"In addition to the allurements common to all chess, correspondence chess has five values in its own right; it is chatty; it encourages reading, collateral to the game while in progress; it is likely to be accurate chess within one’s limitations, unimpaired by the excitements of face-to-face play; it does not absorb two men’s time while one man lucubrates; and finally, it gears into life as a servant of our leisure, filling the chinks of time between chores with enjoyable detachment".

— W. E. Napier


Thematic Tournaments


Most correspondence organizations offer thematic tournaments for their members. What is a thematic tournament? In a thematic tournament all participants play the same opening and usually the same variation of that opening. Usually each participant plays two games, one with White and one with Black, with each opponent.

Thematic tournaments are an ideal way to learn a new opening or test out innovations in your favorite lines. Different opening choices are available from different organizations, and the available thematic tournaments vary from month to month. Some of the available thematic tournaments are: an APCT e-mail Evans Gambit tournament; an ASPCC opening of the year and also a continuous thematic section with various openings. ICCF has the richest choice of openings with, among others, Morra Gambits, Latvian Gambits, Petroff Defenses, B80 Sicilians, Leningrad Dutches, Gruenfelds, Cochrane Attacks, Evans Gambits, and Marshall Gambits.


The Wilkes-Barre variation of the Two Knights Defense is a rare visitor to OTB chess. It is just too wild for mere mortals with a clock limiting their search for survival. In the following game, Black shows some of the poison associated with the Wilkes-Barre Variation.




W: Westner

B: Ralph Brachtel (2380)

Wilkes-Barre Thematic, 1991


1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5

This is the infamous Wilkes-Barre counter attack. Back in the early 30s, the Wilkes-Barre Chess Club discovered this surprising system and played many games with other clubs. The logic behind 4. ... Bc5 is simple and bloodthirsty: the attack belongs to the better developed side. By branding 4. Ng5 a "beginner’s move," moving a piece twice in the opening, Black prepares his own systematic attack on f2, backed up with an extra developing move or two. If a pawn or two, a rook, or even a few pieces go into the box, what does it matter when a king is at stake?

5. Bxf7+

White elects to take a small gain rather than enter into the eye of the hurricane. BCO2 quotes 5. Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7. Kg1 Qh4 8. g3 Nxg3 9. hxg3 Qxg3+ 10. Kf1 Rf8 11. Qh5 d5 12. Bxd5 Nb4 13. Bc4 b5! with advantage to Black (Klem– Hentsgen, correspondence, 1969), and notes that 6. Kf1 leads to unclear play. What more could Black ask?

5. ... Ke7 6. Bd5

This has been considered White’s best since the 70s, but die hard Wilkes-Barre fanatics have found new ideas to rejuvenate Black’s attack. Black’s total investment in this position is one pawn, the f7-pawn. For this pawn, Black will have two attacking moves — ... Nd4 and ... Rf8. Black’s pieces will focus on White’s kingside. So, for a small amount of material, Black will have a large amount of attack. Is the Wilkes-Barre sound? This column will not attempt to answer this question. Is playing the Wilkes-Barre fun? You bet!

6. ... Rf8

The Real American Wilkes-Barre, a book by Ken Williams of the Wilkes-Barre Chess Club, suggests that 6. ... d6, proceeding "with discreet development that imposes a burden on White," is best, since 7. Nf7? Qf8 8. Nxh8 loses to 8. ... Bxf2+! 9. Kxf2 (or 9. Kf1, when 9. ... Bg4 wins) 9. … Nxe4+ leads to mate.

7. Nf3

ECO lists this retreat as only good for equality, favoring instead 7. 0-0 d6 8. c3 Bg4 9. Qb3 h6 10. d4 Bb6 11. h3 Na5 12. Qc2 hxg5 13. hxg4 c6 14. b4!, when White has a substantial advantage (Estrin– Schmidt, correspondence, 1972). A notable improvement on Black’s play is Bendig–Hucula (correspondence 1993), where Black varied with 11. ... hxg5 12. hxg4 Qd7! 13. Bxc6 bxc6 14. Bxg5 Qxg4 15. Bxf6+ Rxf6, and Black’s attack was quickly decisive.

7. ... Qe8

A key idea in this variation: the missing f-pawn offers Black’s queen a quick entrance to the kingside.

8. c3

This idea is critical to the whole variation. White must control his center before the Black pieces overwhelm the kingside. The king on e7 is a potential target that must be aimed at. If the center remains closed, Black’s kingside attack will become too strong. If the center is fluid, then the Black king will be a promising target.

8. ... Qh5 9. 0-0 d6 10. d4 Bb6 11. Bxc6

This is part of White’s plan when he plays 6. Bd5. By destroying the c6-knight, Black’s control of the center is weakened and the d5 bishop is not a target to be exchanged on d5, thus opening up the f-file for Black.

11. ... bxc6 12. dxe5 Nxe4 13. Qe2?

Here is the critical point in the game. Up to this move, White’s play has been thematic, keeping the central lines open since the Black king is exposed. By first playing 13. exd6+, White keeps his chances alive. Now White’s e5-pawn will shield the Black king.

13. ... d5 14. Nbd2 Ng5! 15. b3?

White allows the attack to slip through his fingers. Now the defense weakens. After 15. Nd4 Qxe2 16. Nxe2 Ba6 17. c4 dxc4 18. Nc3 Rad8, Black is for choice, but there is a lot of counterplay.

15. ... c5

Black deprives the knights of the all important central squares. Now 16. Nd4 is met by 16. ... Bg4 17. f3 cxd4 18. fxg4 d3+ 19. Kh1 dxe2, and Black wins.

16. Qe3 Ne6 17. Re1 Nf4 18. Ba3 Ke8 19. Bxc5

It’s easy to prove White is lost after this move, but what else can he do? Black’s pieces are better placed for defense and offense. A full point to Black this round for the Wilkes-Barre.

19. ... Bh3!

The threat is 20. ... Nxg2, not to win the Exchange by the fork of queen and rook, but to win the king by withdrawing to f4 with the threat of ... Qg4+.

20. Qd4

After 20. g3, Black proceeds with 20. ... Ng2 21. Qd4 Nxe1 (but not 21. ... Rxf3 22. Qxd5!) 22. Nxe1 Bxc5 23. Qxc5 Qe2 24. Qc6+ Kf7 25. Qxc7+ Kg8, when the White game falls apart.

20. ... Nxg2 21. Bxb6 Nf4, White resigns.

And how does White play this wild line? Check the next game for a demonstration that not all the attack belongs to Black.


 Correspondence players with internet connections who are interested in international correspondence chess news are encouraged to check out http://www.chessmail.com. This site, maintained by Tim Harding, is an excellent source of information about both regular mail and e-mail tournaments. In addition, there are articles, game analysis, and correspondence game downloads .

 Max Zavanelli is keeping international correspondence chess up to date. ICCF/US now has a new web page: www.iccfus.com, which is worth checking out.

 Brian Newberry (Providence, RI) writes "It’s fascinating. I asked each of the players in my section how they are doing in their other games and they all report to varying degrees that they are winning or at least have a ‘winning advantage,’ or at the very least are still deadlocked. Imagine that!" Did Brian just happen to be paired with a nest of optimists? Perhaps readers can try their own survey. Let me know the results.

 Readers with survey results, games, and items of interest to postal players should write to me at the address on the previous page. I would also be interested in doing a column on correspondence chess players and their libraries. If you are a postal player with an outstanding library, The Check Is in the Mail might like to spotlight your collection.




W: Ralph Brachtel (2380)

B: Csecselics

Wilkes-Barre Thematic, 1993


1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5 5. Bxf7+ Ke7 6. Bb3 Rf8 7. Nc3 Bxf2+ 8. Kxf2 Nxe4+ 9. Kg1 Nxg5 10. d4 Nf7 11. dxe5 Ke8 12. Qh5 g6 13. Qxh7 Nfxe5 14. Be3 Qe7 15. Qxe7+ Nxe7 16. Nb5 Kd8 17. Bg5 Re8 18. Rf1 d6 19. Bf7 Nxf7 20. Rxf7 Be6 21. Rg7 Bd7 22. Nd4 Rc8 23. Kf2 c5 24. Ne2 c4 25. Nf4 Rc5 26. h4 Rxg5 27. hxg5 Rf8 28. g3 Bf5 29. Rhh7 Re8 30. c3 b5 31. g4 Bb1 32. Rf7 a5 33. Rf6, Black resigns.


• Robert Sanders (Dallas, Texas) notes that, though he felt lost in the opening, he felt a strong desire to win this game. Consequently, he spent more time thinking during this game than any other game in his life.




W: Emanuel Kelmenson (1608)

B: Robert Sanders (unrated)

USCF CC, 1996


1. e3 d5 2. f4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Bd7 5. 0-0 e6 6. b3 Bd6 7. Bb2 0-0 8. Bxc6 Bxc6 9. Ne5 Be8 10. d3 Nd7 11. Nxd7 Qxd7 12. Qg4 f6 13. Nd2 Bg6 14. h4 f5 15. Qh3 Bh5 16. Nf3 Bg4 17. Qg3 Qe8 18. Nh2 Qg6 19. Nf3 c5 20. Ne5 Qh5 21. Qe1 Rad8 22. g3 b6 23. Qc3 d4 24. Qc4 Rf6 25. exd4 Bxe5 26. fxe5 Rg6 27. Kh2 Bf3 28. Rg1 Rg4 29. Kh3 f4 30. Raf1 Bd5, White resigns.


• John Knudsen, who has far and away the best correspondence chess web page ever, (http://www.arrowweb.com/ chess/INDEX.HTM), sends in this game that he notes is "not too bad."




W: John Knudsen (1985)

B: Al Erkel (2275)

ASPCC, 1998


1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 0-0 11. Bc4 Nc6 12. 0-0 b6 13. Rad1 Bb7 14. Rfe1 Rc8 15. d5 exd5 16. Bxd5 Qc7 17. Qg5 h6 18. Qh5 Nb4 19. Bb3 Nc6 20. Nh4 Na5 21. Nf5 Nxb3 22. axb3 Kh7 23. Rd6 f6 24. Nxh6 Rce8 25. Rxf6 Rxf6 26. Ng4+ Rh6 27. Qxe8 Qc3 28. Rf1 Rg6 29. Ne5 Rg5 30. Nf7 Rc5 31. h4 Bc6 32. Qh8+, Black resigns.