I’m playing my second ICCF webserver engine-less tournament and so far I have 2 wins and a draw from six games – so I’m pleased. I played a very uncautious ‘coffeehouse type’ game but ended up sneaking a tactical win with my sly 15. Nh4 move.
I currently have 4 ICCF webserver games going and 15 postal games going. I won’t take on any more new webserver games and instead I’ll focus on maintaining between 10 to 18 postal games. This translates to a couple of postcards a week which is perfect for me.
I’m still learning how best to keep track of all my postal correspondence games, my filing system is working quite well but I do like the historical ‘Postal Chess Recorder Album’ approach too. As I mentioned in an earlier post I did buy some albums from Skakhuset but they’re a bit ordinary and don’t have algebraic notation which would be useful for me. So I have decided to make my own recorder album – see image above.
I googled how to bind a book and found this http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-bind-your-own-Hardback-Book/step1/Stack-your-paper-neatly-in-at-least-4-piles-of-8-s/ which was fairly easy to understand. I then made an image file which included lines indicating printing, scoring and cutting. I sent this off to a laser cutting place and received 12 ‘pages’ which had the board, with slots, on the right hand side and slots on the left hand side into which a scoresheet could be fitted. I have since glued them onto a backing strip and I’m ready for step 8 on the tutorial. I’ll add to this soon.
I have now finished the booklet. I bought an old thin leather jacket from a charity shop and made the cover and glued the innards (the folio) into place. I’ve inserted my 12 ICCF postal games into the board slots along with the move record sheet. It’s pretty good – a bit rough and I think I can make some improvements but on the whole I’m pretty happy with it.
I am in three postal ICCF correspondence chess matches. Two matches are with four players where we each play each other as black and as white. This means 6 games per match (12 games). I am also on the Australian team playing against Sweden. I was matched with an opponent and we play each other as black and as white (2 games). Finally I am playing a casual game with someone from Texas who offered to play me via chess.com, again as black and as white (2 games). I also have 2 games on a webserver but when that is over I will concentrate on postal matches.
I have seen a few people saying that correspondence chess is dead, it has been replaced by webserver chess; it is too slow, it costs too much, it’s confusing and it’s open to cheats. I can see all these points as being valid but I still like postal chess. I like the coded postcards, I like remembering what personal snail mail is like, I like the walks to the post box, the setting up of a real board, the detailed recording of written information and the stamps.
Two of the players I am playing against, a German and a Swede, collect stamps and they have sent me beautiful stamps. In return I have gone to the post office and bought nice stamps for them. This weekend I suggested to my son that we collect the stamps that we are being sent and he liked the idea. We moistened the stamps so they’d peel off, we let them dry and pressed them, my son then divided them up into two piles, one for me and one for him, so that we could trade. It took about an hour and it was a great way to spend time with my son. The stamps teach geography, history (subject matter of some stamps) and currency. The image above shows a Czech stamp we received which shows an oil painting by the French painter L.F. Lejeune from 1808. It captures the atmosphere on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz when Napoleon and his generals interrogate Moravian farmers. The picture is displayed at the chateau in Versailles.
This evening I played lazy chess (as per photo), less lazy chess and good chess. The good chess was with one of my postal games. I had set aside time to work on the move on my latest postcard. I sat down, wrote down their move, moved it on my cardboard game recorder and set up the chess board and played all the moves to date so I could reacquaint myself with the flow of the game. I looked for candidate moves but could only really find one so I played it and followed up with several different response for a few moves. When I was comfortable that the candidate move I had chosen was the only one and it was safe I looked it up on game explorer on chess.com. My work tied in with the game explorer result so I wrote my move and went to the post box and posted my move. A good move. Later I logged on to my ICCF webserver games and a move had been played by one of my opponents. I saw an intuitive move but I sought other lines. None of the alternative led me anywhere good so I moved my piece based on my original intuition and confirmed the move. Only then did I realise that I had done no analysis of that move – it just seemed good. I realise I do this a lot, it is my typical modus-operandus. Fairly lazy. Finally I checked in to chess.com to see my online games, again a move had been made by one of my opponents and so I responded based on ‘that looks fine’ with no double checking and no search for alternatives. Lazy and something I do if I’m tired, so off to bed I go.
I simultaneously started 6 games in my first ICCF webserver tournament. The tournament was the previously mentioned ‘Australian Bicycle B12’ match and the games progressed at different paces. With each game I chose moves first without reference to any material and then I sought to check whether my thoughts were accurate by reviewing book opening, watching videos about the relevant openings and studying old games in online databases. I never used a computer to analyse future moves and never intend to. Some games followed historical games for many moves and others moved out of known games fairly early on. Sometimes this was driven by opponents and at other times this was my choice.
The critical position in the game I would finish first is shown at the top of this post and I hope you can see it. It follows the moves:
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.
I am currently playing a number of correpondence games. Five on Chess.com, six on the International Correspondence Chess Federation’s webserver, five on a webserver called Scheming Minds and, my favourites, six postal ICCF games that I previously mentioned. This is, in my opinion, too much. I have however nearly stopped playing blitz games so that has freed up some chess headspace.
Chess.com is not affiliated with FIDE as far as I know and the games, though they are mini tournaments, are casual. I am treating my games here lightly and will often move on intuition. I do sometimes take the time to use their ‘game explorer’ facility to check my thoughts on openings. My rating here, after 21 games (10w, 3d, 8l), is 1515 and my average opponent is rated 1520. Two games were against a player rated 1707 who aborted his games so my rating is inflated but it is encouraging to see that deeper thought has yielded better results.
My ICCF webserver games are only part way through. My first game was very encouraging and I felt very much in control and won. My next two were losses and I have three more that are ongoing. I don’t have a rating yet for this but I have googled my opponents and they have reasonable chess net presences so I think they are quite good.
While looking at the ICCF website to choose games I noticed a team called Scheming Minds. I googled them and discovered that they are a webserver based correspondence club and a member of the British Federation for Correspondence Chess. It is hard to resist a club called ‘Scheming Minds’ so I have joined as a trial member. The name comes from The Adventure of the Retired Colourman By Conan Doyle in which Sherlock Holmes notes that “Amberley excelled at chess – one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind.”, there website is here: http://www.schemingmind.com/default.aspx . It has been good and I have chatted with a few players there and it seems like a friendly place. I started playing fairly seriously but that level of thought is slipping.
My plan is to wind down to 12 postal games through the ICCF and six webserver games through Scheming Minds – which is still probably too much. I will use Chess.com for their huge amount of information and to blitz games occassionally.
So I paid my entry fee to enter a postal correspondence FIDE rated match. The format of this match allows four players to play each other as black and as white. This meant that I would be playing a total of six games. A week or so after entering the tournament online I received a letter from the ‘Tournament Director’ which gave the names of my opponents. The tournament director, or TD, is based in Luxembourg and a contact in Finland was for ‘appeals’. My three opponents all come from Europe; two from Germany and one from Finland. Already this was feeling like the Cold War where stakes were high.
The letter requested that I, as player 1, send a white move to players 2 and 4 who would then answer with a black response and a white move of their own. I would await player number 3’s letter and answer his opening white move with a black reply and my own white move. Correspondence chess has its own peculiar rules and annotations. The board is not set up algebraically, instead numbers from 1 to 8 run down both sides of the board and each square has its own number. The bottom left being 11 and the top right being 88. The kings pawn opening which algebraically would be written as e4 is written as 52-54. I discovered this when I received my first cards. My unfortunate opponents received pretty postal cards with kangaroos and other Australiana marked in algebraic notation (I have since replied with correspondence and algebraic notation). The great thing about this is that my opponents all wrote introduction notes and therefore I know that one is 75 years old, another 80, that one has a grand-daughter etc… Since the tournament started we have made a few moves each and I am launched into the world of studying openings.
The idea of playing correspondence chess came at me from two directions. The first was from a BBC documentary called “How To Win At Chess” which was part of their BBC Timeshift series. It can be seen here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x19so3x_how-to-win-at-chess_sport At the 13:30min mark there is a little vignette about correspondence chess that I found charming. I liked the quiet, pensive nature of it, I liked the ‘lite’ human connection between players and I liked the paraphernalia that was associated with the process. The second point of inspiration came from looking up an article on chess.com with the enticing title “Gain 100+ rating points quickly and start improving your chess” by someone with the moniker Aww-Rats, the article is here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/gain-100-rating-points-quickly-and-start-improving-your-chess. In this article, Mr Aww-Rats, strongly advocates correspondence chess as a way of improving and he is a Nation Master. Mad not to absorb the wisdom of older people.
So I sought to find out where and how I could play correspondence chess. Chess.com has a feature called ‘Online Chess’ which is web-based correspondence chess and I have started games here but I wanted something that I could view more seriously. I googled and found the Correspondence Chess League of Australia which confusingly has, at this time, two different websites. The correct one being http://www.ccla.net.au/ It wouldn’t be described as a welcoming site being hard to use and out of date in many areas but there it was, the official, FIDE endorsed, portal to national correspondence chess. So I joined and was entered into a match called Australian BICYCLE B12 (Bicycle because it didn’t permit chess engines). This is a web-based match against 7 other players. Further to this I asked to be entered into a friendly postal match and I was. The match is an ICCF Promotion Tournament called WT/0/150. The title is suitably austere and information came to me via snail mail.
A correspondence chess game was thought to be played between the Emperor Nicephorus and the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid (763-809), in the 9th century but it wasn’t until the late 1700 that we really see it starting. In the early 1820’s a number of national clubs challenged each other, the most well known being the games between London and Edinburgh. Naturally Edinburgh won. Half a century later correspondence chess was played ubiquitously by all sorts of people (In 1883 Cambridge University played a postal match with some of the chess players at the Bedlam insane asylum. Naturally Bedlam won). In 1949 FIDE formed the International Correspondence Chess Association with the motto ‘Amici Sumus’ or ‘We are Friends’ in English.
The idea with correspondence chess was that you could take whatever time you needed, within reason, to make a move. You could look up past games, review opening theory, analyse by moving pieces and carry out research with a view to playing the best possible game. But this all changed when computers reared their clever heads. It changed for three reasons.
Firstly email could be used. This would seem like a tool for making correspondence chess easier but with ease come a loss of preciousness. I believe that this made games less important for some people. And while older correspondence players may have continued their deep analysis methodology I believe some players would have shifted their thinking towards viewing the games as more disposable. Emails, and now webservers, are cheap and efficient but I wonder if they inspire the same concentration as sending a postcard via the mail.
Secondly the speed of email transfers and the size of the chess population meant that there was an abundance of players ready to play instantly so why would you choose the slow, plodding path of correspondence chess over the gratification of a live game. This has meant that fewer people are taking up correspondence chess and many that did enjoy it have left.
Thirdly and most problematically is the fact that computers can now make better moves than humans. This has led to the spectre of cheating shadowing correspondence chess. It is impossible to be certain that people won’t cheat. It is so impossible that FIDE now permits computer engine analysis in most of the rated games – it therefore becomes a battle of machines guided by software engineers and gigabytes. I see the role of the chess player becoming less and less important in this form of correspondence chess. Again I see this as a reason for it’s decline.
I do, however, believe that there is still scope for correspondence chess to help me improve my chess providing I take a more historical approach to it.