Russell Sherwood

The Last Post

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, October 31, 2021

Over the last few years I have dabbled with Postal Chess, but recently I completed by final Postal Games. There are several reasons for this, but the main ones are:

 

  • The event organizer making the strategically limited decision to move the Events to ICCF unrated.
  • The cost. Let's take a loot at this – assuming each pair of games goes on for 40 moves (Postal games are shorter than Server games, and I believe mainly for the reason of Postage Cost). So that is 40 stamps to buy for the two games. Let’s now assume I make some condition moves, reducing this to 30 stamps – This gives us a total cost of £19.80 per a pair of games, so rounding £10 per game. If we then take an event with 5 players, we have a cost per event of around £80 for the event in postage (and that is using 2nd class stamps). If we add in a cost of entry, we now are talking a total approaching £100 per event. What this would give us in server terms – The entry fee to 8-10 international events, with high-level opposition and norms likely.
  • The diminishing pool of interesting/competitive opposition. The pool of players in postal CC is tiny and shrinking all the time. This means playing the same few players over and over. As one of the most prolific CC players around (not in ICCF terms but in other organizations) original opponents are what makes the game interesting (alongside some old regulars with whom interesting conversations are possible!)
  • Changes in the postal service. Deliveries are now throughout the day, with deliverable PM deliveries being trialled, This creates an unfair advantage for some players.

That is why, for me, it’s the last post.

CorrespondenceChessPostalChessWCCF

Tip of the Week #20

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, October 31, 2021

Always have a Reserve

We have had an interesting few weeks, myself and Mrs S. Two trips to A&E (ER) and issues with high heavy metals in my blood, causing something of a backlog in many activities, and this leads me onto this week's Tip.

Always have a time reserve - In the examples above, I had 20 days or more left on the clock in all my games, which removed any worries around defaulting games. You would think this is the last thing on the mind of an ill CC player, but almost any competent Tournament Director can give examples of players who reach out from hospital!

In traditional time controls, the player can, of course, utilize the leave time within the event and this is a valid approach but my preference is to still maintain my reserve, over and above this. In Triple block, with leave time being already built into the player's allowance, it is imperative that a reserve is allocated by the player!

Why do this? I can recollect too many cases of player's who have defaulted games and then become very unhappy with the correct application of ICCF rules, these situations being completely avoidable by the application of a reserve.

What is the cost of this time reserve - If we take a fairly fast triple block event of 350 days. Each player has 175 days thinking time - if I want to use a 20 day buffer than I am saying I will make my moves in a max of 155 days - 11% less, no exactly a hindrance!

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek

Tip of the Week #19

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, October 23, 2021

Wiggle off the Hook

When you are losing a game, there are a number of ways to try and “wriggle off the hook” and avoid defeat. One simple method is to try and avoid playing moves from the top 1- 3 choices of Stockfish. I am not suggesting playing suicidal moves here, but one's outside the main evaluation window. How does this help? (1) The likelihood your opponent will play an unchecked move is increased. (2) Your opponent will have to do more work and this will result in slightly increased chance of an error (3) For opponents who have massive game load’s this will consume more of their available time and resources, which can again lead to an error.  The outcome of all of these is that you will probably still lose, but the odds will have moved in your favour by the odd percentage point.

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek

Tip of the Week #18

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, October 16, 2021

Automation

One change I made to my own approach, which made a massive difference, was that of Automation.  Using this I was able to automate several analysis tasks, so that I was able to run those quietly in the background, whilst I am out of the house or occupied on other matters.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I suggest the use of the programming language Python and the Python-Chess package. This allows me, for example, to create a number of positions I want to analyse in a file and then set this running with a set of parameters on how I want to analyse. These run quietly in the background and I can return to review at a later time.

Programming sounds scary, but Python is a very simple language to learn with plenty of (a) resources to support leaning and (b) shared bits of code to aid your own development.

It is worth noting that a several products (inc. Chessbase) have their own forms of automated analysis, but personally I find these don't really meet my needs and by creating my own tools, I am able to get what I want!

Give it a go, you won't regret it (should there be adequate interesting I might run an article series)

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek

Website Review - kszgk.com - Polish CC Federation

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Website Review #1 – KSZGK.com Polish Correspondence Chess Federation

 

In this new series I intend to review a number of websites and other resources  related or relatable to Correspondence Chess.

 

Before starting it is worth saying that many of the most interesting sites and not in English, so the use of the auto translate function in your browser is essential. This does mean that the language can be a little awkward but in general I find its readability to be acceptable.

 

 

Our first website is that of Polish Correspondence Chess Federation.  This is an excellent site for tournament reports and has quite a crisp feel to it.  It is an excellent example of what a National Federation website can be.

 

It is worth a poke around as a few hidden gems cane be unearthed at Kszgk.com

 

CorrespondenceChessWebsite

Chess Engines for Correspondence Chess #1

Russell Sherwood  Monday, October 11, 2021

Today We start a new series of articles around developing a chess engine specifically for Correspondence Chess.

 

Let’s start with a simple premise – Chess Engines are super-strong but are not developed to meet the needs of Correspondence players and this in itself is partial fuelling the “draw problem”

 

Why are Chess engines not optimized for CC players? There are two reasons for this – firstly, testing for longer time controls is massively time and resource consuming (and what is called Longer time control in Stockfish testing is not in Correspondence terms!)  and secondly optimizations for CC, would probably make an engine weaker in Short or very short time controls. The reason for this is that the main objective for a CC engine is different to that of a “normal” engine. In CC we are looking for the absolute best move, whereas a normal engine is looking for a “winning” move. This means that many of the SF optimizations, which bring great results as Shorter time controls, sub-optimize the engine for longer time controls.

Some work has been done in the area before. CorChess for example, gives a few optimizations related to CC but its overall benefits of this compared to Vanilla Stockfish are limited , as shown by testing. Others commercial engines suggest “ideal for CC” without any real evidence to back this up.

It is my intention to create an engine alongside the discussion, although this will be private in nature, with a very limited distribution.

So what are the first tentative steps in this journey? 

 

  1. Decide on Template engine
  2. Review current contenders
  3. Create initial version
  4. Make V1 ICCF rules complaint.
  5. Determine desired Features

Considering each in turn.....

  1. Is not as simple a choice as it first seems. Stockfish is the strongest engine out there but is LC0 better suited to Correspondence Chess? My initial view is that Stockfish is still the best option for the template engine as (a) “I can stand on the shoulders of Giant’s” in terms of the amazing work done by the Stockfish Developers and (b) MCTS can be used in Stockfish. From a practical point of view I am not trying to compete with these guys but work on a very niche area!
  2. There are a number of engines which have parts of what I believe need to be components of a CC engine – CorChess, ShashChess and SugaR ICCF to name three. The task here is to determine what features, these and other engines have, which are desirable.
  3. This is simply a case of setting up a GitHub repository
  4. Does the engine follow ICCF rules – SF and almost all the clones do not – the most obvious issue being the application of the 50 move rule. This is the first matter to correct within the engine.
  5. This is something to discuss next time but the aims are threefold –(1) automate/optimize some of the features which currently have to bodged to make work (2) Optimize some of these features and (3) Build a wish list of potential new feature which could be beneficial.  The problem then remains over testing the engine, but I have some ideas here!

Till the next time

CorrespondenceChessEngine

Tip of the Week #17

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, October 10, 2021

Be in the Zone!

Correspondence Chess is a game of precision, be it played with or without engine assistance.

This means that you need to be "at your best" when analysing and making your moves. 

So don't play when overly tired, under the influence or angry!

It is worth saying that you do need to figure out what "at your best" means to you - some players prefer to have a drink to relax alongside a game but, as with everything else in life, moderation is the key!

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek

Build your own Workflow #2

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, October 3, 2021

Last time we left of with our Version 3 Workflow. 

V3

1. Get move to be played

2. Consult Opening Materials

3. Analyse move

    3.1 Analyse move with Engine

4. Blunder Check

5. Make Move

Now let's look to start to improve this! The first improvement we can make is based on wanting to not repeat all the analysis, every time we come to a position. To do this we now add two new steps: Consult Our Game Notes & Add to our Game Notes. The purpose of this is to keep records of what we notice in a position, our plans, and any general thoughts we have about the position.

This gives us our V4

V4

1. Get move to be played

2. Consult Opening Materials

3. Consult our Notes

4. Analyse move

    4.1 Analyse move with Engine

5. Blunder Check

6. Make Move

7. Update our Notes

Not too bad but plenty still left to do.  One advantage that OTB players have is that when playing a game in “real time” they retain a memory of how a position came about, which has many benefits but the one of most interest for us, is that we can have a clue of what the other players’ plans are. We can mimic this effect by playing a some of  the last few moves of the game.

Our next improvement to consider is related to our opponent. When we play a game of chess it is not in isolation but in a partnership with our opponent. Therefore, we should consider our opponent's move, not just our own – what it what we expected, if it is not what is trying to achieve.

Adding these two steps in, we reach our V5

V5

1. Get move to be played

2. Consult Opening Materials

3. Consult our Notes

4. Play through last few moves

5. Analyse Opponents Move

            5.1 Move as expected

            5.2 Move not as expected

6. Analyse move

            6.1 Analyse move with Engine

7. Blunder Check

8. Make Move

9. Update our Notes

 

We are now reaching a point where we will start of refine and subdivide our steps. We will add one more refinement this time, though. Different analysis approaches are necessary at different stages of the game: What works well in one phase may not in another. Traditionally this would be thought of in 3 phases: Opening, Middle game and Endgame, but we can break this down a little more into Early Middle game and Late Middle game. 

We can also consider the twin concept of Pivotal Moves and transitions. These moves are the ones which make major decisions about the direction of the game and are often pivotal to its outcome. These moves need additional thought and effort. The transition factor is if these moves move us from one of our phases to another.

Adding these in, we now have our V6 Workflow

V6

1. Get move to be played

2. Consult Opening Materials

3. Consult our Notes

4. Play through last few moves

5. Analyse Opponents Move

            5.1 Move as expected

            5.2 Move not as expected

6. Pivotal/Transitional Move?

7. Analyse move

            7.1 Opening

                   7.1.1 Analyse move with Engine

            7.2 Early Middle game

                   7.2.1 Analyse move with Engine

            7.3 Late Middle game

                   7.3.1 Analyse move with Engine

            7.4 Endgame

                    7.4.1 Analyse move with Engine

8. Blunder Check

9. Make Move

10. Update our Notes

 

Till the next time! Again, if you have ideas on what should be in a work flow, reach out and let me know

 

 

 

CorrespondenceChessWCCFWorkflow

Tip of the Week #16

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, October 3, 2021

This time we come to a basic but often overlooked area - keeping your tools up to date. 

I just spent an hour or so updating engines and databases - why do this? 

Two reasons 

  • In terms of engine development , new versions are released on regular basis. Each of these only add the odd Elo to the strength of the engine, but these add up over time, so that if you do not update on a regular basis, then you set yourself at a reasonable disadvantage.  This was seen when a number of players continued to use the pre-NNUE version of Stockfish for and suffered strings of losses against those who had updated.
  • New Games are published all the time and keeping your database up to date is essential to not fall into "new" opening traps.

How often should you update? For Engines monthly is adequate but for databases it is mainly a case of determining how often your game sources are updated. 

 

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek

Tip of the Week#15

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, September 26, 2021

A tip, "hot of the press" this week from a support interaction with another player.

Know how to access your engine's settings and how to change them, otherwise you might be missing out!

How do you change them - for most Chessbase products, simple click on the engine when it's analysing , select advanced, and then engine parameters

 

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeek
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