Russell Sherwood Saturday, March 10, 2018
Introduction (Ian Jones & Glyn Sinnett)
It’s very difficult finding a chess player who can be compared with Craig. He is widely regarded as a creative genius and one of the best-attacking players in Wales. In recent years strong OTB players even Grandmasters have struggled to hold him even to a draw. He has also added to his chess an almost impenetrable defensive playing style, making him rather difficult to beat. He is also a world authority on unusual openings before the rebirth of correspondence chess in Wales; I played numerous friendly correspondence chess games with Craig, and never quite managed to win one.
Craig is already near 2350 in a short space of time, and it would be a surprise if he is not over 2500 in the very near future. His wit and wisdom in his writing brings colour to our Correspondence web site. I remember a few years ago and Craig was our OTB County captain and we did the Gwent wash beating Gwent 12-0. We were having a celebratory drink in the bar downstairs, and realised we had lost Craig?
When we found him, he was tidying up the chess room and sweeping the floor.
He is a genuine Mr Nice guy.
Craig is also a massive Nolan Sisters fan; he has all their recordings in CDs and Vinyl format. He is also a big Eurovision concert fan
Big fan of gambit style OTB chess, but he has realised with computer engines most of these don't work and you will get egg on face trying them out!
1. Briefly Tell us about Yourself?
I'm 34 years old, a mathematics teacher from Llanelli in South Wales, married with one child. Besides chess, interests focus mainly on music (I'm borderline competent on piano and guitar, and could get a tune out of most things), sport, and going to comedy gigs.
2. How did you get involved in Chess?
I'm not entirely sure! I learnt how the pieces moved from my brother when I was around 11. I went down the local chess club in Llanelli when I was around 13, stumbled upon a book of Morphy's games being sold off by my local library for 20p at around the same time, and somehow became hooked. I've been playing OTB chess for over 20 years now, and despite repeatedly saying it was time to give it up, I don't seem to be able to break the habit!
3. When and how did you get interested in Correspondence Chess?
I played on the IECC when I was a 'youngster' (just after I'd finished university), but never really found it to my taste. I'll be honest, I only took it up again after being 'hassled' by a certain Ian Jones, who told me how much I would love it. I think I gave it a go just to keep him quiet (which those who know him will understand to be a futile task!), but, again, seem to have become stuck in the habit!
4. What do you like about Correspondence Chess?
Partly, I suppose, the time aspect - OTB I've always been notorious for bad clock management, so having a few days or more per move helps! Secondly, my memory in recent years has not been what it used to be, so CC means I do not have to try and remember all of my opening theory 20-odd moves deep, and can spend more time thinking about the position instead of frantically trying to search my memory banks. Finally, whilst I understand some people take it very seriously, I find it far more relaxing (and less stressful) than OTB competition - I'm mainly out to enjoy myself, and am less often needing to try my hardest with a team's result on the line!
5. What are your Correspondence Chess Career Highlights?
Retirement (though I haven't gotten there yet...)!? More seriously, the 4th Welsh Correspondence Chess Federation Invitational has been an enjoyable event, I've met some fantastic people who I've remained in touch with, and I've scored very well to secure the CCE title and a CCM norm. I should secure the CCM norm in the next few months, which I suppose will be another highlight, but I'm still very much in my CC infancy at the moment!
One other thing I have enjoyed is becoming the resident analyser of games for the WCCF - a duty I tend to take less than seriously. It's nice poking gentle fun at chess games and their protagonists, and I hope so far I've not caused too much offence!
6. What do you think an aspiring player should do to improve their game?
In CC, openings are critical - unlike OTB, if you drift into a poor position you are unlikely to be able to trick or bamboozle the opponent. So selecting openings wisely is important, both to avoid lost positions and to avoid completely stale ones (unless the tournament dictates this would suit you!). Engine use is also part of the game and, whilst some people prefer to play without them, the reality is that they handicap themselves greatly. Learning to understand and use engine evaluations wisely is critical beyond the 2200 level.
7. Do you have an overall strategy when you start a game or Tournament?
Make some moves! I'm not one for studying my opponents in detail (I'll occasionally check what they've played in the past, and if I see something they play that I like I'll head for it, or avoid if I don't), and just tend to trust that I will make reasonable choices in the opening against each player. It's probably why I won't get much further than I've made it now!
8. How do you select your moves, what is your general method?
Depends on the position entirely. If I'm in some sort of sharp tactical position, then the majority of the work is guiding the computer, giving it time to consider the possibilities, occasionally suggesting moves which do not appear on it's radar (as much for my own chess education as to why they are bad - though I've occasionally stumbled upon some good ideas) and checking that the engine evaluation seems consistent. In more closed, positional games - well then the engine tends to be far less use, as 0.00 doesn't tell you much! Then you have to think about the plans (which are usually connected to the opening systems you've played), and again guide the engine carefully when using it. In the openings, obviously databases are a huge help - I look at the main Chessbase Live database (mainly for new ideas played at super-GM level I may have missed watching tournaments), and keep a few separate CC-only openings databases.
9. With so many draws in Correspondence Chess, what do you try to do to generate wins?
A difficult question. I've not beaten many players over 2200 yet as a relative newbie, so it is still something I'm working on - but the choice of openings is vital. Playing the Poisoned Pawn Najdorf might seem fun, but you're going to draw almost 100% of these games. In a current tournament, I'm trying some riskier openings (Dutch Defences, Modern Defences etc) as black, in a few tournaments I've risked rare gambit lines, but all of these are very risky at high-level CC. It mostly seems to be a combination of playing openings that give long-term potential and knowing your theory well enough to know when the opponent may have made a mistake (that the engine doesn't recognise!).
10. What are your future aspirations in Correspondence Chess?
I'm not sure I have any! I'll keep playing, and if I stumble upon success much the better, but I find that setting myself arbitrary targets tends to lead to failure! I'd like to test myself in some super-strong tournament someday, but first I have to somehow qualify for one!
11. What are your favourite Openings and why?
Most of my favourite openings are ones I couldn't play in CC! OTB I've always loved playing things like the Morra Gambit, Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, Belgrade Gambit etc... but I've learnt quickly and painfully that these do not hold up well in CC.
12. If you could ask a Legendary player, alive or historical, one question about Chess, what would it be?
Probably Carlsen, and if he could teach me everything he knows. That would probably help a bit!
13. Do you have a Favourite Chess Book or DVD? If so what?
In my youth, my Morphy Chess Masterpieces book was my absolute fave! Probably Tony Miles' autobiography, It's Only Me, has had the most effect on me as a chess player however.
14. Do you have a Favourite player? If so who?
I've always had a thing for crazy openings. As such, certainly in recent times, I've always tried to watch out for Jonny Hector. Also, an obscure Latvian player called Alvis Vitolins - played some very unorthodox sharp lines and scored some crushing wins against the strongest players of his time back in the 70s and 80s. Anyone who plays interesting chess is someone I am happy to watch!