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Thursday, October 3, 2013

A ‘Real’ GM tries Correspondence Chess

    I was looking at the LSS rating list the other day and noticed there was one OTB GM who played very briefly on LSS, GM Alex Fier. He appears to have entered three tournaments, won one game on a forfeit, drew 6 and either resigned or forfeited 18 games. Guess this type of chess wasn’t for him. That’s too bad because it would have been interesting to see how a real GM would have done in today’s correspondence chess world.
      Also, while perusing the rating list, I noticed a lot of correspondence names I recognized but not one was a recognizable OTB name. Out of curiosity, I checked to see what the top 40 players with LSS had for OTB and ICCF ratings. What I discovered was that on LSS, 21 had ICCF ratings that were, for the most part, near their LSS ratings. But…what about OTB ratings with FIDE? Most players were inactive OTB or were unrated. Four had low master ratings, four had Expert ratings (2000-2199), five were rated in the 1900’s and one top-rated LSS player who had no ICCF rating was rated 1661 with FIDE.
      After returning to chess in 2004 after a vey long absence I joined the CCLA with a rating of around 2060 and quickly discovered many (but not all) players around the master level were using engines even though it is not allowed. That’s what prompted me to play on LSS; at least there is no doubt. It’s a different kind of chess and I have not mastered winning consistently using an engine. Obviously, those guys in the top 40 know something more about how to use them to win than I do.
      So, exactly what does it take to reach 2400 on ICCF or LSS. It’s hard to say because top CC players don’t say much about how they manage to beat all the other guys who are also using an engine. According to one article I recently read, it can be done.
      First be prepared to spend a lot of time because ICCF tournaments can take a couple of years. Actually this isn’t much different than it was back in the days of post cards, but in this age we are used to things moving along at a faster pace.
      You will need to know a fair bit about computer software, you will need an opening repertoire program so you can stay organized, check transpositions, discover promising lines, find novelties and it must be kept up to date. 
      Many players on ICCF specialize in anti-computer strategies by steering for solid positions where they won't need to calculate a lot and one side has a slight positional advantage that can be utilized in the ending, so you will need to be something of an expert in knowing which positions are likely to lead to a won ending. You will play a lot of long games.
      Good hardware is helpful. The better the hardware the more positions you are capable of analyzing. Two cores minimum; 4 cores is better and more than that even greater. You will need Houdini 3, Fritz 13 or Aquarium and an opening software program like Bookup.
      They say that opening preparation will make up half of your strength on ICCF so you download all the archived games from ICCF and LSS. After that you use the backsolving feature on Bookup. I have never owned this so know nothing about it. Anyway, after you have enough games backsolved (apparently to find winning lines) then you start analyzing, or rather, the engine does. The author recommended using Aquarium’s IDeA analysis, but that’s a program of which I am not fond. Other programs, like DPA in Fritz, should also work. The author also suggested using both Fritz 13 and Aquarium IDeA running at the same time so that if Fritz (the faster engine) found a strong move, you can instruct Aquarium to analyze it in IDeA. At least I think that's what he was saying; I’m no computer guru and remember you need to know a fair bit about how to use your programs.
      It is also recommended that you download all the tablebases your computer will handle. There is also a program called FinalGen that’s available for free download that will supposedly allow you to generate your own endgame tablebases of up to seven pieces. It will take 30 minutes to 3 hours to solve a position.  I downloaded it once just to play around with it, got bored waiting on it, decided it wasn't needed and deleted it.
      It is also recommended that you always play to win. As to how many games to play, one tournament at a time is the recommended number. I see it quite often on LSS that some players have 20, 30 or more games running at a time. When your opponent is on line a little green light is next to his name and I have seen some players stay online for a long time. They are likely running through their games spending a minute or two on it then playing whatever the engine suggests. I like playing them because they are the easiest to beat because engines don’t play their best moves that way. Tournaments should be selected so that you are playing against opponents with the highest rating available. That is, don’t play in open tournaments where you will meet lower rated players because a loss would be disastrous to your rating.
      Be prepared to face opening novelties from highly rated players. How do you find novelties? One recommendation is to join Chess Publishing for $19.50 a year and analyze, analyze and then when you’re done, analyze some more.
      All this sounds like a lot of tedious work so I probably won’t reach 2400 any time soon. ICCF offers GM, SIM and IM titles.  I think they should have one other title that would reflect the level of my ability...BM.

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