Correspondence chess, a feat of patience

2020-09-12 @Blog

Sometime before the internet, correspondence chess saw notable popularity. Distant opponents conducted chess matches over postal mail, by way of cute little postcards. I attach here a scan of one of these, this being of Soviet manufacture circa 1984.

Outer Inner

Each such card, as you might observe, served as an indicator of the successive move along with the few preceding, plus additional metadata for better frame of reference. These matches could span months after all.

Irrespective of the number of parallel matches pursued in this manner, the process demanded patience. There was no quick resolution. No timely element of closure. You depended on factors beyond control. A card might even get lost or mishandled.

(Analogous to the TCP-layer family of protocols, think of it as really slow UDP datagrams; none of the speed, none of the reliability. The worse of both worlds, quiet a marvel, nay? I suppose some long distance phone calls resolved an issue or two, although not inexpensively, not easily, especially not from the Soviet Union to a western nation.)

Be the phone interchange a feasible measure, one might altogether question the need for mail correspondence chess. But bear in mind, these were professional matches. Tournaments, leagues, rankings existed entirely for the medium. It was no gimmick. There had to exist a certified paper trail.

If in-person chess already demands severe patience, or at least for a non-pro, then how do you conceive the correspondence variety?

Alas, nowadays, I don’t see so much patience. Quick gratification’s the standard.

A few-day shipping isn’t enough. We need overnight delivery, with a premium yearly membership for the privilege. Let the fires of hell erupt should that aluminum pot arrive two days after …

No more visits to the video store. We no longer anticipate DVD arrival over mail. Why bother, with instant streaming, when we can consume multiple consecutive features overnight. One lazy Sunday suffices to binge-consume an entire season of some fashionable series or whatnot.

We’ve attained astronomic transmission speeds, although mainly not for the pursuit of scientific innovation, but for nearly instantaneous downloads of perverse amount of media content. Or for the sending of 6-10 megapixel resolution images as an email attachment.

Who would now muster the patience to sustain a 10Mb download over the course of two evenings? Via a 14.4Kbps unreliable dial-up link?

Little frequenting of the library. Or the book store. Or even by ways of delivery. Why order books online when you can immediately download them onto electronic apparatus? In fact, why even read? Could a voice of an award-winning actor not eloquently recite them for us? Alternatively, there’s always the seven-minute YouTube summary.

Do book delivery or exchange clubs/communities even exist anymore? Well, yes, they do. But how tiny of a fraction of the reading public do they service?

Rapid, instantaneous communication of emoticons, photographs, memes and recorded clips, in lieu of phone calls and long, spaced-out email interchanges. Naturally, even those pale next to the sloppy hand-written correspondences of blotted ink and grease marks, but I speak of a certain cost-benefit between ease of use and conscientious lifestyle.

Perhaps my cost-benefit metric severely misaligns.

And be that as it may, I see less patience. Less of a willingness for suspense. Anxiety to be swiftly informed and to measure up to the current.

Who listens to an entire album nowadays, not to mention have the patience to work the vinyl needle?

Chess is a game demanding of patience, be it mail-correspondence based or in-person. Regretfully, I lack the patience for it. That’s always been the case from my earliest remembrances. Even a casual, drunken chess skirmish would unveil itself as a chore.

Seventy percent of my aversion disenchantment for a chess match actually stems from the openings. Those limitless, confounding openings… The initiation from the base position, time and time again; to go through the same dreary motions; enough to warrant the crushing of those forsaken, cheaply spliced pawns to splinters.

Now place me in course of an ongoing match; initiate with a positioning of arbitrary nature, and I might just entertain the board. Aesthetically, I have deep regard for the game.

But more likely than not I’ll still impatiently refuse.

Questions, comments? Connect.