May 4, 1897

Though as mentioned above there is no evidence Kemeny himself ever played correspondence chess, obviously he had a deep appreciation for the benefits, and beauty, offered by such play. He clearly was not reluctant to share with his readers his pleasure in well-played, and at times spectacular, correspondence efforts. One can only wish more chess columnists today were equally ready to so often, and openly, appreciate the wonders of correspondence chess.

Copyright © 1999 John S. Hilbert, all rights reserved.
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