Did You Know That People Still Play Chess By POSTCARDS?

Tuesday, October 31, 2023 - 13:13 (UTC -5)

Hello, Everyone:

Long before there were personal computers and what comes with it (Internet, email, wicked strong chess software, etc.), people played chess around the world by correspondence. There’s some evidence that moves were transmitted as early as the 12th Century by a variety of methods (think carrier pigeons!). In the late 1920s, chess by mail, especially by postcards, became an established activity and many of the world’s greatest players participated.

I myself played chess by postcard a lot when I was young, both internationally and within the USA. For your review, I have uploaded several chess postcards. If you think Postcrossing requires patience, consider that chess by mail averaged 3-5 YEARS per game in the 1960s and 1970s! Nowadays, correspondence chess is almost exclusively by email or Internet server. But there are some people who still play with postcards (see below).

First, we have a multi-lingual international card that uses numeric notation. Next, a basic USA domestic card from the United States Chess Federation (“USCF”).

Here is a card (front and back) from a chess friend in Brasil.

And here we have a very short article from the USCF journal Chess Life that explains how people in prison play chess by mailing postcards.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a little-known and now lost-to-history corner of the World of Postcards.

Postcards are important everywhere!

All the best,



I’ve read that years ago, when the Russian postal service wasn’t awfully dependable, it could take several decades for two Russians to play a single game of chess. (I assume that a game that had ended with a fool’s mate would’ve been a bit quicker).


Tuesday, October 31, 2023 - 13:42 (UTC -5)

Hi, jeffbh:

I did play several games with players in the Soviet Union, the GDR (East Germany), and Poland before the Fall of the Berlin Wall. My recollection is that those games took a little longer (not everything was “Air Mail” in those days!), but not excessively so. I used to think that chess postcards were somehow “privileged”. They didn’t have to be opened or inspected or quarantined in any way and chess was one of the few things where there could be “Cultural Co-operation”.

All the best,



Yikes! Wrong move, Comrade!


And that’s exactly what the “winner” of the game said, “yikes.”

Michael, there is cool, and then there is your article, thanks



You are too kind :slight_smile:

1 Like

I have heard about chess games by post. Also I have heard about playing chess over 2-way shortwave radio by radio amateurs (or “hams”), using Morse code. I don’t know if this activity continues to this day.


Thanks for sharing this - one question: In looking at the postcards, they clearly list multiple moves - how does this work? Are they possible future moves depending on what the other player does?

I don’t think that’s it because then it would give too much away ahead of time right? Super curious how this works.

And fyi, it’s been a very long time since I played & I was a beginner - one of my goals now is to get back to chess.

1 Like

My father played chess in a correspondence way in 70’ies and 80’ies. As it took weeks to get a respond and there were several games in the same time he used to set an arrangement on the chessboard every time he got a card with the notices from the notebook.
My father taught me to play chess and now I do the same with my sons.


I’m just guessing here, but it looks like the fourth illustration contains a record of the last four moves of each player. (6 through 9). The recipient of the card would then send a card containing his tenth move to his opponent. Again, just guessing; I’m not exactly Bobby Fischer.

1 Like

My husband loves chess. This is so cool! I’m going to ask him if he knows about it. Thanks for sharing!!

Incredibly fun and interesting. Thank you!

I just recently Learnt it on a Exploring stamps video, and it’s so fascinating, if anyone wants to play chess on cards , please let me know:)

But sadly I don’t have any chess correspondence cards

Watch from 17.01

1 Like

Tuesday, October 31, 2023 - 23:00 (UTC -5)

Hello, Lynn:

Nice to hear from you.

Those multiple moves you see there are called conditional/continuation/“if” moves. They’re offered by a player to save time (more on Time in a minute). If it’s pretty obvious what we’re both going to do over the next couple of moves, one of us will send a series of conditional moves to bring us to the next “decision” point. We don’t have to accept the conditional moves but it helps the game to roll along. We wouldn’t usually or often propose conditional moves. Normally it’s one at a time for the reason you suggest. We may not want to “tip our hand”.

Speaking of Time, there are two kinds in correspondence chess: Transit and Reflection.

Transit Time is from date of postmark to date of receipt. Reflection Time is from date of receipt to date of postmark. We keep track of these Times for a variety of reasons. Basically, over the course of a game, we need to have a feel for how long it’s going to take (Transit) to have accurate expectations and deal with anomalies (such as excessive Transit Time beyond the historical average for this game) and also to be sure to make the required number of moves within the time limit, usually 30 days of Reflection Time per 10 moves (an average of 3 days per move).

This game with Dutra in Brasil was an official ICCF game (International Correspondence Chess Federation). You can read all about the ICCF Laws and Rules on their website here => ICCF. Click on “ICCF Rules (2023)” and look in Section 2 of the resulting PDF for the details of the conduct of the game.

I’ve saved the current USCF Correspondence Chess Rules to my Dropbox. Very similar. You can download here => Dropbox - USCF_CCRules_2021_10_01.pdf - Simplify your life

I don’t know much about the chess scene in Canada, but there are loads of online resources to study and play chess these days everywhere. Good luck!

All the best,



Tuesday, October 31, 2023 - 23:29 (UTC -5)

Hello, All:

The Motto of the ICCF is “Amici Sumus”. That’s Latin for “We Are Friends”.

It is the spirit/philosophy/attitude/approach that underpins everything we do there.

And so, even though we may start off using the official numeric notation postcards and use them for most of our moves, we not infrequently send “unofficial” (what we in Postcrossing might call “official”) postcards, too.

Dutra and I sent several postcards of our hometowns at the time (Rio and New York City). Here are the three I received from him.

These are informal but they do contain the information necessary to continue the game. In these examples, there is one move per postcard. “WT.I.891” is the ICCF Section ID. Seven players played one game apiece against each other with three randomly-assigned colors (three games as White, three as Black).

In case anyone asks, I played White and won this game about a year-and-a-half later. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings was pretty much the soundtrack for this game. Dutra was a worthy opponent. I never did get the chance to visit him in Rio.

But we, my friends, can visit here any time we want.

As Number Six says, “Be seeing you”.



Thanks for the explanation Michael. Fascinating!

One follow-up question - do players assume the date sent is also the postmark date as you very often can’t make the postmark out?

I believe that both the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) still host postal (snail mail) chess matches and tournaments. USCF still sells correspondence chess cards in packs of 50, they can be found here:

They are available at other outlets as well.

The board diagram can be filled out using either rubber stamps with do different colors for the two different sides, or just by writing the first letter of the piece in two different colors. An example of such rubber stamps can be seen here:

@ LC-Canada - There is a spot on the card to delineate when you sent the card and when it was received. Take a look at the top of the card below (this is what the back of the USCF cards look like):

As you can see, two games were often conducted simultaneously, one in which you played white and one in which you played black.

1 Like

Wow. I barely understand chess as it is, I don’t think I could play it having to remember my last moves potentially several months back! This is interesting though, I’m fascinated by playing games/interesting postcards :smiley:

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 - 10:54 (UTC -5)

Hi, Blaze:

You wouldn’t have to remember the moves because we keep a log of all the moves sent and received along with their dates as we play the game.

There are all kinds of ways to do this. Here is a snapshot of my homegrown scoresheet of my game with Dutra.

I made this sheet by taking a yellow legal pad page and drawing the lines with a ruler. S = Send, R = Receive. Because this was an ICCF game requiring the trans-lingual numeric notation, I recorded each move with the regular algebraic notation with the numeric equivalent beneath it. The numeric notation is what we wrote on our cards as you see on Dutra’s cards to me. I don’t have any copies of what I sent him. That was way before scanners and digital cameras!

Hope that clears it up.

All the best,


1 Like