Russell Sherwood

and now for something completely different....

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, March 19, 2022

I read an interesting comment on Facebook today about the allocation of black and white pieces. 

It was a lovely change to see a return to an “argument” about correspondence chess, rather than other matters!

The issue itself is not how many games the players were getting, but distribution of opposition ratings. In some cases, players were getting almost all the lowest rated opposition as white, in others as black.

The method used in most ICCF Tournament set up is random allocation, which by its very nature means that most players will get a reasonable distribution, whilst a few will get more extreme allocations such as above. That is the nature of randomness.

The alternative is to allocate the draw based on the order that the players are on the table [Here, table refers simply to the order that the organizer has loaded the players into the event creator]. This can be either random or by some organized method, the most common being rating.

If we order by rating, games could be allocated to give a slight edge by rating. This could be to higher rated players or lower rated players.

Whilst this approach can seem better, it has a basic structural problem – it is unfair to one group of players, whilst the random approach simply serves up the luck of the draw, which is fair to all.

It is an interesting question but one where, fundamentally, any approach different to randomness, gives an unfair advantage/disadvantage to players.


ICCF KO Tournament Strategy and Tactics

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, March 6, 2022

The ICCF KO Tournament is almost upon us. This is something a little different and a different approach will be required to succeed in the event.

Looking at the detail – the first round will be made of:

  • Groups of 11
  • Each group to have the same average rating
  • A score of >50% required to advance
  • The relative performance in the first round will determine the group for the 2nd (In simple terms a list of percentage performance will be created, the Top 13 players make up the first group, the 14-26 players the second and so on.

Pondering this for a while determines that our strategy and tactics in the event should determine our approach.

The first and most obvious objective is to score more than 50%, but beyond this there are two paths. Do we want to succeed in the event or meet other objectives? By other objectives, I can detail out possible desired outcomes:

  • The desire to boost our rating
  • The desire to target Title Norms

The average rating (as it is for all these kinds of events), for the first round, will be around 2150. 

If we want to do well in the event, then a strategy in the first round is to score above 50% but not massively so. This should lead to a weaker 2nd group, which whilst probably a lower Category Norm should be easier to score higher in.

In we want to gain the highest ELO benefit, then our aim should be to score as highly in the first round as possible, which should give us access to a group with a much higher rating than ours in the second round.

If Titles Norms are our aim, probably the best option is to aim for a “middling” score in the first round – which should get us a slightly easier Category group in the 2nd round.

Agree/Disagree? Either way, have a good think about your strategy for this event!



Developing an Opening Book – Part #2 Database Objectives

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Create your own Workflow - Part #3

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, February 20, 2022

We left off last time with the V6 Workflow and now look to enhance sections.



1. Get move to be played

2. Consult Opening Materials

3. Consult our Notes

4. Play through last few moves

5. Analyze Opponents Move

            5.1 Move as expected

            5.2 Move not as expected

6. Pivotal/Transitional Move?

7. Analyze move

            7.1 Opening

                   7.1.1 Analyze move with Engine

            7.2 Early Middle game

                   7.2.1 Analyze move with Engine

            7.3 Late Middle game

                   7.3.1 Analyze move with Engine

            7.4 Endgame

                    7.4.1 Analyze move with Engine

8. Blunder Check

9. Make Move

10. Update our Notes


Looking at “ Get move to be played”: Here we need to consider what game to be reviewed. There are a number of approaches utilized by players but the main ones are:

  1. My Time Remaining
  2. My Opponents Time Remaining
  3. How long my clock has been running
  4. How many moves have been played (Is the game still in Opening theory)
  5. Moves to Time control
  6. Psychological factors
  7. A combination of above.

There is no right or wrong answer on this, but most players use a combination of these. Psychological factors may need a little explanation, but this includes the slow playing “insta-move players” or visa-versa.  What matters here is being clear on your approach and sticking to it – even if it is a combination of approaches!

Consulting Opening Moves is interesting in practice we can separate this stage into:

2.1 High Level Opening Texts

2.2 Opening Books

2.3 Opponents Opening Preferences & Methods

2.4 Specific Opening Preparation


High Level texts are chess books/videos and similar materials covering the opening you are playing/planning to play. Two issues are vital to consider here:

  • That many opening treatises are totally unsuitable to the challenge of Correspondence Chess. As a rule, play through the lines suggested and see if the engines suggest different moves. If they do consider why the author did not consider this.
  • The texts considered need to be fairly modern, otherwise lines suggested can have wholly incorrect assessments.

Opening Books: This will be covered in more depth in the Opening Books series but consideration needs to be made on the book or books you utilise.


Opponents Opening Preferences & Methods

This section is about understanding your opponent. This is done through many questions. A few examples:

  • Does your opponent always play the same moves?
  • Do these meet the current trend? 
  • Do they tend to play the current trend? 
  • Do they play mainline or off-beat openings? 
  • Do they follow the Statistics, Book Line or the Engine’s evaluation?
  • Do they seek/accept early draws? 
  • Do they seek for 0.0 Evals or seek for active equality? 

From this, the player may attempt to predict an opponents move and utilize conditional moves. The more discerning player will utilize this approach to make decisions to move the game towards positions their opponent’s dislike and which make your strategy easier to apply and theirs harder.

Specific Opening Preparation

Here we are looking at Opening lines and ideas we have prepared, for which our opponent may not be familiar. This is a massive topic in itself but out aim here is to move our opponent onto unfamiliar territory, where little or no games have been played and the engine may lose its way. 

From examination of these steps – if we are in the opening phase we, we will now be far better informed in our choice of opening move.

Now our V7 Workflow becomes:


  1. Get move to be played
  2. Time Management Strategy
  3. Consult Opening Materials
    1. 2.1 High Level Opening Texts
    2. 2.2 Opening Books
    3. 2.3 Opponents Opening Preferences & Methods
    4. 2.4 Specific Opening Preparation
  4. Consult our Notes
  5. Play through last few moves
  6. Analyze Opponents Move
    1. 5.1 Move as expected
    2. 5.2 Move not as expected
    3. Pivotal/Transitional Move?
  7. Analyze move
  8. 7.1 Opening
    1. 7.1.1 Analyze move with Engine
  9. 7.2 Early Middle game
    1. 7.2.1 Analyze move with Engine
  10. 7.3 Late Middle game
    1. 7.3.1 Analyze move with Engine
  11. 7.4 Endgame
    1. 7.4.1 Analyze move with Engine
  12. Blunder Check
  13. Make Move
  14. Update our Notes


Till the next time!


Tip of the Week #25

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, February 13, 2022

Two musings this week

Firstly - if you are a Stockfish (or variant) user, make sure you update. The last few weeks have seen many major improvements - each adding a few elo at a time!

Secondly - If you want to use Stockfish to help develop your play, it is well worth taking a look at Overview | ChessCoach (  

This is Stockfish but  with explanations in English language rather than centipawns.



Tip of the Week #24

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, February 6, 2022

New ICCF rules recently came into play. On top of a minimum wait between the event being set up and the start date, we now have an inability to make any moves before the start date. I know for some players this is a source of intense frustration, but it should be taken as an actual opportunity to research your opponent. 

Correct preparation is likely to lead to , at least,  a more interesting game. Your opponent players the Berlin, then sidestep this early on!

CorrespondenceChessTipoftheWeekWCCF 7

New Tournament Format

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, January 23, 2022

ICCF today announced a new Tournament format, loosely based on a Swiss Format event.

How does it work?

In the first round ,groups of between 11 and 13 players compete. The groups are based on the same average rating. Players who score more than 50% advance to the next round.

In the second round , groups will be formed based on performance in round 1. Players who score more than 50% advance to the 3rd round.

This process continues for a maximum of four rounds.

So what does this mean in practice - the first round is a fairly typical Open, so should have a wide mix of ratings, with the opportunity for many players to advance.

This event looks interesting as:

(a) Wins are necessary to advance - probably easy for the first round but harder after that!

(b) After the first round , player ratings should give a reasonable indication of strength, as there are almost enough games in the first round to gain an initial rating.

(c) As the event will not use guaranteed time, it is likely that some exciting time scrambles will result!


All in All, a refreshing new event, well worth a try





Developing your own Opening Book #1

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Tip of the Week #23

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, January 9, 2022

Learn how to interact with Engines......

I cannot take credit for this one.....coming from the Zwischenzug  newsletter on

I thoroughly recommend this newsletter! 

Zwischenzug | Nate | Substack





Tip of the Week #22

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, January 2, 2022

Dodgy Dealings

CC has always had a few areas where players have been manipulated. These were (and are) more numerous in Postal events but do still exist in server games, even with the advent of powerful chess engines.

A few to be familiar with:

  • Draw offers in lost positions. Not as common as it used to be but this still happens on occasion.
  • Soft draw offers – these often take place in the game chat rather than a formal draw offer. Usually these follow messages over several moves of how the position is drawn, how the evaluation is 0.0, how it is stupid to go on…… Here, the key is to evaluate the position for yourself: A zero evaluation is not a draw!!
  • Soft abuse – this is tricky to show but game messages from opponents, which does not really meet the threshold for abuse but can be annoying or unsettling. Typically, this follows a draw offer that has been turned down.  In of these cases, contact the TD, who can silence the chat.
  • Chatty opponent: In itself this is definitely not a problem, but on occasion I have had opponents who attempt to initiate a detailed discussion, when you are short of time on the clock. I did think this was something that only happened to officials, but from talking to friends it does happen to others.
  • Time Bandits – DMD and other issues are something of a issue, but a bigger issue can be some Tournament Directors who seem to have an issue identifying DMD. If you suspect your opponent is breaking the Code of Conduct and your TD refuses to act, ALWAYS, contact your National Federation. They can give an independent view and more importantly can support your ongoing appeal.
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