What makes CC so different from OTB chess?

(The following thoughts are solely my own and in no way related to ICCF.)

Often people ask me why I play correspondence chess (CC). Isn't it boring to spend more than three years to finish a single game? If you play a Russian, it may take even twice as long. Am I not missing the thrill of a zeitnot finish in a decisive over-the-board (OTB) club game?

No, I am not. I am sort of a perfectionist who suffers too much after having spoiled a good position due to shortage of time. Good OTB players have good physical condition, strong nerves, an extraordinary memory, and the ability to concentrate well and to adapt quickly to changing situations on the board. Good CC players are extremely patient, hardworking and can analyze well. There is a tradeoff between intuition and analytical care. The less intuition a CC player has, the more he must work. Of course, both abilities are needed for any kind of chess, but to different extents.

I, personally, have hardly had any success in OTB chess. Years ago, I had a German Ingo rating of 92, which raised to 115 before I gave up OTB play. This corresponds to the level of a third or fourth class player. In CC, things are different. I have an Elo of 2555 and just fulfilled the requirements to gain the CC GM title. With luck I'll be among the top 80 in the 1997 Elo list (Elo 2580). There are many more players with a similar difference in strength.

Besides the intuition-analysis tradeoff, other factors influence playing strength in CC. Unlike OTB players who rely on their mental and physical abilities only, a CC player can resort to all kinds of support. He may sit in front of a board, moving pieces forth and back, or he may meet friends in the pub to discuss the latest CC positions. He may search the literature to find the most recent opening novelty, or he may think that consulting his huge game database is quicker for this purpose. And, of course, he may run your position on his chess computer.

CC players can sleep on their decisions before they commit to them by putting post cards into the letter box. This is particularly important for players who don't have infallible intuitions, but must instead systematically experiment with various plans before reaching a profound insight.

CC players also can take time if the position changes its character. They can slowly get used to it, whereas an OTB player must be able to accomodate to such changes within seconds.

Modern OTB chess puts strong emphasis on the psychologically best move. This is the one causing the most trouble for the opponent in the situation at hand. Throwing in a piece, complicating the position at almost any price, if the opponent is in time trouble - all this may yield the point even if the 'truth' in the position is different.

Truth in chess is what you can best look for by playing CC. Since most psychological factors are ruled out, chess in its full depth remains to be explored. Still it is true that the player wins who makes the but last mistake. But high class CC games can often tell more about the nature of chess than comparably ranked OTB games.

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Last changed on April 28, 1996.

Stephan Busemann