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ICCF and the future

by Alan P. Borwell, ICCF President

In Switzerland in 1999, the delegate for Netherlands, Nol van’t Riet, presented a very interesting and thought provoking paper to the ICCF Congress. This paper is reproduced fully following this introduction and readers will be able to compare where we are now, where we may be going and where we may be, in Nol’s vision of the Year 2010 !

It is quite clear that the future of correspondence chess will be very closely related to the advance of new technologies and modern communication methods. Not only does this enable chess moves to be transmitted much more quickly and simply, but the cost of playing has been reduced drastically to a small fraction of the cost of postage stamps and CC playing cards/envelopes.

Although there are still many players who prefer to continue playing CC by postal transmission, these numbers are falling, but ICCF will continue to provide postal tournaments whilst there continues to be a sufficient and sustainable demand. During the past few years, we have seen a rapid trend whereby many players are preferring to play CC by Email (even for completion of existing postal tournament games). Therefore, we have initiated World Championships and Olympiads for Email play in recent years.

However, as this inexorable trend continues and gathers pace, we must consider the future as far as all ICCF tournaments are concerned and, particularly, World Championships. Instead of having separate postal and Email World Championship cycles, we will soon have integrated tournaments, with sections for play by Email and some by post, at the Semi-final and ¾ Final stages. For the Finals, it is envisaged that that a new Final will be started as soon as there are sufficient numbers of qualified and representative qualifiers, who are wishing to play by Email or by post, respectively. This would mean that starting say in World CC semi-final XXX would not necessarily mean progression to ¾ Finals XXX or Final XXX, but to the next ¾ Finals or Final to be started with the player’s chosen mode of communication.

As is already the case, a player’s qualification for a further stage can be used either for the same method of transmission or for a change to an Email or postal ¾ Final or the World CC Championship Finals. Similarly, this process could be mirrored for World Cups, Zonal Championships and other Promotion tournaments.

As Nol van’t Riet has indicated in his visionary paper, we will see greater flexibility both for types of membership of ICCF and in the development of relationships with other chess organizations, including internet clubs. Such developments will be taken forward in an evolutionary way in consultation with member federations, through their ICCF delegates, to ensure that their rights and best interests are not prejudiced – indeed the WWW will be a means to reach out to and attract many new players to ICCF tournaments and, thereby, encourage them to become members of their national federations.

We also expect the number of countries with membership of ICCF to increase substantially, as more remote parts of the globe can be reached more easily via the internet.

It is also very possible, in the future, that ICCF will increasingly focus on the organisation of World Championships, World Team events (e.g. Olympiads) and World Cup Tournaments, along with Zonal Championships, inter-Zonal events and some specialist and propagandistic tournaments. This could mean that international tournaments for players say under 2000 ratings may not be organised by ICCF globally, but be offered via Zonal tournament offices, member federations and perhaps, partner associations eg specialist Email clubs.

In the Jubilee Year, another exciting innovation was launched when Chris Lüers, ICCF’s young and enterprising Email TO Commissioner, proposed the introduction of a new team competition, the ICCF Champion’s League, for teams of four players, with promotion/ relegation after each league cycle. An incredible entry of 242 teams started play this year in 22 sections, each with 11 teams, playing by Email.

Of course, in the old days, with postal transmission delays, these options were not possible but now, it is quite feasible for national member federations to offer wider membership opportunities and include overseas players in domestic Email tournaments – transmission time is no longer a factor.

Let me now turn to ICCF services and refer to some of the developments which have or are likely to become available within the next few years. Since the 1999 Congress in Thun, we have already seen the introduction of Direct Entry facilities for new CC players, hosted by our good friend John Knudsen, at his excellent WWW site “The Correspondence Chess Place”. We now have the publication of two fully updated Rating Lists each year and a really fascinating interactive rating calculator/forecasting facility, which our Ratings Commissioner, Gerhard Binder, so expertly designed.

ICCF Online Games Archivist, Wes Green, reported that after only a relatively short time, the ICCF downloadable Games Archive already included well over 10,000 CC games and it will be expanded to include many more thousands of good games.

Søren Peschardt initiated some excellent services via the official ICCF internet site “iccf.com”, including a “games from tournaments in progress” feature and more innovations are planned by his successor, Evelin Radosztics. Our Marketing Director, Pedro Hegoburu, has introduced entertaining Congress reports and photograph galleries. Guidelines are being designed for new players and tournament directors and a Code of Conduct will soon be available, to cover all aspects of “good practice” for players and officials.

Another exciting development which is now imminent, will be the introduction of new dedicated ICCF webserver tournaments. Players will no longer need to use notation to record their moves, will not need to enter any playing time information or record other details on postcards or Email messages – this will all be done automatically via your PC screens and the internet !

That is enough from me, as an introduction to Nol’s article, which I hope you will find illuminating and enjoyable – let your imagination take over as you read on – already you will be able to see that Nol’s visions are coming to reality !


“Correspondence chess in the year 2010”

by Nol van ‘t Riet

Paper presented to the ICCF Congress 1999 in Thun, Switzerland.


Today I will take you with me to the world in the year 2010, although I don’t know how the world will look like then. No one knows, but I will try to outline what it might be like in 2010. Sometimes it’s good to try to think about ten years ahead.

In the year 2010 the internet has been spread all over the whole world. Not only do higher educated people and computer freaks have internet access. No, almost everybody has direct access, at their work, at home, at all kind of places. In the year 2010 everyone is permanent connected electronically to each other.

After the industrial revolution of two centuries ago, we all have been witnesses of a new revolution during the first ten years of the 21st century: the electronic revolution.

Through the internet we are connected with whom we wish to be connected. Only think about the kind of things which are possible nowadays. The people in 1999 could not have imagined those kind of things. As you know everything is changed: your work, your relations, shopping, reading the newspaper, and so on. Didn’t we have those traffic problems every day, ten years ago, with numbers of queues of so many miles? And now? They are gone these problems, and those queues, because most of us are no longer working at the office five days a week, but, as you know, we are all teleworking at home for some days a week.

But let me only talk about correspondence chess. You can’t imagine that we ever played correspondence chess by post. In the year 2010 the postal system hardly exists anymore. Anyway not for such dull things like postal chess cards with moves written on it, going around the world as “pigeons of peace”, as the then ICCF President Hans-Werner von Massow used to call them. As you know there is still a postal system, but in such a way that you have to pay a lot if you want to use it.

My new neighbour in Gouda is a pipe-maker. In his pottery he makes the old stoneware pipes. Hundreds of tourists are visiting his pottery every day. Some of them buy such a stoneware pipe, they pay a lot of money for it. About one hundred years ago there was a big stoneware factory in Gouda. In this factory six million pipes a year were made. They were also transported to France and especially to some African countries. When after the First World War the cigarette came and the Gouda pipe industry quietly disappeared.

And that’s the same as what has happened with the postal version of our kind of sport. The younger people of the 21st century hardly know what postal chess has been about. But the new technological possibilities have caught them for email chess. And as you know we have many young people now, playing email chess.

You all know the benefits of email chess already. Maybe the most important one is that the games are finished much quicker. It is more than thirty years ago that the adjournment of over-the-board games was abolished, in order to speed up the games and the over-the-board tournaments.

Email chess has had the same effect on our games and our tournaments. All our tournaments are nowadays finished in less than two years. So now we are again able to plan our tournament cycles properly. And that’s a big profit.

It’s a big advantage for the players too. Now they are able to plan their playing agenda again. They are no longer depending on “amici sumus” decisions which always led to postponements of new starts. How many players were frustrated by these postponements during the last decades of the last century? As we didn’t like to be unfair to one player, we sometimes kept tens of players in uncertainty for months, yes even sometimes for years, by not being able to tell them when a new cycle would begin.

But now it is 2010. So it’s no longer important what the world was like ten years ago. I will describe the world of correspondence chess in the year 2010. Why? Just to philosophise somewhat together with you. I don’t make any proposal to change the ICCF Statutes, nor the Playing or the Tournament Rules. No, I only try to paint you a possible picture of what might happen between now and ten years.

Let’s say, you are playing in a tournament, in the year 2010. It’s organised by the Peruvian federation. It’s an Open Cup tournament. Just like most cup tournaments always have been: Preliminaries, Semi-finals, Final. You are playing in a group of 11 players. All 55 games started at the same time. Quite the same as it was in the past. And you have just been thinking about a move in the game with your opponent from Senegal. This game started about 9 months ago and you are now playing move 35. I hear you thinking: “do they also have internet in Peru?” “And in Senegal?” The answer is yes: in the year 2010 most people in Peru and in Senegal do have internet.

By the way, you have found your move by using a chess computer. As you know for so many years, we are using computers for almost everything. So we also use chess computers to help us to find our moves. And, let us be honest, most of us were already using chess computers in 1999 as well. And after all, what’s the difference between a chess computer and a chess book? The only difference is that a chess computer suggests a move in every position, where a book only suggests a move in a limited number of positions. Our friend Ragnar Wikman already pointed out in the nineties, that it’s only important to find the best move in each position, regardless the way in which that position has been established.

But this is not today’s topic. We are in the year 2010 and you have just decided what your move will be. Sitting in your easy chair, using a kind of a remote control, you are moving a cursor on a kind of a screen which is projected on the wall of your living room. Or on the wall of your study, or on the wall of your bedroom or your toilet. That’s all possible. You click on the ICCF icon, you go to Peru, to their fifth Open Cup tournament, to the preliminary group 14 and finally to your game with your opponent Ba from Senegal. On the wall the diagram with the actual position is projected.

It is expected that within two years from now you no longer have to click on icons. People say that within two years time we do have voice recognition. The only thing you have to do then is to say “Game with Ba” and the position will be projected on the wall.

But today we still have to use our remote control. You click on your White Queen on d4 and then on the Black bishop on f6, which you want to take with your Queen. Under the diagram the question appears whether it’s your intention to play 35.Qxf6? You click on the possible answer ‘yes’ and everything is okay. Your move is automatically sent to the computer of your opponent, via the ICCF computer, which is controlled by Chris Lüers, and which computer is automatically controlling all games in all ICCF approved tournaments.

Of course, the registration of the reflection time also takes place automatically. The ICCF computer settles that itself. You don’t have to register it yourself. So for your opponents it’s no longer possible to fiddle with the reflection times. That’s rather convenient, isn’t it?

You could also have clicked on the icon of the draw offer. Or you could have resigned. In this case that would not have been wise, as you are quite sure that 35.Qxf6 is the winning move. And just as with postal chess in the past, now the most stressful period of a game starts, the period of waiting with expectation: will Mr. Ba resign immediately, or will he play some more moves? Or have you made a mistake? Have you maybe overlooked something?

In Senegal it’s two hours earlier as it is here in Switzerland, so maybe Mr. Ba will send his reply this same evening. While you are working on other internet activities, you are quietly waiting for a nice sound, which may indicate that something has happened in one of your games. But nothing happens. So once again you go to the diagram with the actual position in your game with Ba. Click to ICCF, click to return to the last page. Yes, your last move is correctly recorded, but there is no news. And then, just when you are drinking a nice glass of wine with your partner, and when you are thinking to go to bed, then at once you hear that expected sound. And look! There are two new messages: Ba resigns, and the game between Schröder and Kléber is a draw. Now just click on the actual tournament table. Yes, it’s just what you were thinking: if you make a draw in your last game with Schröder you not only have scored an IM norm, but then you also win the group.

The fact that you can achieve an IM norm in this tournament, automatically implies that the tournament has been approved by ICCF. Otherwise it would also not have been possible to find this tournament on the ICCF website. And it indeed also implies that the results of the games will be incorporated in the ICCF Rating System.

In addition to having a look at the new and most actual tournament table, you can also immediately ask for your new rating. This new rating has automatically been calculated by the computer of Gerhard Binder at the same moment on which Mr. Ba resigned the game. The implementation of this possibility has been a fine job of Mr. Binder, which he has performed about five years ago.

You also can find the new ratings of your other opponents: Schröder from Germany and Kléber from France. And you can download the moves of their game and see the game move by move, also projected on your wall.

Within ICCF we have had tough discussions about the question whether it might be possible to look permanently at all the games of all your opponents, or that you only were allowed to see the moves when a game was finished. In the first case it would be possible for anyone to send comments on all other games to all opponents, or only to some of them, etcetera. Asked and/or unasked. So that’s why ICCF decided in 2005, when this new system of playing the internet tournaments, was introduced, that games will only be available for other players when they were finished.

So that’s the way it goes in the year 2010. And if it’s not possible to see the moves of the game Schröder – Kléber on the wall of your room, because there is no wall available, or because the wall is full with other things, or because your son is using the wall for a terrible computer game, in all those cases you can always use a portable screen as big as a book used to be in the last century and as flexible as a paperback. That’s also the screen which you take with you when you are going to bed and you want to read something. With a very small antenna the screen is connected with your home computer. And when you are in your bed, you only have to click on ‘book’ and you get the page on which you stopped reading yesterday.

So that’s the way it goes in the year 2010. No more walking to the post office, no more gluing stamps, no more connecting your computer with the one of a provider, no more sending of emails, no more registration of reflection time, no more writing errors. Just a few clicks and everything is done and okay. And automatic repeats after ten days, when no reply has come in, and so on, and so on.

Does this mean that you don’t have any contact with your opponent? Is correspondence chess as impersonal as that? Of course it isn’t. If you wish you can send attachments together with your move: remarks, analyses, questions, all kind of correspondence. Just as you did in the past when you played postal games.

There only rests one question: how did you get into that Peruvian Cup tournament? About ten months ago you read about it, that it would start on the 1st of January 2010. You found this information when you were zapping on the ICCF website. There you found an announcement of this tournament. And there you also found the three possible ways to enter the tournament. It was remarkable to see that each way of entering had his own entry fee.

The first way was to enter as a member of a national ICCF member federation. In that case you could pay your entry fee to the treasurer of your federation. This treasurer then would forward your entry to the Peruvian organisers. This was the cheapest way to enter the tournament.

Another possibility is to be a personal member of ICCF. In the past this possibility was not existing, but about seven years ago ICCF had opened this kind of personal membership for players who didn’t like to be a member of a national federation. Via internet and your credit card number you could pay your personal subscription yearly to ICCF.

It was something cheaper than being a member of a national federation, but you had to pay higher entry fees to the tournaments. Although those differences were not the same in all member countries. One of the consequences of being a personal ICCF member was that you could not participate in national championships, nor play in official or friendly country tournaments and matches.

Finally the third possibility was that you were a free and unbound player: not a member of a national federation, nor a personal member of ICCF. In this case you had to pay the highest entry fee. Unless you had never before participated in any other ICCF approved tournament. In that case you always were allowed to start with some free tournaments, in order to find out whether you liked the game or not. That’s a rather old rule, already accepted by the 1998 Congress in Riga.

Just some remarks about the personal members. They pay their yearly subscription to ICCF through the internet, using the nowadays completely safe credit card facilities. A certain part of this subscription is forwarded by ICCF to the national federation of the country in which such a player is living. In order to involve these personal members more in the ICCF organisational work, these personal members do also have a delegate to the ICCF Congress, since the year 2007. Every 4 years the General-Secretary of the ICCF asks via the internet which personal members would like to be this delegate. And then he organises a voting on the internet between the interested personal members.

Maybe you wonder what kind of tournaments ICCF is still organising itself in the year 2010. Anyway the World Championships, the Olympiads and the World Cup. Part of the World Championships are the qualification cycles, which are quite the same as they were in the past: Master Class, Quarterfinals, Semi-finals and Finals. Fortunately we don’t have these strange Three-quarterfinals any longer. This name was already abolished in the year 2000, when the new Tournament Rules were accepted. And under the Master Class there is still one class left: the Open Class. The main reason for the reduction to one class is that the playing strength of the weakest players has increased very much by the rise in the use of chess computers.

Finally the Thematic Tournaments are still rather popular. But there are no longer any other ICCF tournaments. Many, many international tournaments are nowadays being organised by the national federations. So many tournaments, that there is no need for ICCF to organize the Master Norm tournaments any longer. And, in a certain way one must say: the more international tournaments the national federations organise, the better.

In order to get title norms and to get games rated in the ICCF Rating System, international tournaments must be approved by ICCF. Tournaments can get this approval rather easy. There are only a few conditions. The tournaments must be played according to the ICCF Rules, under the guidance of an ICCF Arbiter as Tournament Director, and finally the fees for the granting of title norms and for the rating of the games must be paid regularly. So the rules for the ICCF approval are clear.

This means that only three things are within the specific area of ICCF: the World CC Championships, international correspondence chess titles which are also recognised by FIDE, and the official, properly and well-calculated and verified ratings.

Still there isn’t much money in the international correspondence chess world in the year 2010. For real big sponsors, correspondence chess is still a very small world. But that doesn’t matter. It means we are still a special group of people: keener on chess, especially on correspondence chess, keener on the international contacts than on money.

International contacts are possible from the highest to the lowest level.

Our kind of sport is the only sport in which all players have the possibility to play international games regularly.

Let me try to finish this speech. When I took over the European Tournament Office in 1983 from his deceased wife Bertl von Massow, and when I started to work with a computer.

Hans-Werner von Massow, feared that working with a computer would be the end of ICCF. Now, in the year 2010, we only can conclude that there are still tens of thousands of pigeons of peace flying around the world every day. They only have a different appearance. To say it better: nowadays, those pigeons of peace are almost invisible.

The only difference with the last century, is that we are no longer using postage stamps or collecting stamps. For the rest. playing correspondence chess in the year 2010, is much easier to play and therefore it gives us even more fun!


Nol van ‘t Riet,
Thun 1999