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John Wright

Player Profile: John Wright (2224)

John Wright

One of the great things about having a chess club in the heart of downtown Toronto is the diversity of players we attract. We have girls and boys learning chess in our classes, and others rapidly rising through the ranks of our tournaments. We have adults who are taking up the game for the first time. And of course we have a number of players who have been playing tournaments much longer. But there are always surprises; you never know who is going to appear on a Monday night.

From time to time, a strong player from a far-off corner of the country drops by. A few weeks ago, a foreign IM stopped in. One night at the pub, we met a video gamer who has played only online blitz and has a master rating. And then, a couple weeks ago, John Wright showed up.

For those who aren’t familiar with the history of Canadian chess, or who haven’t browsed the Who’s Who section of the new CFC website, let me fill you in. John Wright was a player on the tournament scene back in the early 1970s, among the likes of Bruce Amos, Lawrence Day, Vlad Dobrich, Geza Fuster, Jean Hébert, Jacques Labelle, Duncan Suttles, and Ivan Theodorovich. More importantly, he has spent almost his entire chess career exclusively in another world of chess, a world where he became an IM and where Canada took a bronze medal at the Olympiad.

Have you guessed which parallel chess universe I’m talking about? John Wright had a long and distinguished career in the upper echelons of Canadian … correspondence chess! Unfortunately, as John puts it: “computer chess programs started to get so strong, they rendered correspondence chess obsolete.” Thus, John’s career in the world of correspondence chess came to an end with the demise of the game itself, in the mid 1990s.

The world of correspondence chess – “finding the perfect move”

John sees correspondence chess and over-the-board chess as two different games, each catering to a different kind of player. In CC (correspondence chess), it’s not necessary “to worry about accurately calculating variations in [your] head.” Instead, “it’s important … to have a sound, solid style with good positional understanding.” Furthermore, CC play offers more “creative satisfaction” to a positional player: “you can delve deeply into positions to find the perfect move.”

OTB (over-the-board) chess, on the other hand, “stresses the competitive aspect more than the creative. There is more excitement and tension, but also a lower quality of play.” In CC “you have to be patient, disciplined and hardworking,” but in OTB chess “it’s more important to be psychologically strong – cool under pressure with a strong memory and speed of thought.”

Although John initially made the switch to CC because of health problems, he found it was a game he enjoyed more, one his style was more suited to, and one in which he was “relatively stronger.” John attained master level at OTB chess, but in correspondence he got his rating over 2500, earned his IM title several times over, and won an Olympiad medal for Canada.

How it all began

Born in 1951, John learned to play chess at age 12, and was “immediately fascinated by the game.” To give some historical context, 1964 was the year a 20-year-old Bobby Fischer, already an international grandmaster since age 15, won the US Championship – yet again, but this time with an unprecedented 11-0 record. To this day, Fischer is one of John’s favourite players, along with Capablanca, Rubinstein, Petrosian, and Karpov – the great positional players.

John recalls, in those early days, studying The Game of Chess by Harry Golombek, Chess Fundamentals by Capablanca, and Masters of the Chessboard by Réti. These books helped him to become a “pretty good” casual player. Then, at 16, his family moved from the small town of St. Marys to the city of London, Ontario, and he began to play in tournaments. By 18, he was London City Champion and his rating passed the 2000-threshold.

Chess was by no means his only game. In high school, John “loved all kinds of sports,” and won the South-western Ontario championship with his high-school volleyball team. He believes to this day that physical sports are “the perfect complementary activity to chess.” He is in good company in this belief. The great Mikhail Botvinnik, “who became a trainer of young chess talent after his retirement, felt that [physical sporting activity] was of critical importance – even essential.”

The height of John’s OTB career came in the years 1970 to 1972. He “did a little travelling” in those years, and played in tournaments on both sides of the Canada-US border, achieving a rating over 2200 in both countries. These tournaments included the 1970 Canadian Open, where he “beat Dobrich, drew with Day, Amos, and Labelle, and lost to W. Brown and Benks”; the 1970 Manhattan Open, where he “tied for first with Soltis and Brandts, with a score of 4½/5, and beat several experts and masters”; and the 1973 Toronto Closed, where he “came third, beating Day, Dobrich, Fuster, and Theodorovich.”

John Wright, 1973

The correspondence career

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, John had his impressive CC career. He was “always one of the top two or three-rated correspondence players in Canada” and he played four times on the Canadian Correspondence Olympiad team – including the bronze medal-winning team in the 11th ICCF Olympiad, 1992-1999.

Despite playing in a number of GM tournaments, and getting his rating over 2500, he “could never quite get the GM title.” Nevertheless, John is proud of a number of CC accomplishments, including an impressive 3.5/5 lifetime record against Jean Hébert – two wins and three draws, including a win when Hébert was the reigning Canadian OTB champ. John describes Hébert as “a most gracious opponent who praised my play highly on a number of occasions.”

White: Wright, John
Black: Hébert, Jean

1978 North American Invitational CC Championship III

E61 King’s Indian

How the chess world has changed in 40 years

John has finally come back to the world of OTB chess (“Nowadays if you played someone a correspondence game, you would only be playing their computer program”) but the OTB scene has changed a lot since the 1970s. For John, the biggest differences are the faster time controls (“For someone like me, it matters – I’m the type of player that needs all the time I can get!”) and the use of computer programs and databases.

You might think that John would be against computers, since they brought about the end of the game he loved, but in fact John sees them as a positive development: “I think overall they are a big plus.” Not only do they improve the game creatively by showing “all kinds of possibilities that you never would have suspected,” but they also facilitate the development of young players: “It’s due to their help that we see so many strong young players developing rapidly worldwide – I sure wish I’d had a computer program to play with when I was 12.”

The value of chess

I had to ask John, as someone who has been a serious chess player for almost fifty years, what he appreciates about the game. He spoke, first, of its value as mental training: he believes chess “has a lot of value in helping develop concentration, memory, general mental discipline, and good work habits.” But then he went on to discuss the pleasure of chess and the sense of accomplishment: “the most enjoyable aspect of chess is the sense of creative satisfaction from playing a good game.” Finally, he spoke of its social value: “it’s always good to meet others who share your love for the game.”

Nearly 60, John no longer wants to play “serious competitive chess,” but he has been wishing for a few years that he could find a local club where he can play chess for enjoyment. Going into round three of the ACC First Anniversary Swiss (he beat Joseph Bellissimo in round one and Wajdy Shebetah in round two) he is just hoping he can “still play a halfway decent game!”

John Wright’s 5 tips to improve your chess

  • Play as often as you can against strong players and afterwards analyze the games with the help of a computer.
  • Play over the games of great masters past and present – again analyzing them with the help of a computer.
  • Study good instructional books such as Chess Fundamentals by Capablanca, Modern Chess Strategy by Pachman, The Art of the Middlegame by Keres and Kotov, and The Art of Defense by Soltis
  • Buy books which contain hundreds of tactical quizzes (e.g., 1001 Winning Combinations by Reinfeld) and go over them again and again until you can solve them all quickly. That is what I did when I was 17 and my rating suddenly shot up rapidly.
  • Choose a few sound openings with both White and Black that suit your style and learn them thoroughly – go over them with the help of a computer.

.pgn for game

[Event “N.Am. Invitational CC Championship III”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “1978.??.??”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Wright, John”]
[Black “Hébert, Jean”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “E61”]
[Annotator “J.Wright”]
[PlyCount “113”]
[SourceDate “2011.09.27”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 ({I tried} 2… c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 $5 {in a previous
CC encounter with John, but he also won that one brilliantly (JH).}) 3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Bg5 c5 {?! This would be more sensible after e2-e4 (JH).} 5. e3 O-O 6. Nf3
h6 7. Bh4 d6 8. Be2 g5 9. Bg3 g4 $2 {White has adopted a quiet but solid
opeing system agianst which Black can do little. With the text Black
impatiently seeks counter chances. The weakening of the K-side, however, is
not justified. As I learned from my games with John, he is at his best
exploiting positional weakness. This game is a fine example (JH).} 10. Nh4 cxd4
11. exd4 Qb6 12. Qd2 Nc6 {With my last four moves I expected to get good
central play due to White’s far-off N/h4 and B/g3. However, the “play” does
not amount to much while my K-side weakneess remains for a long time (JH).} 13.
d5 Nd4 14. Bd3 $1 e5 $2 {After this move Black is lost.} ({Better was} 14…
Nh5 {to prevent Bf4. From now until the end of the game Black plays the best
defence. However, the position cannot be saved.}) 15. dxe6 Bxe6 16. Bf4 $1 h5
17. O-O Ne8 18. Rae1 $1 Rc8 $1 {Black’s best chance.} ({If instead} 18… Qd8
19. Bg5 Qd7 20. Nd5 Bxd5 21. cxd5 Nf6 22. Bxf6 {and Qh6.}) 19. Bg5 Bxc4 ({If}
19… Nf6 20. Bxf6 {and Qh6}) ({or if} 19… f6 20. Be3 Bxc4 21. Bxc4+ {and b3}
) ({or} 19… Nc7 20. Bf6) 20. Bxc4 Rxc4 21. Be7 Nf6 22. Bxf8 Kxf8 23. Kh1 {
Preparing to open the game for his Rs (JH).} Qc6 24. f3 gxf3 25. Nxf3 Ne6 26.
Ng5 Nxg5 27. Qxg5 Rg4 28. Qd2 h4 29. Rf3 Nd7 30. h3 Rd4 31. Rd3 Rxd3 32. Qxd3
Ne5 33. Qe3 Ng6 34. Nd5 $1 Be5 {Black’s game looks almost tenable but, with an
exposed K and three isolated Ps, I had no illusions (JH).} 35. Qh6+ Ke8 36.
Nf6+ Ke7 37. Ng4 Qc2 38. Nxe5 dxe5 39. Qc1 Qf2 40. Rf1 Qb6 41. Qg5+ Ke8 42. Rc1
Kf8 ({If} 42… Qxb2 43. Rc8+ Kd7 44. Qf5+ {.}) 43. Qd2 Kg7 {Now that the
Black K is relatively safe White starts a Q-side attack! (JH).} 44. b4 $1 a6
45. a4 Qe6 46. Rc7 Nf4 47. a5 b6 48. b5 $1 bxa5 ({If} 48… axb5 49. a6 {.})
49. Rc6 Qe8 50. Qd6 axb5 51. Qf6+ Kg8 52. Rd6 Ne6 53. Qxh4 $1 ({If instead} 53.
Qxe5 {Black gets play with …} Qc8 {.}) 53… Qc8 54. Qg3+ Kf8 55. Qxe5 Qc1+
56. Kh2 b4 57. Ra6 {Black is defenceless against the threat of 58.Ra8+
followed by Ra7+ and Qh8+. A superb positional masterpiece for John and my
finest loss in the tournament (JH).} 1-0

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