Russell Sherwood, Player Interview

Austin Lockwood  Sunday, June 24, 2018

This week I am standing in as guest editor of the regular interview column... because the interviewee is the regular editor! - AL

Russell Sherwood is a rising star in CC organisation; an active national delegate for the Welsh Correspondence Chess Federation, editor of the excellent BCCA magazine and regular contributor to the popular WCCF website, a member of the ICCF Executive Board as newly elected Marketing Director (having formerly been Non-Title Tournament Commissioner and Promotion Tournament Organiser), among many, many other roles.

Russell currently holds the Correspondence Chess Master and International Arbiter titles.

1. Briefly Tell us about Yourself?

48 years old, married with two children (19 and 12) living in South Wales with the lovely Helen Sherwood. My career is in Continuous Improvement having been involved in a number of roles over the years. Beyond CC my hobbies include reading, writing, programming and spending time with the family. I used to be involved in Football (Soccer to the heathens!) both in Organisational, coaching and refereeing functions until a heart attack forced me to cut back on activities! I am still involved in Charitable organisations – mainly related to the distribution of lottery money to good sporting causes these days!

2. How did you get involved in Chess?

I started playing at school, progressing to junior tournaments and the school team. I then played OTB at my wife’s (LGM Helen Sherwood) fathers club.

3. When and how did you get interested in Correspondence Chess?

During the mid 90’s I dabbled with Postal Chess, which I found difficult as my career had blossomed and I was working long and unpredictable hours, often away from home.

I then returned to CC, when I discovered email and later server chess, which did fit in with my lifestyle, which has always made regular commitments difficult. Around this time I started to get involved in Chess organisation in different organisations, although not with ICCF and WCCF until only a few years ago.

4. What do you like about Correspondence Chess?

It’s flexibility is the main thing but also the wide variety of friends I have made in many countries both through playing and organising. I know some of my wider family find it strange that my Facebook friend list has so many genuine overseas friends!

5. What are your Correspondence Chess Career Highlights?

I don’t really think I have that many! I’ve won as high as Category 6 events, although suppose my claim to fame is more about volume – in almost any CC database I will be in the top 10 of players in terms of total numbers of games played (not all on ICCF) and am probably the highest rated of that list.

I suppose another highlight has been the opportunity to write that CC has given me – I am now completed around 200 articles for one publication of another. 6. What do you think an aspiring player should do to improve their game? That is a big question! Analyzing your results is a good start to figure out why you got the result you did. From this determine your improvement plan and then implement it , reviewing it regularly to correct course as necessary!

7. Do you have an overall strategy when you start a game or Tournament?

Don’t lose – although this regularly does not work! My strategy is driven by my aims in the event – qualifying for the next round, achieving a norm, avoiding defeat. Once I have decided on this I will examine my opponents – both as a individual and through their games to come up with, what I think will be the best strategy.

In practice this might mean something like (as white) – They score much worse against d4 than e4 but they like to play opening x which I don’t want to do, so I might then look at a transposition approach to get to the line I want and not the one they want.

8. How do you select your moves, what is your general method?

Much depends on the phase of the game but it is a combination of differential analysis by a combination of engines and engine settings, Human strategic input and numerous Opening books and sources.

Depending on the game I may also use a elimination approach – starting with the weakest move, eliminating it and the moving to the next one until I find something interesting.

9. With so many draws in Correspondence Chess, what do you try to do to generate wins?

I think I have covered this in many an article but the key is to be different to the crowd. If you simply follow the latest opening book and standard engine suggestions then the draw is an almost certain outcome. From this the aim is to find suitable deviations – generally driven by deeper strategic ideas

10. What are your future aspirations in Correspondence Chess?

I still have quite a few. On a playing front I want my S(IM) Titles. These are in distance if I start to implement what I tell others to do!

I have aspiration’s to add the Welsh and British Titles to our Trophy Cabinet (There are ones already in there but they are not mine!)

On the writing front I have a Chess book to complete on Engine Analysis techniques, as for some reason I seem to know more about this than most of the others I meet! In addition to this I am looking to improve the quality and outlets of my publishing on all subjects!

I love the organisational side of CC and am proud to take on the mantle of Marketing Director for ICCF. I have strong (and I believe actionable!) views on how CC should develop for the 21st Century.

Finally I have been coding seriously for the first time in years and am enjoying working on both a CC – Analysis focused engine and one utilising Monte Carlo Tree Search. As you might guess finding time for all these things can be difficult at times!

11. What are your favourite Openings and why?

A quick look through my games shows I have played almost everything over the years, with one omission – the French Defence due to an aversion to it from my OTB days, as I had a club captain who played it in the stodgiest manner possible! I have started to move towards, what are currently deemed “Anti Openings” and have started to look at the game in a far more strategic way.

I have also been experimenting with other more romantic openings , including a couple of King’s Gambits (which turned out OK!)

12. If you could ask a legendary player, alive or historical, one question about Chess, what would it be?

To Kasparov it would be: "How would you approach CC (if you were to play CC!)?" To Short it would be “Why do you feel the need to upset people?” (One of these questions is, of course, sarcastic!)

13. Do you have a Favourite Chess Book or DVD? If so what?

It is so hard to pick one! My choice tends to change quite often as I acquire new materials. I enjoy most of the Axel Smith materials and the Quality Chess books in general I believe are of a very high standard.

14. Do you have a Favorite player? If so who?

It might surprise some of my opponents but my favorite player was the Magician from Riga, Mikhail Tal. I am also fond of Kasparov, who I consider to be the first of the modern generation of Chess players.

Welsh Correspondence Chess FederationBritish Correspondence Chess AssociationSchemingMind Internet Correspondence Chess ClubSocial Correspondence Chess AssociationWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association