Russell Sherwood

Jumping through Hoops!

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, May 10, 2017


From discussion with a few players recently I thought it worth clarifying a few ratings thresholds that a CC player needs to reach to be able to progress…….


Getting a Rating

If you don’t hold a FIDE rating then the first objective is to gain an ICCF provisional rating. To obtain this 12 games need to be completed. It is worth noting that until you reach 30 completed games this rating can (and will) jump around quite a bit (hence it being classed as “unfixed”). Prior to obtaining a provisional rating only 5 types of tournament are open to the player:

  • International Opens – These typically have an average rating of between 2000 and 2100
  • Champions League (Team Event) – Typical team averages in the bottom Division are 2200+
  • National Events – can vary but typically below 2000
  • Promotional Open Class (Both ICCF and Zonal) – Generally below 1900


At this point ICCF Promotional – Higher Class events (1900-2100, average 2000) become available


No new events become available but the player can now be considered (and can lobby!) for inclusion in Title Norm Events for the CCE Title


At this point the ICCF Master Class events become available (Average 2200) and the player can be considered for CCM Title Norm Events


This is a minimum rating applied for WCCF for possible selection/nomination in a number of events


This is a major milestone! At the point the player is now able to:

  • Enter Master Norm Events directly,
  • Be considered for Nomination to the British Correspondence Chess Championship ,
  • Be competitive in terms of selection for Major International Team Events
  • Be considered for lower IM Category Title Tournament Invitations


At this point the player can be consider for some of the medium Category Invitational Events.


At the point the player can be considered for Higher Category Invitations we receive and may enter Major Tournaments either at a later stage (such as the WCCC). In addition Grandmaster Norm events are now available


Hopefully this helps on a regular question!

Simple Guide to Annotation

Russell Sherwood  Friday, May 5, 2017

Annotated games are the lifeblood of any Chess magazine or website and a very valuable source of improvement for the player, yet only a small number of players actually annotate games.

To help improve this I considered if there are any basic ideas which can be utilised to help the aspiring annotator and surprisingly there are!


What makes this game interesting?

If the game is not interesting to you then this will come across in your annotation and will probably not be interesting to other people! So what could make the game interesting:

  • The Event
  • The Opponent
  • The Opening
  1. Any instructive characteristics in the game
  2. A Novelty
  • A Story behind the game
  • The importance of the game (did it give a Norm?)
  • And much more!


Tell a Story

In an extension to “What makes this game interesting?” we need our annotations to tell a story. With a couple of mouse clicks Chessbase can create a deep engine based set of annotations but without a Human “Angle”, the annotations are likely not to be interesting. This can be seen in good annotations having a lot of text description.

Consider your Audience

Who is your (target) Audience? Knowing this will aid in a number of ways:

  • What to include and what to omit
  • The level of explanation you put in (tactical themes, positional ideas, lines not taken, the length of analysis, the balance between text and variations…….


Consider writing annotation with your Opponent

The games are very rare but are often the most instructive: Games annotated with your opponent. For CC players these games can be especially interesting as the insights gained from two sides of the board can be vital in terms of improvement.


Don’t be a Megalomaniac!

A common issue seen in annotated games is players who try to give the impression that they had a complete understanding through the game. This can be boring for the reader and does not tend to read well. Of course if you are a 2700+ rated Super GM your understanding will be rather more complete that a 1600!


Draw’s and Losses can be an interesting as Wins!

Although emotionally much tougher to annotate, draws and especially losses can make very interesting games to annotate, especially as any advice on what was learned may be of interest to other players.

Be Respectful of your opponent

As a general rule, you should not deign your opponent in annotations, regardless of any issues during a CC game. There is a type of “roast” annotation where a number of Humorous remarks are made at a player's expense (typically from a third party annotator) but these are generally best left to those who are naturally humorous and know the players!

What was the Novelty?

(Almost) All games have a novelty (New Move). This is an important move to provide some in-depth commentary on. Were you aware of current theory or was this your cunning plan?

Was a move unexpected?

Choosing which moves to annotate can be difficult. A good, simple way to select them is to ask the questions.

  • Did I expect my opponents move?
  • Would the average reader expect the opponents move?


If the answer to either of these questions is yes then it is a good move to put some commentary on!

Quote Relevant Sources

Consider the level and relevance of sources – it can be very interesting to know the best players to have gone down a line but (a) make sure the number of references is relevant to the audience as the source (For example CC games can be a more interesting and relevant reference)

Don’t worry about making mistakes!

Any Analysis in your annotations will have errors! Don’t worry about this – firstly have an engine check anything you feel unsure about and then should errors be found be happy that someone has gone to the trouble of (a) reading your annotations and (b) taking the time to disprove them, in the process you have both learned something!


This is very important. Offer your annotations up to websites and magazines. Editors are always happy for new content. Do check the rules of the event in terms of public dissemination before you do though!

More Miles to the Gallon?

Russell Sherwood  Monday, May 1, 2017



I've had a nagging doubt about how the same engine performs in different Graphic User Interfaces (GUI) for quite some time, decided to do some research.

The method utilised is a small number of positions were tested and the stable nps (nodes per second) per engine/GUI combination recorded. A general average per engine was then calculated and then the performance transformed into an average performance.

Engine/GUI Fritz 15 CB14 AQ2017 Arena Hiarcs
AsmFish 89% 79% 102% 121% 109%
K10.4 96% 81% 99% 118% 105%
H5 104% 79% 91% 123% 102%
Stockfish 103% 99% 100% 104% 94%
Fritz 15 114% 98% 82% 95% 111%

So some tentative thoughts

  • The difference between the best and worst is around 30-40% in most cases. This is a lot of insight into a position that could be missed
  • Fritz15 seems to perform better than Chessbase
  • My Hardware/Software combination could be skewing the results
  • Different Stockfish versions perform differently in different GUI

So my suggestion to even the semi-serious CC player is to run your own tests and consider if you are using the right Engine/GUI combination(s) to support your analysis!


Can you have too much of a good thing?!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, April 23, 2017

A common question from aspiring CC players is “How many games should I play at once?”. Apart from the obvious and sarcastic answer of “One!” this is a very interesting question.


With a little thought, it is obvious that playing too many games will have a significant negative effect in terms of quality. What might not be so obvious is that playing too few games can also have a negative effect – skills take time and practice to develop and the player also takes a time to focus on a game.


So this leads us to a conclusion that there is an optimal number of games. Talk to a number of stronger players and the answer will tend to be somewhere between 20 and 30, although it is rare these players can explain why!


So let's try and quantify this. When we look at it, our available time determines the number of games we can play. The time is in two areas – our time and computer time.


There are a number of variables to consider;


(1) The rate of play in the events we are going to take part in, typically between 10 moves in 40 and 10 moves in 50 days.


(2) The minutes per day we will devote to CC. (This does not need to be daily, so 6 hours a week would be 6/7 hours per day)


(3) How long we believe we need to review and analyse each move.


(4) How many PC minutes we are willing to utilise per day.


(5) How long we believe we should be using per game to analyse each move. Note 30 minutes here would not to be to leave an engine running on IA for 30 minutes – it could be looking at 15 positions for 2 minutes each.


When we combine these number we come up with two metrics – Human Capacity and Machine Capacity.


Human Capacity = (Average minute per day(2) *Average rate of play in days(1))/Time to Analyse each move(3)


Machine Capaity = (PC Minutes per day(4) * *Average rate of play in days(1))/Time to Analyse each move(5)


Our capacity is whichever of these two numbers is lower.


As an Example:


I look at my games and they are split evenly between 10/40 and 10/50 – my average rate of play in days is 4.5 (40+50)/2/10


I say I will spend 60 minutes per day on CC and I think it will take me 15 minutes to review each game.

I'm willing to let my PC stay on for 4 hours and think it will take 30 minutes per game to analyse.


In this example


HC = (60*4.5)/15 = 18


MC = (240*4.5)/30 = 36


So, in this case, my capacity would be around 18 games. If I wanted to increase my capacity I either need to spend more time on CC (2 Hours per day) or reduce my analysis time (15 minutes to 7.5 minutes) or a combination of both.


Now in practice, you can probably add around 20% to this number because during the game there will be phases when moves are made quickly which allows a little time to build up on your clock!

Lost in the Endgame

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is there a Good, Better, Best Engine in the Endgame?

When it comes to Engines the 2nd most common question asked is “Which Engine is the best in the X” - The “X” being the Opening, Middlegame or Endgame.

It's generally held that Engines are still relatively weak in the Endgame and this is demonstrated in a number of games where the evaluation is significantly incorrect (typically showing Win/Loss for a draw).

This raises four interesting points for the CC Player:

  1. Which kind of positions does the Engine typically misevaluate?

  2. Which Engines tend to be better in the endgame?

  3. Do any combinations of Engines improve the overall analysis?

  4. Can I leverage any of this knowledge in my own games?



The most common errors tend to be positions, which when stripped down bare tend to be about Zugzwang or Fortresses. Miss-evaluation also tends to happen as engines tend to use generic methods which will generate “good” moves but not the absolute best move. In endgame analysis, the engine often relies on search depth finding the win rather than knowledge but often the required winning move is beyond its horizon.



My first Analysis was to use a very large epd file with 432 various endgame positions – some simple, some very difficult. The outcome of this analysis was showed two interesting outcomes:

(1) That even the best engines were only scoring just over 80% or more importantly were getting around 20% of positions incorrect. That is not to say that these moves were blunders, many were 2nd best but not optimal.

(2) Here there was very little difference with the Komodo (10.4) and Stockfish (in the form of Matefinder) being out I front, with Houdini 5 just behind – we then see a chasing pack with Deep Shredder, Fritz 15 and older versions of Komodo and Stockfish. Looking at some historical analysis

We can see that it appears Komodo, in the most recent versions, has made up ground on Stockfish and Houdini

What is interesting is that each version of the Big 3 Tends to advance the score by 1-2%, this being due to improving overall general evaluation picking up a few extra “correct” moves, rather than any additional knowledge being added to the engine.

This knowledge is what tends to make a difference in Endgame analysis – even a fairly weak human player will know about Bishops of Opposite colour being generally drawish but an engine which is a pawn ahead that does not have this built in, will trade down evaluating the game as won!

That knowledge is the key factor here is supported by running the tests again with significantly increased times – as expected the scores only increased slightly.


So I then moved onto a smaller 100 position test set with a view to looking at coverage.

So out of a score of 100 I obtained….

85 CorChess 1.2

84 Matefinder

82 Raubfisch ME262

81 Sugar Xpro 1.0

80 AsmFish

80 Houdini 1.5

79 Houdini 5

78 Komodo 10.4

74 DS 13

71 Fritz 15

71 Gull 3

68 Andscacs

65 Hiarcs 14

59 Hakkapeliitta

57 Critter 1.6

57 Chiron 3

41 Fire 4


I did run other, older engines through the test but in general the scores were at the bottom of the table I also ran other Stockfish Clones through the test suite but these simply crowded out the top of the table.

So from this, we see that even the best modern engines are missing around 15% of these positions.

Some might be surprised that Houdini 1.5 does so well. To a certain extent this is due to the way that Chess Engines are developed. What is more important these days is developing engines which beat other engines and sit atop of the rating list, this aligned with the self-test method utilised means that on occasion, to gain 50 wins, 1 loss is sacrificed and the “Baby goes out with the bathwater”.

Does using a range of engines improve accuracy?

Even from this small-scale test, the answer appears to be a clear Yes!.

The best single score is 85/100, but with a combination of Engines, we reach 99/100!


So Looking at a few combinations….

CorChess 1.2/Houdini 5/Komodo 10.4 we get 92/100


For 99/100 we need(!!)

MateFinder/Houdini 5/Fritz15/Sugar/DS13/Gull3 and Hakkapeliitta!!!!! Rather impractical


A rather more interesting choice is:

CorChess (or another Stockfish Clone) with Support from Houdini 1.5 and Hakkapeliitta with a score of 96/100


Can I leverage any of this knowledge in my own games?

The most simple takeaways from this brief analysis are:

(1) Engines do have gaps in their knowledge, which needs to be taken into account both in analysis and CC play.

(2) These knowledge gaps are not universal and using a combination of engines to analyse a position is likely to bring us closer to the “right” move.

(3) Not all older engines are obsolete and some do give new insights into a position.

(4) Even with the use of a combination of engines it still requires the Player to act as arbiter and when doing this s(he) should consider that the highest rated engine is not always correct.


This brings us to the end of this brief review of Engines in the Endgame. I include a spreadsheet with engine results should the reader be interested in different combinations.


Getting those Title Norms you know you deserve!?

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In a prior article, I reviewed a path to the CCE Title but considering my own aspirations I thought it useful to review the approach I believe is necessary for Higher Titles.

The first thing we need to consider is getting access to the right level of Tournament. Although CCM, IM, SIM and GM Norms become available at Category G,1,4 and 7 respectively very few Norms are scored at these levels because you are required to score around 79% - around 7 wins out of 12 games, which In modern CC is almost unheard of.

Preference is given instead for 3 Categories Higher (J,4,7 and 10) where the required performance drops to 4 wins from 12 games – difficult but not impossible.

So from a practical view, we need to build out rating up as high as possible to be able to try and gain access to these higher level events – either via direct access (such as Master Norm Tournaments) or selection (such as Invitational or National Team events). Outside of these the best possible option for an aspiring player is the Champions League, where even in the lowest Division events up to Category 3 are possible without either the rating limit or selection process seen in most other events.

 To boost our rating, we have to look to primarily win games against lower rated players. This is worthy of a very extensive article in its own right but the basics include:

  • Going into Opening variations which are not fully clear
  • Not following worn out book lines
  • Not slavishly following engine advice

Let’s assume we have reached the position of being able to secure entry to a suitable event. For me there are now three areas we now need to consider:

  • General Event Preparation
  • Specific Opponent Preparation
  • Opening Preparation


All of these overlap to a certain extent, starting with:


General Event Preparation

Here we have several considerations:

  • What are my performance requirements for the Norm?
  • What other objectives do I or are my opponents likely to have for this event? (e.g. Do I want to be promoted to the next round of an event)
  • How important is this event to me? (Am I willing to risk losing when trying to win?)
  • Are there wider considerations? (Team event place additional constraints on players)

These combine to give a general picture of the event and what is required of you to achieve your goals!

In addition, at this point it can also be a very useful exercise to determine the “average” expected Outcome of the event – this can be built up in a spreadsheet quite quickly and can give an indication of potential targets and threats.

Specific Opponent Preparation


If we have built the spreadsheet mentioned above we can have a very useful indication in terms of games we are expected to win and lose. This can also be done by a simple examination of our games. As a general rule anyone we are more than 100 Elo above we should be looking to win against, Anyone more than 100 Elo above us a draw is our likely target and anyone else a draw is also a likely outcome.

From above we now have a basic list of likely targets but this is almost certainly going to be inadequate for us to reach out goal. The list above is based on the statistical outcome of the rating formula, which is generally correct over a large number of games but we now need to look at the games that buck the trend.

At this point we now start to look closely at our opponents. A very basic method is as follows:

  • What is happening to their ratings over the last 5-6 rating lists, Up, down, Flat or Choppy? Ideally our targets are on the way down, but choppy is also of interest!
  • How many games are the playing (whilst we cannot see this directly the number of games finished per rating period is a good proxy), If this number if too high it increases the potential for errors and gives us an insight into their approach.
  • What is their Win/Loss/Draw ratio over the last few rating periods? Some players (especially those with flat or choppy ratings) tend to fall into two groups: Those who Win/Lose and those who draw. For our purposes, the Win/Lose player tends to make a better target for a result.
  • What Title do they have? Whilst I believe there is a sell by date on titles (those from before 2012 are from the pre-engine age and probably less of a threat than those achieved more recently. On the flip side to this, do remember that those same players do tend to have well rounded positional chess skills)
  • How active are they? What have their recent results been like? For example, if someone is a SIM but their recent performances have been IM or lower level this might indicate possibilities?
  • What other information can be gathered? Age, FIDE Rating, published ideas, Team participation. All potential little nuggets.


All of this, when added to the statistical numbers, should now allow us to identify our target games and the move onto Opening Preparation.

Opening Preparation


Our first consideration is Opening strategy – Do we look to gain results via safe or challenging openings? In its simplest form do we meet 1.e4 with a Sicilian or go 1..e5 and head to the Berlin Wall?  This should be influenced by our opponent’s likely choices.

Again, an in-depth article is necessary here but in basic steps:

  • Obtain a large database of our opponent’s games
  • Examine it for general considerations – are there lines we don’t like to play? Or do they play the same lines as we do?
  • Examine their wins and losses in detail – Do they use tend to novelties early or late or look to win in the endgame?
  • Do they seem to understand the opening themes of the lines they play (do you understand them?) If not them early deviations or move-order shenanigans may be possible
  • Chessbase’s Prepare for and Dossier tools can be very useful here.
  • We now can build lines to be able to set our opponent new challenges.
  • At this point, we now are able to start playing and we if we have done our homework there should be very few surprises (for us!)

As we are now playing a few other considerations come to mind:

  • Don’t play into drawish lines early on (unless that’s your objective) – you don’t want to draw early with someone who then loses a number of other games – better to work harder in the game so the potential for a result remains longer.
  • Take notice of your opponent’s time handling method – if they play very quickly this may indicate insufficient analysis (although it could indicate prepared lines!) or do they run their clock down (at which point an unusual move could cause panic!)
  • Take your time – double  Triple check your analysis.
  • Be patient, especially in favourable or winning positions – the result will come in the end and if they are delaying excessively there are approaches to deal with this!


Good Luck and Good Norm Hunting!

Lifting the Hood

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, April 16, 2017

Taking a look at Chess Engine Settings


Most players will use Engines with their default settings, yet for Correspondence Chess this could be a major mistake as most engines are tuned for fast time control Engine v Engine games, not Analysis or Correspondence play.

Most Engines are very poorly documented (Komodo being a notable exception!) so it can be hard without extensive research to determine the effects of various parameters, options and settings, hence this brief (and superficial) review. In general I won’t suggest the best settings as these can be very hardware dependent.

Before we move onto some of the common adjustable settings its worth thinking about the Engine itself. Chess Engines have two main working parts – Search and Evaluation:

Search is the method by which the engine decides which moves to evaluate. It has to do this because the number of possible moves is beyond astronomical and the number of moves it can evaluate, even with the best possible hardware is finite.

A very simple example – if we look at 20 (half) moves deep we are looking in the region of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible positions – yet a typical engine on fairly modest hardware will reach this depth in a few seconds – during which time it will have “only” looked at a few million positions – clearly a tiny fraction of a fraction of a percent of the possible positions.

This means that search techniques have evolved that aim to reduce the number of positions looked at but the problem from our perspective is that sometimes the “Baby goes out the with bathwater”. This has been recognised and so a number of options exist which we can adjust which can make the engine stronger for Analysis even though it will be weaker in rapid gameplay.


This is the method by which the positions are evaluated – Options here tend to alter the relative impact of certain parts of the evaluation – e.g. Structure vs Initiative.

Onto the options – not all are available in every engine and even then the might have a slightly different implementation.

LMR (Late Move Reduction)

This is a technique where the amount of time spent analysing each move is proportionate to its prior rating – so moves considered better get more time and worse moves get less time. This can be observed if you watch an engine – it seems to spend a fair bit of time on the first few moves then rush through the later ones. If switched off this gives more time to worse moves, the benefit of this is that moves, where the real impact is “down the line”, can be picked up, the downside is that the engine analyses much slower.

Null move Pruning

This has a similar impact as LMR but is based here on the concept that in a position that doing something is almost always better than doing nothing (A null move). If switched off a much slower but more through search results which can be useful finding deep threats and zugzwang.


This determines how deeply the engine search along some lines. When used in Komodo higher values will encourage a narrower, deeper search but with a consequence that it may miss a move!


If you are using a single engine this should be set to either the number of processors you have or this minus one if you intend to do other light work whilst analysing. There is an alternative view that this should be the number of physical processors your pc has but this is beyond this discussion.

Hashtable Size

This is the working memory your processors will use. General rule of thumb is that this should be around half the total RAM on your machine.

Smart CPU Usage

This determines the default number of Cores the engine starts with. Should be on.


Should be set to zero. This is a setting for engine v engine play used to improve results against inferior opponents.

Syzygy Probe Depth

This determines the search depth at which the engine will probe the tablebases. Generally left at default value.

Syzygy Probe Limit

This is the minimum number of pieces on the board before the engine will start to access any available Tablebases. Should be set to what size of tablebases you have installed.

Large Pages

Where available this allows the memory allocation to be “together” generating a slight speed increase.

Tactical Mode

When utilised much more emphasis is given to Tactics in both the search and Evaluation. The is the equivalent of looking for a knock out punch. Of course, this is at the cost of positional concerns. This mode is very useful is tactically charged positions where the feeling is that “Something is on”!


Is a method used to reduce the search based upon the assumption the opponent will be able to find at least one good move. Generally best left in its default state but if a wider but shallower search is required then experimentation is required.

Futility Pruning

Is another method used to prune the search tree – again best left at default.

Split Depth

This determines the depth at which the analysis will be split between multiple Cores.

Load Hash/Save Hash

A very useful tool where available for CC players. Here the Hashtable can be saved and then reloaded at a later date so that analysis can continue from the same or very near point.

Table Memory

This is a Komodo internal setting utilised for various helper tables. The default of 128 is for fast games and for CC the player should experiment with higher values up to a maximum of 1024 as this is hardware dependent.

King Safety

This is the relative weight given in the evaluation to King Safety. Set too high is can cause play to become stodgy and defensive, set too low it can cause the engine to become rather more carefree in its attacks but potentially leaving itself open to counter-attacks.


Another Komodo setting which controls how aggressively prunes the tree, higher values mean Komodo will search deeper but is more likely to miss something, lower values lead to a much more shallow search but is less likely to miss a move.


Controls the relative weighting of Dynamic and Static parts of the evaluation. An interesting comment in the Komodo Readme file is that values of 80 will give more accurate evaluations than the default of 100 but the engine will be around 20-30 elo weaker.

Progress Threshold

This parameter determines how quickly the engine starts to look at the 50 move rule.


Is a setting for engine v engine and determines how likely the engine will make a different move in the same position.

Extend Checks

This is an option seen in some Stockfish variants. This is related to extending the search certain positions. Generally best left at the default setting.


This brings us to the end of this review – for the aspiring player much suggestion is to experiment with settings to see which gives the optimal results!

Infinite Variety

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I've had an interesting discussion recently in terms of Engine based Analysis techniques. Now to the uninitiated there is only one method - plug in the position rather IA for a rather long time and then mindlessly play the move. Pish!

In a fairly short brainstorm we came up with over 20 different methods that can be used ( a partial list is below) - you would need to know more detail to be able to use these but the point is.....think with creativity about how to perform analysis!

        (i)Infinite Analysis
        (ii) Multi PV Analysis
        (iii) Selective Analysis
        (iv) Forward Sliding
        (v) BackSliding
        (vii)Deep Analysis (Fritz)
        (viii) Deep Analysis (CB)
        (x) Monte Carlo
        (xi) Shootout
        (xii)Lets Check
        (xiii) Comparative Analysis
        (xiv) Brabo Methods
        (xv) Paired Deepening
        (xvi) Saved Tables
        (xvii)2nd Opinion
        (xviii) My Move - Your Move
        (xix) Patched Super Deepening
        (xx) Remote Engines
        (xxi) Subtractive Analysis


A Peek behind the Curtain!

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Often players struggle to understand the evaluation that a Chess Engine gives a position. 

Now its possible to see the breakdown of Stockfish Evaluation function.

Please note two things 

  • Ths is not a replacement for an Engine!
  • The position that is being evaluated is the at end of the line, not the start (or current ) position



Blast from the Past

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cleaning up spme old links.....

came accross the Congress Video from Cardiff 2015!


Welsh Correspondence Chess FederationBritish Correspondence Chess AssociationClergy Correspondence Chess ClubSchemingMind Internet Correspondence Chess ClubSocial Correspondence Chess AssociationNational Correspondence Chess ClubWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association