Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Correspondence Chess in America by Bryce Avery

      Published March, 2000 by McFarland & Company, Inc.  McFarland has published several books on chess.  They do an absolutely beautiful job but the books are a little on the pricey side.  Well, actually a lot on the pricey side, but I got this book as a gift for Christmas, so cost was not an issue.
      Avery begins by devoting the first chapters to American correspondence chess history up to the early 1970's with most of the focus on the Correspondence Chess League of America.  Actually, the whole book is mostly a detailed history of the CCLA, but the fact that Avery is the historian of the CCLA would account for that.
      Based on a few minor errors of fact it would appear that the post-1970s era has not been quite so well researched.
      I would like to have seen more coverage of Al Horowitz’ Chess Review tournaments, US Chess Federation CC (though theirs is basically a continuation of Horowitz’ efforts) and the American Postal Chess Tournaments (APCT).
      Avery also covered some of the reasons why US players had a lot of trouble in international events back in the old post card days.  I can sympathize with these problems.  Years ago I entered an ICCF event at what today would be about the expert level and distinctly remember two particularly dastardly acts on the part of players who were in those days referred to as behind the Iron Curtain. 
     One was against a Russian. We got assignments about 30 days before the official start of the tournament and were allowed to begin play.  I mailed 1.d4 and never heard anything so when the official start date arrived I sent a repeat.  30 days later I got a letter from the East German TD informing me that I had lost on forfeit.  I composed a nice reply in German giving the details then had it checked by a native German-speaker just to make sure it was correct and all; never heard from the TD.  There was a similar incident against an East German opponent.  We played a few moves and I quit hearing from him.  Repeats were unanswered and in a couple of months I got a notice I had forfeited that game also.  Of course my reply to protest was unanswered.  In the words of my Swedish opponent, “Something is rotten.”  Avery described several similar incidents with other  US CC players. I also had a Canadian opponent who worked on a pipeline north of the Arctic Circle who said they flew his mail in about every two weeks.  After a year and 10-12 moves we agreed to a draw.  I never played international CC again using postcards.
     Where was I?  Oh, yeah; the Avery book.  Avery then does a very good presentation of the US World Correspondence Chess Champions Hans Berliner and Victor Palciauskas.
     There are also four appendices detailing the history of correspondence play in the United States, a bibliography and indexes of openings, players and general. The book contains 233 lightly annotated games and a very few OTB games that have a connection to CC.
     The fact that the book is really not a history of correspondence chess in America but of the CCLA is, in my opinion, a serious drawback, but that has not in any way reduced my enjoyment of the book.  But, would I recommend it? The games are interesting because it shows even unknown players were capable of playing some beautiful games given enough time.  But…unless you are specifically interested in the CCLA and have a wad of extra cash you don’t know what to do with, save your money.  On the other hand, if you can get it free as a gift like I did, it’s a great book.

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