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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Correspondence Ratings

     Registration for the preliminaries of the Lechenicher SchachServer “World Championship” is open for those qualified, of which there are 224 players who are eligible. Only active players who have met certain qualifications are eligible. 
     I played in one of these events once and failed to qualify for the next round, finishing fourth...only the top three places advanced. A Toshiba Satellite L855 with an Intel Core i3-312M CPU at 2.50Ghz with 4.00 GB of RAM using Stockfish 6 and Komodo 8 won't get you enough wins to get very far! 
     Out of curiosity I checked the LSS ratings of those who have titles with the ICCF and FIDE. It's interesting that most of their top rated players are no longer active and the highest rated titled (ICCF or FIDE) player eligible for this event is a FIDE Woman International Master with an LSS rating of 2170. She is a new member who has only completed four games. 
     I have not included a few titled players in the 1500-1600s simply because they have recently resigned or forfeited dozens of games which is why their ratings have plummeted, but here's what I found. In addition to the FIDE WIM mentioned, the list of titled players contains: 

One ICCF GM rated a little over 2100 
One ICCF Lady GM rated in the upper 1900s 
Nine ICCF Senior IMs rated from 1833 to 2166 
Sixteen ICCF IMs rated 1774 to 2029 
Two FIDE IMs rated 2040 to 2109 
Five FIDE FMs rated 1804 to 1945 

     What this shows is how meaningless correspondence ratings and titles are. Some of the ICCF titled players appear to be older guys who earned them before engines, but these days they can no longer compete at the higher levels. That's probably because nowadays top correspondence players are using Weapons of Mass Destruction (multiple high-powered computers) running for days, using multiple engines, and selecting moves because they are .01 better than the alternatives and a couple of things happen. One, once you get a correspondence rating, it's almost impossible to gain rating points or a title unless you invest in more powerful hardware. And, two, the ratings only tell you how good a guy's hardware is, not his personal skill level. 
     It used to be that strong correspondence players were strong OTB players as well and sometimes they annotated their games. Even when engines were fairly strong, a strong OTB player could tell when his engine was suggesting less than optimal moves and he could explain why an engine move was not as good as the one he played. That's what CC GM Robin Smith demonstrated in his book, Modern Chess Analysis. Smith published the book in 2004 and advised that processor speed was more important than RAM, stating that 256 megabytes of RAM was sufficient. And, he opined that programs like Chessmaster, Chess Tiger, Fritz, Hiarcs, Junior, Rebel, Shredder as well as others were good enough. Of course the book quickly became outdated to the point that it's pretty much useless today. 
     You rarely see top level correspondence players annotating their games anymore; they can't tell you why their top of the line computers running Komodo 9 suggested a move...it's just the one their computers and engines came up with. 
     I still play on LSS, but only in the “Rapid” events and only to mess around with openings. In the last 30 games I've played the following: 

Stonewall (3 draws) 
Urusov Gambit (1 win, 1 draw) 
Sicilian Closed (1 win) 
Sicilian 2.g4 (3 draws) 
Sicilian 2.a4 (1 draw) 
Sicilian 2.g3 (1 win, 1 draw, 1 loss) 
Four Knights Game (1 win) 
1.e4 d5 2.Nc3 (1 draw) 
1.e4 e5 2.g3 (1 draw) 

Evans Gambit Declined (draw) 
Alekhine (1 loss) 
Modern Defense (1 draw) 
Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1 draw, 1 loss) 
Ruy Lopez 3...g6 (1 loss) 
Elephant Gambit (1 loss) 
Slav Defense (1 win) 
QGD Chigorin (1 win, 1 draw) 
QP Opening (1 loss) 
Modern Benoni (1 draw) 
K-Indian (1 draw) 
Budapest Defense (1 draw) 

Score: +6 -6 =18 

     That's interesting because with the exception of a Slav, a K-Indian, a Modern Benoni and a Modern Defense the games have all been unusual lines. Engines still are not considered up to snuff compared to a GM's evaluation of an opening position because they can't understand strategic ideas until the position is well established. So, while a GM may not have much trouble figuring out how to take advantage of some of the openings I've used, they're OK to play against engines. Or...is it possible that some of these offbeat lines really are as good as the Najdorf Sicilian or the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense or the Nimzo-Indian?! 
     Correspondence chess these days is about super-hardware...which most of us don't have. We are using a puny laptop and Komodo or Stockfish and unlike the engines of a few years ago, even masters aren't good enough to find better moves than those suggested by the engines. 
     Correspondence chess is still a good way to play for those who are lower rated, but if you are above 1800-1900 and everybody is using an engine, there's little point in playing. Several years ago I saw a discussion on correspondence chess and one guy 'fessed up. He admitted to never having played tournament chess and thought he was about 1200 strength. But...he designed his own dedicated chess computer and, at least at that time, he understood the strengths and weaknesses of chess engines. That accounted for his 2400-plus correspondence rating. 
     Just as wearing a cowboy outfit doesn't make you a real cowboy, these days having a correspondence title or a high correspondence rating does not make you real master.

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