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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Postal Chess Nostalgia

   Here are some cover photos of of Chess Review magazine by Al Horowitz. It made the present day USCF's magazine look like a rag. Chess Review was big on correspondence chess and it wasn't unusual to find yourself playing against OTB masters (there weren't many in those days), a couple of whom actually competed in the US over the board championship! Bobby Fischer even played in one of their correspondence tournaments...but that was before he got good, of course.  Read my post about it HERE.

Nancy Roos and Gisela Gresser

Bisguier and Reshevsky

 For postal chess, Chess Review sold move mailing cards. You had to keep track of a lot of information besides the moves (and position!). You had to record the dates sent, received, reflection time and total time. It cost $0.04 to mail a post card.

Mailing card front

Mailing card back

     Chess Review was located at 134 West 72nd Street in New York City. Today it houses a hair design shop. Chess Review sold the famous "Postal Chess Album" which consisted of six cardboard chess sets (5 x 5 inch playing field) bound with flexible plastic that permitted them to be opened flat. Score cards for six games were included. The pieces were printed in color on bits of cardboard, which were then inserted into a tight, single-slot on the correct squares. The price was $3.50 per album. That was a little pricey, about the same as the cost of a chess book...$28.50 today. On the downside the slots become loose with use and the pieces had a tendency to fall out. 

     Recording errors were not unusual. I once defeated a player rated in the top ten in correspondence chess when he made a recording error. But, because it cost him 100 rating points and he could only average a couple of points a win because he was rated so high, I did the decent thing and offered him a draw. The 50 points he lost still knocked him off the top ten list. 
     Eventually the Postal Chess Albums met a competitor...the Post-A-Log invented by Joe Viggiano who died on May 21, 1997. They were made of plastic with vinyl pieces that peeled and stuck to the board. Eventually the pieces lost their adhesiveness and the boards got gummy so they had to be replaced. 


  1. The old Chess Review certainly does make today's Chess Life look like a rag, but then the old Chess Life also makes today's Chess Life look like a rag!

    It may just be the way the world works, but I don't know if a great, full-featured chess magazine is a financially viable idea in modern America.

  2. Yep! The only thing I read is Andy Soltis' column. They also place excessive (in my opinion) emphasis on the kids. Of course kids are their future so I understand that.

  3. People say that the best chess magazine in the wold these days is New in Chess, and they may well be right. But as a below master-level player, I sometimes find that the annotations go slightly over my head. If you have a halfway decent reading ability in French, the magazine Europe-Echecs probably comes closest to what the old Chess Review was, with instructive articles and game annotations aimed at all levels of player

  4. The Europe-Echecs website does have some nice articles and Google Translate does a fair job of translating into English. BTW, my former employer was French owned and the company president told me I should learn to speak French. I told him it was too hard for me to learn and added it took me three years just to learn to speak English. When he asked where I was born and I told him in the U.S. he was perplexed for a minute, but eventually caught on that I was pulling his leg.

  5. It was a blast from the past to see those correspondence chess postcards and folding cardboard sets. There were some slight differences between the US and the Correspondence Chess League of Australia, of which I have been a member since late 1979.

    CCLA games within Australia used a folding scoresheet, which could be placed in an envelope. I used those postcards for overseas games. Our folding cardboard sets were known as "Portland" sets, and had two boards, which was great if you were playing in tournaments in which you were playing both Black and White against the same opponent. They had the same problems as the "Postal Chess Albums" - the slots became worn out, while you invariably ended up losing a few pieces from each set as well. I must have had close to a dozen sets for all of the CC games that I was playing at the same time. It was actually a relief when I started to play on the ICCF Webchess and was able to get rid of all of the sets and postcards.