Correspondence chess is a rapidly dying thing. The advent of the computer has persuaded many players that there is no longer any point in playing chess by correspondence, be it post, e-mail or server. If one really wants to play a slow game against Rybka or Houdini, one can simply do so against one's own version of the program - why bother playing somebody else's? However, notwithstanding these considerations, there are still plenty of diehards who wish to play correspondence chess, and who derive great enjoyment from it. It is right that the national federation should support them.
The Ward-Higgs is a long-established event, run by the ECF, in which each English county enters a team (of 30 boards, if memory serves). Each player is paired with an opponent from another county, and they play one game, lasting about 9-10 months. At the season end, unfinished games are adjudicated, and the county which has amassed most game points is the winner. Because it only involves a single game, the Ward-Higgs has always attracted a lot of OTB players, who make the concession of their one annual postal game for their county. The pairings traditionally go out around October.
The 2011-12 season should be finishing about now. But there is just one small problem - it has still not started! A full nine months (!) after pairings should have gone out, there is still total silence from the ECF. None of the county captains, nor their players, have heard a dicky-bird. The event controller is one John Philpott. I do not know him, but he is listed on the the ECF website, complete with smiling picture, as "Chairman of the Governance Committee". Readers familiar with the catalogue of ECF governance failures over the past couple of years might feel that such a title is a bit like being introduced as the Safety Officer on the Titanic, but for now we will pass on from that issue. What is beyond doubt is that Mr Philpott exists, since he posts regularly on our favourite forum ("I post, therefore I am", as Descartes almost said). Indeed, he is most scrupulous in responding to questions touching on matters of ECF governance - it only needs someone to post a question, asking, for example, how many proxy votes a left-handed, one-legged delegate with bad breath and piles requires, in order to call a motion of "no confidence" in the ECF office coffee machine vendor, and Mr Philpott can be guaranteed to reply within minutes, giving chapter and verse from the ECF bye-laws.
But when it comes to the Ward-Higgs, he is silent. County captains e-mail him, asking for news - no response. ECF board members e-mail him, asking what is going on - silence. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, they seek him here, they seek him there, but the damned elusive Philpott cannot be raised anywhere. When it comes to the Ward-Higgs, he maintains a policy of omerta, that would do credit to Joe Bonnano. One might have thought that the powers that be at the Egregious lot would have taken over the issue and sorted it out by now, but no - they are too busy working out how to implement their compulsory membership scheme. Never mind about organising chess events for the players of this country - all that matters is extracting money from them.
"Ward-Higgs? Never heard o' the guy! Talk to my lawyer!" (photo: hollywoodusa.co.uk)
The result is that the players and captains have now given up. Clearly, there will be no Ward-Higgs for 2011-12. Sussex, reigning champions for the past two years, have already declared that they will not now play, even if pairing notices should suddenly emerge from darkest Chingford, where Philpott allegedly resides. Is this to be the end of the Ward-Higgs? Probably not - if a new controller can be found, the event is likely to continue. But I am prepared to bet that a few more players will drop out. As if captains did not have enough trouble each year, fighting the drip-drip-drip with which players are lost to CC, this farce is now going to accelerate that process. Yet another triumph for the Chess Destruction Federation.
From the days when the Ward-Higgs involved playing chess: