Let's play a game - by mail

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 10:53 p.m.
Last week I introduced the novel and bizarre sport called "chessboxing." Needless to say, I don't believe there is a future for it, but it sure makes a great subject for a column.
On a serious note, it does seem like the popularity of chess is causing folks to constantly seek new ways to play the game. Face to face, teams against teams, over the Internet and blindfolded are just some examples of how chess is being played.
Indeed, there are very few games or sports in the world that can claim as many varied playing environments as chess.
One of the oldest and most popular ways to play chess is by mail. For many centuries, people have been facing the challenge of how to play against someone who lives thousands of miles away. Nowadays, this does not seem like much of a challenge anymore.
Technological advances such as the Web, e-mail, fax and phone have provided today's player with almost instantaneous communication with his opponent.
But since none of these have been available or affordable for too many years, correspondence chess, which uses regular mail, still claims an impressive number of fans.
My memories of correspondence chess come from my days as a very young child studying the positions brought about by my father's games against overseas friends.
While I loved feeling that I was helping my dad win, I can't say that I found the process too exciting. After all, in correspondence chess, you don't get to see the face of your opponent, and seeing your opponent's move is not a matter of minutes, but weeks.
Of course, games can take many months or years, partly depending on the efficiency of the mail in the respective country and the budget set aside for postage.
There are also countless organized correspondence chess competitions. The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) is the governing body of this kind of chess, just like the World Chess Federation (FIDE) is for the regular game.
All the titles you are familiar with from normal chess, such as master, international master and grandmaster also have their equivalent in correspondence chess.
So, how does this slow, painstaking game survive in today's culture, which is all about speed? The answer lies in the unique things correspondence chess bring to its fans.
More on what these are in next week's column.
You can reach Gabriel Schwartzmann via e-mail at gasch@fdt.net, or c/o The Gainesville Sun, P.O. Box 147147, Gainesville 32614-7147.

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