by Maz Zavanelli
ICCF interim President







Max Zavanelli (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 for players.


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 thought. 
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 continuous changes. 
In such an environment, the spirit of amici sumus must prevail. 
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 accommodated. 
George Pyrich was our Qualifications Commissioner for many years. 
He was a saint for recognizing and fixing problems for individual players and
bringing them to the attention of Congress so it could be fixed collectively. 
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 Amici Sumus. 
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 message boards.


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 problems”. 
That was it!  No time wasted, no fuss, no grandiose statements or complaints. 
Whenever John voted no, President Mostert would sit sharply up.  Why? 
Mostert would then often immediately call a break for coffee, lunch. 
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 decision. 
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 and implementation.


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 to
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 delighted. 
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 enough players? 
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 find
a replacement without a delay? 
But then 3 top players threaten to quit on any delay since they
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!


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