Moving on up!

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, June 2, 2018

Making the move from 2300 to 2400+ (or 2400 to 2500) , once you have a fixed rating, is one of the most difficult things to do in Correspondence Chess.


The main thing to consider is that at this point you now need to win games. Many players coming up the ranking gain a glut of rating points by simply drawing with higher rated players.

So what do we need to do to “kick on”?  The ideas below come from a number of sources: Interviews with strong players, original research, published comments from strong players and deduction!

  • Management of Game Load
    • Whilst it is very possible to play a large number of games (See Industrial Chess) the reality is that we face a very simple equation of Total Time Available / Number of games in play, which gives us a time per game. We can make improvements which allow us to play a few more games but the reality is the higher the correctly applied time per game, the higher the likelihood of a successful outcome. Thus we should look to control the number of games we play closely. This is not always as simple as staying in the “Goldilocks zone” is not always easy. How many games is this? Common advice is somewhere in the 20’s but I tend to think in terms of how many games I have in each phase of the game: Pre-Opening, Opening, Middlegame, Late middle game and Ending and look to keep a mix running through.
  • Event Selection
    • If we are managing our game load this leads to how to select the events to participate in. Here a mix is essential of type, level and player make-up. I believe for interest’s sake this should include a combination of team events and International Friendlies but the majority of events should be at the highest level you can play against. In addition to the level of opposition, the source should also be considered. There are patterns in terms of style, openings and the like in specific countries and knowing what you want to avoid/not avoid is very valuable! At the very least you should have a plan for the next 12-24 months. It is also helpful to share this with any Team Captain’s or National Federation Organisers so that this can be built into their plans.
  • Eyes on the Prize
    • Do you want a Title, rating growth or advancement in an event? You might say all three but your approach will be modified by the answer to the question. For example, I have recently focused on advancing in a number of Open events, which has cost me rating points as I have had to “expose” myself to a lower rating pool of players. Knowing what want till allow you to advance in a smoother more cohesive fashion towards your goal.
  • Approach
    • What is your approach? Do you want to win with Black or is drawing adequate to your plan? The majority of players at the higher levels of CC are content to simply draw with black (or to be more precise limit whites chances to win). Where do you stand on this? A thought to fall into this pot: If you look at the stats for black wins at the higher end of CC, it is truly tiny (look for yourself – see #6). If we consider #1 then there is an argument that we should not expend that much time on black for a relatively small chance of success, drawing quickly and putting the resources into our White games. Of course the counter to this is true – play certain double-edged openings and expel resources in original play to try and grab that small edge from there. Which Openings – see #5
  • Opening Selection
    • Openings in CC are a very different beast to that in OTB. Some fearsome openings in OTB (e.g. Najdorf) are drawing tools in CC. This has led to a move to adopt more fluid openings – typically Reti systems, where the opening book has been left behind after only a few moves. The other area of interest is transposition and move order manipulations. A good primer on the subject is Soltis “Transpo Tricks” . The point of both these approaches is to remove the weaker player’s best resource – deep open books and game databases. These are probably the biggest leveller in CC, rather than engines. We can also look at utilising statistics against a player. For example if we can find a line which fairly decent statistics but that has not been played for a while then it may be that we can find a favourable innovation and thence trick our opponent into this line!  I know I have been trying this approaches of late in some International opens, specifically against lower rated opposition with promising results
  • Database Management
    • It is necessary to have a significant, up to date, source of games to advance with CC but it is essential to be able to manipulate this data to be able to turn it into useful information. For example do you know how to do a position search? There are some good texts – “Chess in the Digital age” covering how to utilise Chessbase in particular
  • Engine Manipulation
    • Once we reach 2300 it can be assumed that all your opponents know the basic of utilising an Engine but to move on you need to know a number of other techniques including: Which Engines are good in what positions, Backsliding, Next Best, Limited Search, Null Move, Wide vs Narrow, Canyons……….the list is long (I count almost 30 on it) . In itself these methods probably won’t win you that many games but they will pick off lower rated opposition relying on primitive methods and may give you some useful positions against higher rated opposition. Regardless of your style of play knowing how to avoid the traps is the bare minimum necessary knowledge!
  • Exhaustive Analysis
    • A key distinction I have observed with higher rated players is that they analyse for more exhaustively. This does not necessarily mean deeper but does mean they tend to look wider and also until a line is resolved. This means much more work and reinforces a key reason why the highest rated players play so few games. Consider an example – we might have a player who starts using IA and an opening book. After a while they will then start to look at more than the principal variation, finally, they will expand the tree they look at again a much wider span of moves. Clearly, all moves cannot be considered but we should consider how we decide which moves to examine and which to not!
  • Out-thinking and Outplaying your opponent
    • At the higher levels if we assume that our opponent has comparable resources to us when we need to consider how we outthink the opponent. This starts with better preparation, especially in the Opening but also determine if they have any tells (for example do they tend to utilise a specific engine or favour a certain approach?) This is a very wide area but ultimately we are looking to find the cracks in what they do.
  • Staying on the cutting edge
    • Whatever your approach to CC, you need to keep on the cutting edge if you want to make it to the higher echelons. This means many things but includes which databases, engines, Opening theory. Chess moves ever faster and the line which was solid last year may be busted now.
  • Knowing what’s best.
    • A simple truth of CC is that following the engine’s output blindly will lead to draws or losses but there is a strange phenomenon where players seem unwilling to disagree with the Engine, simply because it does not give a high evaluation. We need to show the courage to ignore the engine. Of course, the engine is often (mostly?) right but we should consider if we disagree with it, who is right? This should be done by checking what the engine considers a refutation of your move? Is it really?
  • Patience
    • CC is a slow-moving sport (yes it is a sport!), so don’t worry about slow-moving opponents or the like put your efforts into beating you, other opponents!
  • Learn Chess
    • Our edge in CC is two areas: Strategic play and Endgames (and one leads to the other!) The more effort you put into developing your abilities in this area the more likely you will be able to make winning decisions!


Personally, I know what I need to do to improve my rating and move onto higher ratings – invent a time machine! Seriously in my case, as I have missed IM Norms on a number of occasions by half a point, with the massive number of games that I play, then reducing my game load will achieve that targets!


Reading books alone will not aid you in this endeavour but there are a number of books that will help you get there faster – if internalised and applied!


  • A number of my posts here cover most of the knowledge required to get to 2300
  • Pump up your rating – Alex Smith
  • Under the Surface – Jan Markos
  • Small Steps to Giant Improvement – Sam Shankland
  • World Champion at 3rd Attempt – Grigory Sanakoev
  • Thinking inside the Box – Jacaob Aagaard
  • Modern Chess Analysis –  Robin Smith
  • Matjaz Pirs article on the Bdf Website
  • Transpo Tricks – Andrew Soltis
  • Grandmaster Opening Preparation – Jan Ehlvest


If you are interested in determining what is holding you back get in touch at [email protected]

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