Playing correspondence chess by webserver is a very convenient way to play. It eliminates some of the clerical work compared to postal or email chess, it speeds up the game and there are no postal costs. Obviously, some players do not have access to a computer and still prefer to play by post, often as the games are played at a much slower pace. The question is, have the mistakes that plague postal and email chess been eliminated by webserver?
Almost every player, myself included, have made mistakes which have cost them extra time or even lost them the game. Clerical mistakes include, misreading your opponent’s last move, missing out a conditional move, making an illegal move, moving the wrong piece, writing down the wrong move for your opponent, writing down a different move than the one made by you. If you keep track of a game using a computer database program you still have to be very careful. There are what are called ‘mouse’ errors where a square is clicked and a different piece than the one you wanted moves there automatically. You can also forget to save a new position and be a move behind. If you are playing many games, say over 20 at once, then mistakes are even more likely to happen. Some players recommend playing through every move of a game from the start, but you can imagine that once the game has gone to 20 or more moves this is rather a lengthy process.
I try to stick to a set routine. I keep my games on a well known computer database program. When a new move from an opponent is received, I make that move on my copy of the game on the database and analyse my reply, usually on a small portable set. Obviously you should make sure that you have set up the pieces correctly. When I have decided on my move I will go to the webserver game and check that the position is the same as mine before I commit to the move. I also check that the move numbers correspond, and the last two moves also correspond, with my records. This has saved me a few times! If you are playing by post or email, you usually do not have a position to check against, but you can still check the move number and last few moves. Do not make conditional moves yourself, unless you are really sure about what you are doing in postal or email games. In webserver games this is not as dangerous, as your opponent only sees your conditional move if he makes it and it is made automatically, but you must, of course, update your position accordingly, so it is vital to keep comparing board positions. Mistakes are often made where conditional moves are involved, but they can save time if you know what you are doing.
Senior International Master Tim Harding, former editor of Chess Mail, advocates never to make a same day reply in an email game, so that you can take time preparing your reply, even to an obvious move. This makes good sense, never rush a reply.
So have ‘clerical’ errors finally been eliminated….. well no, but they have been reduced! I have seen a very recent game in a webserver tournament where an British International Master left a queen en prise, but then was that a ‘clerical’ error or just a blunder, I would love to know!