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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Mystery of the Correspondence Chess Playing Specialist

With the advent of computer program use in correspondence chess, many over the board players remain convinced that the "CC Specialist" is nothing more than a talented computer operator.

The problem with this theory, of course, is that CC specialists have been around for a long, long time...

CJS Purdy - G.F. McIntosh [D10]

Private CC Match, 1936


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bf5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Nge2 Qa5!! 7.f3? e5! 8.e4 exd4! 9.Qxd4 Nb4! 10.Qd1 N8a6!! 11.Nf4 Rd8 12.Bd2 Bd6 13.Qb1 Nc5! 14.Nfd5? cxd5 15.Nxd5 Bg3+! 16.hxg3 Rxd5 17.Qd1 Qb6!! 18.Bb5+ Bd7!!

(19.exd5 Ncd3+ 20.Bxd3 Nxd3+ 21.Ke2 Bb5! 22.Qg1 Nf2+ 23.Ke1 0-0! mating or winning the queen - Purdy. "The best win I have ever had scored against me." ACR, June 1937.)


By the time this game appeared in ACR, Purdy was the over the board champion of Australia. He went on to become a FIDE IM, and the 1st World Correspondence Chess Champion. McIntosh was an "A-grade" over the board player, but no more (The First Fifty Years of the Correspondence Chess League of Australia, CCLA, 1980).

How is it possible for an ordinary over the board player to be such a monster at correspondence chess? Surely, in 1936, Mr. Purdy was not wondering whether his opponent was using a computer in their game.

The instance of the Correspondence Chess specialist is one of the real mysteries of chess, even to the present day. In the abstract, everyone has access to information equally. Databases, opening reference books, computer engines, etc. Should not the strong over the board player have an overwhelming advantage, in the talent sense? He, too, can use all of these tools.

My theory regarding CC specialists, how they are possible, is simple. Firstly, correspondence chess is a different form of the game, which requires a different skill set. Secondly, the additional reflection time is a leveling up factor. Correspondence games are not generally ruined by obvious blunders, time control nervousness, and so on.

Correspondence chess players can take heart in knowing that they can compete with strong masters in correspondence chess. In my over the board days, I used to stand in awe watching masters play. Things would often happen so quickly, due to time scrambles, that I had real trouble comprehending what was going on. In correspondence play, on the other hand, I have plenty of time to study, work on plans, try out different things.

Recently, GM Peter Leko, one of the top chess players in the world, tried out serious correspondence chess play in a team event. He was nicked for some draws (and at least one loss that I know of) by - guess who? Correspondence Chess specialists.

Motivations may well prove to be another significant factor in all of this - but the mystery of the Correspondence Chess specialist persists!
Copyright © 1998-2005 by John C. Knudsen, all rights reserved. May be reprinted freely with all contents intact.

John C. Knudsen is a Senior International Master (SIM), and has been playing competitive correspondence chess for over 25 years. He is the owner of which has been serving the cc community since 1996. He also has an E-Book site located at which features e-books in many different categories.


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