SIM Jon Edwards wins 32nd World Correspondence Championship

ICCF SIM and former Chess Life Kids contributor Jon Edwards has won the 32nd World Correspondence Championship on tiebreaks over GMs Michel Lecroq and Horácio Neto and SIM Sergey Adolfovich Osipov, earning his CC-GM title in the process.


ICCF 32nd WCh xtable


Here Edwards reveals what it takes to win a modern correspondence world championship and provides three of the key games along the way.

An Interview with ICCF World Champion  CC-GM Jon Edwards

Chess Life: What does it mean to be the new ICCF World Champion?

Jon Edwards: It’s extremely satisfying. I retired from Princeton University 12 years ago in order to write some chess books, to focus on my chess teaching, and to compete in the World Championship cycle. It took a long effort, a very narrow win, and some amazing experiences and interactions. The result is that I now get to join rather elite company.

I have idolized many of the former correspondence World Champions, notably Cecil Purdy and GM Grigory Sanakoev, whose writings I have gleefully devoured. I have tremendous respect for the chess of GM Hans Berliner and GM Victor Palciauskas, the two Americans who won the title before me. I have reviewed the chess of all recent ICCF champions, notably GM Alexandr Dronov, SIM Andrey Kochemasov, GMs Ron Langeveld, Christian Muck, and SIM Fabian Stanach. And the reality is that it brings a flood of congratulatory mail and new opportunities, potentially transforming my non-social, solitary existence into something different and perhaps more exciting.

How did you get to compete in the Championship? What is the qualification process like?

I started in Helen Warren’s American Postal Chess Tournaments and won their championship four times. I made the leap to the ICCF in 1993. I won the 10th U.S. Championship, which provided an entry into the 8th North American Invitational. I won that, and entered a ¾ World Final. Sadly, I came in fourth, just out of reach for the Candidates.

When I retired in 2010, I entered a World Final Semi-Final section, in which I finished second, just enough to gain an entry into the Candidates. There I also came in second, just good enough to enter the Final round. Along the way, I won the strong Spanish Masters, including a memorable win over SIM Evgeny Lobanov, the then-reigning Russian correspondence champion. It’s been non-stop high-level chess for 12 years, squeezing by at every important step.

Jon Edwards
photo courtesy subject

What is your workflow like when you get a move and prepare a response?

Much of the most intense work occurs before games start. I play through every game each opponent has ever played and forecast where the game will go. Before a move is played, I always have new ideas in mind.

Much of the routine during play is quite tedious. I maintain both manual and electronic records. When the move is received, I note the exact time, my candidate moves, records of all actions taken, and their results. I begin by comparing the official position with my game notes. I then review my notes in some detail. In the opening, I use all of the relevant ChessBase tools, notably LiveBook and Let’s Check. I maintain a database of GM and high-level correspondence games. And even though I usually know exactly what move I am going to play, I run the position to high depth with two engines.

In the middlegame, I use ChessBase to find similar positions so that I know what plans are relevant. For me, the key is planning, which computers do not do well — Petrosian-like evaluations of where pieces belong, what exchanges are needed, and what move orders are most precise within the long-term plan.

In the final, my key game was against the Russian Osipov. The game went 119 moves. The middlegame was especially challenging because the computer engines did not understand the main ideas and suggested in most middlegame positions that all candidate moves were equivalent. 

How long does it take you to decide on a move?

Obvious moves can be made quickly, although I never take fewer than two days and often as many as 10. On moving, I again compare the position in my database with the official one on the ICCF server. Too many tournaments, even strong tournaments, are decided by human error when making a move. I thankfully managed to avoid clerical errors throughout the entire process.

Is it possible to play top-level, international correspondence chess without a powerful computer?

Not today! To me that’s like asking if you can play effectively in the National Football League without a helmet. I have two servers, each capable of calculating more than 90 million positions a second.

But I would argue that it’s not just about the hardware, but also about one’s ability to make the most of the hardware. My technical background helps in this regard, as does my familiarity with all aspects of ChessBase. Writing my column on chess technology for American Chess Magazine has also helped keep me fully abreast of all of the recent hardware and software developments.

It should be noted that the lack of decent equipment is being felt quite notably in Russia, where embargoes have limited access to new hardware and the latest chess tools. As a consequence, the Russian team finished near the bottom of the standings in the last Correspondence Chess Olympiad.

What was the most important game on your road to victory?

You can’t win it if you’re not in it. So my win in the Semi-Final round against Trygye Hagen, and my win in the Candidates against GM Arild Haugen, were early keys. The first was a strategic gem with lengthy planning within a fixed structure. The second had an opening novelty (13. d5) and a wild melee that will please all readers.




The most important game in the Final was my game against Osipov. I really hoped to win in order to extend my razor-thin lead, and the game’s 119 moves testify to my determination. In one middlegame sequence, to make progress, I had to find a way to force him to advance his b-pawn one square, all while avoiding the 50-move rule. I accomplished the feat in 38 moves, in a sequence that no computer would consider or find. Such is the joy of high-level correspondence chess. Sadly, I did not subsequently find a win. But happily, I won the Final without it!

[Editor's note: we present the game below, with Edwards' extensive annotations. (They're too big for the lichess parser to show all the text!) For those interested, we present a .pgn download of this game, along with all of Edwards' games from the Final and the two key games given above.]

[pgn][Event "WC32/final ICCF"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Edwards, Jon"] [Black "Osipov, Sergey Adolfovich"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C26"] [WhiteElo "2529"] [BlackElo "2499"] [Annotator "Edwards,Jon"] [PlyCount "238"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [EventType "corr"] {[%evp 0,143,28,18,12,13,13,-22,-18,-17,-16,-29,-31,-31,5,-26,-8,3,16,-2,22,11, 17,-7,19,-8,-6,-14,-23,-32,-38,-27,-27,-36,-26,-22,-15,-7,4,6,4,4,4,4,24,4,4,6, 15,20,36,20,25,24,38,33,27,13,11,0,7,2,10,-1,11,3,11,3,-7,-11,-16,-12,-17,-10, -12,-11,-5,-5,-5,-5,-3,-24,-7,-24,-1,-1,3,0,9,-1,9,6,13,18,21,13,18,13,29,13, 17,5,13,0,13,4,0,0,20,0,2,2,8,4,3,5,9,2,5,2,4,0,2,-2,-1,-1,4,0,11,12,5,4,13,6, 12,10,19,19,16,15,18,17,41,0,3,-5] Before play started, I estimated that the winner would need a +2 or +3 score. I selected solid openings with Black to aim for draws in those games. I played two Queen's Indians and two Nimzo-Indians against 1.d4, and the Sveshnikov against 1.e4. All eight games ended quickly, peacefully, and without my having to confront any meaningful new ideas. To have a chance to win the tournament, I would therefore need to win two or three games with White. At first, I prepared to open with 1.d4, but I could not find anything playable against the Semi-Slav, a popular defense used by many of my players in this tournament. I spent days reviewing everything I could find there, but Black's defensive resources consistently held up. I instead opened with 1.e4 in every game with white. Two of the games involved the super solid ...h5 line against my Be3 Najdorf Sicilian. You'll achieve considerable chess fame if you find a compelling line there for White. I continue to hunt for it! I faced 1...e5 in the other 6 games. Three were Petroffs. One was a Berlin Ruy. In the other two, to avoid these solid systems, I tried a line in the Vienna Opening, the Glek variation, which has the merit of keeping all the pieces on the board. This is one of those two games.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 {A move that was very well prepared. I am trying to reach positions akin to the King's Gambit Declined. The Bishop's Opening has one variation that provides Black with full equality and so, here we are in Vienna.} Nf6 { There are other moves, but they all leave white with a playable advantage.} 3. g3 {3. Bc4 leads, of course, to the famous Frankenstein-Dracula variation in which Black, outfitted with a strong machine, is fully fine. 3. g3 is the Glek Variation, which has the merit of permitting me to play chess with all of my pieces. A number of strong players have tried this line from time to time. There's an old Spassky win that provides the main idea. White will complete the fianchetto, castle kingside, play h2-h3 and tuck the king on h2, and then charge forward with f4-f5. The idea is riskless, well matched to the needs of correspondence play, and frankly, quite appealing.} Bc5 {The main alternative is 3. ...d5 which I am now testing in the Kurt Stein Memorial. Theory is not well developed and there are plenty of interesting ideas for White in that line thanks in part to that lovely, very active light-squared bishop.} 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nge2 {The main attraction of the Vienna is to avoid Ng1-f3 so that f2-f4 can be more quickly played.} Nc6 6. O-O a5 $5 {Unexpected. He wants to preserve the bishop and stake a claim on the kingside, but this may be slightly inaccurate. It's certainly not critical. ...a7-a6, ...d7-d6, and ... Rf8-e8 are more commonly played here.} 7. h3 Re8 8. d3 Nd4 9. Nxd4 {OK, the first exchange. To succeed here, White wants to preserve as much material as possible, but I can stomach one trade.} Bxd4 10. Nb5 {Creative on my part. Let's get a pawn to c4 to discourage Black's counterplay on the queenside and in the center. Computers are not thrilled with this idea, but in my view, winning in correspondence chess with any consistency requires a stable structure and the ability to maneuver accurately with many pieces on the board. } Bb6 11. c4 {He can always kick the knight back to c3, where it wants to be anyway, but a c6-pawn creates additional long-term weaknesses in the structure. } h6 {He is trying hard to limit the scope of what can become a very powerful, dark-squared bishop. Of course, with most of the material left on the board, this push is committal. One of White's main ideas, after all, is to press forward on the kingside with a pawn rush.} 12. Nc3 {Black's potential counterplay with ...d7-d5 or even ...b7-b5 is now unlikely. We can buckle our belts. This will be a long struggle, exactly what I wanted.} d6 13. Kh2 { These moves are part of the usual plan in the Glek and don't need computer confirmation, but it's the World Final so the runs were long. When the engines disagree with the plan, as happens often enough, the humans should step in and reevaluate the plan or proceed. The idea here is straight forward. I want to play f4-f5 and begin a pawn rush against his castled king. Black has no apparent counterplay.} Bd4 14. f4 Bd7 {This is supposed to be Black's good bishop, but it has nowhere useful to post. At least without a pawn on c6, the bishop gains some scope on the queenside.} 15. Ne2 Bc5 {After this tempo loss, I concluded that this game was my best shot for a win in the Final. I wound up devoting thousands of hours to the game, a great many 12 hour days, trying to find the most accurate path forward.} 16. Qc2 {Simple development, aiming to activate the queen's rook.} c6 {He plays it anyway. As a young player, I devoured Bent Larsen's Best Games. He talked about similar positions, albeit with an open d-file, in which Black has to worry about the long-term weakness of the d6-pawn. My progress depends in part on making sure that he cannot break with either ...b7-b5 or ...d7-d5. Let's start by turning him into a bystander of the plan.} 17. Bd2 Qe7 18. Rac1 $5 {Activating the queen's rook on the c-file in order to firmly prevent a ... d7-d5 break. But this may be the my only error in the entire game. If instead a2-a3 or Ra1-d1, White will retain the dark-squared bishop to aid the kingside attack. I did agonize over the decision, and I was persuaded by the plan that I outline below. But I cannot help but note that the following plans, as impressive as they are, would have been substantially aided by the addition of White's dark-squared bishop. On 18. Rad1!?, which the computers reject at high depth, White can retain the dark-squared bishop after ...Bc5-b4 with Bd2-c1.} Bb4 {Black succeeds in getting the dark-squared bishops off the board, his second minor piece exchange.} 19. Be3 Bc5 20. Bxc5 dxc5 21. f5 {I had seen all this coming, and I had the following complex plan in mind. I was sure that I could still win this even without the dark-squared bishop. Black has no counterplay, and now the kingside can begin its advance.} Kf8 {His saving grace. White can indeed press forward with the usual pawn-led advance on the kingside, but Black's king won't be there.} 22. Ng1 {The actual details within this plan are annoyingly minute and complex. The knight will eventually head towards c3, but first, it needs to reach c2 in order to threaten b2-b4.} Qd6 23. Nf3 Nh7 24. Rcd1 Ng5 25. Ne1 Nh7 {Effectively offering a draw by repetition, in which I have no interest.} 26. Qd2 Ke7 27. Nc2 b6 28. a3 Nf6 29. Rb1 {Initializing the b4-break.} a4 {Black prevents the pawn break, but the pawn on a4 is now the target. I began to implement an idea that few over-the-board players and no computers would consider or attempt. Without permitting any counterplay anywhere on the board, I need to reposition my pieces within this structure so as to force Black to defend the a4-pawn with b6-b5. Too simply put, to accomplish this task, I will need the white knight on c3, the bishop on c2, and the queen on d1. The obvious constraint: I must carry out this redeployment within 50 moves or face a draw, and I must make sure that when he advances the b-pawn, he cannot trap my c2-bishop with ... b5-b4-b3. Osipov is fully aware of what I am trying to do here and tries throughout the next very long sequence to present small problems that I must confront along the way. If he can delay long enough, he avoids any possibility of a successful White initiative.} 30. Ne1 Reb8 {Throughout the next long sequence, most of Black's moves threaten nothing. The engines rate the position as 0.30 or thereabouts, and every candidate move for both White and Black has the same evaluation.} 31. Rf2 Be8 32. Bf1 Nd7 33. Nf3 f6 {And the 50 move rule is now in motion. I kept careful track of the number on a white board in my chess study, the war room.} 34. Qe1 Kd8 35. Rc2 Kc7 36. Be2 Bf7 37. Qf2 Qe7 38. Qe3 Rh8 39. Rbc1 Kb7 40. Nh4 Nf8 41. Rc3 Kc7 42. Bf3 Nd7 43. Qe2 Rhb8 44. Bh5 {A cool step along the way. I invite the trade of my bad, light-squared bishop for his good one.} Bg8 {He declines the trade, partly perhaps to keep the 50 move rule clock running, but his "good bishop" is now deprived of any meaningful scope or the ability to transfer to the queenside.} 45. R3c2 Nf8 46. Ng2 Nd7 47. Ne3 Kd8 48. Rd2 Kc7 49. Qe1 Qd6 50. Ng2 Rd8 51. Nh4 Nf8 52. Nf3 {In the midst of all this glacial maneuvering, the first shock of the tournament occurred. One of the players inputted the wrong move, instantly hanging a piece and the game. In all of my experiences, such things happen to others. In this case, I was the beneficiary. A free point in the World Final changed everything! I was suddenly half way to my +2 goal, and a win here would surely lock in the championship. There would be no letup in my approach to this game!} Kb7 53. Rdd1 Kc7 54. Rc3 {Osipov posted a win against one of the German competitors. He had played well, and the game achieved notoriety, but his opponent had played a dubious line in the Benoni. Sadly, I had been paired with Black against this same person and had already banked my draw, an extremely easy game because my opponent appeared to be unaware that I had played the same defense twice before. All this meant that Osipov and I were both +1, and this game took on even more importance. A win here and my tie-breaks would be awesome, defeating someone who had a win!} Kb7 55. Qf2 Kc7 56. Rcc1 Kb7 57. Kg2 Qc7 58. Rc3 Qd6 59. Rb1 Kc7 60. Ng1 { The knight finally commences its journey towards the c3-square.} Qe7 61. Kh2 { I was getting very excited about my chances in this game. I had minimized his play against my d-pawn. He dare not open the kingside. My pieces now have a path to their desired squares in this first phase, and I knew that I could carry out my plan within the constraints of 50 day rule. And then all hell broke loose! Francisco Pessoa, one of the two competitors from Portugal, offered a draw in a flat position to Steffen Bock of Germany, who accepted the draw. Almost immediately thereafter, Bock, who now had three draws on the books, suddenly resigned the rest of his games, including to me, to Osipov, and to Neto, another Portuguese player. His resignations came during the height of the pandemic and so, I assumed simply that he was sick, but there are other possible explanations, of course. We may never know the cause. Pessoa had cause to be very upset since he effectively had fallen behind the field simply by having his draw offer accepted. A protest was soon filed, and later rejected. But on the same day as Bock's resignations, Pessoa, playing Black against Neto, resigned, essentially throwing his game to his countryman. When the smoke had cleared, Osipov and I were tied for first, with Neto narrowly behind with a slightly inferior tie break. A win in this game would move me out of the tie into a large lead with only 50 games still in motion.} Nd7 62. Qe3 Qd6 63. Rd1 Ra7 64. Kg2 Raa8 65. Rcc1 Qe7 66. Rd2 Qd6 67. Ne2 Rdb8 68. Qf2 Kb7 69. Nc3 {The knight finally reaches the c3-square, beginning the pressure on the a4-pawn.} Kc8 70. Qe1 Ra7 71. Bd1 {Now the bishop joins the party. We have now made 38 moves without a pawn move or a capture.} b5 { Finally, the first pawn advance since move 33.} 72. Bh5 {The bishop resumes its most active perch immediately so as to keep Black's bishop bottled up. The next step in the has multiple possibilities, but the main idea involves threatening an exchange on b5 in order to pressure the c-file. I want to force or encourage Black to play ... b5-b4 and then ...b4-b3, when White has a winning plan with a king walk to a1 or b1, doubling the rooks on the g-file, and then pushing the g-pawn forward. The computers still do not see such plans, but humans can do so quite quickly. The computer is useful indeed in confirming that the ideal position is winning for white. I repeatedly used the computer to evaluate different piece placements iteratively within the structure.} Kc7 {There's a kind of helplessness to Black's moves. He has no meaningful way to make progress and so, he is left to parry every threat and possibility while I progress with my glacially slow plan.} 73. Qd1 Kc8 74. Qe1 Kd8 75. h4 Rab7 76. Kh3 Ke7 77. Ne2 Qc7 78. Qf2 Ra8 {Amidst my building efforts to impel him to advance the b5-pawn, a very tempting tactic emerged.} 79. cxb5 cxb5 (79... Rxb5 $2 80. Nc3 $16) 80. d4 Qd6 (80... exd4 $2 81. Rxd4 $16) 81. d5 c4 {Black's "good bishop" is now permanently buried, White has a protected passer in the center, and there are all sorts of promising possibilities for the posting of White's pieces. Imagine, for example, maneuvering the knight to b4 and c6, securing the king on the queenside, and blasting open the kingside with support from White's major pieces. Even White's light-squared bishop will gain a role in that scenario.} 82. Rc3 Nc5 83. Qf3 Qd7 {A huge think now. He now threatens to break on the kingside with g5 and attempt to seal the structure. I can avoid the pawn advance by retreating my king, but even after ...g5, I can still reorient my pieces for an eventual h4 break. The computer evaluations are simply worthless through here.} 84. Nc1 {The knight prevents any incursion with ...Nc5-b3 or ...Nc5-d3, and steers the knight towards the b4-hole. Another win is posted, this time by LeCroq of France over Schwetlick, who had also lost to Osipov. Schwetlick has strangely hung a mate in an otherwise even position. Clearly the chess gods were with me because, while LeCroq also now had two wins, both he and Osipov now had tie breakers hurt by the fact that both had defeated the same person! With the outcome of this game still uncertain, I suddenly had the best tie breaker. If all 40 remaining games were to end in a draw, I would now win the tournament outright even without a win in this game.. . but I never felt comfortable, knowing that anyone's additional win would crunch my chances.} g5 85. Na2 Bh7 86. Kh2 Bg8 87. Kg1 {There are lines where White's king belongs on the queenside as prelude to the rooks relocating to the h-file. Meanwhile, White's king can cut off black's queen from any entry squares on the kingside.} Kd6 88. Bg6 Rbb8 89. Rh2 Qa7 90. Kf1 Nd3 91. Nc1 Nc5 92. Na2 {Russia attacked the Ukraine around this time, and the ICCF soon thereafter required all Russians to play under a neutral flag. I forwarded my move with a message of peace. Osipov, a former Cosmonaut, did not respond.} Nd3 {The repetition will puzzle readers. It's a correspondence game, after all. But I was relatively low on time, and this gains time on the clock. And psychologically, we both now know that I am playing to win and that he is happy to draw.} 93. Nc1 { Sadly, the lines with} (93. Nb4 Nxb4 94. axb4 {offer no winning chances.}) 93... Nc5 94. Qe3 Nb3 95. Qe1 Qd4 96. Bh5 Rc8 97. Nxb3 axb3 98. Rd2 Qa7 99. Rd1 Bf7 100. Be2 {Finally reaching move 100, and avoiding the bishop exchange. There are still plenty of ideas, but they now depend upon an aggressive role on the queenside for white's bishop.} Be8 101. g4 {Played so very reluctantly. There were so many lines in which White's king or queen could infiltrate via the g4- and h5-squares. My hopes are dwindling, relying now on infiltration down the h-file and a well timed a3-a4.} Bd7 102. Kg2 Qc5 103. Rh3 Ra4 104. hxg5 hxg5 105. Rh6 Rf8 106. Qc3 b4 {Necessary, but good enough to draw.} 107. axb4 Qxb4 108. Qxb4+ Rxb4 109. Kf3 Ra4 110. Rc1 Ra2 111. Rxc4 Rxb2 112. Rb4 Rc8 113. Rb6+ Kc5 114. Rhxf6 Rh8 115. Rh6 Rxh6 116. Rxh6 {A pawn ahead, which looks great on the board but sadly not on the scoresheet.} Rc2 117. Rh1 b2 118. f6 Be8 119. Bd3 Rc3 {Offering a draw. Over-the-board, play would go on. The position remains complex and the lines quite fun. Readers should test their own mettle here. One of the lines even involves two promotions followed by a quick perpetual check. But we faced a clear path to a draw, and by now, there were only two games left in motion. The tournament did indeed end with 47 consecutive draws, leaving me in first place with the best tiebreaks! Surely, I missed a win here somewhere. That will continue to haunt me - the desire for an extra dose of legitimacy - but ultimately it does not matter! The collusion in mid-tournament did not determine the winner. Finally after more than two years of 12 hour chess days, I can put my feet up, enjoy the engraved silver platter, and buy a lottery ticket!} ({The simplest finish is} 119... Rc3 120. Ke2 Rc1 121. Rd1 Kd4 122. Bb1+ Kc3 123. Rd3+ Kb4 124. Rd1) 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Note: this article appears in modified form in the November 2022 issue of Chess Life.