International Braille Chess Association

                  History of the Organization

         Compiled and Equiped with Combinding Texts by

                      Hans-Gerd Schaefer

                  Translated by Julie Leonard


                       C H A P T E R  II

                    The Basic Requirements

For mankind, the definition of sporting achievement is a
somewhat difficult matter, as it is usually associated with some
sort of physical movement or agility for which the species
simply has not been designed.  Instead, we have been given the
intelligence to enhance our limited physical prowess in the way
that we need to, or perhaps only wish to, by using specialised
techniques and equipment. 

It is precisely this use of our natural intelligence, which
makes us vastly superior to all other life forms.  And we
certainly do use our abilities.  The pleasure that children get
out of learning is continually fascinating; they soak up
knowledge like a sponge soaks up water.  There are countless
other comparisons which could be made in this area, but
generally speaking they are not connected with sport.  And why
not?  Accumulating knowledge, making deductions and drawing
conclusions are after all profoundly human activities, just as
specialised physical abilities are assigned to particular
species of animals.    

If physical exercise is to be meaningful, there must be an
identifiable goal.  When a goal is not set, or is no longer
recognised, sport, which is traditionally always associated with
meaningful exercise, can only be practised in a very limited
way.  The aims of a person who was blind at birth or has been
robbed of their sight as a result of war, accident or illness,
are to seek out other abilities, strengthen their remaining
senses and adapt to their own special circumstances.  Naturally,
the instincts that have evolved in humans over time are also
abundant in such people.  

In a passive way, we are, to some extent, continually absorbing
sound waves and any visual stimuli that lie within our field of
vision.  The sense of touch, on the other hand, is a faculty,
which invariably requires physical activity.  Visual defects and
hearing impediments can be partially or completely corrected by
wearing glasses or using a hearing aid respectively.  Yet there
is no device whatsoever that can enhance the sense of touch,
apart from perhaps extending ones reach by means of a stick. 
However, only very basic information can be derived using this
method.  The specific development of the sense of touch is, in
the main, dependent on how intensively it is trained and
exercised.  It will never be possible to make someone who was
blind at birth comprehend what colours are and why they have
such a huge significance in everyday life.  But these are
deficiencies, which can only be appreciated by those who have
already experienced for themselves what it is like to lose the
sense of sight.

A further, more important point relates to the power of the
mind.  A white stick following the edge of the station platform
leaves the body largely unprotected.  The blind person envisages
that, at least in comparison with an approaching train, the
platform can hold no great hazards for them.  Keeping things in
order in the home as well as in areas of public thoroughfare
plays a necessary and important part in the life of a blind or
partially sighted person.  To take another example, a mediaeval
Gothic cathedral, can only really be grasped, literally
"grasped", by touching the individual Gothic or Romanesque
elements, found perhaps in the choir stalls, in the decoration
around the entrance, on the door, on picture frames or in other
adornments.  When guided around a building such as this, a blind
person can use their keen sense of touch to explore all the
features within reach.  The rest has to be pictured in the mind
of the individual.  

Naturally the ability to picture something, both within an
enclosed space as well as outside of it, can also be influenced
and sometimes even determined by reflected sound waves. 
Interference from other sounds generated by the civilised world
can have fatal consequences for a person's orientation, in which
the sense of hearing and, most importantly, familiar sound
patterns, play a crucial role.  However, it should be stressed
that registering everyday surroundings in great detail has not
in fact been reduced to the status of a mind sport, despite
quite clearly sharing many common features.

General exercise is in no way redundant in the realm of mind
sports, but it can be reduced to that which a sport should be:
A means of maintaining the body in as fit a state as possible,
thereby providing the fundamentally necessary conditions that
allow the brain to function properly.  Exercise which stretches
the body's capabilities is a pre-requisite for mental work and
therefore also for this type of competitive challenge.  

Since physical self-expression is only available to blind and
partially sighted people in a very limited way, if at all, games
such as cards, board games, and above all chess, because of the
virtually unlimited number of possible combinations, are an
extremely important means of self-realisation for them.  This
word sounds somewhat trite, but there is in fact no more fitting
term to convey the intended meaning. 

The blind and other disabled people were traditionally
positioned on the edge of society until well into the twentieth
century.  This must surely be the reason why the blind and
partially sighted suffered lengthy delays when they first began
to turn chess into a game for them.  Louis Braille (1809-1852),
who lost his eyesight in an accident when he was still a young
child of three years old, invented an alphabet for the blind,
which was named after him.  The Braille alphabet, together with
the development of technological aids for the blind, facilitated
the integration of the visually handicapped into society and the
workplace, albeit in a very restricted way at first.  From then
on the blind were able to play a role in society and indeed also
become active in many areas of sport.  

Chess was perfectly suited to blind people!  This form of sport
immediately attracted interest amongst the visually impaired, as
it even allows a blind person to compete against sighted
sportsmen in certain ways.  After that it was only a question of
time before the blind began to organise themselves into chess
groups or clubs, in many cases with the schools for the blind
providing the initial driving force.

When playing chess, the action is transferred to a level on
which the blind and partially sighted can appreciate and
experience it to the full. 

Whilst all parts of the body, even the feet, can in fact be used
to touch things and receive sensory information, it is primarily
the hands and more specifically the fingers, which are the most
important when it comes to gathering this information. 
Moreover, it should be stressed that the majority of tactile
sensations are received via the tip of the index finger of one
hand i.e. a mere few square millimetres of skin surface.  It is
precisely for this purpose that at this very point, the skin is
equipped with a dense distribution of nerve endings
(approximately 35 per square millimetre).  A blind child learns
to utilise this physical attribute in school and the child
learns to read using only this faculty, the sense of touch.  The
appreciation of the spatial context in which a person finds
himself and the direct assessment of the size and scale of
things are limited by how far the hand can reach.  This is where
a keen sensitivity is developed, which a blind or partially
sighted person must maintain throughout their life.  For this
reason it is incomparably more difficult for an adult to adjust
to the loss of eyesight than it is for a child.  The sensory
compensation achieved by people who were blind at birth is by
far the most effective for after all the affected person has
only ever experienced his surroundings in darkness.  Adaptation
is certainly also a question of a person's intellectual
abilities, the development of which essentially depends on the
individual's interests and inclinations.  

The extent to which people are able to use other faculties to
compensate for ones they have lost is convincingly demonstrated
in the case of a keen German chess player who, as a young man,
lost not only his sight but also both his hands in an explosion
during the Second World War.  When he wanted to play chess, a
helper noted down his moves.  For decades he was one of the best
blind chess players in Germany, even though for him the
chessboard, the pieces and above all the relationship between
them could only ever exist in his mind. 

In every single case, a keen interest is an essential
pre-requisite for general learning and for the development of
compensatory skills.  It can always be taken for granted that
children either already have such an interest or that it can be
awakened in them.  Though amongst adults, it is the exception
rather than the rule. 

However, the ability to play a game, especially chess, is
dependent on the availability of an interesting opponent.  For
the blind and partially sighted, this is not an easy problem to
resolve.  Thankfully, local chess clubs are in fact always happy
to accept blind and partially sighted members, but it was
difficult for this group of people to develop a method of
playing which would allow them to compete on equal terms with
the sighted.  This was the reason why the blind and partially
sighted tried to make and maintain contacts with one another
right from the start.  They were continually concerned with
devising and perfecting the special equipment that was needed to
enable those who do not possess the power of sight to play

After the initial internal tournaments, the blind and partially
sighted clubs began to mingle with the greater chess playing
public in order to test the methods they had devised.  They
engaged in competitions against sighted chess enthusiasts, but
it was only after World War II and primarily in the 50's and
60's when there was a decisive upturn in chess for the blind in
many countries.  It was no wonder that as rapid technological
developments brought people closer together, including blind
people from different countries, strong contacts were formed
between them and the first international correspondence chess
matches were arranged.  From then on the problems outlined below
began to be discussed at an international level.  
1.   A person who cannot look at his chessboard must be
permitted to touch the pieces.  

2.   A person who touches the pieces must be confident that the
pieces will not fall over or inadvertently be moved to another

3.   The hand that examines the chessboard creates two further
problems. Firstly, the sighted player is used to being able to
see the board all the time so that he can think about
combinations even when it is not his turn to move.  However, the
hand of the visually handicapped player will conceal the
position of the pieces from him.  Secondly, the hand might
possibly reveal the plans and deliberations of the visually
handicapped player to the sighted opponent thereby giving him an

4.   Normal chess clocks were completely unusable for the blind
and partially sighted.  This was another area where a new
solution had to be found, in order to make the chess activities
of the blind and partially sighted largely independent of
sighted assistance.

5.   A method of recording games and presenting the requisite
chess literature was needed, but this requirement had already
been satisfied by the invention of Braille by the Frenchman,
Louis Braille (1809-1852), in the first half of the previous
century.  It only remained to develop a specialised chess
notation that could be used within the context of the Braille

This clearly illustrates that from the beginning blind and
partially sighted people were not merely interested in keeping
in close contact with one another, but that it was in fact
essential for them to exchange experiences and ideas regularly. 
As the number of blind chess players increased, the need for
Braille chess literature also grew in order for people to be
able to complete their chess knowledge and improve their game
without outside help.  In 1925, O. Brandt and W. Philipp, both
teachers of blind children, created the Marburg chess notation,
which was based on the algebraic system and which today, apart
from some minor amendments, still forms the most important basis
for the transcribing of chess books, the recording of games,
etc.  This notation made it possible to write and send
correspondence chess moves for the first time.  Since then many
chess books have been produced in Marburg and Leipzig and these
are available for the use of blind chess players. 

Another problem still remained outstanding.  The diagram of the
chessboard clearly showing the position of each individual piece
could not be transferred into the six-dot pattern of tactile
symbols.  A completely new solution had to be sought.  In fact,
a Braille depiction of a diagram is far less easy to read and
remember than a printed one, but nevertheless it is one
practical solution for the blind and partially sighted. 
Starting with the square a8, each row in turn is condensed into
an appropriate sequence of agreed symbols.  A number represents
one or more empty squares and occupied squares are shown by the
usual letter that symbolises the piece.  Furthermore, it has
been agreed that symbols for black pieces are suffixed with dot
6, to enable readers to distinguish between the black pieces and
the white ones. 

The "Algebraic" system of chess notation defines each square on
the board by combining a letter to indicate which file the
square is on with a number to specify the rank of the square. 
The files run from the white pieces to the black ones and are
lettered 'a' to 'h', starting from White's left hand side.  The
ranks run across the files and are numbered 1 to 8, starting
from White's side of the board.  Thus it is possible to give
unambiguous co-ordinates for the square a piece is starting from
and its destination square.  This type of notation is familiar
to the vast majority of chess players.   

In comparison, the "Descriptive" notation can also be used to
express an action on the chessboard.  The algebraic system that
is widely used in Germany is as strange to many of our
chess-playing colleagues from England, for example, as the
descriptive system is to us.  In order to define a square using
the descriptive notation, the following three points should be

1.   Both players, the one with white as well as the one with
black, count the eight ranks starting from the one nearest to

2.   When naming a square both players refer to the initial
position of the pieces.  The files are named after the piece
that stands on it at the beginning of the game. 

3.   The pieces, bishop, knight and rook, are further defined
according to which side of the board they are on.  (Kingside or

Taking these three points into consideration, a chess game is
represented in the following way:

                   M. Arenas -- F. Infantes
                        Tenerife 1992
    Spanish Team Championship for the Blind and Partially
                        French Defence

1.   Pawn to king four   -
     -    Pawn to king three
2.   Pawn to queen four   -
     -    Pawn to queen four
3.   Pawn to king five   -
     -    Pawn to king's knight three
4.   Knight to king's bishop three  -
     -    Knight to queen two
5.   Bishop to king's knight five -
     -    Knight to king two
6.   Queen to queen two -
     -    Bishop to king's knight two
7.   Queen to king's bishop four -
     -    Castle kingside
8.   Bishop to king's rook six     -
     -    Knight to king's bishop four
9.   Bishop to king's knight five -
     -    Queen to king one
10.  Bishop to queen three -
     -    Pawn to queen's rook three
11.  Pawn to king's knight four -
     -    Knight to king two
12.  Bishop to king's rook six -
     -    Pawn to queen's knight three
13.  Bishop takes bishop on king's knight seven -
     -    King takes bishop on king's knight two
14.  Pawn to king's rook four -
     -    Knight to king's knight one
15.  Pawn to king's rook five -
     -    King to king's rook one
16.  Knight to king's knight five   -
     -    Pawn to queen's bishop four
17.  Knight takes pawn on king's rook seven -
     -    King takes knight on king's rook two
18.  Pawn takes pawn on king's knight six -
     -    King to king's knight two
19.  Rook to king's rook seven  -                          MATE!

When written in this way the whole thing appears very
complicated and exotic to someone who is accustomed to the
algebraic notation.  Nevertheless, it should be noted that the
descriptive notation is actually very illustrative for the
player at the board.  Try it for yourself!  It possibly ought
not to be written down, unless it is in the abbreviated format
that has been developed by our fellow chess enthusiasts in Great
Britain.  But regardless of the way in which players announce or
record their moves, they are all united by their enjoyment of
the "Game of Kings".  

Since it was founded, the International Braille Chess
Association has chiefly concerned itself with arranging chess
playing opportunities for blind and partially sighted in the
best possible way.  At the 2nd I.B.C.A. Congress in Meschede
(West Germany), held alongside the 1st Blind Chess Olympiad in
1961, playing equipment was already an important topic of
discussion.  At this time the organisation was still run along
the lines of an "International Blind Chess Club" in the
German-speaking countries.  Since that time this theme has run
like a thread through all congresses.  Here is an extract from
the relevant minutes:

"Uekermann and Cohn propose that chessboards and clocks should
be made as uniform as possible as this is of great benefit,
particularly at tournaments.  It is clear to everybody present
that however many obstacles there may be at the moment, this is
a goal worth striving for."

In many countries of the world, quite well established "Hobby
Groups for the Disabled" grew up as a result of forming contacts
between the directly affected people so that they could exchange
their experiences.  Then in 1951, it was Reginald Walter Bonham,
teacher of mathematics at the college for the blind in Worcester
(England), who organised the first correspondence chess
tournament for the blind. 

Reginald Walter Bonham was born in East Anglia in 1906.  He was
from a large family.  Two of his siblings were also blind.  He
attended Worcester College for the Blind, where he learned how
to play chess in 1922.  As early as 1924 and 1925 he won the
college championship.  In his spare time, alongside chess, he
was also involved with rowing and swimming.  During his time as
a maths student in Oxford he was even nominated for the famous
"University Eight".  It was only his rapidly failing eyesight
which finally prevented him from taking part. 

He achieved a very good pass in his mathematics exam and was
subsequently taken on as a maths teacher at his former school,
Worcester College, where he stayed until he retired in 1966. 
But over and above that he was also always interested in general
matters affecting the blind.  In particular, he occupied himself
with helping to extend the Braille system for use in
mathematics.  A highly respected figure, Bonham passed away
early in the year 1984 and was widely mourned.

Bonham won the first English Blind Chess Championship in 1956. 
He was also the undisputed winner of the first three
correspondence chess tournaments, which resulted in the I.B.C.A.
being founded.  It was as a result of the initiatives from
Reginald Walter Bonham and Victor Nelson that the first contacts
with the World-wide Esperanto Union of the Blind and Partially
Sighted were formed in 1949 and 1950.  On the occasion of
Bonham's 75th birthday, Heinz Reschwamm wrote in Information
Circular 1 1981: "It was on his initiative that the first
international correspondence chess tournament was held in 1951. 
On six occasions he earned the title of Blind Correspondence
Chess World Champion."

However, Bonham was not only known within blind chess circles
but was also very successful in the world of sighted chess.  In
both 1927 and 1928 he came second in the Oxford chess
championship before winning it in 1929.  He won the Hastings
Reserve Tournament in 1931.  He won the Birmingham Tournament on
three consecutive occasions, was Worcestershire County Champion
twenty times and was champion of the nine Midlands Counties
three times.  He won the "Birmingham Post Cup" twice.  On six
occasions he competed in the English Championship where his best
result was ninth place.  He was perhaps even more successful in
correspondence chess.  He was a finalist in the first
Correspondence Chess World Championship and finished second
behind Lundquist in the semi-final of the 3rd Correspondence
Chess World Championship.  He was British Correspondence Chess
Champion in 1943, 1947 and 1951.  In 1952 he took part in the
Correspondence Chess Olympiad, playing on board one for the
English team.  Only for the most compelling reasons would he
decline to give simultaneous displays in various clubs, where he
would always win at least the majority of his games against ten
or more players without even using a board.  

With the start of the first international correspondence chess
tournament, in which more than twenty players from ten countries
took part, chess gained worldwide significance amongst the

Although only in an unofficial way at first, this event,
together with the following two international correspondence
chess tournaments, formed the basis of the amalgamation of chess
enthusiasts from sixteen countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
East Germany, Finland, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy,
the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.S.A., West
Germany and Yugoslavia.

From 1955 a provisional committee was formed comprising of
Reginald Walter Bonham (Great Britain) as president, Anton
Grusch (Austria) as vice-president, Victor Nelson (Great
Britain) as secretary and treasurer with Marcel Saurel (France)
as his deputy and Heinz Reschwamm (West Germany) as director of
correspondence chess tournaments with Hermann Uekermann (West
Germany) as his deputy.

Victor Nelson was born in Manchester, England in 1905.  Blinded
and suffering from walking difficulties as a result of a
childhood illness, he attended the world famous English school,
Worcester College for the Blind, and studied English Language
and Literature at Manchester University.  Between the World Wars
it was even difficult for such an exceptionally gifted person to
find employment to suit his qualifications.  Nevertheless,
Nelson became the proofreader for Braille literature at the
National Library for the Blind, where he made himself
indispensable on account of his continually growing knowledge of
foreign languages.  In 1932-3 he was a co-founder of the very
first blind chess association in the world, the British "Braille
Chess Association", and was its secretary from 1948 until 1962. 
Together with the I.B.C.A. President, Bonham, he was responsible
for the groundwork, which led to the production of the British
blind chess publication, "Braille Chess Magazine" in 1934.  In
association with many fellow chess enthusiasts from Europe, he
encouraged ideas on the I.B.C.A. and became its first secretary
from 1951, when it was still only involved with organising an
international correspondence chess tournament for the blind,
until 1964.  Apart from that he also served as treasurer from
the start of 1958 until his premature death in 1965.  His
inexhaustible energy and the experience gained by the British
BCA made a vital contribution to the construction and
development of the I.B.C.A..  But above all, his knowledge of
foreign languages, to which he added untiringly, won him friends
in many countries and his postal contacts stretched over
continents and oceans.  He took a leading role at many
international Esperanto congresses as well as in the British
Association of Braille Esperantists.  

The committee's most urgent tasks were to draft a provisional
constitution and a set of rules for correspondence chess

Despite all the hindrances mentioned, correspondence chess
benefited greatly from the fact that Braille letters are
delivered free of charge.  This concession made it easier for
blind and partially sighted chess players to keep in touch by
post, initially on a national basis.  But in Article 9 of the
worldwide postal agreement, which deals with exemption from
postal charges for articles for the blind, (in the most recent
edition of the Worldwide Post Handbook [Vienna 1964]: Contracts
of the Worldwide Postal Union) it states: 

Under the proviso of Article 54, Paragraph 2, postal items for
the blind are neither eligible for exemption from charges nor
for special rates in the case of recorded delivery, recorded
delivery slips, special delivery, enquiries and cash on

Article 54, Paragraph 2 excludes airmail letters and parcels in
as far as they are fundamentally not exempted from the airmail
surcharges.  And to comply with Article 114 I/g of the
regulations of the World Postal Agreement, all articles for the
blind that are destined for abroad, should be marked both as is
customary in the sender's country and with the internationally
used term "Cécogrammes".  Such items will be carried free of
charge.  With the help of other international organisations for
the blind, visually handicapped people rapidly made contacts in
other countries and these friendships were consolidated by
correspondence chess.  Heinz Reschwamm came from Halle, Saxony
Anhalt, situated in former East Germany.  He was director of
correspondence chess for the I.B.C.A. for nearly three decades
from the founding until his death in 1987.  He moved to West
Germany in 1954.  (At that time there were two states on German
soil.)  It was under his overall control that a set of rules for
correspondence chess tournaments, which were at the forefront of
the founding of the I.B.C.A. organisation, came into being.  For
example, an extract from an article in the Austrian blind chess
association's "Announcements" of 1958 confirms that the origins
of the I.B.C.A. lie in correspondence chess.  

"From the 12th to the 16th of April 1958 representatives of
blind chess from England, Sweden, Denmark, France, East Germany,
the host nation West Germany and Austria got together to form
international contacts on a personal level for the first time. 
The aim of this meeting was to learn about ways and means of
spreading the 'Game of Kings' amongst the blind in various
countries and about the successes, which had already been
achieved.  Comprehensive attempts were made to base the existing
International Blind Correspondence Chess Association on a
broader platform by encouraging over the board chess amongst the
blind in the newly formed international organisation of chess
for the blind."

Until 1961, apart from the tournaments mentioned here, the
I.B.C.A. exclusively restricted its chess activities to
international correspondence chess tournaments and maintaining
the contacts between chess enthusiasts from the individual
countries that inevitably resulted from them. 

From the very beginning, correspondence chess played a key role.

The first evidence of this was the correspondence chess
tournament for the blind that began in 1951.  R. W. Bonham
issued the invitations.  Amongst others, Hermann Uekermann and
Franz Rauher were on the German side.  E. Williams and J. Wall
played for England.  Further competitors were A. Hartig
(Austria) and M. Saurel (France).  However, the following
sentence appears in a report on the 5th I.B.C.A. Congress in
Pula (Yugoslavia) in "Schachbrücke" from 1972:

"A revised version of the rules for correspondence chess, which
more closely resembles the regulations of the International
Correspondence Chess Federation (I.C.C.F.), was approved."

This indicates that the development was not and still is not
finished.  Today travelling is easier and cheaper than it was
when the I.B.C.A. began its chess activities and this has led to
increasing importance being placed on the over the board game. 
Nevertheless, the origins of the I.B.C.A lie in correspondence

The question of whether the chess computer will be the death of
chess is discussed time and time again in I.B.C.A. circles.  On
this subject, it should be observed that track athletics are not
seen as uninteresting, superfluous or senseless now that
technological developments have delighted us with vehicles,
which make it possible to travel incomparably faster than the
quickest of runners.  The enjoyment of playing chess is not
significantly reduced because the player does not, as a general
rule have the makings of a world champion.  After all this is
true of every type of sport. 

Mankind has devised many inventions to help him in the fields of
travel and weapon technology as well as for making calculations
and deductions using numbers and forces.  All these aids are
dependent on people for regular servicing as well as for the
initial inspiration that leads to their construction.  Yet such
devices have limited uses.  The ability to play chess is indeed
constantly at hand in the form of a dedicated chess computer,
perhaps even to a higher standard than in a person, but this can
only be achieved as a result of a nonsensical accumulation of
totally specialised processes.  The outcome of these processes
is first and foremost, quantity.  Nowadays computers possess the
ability to handle data at an incredible speed and this enables
them to evaluate up to 200 million positions each second. 
Therefore it is possible that "quantity results in quality", as
Gary Kasparov put it during his match against DEEP BLUE at the
start of May 1997.  And then, of course, there is another factor
coming into play, one which is typically human, or perhaps more
accurately, something which is characteristic of all life. 
Namely, that well designed and serviced technology does not
become tired.  At worst, it wears out at a predictable rate and
this is ultimately a problem, which can easily be solved by
proper care and maintenance.  In the end, every piece of
technological apparatus - even the computer - can only achieve
things when each individual function is continually supervised,
controlled and optimised by humans. 


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