“When I was young, old people’s advice was worthless, but things have changed now”.
“Here’s what I’d do if I were starting out at correspondence chess again”.
I’d enter in a tourney to start with, just one tourney. Six games is a good number. Don’t let me stop you tackling more, but I found that nothing makes enthusiasm evaporate like too many games, whereas the greatest satisfaction comes from remaining steadily active. Mind you, there are ’iron men’ who have had more than 50 games going.
Four-two tourneys and seven-player tourneys both have different advantages. I like the four-two because you get one black game and one white game against each opponent, and of course the postage is less if you always post both games together, but I’ve also come to like the seven-player tourney: I ’meet’ more people, there’s less disruption to the tourney if a player drops out, and if I’m pressed for time I don’t have to worry whether or not to decide on a move in two games at once.
The majority of games in General Tourneys are over in six to twelve months. A year is just another year to me, but it can be a long time when you’re young, so I think it’s fair to say that you should expect to keep up play for that length of time. In Major Tourneys play tends to be slower, there being some long hard-fought games where both players use all of their time, taking up to two years.
There’s no need to open a book if you don’t want to, but if you do, the most vexed question concerns
books on ’openings’. I bought a great number once, but I still made mistakes in the middle-game. So
now I’m just as happy with one or two.
Modern Chess Openings (MCO) is the best known. But until you get into the swing of things, you could be as well off with one of the less specialised books which deal with all phases of the game.
To avoid clerical errors (and thus defeat yourself!), use small cardboard or pocket sets to record the position, if they are obtainable. (The old Portland sets are no longer made in Australia, but some substitutes exist.) Always keep a record of your games. Game scores and board positions may be stored in computer files, but don’t use the computer to analyse the position unless you are playing in one of the CCLA’s computer-assisted tourneys. Try to beat your opponent with your own brains, not an electronic one!
I keep my game scores after I take them out of my notebook, and play over some of them years later. Being unrealistic about the time I could afford never did me any good. Why not spend only ten minutes over every move if that’s all that’s available? A hint to beginners: don’t try too hard. Don’t try to calculate every conceivable possibility, wait until the experience of a number of completed games tells you how ambitiously you can afford to lay your plans. Remember that even the Masters can see only a few moves ahead.
A rough rule for resigning is: in Class 4 and above, a piece down; in Classes 5 to 7, two pieces down (of course, if there is no compensating advantage). But anybody is entitled to modify this rough rule if they see fit. It’s far better to resign and start some new games than play on in a hopeless position.
It’s very nice to win, but winning too many games in a row can be awkward: your rating rises and in the upper grades the standard rises steeply. Then losses follow and it’s hard to avoid getting discouraged. Well, let’s hope the rough comes with the smooth. Some old hands have spent years oscillating from Class 5 to Class 3 and back again. Never a dull moment for players like these!
Perhaps Grandmaster Tarrasch has the best summary (in The Game of Kings, 1936) of why all kinds of folk
play the Game of Kings with such devotion.
Chess is a form of intellectual productiveness; therein lies its peculiar charm. Intellectual productiveness is one of the greatest joys - if not the greatest one - of human existence. It is not everyone who can write a play, build a bridge, or even make a good joke. But in chess everyone must be intellectually productive and so can share in this select delight. I always have a slight pity for the man who has remained ignorant of love. Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.
Or perhaps a more British-style anecdote on the King of Games:
If you’re a Caliph, or a King, whose every whim is law, then losing a game of chess must be a chastening experience. This accounts no doubt for the large number of sore losers in the history of royal chess. There are too many to tell all, but here is one of the more interesting. King Canute, the first King of all England (the one who commanded the tide to stop), was playing Earl Ulf of Denmark, when he blundered away a knight. Imperiously he tried to take the move back, but Ulf wasn’t having any. After a vigorous debate, the Earl, fed up at seeing an easy win snatched away, knocked the board over. This was an early example of a fatal chess blunder: Canute had him slain for arguing (the hit-man was called, appropriately, Ivor the White).
- The Even More Complete Chess Addict
by Mike Fox and Richard James, published by faber and faber