The Daily Review, Sunday, August 19, 1979

Richard Shorman


(continued) By Cecil Purdy,
Former World Correspondence Chess Champion

"All other things being equal (imagination, strategical judgement, tactical knowledge and physical endurance), the best tournament player will evidently be the one who can, in the average of three or four minutes allowed for a move, eliminate most rapidly the non-plausible moves in order to concentrate his attention on the plausible moves."

"Economy of thought is the second trench of chess; it is what separates the amateur from the master."

"Now, in correspondence play, where a time limit is virtually non-existent, and moves may be tried out before being played, this trench is partly covered up, and the inequality of strength arises only from the differences in the other qualities. With the aid of method, pencil and paper the correspondence player can usually exhaust all the moves and determine the best variation. He can play with prospects against an adversary who would invariably beat him over the board."


Of course, there are many who prefer to spend their time on "skittles" chess. The moves are played and forgotten, just like the tricks played in a game of cards. As a relaxation, this kind of chess is as good as any other. But one is tempted to think that some of those who content themselves with skittles do so only because they have resigned themselves to the hopelessness of ever becoming experts. It has simply never occurred to them that it is possible for them to play expert chess without becoming expert players!

Correspondence chess, in a word, puts players of different classes on an equal footing. The weaker player can challenge the stronger one without affront, and the latter is able to get excellent practice against opponents who would only spoil his game if he practiced with them over the board.


Correspondence play is an excellent vehicle for testing out opening variations. One game by correspondence is a better test than half a dozen over the board, other things being equal. In a book on the openings, you will see many references to games between quite unknown amateurs, played by correspondence, and such games are just as likely to be a reliable guide as those played between a couple of masters in an international tournament.

Indeed, many more correspondence games would be quoted if more were published, but the public naturally wants to see the games played by the leading masters in the big tournaments, so that the law of supply and demand limits the publication of correspondence games to a very small proportion.

Chess lovers certainly admire good games of chess. But to nearly all of them, it is the sporting element that appeals most. In correspondence play, the winner - even over a long series of games - is not necessarily the stronger player, but may be the player with more time at his disposal, or even the more up-to-date library.

For this reason, correspondence matches and tournaments are a little incongruous. It is more fitting to regard correspondence chess in the light of "art for art's sake" than as a vehicle for competition.

In general, a higher standard should be demanded or correspondence chess than over-the-board chess, and it is not in itself remarkable if two practically unknown players produce a game that is more accurately played than many tournament games printed.


An additional factor that detracts from the sporting value of correspondence play is the impossibility of preventing unfair assistance. It is illegal to receive help from friends, but when a rule cannot be enforced, it only penalizes the conscientious.

We have so far been dealing with correspondence play as an end in itself. What of its value to the student anxious to improve his over-the-board play?

A Parisian player considerably above average strength asked Alekhine how he could improve his game. Alekhine replied that at the stage already reached by this player, he could make further progress only by taking up correspondence play. (Alekhine himself played a great deal of correspondence chess in his younger days.)


Correspondence chess, if not indulged in to the exclusion of other forms of practice and study, is unquestionably a valuable aid to improvement. It enables one to study the openings efficiently and pleasantly and to venture on combinations which, in over-the-board practice, one would avoid.

It is better to confine oneself to a few games, to which one can give a reasonable amount of time, than to attempt to conduct several dozen, over which one will often have to hurry, thus losing the real benefit of this form of the game.


Emanuel Lasker, writing in "Lasker's Chess Magazine" (Dec. 1904) says:

"The correspondence game, considered as an intellectual distraction, as a means of studying the openings, as a training in analysis, is beyond the reach of criticism. In considering, however, in influence on tournament chess, played with a time limit, our conclusion is that the correspondence game, if practiced exclusively, produces a good correspondence player but an inferior chess player. It is reasonable to practice simultaneously the two kinds of chess, in such a way that the excellent lessons learned in correspondence play may be constantly utilized in tournament play."

Lasker's excellent summing up needs only be qualified by the reminder that for those who have either no ambition to shine in tournament play, or else no opportunity of indulging in it, correspondence chess may well be adopted as a complete hobby in itself, and it is one that brings true and lasting pleasure.

(Adapted from "The Australasian Chess Review," Oct. 8, 1936, pp. 273-76)

White: Paul Keres Black: F. Sachsenmater
International Correspondence Tournament, 1932-33.
Giuoco Piano

1 e4 e5
2 Nf3 Nc6
3 Bc4 Bc5
4 c3 Nf6
5 d4 ed
6 cd Bb4
7 Nc3 Ne4
8 0-0 Bc3
9 d5 Bf6
10 Re1 Ne7
11 Re4 d6
12 Bg5 Bg5
13 Ng5 0-0
14 Nh7!? Kh7
15 Rh4 Kg8
16 Qh5 f5
17 Re1!? Ng6!
18 Rh3 Rf6!
19 Qh7 Kf7
20 Re6!? c6?
21 Rhe3! Bd7?
22 Rf6! Kf6
23 Rg3! Be8
24 Qh5! Ke7
25 Qf5 cd
26 Bd5 Qc8
27 Qg5 Kd7
28 Rc3! Qb8
29 Rb3! b6
30 Re3! a5
31 Qf5! Resigns

White: Paul Keres. Black: W. E. Kunerth. Correspondence Match, 1935. Giuoco Piano 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 ed 6 cd Bb4 7 Nc3 Ne4 8 0-0 Bc3 9 d5 Bf6 10 Re1 Ne7 11 Re4 d6 12 Bg5 Bg5 13 Ng5 0-0 14 14 Nh7!? Kh7 15 Qh5 Kg8 16 Rh4 f5 17 Rh3! Bd7? 18 Re1! Rf6 19 Qh7 Kf7 20 Rg3 Ng6 21 Re6! Be6? 22 de Kf8 23 e7! Ke7 24 Qg7 Ke8 25 Rg6 Resigns.

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