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