Correspondence Chess

Correspondence chess is a form of long distance chess where moves are delivered by services such as a chess server, email, traditional post, fax and homing pigeon. Although I have never found this concept strange, some players may find it odd since they are so used to traditional over-the-board (OTB) chess. Correspondence, like online blitz chess, is a useful option for players who don’t have time to attend traditional OTB events. Some players actually prefer it because it has a number of advantages. The typical time limits for correspondence games is 10 moves every 30-60 days. This gives players considerably longer time to ponder, hence decreasing the likelihood of blunders. According to FIDE Master Graham Burgess: “In high-level correspondence chess, the use of computerized assistance goes without saying.”

The primary difference between OTB chess is that the two combatants aren’t playing on the same chessboard. In addition, correspondence players are often playing many games (sometimes up to 100) at the same time, whereas OTB players normally only play one game at a time before starting a new one.

Advantages of correspondence chess *

  • Due to considerably longer time limits, the quality of play in correspondence chess is very high.

  • There is virtually no risk in falling into time trouble and hence a ‘brilliant game’ is less likely to be ruined.

  • Like online blitz chess, you can play from your own home so there are no travelling costs.

  • You have freedom to choose when you want to work on your games.

  • Players may make use of books and databases in almost any correspondence game. Therefore, you don’t need to stress yourself over learning opening theory.

  • With such a long time limit, players are encouraged to study positions in great depth, which would be beneficial to their OTB chess too.

  • Players who have deep strategical understanding of the game (and possibly weaker calculation skills) can really shine in this form of chess.

Technical details

Although there are other bodies, the main regulatory body for correspondence chess is theInternational Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF), which is affiliated with FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the official authority of OTB chess. The ICCF rewards chess titles to distinguished players who show a certain level of performance. These include grandmaster, senior international master, international master and female titles. Especially with computer assistance, I do not see how females are worse than males and why they should be allocated separate titles; it is tradition to do so, however. Nowadays, correspondence chess is often played by email, although it is currently declining in popularity due to email viruses, pestering advertisements, missing emails and similar issues. Many players are turning to server-based correspondence chess which bypasses those problems.

To my knowledge, some organisations allow the use of chess engines (e.g. Fritz, Rybka, etc.), whilst others do not. ICCF and another large organisation, the International Email Chess Group (IECG), have no rules in place which prohibit engine use. Note that the IECG is currently in transition into server-based correspondence play. Another large organisation, the International Email Chess Club (IECC), bans the use of chess engines. Of course, such rules are very difficult to monitor or enforce.

Successful correspondence play

The strongest countries in correspondence play are generally those that are more isolated since players will find it harder to attend OTB events. Therefore, it is no surprise that Australia, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia (presumably remote regions of Russia) perform very well. Germany has the most registered correspondence players, which is also in line with OTB chess.

Typically, players either specialise in OTB chess or correspondence chess and rarely both. Notable exceptions include OTB Grandmasters Jonathan Penrose (England), Paul Keres (Estonia) and Ulf Andersson (Sweden). Keres did so because he could not find strong opposition in his vicinity.

ICCF World Champions:

Other details of interest

Although players normally play blitz or bullet games at the Internet Chess Club (ICC), they actually support correspondence chess. If you have an ICC account, click here to see their help file on correspondence chess.

ChessBase releases a correspondence database every year called “Corr Database”. The 2009 edition included 670,471 correspondence games from 1804 to 2008.

Final notes

For more information, see the official International Correspondence Chess Federation website. Also, see this useful correspondence chess starter kit by well known correspondence chess personality John C. Knudsen. Here are links to the other two clubs I mentioned before, the IECG and the IECC.

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