I am copying a post I saw online which gives advice on how to tackle correspondence games. The quote is from jmpaul320 on Chess.com and I have made minor edits to reduce its length. I found it to be a very useful post:
Correspondence chess is a different flavor of chess than traditional OTB chess. To play it correctly, one must adopt a different approach.
Basic differences of CC:
Time – you have lots of it. Standard time control for rated server events on ICCF (international correspondence chess federation) is 10 moves in 50 days. (some events are 40 depending on if they are worldwide or region specific).
Known theory – you have access to all of it during a game. Master games, openings, endgame table bases.
Blunders – they rarely happen, unless your opponent is not playing CC correctly.
I will now share my personal method for playing CC. To do so you will need the following:
Chessbase – or some other access to a database of millions of master games. 365Chess.com is a good site. Chess.com has a very good game explorer for premium members as well. If you have the money, get chessbase and the “mega (6 million+) game database”… its worth it.
Books – Modern Chess openings, Nunn’s Chess openings. Also – other literature published on openings that you regularly use. Endgame books are also helpful. Full table bases of a number of endagmes are available online for free download – more on this later.
Access to your opponents games – you are going to want to create a database of every available game your opponent has played.
TIME – and lots of it. Games regularly last anywhere from 6 months to 3 years on ICCF.
Before I go into detail of my method for playing CC, let me just put this out there – 98-99% of people on chess.com do not play CC correctly. Most players either move too fast, or have way too many games going on to spend the correct amount of time analyzing. I have seen players rated 1650, 1750, and even 1850 drop pieces, blunder away pawns, and even move into checkmate. I played this way up until recently. Most of the games I lost were because of blunders, or mistakes I made because of a failure to take the time analyze correctly. When I changed the way I played and started taking more time, the quality of my games vastly improved. I am not saying the way I play CC is the best one, but I have seen good results over the last few months and have learned quite a bit in the process.
I’d like to pass my ideas along to anyone else who plays CC, or even has an interest in CC. Its a fun way to play chess, and an opportunity to improve.
Step One – Research your opponent
Simply put – you are going to want to have every single game your opponent has ever played.
You are going to want to know what types of openings/defenses/gambits your opponent regularly plays, as well as how they play. Do they play openings that favor positional games or tactical games? Do they like fancy gambits or offbeat lines? Look at the games they won – did they win because of a blunder or did they grind out a 75 move win from a slight advantage? Look at the games they lost as well. This is where chessbase comes in handy. You can download all your opponents games from iccf or chess.com and make a customized database just of that players games. Using the “prepare against white” or “prepare against black” options you can explore all of their games simultaneously like in game explorer on chess.com
If you are playing on iccf, cross-reference your opponent on chess.com etc to see if you can find more games.
It might sound weird, but check your opponents facebook, twitter etc. I did this for one iccf opponent and was pleasantly surprised when I found a blog that published all of his tournament and correspondence games. They were all available in pgn to download.
Step Two – Research the opening
After you have selected an opening as white, or a response/defense as black (based on your step one research). You are going to want to research the opening now as it unfolds too. I mostly rely on master games. What types of positions arise from the line or sideline you are considering? Are they ones that you are familiar with? Are they ones that your opponent has played before? Now is the time to study openings!!
Step Three – Take. Your. TIME.
Take your time when analyzing. This goes for any stage of the game, but doubly so for critical positions. Set up a chessboard to help you visualize. Take notes on your ideas. Try to come up with two or three candidate moves and analyze each. Look up master games with similar positions. Take breaks while it is still your move and come back later or even another day to look at the position again.
Take your time, and strive for perfection. You can and should always assume your opponent is doing the same.
How much time is enough? If its a forced reply – a few minutes. If its a critical position – hours… I regularly spend 2-3 hours on my games on iccf. Sometimes more. If your opponent makes a move that you did not consider and analyze that is not a downright mistake or inaccuracy – you are not spending enough time analyzing.
Step Four – The Endgame
Chess endgames have been studied extensively. Many endgame tables are available online for free (up to 6 men I believe) and can be downloaded and used in chess software that supports it. Thousands of endgame positions have been calculated as a win, loss, or draw working backwards sometimes hundreds of moves from checkmate. This is all known theory and is usually acceptable to use for correspondence play – just make sure and check the rules if you are playing on chess.com, iccf, to make sure its acceptable to use these table bases. EDIT – END GAME TABLES ARE NOT TO BE USED ON CHESS.COM
Most OTB chess endgame principals apply to correspondence… I won’t list them all as this is not a blog on the endgame
Never go into a King & pawn endgame unless you have a clear win calculated.
Never trade off material into an endgame that will favor your opponent. Keep your pieces on the board and fight!
Step Five – Post game analysis
You should always analyze your completed games. With an engine if possible.
Hopefully this will be helpful for those interested in correspondence chess.