Russell Sherwood

Engines in the Endgame

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AI in Chess Engines

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Stuck in the 2200’s

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 15, 2021


Occasionally, I get asked by 2200 rated players, what they can do to move on and challenge for the IM Title.

There are two ways to do this – the “Easy” and the “Hard”.

Easy Way

Here we simply, somehow, get invited to two Cat 9 (2450+) rated events where the IM Norm is a 50% Score.

This is a path open to very few as (a) The National Federation nominating a player must have a massive amount of confidence in the player (b) The National Federation would be putting the player ahead of others “in the queue” and (c) The cost of these events is significant.


Hard Way

There are two pathways here:

Outstanding performance – for example, gaining entry to a Cat 3 (2300 average) and scoring around +5. To call this hard is an understatement, but it does happen. To do this the player needs to apply many winning techniques covered in past articles and a healthy dose of luck.


Raising Rating – This is a more common approach and the method here is to push one’s rating up to the low 2300’s. How is this done? There are a few methods, but the one most likely to generate success is to enter Open events with the aim of beating the lower rated players. This requires both a large volume of games to be played and a different approach to be taken (to beat the lower rated players).

The approach required is different to that for clashes with higher rated players, which tends to reinforce the draw likelihood. What is the approach – that is something for another article!


There is also a clever path, which is only open to new players or those willing to play a massive number of games , which will be covered in “What have the Dutch done for us?)


2200CorrespondenceChessIM TitleMovingonUp

Fair or unFair

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 5, 2021

An opinion piece from the world of chess organization this time. Recently, I’ve read a few discussions about how ICCF is “unfair” and “unsportsmanlike”.

These complaints often resolve around situations where the complaining person believes that a “fairer” ethical principal should have been applied in a situation rather than rigid application of documented rules.

I’ve been involved in a few of these myself, both as a participant and as an official and on some occasions, I have agreed that the outcome was “wrong”.

Does this mean that we should look to move to a situation where principles are applied far more than documented rules? For me, it does not and for several reasons:

Value Judgements

You will have noticed I have used quite a few speech marks earlier in this opinion piece. “Unfair”, unsportsmanlike”, “fairer”, “wrong”. All of these are value judgements, and all are through an individual lens – so if I think an outcome is “unfair”, this does not make it so, as someone else may view it as being “fair”

“They are wrong” 

Any move award from application of documented rules requires the need for people (generally the Tournament Director in the first instance) to make judgements on situations. Notwithstanding the problem with judgements in general, we can end up with a situation that an issue can climb a hierarchy – say TD, then WTD then an Appeals group and at the end of the process the outcome still does not meet the complainers desired outcome, despite in an allegory to the US Legal system – “its gone all the way to the Supreme Court”.

Variable Outcomes

The third issue, and the one which I find the most problematic, is that allowing a more judgment-based approach will allow many more errors to creep into the process. Why – simply put, humans make mistakes, so different outcomes will take place in the same situation. The natural consequence of this is that these mistakes are challenged and we then either end up with “They are wrong” or a move back towards rigid rules.

As I said earlier, I know of some situations where I believe the outcome was not correct, I recommend the same action now as I have always done – look to refine the rules. This rarely happens, as it seems to be easier for some to write a few angry emails and social media posts rather than suggest a rule amendment. Often it is the case that it is very difficult to resolve situations in a manner which is fair to everyone.

Let’s take a scenario – say a player draws one game early in an event, draws another this morning, and then resigns the rest of their (drawish) games.

Initially we have:

  1. Everyone is unhappy with the resigning player
  2. The people who he resigned against are secretly quite happy to have picked up the win
  3. The player he drew against early on is annoyed
  4. The player he drew against just before resigning is angry and really feels aggrieved.

From a rules-based position, the results would stand – the departing player could have been more cooperative and asked for a withdrawal rather than resigning games.

The problem we now have is that any attempt to change the situation is unfair to someone….

  • Move all the resigned games to Adjudication. This is unfair to the two players who took draws, especially the one who “just” took the draw.
  • Move the player who just took the draw to adjudication as well – unfair to the other players, as he had agreed the result.
  • Move all the games to adjudication – messy, as the agreed draws are completed games.
  • Move all the games to losses – Why should the player who got the first draw get a win?

The point I make is that many of these situations are intractable. As a player, you or I might agree with one of the approaches above, but that does not make them fair or otherwise!

In summary, situations like this will always occur and either a rules or ethics based approach will not always give acceptable results, but a rules based approach will give the better result more of the time but when it fails will tend to leave a "bitter taste in the mouth"

Tip of the Week #21

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 5, 2021

Welcome back to Tip of the Week!

This time we will look at Learning with Chess engines. 

The term "learning" has been tossed around quite a bit in the last 18 months or so, mainly with the development of the NNUE network, where the evaluation function has been trained on millions of moves. This has obscured another form of learning which has been quietly taking place with regard to chess engines.

This learning is where the moves, evaluation and result an engine makes are stored in a "learning" file and then reused to improve the evaluation of the engine.

A number of Engines have utilized this approach in three slightly different manners:

Look Up Book

This very simple approach is to simply store the moves and call them up when the position is called again. This means that Analysis can be stored at a much greater depth. The benefits of this approach are obvious and useful in fast time control Engine v Engine games, but for Correspondence Chess we have to use different considerations:

Is the Learning file used as an automated opening book, or simply as something to point the search in the right direction? If it is the former than it actually weakens our CC efforts, but for the latter it can cut down the amount of time and engine requires reaching a stable evaluation. The benefits of this were seen by myself and a group of friends who build a file with over 100 million positions (including all ICCF games) to a depth of 35+ moves (With 10's of millions at 40-50+!

Evaluation Leaders

We now move onto the next level of "Learning" file. Here, the data within the file is used to modify the search/evaluation of the main engine. This can be done in many ways, but as an example - if we take Eman, it would take the evaluation of positions at successive depths and compare progressions to determines the lines most likely to be successful. This approach was very successfully at the time, but the project has now sadly been shelved.

Experience Methods

The most complex method used is where the "Learning file" is now considered an experience file. This means that the outcome of a game(s) can be used to modify the evaluation of the position.  Let me give an example.  

Let's say we have a position where the evaluation of the mainline, after a non-trivial length of time, is +0.8, where the next best line is only +0.4. 

We can also assume that this "Best" line is actually very drawish with the best play and the 2nd option gives far better chances

In a very simple way the  "Experience" method would, at the end of a game, go back through the move played and adjust the evaluations stored in the file downwards. Over a period of time, the +0.8 evaluation would reduce until it became the 2nd choice, at which point the Experience file has now improved the play of the Engine.

I would always recommend to any player to have an Experience recording Engine in their stable. 

Notable ones:

Eman - sadly now the project is defunct

SugaR - Can use Eman Files





Happy Hunting!


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Christmas Crackers

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 5, 2021

I've had something of a difficult few months on a health front, but finally seem to be feeling like my true self again. Over that time my writing on a number of subjects, including correspondence chess, has diminished. Something I intend to correct over December, through the Christmas Crackers Series.

This will be a series of articles covering topics including:

  • Tips of the Week
  • What have the Dutch ever done for us?
  • Book Reviews
  • Workflow Series continuation
  • Website Reviews
  • CTG vs BIN Books
  • Buying a PC for Chess
  • CC in the 21st Century
  • Current Engines Review
  • Mystery Articles
  • Developing an Opening Book
  • Correspondence Chess Opening
  • Free v Paid Resources
  • Developing the Best CC Magazine in the UK (for the third time)
  • Engines and Endgames
  • ICCF Rules Update
  • Interviews

Some of these will be open viewing, some will for Premium WCCF Members only.

If you have any subjects you would like covered, feel free to get in touch - I might even agree!

It will take a few days to catch up, but then I would expect to drop new content on a close to daily basis!



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.


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!


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.


Tip of the Week #18

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, October 16, 2021


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)

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