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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The End of Correspondence Chess?

“I have sort of independently come to the conclusion that CC is about played out. Anyone who loses a game with White clearly does not know much about chess, how to use databases, or does not have a state of the art computer. So it comes down to the fact that you have to have a sound innovation over the books in every game you play (unless you are content to draw) which is essentially impossible.” so Hans Berliner, former World CC Champion, wrote in 2005.

I was out of chess for about 20 years until returning to CC in 2004 so I don’t know what engines were available then (probably Fritz) but think I had Chessmaster 2100. I joined the Correspondence Chess League of America and, figuring I’d lost some ability in 20 years, started at Class A (1800) but managed to get to over 2000 fairly quickly. About that time I discovered server chess which was a lot better that using post cards. The first server site I played on was IECG and started there at my CCLA rating. The IECG was e-mail chess and you had to keep track of your moves and reflection time, etc. exactly like in postal chess. IECG is in the process of closing down because of the popularity of server chess which does all the bookkeeping, etc. They are transferring everything to LechenicherSchacserver.

My first event there netted 2 draws out of 6 games and at first I wondered about my 2000ish rated opponents. They were playing at a much higher level than I expected. At first I put it down to the fact that Europeans are much stronger than Americans with similar ratings, but then I realized IECG, like LSS, had no prohibitions against engine use and everybody was using them. OK, no problem. By that time I had Fritz (6, I think it was) and a 10-12 year old computer. My database was, and still is, current to 2002. Results were better, but not much! My record there is +9 -10 =18 and I lost 200 points. In my latest tournament which I joined to try out the free Firebird engine even though I still had an old computer and the same old db has so far resulted in +0 -0 =4. So far about half the games in the 8-player event have been drawn which is pretty typical.

On other server sites I’ve hit a rating of about 2300 and leveled off and was losing frequently. Now I’m not saying everybody over 2300 or so was using engines because that’s simply not the case. A few were, but like I’ve said before, there are a lot of players better than me, so it’s likely I’ve reached my potential with or without an engine.

Anyway the whole point I’m trying to make is that Berliner was pretty much correct, but only at the highest levels. For most average players engine use isn’t a real factor because they are, or soon will be, playing at the upper levels where the vast majority of us will never reach. Again, with or without an engine.

I’m not interested in spending a lot of money for state of the art computers, deep-whatever engines and db’s with millions of games I have to update all the time. I don’t have the patience to let an engine run overnight and I’m not good enough to find innovations in the openings…actually every game I play has a TN, but it’s never a good one!

So CC isn’t dead and never will be. Most of us will continue to try and bash each other’s brains out and there will always be a few who will try to rise to the challenge Berliner outlined and see if they can claw their way to the top.

The SSDF (chess engine) rating list is interesting to check out. All games were played at 40 moves/2 hours followed by 20 moves/each following hour. In matches two separate PCs were used, connected with an auto232-cable. i.e. the engines have only played other engines, not humans, so the ratings are pretty meaningless, but it lets you know which ones are the strongest.

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