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.
The second season of Division One of the British ICCF Webserver Team Tournaments is now about three quarters finished with the leading team, ‘ICCF Warriors’, on 66% with their nearest rivals and last year’s winner, ‘Pawn Stars’, close behind on 65% with the next team, ‘Scheming Mind ‘A”, on 55%. ‘ICCF Warriors’ consists of GM Nigel Robson (ENG), an ICCF World Finalist, GM Raymond Boger (NOR), GM Mark Noble (NZL) and SIM Ian Pheby (ENG), ICCF Aspirer Tournaments Officer. ‘Pawn Stars’ consists of SIM Gino Figlio (PER), ICCF Webmaster, SIM Dr Michael Millstone (USA), ICCF General Secretary, myself (ENG) and Austin Lockwood (WLS), ICCF Services Director. The average grades of the leading team are about 100 points above ours, so it is no real surprise that they are still in the lead. I have had a quick look through the remaining games and it looks like they will be unbeatable.
Here is a win by the highest rated player in the competition, GM Raymond Boger : -
Well, the endgame in correspondence chess on a well known server is anyway! As from 2014 all new tournaments have a rule that you can claim a win or draw if the board position contains six men or less which is confirmed by a tablebase for 6-pieces. I can see why the server have done this, as it is impossible to stop players using tablebases, although now it virtually forces all players to use them and you will certainly be at a great disadvantage if you do not! This also supersedes the 50 move rule for draws.
The question is, will this be the beginning of the end for correspondence chess? You can easily play the opening and halfway into the middle game in correspondence chess by following online databases and the news is that some clever Russian programmers have developed a 7-piece endgame database which runs on the Lomonosov supercomputer at Moscow State University. One particular 7- piece mate runs to 545 moves. There is little room left for human input!
In my last post I mention the terrific start (94%) that “Herts and Minds” had made in Division 3 of the new ICCF Webserver Tournament. They continue to do well although their percentage score has now dropped slightly to 92% or 19.5/21! In fact, they have only conceded three draws and the rest were wins! I think they well deserve one of their games to be shown here. So we have Arthur Reed playing Black against a member of the Welsh “Dragons” team in a lively miniature.
In Division 1 the reigning champions, “Pawn Stars”, have a score of 58% or 7/12 and are chasing hard after last year’s runners up, “ICCF Warriors”, who have 68% or 5.5/8.
The second season of British Webserver Team Tournaments in four divisions is well underway and our winning team in Division 1, “Pawn Stars”, is battling against “ICCF Warriors” and five other teams, “Scheming Mind A”, “Scheming Mind B”, “BCCA Kings”, “BCCA Griffins” and “White Rose A”. It is always difficult to tell who is leading until the later stages, although “Scheming Mind A” have finished the most games with a percentage score of 53%. “Pawn Stars” have 61% and “ICCF Warriors” have 68%, so it already looks like “ICCF Warriors” are pulling ahead. They have an even stronger team than last year with no less than three GMs Nigel Robson (ENG), Raymond Boger (NOR) and Mark Noble (NZL), and SIM Ian Pheby (ENG). “Pawn Stars” have the same team as last year, in a different order, with SIMs Gino Figlio (PER), Dr Michael Millstone (USA), and myself (ENG), together with Austin Lockwood (WLS). Remember that each team must have at least two players from the UK. Almost 75% of the games in Division 1 have, so far, been drawn and I am finding it increasingly difficult to win games nowadays, although I am finding it easier to lose games!
I am pleased to report that our Hertfordshire team, “Herts and Minds”, in Division 3 have made a terrific start with a percentage score of 94%! The team consists of SIM Keith Kitson with final score of 6/6, Peter Rice on 4.5/5, Steve Law on 2.5/3 and Arthur Reed on 4/4. They are all members from clubs in the English county of Hertfordshire.
This month I have chosen one of my (rare) wins from this tournament. I had already had to draw another rook and pawn ending, so I was determined to make more of this game. It has a very interesting ending which I need to further investigate. There were so many lines which ended in a draw, even if I had a two pawn advantage. I had to devise a plan which kept his king occupied and out of the way, but I needed my rook to be active attacking his pawns and my king to have some shelter from his checking rook. I think I found the key to this with 48 Re7 and I believe his position now crumbles. They say that rook and pawn endings are always drawn, well not if I can help it.
As predicted, Essex are the County Champions with an emphatic 16/20 victory in the Ward-Higgs Division well clear of their nearest rivals. Runners up were Yorkshire with 13.5; Third were Warwickshire with 12.5; Fourth equal were Hertfordshire and Northumberland with 12. Unfortunately, my own county, Hertfordshire, who were placed second for quite a while, were eventually overtaken by Yorkshire and Warwickshire. Despite this, it is Hertfordshire’s best ever result in the Championship League, so everyone should be proud! Hertfordshires’s team for next season, which now consists of only 8 boards, will be Board 1 SIM John Rhodes (myself); Board 2 Fide IM Lorin D’Costa; Board 3 SIM Keith Kitson; Board 4 Peter Rice; Board 5 Steve Law; Board 6 Arthur Reed; Board 7 Barrie Saunders; Board 8 Mike Dyer.
Here is a game from Peter Doye, Board 7 of the Essex Team. I have played Peter several times myself and I am sure he will not mind me saying that he is a very solid player and very experienced at the French Defence. He is in his late seventies and once told me that he had beaten the leading contender, Dr Jacok Seitz, at Whitby in 1956 with black, also with a French Defence! Seitz was ranked 47th in the World in 1924 and graded 2514 in 1928. Unfortunately, that game does not survive, but in the Whitby Museum in Pannett Park, is a soapstone chess set given by the late Baruch Wood for a chess tournament held in those premises.
About thirteen months ago I decided I needed a car to match our eco house and lifestyle. The petrol guzzling, super fast, sports estate car would have to stay locked in the garage and a small petrol electric hybrid would be our main means of transport. Like chess, I prefer extremes rather than average! Little did we know that the test drive coincided with the Olympic Torch tour, so we crawled silently around town, on electric power, in slow moving traffic but, unfortunately, missed seeing the Olympic Torch!
Last month I returned the car for it’s first service, which they did while I waited. To kill time I went into one of my favourite bookshops and could not resist buying an 1886 copy of ‘Morphy’s Games of Chess’ by J. Lowenthal. It has an introduction from Morphy and a nice Stevenson print from a photograph, which appears to be signed, although I know Morphy had died two years before publication of this edition.
I was surprised to find a game he played against John Rhodes, my namesake, who was born in Leeds in 1814, a member of Leeds Chess Club from 1834 until his death in 1898 and was acquainted with Buckle, G. Walker, Staunton, and St. Amant. As far as I know he is no relation! It was one of eight simultaneous games that Morphy played blindfolded and without sight of a board. It was the anniversary Meeting of the British Chess Association in 1858 in Birmingham, England. Morphy won six games, drew one and lost one, a remarkable score even with a very rare defeat.
Here is his game played blindfolded against my namesake with the original annotations by Lowenthal, although in algebraic notation: -
With just 9 games to finish it is looking increasingly like a victory for Essex in the Ward-Higgs Counties and District Correspondence Chess Championship for 2012/13 in England. Essex have 2 games to finish with 15/18 and their nearest rivals, Hertfordshire, having now been caught by Yorkshire, are now on 12/18 and 12/16 respectively. Warwickshire are also doing well with 11.5/18 and will surely overtake Hertfordshire. Northumberland have 10/18 and could well catch Hertfordshire.
There is no promotion or relegation and the Ward-Higgs is reserved for the 1st Teams of each English county. If you are an English CC player and are not playing in these teams then please contact your county association who will be only too pleased to get you in a team!
The lowest scoring teams so far are Somerset with 4.5/19 and Worcestershire with 3/19. Here is the latest win by Worcestershire’s Board 2 who won both his games: -
In these days of ever increasing technology and computer power what does the current correspondence chess world champion do to beat the other guys? Fabio Finocchiaro of Italy has recently given an interview to the International Correspondence Chess Federation in which he outlines his winning strategy.
Asked how he prepares for an important tournament like the world championship, Fabio reveals that he studies the games of his opponents. Well, I suppose we all do that, …..don’t we?
Asked when he studies those games, whether he uses any opening databases or chess engines for analysis, Fabio replies that he uses a well known database program, a mega database for 2012 and a correspondence database for 2012. This is something we all do, ….surely? Well, maybe not, as to keep up with the very latest super databases can be quite costly and does that guarantee success? I very much doubt it. I do not know whether Fabio uses any chess engines in conjuction with these databases, nor what his opponents use when playing him. Fabio won five games and drew fifteen, without loss, to win the world championship, so he does play very well, but I think his secrets remain with him!
Fabio has annotated one of his most challenging games in the 25th World Championship: -
The 2013/14 season is about to begin for the British Correspondence Chess Championship, the British Veterans Championship and the British Ladies Championship. The championships are only open to full members of the British Federation for Correspondence Chess (BFCC) and its member organisations who were born or are currently residing in the United Kingdom, a Crown Dependency or a British Overseas Territory. There are Championship, Candidiates and Reserves Sections.
This has been held annually since 1921 and is now played exclusively as a webserver event. Titled players above certain ratings can get into the Championship Section. Please see the BFCC website for further details which are too numerous to list here : -http://bfcc-online.org.uk/bccc-bccc/bccc-rules
Here is a game won by Mark Eldridge, who is the British Team Captain for International Friendly Matches, against Arthur Reed in last years Championship. I would be eligible for both the Individual and Veterans, but perhaps I should not enter to give them all a chance……..!