The Great Escape

Sherwood, Russell  Saturday, July 8, 2017

This should be read whilst humming the theme tune to the “Great Escape”!

You know the feeling. The game is looking lost, your opponent has already notched it up as a win and the Engine score is massively against you.

You could just give up but there are a few things you can try here…………………….

It’s important to remember that you will probably still lose but some of these techniques can give a glimmer of hope!

The first thing to not do is employ Dead Man’s Defense or any of its variations. DMD’s is basically to slow play the position, in the hope your opponent, well, defaults  (Hand’s up at the back who thought I was going to say Dies!) This method is against the spirit of Correspondence Chess and also against the rules!

So what can you do?  Is the position actually lost/losing, should be your question now! Is the position actually lost – there are numerous examples of situations where the engine evaluation is widely inaccurate – showing a drawn position as lost or a lost position as drawn. This comes down your chess knowledge. A technique which can help you here is “Line Extension”. Let the engine run a while, the copy the line into your notation, move to the end of the line and analyze again.

Does the evaluation change? Following this start to work your way back up the line , you may well find improvements that change the evaluation significantly.  Personally I have held positions where I was greater than -3 in terms of engine evaluation.

So let’s assume the position is against you. Our main try now is to attempt to randomize the position as much as possible. A few methods we can try:


  1. Don’t play the Engine’s Principal variation (the main move/line it suggests). Run in Multiple line mode and look for alternative lines. The reason for doing this is to attempt to move away from the lines and type of position the engine is going towards. Here we are dealing with a basic problem in the way engine evaluation works. We have all seen the games where the evaluation is -0.1 when becomes -0.3 then -0.7 and so on – as the position goes down a slippery slope. In the same position there could have been an alternative line which would have been evaluation at a constant -0.6, which would be probably bypassed as its much worse than the first move.
  2. Look for strategic needs of the position. What are the key motifs? For example ideas like opposite bishops ,the wrong colored bishop or control of a key diagonal or square. If you can see these in the position you may be able to nudge the game toward in that direction – which the engine won’t see until it is too late.
  3. Try and build a Fortress - this is a large topic area in itself but a basic introduction can be found here
  4. Keep playing! We are looking at giving the opponent the maximum number of opportunities to go wrong!
  5. Use psychological weapons – for example the use of non-standard moves (1) , combined with Conditional moves will increase both your opponent’s workload and he may think you have seen something s(he) has not.
  6. Use multiple engines (especially ones outside of Stockfish, Komodo and Houdini) for ideas to support (1) and (2)
  7. Smile – this approach is far more fun than either resigning or slow playing the position, especially the times you get the result.


It’s also worth mentioning that the use of these methods will improve your analysis skills in general, which is never a bad thing!


Updated Saturday, July 8, 2017 by Russell Sherwood

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