Russell Sherwood

How to train your Dragon!

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, January 18, 2018

Recently I have really got back into playing the King’s Indian Defence. As is well known in CC circles Engines do not understand the KID defence at all, with typical situations having the engine showing a significant plus for white, even when the actual situation is much better for black. There are many reasons why this is the case – three of the main ones being the way engines are tested/tuned, Engine Search Style and the nature of the position itself.


Engine Testing/Tune makes this situation worst as various parameters are set to get the best result in the most possible positions – in other words if I play 10,000 games I want to win as many as possible, changing a parameter might increase the total numbers of wins by a few percentage points but it may well make the evaluation of the engine of “non-standard” positions even worse!


The search style of the engine can make the problem worse. In the simplest sense engines either focus on depth of search or width of search. Engines that focus on depth of search really struggle in the KID as the nature of this search is that a lot of lines are pruned and because the nature of the KID is that many of the lines have sacrifices and deep positional motifs, heavily pruned searching tends to miss this sort of thing, leading to an engine which shows +1.3, +1.4, +1.3, +1.5, 0.25, -0.5, 1.5, falling off a cliff edge as the engine finally “sees” the issue.


The nature of the position itself is one which engines tend to struggle with: Deep and wide attacking lines, sacrifices without immediate benefit…….


So how can we look to better in the KID?


#1 Learn the ideas in the Opening. More so than almost any other opening, it is vital that the player learns the ideas and common manoeuvres seen in the KID. Knowing this will improve the player's sixth sense of which lines to select and which to dismiss.

#2 Select your Engine partner with care. Houdini does better than most of the other major engines In the KID but does not have a learning function (#5)

#3 Build as large a database as possible of games played in the KID.

#4 Build as large an Opening book as possible

#5 Train your engine. A few engines have a “Learning” Mode. What this differs from engine to engine but what we are looking at here is ones that record the best move analysed at a certain depth. This can be useful in itself but comes into its own if paired with a backsliding method. Now we could do this by hand but a more effective way is to utilise game analysis modes seen in most major GUI’s which employ a form a backsliding. This method would allow the engine to build analysis “over the Horizon” based on past games.

#6 Consider using Aquarium’s IDEA function, linked with Infinite Analysis. (which can also be combined with #5!) This allows a very wide search to be utilised to build up a more accurate view of the position(s) over time

#7 Consider Monte-Carlo Analysis – this is an almost random method of building up a view of a position but can help in overcoming the engine’s natural problems.


I know I have enjoyed analysing the KID a lot over recent months but by application of the methods above now have an engine /set of analysis that is approaching a “correct” view of the KID for black.

Read All About it!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, January 7, 2018

If you wish to read about Chess there are plenty of online sources available but the situation for Correspondence Chess is far less rosy. If often get asked about sources for news and information

An obvious place to start is the player’s National Federation. These are very much a mixed bag and it’s a case of trial and error to find good sources. IF you have a basic translator in your browser (fairly standard is Chrome) then I would recommend the sites of :










These sites are a great source of news. If you want more discussion about the game other good sources are:

Welsh Correspondence Chess Facebook Group. This is a private group as some of the discussion is typical Welsh banter. If you would like to join the contact either Russell Sherwood, Austin Lockwood or Ian Jones


Immortal Chess Forum

This is s very large forum with discussions on many chess subjects

Talk Chess

Here these is a different focus but many interest subjects

Ultimate Chess Forum

Lots of great resources here. An interesting model – if you wish to access most of the materials you have to contribute (post) to the forum.


The Russian CC Federation resides here but lots of really interesting content.


There are plenty of other sides but these are some of the ones I find most interesting.

The Golden Snitch

Russell Sherwood  Monday, January 1, 2018

I’ve been asked a few questions about Tournament Norms and Categories recently, so I thought a quick reminder worthwhile.


To obtain ICCF Titles there are two routes:

  • Awarded for winning a specific event (e.g. the World Cup)
  • Via the accumulation of 24 games at the correct level with the correct performance standard.


For our purposes, we are interested in the 2nd approach. These 24 games need to come from International Title Tournaments, so-called “Norm Events”.  There are a number of criteria to determine if an event is an ITT and a number that could be an ITT are not at the deliberate choice of the organiser. The onus is on the player to be clear if the event they expect to play in is an ITT or not.

So assuming we are looking to play in an ITT we now start to hear the term “Category”, which is confusingly (and often incorrectly) used to refer to two measurements used in the event.

The first of these is the Tournament Category. If you look on an event page if it is an ITT it will refer to (Tournament) Category X. This is simply the average elo of the players involved (excluding some players ratings in certain circumstances). Historically this was then used to calculate the Performance requirements for all players for specific norms (IM, SIM…..). Currently, this is simply used as an indicator of the expected average strength of an event for recruitment (and marketing) purposes.

The second measurement is the Individual Required Performance aka the Individual Norm Requirement. This is calculated by taking the average of the other players in the event (again excluding some in certain circumstances) . This means that different players can have different requirements for the same Title Norm in the same event. This seems unfair but is designed to correct inequalities for players significantly Higher or lower rated than the event average. In general, this means for a few players in the event the Norm might be 0.5 points lower in requirement.

Next time – Which is the right Tournament Category for me?

Back to the Future

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 31, 2017

I was recently discussing the direction of CC with a number of friends recently. Whilst this conversation ranged over a number of areas one that came that was a little different was that of CC organisations themselves.


In general, there are far fewer Correspondence Chess players than 10 or 20 years ago. Much of this was , I believe, down to a failure of most CC organisations to develop effective strategic plans to deal with three disruptive changes: (1) The transition from Postal to Email and eventually Server based play (2) The rise of the Internet and the proliferation of playing opportunities/sites and (3) The rise of the Chess Engine.   This then left the organisations scrambling to respond to the changes and many struggled. Take the response to Chess Engines. Many organisations attempted to ban their use, which felt like Horse owners banning the Automobile, rather than looking how to integrate their use or develop dual streams of play. Again short term, knee-jerk responses.



So how does a forward-thinking CC organisation move forwards and plan strategically to enhance its chances of long-term survival?  This is the money question but a few areas do seem to answer at least partial answers:



Typically the modern CC player will most likely want to play on their phone? Can you site offer this?   Is your site optimised for viewing on a phone?


A modern player will want an almost instant response – enter a tournament now, I want to see my name on the waiting list, not wait a day for someone to get back to me.



Do you have an active recruitment policy or strategy? If not then you are missing a trick.  You will always lose a number of players each year and need new blood to come in. If these players are not being sought and you are relying on “word getting around”, then the long-term direction will be downwards.


The typical CC player is now a pensioner. This needs to change otherwise time will continue to reduce numbers. So how to change this trend. A few thoughts:


Junior CC Tournaments – Most CC organisers tend to roll their eyes due to the high dropout rates.  The key to successfully navigating this is to see things through “the eyes of the customer”.  One potential area is to consider why the dropout rates are so high; perhaps rapid time controls are the key


OTB Players – Since the Mid-Nineties CC has had an uneasy relationship with OTB players and organisations, mainly due to a large number of misconceptions and downright wrong ideas about CC and Engine use in particular. Any Literature needs to address these issues. OTB and CC are different, in a similar way to the 100m and Marathon being different Athletics disciplines. The same goes on about “paper” titles – again the point being that a GM Title in CC, makes you, well nothing, in OTB and visa-versa. Again some people get excited about this issue but I see it is no different to my 2nd Dan in Karate being different to my 1st Kyu in Judo – both are martial arts but both are different.


The key here is to recognise and push the benefits of CC to OTB players, which a number of documents do well and not become embroiled in a number of repetitive arguments, typically from people who want to troll a discussion.


Non-Chess Players – This may seem an odd-group, but there are parallel pursuits, which promote, Logic, use of Technology and competition. Determining this could yield results



How much variety does your organisation offer in terms of events, time controls, prizes…… If you have to think about it, then probably not enough!



CC does not have to be expensive. Whilst free as a price should be avoided for many reasons, the general pressure on your event costing should be downwards.


This is just a sample of thoughts on developing a strategic direction for a CC organisation. Some people believe even considering this approach is too professional for volunteer organisations, personally having applied it regularly in my Professional life and in a number of volunteer organisations (large and small)  over the years I can say those who did it fared much better than those who did not!

Rating Blues

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 31, 2017


I get asked on occasion about the ICCF rating system. If we hunt it down we find it at the back of the Tournament Rules (now in the single rules document!)

It’s a rather dry document but the most interesting points of it are:


#1 All your results count – old ones don’t drop off.

#2 You have three phases of rating – Unrated/Provisional, Unfixed and  Fixed.

                Unrated/Provisional – here your base rating is calculated. Two main factors come into play – the quality of your opponents and your result against them.

                Unfixed – in this period between 12 and 30 games, individual results can make big changes to your rating and it is possible for your rating to go down even if you win a game IF the opponent is much lower rating than your Unfixed rating

                Fixed – 30 games onwards. Here the change to your rating is calculated by the expected result determined by rating point difference, the actual result and your K factor (The K factor is a stabiliser which reduces the more games you play)

#3 The Rating difference is determined by the ratings at the point of the result NOT at the start of the event.

#4 Rating lists are published 4 times a year.

This leads to a number of strategies a player should employ to avoid shooting themselves in the foot….


  1. When starting out you need to play the highest opposition possible. Whilst your result is a combination of rating and result, it is clear to see that a draw against a 1900 and a draw against a 2200 are not the same thing! I know if I were starting out again I would look at either one of the big ICCF opens or the Champions League (assuming I could find 3 more players). These give access to around a 2100 average level of opposition.
  2. You need to finish off games quickly and not let them drag on for many rating lists. Most players will be able to tell of times where they have had games when they started out which would have gained 4 or 5 elo , that ended up costing them 2 or 3 when finished, as their rating had increased 400 odd e points between the start and finish. So the key is here, if its drawn (ish) offer the draw, don’t let it drag on.
  3. Tricky one this but pick the timing of draw offers (Don’t delay the game unnecessarily) but if you are close to the end of a rating period and the difference between you and your opponent is now 200 rating points and on the new list it will be 100 then in 1 s, then its obvious when the draw should be offered.
  4. Consider how you will aim to beat much weaker opposition. Once you have an Unfixed or fixed rating you need to win games to maintain it, if you are facing much lower rating opposition. So this means, for example, a 2400 rated player entering an Open with an average of around 2100, needs to be scoring in the region of 80% to maintain their rating. This should be a consideration in selecting any event.
  5. The rating system tends to maintain the status quo – if you draw against people with the similar ratings yours will tend to stay the same. As an ambitious player, you need to look for opportunities to get to play better opposition. This is not always easy but if you reach 2250+, then Invitational Events, International Friendlies, Champion’s League (Preferably the B Division or better), Interzonal events and National Championships tend to give the best opportunities.

Do not go gentle into that Good Night. Rage Rage against the Dying of the Light.

Russell Sherwood  Friday, December 22, 2017

You know the situation. “All of a sudden” your position is worse, almost losing. What are you going to do?

Having an inferior position In CC happens to us all, how you deal with it can have a lot to do with your long-term success as a player.

The first thing that has to happen is that you have to “Wake up and smell the roses” and recognise that your position, will without some change of fortune lead to a losing game. When this happens we can loosen the mental shackles and look at the position differently.

At this point, the first thing to recognise is that the game is probably lost and anything we do only has a fairly slim chance of success.  So what are some of our possibilities?

#1 Offer a draw – Very Cheeky but it might come off and it also might sow a seed a doubt in your opponents mind.

#2 Start to ignore the Engine rather more. Why? Unless an engine can find a drawing line it will tend to trade down the position which will not favour us.

#3 Analyse Deeper – what we are looking for is opportunities to move the game away from the direction it is going in at the moment. Sacrificial lines tend to be helpful here

#4 Look for opportunities to trade into drawing situations. For example, you might chuck another pawn on the fire to trade into a double rook ending, which is notoriously hard to convert for the win.

#5 Keep trying to switch the mainline. Tricky this – If you can see someone is letting an Engine “autopilot” the win home, a not keep going down the mainline. This will force your opponent to do a full analysis on each move and (s)he may rush this and blunder.

#6 Give the chances to Blunder – look for lines where the natural move is a bad one. The same goes for keeping them under any time pressure you can.

#7 Be happy doing nothing – Many players make the mistake of always seeking an active defence. Sometimes simply forcing them to try and convert the win can cause them to come unstuck.

#8 Look to create Fortresses – Easier said than done but always worth looking for in the endgame

The key to all of this is to keep your chin up and keep on fighting!

Tri-Bi Thinking

Russell Sherwood  Friday, December 22, 2017

TrBi Thinking


Time controls in CC events are a permanent source of strife to players and organisers alike. In theory, the 10 in 40 system (or similar) should work perfectly without any issues but in reality, it does not for many reasons. In 2014 a number of piecemeal solutions were suggested from various sources but rather than trying to simply paper over the cracks a working group was created to come up with an alternative and the output of this group is “TriBi”. As of today (11/12/17) this has been loaded onto the ICCF server and is available for the first Trial events, one of which will be the Welsh organised “States and Region’s tournaments”


So what is TriBi?

So we now know the “rules” of the system but we now need to consider some of the consequences…..


  1. There is no Free day anymore – your clock runs down by the second not the day. This means the tactic some players do of letting their clock run down to less than a day, making a move a day for the next x moves to time control and then repeating process will not work, indeed to it almost certainly lead to a loss on time.
  2. Players need to make good use of their time as if your clock runs down, relative to your opponents you can put yourself at a serious disadvantage.
  3. Some players may adopt “bedtime” tactics – let’s say I am playing an opponent in my own or adjacent time zone – if I play the move just before going to bed – his clock is running for 8 hours before gets to see it in the morning or worse still 18 hours before he sees it in the evening. Of course, both players can adopt these tactics which tends to zero things out.
  4. A loss of time in a Blitz finish is possible but highly unlikely – note point (2)
  5. No more adjudication – this will stop the poor practice of delaying play for the adjudication date hoping to bamboozle the adjudicator.
  6. Players will need to be careful on their interaction with their opponent if the situation occurs in a balanced but not drawn position where the opponent is short of time and looks to complain if you will not accept a draw. This may lead to scurrilous Code of Conduct claims. This is not a problem as the player is under no obligation to accept a draw.
  7. You can now plan your playing activities much easier as you know when events will finish
  8. The onus is now on you to manage your time, this will be a shock to some players but not those who are fore-armed!
  9. Before a major holiday (e.g. Christmas) or anytime you will be not playing for a while (vacation, work trip etc) – try and make a move before you go, then at least some of the time will be on your opponent's clock! (Of course the same goes if your opponent makes a move just before a major holiday!)

To Draw or not to Draw?

Russell Sherwood  Friday, December 22, 2017

When should a player consider accepting/offering a draw in CC?  The answer to this question is very personal to the player, based on a number of beliefs, which we will now try and untangle!

The first area to consider is the player's approach to draws. Depending on the event player’s will adopt a number of different strategies, ranging from “Win with White, Draw with Black” – at the higher levels against peer level opposition to the frantic “Win at all costs with either colour” seen in some of the large ICCF Open events. (Interesting side note, often high rated players underperform in Open events as they struggle to move from the first strategy to the second!)

This strategy (or even the middle ground of taking it as it comes) will all introduce a level of Bias into our acceptance/rejection decisions.

So what does a draw offer actually entail? Effectively we are saying that “I don’t think I can win this game” and by implication “I don’t think you can either”. So how do we reach that conclusion? This varies between players but from discussions with a number of players a few (not mutually exclusive) approaches include


  • #1 Statistics for this position indicate it likely to be a draw – e.g. the last 100 games played from this line all ended in draws.
  • #2 My engines(s) evaluation of the position as 0
  • #3 My Chess sense tells me that the position is dead
  • #4 The Rating (or more precisely rating difference) of my opponent


We also have a number of other reasons for draw offers, not related to the position (or opponent)


  • #5 The position of the tournament – If a draw is only needed to win/qualify/…….
  • #6 Title Norm Requirements – I only need a draw
  • #7 Rating reasons – Either the player wants to “leech” rating points or wants to take the gain/or hit to their rating before the end of a rating period


Then to add to this we have psychological reasons


  • #8 They are  in an inferior position but want to cast doubt on your evaluation
  • #9 They want to “buy” their way of a bad position
  • #10 They are bluffing, having seen a lost position (and hoping you have not yet)


Mixing all these together we then see a range of behaviours ranging from: Offering a draw around move 20 or earlier – these tend to be related to players who rely on #1,#2 or #7 to grinding out a position to very end – they tend to be players who focus on #7 and on a factor not yet discussed – Fudge Factor: How likely is your opponent to make a mistake in a draw position.


So how should the intelligent player approach draw offers?


First, forget any nonsense about the higher-rated player having to offer the draw. Ratings are rather more fluid now than they were 20 or more years ago, so this just does not make sense!


In my opinion, the criteria should be considered:


  1. What are my goals for this event and this game? This should have been done at the start of the event but may have been modified as the game/event progressed. So what was the expected result at the start of the game (determined by your preparation) and does a draw meet the needs of this event?
  2. What is the state of play on the board (#3)? This is not what an engine or opening books tell you but what you actually think. The key here is, to be honest with yourself, don’t delude yourself that your position is better or worse than it really is. If we do come to the conclusion that our position is much worse, then a tactical draw offer may be on the cards
  3. What do the Engines say about this position? Remember that an evaluation of 0 does not mean it is drawn, simply that the engine considers the position to be balanced. A few helpful things to consider here (and in #2) are the imbalances in the position (based on Silman’s theory of imbalances) – what is different about black and white – pieces, mobility, pawn structure.
  4. What do the Databases say about the position?  There are a number of factors to consider – the performance level, the percentage of draws, how recent the games where.
  5. Am I content with a draw (and is my opponent likely to be content? This is the least analytical criterion to consider but, even with recent rules changes, draw offers are still limited.
  6. What type of Guy/Girl is my opponent? This information should have been gleaned in your preparation but how often do they win/lose? Do they take early/late draws? What is their recent form? (Always difficult to assess as games in the public domain tend to have been won/lost a year or more before!) An example of this was an opponent I kept bumping into Regional events. He would play like a 2400 rated player for about 30 moves, then 90% of the time blunder in the middlegame – so I knew against him the approach was to never take early draws.


Unless you can find support for a draw from most of the  6 of these criteria then a draw offer should not be made or accepted (#2 is the exception if all the others are green as Engines often have favourable scores in what are in reality drawn positions).  There is a 7th criterion which is related to your time – both in an individual game and for CC in general. It used to be the case that you could recover your time in almost any event – even if down to less than 1 day on the clock but with the event of Tri-Bi your relative clock positions becomes something you should consider on a regular basis.



Anyway, I hope these thoughts are helpful!

What’s your UWP?

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, December 21, 2017

Within Sales and Marketing (S&M) there is a concept of a Unique Sales Proposition (USP). This is a concept that basically says “This is why you should buy from me”. If you consider, say Volkswagen and Ferrari both have different propositions on why you should buy a vehicle from them. Anyway, what has this got to do with CC? Using similar thinking we can come up with the idea of the Unique Winning Proposition. Let’s simplify this more – How do you win?


If we look at almost any sport, different methods are utilised by different players and/or Teams – All out attack, “Park the Bus”, Counter Attack, the list is endless…….


You might think that I just play the moves and the win comes (or not!) If this is the case then you are probably not getting the results you deserve! So let us consider a few of the approaches I have observed:


#1 Out-Hardware your opponent. It’s sad but this is an approach used by some – basically, I have the bigger hardware, so can search deeper. It does have flaws, one of which is the concept of Minimum effective dose (or search in this case) and another is that of diminishing returns. Both of these can be summed up as once you get to a certain depth of search, going beyond it tends not to gain you much!


#2 Out-Preparing your opponent – this is probably one of the most effective methods. Examining the games of your opponent and finding weaknesses to exploit. On the surface, this is the Opening’s play but we can go much deeper, how do they handle certain types of positions? How do they win? How do they lose? Early Draws?  Here we can generate strategies such as knowing your opponent does much worse in closed openings – so guess where we go!


#3 Out-Preparing your opening – This is similar to the previous method but here we focus on the opening much more – do we actually know the concepts of the Opening, the plans, the ideas, Why this move is played/not played rather than simply looking at percentages in Opening books?


#4 Playing Chess – This approach involves very early deviation from the mainlines and playing based on our understanding of the game (with an engine acting as a tactical checker). The advantage of this approach, especially when combined with Out-preparing the opening is that we are able to ignore the engines protestations of a position being 0.2 pawns worse and play the long-term game.


#5 Middlegame Knowledge – Engines are tactical beasts but have fairly poor middlegame conceptual knowledge. If we specialise here we are able to see that we want our Knight in that outpost and thus generate a plan which will get it there. Engines will (almost certainly) not see this sort of manoeuvre. The same goes with the concept of translation (a core anti-engine technique) which is the idea of moving your entire position up the board.


#6 Endgame Knowledge – Engines are pretty poor in endgames and a good human player, (with an engine peeking over their shoulder for tactical blunders) can outmanoeuvre the engine


#7 Psychological methods – This is a bag of methods utilised (none of which I would recommend!) by some players – including attempting to upset their opponent (whilst saying just within the rules) in a number of ways. These methods tend not to work as much these days and most TD’s take a dim view of them if discovered.


#8 Communal Analysis – These are a number of methods utilised by some players which are in some cases, breaking the rules and in others are on the very edge and untested in terms of the legality. A couple of examples of this are (a) Team Rooms. In very simple terms the details and moves of the game are shared between the teammates in a private area, with analysis, comments and suggestions being discussed. This is against the rules and risks severe sanction if discovered (b) Shared Hash Files.  Imagine a number of players decide to play a certain opening and all have very large Ram on their PC’s. If one has a very fast PC, they can let this run for a period of time and fill the hash table. This hash table is then saved and shared between the different players. A similar idea is running Monte Carlo or Gauntlet analysis on their opening positions and sharing the results.  In my mind, this is on the edge of the rules, although probably legal as the sharing of opening books is legal


#9 Out Software your opponents – Here the basic idea is to gain a winning edge by always having the cutting-edge software. This is generally the latest version of engines, databases or GUI’s. This is, in general, a bit of a fool’s errand as the difference between, for example, Komodo 11 and Komodo 11.2.2 is not going to make that much difference to your results. However, it is worth noting that saying reasonably up to date is a good idea.



So dear reader? How do you win your games? If you don’t already know then specialisation in one or more (can you specialise in more than one thing?) could possibly give you improved results and somewhere to focus your limited study time!


Lean Chess

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, December 21, 2017

I am not missing a letter A in the Title! This article came about after a work colleague read my article on Industrial Chess (He is not a Chess player but like myself a Change Management professional). How and why he read the article is another story but it did lead to an interesting discussion on the subject of process optimisation and one which led to me getting some friendly stick for not having applied Lean methods to my CC practice.


So what are Lean methods? These came out of Toyota (the Car manufacturers) approach production and are utilised in one form or another by most large organisations, both in Manufacturing and Services. In its most simple form, it is applied to process to standardise the time it takes and then eliminate waste within the steps.


Anyway over a drink, we outlined the steps of general CC practice (and my take on it) and some very interesting ideas came out of this. Putting these together meant, based on some basic calculations, around a 40% reduction in the time spent on each game, despite increasing the time spent analysing.


I won’t reveal more details on this until I have tried the approach out over the next few months but to give the interested reader a leg up. Consider the following:


Do you have a routine?

What are the stages of a CC Tournament and Game? (Think through a game, it's not just Opening, Middlegame and Endgame)

Do you approach the stages differently?

Do you approach each move the same way?

Are you consistent with this approach?


Exciting Times!

Welsh Correspondence Chess FederationBritish Correspondence Chess AssociationSchemingMind Internet Correspondence Chess ClubSocial Correspondence Chess AssociationNational Correspondence Chess ClubWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association