Russell Sherwood Monday, May 22, 2017
CC First Aid for the Under 2100’s
When working with a number of lower rated players, a number of issues appear again and again which are holding the player’s development and rating back. Some of these are fairly easy to fix and when done so, the sky’s the limit!
Not using an Engine
It is a very personal choice about the use of an engine or otherwise but if the rules of the event allow it (and pretty much all WCCF and ICCF events do) then you are holding yourself back in not utilising engine support. This can come in many sizes and shapes, ranging from deep analysis methods (despairingly called “Engine Jockeying”) to simple using the engine to blunder check your move before playing it. Whatever method is utilised, this will probably lead to an improvement in fortunes. It’s also worth saying that for blunder checking, Phone and Tablet versions have more than enough power!!
Using an Obsolete Engine
Some friends and I undertook some research to determine the methods and engines in use by our competitors. Whilst that research can wait for another article, what became apparent is that two engines are very popular with players below the 2300 level, which are almost unused above it. These two engines Houdini 4 and Fritz 15.
A look at almost any rating list will show these engines to be around 200 Elo below the current leaders. Using these will seriously hold you back! Without getting into a real discussion on which is the most suitable engine for CC, upgrading from these to Stockfish 8 will lead to progression.
Playing Opening’s unsuitable for CC
If you look at opening statistics from CC and OTB, it quickly becomes apparent that the results follow different patterns. There are many reasons for this but the main one to consider for our purposes is that openings which rely on simple tactical tricks and traps don’t tend to do well in modern CC, as engines tend to spot these. That said some openings (e.g. Morra Gambit in the Sicilian) do OK in CC (below a certain level!!) The real point here is to look at the statistics of any opening you intend to play and make your mind up from there!
Not utilising available resources
There are many types of resource available to the CC player. Three should be considered by the aspiring player:
- Online Opening Databases such as www.365Chess.com give a reasonable source of opening statistics
- There are many free engines, GUI’s and Database readers on the internet
- Books – do you use the ones you bought on the opening you are playing?
Playing too Quickly!
A common tendency among lower rated players is to play far too quickly! CC is a marathon, not a sprint and much will be gained from closely looking at the position. This means the aspiring player should utilise this time to:
- Check the move. Make it on your own board (physical or electronic) and consider your opponent’s response.
- Consider unusual responses from your opponent
- Look at Sacrifices, both for yourself and your opponent.
Not having a Plan
One of the main characteristics that are different between the strongest CC players and the rest is the ability to play with a plan, going above and beyond engine suggestions. The point is that as an aspiring player we should make plans. They will not always come off but they will improve our play as time goes on!
Not understanding the moves you play!
This flows from not having a plan – if you utilise engine support, you must understand the moves you make. If you have a plan it becomes easier. If not then we should at least aim to understand it in simple terms!
Not knowing Endgame transitions
There are many examples of games where the engine completely miss-evaluates the position. I have defended engine evaluations of +1.5 on a number of occasions as I know certain combinations of pawns and pieces tend to be “drawish” in the endgame and steering towards these leads to a draw regardless of the engine's evaluation!
Not Wriggling when on the hook!
Finally, when the game is not going our way (as it does) it is vital we try and “wriggle off the hook”. If you are only going to play the moves the engine suggests then resigning the game may make sense! Failing this, looking for moves and plans that do not see you slipping to defeat slowly is the way forward. Engines have a habit of -0.3 becoming -0.5, becoming -1.0, becoming a lost game. Looking outside of this path can reap rewards!