Going Postal

I've begun my first postal correspondence chess tournament through USCF. Actually, it's the first tournament I've ever played other than those I play on Chess.com.

I was interested in the "old school" chess experience, especially as I read through some of the master level correspondence games in our history. It seems there was an age in chess when reflection on a chess move was a romantic and even spiritual experience. While this may still be true for some of us, I am beginning to wonder if the use of chess databases and computer technology has changed this. I am not sure whether to give in to the pressure of using these chess steroids because everyone else seems to be or quietly rebel. I welcome any guidance from those of you who may have been down this road before.

I believe that there must be some kind of middle ground to discover here. I know that I won't be satisfied as a competitor if I actually "cheat" through the use of a computer (I believe it's illegal in USCF Corrsepondence anyway), however, I don't exactly know where the line is from their perspective. I only know what would "feel" like cheating.

For example, I'm not a strong chess player yet, and I know every game I play is a learning experience, especially as I study openings and the ideas within.

I would feel like I am cheating if I didn't think through the ideas and strategies I am learning about and apply them to the game. I would feel like I am cheating if I simply did what the computer told me to do or just followed what a master player had done before without any thoughtful intention of my own.

So does that mean I get to review my chess literature and utilize chess.com's game explorer to see what others have done in similar circumstances? Isn't this just information gathering? Or am I being seduced by the opportunity to get bigger muscles before I am ready for them?

As I said earlier, I don't know if there is any official answer to these questions and since it can't really be enforced the official answer doesn't really mean much anyway. What does matter is how I feel at the end of a match. 

I still need to make the final call on what move I write on the post card. Correspondence chess takes the memorization of lines out of the game. Whether a person is using rote memory OTB or blindly following moves from a chess database, that person is still missing the chance to experience the brilliance of a true chess player. This brilliance seems to rest within his/her understanding of the possibilities that emerge as each position is reached and the ability to step off that cliff when decision time arrives. I am far from experiencing such brilliance personally, however, I am beginning to appreciate it when I get a glimpse.

I guess we'll see how it turns out for me. We are only at move 5 with 5 other oppponents sending cards and scratch paper back and forth, probably for at least a year. I am getting the chance to actually put pen to paper and place a stamp on a post card which I don't think I am doing for anything else in my life right now. I send all letters and bills electronically so it's been an interesting experience to just write someone's address on a post card and mail it out. I have some other thoughts about the experience that I may write about later. For now, please consider sharing any perspectives about what cheating in correspondence chess means to you. I know that Chess Life just published on this as well so it seems to be of interest to many.

Be well and enjoy the journey.

Chacku (user name Viswamitra)


  • 6 years ago


    Thanks Valentin. I agree. I'll probably stick with just using books to understand what openings I'm in. So far, I'm in a Reti, Symmetrical English, Pirc Defense and a couple queen gambit declined matches. I'm definitely learning a lot from this process.

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks everyone for your great advice about this. Here's a message from Davedude who sent this by message when his comment didn't stick. I hope you don't mind that I posted it here as I really appreciated the comment.



    From: davedude
    To: viswamitra
    Date: Feb 20, 2011 @ 9:57pm
    Subject: Going Postal Blog Entry


    I read your blog post this afternoon, and put together a rather lengthy response.  But somehow the comment didn't stick - not sure if I did something wrong or what.

    Anyway - I don't know that could recreate what I wrote the first time.

    I think you will do fine with your correspondence chess.  You appear to have the right attititude towards getting the most out of it.

    With regards to concerns over cheating - do what you need to do that you find enhances your learning experience.  If you try to use tools that might be seen as cheating, and they don't help your learning - stop using them.  If a tool/aid helps you keep using it.

    At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with what you are doing, and getting your objectives satisfied.  If your learning allows you to play better OTB ( no game aids allowed ) then you will be better off.

    I wish I knew what happened to the original response I had - it was much better composed than what I have put here.

    Thx for taking the time to put up the blog article, and asking the questions that you did.


  • 6 years ago


    What approach would make you feel fulfilled and proud of your work, regardless of the results? 

    I doubt your answer will be to use computers beyond what books can already offer (i.e., opening database, general strategies, etc.). 

    While there is no enforcement per se, you're the enforcer of the choices you make in life, so make them be the best (i.e., most fulfilling) for you.

    I think (though I am not sure, since I haven't played correspondence chess over mail) there is the official line that correspondence chess draws.  After all, access to books is legal and expected and has been so for over a century...

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