Sanakoev’s CC playing rules

This post reviews a book that is a treasure trove of insights into CC. Sanakoev is the 12th World Correspondence Champion, 1985-92. The book relates his three attempts to win the Championship.


256 pages (210 mm by 145 mm).


ISBN (10 digits): 1-901983-11-0

ISBN (13 digits): 978-1-901983-11-1

He suggests that any experienced CC player has his own methods, which depend on his lifestyle, his character, his degree of motivation and other factors. In the book he lists by phase of attempting to win the World Championship rules he has obeyed for playing CC. You can find these rules below. For a full account if his games please see the book referenced above.

Altough he writes at a time when webserver CC and smart phones didn’t exist – his lessons based on postal chess can be easily applied to the game of nowadays. Here is a breakdown of Sanakoev’s rules by phase in his quest to the Championship:


1) Always carry a notebook with the scores of your current games.

2) Every three or four moves, draw a diagram in the notebook showing the position after your own move. This helps you to keep the position in your memory and saves time when your opponent’s reply arrives. You don’t have to play through the game from the start but can set up the position for analysis straight away. The time saved may not seem all that much, but if you have a large number of games going on at once and receive several replies a day, you do notice the difference. Furthermore, you avoid the aggravation of having to keep going over the mistakes you made earlier…

3) Keep a pocket set on you. When a game gets interesting it is never far from your thoughts, and plausible continuations may come into your head in the most unexpected places — during a walk, in a bus or train, at the dentist’s. In such cases it pays to play through the possible variations on your pocket set without bothering about the looks of astonishment from other people. At the end of the day, there is nothing to be ashamed of in chess…

4) Don’t be slack about writing down what you have found in your analysis, even if you aren’t entirely convinced of its accuracy. That way you won’t have to go down the same path several times over, and your field of research is narrowed; after all, improving or refuting a variation is much easier than thinking it up from scratch. If you don’t have your notebook to hand, write down the first few moves of the variation on a cigarette packet, a doctor’s prescription, or whatever — but copy it out neatly afterwards. Don’t rely on your memory; it is not infallible. There is nothing more exasperating than laboriously trying to retrieve a line you have found and then forgotten. The thought ‘I remember there was something here’ persists lik’e thirst in the desert, and your efforts to reconstruct the variation often have no more chance of success than searching for a lost oasis.

5) After putting your move on the postcard, you must check it with the eyes of someone learning chess notation for the first time. This reduces the likelihood of writing it down wrongly, leading to most distressing misunderstandings. If a newcomer to correspondence chess takes on board some of these rules from my ‘postal player’s code’, I think the path will be a good deal less thorny for him.


1) Never overestlmate your Opponent and don’t be mesmerized by an illustrious name. No doubt his understanding of chess is no worse than yours, but you have a better grasp of the particular position in front of you. Underestimating the opponent is inadmissible too. Of course you play better than he does, but in the present case he may have discovered a possibility that never entered your head.

2) Keep abreast of contemporary opening theory, since all theoretical lines are faulty. Play anything that suits your own taste, for there are only two approaches to the opening — yours and the faulty one.

3) Remember that all variations are better for White if you have the black pieces, and that Black has easy equality if you are playing White. Don’t expect any good from the opening except when you obtain a clearly won position at the outset.

4) All that glitters is not gold, and the price of beauty is not always high. Nonetheless a beautiful move is usually strong, and Oscar Wilde’s dictum, “Only a superficial man doesn’t judge by appearances,” is not at all a paradox and has a direct bearing on chess.

5) In any position — fight!


1) In chess you need to do something better than anyone else, but in other departments of the game you have to have some competence too.

2) You can permit yourself any liberty in the opening except the luxury of a passive position.

3) The profundity of chess is limitless, and if you believe that the high road to victory leads through tactical complexities, have the courage of your convictions.

4) In any situation – fight!


1) Play every game as though it were the decisive encounter in your final tournament, yet don’t let the result perturb you.

2) He who tries to embrace everything in chess will achieve nothing. Don’t be intent on advertising the many-sidedness of your nature.

3) In chess, profess the faith which answers to your heart’s inclination. Woe to the apostate!

4) “What we know is restricted; what we do not know is infinite ” (Laplace). Be glad that no limits can be placed on your self-improvement in chess!


1) Remember that before the start of a tournament the chances of all participants are absolutely equal — but in an almost Orwellian sense, some have more equal chances than others.

2) If you aren’t too clear about your opponent’s chances, turn the chessboard round!

3) If you don’t even feel like looking at your position, sit down to some thorough analysis at once. Hannibal is at the gates!

4) No matter what the Circumstances are, fight!


1) Excess is harmful. Be moderate in your appetite for postal chess. Twenty-five to thirty commitments should be quite enough to keep you happy.

2) There is no such thing as a half-serious tournament. In every game your reputation and self-confidence are at stake.

3) Don’t be too confident and don’t send your opponent provisional continuations if they aren’t absolutely forced. Leave yourself the option of re-cheking your analysis; give the opponent the chance to go wrong.

4) Against all the buffetings of fortune — fight!


1) The pedestrian continuation is usually strongest, but it takes an original move to win the game.

2) The winner is the player who isn’t afraid of risk and who upsets the balance, throwing courage as well as calculation onto his side of the scales.

3) Objectivity should be kept for other people; each session of analysing your own positions should conclude with winning attacks.

4) Don’t be disheartened if your analysis doesn’t bring immediate success. If you keep on digging your well, you will find water sooner or later – even in the desert.

5) Take account of your opponent’s psychological state; postal chess is not for the weak-spirited. If he’s falling, give him a push.

6) If Caissa is on your side, fight with redoubled energy!


1) In many respects postal chess is founded on trust in your opponent. You have limited time for chess; life is full of fuss, crammed with all sorts of activities. There‘are sometimes hold-ups in the post, and very often a postcard you receive will have yesterday’s postmark on it, or even that of the day before. Sometimes you may feel tempted to cheat when specifying your thinking time. Don’t do it. In deceiving your opponent you will be deceiving yourself and undermining your faith in your own powers. A sense of embarrassment will affect your attitude to the game, and even if you win, your pleasure will not be untainted.

2) Don’t expect your path to be strewn with roses; then the constant labour will not be a burden to you. To achieve success you will need to sacrifice some of life’s pleasures. You may be left with less time not only for amusements but also for sleep. Somebody once said that in postal tournaments the winner is the player who goes to bed latest, and this joke contains a good deal of truth. If you feel that postal chess is becoming a strain, take a break from it for a year or eighteen months.

3) Let me repeat for the last time — be an optimist. There are no hopeless posi- tions; there are only inferior ones that can be saved. There are no drawn positions; there are only equal ones in which you can play for a win. But at the same time, don’t forget that there is no such thing as a won position in which it is impossible to lose.

4) Treat your opponent considerately. Let each of your postcards be a letter to a friend. It is not for nothing that the golden words ‘Amici sumus’ (we are friends) figure as the motto of the ICCF.

5) Be assured that in postal chess there are no heights which it would be beyond your powers to climb. If I could reach the very summit without being a chess professional, why shouldn’t you follow me? In my view, nothing gives greater pleasure than achieving a goal which everyone, yourself perhaps included, thinks impossible.


Nicolas Ronderos

Nicolas Ronderos is an American ICCF Player. He is also a Good Companion Fellow at the US Chess Problem Society. He lives in Paris and tweets about CC as @CorrChess
  1. Scott D Young left a comment on March 3, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Great advice from a great player and analysist!
    This review was very good reading! Thanks!

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