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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alexandr Lazarevich Alpert

      Alexandr Lazarevich Alpert (born Moscow, January 1948 – died Moscow June 2009) graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics but mostly he worked as a teacher in a chess school.
      His whole life was devoted to chess and he was a pupil of the well-known coach and IM Abraham Khasin.  In his youth, Alpert had a reputation as a very strong player and took part in the championship final of the Central Chess Club of the USSR. Later he obtained a FIDE Master title. He played several times against eminent grandmasters in OTB chess and was fairly successful.
      Handicapped by weak eyesight since birth he also played tournaments of the USSR institute for the blind where he had a reputation of being one of the strongest players. As a member of the USSR team he won a gold medal at a one of the blind Olympiads.
      But it was correspondence chess where Alpert left his mark.  He obtained an ICCF International Master title in 2001, represented Russia in the ICCF Olympiad.  He also served in administrative capacities for Russian correspondence chess organizations and was the prime mover of the very first CC events played on the Internet including ICCF web-server and Russian web-server Chess Planet. He organized almost all friendly matches and and served as team captain of the Russian team.
      Taking in consideration Alpert’s great services for correspondence chess the ICCF Congress of 2009 awarded to him a title of an International Arbiter posthumously, and supported also the RCCA in organizing an International CC Open in memory of him.
      Alpert once wrote about CC as it’s played nowadays and here is his article in abridged format:

       In reality correspondence chess players use chess engines while playing CC games. This is an irrefutable fact! If a chess player wants to play against a human being, he should OTB or online on the Internet.
      The games of grandmasters against engines have no connections with our variety of chess. The fact is that Kasparov or Kramnik when playing against a computer keep the rules of OTB play while a correspondence player moves the pieces constantly. 
      In a game where "man + engine" are acting as a team the role of a man must not be forgotten. I am ready to play any such a player when they blindly play only moves his engine suggests. Moreover I am almost sure I will win.
      I'll agree his computer and engine are more powerful than me. In a game "man + engine" against "man + engine" HUMAN BEINGS compete each other.  In these games one must solve the task how to defeat a well-equipped opponent and this can be done using one's own intuition and with the help of an artificial assistant.
      A win is usually achieved applying many techniques and such a win is more valuable than a win on a blunder, on worthless trap or better knowledge of theoretical variations in an opening.
      I want to play interesting chess and to restrict the number of oversights. I do not like to automatically accept the engine's analysis. Analyzing a position with an engine is a complicated process that involves both man and machine.

     How do I analyze a position? First of all I want to know the 4-5 best moves with rough variations.
      Step 1. I have a look at a position with my own eyes and try to add my own thoughts to these moves. 
      Step 2. I examine moves suggested by an engine by playing moves on the board which the engine considers as best ones and watch closely the valuation of those positions.
      It sometimes happens that my position turns into bad one after I make several moves following the engine’s advice and that means I erred somewhere earlier. WHEN I find a good move it is too early to be happy because you then must seek where the opponent could have played better.
      If there is a refutation to my mover, I must accept it and look further.  However, sometimes right and the engine is not.
      Step 3. Psychology. Playing versus an inexperienced player it is sometimes possible to figure out what engine he is using and there is an opportunity to set traps. One should find variations (it is not too difficult to do) which are estimated as good by an engine but which are, in fact, not.
      Step 4. Endgame intuition. I have used it many times. In complicated endgames an engine often evaluates positions incorrectly. But when there are 6 pieces or less on the board, thanks to the Nalimov tablebases, perfect play is possible. The idea is to analyze an endgame as deeply as possible to reach one of these positions.  It is not important at all what intermediate valuation is given by an engine; one has to be focused on a final valuation taken from the Nalimov tablebases.
      What is the main idea of modern correspondence chess?
To answer the question above we should address the nature of chess. It is well known chess consists of four components:
• art,
• science,
• sports and
• game

      There are several varieties of chess as well. They are classical chess, amateur chess, rapid and blitz chess, correspondence chess and composition. Each component has a different weight in each variety of chess.
      Chess as an art shows itself in games played by very strong players in classical chess. Composition is a variety of chess art is seen most clearly. Sports play the main role in blitz and rapid chess. Amateur chess is just a game.
      Playing an online game I would never use a chess engine to assist me. Sports are sports. If the time is a decisive factor of a game it means we must obey it. When playing a game for fun one is expected to play fast and while playing a game with a standard time control one can think on a move for 30 minutes.
      In correspondence chess one can seek the best move as long as he wants and may use any kind of assistance in the process.
      Ethical norms for each variety of chess are relative.  Solving a problem with an engine kills the pleasure for the solver but an engine is an ideal tool when one wants to check out reasonableness of a problem.
      In correspondence chess there are sports, games and art but the main role belongs to science. One must go deep into position searching for the truth. It is too difficult to do it without computer assistance in any kind of modern science. If one is not interested in doing such a job he should leave it. One should avoid playing correspondence chess if he doesn't enjoy it.
       In fact the appearance of strong chess engines has raised a couple of questions. Indeed it has already caused damage to classical chess. The main problem for classical chess is losing the process of adjourning a game and analyzing it subsequently at home. Any game is played in a few hours nowadays. As a result the level of endgame skills has considerably decreased.
       A ban of using engines as assistants while a game is being played has resulted in anti-computer controls. But, on the other hand the progress of new technologies makes it more and more complicated. Engines are a direct threat to chess as a kind of sport.
      As a science, correspondence chess has no such problem at all!

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