Using Computer Software For Analysis In Correspondence Chess

I know that some players have recently been dismayed to learn that their opponents had been using computer analysis in their correspondence chess (CC) games and at least one player has given up playing CC altogether. Well, I am sorry to shock you, but this has actually been the case for a number of years, especially since free chess programs have been available for download on the internet and fast computers have got cheaper! Nowadays, I actually expect my opponents to be using some form of computer program.

I can see why many over-the-board (OTB) players are against this as they consider it to be a form of cheating. I am not condoning this, but is it really so much of a problem? If you only use computer analysis for your own moves you will never make a good CC player at the top level and will only be fooling yourself. In my opinion computers still suffer from the horizon effect and their endgames are far from perfect. They are not very good at closed positions nor positions with too many pieces on the board. They are very good at open positions and tactics and rarely make blunders as they never get tired. In other words, it is up to YOU alone to make the right choice of move at all stages of the game.

In a top level OTB game, the advantage can go back and forth between players until the player who makes the final mistake loses. In a typical top level CC game, the player who makes the first mistake usually loses. I believe that CC is much more precise and mistakes made in the opening or middle game can often dictate the final outcome. What I am trying to say is that in CC you sometimes need to look dozens of moves ahead (over the horizon level of a computer) before deciding on a move, which you could not do in an OTB game.

I started playing correspondence chess in 1979, before personal computers were commonplace, mainly because I had moved away from my club and had started working long hours in London. I enjoyed playing humans rather than my Chess Challenger or Sargon 2.5 chess computers. On the subject of cheating, how many OTB and CC players have ever used printed opening books, opening databases or DVDs? How many CC players consult endgame databases? From 2014 you can claim a win or draw in an ICCF server game if the position is shown in a 6 piece endgame database! Several years ago I had an opponent who kindly informed me that my position was actually lost and referred me to an endgame database. There now exists a 7 piece endgame database which runs on the Lomonosov supercomputer based in the Moscow State University as it is too large for a personal computer. Where will this end? How many of the world’s best players use computer analysis for their own future games?

I do believe that computers will eventually solve chess, but not, perhaps, in our lifetime. If this happens then all forms of chess will be extinct. Meanwhile, enjoyment and satisfaction from CC games is what you yourself put into them.

John Rhodes


Ten Reasons My Winning Game Turned into a Loss

Recently I had one of the most embarrassing losses in my chess life. Granted, I’ve had many losses, and many of them have been quite painful, but this one was particularly bad, because of many regrets about factors that I could have controlled but didn’t. I did not fully understand this earlier in life, but more and more I have learned that my performance in a serious chess game hinges on factors completely independent of what one might think of as the core of chess play (theoretical knowledge, tactical calculation ability). The circumstances surrounding this game have much to teach about how not to go into a game. When we talk about chess improvement, we must talk about the whole context of playing chess, not just the pieces and positions on the board.

Ten faulty thoughts and actions

  1. My first mistake was that, seeing that it was finally nice outside, after work, when I was supposed to just rest, and prepare to eat dinner after my wife came home, I instead went out for my first run in several days. I returned a bit tired. I’m not stupid: I know that it is foolhardy to waste one’s glucose stores shortly before a competitive chess game, because the brain needs a lot of glucose to think clearly, especially in a four-hour time-control game ending near midnight.
  2. Abby was confused when she saw me finally come home from my run, because the timing messed with our dinner plan, because she hadn’t known when to start cooking dinner. Having an unexpected change in routine caused unnecessary stress for everyone.
  3. We decided we had to eat leftovers from the refrigerator, but suddenly the power in our neighborhood went out. This caused a dispute in which I (starving after my run) wanted to get stuff out of the refrigerator, but she didn’t want to open it. Don’t have draining arguments before a chess game.
  4. By the time the power came back and I had to go off to my chess game, I had packed dinner to take with me but still not eaten. Do not play chess hungry.
  5. I arrived at the chess club and ate much of my dinner in the couple of minutes before the round began, but this is not optimal timing. Do not eat a lot of food right before a game. You need to be thinking, not digesting.
  6. I trash-talked before the game, saying, “We’re going to see a sacrifice in this game”, because in fact, I had prepared some Black gambits for the occasion. This was possibly the single worst mistake I made that evening. Do not trash-talk and trap yourself into some ego-driven mindset or pre-commitment.
  7. As White, my opponent surprised me on move 2, playing an opening that I don’t fear but which I have never faced as Black and did not expect. I ended up playing slightly more passively than I normally would have. Do not get “surprised” by coming to a game with too many expectations about how a familiar opponent will play. Be ready for anything.
  8. In a good position, I moved quickly and recklessly with intention of attack, even though in my last three tournament games, I played deliberately and solidly. Do not play a certain way just to back up your pre-game trash-talking. Play the position as it is.
  9. I saw an opportunity for a sacrifice and instead of calculating it all out, just immediately played it. It was unsound, but my opponent did not find the refutation, and I suddenly had an easily winning position. But then I went crazy, unsoundly aiming for a quick win. He erred again, and I had a win in sight. But then, as I concluded that in a couple of moves I might Queen my a2-Pawn, I got up and walked to the corner of the chess club to open another chess set and return with a Black Queen in hand. Do not get up and distract yourself at a critical moment in a game. Do not engage in nonverbal trash-talking by getting a Queen before it is your move and you have actually decided to playing the Pawn promotion.
  10. In a winning position with beautiful checkmates in forced variations, I completely stopped thinking and played one bad move after another, my attack was stopped, and one piece down for nothing, I lost the game. Continue careful calculation, even in a position that looks great, especially if you have sacrificed something and need to make it count.

There are certain things I did wrong that I confessed here that I plan to never do again. I have learned a truly expensive lesson. It is possible that none of you have done as many immature, stupid things as I just did, but if any of what I have confessed rings true to you and causes you to reconsider your similar behavior, I hope my loss has not been in vain.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Chess And War

For the last few days I have been reading about classical war strategies after reading the sections ‘Practical Chess Strategy’ and ‘The Art of War’ from Rashid Ziatdinov’s book, GM Ram. I have summarised a few points for myself which could be useful in improving my chess game and thought I’d share them with you.

1. In order to win, you must have a more powerful army compared to your enemy: This is the most basic principle for winning a war. In chess too, if you’re attacking with few pieces where your opponent has more pieces to defend it is quite obvious that you can’t win. Unfortunately in chess you can’t have more pieces than your opponent in the beginning of the game, so you must create some sort of virtual majority of the forces on the side where you are planning to attack.

2.Resources (yours and your opponent’s) must be evaluated before launching an attack: You can’t have success with a Greek gift sacrifice when your opponent has obvious or hidden resources for defending the h7 square.

3.Whoever comes first in battle field has better chances to win the battle: This is 100% true as if you’re first you will get more time to establish your resources at key positions. In chess we can relate this to the rapid development of our forces.

4.If you prevent your enemy from getting help, you have better chances to win. The simplest way to understand this is in rook endings, if you successfully cut off the opponent’s king you will have better chances to win if you have a material superiority and defend successfully (for example in the Philidor position) with a worse position.

When you try to see chess as war, rather than merely a game, you will see the board and pieces in a new light.

Ashvin Chauhan


O’Kelly Crusher

This week I’m sharing a smashing game by a teammate of mine, Chris Briscoe, played in the UK’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) in March. I manage Surbiton, a team in Division 3, which this year has over 60 teams competing for just three Division 2 promotion spots. Chris is our regular Board 1 player and we are fortunate to have him – he previously played for Wood Green, which is usually near the top of Division 1.

Angus James


It’s All About Seeing Things

Many amateurs agonise over why their chess isn’t better, with most blaming their alleged lack of opening knowledge. In reality, though, chess is really all about calculation. The old question chessplayers always hate being asked by non-players, namely “How many moves do you see ahead?” really is the key point. The biggest difference between strong players and weak ones is the former’s ability to see further, with greater accuracy and faster. Try analysing with a really strong player some time, and you will see what I mean.

The following game is a nice (though difficult!) exercise in calculation. After Black’s 24th move, he is threatening Nf8 and g6, blocking the K-side, so White must act quickly. But how? He needs to attack the h5-pawn, but 25.Ng3 is met by 25…Bg4, whilst moving the Nf3 loses the h4 and g5-pawns.

Stein’s solution involved seeing a bit further. Have a go yourself and see if you can find White’s 25th move. Even if you don’t find it, having seen the answer, put the game aside and try to calculate the consequences. For maximum points, you need to see to move 36 at least, in the main line.

Steve Giddins


Queen Against Pawn

Last time we looked at a pawn ending played between two young players (about 1500-1600 strength) at Richmond Junior Chess Club. After various misadventures, during which Black miscalculated badly in a position where he had a simple win, this position was reached, with White to play.

Before we continue looking at the game, some basic endgame knowledge. Everyone needs to know the ending with queen against pawn on the 7th rank supported by the king. If the pawn’s on a centre file or knight’s file the queen wins. You force the king onto the queening square and advance your king. Against a bishop’s pawn or a rook’s pawn, though, it’s a draw unless your king’s close enough to take a hand in a checkmate. With a bishop’s pawn, the defender can move his king into the corner so that taking the pawn will result in a stalemate. Likewise, with a rook’s pawn, the king in the corner will be stalemated.

Another piece of basic knowledge is that you can stop a pawn on the 7th rank easily if you can put your queen on the promotion square. All you have to do then is approach the pawn with your king.

Bearing that in mind, let’s see what happened in the game, with White to play his 60th move.

Black has the potentially drawing c-pawn, and two others as well, but his king is on d3 rather than d2. White has several ways to bring home the full point. A nice winning move is 60. Qh3+, when Kd2 walks into 61. Qe3+ Kd1 62. Qe1#, while moving back to, say, c4 allows Qe3, controlling the queening square. White can then follow up with Qc1 and just take all the black pawns. A similar idea is 60. Qh6, again followed by Qc1. But instead the game continued:

60. Qd8+ Kc3 61. Qxf6+

In some lines White might want to keep the f-pawn on the board to prevent the stalemate defence, but after this White’s still winning.

61… Kd3 62. Qf3+ Kd2

Allowing an immediate mate, but otherwise the king will be cut off on the fourth rank.

63. Qe2+(?)

Missing the mate in 2: 63. Qe3+ Kd1 64. Qe1#. White’s still winning at the moment, though.

63…Kc1 64. Kxg2?

This is the move that throws away the win. It’s not so easy at this level, but the winning idea was 64. Qb5 (avoiding the stalemate defence) Kd1 65. Qb3 Kc1 66. Kxg2 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 c1Q 69. Qe2#.

64… Kb1 65. Qd3 Kc1?

Now White’s winning again. Instead, Ka1 was drawing.

66. Kf2?

It looks natural to move the king in but now Black has the chance to revert to the stalemate defence. Again, the win was to be achieved by occupying the b-file. For example: 66. Qb3 Kd2 67. Qb2 Kd1 68. Kf2 Kd2 69. Qd4+ Kc1 70. Qb4 Kd1 71. Qe1#.

66…Kb2 67. Qd2 Kb1 68. Qb4+ Kc1?

The final mistake. Black still had a draw by moving to the a-file.

69. Ke3

White had to be careful: Ke2 and Ke1 were both stalemate. There was another mate in two, though: 69. Kf1 Kd1 70. Qe1#.

69…Kd1 70. Qd2#

Once more, then, a lot to learn from this game. These endings with pawn on the 7th rank against queen are so important and essential for understanding many pawn endings. As I tell all my students, you can’t understand other endings until you understand pawn endings, you can’t understand middle games until you understand endings, and you can’t understand openings until you understand middle games.

For the record, here’s the complete game.

Richard James


Balance and Harmony

In studying Tai Chi, I’ve learned about developing inner balance and maintaining harmony with the world around me. Studying the concepts of balance and harmony in context of an internal martial art made me realized how critical they are to chess. How often do beginners launch an attack only to have the position turned around on them, going from hunter to hunted? While the game’s goal is to checkmate your opponent’s King, requiring the player attempting the checkmate to play offensively, beginners should consider launching an attack only if their position is balanced and the attacking pieces are working harmoniously with one another. Too often, the beginner will launch an all or nothing attack against his opponent, proverbially placing all his or her eggs in one basket, leaving behind a weak position that will crumble if the attack fails. Balance and harmony apply to all facets of life, from health to chess.

Let’s look at the concept of balance first. When I think about the word “balance” I imagine a man walking a tightrope wire high above the ground, carefully keeping his body aligned so he doesn’t fall from the wire. In chess, you can think about balance as the relationship between your pawns and piece’s positions on the chessboard and that of your opponent’s pawns and pieces. In the opening, for example, both players may have developed their pawns and pieces to squares that equally control the board’s center. You could say that both players have a balanced position. If the idea of balance was thought of as an old fashion scale, like the scales of justice, both players’ positions would hang equally in relation to one another. However, if one player has better development the scale will tilt in his or her favor. A player should strive to have balance (or a tilting of the scale in their favor) before striking at their opponent’s position.

I use the idea of balance to help my students avoid launching premature attacks. Premature attacks are those in which one player attacks the opposition’s King while weakening their own position in the process. We see this happen often during the opening when a beginner will try to launch an early mating attack. A simple example of this is the Scholar’s Mate. The player commanding the White pieces trying to deliver this mate, brings his or her Kingside Bishop to c4 and Queen to h5, targeting the pawn on f7. A more seasoned player can simply develop his or her pieces carefully and leave White greatly behind in development. Being behind in development is not a balanced position. By aiming to maintain positional balance before launching attacks, the beginner increases his or her chances of being successful when attacking. Of course, there are exceptions but, the beginner needs to learn development and the concept of positional balance before looking at those exceptions.

Beginners can work on their balance skills through proper development. By proper development, I mean placing pawns and pieces on squares where they exert the greatest influence. After 1.e4…e5, White decides to move the Kingside Knight out onto the board. There are three squares the Knight can be moved to (e2, f3 and h3). However, one square is more active than the others, the square f3. This square influences the critical central squares d4 and e5. Because the Knight is attacking Black’s e5 pawn, Black needs to restore balance by defending that pawn. There are a number of ways to defend it but one stands out above the rest, developing the Queenside Knight to c6. This move defends the pawn and influences the center. Let’s say White decides to develop the Kingside Bishop on move three. Where should that Bishop go? If we want to control or influence the greatest number of squares we can with our Kingside Bishop, we’d move it to c4. Now the balance has shifted once again and Black as to restore it. Black might move his or her Kingside Bishop to c5. A game’s balance always shifts and it is up to the player whose balance has been lost to regain it through careful piece positioning. Once the beginner understands this, attacking will become more successful.

Now let’s talk about harmony. Balance and harmony go hand in hand. Applying harmony to chess, we could say that it is the relationship pawns and/or pieces share with one another. Often, in the games of beginners, we’ll see pawns and pieces scattered around the chessboard with no connection between them. Pawns are thrust out on the flank files and pieces are developed away from the center rather than towards the center. Even worse is the fact that these pawns and pieces are not supporting each other. After 1.e4…e5, 2.Nf3…Nc6, 3.Nc3…d6, d4…Nf6 and 5.d5, we see that White has (so far) developed his or her pieces harmoniously. The Knight on c3, for example protects the e4 and d5 pawns. The pawn on d5 attacks the Knight on c6. However it is protected by the Knight on c3, the pawn on e4 and the Queen. White’s army is working together. This harmony can be broken as the opposition attempts to balance out the position. Like balance, harmony must be maintained and your opponent is going to do everything in his or her power to stop you from doing so.

One thing the beginner can do to maintain harmony on the board is to ask a question before making a move, “Does this move allow my pieces to work together in harmony? A harmonious move is one that supports a pawn or piece, or controls new territory safely because it is supported by a pawn or piece. This teaches beginners to coordinate their pawns and pieces which reduce the number of pieces lost because they weren’t protected. Unprotected pieces are hanging pieces and pieces lost can quickly cost you the game. Note, the above examples are extremely simplified to give a basic visual example of the ideas. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.


Amatuer Versus Master: Game Six

My opponent in this game is from Russia (I think Siberia) and is the second highest rated player in this section. At the time that I am writing this, Norchenko has one win and four draws, including the one with me, and is in second place in this section. I am in third place with five draws and one loss. So far, there are only four wins and thus four losses in this section. The remaining 13 concluded games are all draws.  I do believe that the ultimate winner of this section will be whoever gets a plus score. The top two places in this section advance to the next round.

When this game started I decided to play the White side of the Sicilian Defense because I wanted to try the Smith-Morra Gambit on him. I almost never play the White side of the Sicilian Defense in a rated game, but I did this time. I messed up the move order and decided not to play the gambit because the move order that I played favored Black. After I made this decision updates to my database showed that I could have played the Smith-Morra Gambit and been OK.

Black’s fourth move surprised me a little, as did many of his moves afterwards. I had never seen this line or variation in any other game that I have played before or after this one. Fortunately, most of what he played was in my database. When he varied from my database I was able to figure out good enough moves to hold the draw.

From move number 19 on we were out of my database. On move number 26 I played what the chess engines considered to be a second-best move. The “better” line would still have been even and thus I would still end up with a draw. I played what I thought was the more impressive or cuter line.

I believe that this is the highest rated player that I have drawn on ICCF.

Mike Serovey


Development: Doing It and Disrupting It are Sides of the Same Coin

I’ve written quite a few posts on The Chess Improver that revolve around the importance of piece development in chess. Some of them have focused on developing one’s own pieces, while some have focused on disrupting the opponent’s development. In this post, I present a game in which both were pursued simultaneously and consistently, with good effect.

After move 4 of a slow Slav Defense, both White and Black had 2 minor pieces developed, with a fairly balanced position. Then as White, I decided to move an already developed Knight to try to gain the Bishop pair. Black allowed me to not only gain it but also to get a better Pawn structure.

On move 7, to my surprise, Black moved an already developed Knight, without any particular threat, rather than continue own development. Now I had a choice to make: either continue developing normally, or take advantage of the temporary situation to try to disrupt Black’s continuing development. It turned out that the Knight move undefended Black’s d5 Pawn and also did nothing to protect the b7 Pawn. After some calculation, I felt it justified to develop my Queen to b3, striking at both the b7 and d5 Pawn. This is a thematic idea in many Slav Defense lines where Black’s movement of the light-squared Bishop from c8 presents tactical opportunities for White. (Note that I count the Queen move as “development” here, because the Queen plays a great role on b3 and also is not in danger of being chased away.)

Is Black positionally lost at move 8?

At this point, on move 8, Black should have likewise developed the Queen, as a defensive move, but instead made a weakening Pawn move, b6, that I think already results in a positionally lost game! Look at the tactically forced position after White’s move 12.

Number of already developed pieces

  • White has effectively 3 developed pieces: Queen, light-squared Bishop (both attacking f7), and castled Rook on f1. I count the Rook as developed because after White plays f3, opening the f-file on the next move, it will already be attacking f7.
  • Black has only the Queen developed, and still cannot castle. That’s effectively two pieces behind in development.

Future development possibilities

  • Although White’s dark-squared Bishop is still not developed, and is somewhat blocked in by the Pawn on e3, actually Bd2 is already possible, after which White’s remaining Rook can be developed.
  • Black will not be developing the Queen Knight anytime soon. It cannot even move to any square right now except to a6, but that just drops the piece to White’s Bishop attacking the square. We see why b6 was such a terrible move, weakening the light squares in the absence of Black’s light-squared Bishop. Also, Black will have to take probably four moves just to maneuver something in order to be able to develop the Knight on c6 or d7 without immediately losing material. For example, playing c5 would result in immediate loss on the light squares of Black’s Queen, Rook, and/or Knight because of Bb5, and where can the Queen go in order to allow Nd7 without blocking Black’s own undeveloped Bishop or dropping the f7 Pawn?

So if you do the arithmetic, you can see that in effect, Black is something like six moves behind in development. Intuitively, in an open position (as will be the case once White plays f3), it would take a miracle for Black to survive, being so far behind: one way or another, it should be possible for White to aim pieces and Pawns at Black’s position to tactically force some kind of decisive win of material during an attack.

The rest of the game

After move 18, let’s take stock of the situation. Black has managed to develop a Bishop and castle in the last six moves. White has the half-open f-file for the Rook, and acquired a central Pawn mass and has opened up the way for the dark-squared Bishop to come out at will. Black’s Knight is still not developed, but now hopes to get to a6 or d7, which are free, but the Queen side Pawns have been weakened even further with b5 (which was however practically necessary in order to get White’s Bishop off the f7 target).

It turns out that there was already a forced win here for White, without needing to develop the Queen Rook or Bishop. e6 would have won already, by winning the f7 Pawn for free. However, probably because i was in a state of mind of “winning by developing”, I chose not to immediately grab material, knowing that Black was lost already and I could take my time. So I just developed my dark-squared Bishop to f4, restricting Black from developing the Knight. After the Queen moved, I again just developed, bringing my remaining undeveloped piece, the Queen Rook, to d1, defending my d4 Pawn and “preparing” d5 (which was already a winning move even without the preparation).

On move 21, let’s do the arithmetic again: White has the Queen, two Rooks, and two Bishops developed (5 pieces), as well as the Pawn front of d4 and e6 ready to go, and Black has only the Queen developed; in fact, the Bishop that retreated to d8 cannot really be called “developed”, although there looks like some kind of swindling attempt to get to b6 to bother White’s King.

There was no longer any reason to delay, so I played d5 and e6. Black lashed out for activity (note that with the White Pawn about to come to e6, Black could only try to develop the Knight to a6 if at all, but then at the cost of losing vast amounts of material thanks to the threats on f7 and c6 and b5). I chose a simple solution based on Black’s weaknesses on the dark squares, threatening simultaneously to win either a piece or the exchange, and then with a continuing raging attack while at it, and Black shortly resigned.

I thought this admittedly lopsided game was a good example of a successful thought process based on evaluating both how quickly one can develop one’s pieces and how restricting an opponent’s development translates effectively to having more time for one’s own development.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Simple Things With Huge Effects.

In my last article I discussed a few points which we often ignore while working hard at chess improvement. But those were chess things, so today I would like to highlight some points which are not chess but yet very important. They can also have a huge effect.

The first things that come to mind are to stay self motivated and balanced. Not every day is a good day and when you got negative results or less than you expected, you can become frustrated. This in turn can badly effect your planning. It happens to me a lot when I lose a winning game or especially an equal end-game. I become frustrated and play lots of blitz, which tends not to help. Sometimes we can blame some outside source such as chess books. In these situations it is very important to be balanced and get motivated. How one could do that? You might read some motivational books, articles or movies. For example Knight of the South Bronx is my all time favorite.

Another thing is not to expect too much from yourself. I just read Anand’s interview after winning the candidates tournament in which he clearly mentioned he was not expecting much, yet his results speak for themselves. Whenever you expect a lot from yourself you put yourself under pressure, and this in turn creates all kinds of emotional instability that stops you from playing naturally or sensibly.

One more thing I would like to add is to ‘keep the momentum’. If I talk about myself, after reading some stuff which inspires me I usually work very hard, positively and energetically. But most of the time I don’t keep the momentum because of laziness (hard to admit, but true!).

These are simple things, yet if you maintain them they can have a powerful effect on your chess.

Ashvin Chauhan