Russell Sherwood

No Bragging please, We're British!

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In the real world, I spend an awful lot of time optimising and improving processes, something I am rather good at!

Where I can, I try and transfer some of the techniques to my CC play, often with success. The methodology I will now offer, I had very mixed views when first exposed to, mainly as it’s so “UnBritish” but it does work!

Ask a typical British person to list their (a) strengths and (b) weaknesses; the typical response will have the far more in list (b) than (a). To have more in (a) is seen as “Boastful and Bragging”, something negative. This in itself is something that is unhelpful.

So the technique I am looking at here is the of a “Bragging Board”. The technique is used to real world to record any successes, however small, by an individual or team. This is very useful for three main reasons:

  • A rich source of information for compilation of reports

  • A way to demonstrate progress, especially when success is hard to come by, which is a very useful positive psychological benefit.

  • A method to manage progress.

So how can the player use this method for CC?

Practically I believe a simple approach can be as follows:

  • Record your test best & worst wins

  • Record your 10 best & worst draws

  • Record your 10 best & worst losses

  • Record any Tournaments where you:

    • Perform better than expected

    • Place 1st,2nd or 3rd

    • Do anything that noteworthy (in your opinion)

  • Anything else you find noteworthy

It is worth mentioning that “Best and Worst” is your definition.  It could be by rating or by Title held or any other method you think worthy.

The reason for the “best” results is obvious, but the “worst” needs a explanation. The draws and losses here are painful but very informative and keeping them in mind is something the player can continue to learn from.

Once you have written up this document, keep it somewhere safe (and probably private!) and maintain it. Once you have done this, anytime you need a positive boost in Chess terms have a read through it. This is very useful in the situations discussed in “Form is temporary, Class is Permanent”.

On a personal note, being British, I can confirm the first sentence was rather difficult to write!

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!





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Stop! You’re doing it wrong!

Russell Sherwood  Monday, May 22, 2017


CC First Aid for the Under 2100’s


When working with a number of lower rated players, a number of issues appear again and again which are holding the player’s development and rating back. Some of these are fairly easy to fix and when done so, the sky’s the limit!

Not using an Engine

It is a very personal choice about the use of an engine or otherwise but if the rules of the event allow it (and pretty much all WCCF and ICCF events do) then you are holding yourself back in not utilising engine support. This can come in many sizes and shapes, ranging from deep analysis methods (despairingly called “Engine Jockeying”) to simple using the engine to blunder check your move before playing it. Whatever method is utilised, this will probably lead to an improvement in fortunes. It’s also worth saying that for blunder checking, Phone and Tablet versions have more than enough power!!

Using an Obsolete Engine

Some friends and I undertook some research to determine the methods and engines in use by our competitors. Whilst that research can wait for another article, what became apparent is that two engines are very popular with players below the 2300 level, which are almost unused above it. These two engines Houdini 4 and Fritz 15.

A look at almost any rating list will show these engines to be around 200 Elo below the current leaders. Using these will seriously hold you back!  Without getting into a real discussion on which is the most suitable engine for CC, upgrading from these to Stockfish 8 will lead to progression.


Playing Opening’s unsuitable for CC

If you look at opening statistics from CC and OTB, it quickly becomes apparent that the results follow different patterns. There are many reasons for this but the main one to consider for our purposes is that openings which rely on simple tactical tricks and traps don’t tend to do well in modern CC, as engines tend to spot these.  That said some openings (e.g. Morra Gambit in the Sicilian) do OK in CC (below a certain level!!) The real point here is to look at the statistics of any opening you intend to play and make your mind up from there!

Not utilising available resources

There are many types of resource available to the CC player. Three should be considered by the aspiring player:

  • Online Opening Databases such as give a reasonable source of opening statistics
  • There are many free engines, GUI’s and Database readers on the internet
  • Books – do you use the ones you bought on the opening you are playing?


Playing too Quickly!

A common tendency among lower rated players is to play far too quickly! CC is a marathon, not a sprint and much will be gained from closely looking at the position. This means the aspiring player should utilise this time to:

  • Check the move. Make it on your own board (physical or electronic) and consider your opponent’s response.
  • Consider unusual responses from your opponent
  • Look at Sacrifices, both for yourself and your opponent.

Not having a Plan

One of the main characteristics that are different between the strongest CC players and the rest is the ability to play with a plan, going above and beyond engine suggestions. The point is that as an aspiring player we should make plans. They will not always come off but they will improve our play as time goes on!

Not understanding the moves you play!

This flows from not having a plan – if you utilise engine support, you must understand the moves you make. If you have a plan it becomes easier. If not then we should at least aim to understand it in simple terms!

Not knowing Endgame transitions

There are many examples of games where the engine completely miss-evaluates the position. I have defended engine evaluations of +1.5 on a number of occasions as I know certain combinations of pawns and pieces tend to be “drawish” in the endgame and steering towards these leads to a draw regardless of the engine's evaluation!

Not Wriggling when on the hook!

Finally, when the game is not going our way (as it does) it is vital we try and “wriggle off the hook”. If you are only going to play the moves the engine suggests then resigning the game may make sense! Failing this, looking for moves and plans that do not see you slipping to defeat slowly is the way forward. Engines have a habit of -0.3 becoming -0.5, becoming -1.0, becoming a lost game. Looking outside of this path can reap rewards!



Covering all the (Data) bases!

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, May 20, 2017

A regular question amongst CC players is: “Which Database should I use?”

The simple answer to this is “none” as no single database will meet all of your needs!

So which combination of Databases should we use?

This question is more relevant and I believe the Aspiring player needs a number of Databases to meet different needs at different times.

There are a few things to consider:

  • CC and OTB games are different beasts, except at the Highest level of OTB play
  • CC games should be separated into Pre and Post 2012. This is the point at which engine strength increased dramatically and a number of older opening lines became almost unplayable in CC
  • Opening Novelties from SuperGM’s should be considered of being a similar source as CC Games as the resources behind these players would indicate the same (or better) preparation levels as CC.


So onto the Databases!


The first database, I think necessary is one containing every game regardless of source. Megabase is probably the best known commercial base with 8m games, however, here are other ones floating around the internet which include engine games which are much, much larger – the biggest now above 20million games.

Many of the games in these kind of bases are of poor quality but the purpose of this database is for Idea generation.

“Super GM base”

Top Level GM’s (say 2700+) spend an lot of time on preparation, utilising engine checking of ideas. For this reason novelties can be mined from these databases. A note of caution, whilst the initial idea will have been checked in depth, the subsequent ongoing game will not have been.

“CC Base”

This is a database of all games played under Correspondence Chess time control – hence days rather than hours and minutes. The main purpose of this database is to determine what variations are current and any trends that may be developing.

“CC Strong base”

Opinions differ a little on this but this is a database of mid ranked CC players (say 2200-2400) games played post 2012 or so (the point at which engines changed the nature of the game). The purpose of this database is for generating ideas. Many of the players in the zone are the ones with ratings climbing rapidly who are worthy of close examination.

“”CC Superstrong base”

The purpose of this database is to determine what is currently playable at the highest level of CC. Most players will look for CC games above 2400-2450 played post 2012. This is the CC equivalent of Super GM Base but with the added bonus the games having been engine checked.

“Recent Games Base”

The purpose of this database is to keep the player in touch with new novelties and the latest lines. Many will not be suitable for CC but it is a very valuable source!

“Engine base”

These used to be a treasure trove of ideas but these days there are many millions of engine games played. These can be utilised to determine which direction the game may take if your opponent is simply an “Engine Jockey”

So how do we utilise these databases? That’s a discussion for another day but I think enough clues are given in the description!

Peidiwch â gadael i'r Bastardiaid malu chi i lawr!

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Over the year’s I have played thousands of games against hundreds of opponents and 99%+ have been reasonable, nice, interesting people.

Many have become friends and with some, I have enjoyed varied and interesting conversions, despite (or probably because of) our varied backgrounds. This leaves a tiny percentage of rather unpleasant people who you occasionally cross paths with. I can add to this small list with similar characters when I have been acting various administrative roles.

I can only stress these people are very rare but it is unpleasant when you come across one.

So what to do? We can broadly classify the incidents into  two groups:

The first group come straight at you with offensive content – there is no likelihood of a misunderstanding, their intent is to upset and provoke a response. In many cases, you could suspect that they would benefit from professional help.

With these cases, the main rule is: do not engage with them, that generally what they are seeking. Instead, complain to the Tournament Director, They will review the message history and assuming they agree with you, either warn your opponent and/or set silent mode  Should your opponent offend again they will follow procedure, escalating the disciplinary measures, ultimately resulting in possible suspension from all games.


The second group tend to develop from conversations that get out of hand or where the meaning has been lost in translation, so a message not intended to be offensive turns out to not to be intended to be.

My advice to avoid these kinds of issues is to (a) avoid subjects such as Religion and Politics and (b) Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. I recall as a young Supply Chain Manager than a number of my staff got annoyed with their opposite numbers always using the word demand rather than ask. A little bit of investigation showed that the French word for Ask is Demander..........

I have had many interesting conversations (including ones on Religion and Politics) but only with people I knew fairly well and both of us were aware of the robustness of our relationship but unless you know your opponent well avoid this path.

In these cases, the first action should be to confirm if it is a genuine problem – or has been lost in translation. If it’s an issue, complain to the TD, otherwise either continue to enjoy your conversation!

Don’t EVER suffer from an obnoxious opponent!

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Time of the Day!

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, May 13, 2017

A very interesting article was published with regard to the quality of moves made at various times of the day.

Article Link

Whilst there are a few question marks over the research its outline findings are interesting:

People tend to make better moves in the morning

Now this research was for rapid play server play rather than CC, so is it valid for our purposes?

That is something we cannot confirm but perhaps the question should be "Do you know when you make your best moves?"

Data was extracted from the ICCF server last year related to when the most moves were made (it was related to a debate over the so-called "Free day") and what this showed was a peak first thing in the morning, another at lunch, then again in early evening. To me, this suggests that there is no overall bias for CC in terms of move quality but that the player should consider what factors help the make better moves or

What gets them into the Zone?

So what could some of the factors be?

  • Music or the lack of
  • (Light) Alcohol or the lack of
  • Time of the Day
  • Temperature

So next time you find yourself Analysing well - consider what the "factors" were and try to replicate them!



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