Correspondence Chess – love it or hate it!

I think most readers will have an opinion about Correspondence Chess (CC). I discovered it in the late 1970’s after moving house and having a long commute to London. I was unable to play in the evenings, this being before the internet, so I had to find another way. It was suggested I play for my county’s CC team. I started on bottom board and over the years worked my way to the top board. I had played over-the-board (OTB) chess for my school team, but only took it up seriously after a local weekend chess congress in my mid-twenties. I play CC for the England team in their ‘Friendly Internationals’ and have played in a CC Postal Olympiad. I also play for BCCA, for Scheming Mind, for other CC associations and county matches. Of course, being a pupil of Nigel Davies has helped me improve more than I could have thought possible! I continue to play CC even in retirement, although Nigel has tried to suggest I play more OTB games!

CC is so convenient to play on a webserver, which has revolutionised the way the game is played and recorded. There are no more lost moves in the post, or by email, no more looking at smudged postmarks with a magnifying glass, no more writing down Nc3 instead of Ne3, no more arguments over time used, no more mistakes….well not quite! Recently, one of my opponents played a move in a webserver game which lost instantly. How can this happen? He had missed out a move. Unfortunately, it spoilt the game for both sides, although it gave me a win instead of a draw. So it goes to prove that you need a good routine when making any move, even on a webserver. I always keep the actual game position on a separate board and analyse on another board. I never make any move on the webserver board without comparing the position with my own position board first. This routine has saved me several times!

So why play CC? It is good to try out different openings and any weak moves are more likely to be found out in a CC game rather than an OTB game. There is no real time pressure when you play CC, so blunders should be reduced and you will play at a higher level than OTB games. You can move the pieces about. You can often have a good chat to your opponents as you play. You can fit in games whenever it suits you. Games by email and webserver do not have any postal charges. You can use books, magazines, databases, often computer analysis, whereas OTB games are purely from memory, unless they are adjourned.

What gives CC a bad name? Letting a computer program do all your thinking. There is a high proportion of draws in CC games nowadays, especially with free software available on the internet which would demolish any dedicated chess computer of old. You may reach a certain level by letting your computer play, but you will be beaten by stronger players and players who have faster hardware and a more up to date database. You will not improve your own chess skills if you rely totally on computer analysis. There are some associations where computer assistance for analysis is not allowed, but it is impossible to enforce. Computer programs are also being used by strong OTB players to help them analyse their own games and find new moves, although they are not perfect at all endgames yet, so there is some chance for us humans!

I hope this does not put you off trying out CC for yourself. There is an excellent introduction, by Neil Limbert, at www.bfcc-online.org.uk/images/misc/guidetocc.pdf from the British Federation for Correspondence Chess site at www.bfcc-online.org.uk/ and the British Correspondence Chess Association’s site is at www.bcca.info/ .