Chess Chat: Q&A With Michael Buss, America’s Preeminent Correspondence Chess Master

Michael Buss is currently the number one ranked correspondence chess player in the United States and further separates himself from the pack by having won the prestigious Golden Knights championship on multiple occasions. Some of his success in correspondence chess can be attributed to his “press on” attitude which he developed in his distinguished career in the United States Navy.

For his 20 years of service as a Surface Warfare Officer  professor of Naval Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Mike was was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, the Saint Barbara Field Artillery Association Medal. In 1993, he transitioned to the Naval Reserve Force where he served an additional eleven years.

In 1995 Mike also began a 24 – year career at The American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana serving as an Assistant Director and Deputy Director of Youth Programs. From 2010 until his retirement at the end of 2017, Mike managed the American Legion Boys State and Boys Nation programs and American Legion Baseball. Throughout his 24 years he also managed the Legion’s flag education programs, where he was recognized as the Legion’s “flag guru” answering numerous questions on how to properly display and honor the United States flag. Besides his numerous correspondence chess games, he keeps busy in retirement by volunteering for his church and working part-time as a patient transportation driver for a major cataract surgery center in Indianapolis.

Finally, Mike is a family man having been married to his wife Marie for 41 years and they are the proud parents of four children, grandparents to sixteen grandchildren and even great grandparents to seven great grandchildren.

40th Wedding Anniversary

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?

I was 10. A friend (my same age) and his older brother taught me to play. They lived next door to my grandmother. My goal was to beat them and another friend who lived down the street from my grandmother!


Which branch of the military did you join and what prompted you to sign up? 

I served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. I was able to attend Iowa State University on a 4-year full ride Navy ROTC scholarship. This was how a poor Iowa farm boy was able to go to school.


Could you please tell us a little about your military career?

I was an officer in the U.S. Navy for 23 years, having served at sea on five different ships mainly in engineering jobs. I was also assigned to the Navy ROTC unit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1983-86 where I taught the engineering and weapons systems courses. I am a BIG Nebraska football fan!

I also served two and one-half years as a fire support officer for a U.S. Marine Corps Brigade in Kaneohe, Hawaii and an additional two and one-half years on staff at the Marine Corps Fleet Marine Force Atlantic Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. I elected to transition from active duty in 1993 and kept a reserve commission for eight years. I ended my service as a Lieutenant Commander.

Boys Nation director Mike Buss in the studio on Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Were you able to still enjoy chess while serving in the military? If so, who did you play against? Beyond casual games, were there organized competitions available to service members at the time?

I would play the occasional game, that was about it. I really was not aware of any service-related tournaments at the time.

I was able to continue my correspondence games while on active duty.


When did you start playing correspondence chess? 

While on temporary duty at the Naval Station, Subic Bay, Philippines during the summer of 1984, I came across Walter Tevis’ novel The Queen’s Gambit. My interest in chess was reinvigorated! But it would have to be correspondence chess to accommodate my time what with the demands of the Navy and a young family. So, I “re-joined” US Chess, entering some postal chess “Class” and “Prize” tournaments. My game was steadily improving.  I boldly ventured further, entering a Golden Knights section in the late 1980’s and the Electronic Knights in 2006.


How has correspondence chess benefited you personally?

Correspondence chess has allowed me to meet many wonderful, interesting people! As a practicing Roman Catholic, I have had the wonderful opportunity to play Father Joe Farrell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania twice. We would exchange a thought or two about our Catholic faith with our moves. This allowed for me to further grow in my faith.

From time to time, I would also play an opponent from Iowa or Nebraska. I was able to keep tabs on Nebraska football and whatever else might be happening back “home.”


How do you feel correspondence chess could benefit current members of our armed forces?

I think if we can expand correspondence chess tournament opportunities for our members of the armed forces, especially with electronic communications, it is a win-win for all.


What does it mean to you, as a veteran, to represent the United States in international correspondence chess events?

I always send a biographical sketch with my first move which includes my Navy experience. I am proud to have served my country and proud to let others know that!

Wife and I

What roles at the American Legion have you held or are currently holding?

I retired from The American Legion National Headquarters here in Indianapolis, Indiana. on December 1, 2017, where I worked for 24 years. During my entire time with the Legion, I had the wonderful opportunity to manage the various youth programs offered by the National Organization.

In 1995, I started as the Assistant Director where I was responsible for our United State Constitution speech contest, our involvement with the Boys Scouts of America, and an air rifle marksmanship program. In 2010 I was promoted to deputy director, where I was responsible for our Boys State and Boys Nation program and American Legion Baseball.

Phil 1

Throughout my entire time at National Headquarters, I also oversaw our flag education and etiquette program. The American Legion is considered one of the preeminent sources on how to fly the United States flag. We answered thousands of questions!

I would encourage your readers to check out the Legion website www.legion.org!

I continue my membership with Merle Hay Post 386 back “home” in Glidden, Iowa. I also go back “home” each summer to serve on the staff of Iowa American Legion Boys State.


What inspired you to dive into this aspect of the veterans community?

I attended Hawkeye Boys State in 1973. It made me aware of the NROTC scholarship program, thus opening a big door for me.

I was also able to umpire American Legion baseball from time to time during my military and civilian time.

This is my opportunity to give back to a great organization which does SO MUCH for our veterans and the youth of this great country!


What is one of the most interesting things you have learned while working on behalf of the American Legion?

There are so many great things about the American Legion, it is hard to come up with a specific example!


What advice can you offer to other veterans thinking of picking up the game of chess?

Go for it!


Through your leadership in the Correspondence Chess Working Group, you have helped to establish the changes necessary for correspondence chess to, once again, thrive in the United States. Could you please take a moment to highlight the changes that have been instituted during your tenure and the lasting affects you feel it will have on correspondence chess in the U.S.A.?

The proposal allowing certified Tournament Directors, and utilization of the current US Chess affiliate system to allow affiliates to conduct US Chess rated CC tournaments. Although this concept is still in the “pilot mode” I am very optimistic that this will be fully implemented thus expanding the realm of correspondence chess tournaments beyond US Chess headquarters.

A thorough updating of the rules, which will be published in the very near future.

Revised US Chess correspondence chess events.



What is the proudest accomplishment in your impressive correspondence chess career?

When I broke the 2000 correspondence chess rating plateau.


Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?

To quote from the chess blog website Tartajubow on Chess: “To win a won game is most important (whether it is OTB or correspondence chess)! Devote more time to your won positions than your lost ones. A mistake in a lost position counts for very little, but you lose a full point if you blunder in a won position and losing half the point is easier still.” Ain’t that the truth!

Want to try correspondence chess? Click below to join the Daily Chess Musings Rated Correspondence Pyramid.


Published by chessmusings

Chris Torres is a nationally renowned scholastic chess coach working in the San Francisco Bay Area. His classes have attracted players of strengths ranging from rank beginners to world champions. A chess professional since 1998, Chris is widely recognized as one of the main driving forces behind the explosion in popularity and sudden rise in quality of scholastic chess in California. Chris Torres served as the President of the Torres Chess and Music Academy from 2005-2020 and currently is recognized as a correspondence chess master with the United States Chess Federation. Since 1998 Chris Torres has taught 6 individual national champions as well as led multiple school teams to win national championship titles. In addition, Chris Torres has directed and taught at 10 different schools which have been California State Champions at chess. In 2011 and 2012, several former and current students of Chris Torres have been selected to represent the United States at the World Youth Chess Championships. Mr. Torres’ hobbies include playing classical guitar and getting his students to appear on the national top 100 chess rating lists.

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