(left ) from USA receives Bertl von Massow Silver award.
( Photo Webmaster Raymond Boger )
Chess is remarkable for its many variations.
ICCF is also a remarkable
organization of federations with many variations. The key
of our past success
and the key to our future success is amici sumus. But this
means far more than a
literal translation. For many years with great satisfaction
I have seen the “amici sumus
solution”, the compromise, the accord, for federation and
We are a world organization and in this world
there are great disparities.
You can have “rich” federations in poor countries and “poor”
federations in rich countries.
You have countries where internet access is greatly
restricted by government.
You have countries where the wage of a university professor
is only $16 a month.
If you own a bicycle you have a major improvement in your
standard of living.
In the richest countries you can have very poor individuals
with great social disad
vantages who want to play chess. I was myself an extreme
example in my youth.
But chess has no economic barrier. On the
contrary we often see the poorest countries
having some of the best chess players. Chess requires
enormous dedication and effort.
Rich countries offer many alternative forms of entertainment
that weaken a competitive
spirit and the desire to achieve. Chess in itself is a form
of freedom, a chance to escape
from your daily circumstances and to obtain a purity of
You can forget that you are poor, have no job, or have some
great physical handicap.
What has amazed me over the years is how
federations with very little resources
have done so much. The financial sacrifices made to hold a
Congress or send
someone to a Congress are extraordinary. Hosting a congress
is a celebration for
a federation. ICCF officials have always bent over
backwards to assist federations
with financial and other difficulties. This has been
equally true for organizers and
players. As time moves forward we have added a myriad of
rules, guidelines, statutes,
congress minutes, footnotes and changes. We have 3 sets;
postal, email and now webserver.
It is impossible for one to keep track. Perhaps even more
important are the reasons why proposals or a change was not
made. Why did the dog not bark? Or the World Champion
not play that move? All too often the same proposal can
appear again later because it superficially appears quite
good, but really has a flaw in it.
Since we now meet every year and the world
spins much faster on internet time,
it is all too easy to forget precedent when we have
In such an environment, the spirit of amici sumus must
Players who feel that they didn’t get a title or
qualification because of some
oversight or “hole” in the rules have always readily been
George Pyrich was our Qualifications Commissioner for many
He was a saint for recognizing and fixing problems for
individual players and
bringing them to the attention of Congress so it could be
Often before the player or federation were even aware, he
had done the calculations
and pointed out the inconsistencies and proposed to do
something about it. Our new commissioner Eric Ruch is of
the same family and continues the grand tradition.
But Amici Sumus is still more. At the last
congress there was the most serious
disagreement in my opinion for ICCF. This was concerning
the use of direct entry
for all federations. A very strong proposal was put forth
which would allow all entrees
to go directly to ICCF and not via the federations. There
were several variations,
but it essentially would end ICCF as an organization of
federations. It would dictate to the federations the
financials of ICCF entrees for their players. It had
appealing features of efficiency of payment and reduction of
paperwork and the opportunity to gain new players.
But it would be a mandatory requirement. Mandatory is not
Instead I proposed an optional scheme. Why not let every
federation choose and
let all be happy? That is Amici Sumus.
Another example is that in many debates
outside and inside the Executive Board, it is
easy to forget that we are a world organization and some
players have no possibility of
having a computer. We want to support the webserver. It
was proposed that all federations must have their national
championship on the webserver or ICCF would not rate the
event. This proposal was narrowly defeated. “Must” is not
Amici Sumus. We have a mutual bond,
a pact, with national federations to recognize their
national championships even if their
event is conducted by carrier pigeon. The federations are
the “owners” of ICCF and
at the same time “customers”.
The age of the internet has brought forth
many changes in philosophy and attitude
and one can say this makes us more international. Among
modern players, we have
the age of the internet man. I am personally an avowed
libertarian; against government.
I don’t like rules and restrictions and never like being
told what to do.
I am very suspicious of decisions of collective bodies. The
less government in
my life the better. However to function in society you have
to have some organization.
If the structure is democratic, you accept the decision and
get on with it;
until you get another chance to become the majority.
The new internet man doesn’t want to be told
what to do even if the vote is unanimously against him. He
is willing to criticize everyone and everything, but won’t
take criticism himself. If he can’t have the white pieces,
he takes his chess board and goes home complaining loudly.
He is willing to attack anyone he pleases, but is offended
when counterattacked. You cannot always get your way or do
what you want in a society.
In ICCF there have been major fundamental
changes in governance. We have gone from a system where the
President had great authority and could make unilateral
decisions to one where the President is just one vote on the
Executive Board. (A president still has the natural right
to set objectives, policies and procedures and say what he
wants the organization to do.) In a democratic system,
losers remain unhappy and will continue to make their case.
If it is a “gray area”, or the vote is close, there will
continue to be sharp kibitzing. Even “the winners” get
perturbed and distracted. As a result, we can and have lost
good people on both sides of an issue. And of course, we
have thousands of players and so soon someone is writing
with or without facts and with or without good arguments on
The secret to success of such a democratic
committee system is to not propose
controversial changes, but instead to find common issues
where almost all can
agree or at least be able to satisfy any reservations. I
remember well lessons I learned
from the earliest congresses with President Mostert. We
would have a vote and all
would be in favor but John Cleeve of Canada. John was a man
of few words.
Every year he would report the same for his duties.
“All events are proceeding normally and without any special
That was it! No time wasted, no fuss, no grandiose
statements or complaints.
Whenever John voted no, President Mostert would sit sharply
Mostert would then often immediately call a break for
When we did find out the reason later in private
conversations, it would be a good one.
We had not fully considered all the implications of such a
The Law of unintended consequences. Now we would have to go
and cancel the
very decision we just made, or at least modify it.
This has been the approach of the current
EB. Better not to vote if we cannot agree.
Every viewpoint counts. Fortunately, there are many things
upon which we unanimously
agree and then still have the job to sort out the details
Working daily via the internet in a committee
with as much as 10 hour time differences
between members is an educational experience. You learn to
wait for input from all your colleagues. Almost every time,
someone improves upon the original proposal, finds faulty
analysis, or has alternatives. We are chess players so we
are used to this on the chess board,
but not in group decision making. In most cases we have too
many good ideas with the difficulty of choosing the best
move. Adding variations and examining alternatives can
delay the decision and create “cascading” emails.
I want to publicly commend my fellow EB
members. They have had to go through a set of difficult
circumstances and have risen to the occasion. This EB is
full of talent, very hard working, and very dedicated to
ICCF. It is a privilege to work with them. We have the
right people at the right time. Since the beginning of the
year, everyone has been energized.
In the past, ICCF officials died with their
boots on. Today we have a large corps of
past officials who are enjoying their retirement slippers.
In the old days it took
weeks to exchange ideas by post and there were few
problems. Today there seems to be
a daily “crisis” on the internet. This leads to burnout,
animosity between officials and players, and ruined health
for some officials. We are all volunteers. We don’t need
exchange unpleasantries when life can be wonderful.
Everyone is far too sensitive
about casual comments. You need to keep a sense of humor.
Past officials and
especially chess players have an irresistible urge to
kibitz. But if you have past
officials consistently criticizing and second guessing
everything you do, the
situation is impossible. Today we have a car full of
backseat drivers. If you don’t like something, run for
office. If you think you can do it better, we are
We have positions open. Help, but don’t’ destroy, detract
or annoy the
officials trying to do their best.
When there is a major unexpected change, you
have to rely upon the statutes
of the organization. If there is disagreement, again the
statutes become important.
You cannot create an all-powerful position such as Chairman
of the EB because no
such position exists in the statutes. You cannot quickly
organize an Extraordinary
Congress because it is clearly forbidden. The statutes
require 4 months notice and
since the Congress has all decision powers and officials
will be elected for vacancies
there are also schedules and procedures for elections.
Changes in the statutes can only
be made by Congress. Some are no doubt disappointed. But
the EB and myself as
President have a duty to see that the statutes are followed
whether we agree or not.
The statutes have changed radically over the last few years
for better or worse,
but we intend to uphold them and all other decisions of
Congress until the next
Congress changes them again. No matter how enthusiastic an
official may be, he or
she has to work within the rules. A common advice for new
cowboys is when you ride
ahead of the herd, you have to occasionally look back and
make sure it is still there.
Often it is not possible to please everyone
because we face a dilemma.
Do we start a world championship event when we don’t have
What if the event is not strong enough according to others
who have won it before?
What if one player at the last second withdraws and we can’t
a replacement without a delay?
But then 3 top players threaten to quit on any delay since
have been waiting almost 2 years to start.
These are the practical decisions where you
can be criticized from all directions
and for some officials you are damned if you do and if you
don’t. If criticized
heavily before, officials become afraid to make a mistake.
But for me such decisions
are easy and natural. We have customers to serve. We exist
to provide a forum for chess.
More chess versus no chess is better. So for those players
who get 7 blacks and only 6 whites,
all the more glory if you should win. And if you don’t,
you have a perfect excuse for not winning. If someone
thinks the event is not strong enough,
then he should play in it and win it.
Winning a game in correspondence chess is not so easy.
And every player knows winning a won game is not so easy
either. I can certainly
tell you about all the big fish that jumped off my hook!