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The September Check is in the Mail Print E-mail
By FM Alex Dunne   
September 1, 2011

The Absolute Championship of the USCF is a tournament dedicated to our leading correspondence players. Each year thirteen of our highest rated CC players face off in an all- play-all tournament to determine who is the best of the best, the Absolute Champion of the USCF.  The Absolute championship has seen many great players but there is one name that stands out above the rest, James O'Brien of Portland, Oregon.

James O'Brien dominated the Absolute like no other player. Out of the four Absolutes he entered, he won three - 1985 with a 10-2 score without a loss, 1987 with a never matched 11 ½- ½ result, and 1988 with an undefeated 10-2 - and in 1989, weakened by many years of struggle with a neurological  disorder,  losing the only two games he lost in Absolute play, he finished second, a half point behind the winner.  James ended his Absolute career with a brilliant 83.3 % record (+34 =12 -2) the Absolute best.

O'Brien stopped competing in postal play after the 1989 event and the correspondence chess community lost track of him.  If anyone knows of James' history after 1991, please let me know for the historical record.


O'Brien's opponent was the very strong Canadian, Ignas Zalys, an Absolute veteran two second place finishes in 1983 and 1985 a third in 1976  and winner of the Golden Knights 1952-3 and 1967 Golden Knights.

White: Ignas Zalys (2430)
Black: James O'Brien (2485)
1987 Absolute


1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.a4
This was a Fischer favorite.
7...Nbc6 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qd2
The other major line is 9. Bd2.  White reasons that the two Bishops would be good in an endgame so does not fear 9...cxd4 10. cxd4 Qd2+
9...Bd7 10.Bd3
Modern praxis has seen 10. Be2 to avoid the tempo loss after ....c4 as in Myers-Ernazarov, 25th World Championship Candidates.
10...f6 11.exf6
Fischer-Sherwin, New York 1964, continued 11. 00 c4.
11...gxf6 12.dxc5
Scoring poorly has been 12. 00 c4 13. Be2 000
12...e5 13.c4 dxc4 14.Bxc4 Qxc5 15.Bb3
Zalys had an earlier game that continued 15. Qc3 Nd5 16. Ba3 Nxc3 11. Bxc3 and though Zalys won in Zalys-Pregent, Quebec 1978, Black stands better.
And Zalys again, this time a draw, in Zalys-Keske, 1976 Absolute 15...Bg4 16. Qxa5 Nxa5 17. Ba2
16.Ba3 Qb6 17.a5
Dehmelt-Lehikoinen, CCCA 1991 saw the World Champion-to-be play for a win after 17. Qc3 Ng6 18. 00 Qa5 19. Qe3 Bf5 =
17...Qb5 18.Qc3 Nd5 19.Qc5
White might do better with 19. Bxd5 Qxd5 20. a6, but understandably Zalys wants to keep the two Bishops.
19...Qxc5 20.Bxc5 Nf4 21.Nh4 Be6 22.Ba4 Rd5
Black's pieces are very active, White's Bishops disorganized, and White's Pawn structure inferior.  The two Bishops have to go.
23.Bxc6 Rxc5 24.Be4 a6
The a-Pawn is nailed to a5.
25.f3 Rd8 26.g3 Nd5 27.Kf2
White is in deep trouble here.  Taking the h-Pawn might offer some hope for the future, but Black stands better after 27. Bxh7 Ne3 28. Rc1 Rxa5
27...Rd7 28.Rhd1
After this and the following simplification, White is just lost.  White had to try 28. Rhe1.
28...Nc3 29.Rxd7 Nxe4+ 30.Ke3 Bxd7 31.fxe4 Rxc2 32.Rf1 Rxh2 33.Rxf6 Ra2 34.Rf8+ Kc7 35.Rf7 Ra3+ 36.Kf2 Rxa5 37.Nf3
After 37. Rxh7, the battle goes not to the swift but to the strong -- 37...Rc5 38. g4 b5  39. g5 b4 40. g6 b3 41. g7 b2 42. g8(Q) b2(Q) 43. Rxd7+ (what else) Kxd7 44. Qf7+ Kc6 45. Kb7 Qd7+ 46. Ka8 Qe8+ 47. Qb8 and White has no good checks left.
37...h6 38.Rh7 Rb5 39.Rxh6 a5 40.Rh1 a4 41.Rc1+ Kd6 42.Rd1+ Ke7 0-1

LEARN CHESS BY MAIL  Lessons given by mail, telephone, ICC - many different ways.  I specialize in players rated 800-2100 who would like to improve their game.  Contact me for information.  Alex Dunne, 324 West Lockhart St., Sayre, PA 18840 or [email protected]

Chess booklet for sale 2004 Golden Knights Championship  --  booklet of the 57th USCF CC Championship -- $10.00 postage  paid.  35 pages, 90+ games

Quote:  The plight of the Correspondence Chess player is to toil in anonymity to add a grain of sand to the body of chess knowledge.  -- Herrera


Trophy Quads

            Timothy Grassel       10Q06      5-1
            Lester Ferrell            09C20    5-1
            LaVerne Gildner       09C20     5-1
            Benjamin Taylor       09Q16     6-0
            Frank Barrett             10Q10    5-1

Palciauskas Tournament

            John Terrall          10P08      6-0
            Dennis Ambler   10P07    5 ½-½

John Collins

            Michael Butler        10C11   6-0
            Christopher Nelson 09C30 5 ½-½

Walter Muir

            Edwin Meiners   10W27   5 ½-½
            David Stone        11W16   5 ½- ½

Swift Quad

            Jeff :Levine       11SQ07   5 ½-½
            Wilbur Tseng  09SQ03   5-1
            Henry Katzmarek  10SQ13  5 ½-½


Happy birthday (August 23, 1906) to the oldest active sportsman in the world, ICCM Zoltan Sarosy of Toronto, still playing correspondence chess at age 105!
Grandmaster Nigel Davies has some strong accusations in his blog The Chess Improver shortened here below.

Aug 092011

Occasionally I've had people ask me what they need to do to get a chess ‘title' rather than have the focus on improving their game, presumably with idea of enhancing their reputation. The process is actually rather simple if someone really wishes to go that route and some may value the publicity or bragging rights if they really value that over the personal development angle.

Basically you should aim to play correspondence chess and just need the  most powerful computer available. Then run Rybka or Fritz on it and use ChessBase for the opening research (using the reference tab you can get the stats for the next move in the line you are playing). Your job is just to manage the machines and software whilst avoiding the temptation to play any of the moves yourself.

How realistic are the GM's charges?  In CC play where computers are legal (international play) the player who better uses his tools (e.g. computer program) will gain titles.  The more players who use computers, the harder it will be to gain titles.  In CC play where computers are not legal (domestic play) the greater the advantage the computer user has over the non-user.  The computer users will quickly gravitate toward the top of the group.

Do some of our top players use computers?  Almost certainly the answer is yes, but there is no hard proof.  Although OTB and CC are two very different disciplines and a comparison of the two may be misleading, in a previous Absolute tournament
the average OTB rating of the participants, not counting two who had no OTB rating at all, was 1795.  Their average cc rating was in excess of 2300.  It is clear to this writer for a variety of reasons that some of our Absolute players are using computers.

Therefore, the question arises, in order to level the playing field, should next year's Absolute allow computers ?  I would like to hear from Absolute players in an open and honest forum with their thoughts on this problem.

I would also like to note that USCF CC play will continue to not allow computers in CC tournaments other than possibly the Absolute.

Wilbur Tseng takes 09SQ03



Announcement of the resumption of international postal play immediately after the end of WWII.

John Mussio of Johnstown PA, born August 1, 1937, died August 10, 2009.  John was primarily a CCLA and APCT player and enjoyed a good game of chess.  Here he weathers the attack to the safe haven of a winning King and Pawn ending.



Despite a recording error at a critical juncture (Move 26 for Black) Dennis Ambler recovers and wins the game that cemented first place for him in a 2010 Palciauskas Tournament.



A well played ending by Black holds the half point.


There is some fine geometry about the b8 square



An absorbing game from start to finish that raises the question -- who trapped whom in the opening ?



For more by Alex Dunne see an index of Check is in the Mail columns.

May - Chess Life Online 2011

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