From Rochester to Cleveland by pony express: postal chess is alive and well.

From Rochester to Cleveland by pony express: postal chess is alive and well.

(l-r) Merion Taylor, David Kramer and Joseph Volpe at Joe’s wedding, mid-1990s. Merion was then an exchange student from the UK studying at the University of Rhode Island; (l-r) Scofflaws David Kramer and Joseph Volpe, Narraganset Bay, RI @2000 [Photo: a scofflaw]

The internet has ruined most of what makes life good. Well known is the near disappearance of the hand-written, hand-mailed and hand-delivered personal letter. Less well know is the staggering toll the internet extracts on postal chess. Postal chess is one variation among many of correspondence chess.

In essence, correspondence chess is long distance chess in which the duration of the game well exceeds that of face-to-face competition. Games have lasted for months and years. Death itself has truncated many a match — akin to Bergman’s medieval knight jousting at chess with the personification of death in The Seventh Seal — perhaps to the relief of sufferers who found themselves only a few moves (i.e. weeks) from checkmate.

Correspondence chess continues to be popular; most variations have migrated to the internet. But the real loss is in its purest form: postal chess.  In postal chess, moves are exchanged via — yes — the postal service in which players are expected to pass along handwritten pleasantries and observations. But, today, who can be bothered with handwritten pleasantries and observations?

Recently, my friend Joe Volpe and I rescuscited the grand tradition. Joe and I frequently played chess when both living in Rhode Island in the mid 90s to early 2000s.  Joe is now an attorney in Cleveland, an ideal distance from Rochester for postal chess. The pony express can ride back and forth in about two days. Our playing rules are relatively loose, but do require actual postcards with snarky or endearing inscriptions.

The chess board on which Joe and I played at various establishments in South County, Rhode Island. David Kramer (left) and Leslie Kramer, 31 Ledgewood Road, Kingston, Rhode Island, 1994

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The first move. Joe took exception to some of my spelling innovations: “Very funny postcard, but highly irregular spelling of my given name, along with the name of my new hometown. Clevaland?”

After move one. Board from Eugene Kramer's collection purchased during a trip to Italy.

After move one. Board from Eugene Kramer’s collection purchased during a trip to Italy.

ccWe quickly had our first rules disputation. In search of expert advice, I visited the Rochester Chess Center where I consulted with Ron Lohrman.  At first, Ron was willing to walk me through my chosen Queen’s Opening. But when learning I was playing postal chess, Ron wagged his finger.  On principle, Ron believes postal chessers should not use outside consultants. I averred.

(l-r) Ron Lohrman and David Kramer, Rochester Chess Center, Rochester, NY 14610, 4/15/19

(l-r) Ron Lohrman and David Kramer, Rochester Chess Center, Rochester, NY 14610, 4/15/19

1 chess

Purchased at Wegmans for 25 cents.

I send my second move before Joe sent his first. Typical of his generation, he gorgot that mailmen deliver letters through mail slots: "Just found your postcard on the floor under the mail slot. My bad!!!"

I sent my second move before Joe sent his first. Typical of his generation, Joe forgot that mailmen deliver letters through mail slots: “Just found your postcard on the floor under the mail slot. My bad!!!”

2 chess

We had another disputation when I inputed moves into my father’s 1979 Chess Challenger 7 . Realizing that Joe lacks a machine matching the potency of my Challenger — even if 40 years old — I decided to beat him in strictly human fashion.

1979 Chess Challenger 7 [From Eugene Kramer's collection]

1979 Chess Challenger 7 [From Eugene Kramer’s collection]

TO BE CONTINUED

SEE ALSO ON CHESS Wildcats strike out our undermanned Barons

Chess across the ages at the National Strong Museum of Play

 

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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