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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fax Chess

International correspondence chess play by ‘snail mail’ (i.e. using post cards) was difficult in the old days.  I remember using something from the US Post Office called ‘Air Mail Sheets.’  I think they cost $0.25 each - not cheap by the standards of those days - but they were still cheaper than regular air mail postage.  They were 8.5” x 11” single blue sheets of flimsy paper.  You wrote on one side then folded it up and addressed it.  Things worked pretty good but I particularly remember two ICCF games.  One against an opponent who worked on a pipe line north of the Arctic Circle in Canada; he got mail about once a week, weather permitting.  We agreed to a draw after about one year of play and 10-12 moves.  Then there was the opponent from Siberia; I sent him my first move and never heard anything until I got a letter from the TD a couple of months later informing me I had lost on a time forfeit.  My complaints went unanswered by the East German TD.
Then in the 1990’s the fax machine started coming into prominence and the ICCF became aware of the need to adapt to this technological change.  At the ICCF Congress in Scotland in 1994 delegates were informed of the necessity of taking advantage of the technological evolution in order to avoid the decline in interest in international chess.  It started with two experimental GM fax tournaments in September, 1994 as a test to draft rules and see what problems might develop.  Of course in those days very few people had faxes or computers.
Joop van Oosterrom, the Dutch billionaire and chess enthusiast, came to the rescue.  Van Oosterom was a strong CC player himself and was the 18th World Champion in Correspondence Chess. His achievement was criticized because at the time he had hired GM Jeroen Piket as his personal secretary. Earlier, van Oosterom had had two Dutch International Masters on his payroll whose job was to analyze his correspondence games. Van Oosterom (or somebody playing moves for him) also won the 21st World Championship Final in Correspondence Chess, being the actual Champion of ICCF.   For many years he staged the annual Melody Amber tournaments in Monaco where world-class GM’s played rapid and blindfold games.
It was van Oosterom’s generosity that aided this chess-by-fax experiment; he provided each participant in these experimental tournaments with their own personal fax machine.  The results were pretty impressive because in the second section some of the games were completed in a matter of weeks and a player from Scotland named George Pyrich became the very first player in the history of chess to obtain an International Master title by playing fax chess
In 1995 the decision was made to organize more fax only tournaments along with some e-mail tournaments.  These began on January 1, 1996 and eventually they began offering fax/e-mail tournaments for all players provided the players agreed. 

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