A Treasure Trove of Ideas: the Corr Database 2018

by André Schulz
10/5/2017 – Correspondence chess is a special form of "decelerated" chess. Alekhine, Keres, Euwe and many other top players liked to play correspondence chess and honed their skills with it. But, a lot of players disregard or ignore the pleasures and discoveries others find correspondence chess has to offer. The new "Corr Database 2018" is the biggest collection of correspondence games around, and a treasure trove of fantastic games and surprising opening ideas.

Corr Database 2018 Corr Database 2018

Corr Database 2018 is an extensive collection of correspondence games, featuring classical correspondence games played by mail as well as email games.


Opening the treasure trove

Today the internet makes it easy to play chess with people who are thousands of miles away. Before the rise of the internet people exchanged letters and postcards to play chess against people from other cities or continents — a form of chess that is slower than today's internet chess but had its charms. 

1804: The first Correspondence Games

Legend has it that the Eastern Roman Emperor Nikephoros I [the first] and the caliph Harun-al-Rashid played correspondence chess against each other. However, as the two rulers and their people often went to war against each other this does not seem to be very likely.

Voltaire at chess tableMuch more plausible is the story that Voltaire and Frederick the Great played chess across great distances against each other.  Messengers helped to exchange moves between Paris and Potsdam. Katherine the Great is also said to have been one of Voltaire's correspondence chess partners. After all, one advantage of correspondence chess is that you can play a number of games simultaneously.

In chess a move does not require an immediate reaction. In a game without time control it does not matter how fast you reply to your opponent's move - crucial is the strength and depth of your reply.

The first correspondence games of which the moves survived were played by Friedrich Wilhelm von Mauvillon, a Prussian officer. He played these games in 1804, when he was stationed in The Hague, against a chess friend who lived in Breda. Von Mauvillon later published three of these games in his Anweisung zur Erlernung des Schachspiels ("Instruction to Learning the Game of Chess"), published in Essen in 1827.

Above: "Voltaire at chess table" | ArtHermitage.org

Below: Instruction for learning the chess game, 1827

The official history of correspondence chess had begun and these three games are also the first entries in the Corr Database 2018, which contains more than 1.4 million correspondence games played from 1804 to 2017.

In the middle of the 19th century, city matches became popular — and not only between the big European cities. In these prestigious matches the best players fought for the honour of their city and discussed at length which move to play. Usually, this move was then published by the local press — an early form of "live transmission". The newspaper readers could follow, analyse and discuss the games. These matches helped to popularise chess. The first chess clubs were founded, the first chess magazines appeared.

The French and the Scotch are invented

From 1834 to 1836 London and Paris played such a city match. At that time chess games were usually opened with the moves 1.e4 e5. Now London played 1.e4 and Paris replied 1...e6. Voilá, the "French Defense" was born! The move 1...e6 was a proposition by Pierre de Saint-Amant but at that time already quite popular in French chess circles.

The "Scotch Game" got its name after a match between London and Edinburgh in 1824. Though the English players were the first to try the unusual 3.d4 (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6, a proposal by J. Cochrane), the Scottish players were the first who played a game with that line.

Put a stamp on it

The improvement of the postal system considerably helped to popularise correspondence chess. Not everyone had the means of Frederick the Great who could afford messengers to send his moves to a chessfriend. In 1840 Sir Rowland Hill developed the form of the postage stamp that is still used today. Previously, the receiver had to renumerate a messenger, now people could use an affordable "prepaid" system in which the sender paid for shipping. The first stamp was the British "One Penny" with Queen Victoria as subject. Today stamp collectors pay high sums for these stamps if they are in a good condition.

The "One Penny" from 1840

Gradually more or less binding rules for correspondence chess emerged. In 1870 the first pure correspondence chess club was founded in England, the "Caissa Correspondence Club", and in 1884 the French chess magazine La Strategie organised the first international correspondence chess tournament. In some countries the first national correspondence chess federations were founded.

Foundation of the International Correspondence Chess Federations

In 1928 the Internationale Fernschachbund (International Correspondence Chess Association) was founded in Berlin under the direction of Erich Otto Freienhagen. The correspondence chess magazine of the IFSB was distributed in 60 countries and the world's most popular correspondence chess magazine. However, in 1939, a short time before the outbreak of Word War II, the IFSB stopped its activities. Its successor was the International Correspondence Chess Association (ICCF), founded in 1951.

The first World Championship of Correspondence Chess began in 1950 and ended 1953. It was won by the Australian Cecil Purdy, the first World Champion of Correspondence Chess. By the way, the world of chess players is not divided into correspondence players and over-the-board players. Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe or Paul Keres were enthusistic correspondence players and developed their skills by playing and analysing dozens of correspondence games.

Strong players who played correspondence chess and over-the-board chess, ranked according to Elo | Source: Corr Database

The Corr Database 2018 contains 104 correspondence games by Paul Keres, 87 correspondence games by Alexander Alekhine, and 24 correspondence games by Max Euwe. Other well-known OTB-players also liked to play correspondence chess, e.g. Lothar Schmid, Ulf Andersson or Krishnan Sasikiran. Sasikiran also annotated one of his games for the Corr Database which contains about 5000 games with annotations by renowned players — one of them is Alekhine.

Partial list of annotators

But of course correspondence chess has its own heroes, not least the World Champions of Correspondence Chess who actually outnumber the World Champions of over-the-board play. Up to now 28 World Championships of Correspondence Chess have been played and these tournaments have led to 26 World Champions of Correspondence Chess. Only three players won two World Championships: Töno Öim (1982 und 1999), Joop van Oosteroom, who died last year, (2005 and 2007), and Alexander Dronow (2010 and 2014).

And one game is a must for every collection of correspondence games:


Sometimes the World Championship tournaments are not yet finished when a new World Championship tournament begins. After all, correspondence chess takes time — and the story that the team of the GDR won the bronze medal in the Correspondence Chess Olympiad when the GDR itself did no longer exist is well-known.

Mining opening theory

Of course this database includes all great correspondence chess tournaments, World Championships and correspondence Chess Olympiads. But even if you are not particularly interested in the history of correspondence chess you might be interested in the Corr Database 2018: after all, many of games are theoretically interesting — today more than ever due the rise of the computer, which had a deep impact on correspondence chess. Nowadays, most correspondence games are played online and are analysed with the help of strong chess engines. And because the engines make hardly any mistakes it is possible to draw conclusions about the strengths of certain openings. If a game is lost this might well be due to a bad opening choice.

Arno Nickel Côte d'Azur 2013

Leading grandmasters of correspondence chess such as Arno Nickel claim that the human factor in comparing and evaluating moves proposed by the machine, still plays a crucial role. Nevertheless, it seems as if many correspondence players put a lot of trust into their engines and thus their games indicate how well certain openings do if the middlegame is played close to perfection.

In fact, a lot of top grandmasters — or their seconds and trainers — closely follow such games to find new ideas and draw conclusions about certain openings. To a large extent today's correspondence chess is computer chess and today's correspondence games indicate how the opening theory of tomorrow will look like.

Arno Nickel in 2013 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Corr Database 2018

Corr Database 2018 is an extensive collection of correspondence games, featuring classical correspondence games played by mail as well as email games.

ChessBase Corr Database 2018

1.4 million correspondence games

Corr Database 2018 is an extensive collection of correspondence games, featuring classical correspondence games played by mail as well as email games. The CD contains 1,431,813 games from 1804 until 2017 including all games of the correspondence chess world championships 1-28, correspondence chess olympics 1-18, correspondence chess european championships, national chamionships (AUS, CSR, DEN, GER, NED, USA). Corr 2018 also features a correspondence chess playerbase, which includes about 522,222 names. A must for every player of correspondence chess!

System requirements: Pentium PC, 32 MB RAM, Windows 10, 8 or 7 and Fritz 13, 14, 15 or ChessBase 14, 13 or 12 and DVD drive.

  • Language: English
  • ISBN 978-3-8661-622-0

€159.58 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$172.35 (without VAT)

Correction, October 6th: The article was updated to reflect that there were three (not two) players who were twice World Correspondence Champions. Töno Öim (1982 und 1999) was added.


Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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