Highlights in the history of correspondence chess
Ordinary chess is for mortals - correspondence chess for immortals
(after Eduard Dyckhoff)
A. Selected matches between cities
The Edinburgh Chess Club was founded in 1822 and gathered in the impressive North British Hotel. The young club challenged the London Chess Club for a correspondence match. Edinburgh's star was James Donaldson. London had William Lewis and John Cochrane.
Edinburgh sent the first move on 23 April 1824. London mailed the move for Black and opened a second game five days later. A historic incident occurred when London wanted to withdraw one of two mailed moves in game two. Edinburgh refused. In my analyses, I show that both moves draw and a third move is needed for the win. The match was decided by the best of three games. Draws had to be replayed. Edinburgh won with 2-1 on 31 vii1828. London had to present a silver cup worth 25 guineas. The ‘Scots Gambit Cup’ still exists.
Several important international matches between cities have been included:
London - Paris 1834-36 0-2
Paris - Pest 1842-46 0-2
London - Wien 1872-74 1˝-˝
London - St Petersburg 1886-87 ˝-1˝
St Petersburg - Wien 1897-98 ˝-1˝.
Modern chess began with London - Wien 1872-74, according to Steinitz! He had forgotten London - Edinburgh 1824-28.
Carlo Pagni described the many chess matches between cities.
B. Individual contests
Organised individual events began in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The initiative was taken by columnists of magazines in several countries. Chigorin played an important role. He used his chess column for the organisation of a correspondence tournament. Twelve participants played double rounds from 1 iii 1884 until x 1886. Chigorin triumphed by twenty wins and two draws.
After Steinitz had published 'The modern chess instructor I' in 1889, Chigorin criticised two opening novelties: a poor idea for the Evans Gambit and a fine one for the Two Knights. These views were tested in a cable match from 1890-91. Steinitz was crushed in both games.
French journals organised individual events too. Berger won the second tournament of Le Monde Illustré (1889-92) by forty-five wins and three draws. Later Charousek, Maróczy, Alekhine and Grünfeld played correspondence chess events before their international career in over-the-board chess began.
C. Bundesmeisterschaft (Open German)
The Internationaler Fernschachbund (IFSB) was founded in Berlin on 2 December 1928 by four Germans and a Dutchman. It became a federation of European countries during the 1930's. Circa two-hundred European tournaments were organised. Each year from 1929-38, a Bundesmeisterschaft (German Open) began. Eduard Dyckhoff, Marcel Duchamp and Paul Keres were the best known winners.The first European Olympiad lasted from 1935 until 1939. Main organiser became Hans-Werner von Massow. He was an editor of Fernschach from January 1929 until the summer of 1939. The IFSB remained neutral towards Nazism, a courageous conduct. When the war began, chess journals became the main organisers of correspondence chess tournaments again.
D. World championships
Correspondence chess revived quickly after the war. The ICCA was established in 1946. Later it became the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). Air mail had made intercontinental correspondence chess possible. Europe could start postal fights with Australia and the American continent.
Von Massow, Rueb and Euwe had already talked about a world championship in 1937. The time was ripe for this idea in 1947. At least one game has been selected from each world championship. Several Olympiads, World Cups and Memorials have been chosen from numerous other events. The last Bundesmeister was Edmund Adam. He met problems after the war, as a German. When he appeared to be a concentration camp victim, he could take part in the world championship’s final in 1950. Soon Von Massow and Fernschach were back too. Germany had been reintegrated internationally. Cecil Purdy became the first champ.
Hans Berliner won the fifth world championship in 1967 by a fantastic score of 14/16. Later the chess program Hitech was developed by him. His successors were not involved in computer chess and correspondence chess stayed free from its influence for the time being.
The future champ Baumbach posted a card before Christmas. He started to worry about about a tactical trick. The next morning he waited in the cold near the postal box. The mailman helped him to retrieve the card. He found a better line during the holidays and posted the same card. Actually I was able to refute the correction and amend it. So the move was right after all!
E. Computer applications
Chess programs became available for personal computers during the 1980's. A strong influence on correspondence chess became apparent in the first half of the 1990's: 1. Opening searches were facilitated by game databases. 2. Positions could be checked on blunders by analytical programs. 3. Email became available for the transmission of moves. 4. Endgames with few pieces were solved. Positional evaluations by chess programs improved during the second half of the nineteens. Strategic planning can be simulated in the new millennium, but difficulties with prophylaxis and positional sacrifices remain. So a player should not be the mailman of a computer. The combination of human and machine leads to a paramount level. Joop van Oosterom became the eighteenth and twenty-first word champion.
Main sources for historial information were Bottlik's article in ICCF Gold and the Megacorr3 CD. The analyses are new or have been rewritten by Jan van Reek.