John Ballow Earns Correspondence IM Title
By Robert Rizzo   
November 16, 2011
The US Chess Federation is pleased to welcome the newest Correspondence Chess International Master (IM) to its list of titled players.  International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) Qualifications Commissioner, Neil Limbert, has confirmed that John Ballow has earned the IM title and that his certificate and medal will be issued at the 2012 (ICCF) Congress.

John’s two IM norms were achieved in tournaments which total 24 games.  He made his first qualifying norm in Chessfriends Rochade 5171 – 20 years board 9 (Rochade-20/TT).  His total of 9.0 in that Category V tournament with 15 players equaled the IM Norm of 9.0 points.  He still has one game unfinished.  Mr. Ballow earned his second qualifying norm in Interzonal 2010 board 4 (Interzonal TT/6).  His total to date of 5.0 in that double round-robin Category IX tournament with 6 players has equaled the SIM Norm of 5.0.  The links to these tournaments are here and here

John also just happens to be the reigning US Correspondence Champion (18th USCCC) so this latest honor should come as no surprise.  What is a bit unusual is the path that he has taken to achieve this level.  He learned the moves back in 1972 from his brother, Paul, but without pieces!  Too poor to afford even a chess set, they played with cutout cardboard squares which, according to John, “was the best chess lesson I ever received, because it forced me to visualize the board and variations.”  John relates that he picked up correspondence chess in 1976 and eventually came to realize that “Correspondence chess [CC] is the art, science and soul of the game!  . . . . There are many advantages to playing CC which make it very attractive. There are no hotel, travel or food costs associated with CC, unlike in OTB [over the board] tourneys, plus you can carry on a conversation with your opponent!”  

He only recently returned to chess in 2007 after taking off more than a decade from the game.  We at the ICCF-US are so glad he did return and would like to add our congratulations to John on his IM title as we wish him continued success.

The following games are examples of his creative play from the two tournaments which earned him the IM title.

In this first game, John’s IM opponent seems to be enjoying a lead in development when an enterprising exchange sacrifice on move 21 by John not only activates the Black pieces but puts White on the defensive.  An ensuing ill-advised pawn grab costs White two more tempi and eventually John’s opponent succumbs to the kingside onslaught.


Correspondence chess is very unforgiving, one small slip can lead to disaster.  In this next game, John has an opponent who makes a speculative 32nd move in a position that appears about equal.  John correctly judges that in the long run his King is less exposed to attack and that factor will eventually tip the balance in the favor of the White pieces.


This final example of John’s wonderful imaginative play reveals that exciting chess can occur at any time during the game.  Here John’s 39th move forces his opponent, a Senior International Master, to win a piece but at the expense of allowing John three connected passed pawns.  The endgame proves to be dynamically balanced as Black’s own passer is stopped in the nick of time. Black dare not risk letting the White pawns to steamroll into Black’s territory, a truce is reached via repetition.