Russell Sherwood

ICCF Congress decisions 2018 for Welsh Players

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Milestones

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I was recently preparing Invitations for the next event in out International Title Tournament Series WCCF8, which led me to update the records on WCCF 1 - 7.

(for me) Many interesting statistics came from these events but the most telling of all was that to date our events have generated 51 Title Norms (CCE and CCM) for players from all around the world (to date players have represented 26 different federations).  The story is actually a bit better than it looks with completed events generating an average of 10 Norms!

All said, not a bad result for one of the smaller Federations!

I also updated the Website article records recently, With a few days left in August we have already posted more in 2018 than we did in 2017, which was a record in itself! The target for 2018 is to reach 200 posts.

So positive news and now the Congress is over we can turn our attention to focus on player development and team tournament planning (for starters)

 

ICCF Congress Llandudno: Simultaneous vs IGM Nigel Davies

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, August 28, 2018

As a new event to the Congress Calendar, the WCCF arranged for a simultaneous display to be given by International Grandmaster Nigel Davies (Wales). GM Davies took white on all boards! Final Score GM Davies 15 Wins and 3 draws!

Board Number Player Nat Result
1 Peter Bevan  WLS Draw
2 Sam Davies  ENG Win for GM Davies
3 Catriona Coutts  WLS Win for GM Davies
4 Peter Coutts  WLS Win for GM Davies
5 Timothy Soar  WLS Win for GM Davies
6 Ehud Kisch  ISR Win for GM Davies
7 Adam Haunch  WLS Win for GM Davies
8 Jixin Yang  WLS Win for GM Davies
9 Jack Yang  WLS Win for GM Davies
10 Imogen Camp WLS Win for GM Davies
11 Ifan Rathbone-Jones  WLS Win for GM Davies
12 Martin Bennedik  GER Win for GM Davies
13 Artis Gaujens  LAT Draw
14 Stephen Buseman  GER Win for GM Davies
15 Maximus Pento  GRE Win for GM Davies
16 Nesto Pento  GRE Win for GM Davies
17 Yosua Sitorus INA Win for GM Davies
18 Josef Mrkvička  CZE Draw

 

ICCF Congress: ICCF Team vs Colwyn Bay

Russell Sherwood  Tuesday, August 28, 2018

 An entertaining match was held between an ICCF scratch team and local talents Colwyn Bay, leading to a 7.5 - 4.5 win for ICCF. 

Many thanks to Syringa Camp for organising the event and Colwyn Bay for providing an interesting tussle!

Board Colwyn Bay Result ICCF
1 I Camp  0-1 S.Buseman
2 J.Shakespeare  0-5.-0.5 M Bennedik 
3 J Yang  1-0 P. Bevan 
4 M Vidler  1-0 I Jones 
5 J Yang  0.5-0.5 M Avotins 
6 T.Soar  0-1 A Guajens 
7 H Davies  1-0 S Ottosen 
8 P Coutts  0-1 E Kisch 
9 C.Coutts  0-5-0.5 G Gray 
10 S Camp  0-1 A Davies 
11 N Pento  0-1 E Warner 
12 M Pento  0-1 P Scott 

Final Score Colwyn Bay 4.5 - ICCF 7.5!! 

Five a Day

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, August 11, 2018

This article is the summary of a few email conversations I have had recently on chess engines.

 

 

None of the main Chess Engines are written specifically for Correspondence Chess but some are more suitable than others! We can broadly divide engines into five categories; some engines fall into more than one but considering the different groups will allow the player to make the right choice to assist them in their analysis

 

 

Traditional A-B Engines

 

This includes almost all mainstream engines. In very simple terms, these engines work by considering the best move, then the best response , the best response to the response and so on.

 

This leads to a very narrow search, which gets to a good move quickly, which is essential for fast engine competition but sub-optimal for Correspondence Chess as the methods utilised to achieve greater depth can lead to even better moves being overlooked.

 

Wide Searchers

 

A number of derivatives of Stockfish exist which modify the search method to conduct a much wider search, with the consequence of a much more shallow search.  The approach is useful for very complicated positions with multiple reasonable moves or highly tactical positions.  Komodo is also able to wok in this manner via modification of certain parameters.

 

Interestingly Houdini also appears to have a wider search as it progresses to depth in a much slower manner than other engines.

 

Neural Networks

These (LC0 and Deus X) are the currently darlings of the engine world , following on the success of Alpha Zero. These engines are still tactically vulnerable but do provide very interesting input in quieter positions. The main benefit of these engines is in pattern recognition, which allows something much closer to strategic play to be generated by Chess Engines.  An interesting project currently under development is an engine being trained on Higher Level Correspondence Games, which should give very interesting results!

 

MCTS

Monte Carlos Tree Search is an alternative method to the A-B approach. It tends to be tactically weaker than the A-B approach but it allows Multiple Variations to be examined without loss of speed. Currently Komodo, Stockfish and Scorpio have MCTS versions. Cuttlefish also exists which allows any A-B engine to run a basic MCTS search.

 

Specials

A number of engines exist programmed not to play or analyse but to solve problems – some of these such as Sting can be useful!

 

So how do we utilise these different types of engine. For me, two criteria drive this choice: (a) The number of viable moves and (b) The tactical complexity of the position.

 

Low number of variations – High Tactical Complexity: Utilise a Wide Searcher, then a A-B Engine

Low number of variations – Low Tactical Complexity: Utilise a NN, then a A-B Engine

High number of variations – Low Tactical Complexity: Utilise a MCTS, then a NN, then a A-B Engine

High number of variations – High Tactical Complexity: Utilise a MCTS and NN to generate suggestions, then a Wide Searcher and finally an A-B Engine

Final Gen

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, August 11, 2018

Recently the availability of 7 piece tablebases was discussed. These are VERY large and probably beyond the capacity of typical users to download.

 

For specific positions an older piece of Software – “Final Gen” is still around. This allows the creation of tablebases for a specific position to be generated. Be aware this can take many days to complete but does allow a definitive view to be taken on a specific position. Another alternative, which could be found in some of the engines mentioned in Cutting Edge is a combination of brute force and wide (so called CC analysis ) mode. This allows the engine to be set to fully analyse a specific position. This is not 100% effective but may be a method for those who wish to examine this approach.

http://finalgenchess.ovh/home_ing.php

Cutting Edge

Russell Sherwood  Monday, July 30, 2018

Despite what many uninformed people believe, Modern Correspondence Chess is not all about engine use. However at it’s higher level the use of the right engine in the right way (or otherwise) does represent a potential area for players to demonstrate an edge.

 

Most players will be well aware of the top 3 engines: Stockfish, Komodo and Houdini. In addition, many will be aware of the chasing pack of engines as well.  The purpose of this article is to look at some of the developments on the fringes of this group; the bleeding edge of engine development.

 

These engines have the advantage of additional features (often experimental). Some effort is required to master these and a mainstream engine should also be utilised as a 2nd opinion

 

The rise of LCZero cannot be ignored. The engine has gone through a few blind alleys recently but is now around the 3100 level (when compared to Stockfish and co being around the 3400 mark). Progress has slowed but a new, bigger net is promised, this should be stronger but will also be slower, although this is not really a concern to CC players.  Currently still in the “one to watch” category. DeusX is a new contender in a similar ilk, although at the moment very little is known about it.

 

SHashChess Pro is a Stockfish derivative based on the Sashin theories, meaning it plays very differently, based upon the type of position it is working on.  Its early days yet but it does play a number of moves that Stockfish does not.

 

Mcbrain – Another Stockfish derivative with advanced analysis features

 

Komodo MCTS. A sideline of the main Komodo engine, MCTS utilises a different search method to typical engines. Although weaker than the best standard engines it does provide a very interesting interpretation of positions not seen in a traditional AB search. Currently, the only freely  MCTS engine available is Scorpio.

 

CorChess continues to develop but more interest has been shown recently in Cifish (A double Stockfish and CorChess derivative). This has the advantage of being faster and having additional features.

 

Ethereal is an engine showing real ambition and improvement with aspirations to break into the Big 3. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

Sugar is one of the oldest Stockfish derivatives but current versions include a number of advanced features for CC

 

Raubfisch – this merger of Stockfish and Torpedo has a specialist and well thought of CC version

 

IMS is a little known Stockfish derivative with (I have on good authority) MCTS and learning functionality, advanced CC Functions and closed position tools. Few details exist of this engine with some people even believing it to be a hoax.

 

Turning the Table(base)s

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tablebases are one of those facets of knowledge of (correspondence) chess that are taken as granted as being understood by all but are often not!

In simple terms what are they?

Wikipedia defines them as “An endgame tablebase is a computerized database that contains precalculated exhaustive analysis of chess endgame positions. It is typically used by a computer chess engine during play, or by a human or computer that is retrospectively analysing a game that has already been played.”

Clear now? Maybe not! Let’s start at the beginning. If we have two pieces, the only outcome of the position is a draw.  Not a lot of help. If we have three pieces, it could be a draw or a Win/Loss – depending on the pieces and their positions. The Endgame tablebase has every possible combination and position on the board stored in its table(s). These are linked to together, so the table can provide a definitive answer to the theoretical outcome of the position.

Tablebase development has reached the point that 6 piece tablebases are widely available and 7 piece ones are available from limited sources. Limited 8 piece are in development but are not publicly available.

What is worth considering is that Tablebase development is a slow process – this is due to the staggering amount of computing power required to calculate them as the number of pieces increases, thus it is not expected to see rapid releases of larger tables on a rapid basis.

In addition to this, the storage requirements for Tablebases are significant. Currently, 7 piece tablebases are only available online and are not practical for the typical home user to install locally.

Why are Tablebases important to Chess Engines

Let us consider for a moment how an engine evaluates a position. Generally, most have very little specific, definitive knowledge but use a general approach which considers a number of factors – Material, Space, King Safety……to calculate a score for a specific position. The relative scores for possible choices are compared and the best line is built by following the “best” scores.

The problem with the approach for endgames is that the specifics of the position can have a massive influence on the correct move, which is general approach will not see. This is the reason why we see massive engine scores on drawn position or visa-versa.

With a tablebase this issue is avoided as the engine, knowing it has tablebases available, probes them when the analysis reaches that number of pieces on the board. It now has a definitive result – Win, Lose or Draw, which it can then use to “correct” its analysis of a position.

This means, in theory, at least that the engine is better able to navigate late middlegame and endgame positions.

For the CC player Tablebases should always be installed, where available as without them you will find promising looking positions turning to draws and draws turning to defeats!

So there are one set of definitive tablebases?

Er, no! There are a few different types available:

Thompson, Edwards, Nalimov, Scorpio, Gaviota, Lomonsov and Syzygy

 

The differences between these tend to cover the number of pieces available, Information provided and the size of the tables.

A good summary of this can be found at https://chessprogramming.wikispaces.com/Endgame+Tablebases#x7-man

In terms of information provided we have two main types:

Depth to Mate: This is, as you might guess, the number of moves from a position, with the best play by both sides, to mate.

Win, Draw, Loss: Here we have the simple outcome of a position.

 

For pure engine use, WDL is adequate as once the engine has a result it can modify its search accordingly, whereas DTM is of more interest to Human Analysts. Newer tables tend to come in the WDL format as it is much more compact, which is valuable as the number of pieces increases.

 

Which should I get?

For local set up its hard to get beyond Nalimov, Scorpio or Syzygy. In terms of functionality, most engines will directly link to Syzygy, whereas the other two tend to be linked via the GUI.

If we consider size Scorpio is the smallest, followed closely (in relative terms anyway) by Syzygy, with Nailimov being a distant third.

Probably the main factor is going to be your source – are you going to buy it on a Disk or Download it?

Taking these three factors into account the probable choice is 1) Syzygy 2) Scorpio 3) Nalimov.  OF course, on top of this, the really serious player will probably obtain links to Lomonsov’s 7 Piece table as well!

 

What Else?

This is not quite the end of the story. It is possible to create Tablebases from a specific position. There are some older pieces of software such as FinalGen or Freezer which will calculate from a specific position. These are very slow and take up a lot of storage but may be of interest to some players.

 

Postscript

Should there be sufficient interest I will write a run through on how to set up TB on the major Engine/GUI platforms.

Welsh Friendly Matches Update

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, June 6, 2018

In line with our largest Friendly Match vs Italy being soon to start, I had a run through the archives in terms of our past matches

I have included our participation in some of the "vs the rest" matches.

To date we have taken part in 29 Matches, winning 9, drawing 3 and losing 16 (with one in progress)!

This performance should be taken with a large bag of salt for two reasons:

1) Our attitude to Friendly matches has been one of fun and player development 

2) With 1) in mind we regularly took matches on carrying a significant elo deficit.

When the scoreline is adjusted for Elo difference we see a much more encouraging picture, 22 wins, 6 Losses and 1 in progress. Taking nothing away from our opponents these performances are a significant part of the development of players now advancing Welsh CC on a Domestic and International level!

The plan for Friendlies for the 2018-2019 season will be released in the near future

 

    Start Boards Weblink For Against Open % ES ES% Result ES Result
Wales Peru Oct-12 13 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=31327 15.5 10.5 0 60% 12.5 48% Win Win
Wales Sweden Nov-12 9 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=32242 3.5 14.5 0 19% 8.5 47% Loss Loss
Wales Netherlands Apr-13 19 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=36206 16.5 21.5 0 43% 15.8 42% Loss Win
Wales Spain Jun-13 15 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=37811 11.5 18.5 0 38% 15.4 51% Loss Loss
Wales Venuzuela Aug-13 6 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=39352 6 6 0 50% 4.9 41% Draw Win
Wales Latvia Sep-13 10 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=39577 6 14 0 30% 7.4 37% Loss Loss
Wales USA Dec-13 21 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=40945 20 22 0 48% 21.2 50% Loss Loss
ROE Germany Mar-14 7 http://www.iccf.com/event?id=42350 5.5 8.5 0 39% 6.6 47% Loss Loss
ROE Italy Mar-14 3 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=51661 4 2 0 67% 3.7 61% Win Win
Wales Ireland May-14 5 http://www.iccf.com/event?id=43701 4 6 0 40% 3.0 30% Loss Win
Wales Venuzuela Aug-14 14 http://www.iccf.com/EventCrossTable.aspx?id=45168 11 17 0 39% 9.8 35% Loss Win
Wales Poland Nov-14 21 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=48874 14 28 0 33% 11.9 28% Loss Win
Wales NSW Jan-15 24 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=49791 28 20 0 58% 20.8 43% Win Win
Wales Scotland Jan-15 20 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=49879 20.5 19.5 0 51% 15.1 38% Win Win
Wales Germany Jan-15 25 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=50105 20 30 0 40% 21.4 43% Loss Loss
Wales Scheming Mind Feb-15 22 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=50274 24 20 0 55% 12.7 29% Win Win
Wales Finland Feb-15 26 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=50523 22 30 0 42% 14.9 29% Loss Win
Wales India Apr-15 22 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=52532 28.5 15.5 0 65% 16.3 37% Win Win
Wales Czech Rep May-15 28 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=52981 35 21 0 63% 24.9 44% Win Win
Wales France May-15 30 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=53173 24 36 0 40% 16.7 28% Loss Win
Wales Australia Oct-15 34 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=55647 33.5 34.5 0 49% 27.02 40% Loss Win
ROE Czech Rep Dec-15 5 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=57113 5 5 0 50% 4.82 48% Draw Win
Wales Netherlands Apr-16 24 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=58261 14.5 33.5 0 30% 13.92 29% Loss Win
Wales USA Apr-16 22 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=58396 24 20 0 55% 22 50% Win Win
Wales Austria Jul-16 21 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=60593 9.5 32.5 0 23% 7.56 18% Loss Win
Wales Yorkshire Nov-16 16 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=61959 15 17 0 47% 14.4 45% Loss Win
Wales  Indonesia Dec-16 9 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=62059 9 9 0 50% 5.94 33% Draw Win
Wales Mexico Jul-17 14 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=68656 7 14 7 33% 13.5 48% Open Open
Wales  USA Jun-16 5 https://www.iccf.com/event?id=60201 6.5 3.5 0 65% 5 50% Win Win

 

 

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 AssociationNational Correspondence Chess ClubWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association