Russell Sherwood

What's in a Norm?

Russell Sherwood  Monday, March 6, 2017

As the new CCE/CCM titles came into play I did some research into Norm requirements. This culminated in the attached tables.

The purpose of the tables is twofold:

  • As an organiser it aids in the selection of the optimum category for the purpose of Norm generation (e.g. for CC, Cat I is far better than Cat H)
  • As a player it aids in selecting events most likely to give a Norm (The Green zone!)

It is worth adding that Norm Categories are changing. In simple terms the Category of an event used to be determined by the average rating of all the players, so if the average was 2332 it would be a Category 4 event with the same Scoring requirements for all players.

This system is now changing. The Category of the event is still calculated as above but this is only form communication purposes. The category for the player is the average of the rating of the opposition. Overall this does not make much of a difference, but if we take an extreme example:

12 Players rated 2500 and 1 player of 2100 make up an event. The Category of the event would be 9 with an average rating of 2469. However for the 2100 rated player the average rating of his/her opposition would be 2500 or Category 10 - which has Norm reqruirments generally half a point less. For the 2500 rated players the requirements would not change.

I hope this helps in the selection of Tournaments!

Download

So you want to be a Correspondence Chess Expert?

Russell Sherwood  Monday, March 6, 2017

 

I have had a few players ask “How to I become a Correspondence Chess Master?” To answer this fully would be a book in itself but a condensed answer to this is given here.

 

Here we will focus on the ICCF Correspondence Chess Expert Title. The Blueprint for higher titles is similar but with the addition of a few additional steps.

 

Starting at the end: To achieve the Title we need 24 games with the necessary performance level in International Title Tournament events. Typically this will come from either 2 or 3 events.

 

To be able to access these events a rating of between 2000 and 2100 is generally required, as an absolute minimum. In addition there you need an invitation to one of these events, which are handled via your National Federation. This can be difficult as places are few.

 

A few other options do exist:

 

  • Champions League. This is a very strong team event and if one of the few where Norms are possible in the lowest tier of the event

  • International Opens. Norms tend to become available in the 2nd round, so you will have to battle through the first to get there.

  • Regional Tournaments – events such as the British Championships are starting to offer Norm Opportunities at the lower levels

 

So get achieve those Norms and/or the rating necessary to gain access to them we need to win games! In the past a different tactic was utilised by some – aiming to draw out games with higher rated opposition. Recently changes have been made to the rating mechanism to make this far less effective method!

 

So how do we get push up are rating and generate those wins?

 

  • You will need at least one Chess Engine, even it it is only to blunder check your moves. This is possible regardless of the platform (Phone, Tablet, Laptop/PC). The effective use of engines is a massive topic but to as a minimum the use of two engines are recommended. Stockfish generally should be one of these.

  • A Database program is required to record you games and the analysis and ideas you have. This is very platform dependent with options ranging from Chessbase to open source options such as SCID.

  • Access to a large source of games for preparation. The ICCF database can be downloaded and makes an excellent basic source.

  • An opening book. This is a contentious area in terms of effectiveness but at the very least it can be used to prevent you repeating other peoples mistakes. Some Opening books work within database programmes. Free online options such as https://www.365chess.com/opening.php are also available.

  • Time – a mistake made by many rookie CC players (and a bias from some misguided OTB players) is that it is simply a case of putting the engine into Infinite analysis and then entering this move. The reality is that this method is not used by the majority of stronger CC players. More effective analysis methods exist and this take a lot of player time to put into use Some of these are described in linked in my Resources for CC article.

 

So this is a very lose indication of what is necessary to achieve the title. Putting the set up described above and working through the “Resources for CC” will put you on the path to success!

Optimising your Engine Set Up for Newbies

Russell Sherwood  Monday, February 27, 2017

We would all love to have a Monster PC to suppot our analysis efforts but the reality is that the vast majority of players have relativly modest hardware to work with.

So a few areas to consider:

  • Have you shut down all other applications when analysing? If you have other programmes running this can reduce your nps by 50%
  • Is the RAM the maximum your machine can utilise? This is a very cheap way to upgrade performance and simple to install (If you are not confident in doing this local computer shops can do this in a few minutes)
  • Is the Hash setting on your engine correct. Often engines can have different optimal settings but as a rule of thumb its worth setting to half your overall RAM. Some testing is sensible to see which gives the best results.
  • If you are using Tablebases - do you have a SSD drive? This can make 20-30 difference in speed. 
  • How many Cores is your engine set to? Exact settings are a long article in itself but if you want to max out then either all your cores or All minus one gives maximum pwoer. Of course this is not necessarily the best way to do things! Do remember than the more cores you utilise the more stress you are putting on the processor - a bit like I can drive a mini at 100mph all the time but it will wear out quicker.
  • If using Chessbase consider if Smart CPU should be checked. This can make a signifant difference to processor utilisation.

Anyway thats a few ideas for now - more advanced ideas another time!

Advice for Rookie Team Captains

Russell Sherwood  Monday, February 27, 2017

So your looking to put together a team for the Champion's League or any other team event? A few things to consider.......

  • How are you going to decide on your team - Rating? Titles Form?  All of these have a part to play in good team selection and a very important skill is know which players to select.
  • Do you know the rules of the event. I mean really know the rules. For example the rules for promotion relegation? The rules on Board orders? On Tiebreaks? If you dont know these you can be putting your team at a massive disadvantage.
  • Do you know the strength of opposition your are likely to be facing and the format of the event?
  • What preperation are you are your team going to do. Although you must select your moves independently in games, preperation prior to the start of the Tournament  ( and before any moves are made) can be done together. Some of your team may have access to resources that others dont or may be specialists in this area.
  • Are your players committed to playing as a team or playing as individuals? Will Title asperations be put aside for the good of the team?
  • Do you have an idea of the score necessary to advance in th event? Will you be able to indentify the target games to reach this score?
  • Will your players keep you up to date so no result comes as a surprise?

These areas may seem a excessive but if you want your team to overperform they and many others are necessary!  Good Luck!

 

Resources for Modern Correspondence Chess

Russell Sherwood  Monday, February 27, 2017

If you search for advice on how to improve at Correspondence Chess you tend to find resources that are at least 10 yers out of date. Indeed probably the best book " Modern Chess Analysis" was pubished in 2004. 

So as I looked to improve I found you either end up talking to stronger players to gain their "secrets" or using trial and error.  

There is useful info out there but you have to know where to look. below are a list of links to some of the useful stuff I have come accross. A few warnings:

  • Much of the material is from forums - so pages disappear often
  • Some of the material is in Russian and German - Chrome has a decent translator built in which can cope 
  • Ignore the comments sections - there are trolls galore and many cannot get past the "All CC players are cheats cos they use engines" (If the rules allow it we dont!!!)

 

Leonardo  Ljubcic- Chessbase Interview **
 
 
 
Leonardo Ljubcic - Immortal Q&A ****
 
Chess Improver *
 
 
Immortal Chess - Mostly in Russian - but Auto-tranlate works well enough! ***
 
 
 
Bdf (German Chess Federation)
 
http://www.bdf-fernschachbund.de/service/schulung/schulung.html
 
Murat Akdag *
 
 
Loki *
 
 
 
Wolff Morrow *****
 
Modern CC
 
 
Opening Prep **
 
 
Tartajubow *
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chess Brabo
 
Databases **
 
 
 
 
Openings **
 
 
 
 
Fortresses *
 
 
Engine Analysis **
 
http://schaken-brabo.blogspot.be/2012/05/analyseren-met-de-computer.html    In Flemish but readable after Google Translate
 
 
Rybka Forum *
 
 
GM Rafeal Leitao *
 
 
Comparison of Stockfish and Komodo
 
LIPEAD *
 
 
 
AL Alpert *
 
 
Chessbase *
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Remote Chess Academy *
 
 
 
 
How do Modern Chess Engines Work **
 
 
 
IChess.net **
 
 
Carl Bicknell - IDEA *
 
Chess Book Reviews

Size does matter (When it comes to Elo!)

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, February 23, 2017

’ve been asked by a number of players, especially newcomers to Correspondence Chess as to how they can get their ratings higher quickly.

Going beyond the obvious “Win all your games quickly” sarcastic response there are a number of ideas to consider which can accelerate you development.

Let’s assume you dont hve a FIDE rating then the only options available to you are:

To accelerate you development you want to be winning or drawing against the highest rated players possible – as , in simple terms, the ratings of your opponents pegs your rating.

  • National Events

    • Here you need to examine what’s on offer – you may be able to play in a National Championships – check the previous years events to look for average ratings but beware there may be a 2nd Tier for newcomers.

  • Extra National Events

    • These are events such as the British Championships – look at these in the same light as National Events

  • International Team Events

    • Although eligible you will almost certainly not be in the frame as you will need to have an established rating to be selected.

  • Invitationals

    • The same story as Team Events – you are unlikely to be selected

  • World Promotional Events – Open Class (and Aspirer)

    • The events generally will slow your development as the average rating will be around 1800 (or even less in an Aspirer)

  • Zonal Events

    • Event such as the European Webserver Champs – same story as the World Promotional Events


 

So not a lot of date but there are two types of event which do offer us hope

  • International Opens

    • These events come in two flavours – Accelerated and Non Accelerated. The Acceleration is a description of what happens to the highest rated players – do they have to play in all rounds or get a bye? We are interested in the events where they have to play in the first round. An example of this is the WebChess Opens – in the 7th edition the average rating in the first round was slightly under 2100 – a good target area for the aspiring player to target.

  • Champions League

    • Here we have the best option for gaining rating points. The downside is that you need a team of 4 but on the plus side the average ratings per board range from 2150 up to 2300+.

Summary

So if you want to accelerate your rating development then you need access to higher rated opposition and the best way to achieve this is to keep a eye out for the Champions League and Non Accelerated International Opens.


 


 

50 Shades of Stockfish

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Stockfish Chess Engine is undoubtedly one of the strongest available at the moment. Its ongoing open-source communal development continues to make it stronger. A side effect of this development is that a number of different versions, clones and copies exist some of which may be of interest to the aspiring correspondence chess player.

One word of caution, there are a number of rating lists which rate these versions; almost all have a common failing - the test games are run at very short time controls. You would not compare 10,000m runners by looking at their 100m times and the same is true here - be very wary of rating lists.

 

Stockfish 8

This is the "vanilla"  version of Stockfish, of the shelf with releases every 6-9 months. This is a solid place to start and all other versions should be compared to this.

Stockfish Development Versions

These are small improvements which are released every few days. Each ones undergoes rigerous self testing where the Develop version plays potentially tens of throusands of games against the current version - to have been released it needs to have shown statistically better results. Typically each improvement results in a tiny elo gain but when added together these become significant. Common opinion is that we should wait a week or two until after release as very occasionally new versions are rolled back.

 

Most of the Clones/Copies of Stockfish fall into two areas - either ones which try and increase its speed or ones which change either its evaluation or search functions.

Asmfish

This is a rewrite of  Stockish in Assembler, rather than the C++ Stockfish is coded in. (If this is gobbledygook to you dont worry!) The outcome of this is that AsmFish runs around 20-30% faster than Stockfish or Stockfish Development Versions. This does not mean that the engine searches 20-30% deeper but conducts the same search 20-30% faster which is very useful in analysis! Asmfish gives the same result a Stockfish in 99% of situations due to slight coding differences. For those who want a 100% congruence with Stockfish a Pedantfish version exists.

CFish

is a very similar idea to AsmFish, except the C language is utilised. What is interesting is that some users find CFish to be faster than AsmFish whilst others find AsmFish to be faster. Personally I have found the engines to work better in different positions.  A version called Goby has been coded for the Mac -although versions of this also work on Windows!

Different Compilations

A number of helpful people compile their own versions of Stockfish Development versions. These can be around 10% faster than the basic versions.

Stockfish BYO or Stockfish Rockwood

This is an utility which will complie a copy of the lastest Stockfish development versions on your machine. This means the engine should be optimised for your hardware and environment.

 

So moving onto versions which do more than speed up Stockfish.....

 

Brainfish

A very interesting project. The engine itself is a copy of the latest Development Build with one important modification: the addition of the Cerebellum opening book. This book is engine generated and fully consistent. How is this different from any other opening book? In a typical opening book we mat have a position that appears to be scoring 75% and have an engine evaluation of +0.9. A number of move later, due for example to transpositions this may now be 55% and the evaluation has dropped to +0.3. In the Cerebellum book the earlier position would have the +0.3 evaluation rather than the +0.9. At the moment the book is only utilised in Engine v Engine matches rather than analysis but the Full Cerebellum book is due to come available March 2017 at which point it will become a very interesting tool.

CorChess

Stockfish is optimised for fast time controls. CorChess is an attempt to optimise it for slower time controls (such as those used in CC). In its earlier in its development but is already showing promising results.

RaubFisch

A cross between Stockfish and the authors own engine. More options (including piece values) but does not appear to offer much to CC players.

Stockfish Matefinder

Think you may have a knockout move in a position? Then SF Matefinder may be for you. This version search for tactical killer moves and when used in right way can be devastating.

SugaR

An offshoot which has been in on-off development for quite some time. Current direction is to develop certain Komodo style features.

Aristides

An offshoot of CFish with a number of interesting options drawn from other engines. Worth examination.

Symphysoden

A new kid on the block but with some interesting features including a study mode (giving a shallower but wider search)

Shark

A highly tactical version of Stockfish designed for fast time contols, where it perfoms much better than Stockfish.

Orka

A close cousin of Shark. Again more of a Fast Time control optimiser.

Sting

One of the first deviations from Stockfish. Interesting play but appears to have fallen behind in terms of playing strength.

DeepFish

A modified Stockfish which targets searching at greater depths. This of course comes at a cost - the potential to miss things!

 

Summary

Ive not mentioned a number of other variants: Don, Matrix, Ultron, Salt......as the list is almost endless. I would recommend that an aspiring player takes a look at all the engines listed but my advice is the either AsmFish or CFish, Matefinder and CorChess should be part of your stable of engines. Of course knowing how and when to utilise them is something or another day!

Why no links? These change often so Google is a better starting point.: