When we think of chess, we usually think of two people sitting across from each other moving pieces in real time on a physical board. Of course, these days, millions of people also play online. For centuries, however, people have also been playing correspondence chess: chess by mail. Yes, people would write their moves down on postcards, stick them in the mail, and wait for their opponents to reply. A forty move game could last years as players patiently waited for moves to go back and forth. In more recent years, games have been played via email, which has speeded things up a little, but top-level games can still take two years to complete.

In October 2022, Dr. Jon Edwards, a resident of Hopewell, NJ, and longtime Vice President for Computing and Information Technology at Princeton University, won the 32nd World Correspondence Championship, together with the title of Correspondence Grandmaster.

On December 3, the newly-minted World Champion visited SJIC to give a lecture on “The Future of Human-Machine Collaboration.” During the two-hour lecture, Edwards explained how he blends his chess playing skills with his computer expertise (using computers is legal in correspondence chess) to carefully plan out every move. Because of the time and care it takes to play a correspondence game, correspondence chess has long been a proving ground for chess theory. Now aided by computers, leading correspondence players have reached an amazing level of accuracy, with nearly all games ending in draws (since the players make virtually no mistakes). Edwards predicted that we may be near to a demonstration that chess is a draw with perfect play. In fact, Edwards stated that many openings are now believed to be drawn with perfect play, leaving fewer and fewer spaces for correspondence players to seek an advantage.

Edwards stated that, even if chess is “solved” as being a draw with perfect play, the game’s massive complexity means that “over-the-board” players (who are not allowed to use computers during games) will still have plenty of room for exploration. Edwards noted, though, that most top over-the-board players also have to make extensive use of computers during their preparations for games.

An enthusiastic band of chess and computing fans braved the rain to enjoy the amazing lecture, as well as still-warm donuts and books authored and inscribed by Edwards.

A leading center for STEM instruction (including math, computing, and robotics), SJIC offers superb chess instructional programs for both children and adults. SJIC hosts official rated chess tournaments every other Sunday and rated rapid tournaments every Wednesday night.