Russell Sherwood

The Time Machine

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, August 17, 2017

Have you ever got yourself into major time trouble? If this happens, especially in a number of games at once it can be a major headache and for some a cause of stress.

 

So having got into this hole, how do you get out of it? Here are a few ideas:

 

  1. If you have vacation time – use it, whilst you analyse your games. It still surprises me how few players don’t do this.
  2. Know the time controls – what exactly do you have to do? If you are playing in a 10 moves in x Days event, then once you reach each 10th move milestone you will get an injection of time. Remember to consider the so-called “Free Day” as well. This information is at the bottom of the Tournament Summary page.  It is worth noting that not all time controls are of this type – some more exotic experiments don’t have time injections.
  3. Consider your position in each event to play – is it a team event, are you chasing a Norm?  This will aid you in your prioritisation
  4. Consider the position at the board in each game? Where is it on the Win to Loss spectrum of results
  5. You now need to consider your plan in each game:
    1. Team events should, in general, be prioritised.
    2. If the game is “lost”, then resign it – why waste time you don’t have in these games?
    3. If the game is drawn or drawing then consider offering the draw
  6. Having followed step 5 we should have reduced our “pile” a bit for our remaining games we need to consider:
    1. Have I got to move daily?
    2. How much time do I have available (both in physical and processor time)?
    3. What is the game situation?
  7. We now have the grunt work to try and get to the time control. A few things can help:
    1. If the game has a fairly obvious line – go down it, using conditional moves if they are available in the event.
    2. If your response is obvious in a position – make the move (subject to a quick sanity check)

 

Hopefully after a few days of doing this you will have got yourself out of the immediate hole. Now is the time to consider how and why you got there in the first place.

 

I personally follow the 10 day rule – I rarely allow games to go below 10 days on my clock or not make a move for more than 10 days in a game. I probably manage to follow this 95% of the time and it prevents me getting into time trouble too often!

The Universal Soldier?

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Universal Solder?

If you spend any time analyzing with engines and have any ability yourself It becomes obvious that whilst they play close to perfect chess in some positions, they are also clueless in other positions. A traditional example being the King’s Indian Defense, where most engines struggle. An added dimension to this is that different engines excel and misbehave in different types of openings (and/or positions).

 

Knowing which ones work well (or otherwise) where is a significant potential advantage to the player. Trawling some of the Forums and Webpages can lead to a partial picture, although the problem is that any information gained this way is suspect and could become obsolete in the next version of an engine! If you are wondering why this is so? In simple terms most (stronger) engines are very finely tuned. This tuning means that the engine will play the “best” move in the highest number of positions. An improved version will means the engines plays slightly more positions correctly. The flaw is that, whilst Version 2 might play 94% of positions correctly compared to Version 1 which played 92% of positions in the right manner it does mean core positions – it could well be that 6% of positions more are correct but 4% more are now incorrect. This is general is not an issue, unless, of course, the positions (or more typically themes in positions) are the ones which are important in your opening repertoire.  Of course an interesting conclusion from this is that it would be possible to tune an engine for a specific kind of opening but it would probably be weaker in general!

 

So how can do this ourselves with some degree of certainty? An approach which can deliver dividends is as follows:

 

  1. Examine your own opening repertoire
  2. Identify Key positions in these openings. This can be done from personal knowledge or Opening Books (both Electronic and physical)
  3. Create an EPD file with these positions and the “Best” moves
  4. Run a “Beauty contest” with a number of engines to determine which best “understands” these type of positions.
  5. Use the winner(s) s part of your evaluation strategy in this opening.

 

Now some may wonder why I believe using the EPD approach is the way forward, rather than Engines Tournaments (either between engines or self-play). The simple reason(s) are : (1) EPD testing is faster and (2) Engine v Engine tournaments can suffer from the results being skewed by either the difference between the two engines or the oddities of an individual engine.

 

What is worth saying that Engine v Engine can be useful if you can determine which Engine your opponent uses as their main support and openings/lines could then be selected to utilize this information!

The Specialist

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, July 30, 2017

As I have mentioned a number of times most Chess Engines are not well suited to Correspondence Chess.  In fact many, if not most, Engine Analysis techniques methods are designed to cover some of the gaps left in engine design.

Many Engines can be modified for CC in their Parameter file and some of the sensible choices in this area were covered in a previous article.  There are a number of current engines that do significantly better than most in terms of CC performance. So (in no particular order)

Houdini 5 (and previous versions to a certain extent) – Tactical mode allows a much shallower, deeper search to be applied.

Matefish – a variant which delivers a similar functionality to Houdini’s tactical mode.

Komodo – probably the most configurable engine, “off the shelf”

CorChess  - A Stockfish variant with a number of developments related mainly to a more effective search method

Thinksfish – Another Stockfish variant, with a massive number of adjustable parameters and a special “correspondence mode”

CIFish – a combination of CFish (faster Stockfish variant) and CorChess

All of these are a big step in the right direction for CC players and well worth a place in your engine stable………

There are a number of other improvements which are possible but we will talk about the “Blueprint” another time!

Spot the Difference!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Similarity test was created a few years ago to be able to compare engines, mainly to be able to attempt to detect cloning (The process of taking someone else’s engine, making a few minor changes and renaming it as your own, without any acknowledgement of the original. There were many deep, nasty, arguments of the type “this engine is a copy of that engine”. These do not concern us here!)

An important area of generating winning chances is developing moves which are not the First choice or Principal Variation of our main engine. A number of analysis methods do exist which can do this, such as Subtractive or Monte Carlos Analysis but a starting point before all of this is to consider which Engines tend to give “Original” moves.

A note of caution here – “Original” moves are not necessarily “Good” moves but often the suggestion of a different (weaker) engine can help us find the best path forwards from a position. In some cases simply showing the move to an engine will help it find a better line. In other cases much more work is required.

So for the trial to determine originality I consulted the FastGM rating list  http://www.fastgm.de/ on its slowest time control and ran all the engines I had from this list (plus some which I consider to be the best older ones: Gandalf, Junior, Hiarcs…….)

The results are interesting – As you would expect most of the Stockfish variants have a very high score………………………..

So what we are looking at is a heat map – it works by looking down the left-hand column to find the engine we are interested in – we then read across – the similarity in move choice is shown, the higher the score the more similar the moves selected. In general it is better to ignore the numbers and look at the colours – The more red the more similar the choices, the more green the less similar.  The Engines are ordered in a rough ordering of strength – with the ones on the left/at the top being stronger and the ones on the right/bottom being weaker.  The difference between the top and bottom engines is between 300 and 500 elo, depending on which rating list you believe! There were also a few engines which failed to run in the trials – Fizbo and Giraffe. Of these Giraffe is the more interesting as its evaluation is based on a very different method, however the project is currently shelved!

 

We can divide the map into four basic zones:

 

Top Left (The Red Zone)

The strongest engines – many different variants of Stockfish, so it is unsurprising that these engines are fairly similar in outlook. In general engines in this area make poor bedfellows in terms of bringing a different point of view to the table.

 

The Middle (Central Red Zone)

Here we have a lot of engines with similar outlooks. Without going into much detail, a number of these were/are accused of being copies of other engines.

 

The Bottom Corner (Green Zone along the Right and Bottom sides)

These engines tend to come up with different moves from the Top Engines – the downside often being that they’re simply weak rather than original moves and care should be taken in any suggestions.

 

The Interesting Zone (Green-Yellow along the top and down the left hand side)

These are the engines which tend to give a different slant of a position compared to the Top Engines. Particularly interesting are Houdini 4, Boot and Deep Shredder 13 and Andscacs. These engines are not the strongest but are not weak either. Houdini 4 is the oddity of the group as it is “obsolete”, whereas the others are all current.

Anyway If you want a different opinion to HockmodoFish, these engines represent probably the current best mix of originality and playing strength.

 

Download

Be careful out there!

The content of this article is private.

The Great Escape

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, July 8, 2017

This should be read whilst humming the theme tune to the “Great Escape”!

You know the feeling. The game is looking lost, your opponent has already notched it up as a win and the Engine score is massively against you.

You could just give up but there are a few things you can try here…………………….

It’s important to remember that you will probably still lose but some of these techniques can give a glimmer of hope!

The first thing to not do is employ Dead Man’s Defense or any of its variations. DMD’s is basically to slow play the position, in the hope your opponent, well, defaults  (Hand’s up at the back who thought I was going to say Dies!) This method is against the spirit of Correspondence Chess and also against the rules!

So what can you do?  Is the position actually lost/losing, should be your question now! Is the position actually lost – there are numerous examples of situations where the engine evaluation is widely inaccurate – showing a drawn position as lost or a lost position as drawn. This comes down your chess knowledge. A technique which can help you here is “Line Extension”. Let the engine run a while, the copy the line into your notation, move to the end of the line and analyze again.

Does the evaluation change? Following this start to work your way back up the line , you may well find improvements that change the evaluation significantly.  Personally I have held positions where I was greater than -3 in terms of engine evaluation.

So let’s assume the position is against you. Our main try now is to attempt to randomize the position as much as possible. A few methods we can try:

 

  1. Don’t play the Engine’s Principal variation (the main move/line it suggests). Run in Multiple line mode and look for alternative lines. The reason for doing this is to attempt to move away from the lines and type of position the engine is going towards. Here we are dealing with a basic problem in the way engine evaluation works. We have all seen the games where the evaluation is -0.1 when becomes -0.3 then -0.7 and so on – as the position goes down a slippery slope. In the same position there could have been an alternative line which would have been evaluation at a constant -0.6, which would be probably bypassed as its much worse than the first move.
  2. Look for strategic needs of the position. What are the key motifs? For example ideas like opposite bishops ,the wrong colored bishop or control of a key diagonal or square. If you can see these in the position you may be able to nudge the game toward in that direction – which the engine won’t see until it is too late.
  3. Try and build a Fortress - this is a large topic area in itself but a basic introduction can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_(chess)
  4. Keep playing! We are looking at giving the opponent the maximum number of opportunities to go wrong!
  5. Use psychological weapons – for example the use of non-standard moves (1) , combined with Conditional moves will increase both your opponent’s workload and he may think you have seen something s(he) has not.
  6. Use multiple engines (especially ones outside of Stockfish, Komodo and Houdini) for ideas to support (1) and (2)
  7. Smile – this approach is far more fun than either resigning or slow playing the position, especially the times you get the result.

 

It’s also worth mentioning that the use of these methods will improve your analysis skills in general, which is never a bad thing!

 

Season Planning

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, July 1, 2017

In a past post I suggested a method to estimate the number of games a player could concurrently manage.

As we move towards the start of a new season I offer a different, complementary approach to aid the player in planning their season.

So why is Season Planning important? In simple terms, it allows us to make sensible choices about which events to participate in and which to not!

So how do we undertake this? Much depends on if you are an established or new player. For the Established player the steps are:

  1. List all the events you took part in the last (current) season. ICCF “My Events” is a good place to get this information from, but don’t forget those events which were not on the server (Postal, email…..)
  2. For each of the events you need the number of games, the level (Category or Average rating)
  3. Add to the list any events you did not enter this season but would like to consider for next season.
  4. Add the Start date for each event.
  5. Go to ICCF Ratings and calculate your average number of games completed per rating period. This approach will give you an estimate of how many games you can play per season.
  6. Go back to the Events list you have created and add an “importance” rating for each one. This is a very personal measurement based on a combination of factors of why an event is important to you. 1 is the most important, 3 is the Least.
  7. Order the list with “1’s” at the top and “3’s” at the bottom.
  8. Go through the list, allocating your Total games to events, on a reducing balance until all are allocated.
  9. At this point you can see which events you have capacity to play in and which you do not. In addition you can look at periods of the season which will be busy (Typically October and March), which may affect your choice of entry.

 

For new players the process is very similar , although step 3 takes much more relevance. If you are unsure of which events are around, details of repeating events are held at http://www.welshccf.org.uk/ under Play – Tournament Calendar

Season Planning

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, July 1, 2017

In a past post I suggested a method to estimate the number of games a player could concurrently manage.

As we move towards the start of a new season I offer a different, complementary approach to aid the player in planning their season.

So why is Season Planning important? In simple terms, it allows us to make sensible choices about which events to participate in and which to not!

So how do we undertake this? Much depends on if you are an established or new player. For the Established player the steps are:

  1. List all the events you took part in the last (current) season. ICCF “My Events” is a good place to get this information from, but don’t forget those events which were not on the server (Postal, email…..)

  2. For each of the events you need the number of games, the level (Category or Average rating)

  3. Add to the list any events you did not enter this season but would like to consider for next season.

  4. Add the Start date for each event.

  5. Go to ICCF Ratings and calculate your average number of games completed per rating period. This approach will give you an estimate of how many games you can play per season.

  6. Go back to the Events list you have created and add an “importance” rating for each one. This is a very personal measurement based on a combination of factors of why an event is important to you. 1 is the most important, 3 is the Least.

  7. Order the list with “1’s” at the top and “3’s” at the bottom.

  8. Go through the list, allocating your Total games to events, on a reducing balance until all are allocated.

  9. At this point you can see which events you have capacity to play in and which you do not. In addition you can look at periods of the season which will be busy (Typically October and March), which may affect your choice of entry.

 

For new players the process is very similar, although step 3 takes much more relevance. If you are unsure of which events are around, details of repeating events are held at http://www.welshccf.org.uk/ under Play – Tournament Calendar

Season Planning

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, July 1, 2017

In a past post I suggested a method to estimate the number of games a player could concurrently manage.

As we move towards the start of a new season I offer a different, complementary approach to aid the player in planning their season.

So why is Season Planning important? In simple terms, it allows us to make sensible choices about which events to participate in and which to not!

So how do we undertake this? Much depends on if you are an established or new player. For the Established player the steps are:

  1. List all the events you took part in the last (current) season. ICCF “My Events” is a good place to get this information from, but don’t forget those events which were not on the server (Postal, email…..)

  2. For each of the events you need the number of games, the level (Category or Average rating)

  3. Add to the list any events you did not enter this season but would like to consider for next season.

  4. Add the Start date for each event.

  5. Go to ICCF Ratings and calculate your average number of games completed per rating period. This approach will give you an estimate of how many games you can play per season.

  6. Go back to the Events list you have created and add an “importance” rating for each one. This is a very personal measurement based on a combination of factors of why an event is important to you. 1 is the most important, 3 is the Least.

  7. Order the list with “1’s” at the top and “3’s” at the bottom.

  8. Go through the list, allocating your Total games to events, on a reducing balance until all are allocated.

  9. At this point you can see which events you have capacity to play in and which you do not. In addition you can look at periods of the season which will be busy (Typically October and March), which may affect your choice of entry.

 

For new players the process is very similar, although step 3 takes much more relevance. If you are unsure of which events are around, details of repeating events are held at http://www.welshccf.org.uk/ under Play – Tournament Calendar

No Bragging please, We're British!

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In the real world, I spend an awful lot of time optimising and improving processes, something I am rather good at!

Where I can, I try and transfer some of the techniques to my CC play, often with success. The methodology I will now offer, I had very mixed views when first exposed to, mainly as it’s so “UnBritish” but it does work!

Ask a typical British person to list their (a) strengths and (b) weaknesses; the typical response will have the far more in list (b) than (a). To have more in (a) is seen as “Boastful and Bragging”, something negative. This in itself is something that is unhelpful.

So the technique I am looking at here is the of a “Bragging Board”. The technique is used to real world to record any successes, however small, by an individual or team. This is very useful for three main reasons:

  • A rich source of information for compilation of reports

  • A way to demonstrate progress, especially when success is hard to come by, which is a very useful positive psychological benefit.

  • A method to manage progress.

So how can the player use this method for CC?

Practically I believe a simple approach can be as follows:

  • Record your test best & worst wins

  • Record your 10 best & worst draws

  • Record your 10 best & worst losses

  • Record any Tournaments where you:

    • Perform better than expected

    • Place 1st,2nd or 3rd

    • Do anything that noteworthy (in your opinion)

  • Anything else you find noteworthy

It is worth mentioning that “Best and Worst” is your definition.  It could be by rating or by Title held or any other method you think worthy.

The reason for the “best” results is obvious, but the “worst” needs a explanation. The draws and losses here are painful but very informative and keeping them in mind is something the player can continue to learn from.

Once you have written up this document, keep it somewhere safe (and probably private!) and maintain it. Once you have done this, anytime you need a positive boost in Chess terms have a read through it. This is very useful in the situations discussed in “Form is temporary, Class is Permanent”.

On a personal note, being British, I can confirm the first sentence was rather difficult to write!