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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pontificating on Correspondence Chess

     After nearly two years, the LSS World Championship Final 2014 has been decided. Joop Simmelink of The Netherlands was the winner. The finals section was a double round affair with 10 players and Simmelink's score was +3 -0 =15; his wins were against the 8th place finisher and he won both games against the last place finisher. Simmelink edged former champ Nigel Robson by half a Sonneborn-Berger point on the tie-breaker. 
     Now, I understand the tremendous amount of work these players put into preparing openings and all that but, honestly, how does this accomplishment consisting of three wins compare to, say, Purdy's feat in the first World Correspondence Championship where he scored +9 -1 =3 or Berliner's +12 -0 =3 in the fifth Championship where they did it all without computer assistance? To me it doesn't compare at all. 
     CC is no longer a substitute for over the board play and it only appeals to those who are searching for perfection, not creativity and imagination. The top level CC players tell us that besides meticulous opening preparation, human input is still necessary and I agree that a lot of deep searching looking for lines to find hidden resources that the engines might have pruned is necessary. But, that is nothing more than manipulation of engine-generated data. It's not possible that a player rated less than an IM or a GM can tell if a 3100-rated engine is spewing out a faulty line. It's like me annotating a GM game without an engine; I can do it, but only with the help of engines to show me things they missed. Engines have made it possible for us Armchair Grandmasters to find moves even the best players of the pre-computer age would never have even considered or tactical resources they missed, but examining a Fischer game with Stockfish and Komodo in no way makes me his equal.
     Letting a high end computer running for days on a position does not make today's CC players the equal of the pre-computer champions and my admiration for them isn't for their chess knowledge, but for their ability to manipulate engine generated data. Somehow it's just not the same as playing chess.

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