Russell Sherwood

Lean Chess

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, December 21, 2017

I am not missing a letter A in the Title! This article came about after a work colleague read my article on Industrial Chess (He is not a Chess player but like myself a Change Management professional). How and why he read the article is another story but it did lead to an interesting discussion on the subject of process optimisation and one which led to me getting some friendly stick for not having applied Lean methods to my CC practice.


So what are Lean methods? These came out of Toyota (the Car manufacturers) approach production and are utilised in one form or another by most large organisations, both in Manufacturing and Services. In its most simple form, it is applied to process to standardise the time it takes and then eliminate waste within the steps.


Anyway over a drink, we outlined the steps of general CC practice (and my take on it) and some very interesting ideas came out of this. Putting these together meant, based on some basic calculations, around a 40% reduction in the time spent on each game, despite increasing the time spent analysing.


I won’t reveal more details on this until I have tried the approach out over the next few months but to give the interested reader a leg up. Consider the following:


Do you have a routine?

What are the stages of a CC Tournament and Game? (Think through a game, it's not just Opening, Middlegame and Endgame)

Do you approach the stages differently?

Do you approach each move the same way?

Are you consistent with this approach?


Exciting Times!

Chess on the Fringe

Russell Sherwood  Monday, December 18, 2017

Over the years a number of books have been published which purport to be general theories and methods.  These books are often great resources for the learner or ambitious student, even if, on occasion, some of the ideas in the books are not well understood until many years later (Nimzovitch) or date with the passage of time.  

These days these books to tend to be lambasted when published, for a number of reasons: sometimes the player is not that strong, sometimes the ideas seem just strange and often they are just plain wrong! However, there are a few of these around which do warrant a 2nd glance as there may be good ideas hidden within them. I would suggest, dear reader, if you are tempted to examine them in more depth, then take the claims made with a pinch, indeed an entire bag of salt.

A.R.B Chess System: 2/10

If you google this method you will find many you-tube videos of the author using the “system” to score many victories against Chess Engines. The method in itself is reminiscent of a number of Mike Basman’s ideas from the 1970 – The St Geroge, The Grob and the similar. Practically the methods described can work reasonably well against engines and some examination is worthwhile for this reason, however against either a strong human or human-engine combination the method’s merits are questionable at best.

The System – Hans Berliner 5/10

This is a different animal altogether. For younger readers, Hans Berliner was a CC World Champion and Top class player for many years and involved in the development of early chess engines. The System is an attempt to formalise these ideas into a workable thinking system. The problem is that many of the ideas whilst very interesting, don’t quite mesh together into a viable system. In addition, the book is written in a rather self-indulgent style. There are some excellent nuggets within the book – for example, the basic concept of if I have a choice of moves I want to play the one which keeps my options as wide as possible but limits my opponents – a very useful concept indeed!

Best Play: A new method for discovering the strongest move  - AlexanderShashin 6/10

The Sashin method is a combination of ideas which in summary says based on certain position characterises you should play in a specific manner. These methods are named after World Champions – Tal for example for highly attacking positions. Not well publicised this does have the potential to significantly improve a players results – simply through thinking about the game differently

The Secret of Chess Lyudmil Tsvetkov 6/10

This is the most modern of the four books here and is a child of the chess engine age. The author has spent a significant amount of time playing against and analysis the methods of Chess Engine Evaluation. His first book is mainly aimed at Chess Engine Authors and includes a large number of evaluation criteria and what he believes the values should be.  These evaluation criteria include a lot of hitherto unconsidered ideas, which could give benefits if exploited. The major problem with the book is the writing style – it has the feel of a maths textbook and is a very heavy read, with no real indication of how to put the ideas into practice. The authors 2nd and 3rd books are examples of his victories against Chess Engines. Whilst very interesting I believe a synthesis of the concepts would have helped the reader somewhat who has to rely on working through all the games.   What is the value of this body of work, personally I believe for the more advanced CC player this could be a useful book to work through but it is not a page-turner!

This concludes our short survey of some of the books/ ideas on the fringe of chess thinking.   I believe they are worthy of some attention, as, even if the reader rejects the ideas, at that point they are considering what they believe the “right” concept to be! I would suggest the reader does not pay much for them though!


Pushing the Limit!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pushing the limit


Serious CC players are a little like Petrol-heads, these always want a bigger, more powerful machine. Often this is not possible for simple financial reasons! So how can the aspiring player improve their technical lot without spending (too) much money? For the purpose of this article, we will assume a laptop in use, so the processor cannot be upgraded.


#1 Current Version of Engine

                For any engine, the latest version will give the best results. For the Free engines, it is a no-brainer, for the commercial ones it is something of a tougher decision. In addition to this consider if there is a faster version of the same engine – for example ASMFish for Stockfish!


#2 Version of Engine for your processor

                Many engines these days come in a variety of versions. For example POPCNT, BMI……  If you have access to all of these, try them all note the results and this will determine which is the most suitable for your processor. Typically there can be around 10-20% difference between the fastest and slowest versions


#3 More Ram

                The amount of Ram utilised determines the HashTable, which is one major determinant in the effective deep searching of the position. Pound for Pound maxing out your RAM is probably the most effective way to improve performance.


#4 Tablebases

                If you don’t have them then this is a simple performance improvement. Whilst they probably won’t win you many games they will steer you away from draws and losses


#5 External SSD

                Following the use of Tablebases, an external SSD drive is an excellent way to improve performance. This much faster storage means that your Tablebase (and Opening book) access will be significantly faster


#6 Compile your own

                Some of the Freeware engines can be compiled on your own machine – all of the Stockfish family can be done so using the Automated software. When compiled this was the compiler is taking note of your hardware and the engine will run that 10% faster than an “off the shelf” compile from another person.


#7 Don’t run other software at the same time

                A no-brainer really. Ideally, you should not be running other software at the same time but many people still do. If you need to run a browser to enter your moves, look for one will a small “footprint” which does take too much away from the engine.


#8 Engine Settings

                Check your engine parameter file settings. Is your Ram increased to 50% of your total? Is Large Pages enabled? Is the number of threads correct?


#9 Use a Cooling Pad

                Multi-Core engine use creates a lot of heat, more than a typical laptop is designed to handle. The use of a cooling pad can help somewhat, both in cooling the laptop but making it more comfortable, especially if you do have it on your lap!


#10 Determine which GUI/Engine combination runs best on your machine

                As shown in past research, certain combinations of GUI and Engine show significant performance swings. Experimentation here can reap rich rewards.     


#11 Keep your OS up to date/Consider a Windows reinstall

                Apply the OS and BIOS updates that come along, they will keep your machine running. Also consider re-installing Windows once in a while BUT make sure you back up everything first!


#12 Ensure Large Pages are enabled

                We mentioned enabling Large Pages in the Engines parameter file but we need to ensure this is allowed on the machine. To do this Google “Enable Large Pages” and work from there! What are large pages you may ask? It's simply the way that windows stores things, this setting encourages Windows to keep items close together, which gives a small speed increase.


#13 Memory Boost

                I discovered this one by accident. Certain high-quality USB sticks can have a “Windows Boost” feature enabled. This allows effectively extra Ram to be utilised to help out the Operating system.


‘#14 Reboot

                Once in a while, reboot your machine. Why? Even the best Operating system in the world leaves bits of junk in memory and over time this clogs up the system. By rebooting this is cleaned out. How often? That depends on you but I tend to do it at least daily, more often depending on circumstances.


#15 Horses for Courses

                I noticed a strange phenomenon with AsmFish/CFish and Stockfish. Normally we would expect Asmfish > CFish > Stockfish in terms of speed but in Endgame analysis this is often not the case. Trial your own engines to determine the truth for you!


So what do you get from all of these – potentially something like 40-50% improved performance if you were badly set up beforehand. This won't mean you go 50% deeper but will mean you get to the same Depth 50% faster!

Industrial Chess

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, December 16, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised to see myself 4th on the list in terms of games played (>4500) on the new Chessbase Correspondence database. Whilst I don’t play anywhere near as many games as I used to in the past I still play greater than most. This does occasionally lead to the question of how I do/did play so many games at a time. My normal response is badly but unlike most of the players at the top of this list, I don’t have a rating in the sub 1000 region!

So some thoughts if we you do want to play a lot of games at the same time?

#1 Be clear on why you want to do it! As it can soak up a lot of your free time. When at my highest activity levels as I was in a professional management role which had me spending probably 3-4 nights in a hotel most weeks, so I (a) Had the time and (b) Was on my own much of the time (no meeting up with Colleagues for food or drink)

#2 Have a clear time management system. Out of the games, I had played I have only lost a tiny percentage on time – and almost all of them were related to holidays. What I settled on (in the days of server play) is the 10 and 10 method. If I have either been thinking for 10 days or have less than 10 days on my clock then these games are treated as a priority.

#3 Have a clear Opening Repertoire – I tend to play the first 10 moves VERY quickly to put some time on the clock.

#4 Use conditional moves (in server play) where possible – If I have a line I want to play – enter it – if generally takes only an extra minute or so to enter a number of moves and the majority of the time my opponent follows the line, giving me a net benefit!

#5 Save Analysis – any analysis I do is saved in the game file, be it engine lines or my own verbal commentary. This does also help in both annotating games but less obvious in terms of being able to play moves quickly as I can look at continuing down the line I have already started to play. In addition to this, if I undertake a post-mortem after the game the process can be much easier

#6 Unattended Analysis. Both Chessbase and Aquarium allow you to schedule analysis whilst away from the machine. This means I can set up the engine to look at a few candidate moves whilst I am at work or in bed!! This method, when combined with #5, is very powerful

#7 Unintended Tools.  Do you know how to make your software do, what you want it to do? So its vital to learn how to use all its functions but also to figure out what those functions can be used for (which is not always what they are designed for!  An example of this. Reinforcement learning is in fashion at the moment due to AlphaGo but let’s say you have a version of your favourite engine with a learning file. You could (and would) teach it by backsliding within games you are analysis but a method could be to using the Game analysis function of Chessbase/Aquarium both of which perform a kind of backsliding. Let your engine run on key games of your opponent and quickly you have just gained a small edge!

#8 Voodoo.  If you play a lot of games you will start to play certain people repeatedly. Often, although players can have similar rating results are skewed against one player. It is vital to spend to considering how to get an edge in this situations as it will pay dividends in terms of results.

#9 Horses for Courses. Consider why type of analysis you are performing and choose your weapons accordingly. If you want to check a lot of moves quickly you want to use an engine with low TTD (time to depth). If you watch engines for a while you will see that some race to quite a deep position quickly, whilst others take a lot longer to get there – yet the ratings of the engines are similar.  Generally, you want to use Stockfish or AsmFish for fast analysis.

#10 Blunder Check – You are going to be playing a lot of moves and need a method to minimise this – I’ve covered this before but making the move on your analysis screen before making it in the game is a good start

#11 Pragmatic results – Once a game is “drawn” offer the draw and move onto the next game.

#12 Be on the lookout for prepared novelties. Once you start to play a lot of games, people have a large pool of games to prepare against, so keep your eyes open for odd novelties, especially in team events. One antidote to this (and boredom) is to vary your openings.  Anyone looking at me will see I have played almost everything as black and white over the years and now throw them all in on occasion, including recently a King’s Gambit – which I know shocked my opponent, so much so he refused the Gambit and transposed elsewhere!

#13 Hardware – You don’t need a high-end PC or laptop to play Industrial Chess but it helps!  For the majority of my CC time, I have used slightly above average specification hardware. The reality is that for most of us it does not make a difference unless you are competing at the highest levels.

#14 Move Alignment. Consider the games you to analyse and the methods you use. If for example, you use different books or databases for black and white, then it makes sense to analyse all black games then all-white games to reduce the time loading various databases.

#15 Move Now!  If the move is obvious or forced - make it, don't let your time run, especially "sulking" if your position is inferior!

 Till the next time!

Size Matters?

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, December 14, 2017

I was looking through Correspondence Database 2018 and was intrigued to look at the most prolific players.....


and there I am sat at No 4 on the list on 4364 games played

Bob Venturas 5433 710 LSS

Maria Vonita 5017 749 LSS

Kazimeriez Bester 4877 858 LSS

Russell Sherwood 4364 2354 ICCF

Sometimes persistence pays of!


WCCF 6 & 7 Applications

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017


In April 2018 we will be starting the next two International Invitational Title Tournaments and invite applications from suitable Welsh Players


WCCF 6 is planned to be have an average rating of around 2250, so applications are welcomed from players with a rating of 2100+ on rating list 2018/1 (or players who can show progress towards achieving this level for rating list 2018/2)


WCCF 7 is planned to be a Category 6 event (average rating 2376-2400), so applications are welcomed from players with a rating of 2300+ on rating list 2018/1 (or players who can show progress towards achieving this level for rating list 2018/2)


In addition to these criteria entry to WCCF 6 will require a £5 payment to the WCCF and all players will be required to confirm acceptance to the WCCF Tournament Conduct Rules (Now being introduced following some players not understanding the privilege or representing Wales in events and the necessary obligations this brings). Details of this will be provided to players at the time of a place being offered.


To explain the rating limits used – firstly players below these levels are unlikely to be able to compete successfully and more importantly the key target is the general average rating of the event and every significantly lower rated player drags down this average making the event less attractive for the rest of the participants


Examination of the attached shows invitations have gone before and where offers have been made for WCCF 6 & 7

A Correspondence Engine

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I get asked with tiresome regularity “Which engine is best for CC?” My general answer to this is “none of them” as all the main engines are written and tested with fairly short time controls in mind. As I have written in the past some are better than others and most can be bent into playing better for CC.


These are a number of engines with modifications to aid CC players – CorChess and ThinksFish come to mind but these only tend to look at modifying the search rather than the many other areas which could be improved for CC players.


Recently I was working on my publication on Engine Analysis techniques (over 30 now!) and what struck me is that most of these methods have to be used to overcome the “Blitz” nature of Chess Engine Settings. So the next thought that popped into my head was “Why not write one for CC”? I mulled this one over for a while and considered the pro and cons.


Most things fell into place but one issue remains – which is testing. If I want an engine for CC, then it needs to be tested in CC Conditions as the engine will almost certainly be weaker in Blitz Conditions (as want a CC engine to find a better move in a slower way, rather than a good move quickly). This makes testing rather difficult unless a few people are involved.


My first objective is to create an ASMFish/ CorChess Hybrid prior to the development of a CC specialist engine.


Any player interested in getting involved (not just Welsh players for once!) please get in touch. You don’t need to be a programmer, Ideas and testing are just as important!


ICCF World Championship Preliminaries

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

World Championship Preliminaries


The ICCF World Championship Cycle starts again in 2018 with the Preliminaries. It costs £25 to enter (if paid via the WCCF), if qualified and there are two routes to qualification.


  1. Winning a Master Class Promotion Tournament. Not is first place is shared this leads to a fractional qualification.
  2. Federation Nomination. We have a very limited number of nominations and so invite applications from interested Welsh Players with a rating above 2250 on 2018/1 rating list. If interested please get in touch indicating why you think you should obtain one of the nominations.



To explain why the rating limit of 2250 is used. These events a highly competitive and it is unlikely that any player with a rating below this level will have a reasonable chance of Advancement (which is the primary objective of the entry, not Norms or Rating points)


Dead Man's Attack

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Most CC players have heard of Dead Man’s Defence, the unsavoury technique used to put off the result of the game (generally a loss for the person using DMD). Here I want to discuss it’s cousin, Dead Man’s Attack!


Picture the situation. You are playing a game, which is into the early endgame. Engine Analysis shows a nice +1 core in your favour but neither you nor the engine knows how to make progress.  What then tends to happen is that the moves played shuffle the pieces around without making any visible progress and after a little while longer a draw is agreed as its one of the positions the engine does not understand. It tends to be in practice that a Fortress was in place which secured the position.


That is what is supposed to happen……in a minority of games we see the “winning” player refusing the give up his “win” and continue shuffling. Now I am on the wrong side of one of these games at the moment and am at move 110! An interesting fact for me is that my opponent will not lose any rating points for a draw which is often the motivation to keep shuffling, hoping your opponent makes a mistake.


This piqued my interest, how often does this take place? Using my trusty Chessbase I took a look at the longest ICCF games in the database and the results are interesting……..


137 games more than 120 moves long

56 of them since 2012

33 of these turned into draws, leaving 23 as decisive


So the message to those playing DMA is quite clear – don’t its chance of success is less than 50%

Horses for Courses

Russell Sherwood  Monday, December 11, 2017

Most CC players tend to be aware that engines don’t play certain types of positions very well and traditionally the King’s Indian Defence has been seen as an area where Engines are close to clueless!


Fewer players tend to also know which Openings/Positions engines tend to do well or not so well in but very few have a comprehensive view of this.


This does not have to be the case. Some very interesting research has been taking place at One that is of interest to ambitious CC players is his project to create a Openings rating list of sorts.


There is a great description of what has been done but in simple terms, various engines have been tested and the results then tabulated by ECO Code.  At the Summary level Stockfish/Houdini and Komodo are at the top but if you into individual ECO codes or groups of codes, it shows that all of these engines are perform well/badly in certain positions!  Now this information can be used in a number of ways…..

  • You can make sure your engine/opening combination matches up well (which one you change is your choice!)
  • If you know which engine your opponent uses as their primary analysis tool, then you could steer the game into an area that engine does badly.
  • If you use an analysis technique involving multiple engines, you will know which ones tend to be more accurate in which type of position.

Is this a game changer? No, but when you consider that the difference in performance between the “Big 3” Engines is 15% in certain positions it does appear to be a potential way to gain a nice “edge”

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