Form is Temporary, Class in Permanent.

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Form in Chess is a nebulous thing, doubly so in Correspondence Chess! In OTB changes in a player’s form are easy to spot – a few games lost in a row, mediocre performance in tournaments and lost rating points all are good indicators.


CC is different, due to the timescales involved the indicators that can be used for OTB all indicate a loss of form in CC typically a year ago!


So how can the CC player detect a loss in form in a timescale that enables them to be able to take measures to “limit the damage”?


One technique I have utilised which may be of help is to:

  • Go through my portfolio of running games
  • For each one note:
    • My opponents rating
    • My estimate of the likely outcome of the game. I used to use the standard three outcomes but now use additional two scores of 0.25 and 0.75, along with 0, 0.5 and 1. The two additional scores represent worse but not losing (yet!) and better but not winning yet.
    • Any games still within a “book opening” phase are counted as 0.5
    • I then use a very simple rating calculation, for each game, of:
      • 0 : Opponents rating – 200
      • 0.25 : Opponents rating-100
      • 0.5: Opponents rating
      • 0.75: Opponents rating +100
      • 1.0 Opponents rating +200
  • I then calculate an average of all these ratings to give a basic performance score.
  • These performance scores I calculate once a month and any significant downward movement tends to indicate an issue of which a loss of form could be one!


So, if you discover a loss of form what can you do with about it? My experience tends to indicate the following are often the underlying causes


  • Too Many Games/Too little time
    • I provided a method of calculating the optimal number of games but in general, most players will know when they are playing too many games. The solution is simple but can take time to implement of being more selective in the events the player chooses to enter.
  • Unsuitable openings being used for the quality of opposition
    • Would/Should you the same openings against 2000 rated opposition as you would against 2400, probably not! Generally, whatever the common opinion of an opening is in OTB it is generally worse in CC (So OK in OTB translates to dubious in CC, dubious translates into unplayable!!)
  • A lack of a system being used to select moves/openings/plans
    • If the player does not utilise a method, whatever that method is, they are more likely to suffer dips in form. If they have a system, the dip can still occur but the system can then be improved to reduce in impact.
  • New openings being deployed without preparation
    • Here the obvious solution is to prepare new lines before playing them in CC
  • Old opening lines reaching their “sell by date”
    • The is especially true for a certain type of CC player – “The opening stats nerd”. This breed of player will follow lines based solely on its % performance. This approach is vulnerable in several ways but this player can suffer many reverses as refutations are found but with the line still showing good statistics.
  • Newly obsolete software or hardware being utilised.
    • This issue can happen as both hardware or software can become obsolete almost overnight. For example, if a player were relying on a dual core machine it would become slowly less competitive but then at some point, it would “fall off a cliff” in terms of competitiveness. They key thing here is that whilst a player may not wish to get involved in an “arms race”, they should look to keep their set up are current as possible at minimum cost. For example, in terms of engine Stockfish 8 is free and cutting edge, yet I still see people using older versions.
  • The player reaching their competence ceiling
    • This is not really a loss of form but it is possible for a player to reach a point where they are not strong enough to compete with their opposition, yet are too strong for the players below them in the rating list. This situation is analogous to Football teams which yo-yo between the Premiership and Championship in the English Premier League. Here the player needs to work on their game to attempt to become competitive.


In summary, if you think you have lost form, Don’t Panic! take a deep breath and play your way out of it! If you can talk to a chess friend or a stronger player (or both!) who may be able to help you diagnose any problems!