by Steve Lopez

Last week, we examined how to set up databases in preparation for a correspondence event. Now we'll look at what to do when it's time for the first card to be mailed.

In USCF events, you're sent a schedule of who mails to whom. For example, Player A will will mail cards to Players B, C & D while Player D just sits and waits for cards from his three opponents.

Use the date you either mail the first card or receive the first card as your "Start Date" in the "Correspondence header" box (see last week's column for details).

Let's say that you've been assigned to mail the first card. All you need do is go to your database for this tournament, open a game window for your game with this particular opponent, and make the move on the board. Then click on the "diamomd" icon at the bottom of the game window and select "correspondence move". You'll get a new window that looks like this:

Just fill in the "Received", "Replied", and "Stamped" blanks with the dates you're mailing your card. Note that the time windows won't be active unless you've designated the event as an e-mail tournament in the "correspondence header" window (e-mail events take into account the time of day a move is receieved and e-mailed). Click "OK" after you have these dates filled in.

When you get back to the game window, you'll see a little envelope next to your move. This is to notify you that correspondence information is attached to the move. Be sure to use "Replace game" so as to not lose the information.

If you like, you can print out a postcard to your opponent. Make sure both your name and address and his name and address are filled out in the "correspondence header" window. Then just go to the "Printing" menu and click "Correspondence card". You printer will then regurgitate a lovely postcard, suitable for mailing, complete with a board diagram. If your printer won't accept postcards (and if you want to pay the extra postage) you can have ChessBase create a letter-type form, complete with the time both of you have taken for your moves, a board diagram, and even a little box for you to append your signature.

Personally, when recording moves, I use the "belt and suspenders" approach. In addition to using the correspondence move abilities of ChessBase, I also record the important info in an analysis window so that I can see at a glance the info embedded in the gamescore:

In this view, we can see the date I sent the card, the day it was postmarked (which, of course, I won't know for sure until I receive my opponent's reply), the time I spent on the move, and my total time so far in the game. All of this information is also obtainable by using ChessBase's correspondence functions, but I like the redundancy (it's a way of double-checking the information's accuracy) and the ability to view the information at a glance.

I also write the moves and time info down in a standard tournament scoresheet spiral book. If I wind up with a computer problem, I still have access to the most important information about the game in progress.

Let's jump ahead a few moves:

I and my opponent are a bit farther into the opening now. I've just played my fifth move as White. Note that a new field has been added to the information I type in: "Received". This is the date the last move was received by the player whose turn it is to move. So we can see that I received my opponent's fourth move on April 14th, sent my reply on the 15th, and I don't yet know when it was postmarked. My time used on the move was one day and my total time so far has been three days.

Many towns have post offices that will accept mail until 5 PM. Anything received after 5 is postmarked the following day. So even though I left the "postmaked" field blank in my typed notes and the "stamped" field blank in the "correspondence move" window, it's a pretty good bet that my move will be postmarked the same day I sent it. I could fill this info in now and it would be a pretty good bet that it would be correct.

Some correspondence players are a bit sloppy with their recordkeeping. I'm presently in a tournament in which one player doesn't write the date he sent his card. So the only thing you can go by in such a case is the postmark date.

Note the times to my fourth move (4.f4). I used zero days reflection time. I receievd my opponent's move around noon when I came home for lunch. I already knew what I was going to play, as I expected 3...Nf6, so I filled out the card, stamped it, and put it in the mailbox around the corner on my way back to work. The last pickup at that box is 5 PM, so my card was postmarked the same day I received my opponent's previous card. Keep this trick in mind; it comes in handy on Saturdays and other days off from work.

Also please take note of the numbers in parentheses after the "postcard" symbols in the gamescore. These show the times the players took for each move.

A brief aside here: it is nearly impossible to lose a correspondence event by not making the time control (though I once had an opponent who made time control by just a single day). You have an average of three days per move which is ample time. But the opening is a good place to pick up time you might need later. If it's a standard "book" opening you can generally crank out a move in a day (or less -- see the above example). Most correspondence organizations allow "carry over" of relection time. If the time control is ten moves in thirty days and you play your first ten moves in just fifteen days the remaining fifteen days carry over into the next time control, giving you forty-five days for your next ten moves. This extra time can come in pretty handy when you're faced with a knotty middlegame or endgame problem, or when real life rears its ugly head (illness, hospitalization, unexpected visits by vacationing inlaws, etc.).

Another quick tip: if only one move is entered in a gamescore, ChessBase classifies the game as ECO code A00. To keep a running track of the current state of the opening, you should uncheck the "ECO" box when using "Replace game", then use "Replace game" a second time, making sure the "ECO" box is checked. ChessBase will update your game with the ECO classification relevant to the current position.

I've been waiting for my opponent's fifth move; finally it arrives in my mailbox. He plays 5...O-O. My first step is to see when my last move was postmarked. Note that not all opponents will tell you this information. They're supposed to, but I'm in an event right now in which two of my three opponents never give me a postmark date. In such cases, the only thing I can do is assume that the date I mailed my last card was the date it was postmarked.

My first step is to highlight my last move, click "Correspondence move" and fill in the date in the "Stamped" field. After clicking "OK", I then open the annotation window and enter the date after "PM" in my typed notes. I then make my opponent's move from the card, click "Correspondence move", fill in the date I received the card, the date he tells me he sent it, and the date it was postmarked. Then I enter the same information by hand in the annotation window and include the number of days he spent thinking about the move and his total reflection time used.

If you're ever in doubt about the total reflection time used by each player, ChessBase will provide you with it (assuming you've kept accurate records). Just click on "Correspondence header" and you'll see this information as part of the window:

After "Time used" we see that White has used three days for five moves and after "Time left" has twenty-seven days left for his remaining five to make time control. Black has used eight days for four moves and thus has twenty-two days to make six moves.

Of course, after I've made my opponent's move on-screen and have filled in the relevant bookkeeping information, I also write his move down in my spiral tournament book and record the total time he's used in the "Time" column.

Now I'm ready to analyze the position, come up with a move, record it in ChessBase, and send it to my opponent (a process we've already seen in action).

Note that if you use the printing functions of ChessBase to generate a postcard or letter you have several boxes you can check to denote various things that can occur during a postal game:

ChessBase allows you to offer, accept, and refuse draws, resign, tell an opponent that his last move was unclear (which Knight moved to d5?) or illegal (Rooks don't move diagonally!), claim a win on time, or propose an "if" move. "If" moves are extremely controversial (although perfectly legal). I used them a good bit in my first correspondence event; now I never use them (on the advice of several strong correspondence players). "If" moves are fodder for a whole issue of ETN and we'll likely look at the debate in a future issue.

One last bookkeeping tip: save your opponents' cards. I have a small box on the floor next to my desk where I keep my opponents' old cards. After I've recorded the information for his move I just pitch the card into the box. It's a good idea to save these cards in case of a dispute (which are, admittedly, rare). It's not a bad idea to save the cards for a year or two after an event ends; you never know when an opponent will file a grievance ex post facto. If possible, photocopy your cards before sending them or make a second printout using ChessBase, also in case of a dispute with an opponent.

A final note for this week: though ChessBase offers these special tools for managing correspondence games, Fritz does not. It's pretty easy, however, to use the annotation window in Fritz to record important game information (is the same way I've described above for ChessBase users). Just open the annotation window and type in the information for when a move was received, sent, and postmarked, and the time used. I used the old DOS-based ChessBase 4 to manage several correspondence events in this way, and the technique works quite well.

You can reach me by e-mail with your ideas and suggestions.