Sherwood, Russell Tuesday, April 21, 2020
John has been a stalwart of the British CC scene for many years and is well known to many of us through his column (mentioned below) in the Chess Improver (Although I didn't know until now we shared a teacher!). In addition to that John will be familiar to many through the many teams he is involved in!
Briefly Tell us about Yourself?
I am married with two grown-up daughters. I am now retired after a long career in international banking and a short career in the driver training industry.
My wife and I were beekeepers, and I am involved in training beekeepers in microscopy, which is checking for bee diseases and looking at their anatomy.
How did you get involved in Chess?
More or less taught myself from a young age and played in the senior school team. After leaving school at sixteen I did not play until after I got married in my mid-twenties, when I saw an article about the Hitchin Congress in the local newspaper in about 1976. The organiser, the late Glynne Jones, happened to travel on the same train as myself to London every day and we usually played chess on the way down….or rather I would concentrate on the board all the way while he read his paper and made the occasional move and he would always beat me. I joined Stevenage Chess Club and was Secretary for two years. In the late seventies I organised two simuls, one with IM Mike Basman at the Pin Green Club and another with Soviet GM Alexander Kotov at Stevenage. We took Kotov out to dinner and I remember him saying how Fischer used to stare at his opponents to put them off. I drove him to his friend’s house in North London afterwards and, this being before satnavs, had to ask him to map read on the way, which he kindly did!
When and how did you get interested in Correspondence Chess?
In the late seventies we moved to Bedfordshire and I was working later at my job in London, so was unable to get home in time to play in OTB chess matches. I did try the Barbican Chess Club, which was close to where I worked, but preferred to get home earlier to see my family. I was asked by a senior Stevenage club member if I had ever thought of correspondence chess, so I started to play for Hertfordshire, even though I now lived in Bedfordshire.
I also had many lessons from GM Nigel Davies by telephone and then email analysing my finished CC games and now write a blog on his Chess Improver site about CC in the UK.
What do you like about Correspondence Chess?
You do not have to leave your house to play, you can move the pieces about, you can use databases, you have plenty of time for moves, and you can, in most cases, use program assistance. Of course, when I started CC you had to use the postal system, then email which improved things, then the server which is wonderful.
What are your Correspondence Chess Career Highlights?
I started near the bottom of the Hertfordshire Chess Association Correspondence Team and slowly, over the years, worked my way up to the top board. I took over running the five teams last year and have now given other players the chance for the top board.
Probably my best tournament result was around 2005/7 winning the ICCF Olympiad 16 Preliminaries Section 2 Board 3, a Category 5 postal event, with 7.5 / 9 where I over scored by a point for an SIM norm.
What do you think an aspiring player should do to improve their game?
Try to play openings that suit your style of play. Beware of using opening databases without checking the variation yourself. Try to learn by your losses.
Do you have an overall strategy when you start a game or tournament?
I used to look up my opponent’s games, but not as much nowadays, as most players have databases and vary their openings.
How do you select your moves, what is your general method?
In the opening I choose a theoretical variation that is either popular or that I like and try to steer into a middle game that suits my style. That rarely works of course.
In the middle game I will look at some candidate moves and see what various programs think. Some opening variations can go well into the middle game, so you often need to look as far as the endgame to choose the right one.
In the endgame you have to be aware that 7-piece endgame tablebases exist and that you can claim a result based on 6-piece endgame tablebases. This means that endgames are never played out as far as they used to be.
With so many draws in Correspondence Chess, what do you do to try and generate wins?
With the widespread use of computer chess programs, which many top players use, draws are inevitable as players make less mistakes. If you analyse over-the-board chess games with a program, even from world class players, you will often see mistakes by both sides. Programs can still miss a deep win and you should always try to find one yourself.
What are your future aspirations in Correspondence Chess?
I am now doing more on the administration side, becoming the EFCC General Secretary this year.
What are your favourite Openings and why?
I have a passion for unusual openings, although in tournaments I normally play standard ones as it is safer when most players have good databases. I rarely play over-the-board chess nowadays, but unusual openings could be useful in gaining time on your clock.
If you could ask a legendary player, alive or historical, one question about Chess, what would it be?
I would like to have asked Bobby Fischer why he preferred 1e4 to 1d4.
Do you have a Favourite Chess Book or DVD? If so what?
I have far too many chess books, so a favourite is difficult to choose! A book I am quite fond of is ‘Chess Traps and Stratagems’ by Rev. E.E. Cunningham, one of my first books. A DVD I enjoy is ‘Game Over – Kasparov and the Machine’, I also like the two ‘Master Game’ DVDs.
Do you have a Favourite player? If so who?
Yes, Paul Morphy. He beat a certain John Rhodes in a Blindfold Simul in Birmingham in 1858. I have to say that it was not me that he played!
Updated Tuesday, April 21, 2020 by Russell Sherwood