ChessBase and Correspondence chess – part 3

3/30/2007 – In Part Three of a series on ChessBase and correspondence chess, we look at bookkeeping -- how easily you can keep track of your moves and your opponents', the time you've used, and the other routine chores involved in postal/e-mail chess. Workshop...

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In ChessBase Workshop we've been looking at the use of ChessBase in correspondence chess. In this installment of our series we're going to examine how to record the game's moves and times. We'll also take a cursory look at printing postcards and e-mailing moves, as well as mention a few correspondence chess tips.

You'll recall in the last installment we also discussed using two databases for each postal event: one for the actual moves and one for your analysis. Let's say that you're ready to mail your first move as White (your postal organization will usually prompt one player to make his first move as White to begin a pair of games between two opponents in a double round robin event. The Black player will await the arrival of White's first move, then mail his reply along with his first move as White in the other game -- thus the players are able to play two games at the same time and save on postage by mailing the moves to both games on a single postcard). You've opted to play 1.e4 as your opening move.

Open the database in which you'll be recording the actual moves, double-click on your game as White against that opponent, and make the move 1.e4 on the chessboard. Right-click on that move in the Notation pane, select the "Special annotation" command, and then "Correspondence move" from the submenu. You should see the following dialogue:

Here's what the dialogue items mean. Note that you won't be using every item each time you send or receive a move. Note also that the "Time" boxes are unavailable unless you've set up your game to use exact times (for e-mail events; see the previous column in this series for more deatils).

  • Received: The date you received a move from your opponent. Setting this date "starts your clock", and it should be the first thing you do upon receiving a postcard/e-mail from your opponent. Note that if you forget to do this, you can always manually type in a prior date. The default value is the current date.
  • Replied: This is the date that you replied to an opponent's move. It's purely an informational value and has no direct bearing on the "clock".
  • Stamped: This is the postmark date on yours or your opponent's postcard. You are obligated to tell your opponent what date his postcard was marked, and he's required to do the same for you. The "Received" and "Stamped" values are what "starts" and "stops" the postal "clock" for keeping track of the players' pondering time.
  • Penalty: Some postal organizations give penalties for overstepping time controls or delaying the game. You'll seldom use this field, but this is what it's used for.
  • Days: A manual override for the "Penalty" field. ChessBase will set the penalty field's value automatically based on the criteria you entered in the "Correspondence header" fields (see the previous ChessBase Workshop column), but you can put a check in the "Set manually" box and set a different value in the "Days" field.
  • Repetitions: You use these fields to keep track of the dates of position repetitions.
  • Checkboxes: Most of these are self-explanatory. You can propose or reject draw offers, resign, or tell your opponent that a move is illegible ("unclear") or flat out illegal. You can also make "if" moves by checking the "Propose move" box. You can then enter possible replies your opponent might make followed by your replies. This allows you and your opponent to play entire sequences of moves instantly (which is particularly useful in the event of "forced moves"). Consult a correspondence chess book or website for more about "if" moves. To make an "if" move, make your opponent's reply, right-click on it to get this dialogue we're discussing, and check the "Propose move" box. Then make your reply without any right-clicking -- you only need to right-click and check "Propose move" for your opponent's moves. The "Time overstepped" box will be automatically checked off by ChessBase if that particular condition applies.

There is information displayed at the bottom of this dialogue concerning the time used by (and time left to) both you and your opponent. When you've finished filling out the required/desired fields in this dialogue, click "OK". The Notation pane will display a symbol showing that a correspondence note is attached to this move; you'll see the number of days spent pondering that move in parentheses after the symbol.

So in the case of our example, you'd set the information, click "OK", and see the "postcard" symbol and "(0)" after your move (the first move of a correspondence game is often considered a "freebie"; however, some federations require that a day be used for Move 1. In most cases, your postcard won't be postmarked until the following day [making it a one-day move], but your opponent's reply will confirm whether or not this is the case. You'll just go back to your previous move and enter the postmark date and the value after the move will change accordingly).

By the way, many post offices don't postmark a card with the next day's date until after 5 PM, so here's a neat trick to shave time off of your replies; it's a technique which I used a lot back in the day. I used to work quite close to my house and came home every day for lunch. The mail was delivered in the morning; I'd often find a card from an opponent in my mailbox. Since I was doing a lot of analysis of my games (and recording it in my second "analysis" database) I could just open up my analysis game, look at my proposed reply, and give it another look for any possible errors. I'd write up my reply card during lunch and drop it in the postal box around the corner from my house (which was marked with a "3 PM" pickup time). My cards were often postmarked with the same date as the one on which I'd mailed it, giving me an elapsed time of "0 days" for that move. Looking back over my correspondence games now, I see that I averaged more than a move a day (instead of a move every three days), e.g. 1.x moves a day, by using this technique.

Be sure to use "Replace game" after you've entered a correspondence note, otherwise you'll lose all of your move/time information when you exit the game.

Then open your second "analysis" database and enter your move/your opponent's move, then use "Replace game" to save the info. You don't need to enter the time information in your analysis database unless you want to; I never did, as I didn't see any point to having it recorded twice.

Now you're ready to either print a postcard or e-mail the moves. Open the game in your database which contains the actual moves, go to the File menu, select "Print", and then "Print correspondence card". Now I'm not going to go through a bunch of maddening detail about how to print correspondence cards. You'll need a printer which will accept such cards (usually through a manual feed slot), plus a supply of the proper type of cards which can be mailed. You'll need to feed the card through twice, since one side will have the moves and the other will have the mailing and return addresses (if you entered them in the "Correspondence header" dialogue). I will give you a valuable tip here, though -- test this feature out before your tournament even starts to make sure everything is working properly, rather than waiting until you're "under the gun" only to discover that you're having printer problems.

You can also send your games via e-mail. You have two options here. One is to go to the File menu, select "Send", and then "Correspondence move" from the submenu. You'll need to be online at the time you do this and you'll also need to have your opponent's e-mail address entered in the "Correspondence header" dialogue. Assuming that everything is set up properly, the software will fire off your move. The other method is to go to File/Send/Send Game and check either the "TXT" or "PGN" boxes. This function will open your e-mail client and have an e-mail containing all the moves of the game displayed. You just manually enter the opponent's e-mail address and let 'er rip.

Here's where we get a bit technical. For either of those two functions to work, you must have an e-mail program ("client") that conforms to the MAPI 2.0 standard (a protocol developed for the transfer of data via e-mail). Microsoft e-mail clients from the last six or seven years (such as Outlook) will conform to this. But there are scores of e-mail clients available and not all of them conform to MAPI 2.0 (mine is an older program that uses MAPI 1.0, so these features don't work with my e-mail program). You should also have your e-mail client set up as a default within your Web browser, so that ChessBase can find it.

Finally this week, I'm going to talk about some general correspondence chess advice. Most of this is pretty no-brainer stuff, but it bears mentioning.

You should always keep a written record of your games. I used those little spiral-bound tournament scoresheet books like you'd use in an over-the-board event, writing the elapsed days in the "Time" column. Power outages occur, hard drives crash, data gets corrupted, excrement occurs. So always have a "low-tech" backup handy so that your game won't stop even if your computer does.

Keep your opponent's postcards, at least until after the tournament is over. That's your record of elapsed time and will be required by the tournament director in case of a dispute. Likewise keep your e-mails, and it's a good idea to print out each e-mail in case your computer "goes south" (see above). They're also a good reference for return address information if you don't have your opponent's addresses memorized (and the tournament letter with that information always seems to go missing when you need it most).

If you're playing via snail-mail, make sure you always have at hand a supply of stamps of the proper value. When you get down to your last half-dozen stamps, buy more right away -- don't wait. Trust me on this one -- if you run out, it'll always be on a three day holiday weekend when the post office is closed. Murphy's Law and all that.

If you're not going to be printing out your postcards, buying a pack of preprinted correspondence cards is a really good inventment. They're inexpensive and they save you a world of writing, since they have blanks/boxes for moves, postmark dates, etc. already printed on the card.

Above all, be nice. Nobody wants to play with a butthead, so don't write taunts, insults, and other garbage on your cards or in your e-mails. If you know the other player well and want to talk a little friendly smack, that's different, I once had eight correspondence games going with the same guy simultaneously and we got to know each other right well, so we used to fire off a little lighthearted jape here and there. But for most of your opponents, you'll want to be courteous. It's a game; don't turn it into a bad parody of US-North Korean relations.

Next time around we'll talk a bit about your analysis database for your correspondence games. Until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.


© 2007, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.


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