by Jon Edwards

Bob lived for the mail. Every day at lunch time, he would leave his office, cross the street to the Post Office, and open box 275 in search of postcards. For years, he played chess through the mail, and every day, he received at least two cards, sometimes as many as ten.

During his lunch hour... always at the same small cafe... he'd order soup and a sandwich and take out a small, heavily worn leather pocket chess set. While eating, he'd set up each game in turn. In between bites of the sandwich and spoonfuls of soup, he'd review the position and the new move, and mull about the analysis he would undertake that evening. Life was good.

Bob was aware that many of his opponents were far more serious about the game. He was quite content to play mostly for the fun of it. At the end of the work day, after a quick meal, he'd set up the position, stare at the board for a few minutes, and perhaps move the pieces around a bit. Occasionally, he'd consult one of the ten or so chess books on his bookshelf. After ten minutes or so, and never more than hour, he'd fill out his reply and file away his opponents cards, one by one.

He most enjoyed the short conversations on each card, wherever they might lead. Winning was fun, but friendship was more important. Literature, sports, the weather... whatever. He remembered many games more for the lively talk than the moves or the result.

Spring brings changes. For Bob it meant some new sections and, for the first time, an entry in the Golden Queens, a preliminary section with six opponents. He knew that the players who entered these sections were more serious about winning, but at least that would mean that they'd be more likely to reply on time. There was just nothing worse than an interesting discussion interrupted by a tardy opponent.

In the three new games with white, Bob sent off his standard first card. In addition to his usual 1.P-K4, he introduced himself:

"Greetings and a pleasure to meet you via postal chess. My name is Bob Sawyer. I'm 44, a bank clerk here for the past twelve years. Unmarried, but very fond of good talk. Any special interests?"

Three days later, he received his first card from the section, from a George Martin. Bob was somewhat disappointed to see nothing on the card but the move, and at that in the rather unfeeling algebraic notation that Bob tried hard to avoid. Still, he did find the move somewhat intriguing: 1.b4. Throughout the years, nearly all of his opponents had opened by moving the pawn in front of either the king or queen, and only rarely P-QB4 or N-KB3.

He'd never had to play against P-QN4, and he really had no idea what to do. He thought about it all through his soup and sandwich, and even at work for more than hour.

By the time he got home and finished his supper, Bob felt unusually tired. He took a few minutes to look quickly through his chess books, but there was simply nothing there on this strange first move. He thought about filling out a reply, almost any reply, and he might well have done so had there been an interesting conversation to start. But since his laconic opponent had offered nothing but the move, Bob decided to sleep on it.

It was a most wonderful dream. A comfortable chair, soft lighting, surrounded by many hundreds, perhaps even thousands of books. Rows and rows of books. And a book in his hand... a chess book. There was the title, at the top of every page: 1.P-QN4? The book, opened to the first page... with a diagram and the key move 1...N-KB3! in bold type.

Bob woke with a smile. If only the dream had been real. How wonderful to have a library with just the right book. He started his morning routine, a quick shower, cereal, coffee. But he kept returning to the dream. Amusing, he thought. It was just a dream, but N-KB3 seems like just the right idea. At the breakfast table, he filled out the reply, including his usual introductory comments, and headed off to work.

All morning long, Bob felt consumed by the dream. He rarely ever remembered his dreams, let alone one so vivid and appropriate to real life. And the room, the library, had been so satisfying, so comforting. So many beautiful, old books.

Lunch time arrived more quickly than usual. He collected three cards at the Post Office and headed off to the cafe. Two new opponents, both playing 1.P-Q4, and an older game against Taylor that was now reaching a critical juncture. In between soup and the sandwich, Bob set up the position on his pocket set. Bob tried a few different moves for white and then shook his ahead. "precisely the kind of position I mess up," he thought to himself. "Looks like I need to play 34.Q-R4."

And there he might have stopped, filled out the card and mailed it. But he thought yet again about his dream and, on instinct, he decided to wait a day and sleep on it.

He felt unusually tired again that evening and, immediately after dinner, lay down on the sofa. Within minutes, he was sound asleep.

Again, he found himself in the darkly paneled chess library. In front of him, a polished ivory chess set on an inlaid board. Across the room were two older gentleman. They were speaking in another language. Russian perhaps. In his hand this time was a new book with the title: My Game with Taylor. He opened the book to the middle and there he immediately saw : "34.QxKB6!! wins by force."

Bob awoke with a start, immediately set up the board and, sure enough, 34.QxKB6 was simply breathtaking. A marvelous queen sacrifice that led to checkmate in every line.

And so it went. Day after day, year by year. One sockdollager after another, all from his dreams. Sometimes he'd have a book in his hand. Other times, the two visitors in his dream would analyze the position for him and recommend a move.

It was now ten years since the dreams had started, and Bob had perfected the routine. He'd take each card in turn, stare at the position for just a few minutes. Soon, even a catnap was enough to conjure up the dream and the right move. Today, he received the cards from one remaining opponent in the US championship, and even Bob knew that the game was well in hand. Only a few more moves and Bob Sawyer, the bank clerk patzer, would reign as the US champion. With confidence, he stared at the position for a few moments and went to sleep.

The same comfortable chair, soft lighting, and thousands upon thousands of books. And a book in his hand... a chess book with a picture of Bob on the cover. There was the title: The Collected Games of Bob Sawyer. He opened the book to the last page... "Sawyer was perhaps the most creative correspondence player in American history, Sawyer was known not only as a fine player, unbeaten in his final ten years of play, but also as a steadfast correspondent, never passing up an opportunity to discuss the weather, sports, or any other subject of the day. The great unfulfilled tragedy of his life was that, at the very moment of his greatest success, victory in the US championship, he died in his sleep.