Occasionally I have mentioned the enjoyment of playing correspondence chess that was, in fact, my first experience at meeting opponents outside my family circle. My older brother Raymond played by mail for many years that began in WWII. How I learned to play I have reported elsewhere and my mom said I would like to play him a game. It was a real barn burner of tactics and I lost in a 40+ move French Defense he sprung on me but left him most impressed, his being a strong expert. Consequently my upcoming birthday found a package from Chess Review that contained a box of materials to conduct games by mail. My brother had entered me into a class C social event with 3-opponents, two-games each. I won all six games and they encouraged me to enter the Golden Knights and I won 6-0 but was brought down to earth with 2.5-3.5 against a very strong field of A and expert rated players in the semi-finals that knocked me out of the contest. A later Golden Knights event I finished in the finals with a respectable score.
My introduction to the Correspondence Chess League of America (CCLA) was from my club friend Marcy Shupp who was studying music at the Eastman School of Music and a very strong player. We shared the job of editing a regular club newsletter and he said I would like CCLA play because it was devoted 100% to correspondence play and you could enter ICCF events, CCLA being the official affiliate of the ICCF in North America. So, in September 1958 I became a member of CCLA and have been a member ever since.
The history of CCLA is quite interesting and is the oldest chess organized body in American chess. It boasted some of the very best players in America. At some point it had affiliated itself with the over the board organization that became the United States Chess Federation and actually had more members than USCF. The premier chess organ though was the commercial magazine, Chess Review which had a readership of over 11000. In those days, USCF had about 1000 members and CCLA some hundreds more. Some in the USCF decided that USCF should be strictly over the board chess and dissolved its partnership with CCLA partly to accommodate the wishes of Al Horowitz who operated Chess Review and to avoid conflict of interest with them as USCF felt their readers would rally to USCF if no conflicting postal group existed to attract its own members to join CCLA. Consequently, CCLA – USCF relations soured and great effort was put on allowing Chess Review players to participate in ICCF events contrary to ICCF rules. Benjamin Koppin stated to me that he did not intend to rock the boat by trying insist on CCLA membership. The fact is however that CCLA had to pay for the membership of Chess Review in its affiliation dues according to then secretary Dick Rees. That really caused unnecessary turmoil in the organs that be. The fact is that in chess, rules are meant to be bent, broken, have no principle for truth and written bylaws.
In reality these events proved probably the best for each of the three main groups and other groups formed later on like Helen Warren’s APTC and a military run postal group. Knights of the Square Table (NOST) was founded in Penfield, New York which offered numerous board games by mail and had an annual convention. Most were MENSA members. Over time NOST dissolved and joined the Fred Miller Chess Group that combined the two and eventually disbanded finding essentially few who could or would be willing to carry the burden of administrative duties.
Correspondence play goes back over a hundred years and in the span of time boasts such a star player as Alekhin who, as World otb Champion, supported fully the founding of the ICCF. A great many strong masters and GMs have participated in this form of play, and many national federations field teams for the correspondence chess Olympiad. An interesting experiment between a team of otb IMs, GMs vs those representing cc IMs, GMs was fought otb and the correspondence players won the match. The otb team agreed that the reason was that the cc players seemed to understand the openings somewhat better and equal for the general struggle. As a result, many today suggest that more books should be written by cc players devoted to chess study and game examples.
Some interesting books have appeared in print which are part of my library. Journal of A Chess Master by Stephan Gerzadowicz is a wonderful book that SG wrote about his favorite opening moves for either side of 1.g3 or 1…g6 systems. It is a delightful book that not only fills your cup with chess but also with humor and other tidbits of the very nature of what brings out the spark in such an aesthetic and beautiful game and its effect on devotees, exploring the Thoreauvian world of this cc master as he journeys over the planet via his postcoards, his library, and his imagination. Highly recommended.
Perhaps my favorite is My Chess Adventures by the English player Charles W. Warburton edited by Tim Bogan. Secrets of a top postal chess player says it all but covers a host of rememberable experiences before, during and after play along with some personal views concerning adjudications and numerous tidbits of interest to the average cc and otb enthusiast.
C. J. S. Purdy: His Life, His Games, and His Writings by J. Hammond and R. Jamieson is a classic collection of both the life and chess battles he waged in both his perfection in writing and game play. He won the lst World Correspondence Chess Championship and his reporting on Australian and Asian chess experiences, the relationship chess had on his marriage and family life. He died at the board while playing in a tournament and had a winning position.
Hans Berliner’s The System–A World Champion’s Approach to Chess is his effort to tell the story of his system for winning the world championship. I was not sold on it when I studied the content as I was sure it would meet with a critical commentary by viewers. He explains it as a theory of how to integrate board control and development into a unified whole. To be fair, I think he comes as close as possible to define his own thinking as it relates to many principles and evaluations that make up much of his system. What I mean by critical analysis of his theories is just this: Time is on the side of chess history when it comes to dictating a specific or final assessment of how to play the game. One cannot assume that every game played is a final word. Fischer learned this when he wrote his Bust to the King’s Gambit which, after several KG players offered their ideas, Fischer never responded. Today the King’s Gambit still is played with the same freedom of thought and speculative lines as ever. The System approach is worthy of study and much can be seen in a variety of games that make up modern chess. But there is no final word on anything in chess. Hans Berliner has made a valuable contribution to the advancement of chess theory.
Here I might be forgiven to provide that my own development of square count chess enriched my own manner of chessplay throughout much of my life especially as applied to correspondence games and to a lesser degree in otb play due to the time clock and faster time controls. The principles though can still be applied to most positions and or plan jump moves in defense or attack motifs.
The books I mention are entertaining, instructive, and can lend themselves to the enrichment of theory, exciting moments on the chessboard, and expansion of your knowledge and enjoyment of chess. Collectively as well as independently they offer the reader the flavor of chess rarely covered with such reflection about the art of chess play!
Chess provides people having a curiosity for problem solving situations to exercise their minds and relieve them of the tensions of the day. In this, it acts as a tool of creating a playground for imagination to soar, reflect, and see on the board the creativity of adversaries as they map out a battle on the 64-squares.