The Campbell Report

The following article was published in the August 1996 issue of Chess Mail magazine.
You can find out more about this outstanding publication at Chess Mail

Good Correspondence Chess Etiquette

By J. Franklin Campbell

There are many motivations for playing correspondence chess. One is to play outstanding chess. Another is to experience the intense competition available through CC events. True chess enthusiasts can also enjoy the special pleasure of sharing our enthusiasm with fellow competitors. This pleasure is at its best when both players follow good rules of CC etiquette. It is important to show the proper respect and consideration for our opponents.
Here are a few suggestions for the conduct of a CC game. Some are fairly obvious. A few are personal and may not find universal agreement. Use this list as a starting point and form your own conclusions about proper CC etiquette.

Respect your opponent
Correspondence can be interesting and stimulating. However, I suggest avoiding unpleasant subjects of correspondence. Subjects such as politics and religion may of great interest to you but can lead to bitter disagreements and unpleasantness. I really don't like it when an opponent feels it his duty to convert me to his religious view. At times it seems as though I put more effort into writing my responses to the message than to the chess moves. Do not create a situation where your opponent dreads receiving your messages (it's OK if he dreads receiving your powerful moves).

Respond to correspondence
When an opponent asks a question, respond with an answer. However, there is nothing wrong with playing without regular correspondence. Respect an opponent's desire to simply play without (what some competitors have described as) the distraction of correspondence. Personally, I love to chat with my opponents and find it a significant part of my pleasure in CC.

Play strictly by the rules
It is not bad sportsmanship to expect your opponents to play strictly by the rules, and you should do the same without question. If your opponent oversteps the time limit, do not hesitate to follow the specified procedure and report the overstep. If an error occurs that calls for a time penalty (such as sending an illegal move) record the extra time, whether for you or your opponent. Such an action should be a non-issue. If there is a dispute about a violation then submit it to the proper authority, such as the Tournament Secretary (TS) or Controller. This is not an insult to either player. Remember this if your opponent reports your violation.

Write clearly and be complete
It's frustrating to receive a reply with difficult to read information. It should not be necessary for an opponent to resort to using a magnifying glass and consulting friends to decipher your writing. This seems obvious, but bad writing is not unusual in my experience.

Record proper dates
Do not cheat on recording dates. Part of the skill required for success in CC is the discipline of playing within the time limits.

Record all required information
It is often a requirement that you record information (your opponent's last move[s], postmark, dates received and replied and time used by both players). A surprising number of my opponents do not go to the trouble, though.

Taking advantage of mistakes
There is absolutely nothing improper about taking full advantage of an opponent's mistake. CC measures not only pure chess skill but also consistency, accurate record keeping, developing and following a good methodology and other skills. Notation errors, oversights, ill-advised "if" moves, recording errors, etc. are all the responsibility of the players.
An example: I started a game with 1. d4. My opponent replied 1...g6 if "any" then 2...Bg7. After 1. d4 g6 2. Bh6 Bg7 3. Bxg7 he resigned gracefully. Mistakes are a big part of chess competition. If you are on the wrong end of an error, accept it without complaint. If you make a bad move, even one based on a notation error, do not ask your opponent to let you take it back.

Avoid excessive "gamesmanship"
One example: a player wrote an opponent claiming to be his own wife. "She" said her husband was dying and his last wish was to obtain a Master rating, which would occur if he won this game. Would he resign? Though he did not resign he was quite distracted and lost the game. I believe "gamesmanship" of this type is bad CC etiquette indeed!

Send a final message
When an opponent resigns or agrees to a draw, send a final "good-bye" message to furnish some closure. After playing for months or years it is not very nice to just "take the point and run".

Leave off the Question Marks
If your opponent makes a terrible move he will suffer enough in the play of the game. Do not embarrass him further by applying a question mark (or exclaims to your own moves). I see nothing wrong with giving your own move a "?" or an opponent's move an "!" when appropriate. Of course, it is possible that your opponent may take offence if you blame all of his successes on your bad moves!

Do not ask your opponent to resign
Although it is sometimes annoying when an opponent plays on in a lost position, it is never appropriate to ask an opponent to resign. In this case you should let your chess moves do your talking.

Playing on in a bad position
If you are totally busted then it may be best to resign. If you feel that you can still learn something, still have a defensive resource, the position is complex or can be made complex (inviting a mistake by your opponent) or you are unsure that your opponent really has a won game, you need make no excuses for playing on.

Avoid analyzing the current game
I dislike it when an opponent discusses the details of our current game position. General remarks such as "the attack begins!" or "it looks like you've won a pawn" do not bother me. Listing possible lines of play or giving detailed evaluations of positions seems inappropriate. Leave such comments till after the game has finished.

Silent withdrawal scum
The worse thing a CC player can do, in my opinion, is to disappear without trace. If you choose to quit for any reason you must notify your opponents and tournament secretaries. For those who violate this simple rule of etiquette all sorts of reasonable punishments come to mind. I shall not repeat them here. You know what I mean! Never be a "withdrawal scum"!

Remember the "Golden Rule"
In your correspondence, treat your opponent as you would like to be treated. We are all friends sharing this wonderful experience that is called correspondence chess.

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell
J. Franklin Campbell lives in Mason, Michigan and is a member of the Chess Journalists of America, APCT, CCLA, ASPCC and USCF. He has been playing chess since 1959 and CC since 1964, has written the regular column "The Campbell Report" in the USA CC publication APCT News Bulletin since 1989 and has contributed articles to many other USA chess publications.
He can be reached on the Internet via Contact Webmaster
Home APCT Column Menu Next Article

Webmaster: J. Franklin Campbell

Contact Webmaster