Russell Sherwood

Pushing the Limit!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pushing the limit


Serious CC players are a little like Petrol-heads, these always want a bigger, more powerful machine. Often this is not possible for simple financial reasons! So how can the aspiring player improve their technical lot without spending (too) much money? For the purpose of this article, we will assume a laptop in use, so the processor cannot be upgraded.


#1 Current Version of Engine

                For any engine, the latest version will give the best results. For the Free engines, it is a no-brainer, for the commercial ones it is something of a tougher decision. In addition to this consider if there is a faster version of the same engine – for example ASMFish for Stockfish!


#2 Version of Engine for your processor

                Many engines these days come in a variety of versions. For example POPCNT, BMI……  If you have access to all of these, try them all note the results and this will determine which is the most suitable for your processor. Typically there can be around 10-20% difference between the fastest and slowest versions


#3 More Ram

                The amount of Ram utilised determines the HashTable, which is one major determinant in the effective deep searching of the position. Pound for Pound maxing out your RAM is probably the most effective way to improve performance.


#4 Tablebases

                If you don’t have them then this is a simple performance improvement. Whilst they probably won’t win you many games they will steer you away from draws and losses


#5 External SSD

                Following the use of Tablebases, an external SSD drive is an excellent way to improve performance. This much faster storage means that your Tablebase (and Opening book) access will be significantly faster


#6 Compile your own

                Some of the Freeware engines can be compiled on your own machine – all of the Stockfish family can be done so using the Automated software. When compiled this was the compiler is taking note of your hardware and the engine will run that 10% faster than an “off the shelf” compile from another person.


#7 Don’t run other software at the same time

                A no-brainer really. Ideally, you should not be running other software at the same time but many people still do. If you need to run a browser to enter your moves, look for one will a small “footprint” which does take too much away from the engine.


#8 Engine Settings

                Check your engine parameter file settings. Is your Ram increased to 50% of your total? Is Large Pages enabled? Is the number of threads correct?


#9 Use a Cooling Pad

                Multi-Core engine use creates a lot of heat, more than a typical laptop is designed to handle. The use of a cooling pad can help somewhat, both in cooling the laptop but making it more comfortable, especially if you do have it on your lap!


#10 Determine which GUI/Engine combination runs best on your machine

                As shown in past research, certain combinations of GUI and Engine show significant performance swings. Experimentation here can reap rich rewards.     


#11 Keep your OS up to date/Consider a Windows reinstall

                Apply the OS and BIOS updates that come along, they will keep your machine running. Also consider re-installing Windows once in a while BUT make sure you back up everything first!


#12 Ensure Large Pages are enabled

                We mentioned enabling Large Pages in the Engines parameter file but we need to ensure this is allowed on the machine. To do this Google “Enable Large Pages” and work from there! What are large pages you may ask? It's simply the way that windows stores things, this setting encourages Windows to keep items close together, which gives a small speed increase.


#13 Memory Boost

                I discovered this one by accident. Certain high-quality USB sticks can have a “Windows Boost” feature enabled. This allows effectively extra Ram to be utilised to help out the Operating system.


‘#14 Reboot

                Once in a while, reboot your machine. Why? Even the best Operating system in the world leaves bits of junk in memory and over time this clogs up the system. By rebooting this is cleaned out. How often? That depends on you but I tend to do it at least daily, more often depending on circumstances.


#15 Horses for Courses

                I noticed a strange phenomenon with AsmFish/CFish and Stockfish. Normally we would expect Asmfish > CFish > Stockfish in terms of speed but in Endgame analysis this is often not the case. Trial your own engines to determine the truth for you!


So what do you get from all of these – potentially something like 40-50% improved performance if you were badly set up beforehand. This won't mean you go 50% deeper but will mean you get to the same Depth 50% faster!

Industrial Chess

Russell Sherwood  Saturday, December 16, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised to see myself 4th on the list in terms of games played (>4500) on the new Chessbase Correspondence database. Whilst I don’t play anywhere near as many games as I used to in the past I still play greater than most. This does occasionally lead to the question of how I do/did play so many games at a time. My normal response is badly but unlike most of the players at the top of this list, I don’t have a rating in the sub 1000 region!

So some thoughts if we you do want to play a lot of games at the same time?

#1 Be clear on why you want to do it! As it can soak up a lot of your free time. When at my highest activity levels as I was in a professional management role which had me spending probably 3-4 nights in a hotel most weeks, so I (a) Had the time and (b) Was on my own much of the time (no meeting up with Colleagues for food or drink)

#2 Have a clear time management system. Out of the games, I had played I have only lost a tiny percentage on time – and almost all of them were related to holidays. What I settled on (in the days of server play) is the 10 and 10 method. If I have either been thinking for 10 days or have less than 10 days on my clock then these games are treated as a priority.

#3 Have a clear Opening Repertoire – I tend to play the first 10 moves VERY quickly to put some time on the clock.

#4 Use conditional moves (in server play) where possible – If I have a line I want to play – enter it – if generally takes only an extra minute or so to enter a number of moves and the majority of the time my opponent follows the line, giving me a net benefit!

#5 Save Analysis – any analysis I do is saved in the game file, be it engine lines or my own verbal commentary. This does also help in both annotating games but less obvious in terms of being able to play moves quickly as I can look at continuing down the line I have already started to play. In addition to this, if I undertake a post-mortem after the game the process can be much easier

#6 Unattended Analysis. Both Chessbase and Aquarium allow you to schedule analysis whilst away from the machine. This means I can set up the engine to look at a few candidate moves whilst I am at work or in bed!! This method, when combined with #5, is very powerful

#7 Unintended Tools.  Do you know how to make your software do, what you want it to do? So its vital to learn how to use all its functions but also to figure out what those functions can be used for (which is not always what they are designed for!  An example of this. Reinforcement learning is in fashion at the moment due to AlphaGo but let’s say you have a version of your favourite engine with a learning file. You could (and would) teach it by backsliding within games you are analysis but a method could be to using the Game analysis function of Chessbase/Aquarium both of which perform a kind of backsliding. Let your engine run on key games of your opponent and quickly you have just gained a small edge!

#8 Voodoo.  If you play a lot of games you will start to play certain people repeatedly. Often, although players can have similar rating results are skewed against one player. It is vital to spend to considering how to get an edge in this situations as it will pay dividends in terms of results.

#9 Horses for Courses. Consider why type of analysis you are performing and choose your weapons accordingly. If you want to check a lot of moves quickly you want to use an engine with low TTD (time to depth). If you watch engines for a while you will see that some race to quite a deep position quickly, whilst others take a lot longer to get there – yet the ratings of the engines are similar.  Generally, you want to use Stockfish or AsmFish for fast analysis.

#10 Blunder Check – You are going to be playing a lot of moves and need a method to minimise this – I’ve covered this before but making the move on your analysis screen before making it in the game is a good start

#11 Pragmatic results – Once a game is “drawn” offer the draw and move onto the next game.

#12 Be on the lookout for prepared novelties. Once you start to play a lot of games, people have a large pool of games to prepare against, so keep your eyes open for odd novelties, especially in team events. One antidote to this (and boredom) is to vary your openings.  Anyone looking at me will see I have played almost everything as black and white over the years and now throw them all in on occasion, including recently a King’s Gambit – which I know shocked my opponent, so much so he refused the Gambit and transposed elsewhere!

#13 Hardware – You don’t need a high-end PC or laptop to play Industrial Chess but it helps!  For the majority of my CC time, I have used slightly above average specification hardware. The reality is that for most of us it does not make a difference unless you are competing at the highest levels.

#14 Move Alignment. Consider the games you to analyse and the methods you use. If for example, you use different books or databases for black and white, then it makes sense to analyse all black games then all-white games to reduce the time loading various databases.

#15 Move Now!  If the move is obvious or forced - make it, don't let your time run, especially "sulking" if your position is inferior!

 Till the next time!

Size Matters?

Russell Sherwood  Thursday, December 14, 2017

I was looking through Correspondence Database 2018 and was intrigued to look at the most prolific players.....


and there I am sat at No 4 on the list on 4364 games played

Bob Venturas 5433 710 LSS

Maria Vonita 5017 749 LSS

Kazimeriez Bester 4877 858 LSS

Russell Sherwood 4364 2354 ICCF

Sometimes persistence pays of!


WCCF 6 & 7 Applications

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017


In April 2018 we will be starting the next two International Invitational Title Tournaments and invite applications from suitable Welsh Players


WCCF 6 is planned to be have an average rating of around 2250, so applications are welcomed from players with a rating of 2100+ on rating list 2018/1 (or players who can show progress towards achieving this level for rating list 2018/2)


WCCF 7 is planned to be a Category 6 event (average rating 2376-2400), so applications are welcomed from players with a rating of 2300+ on rating list 2018/1 (or players who can show progress towards achieving this level for rating list 2018/2)


In addition to these criteria entry to WCCF 6 will require a £5 payment to the WCCF and all players will be required to confirm acceptance to the WCCF Tournament Conduct Rules (Now being introduced following some players not understanding the privilege or representing Wales in events and the necessary obligations this brings). Details of this will be provided to players at the time of a place being offered.


To explain the rating limits used – firstly players below these levels are unlikely to be able to compete successfully and more importantly the key target is the general average rating of the event and every significantly lower rated player drags down this average making the event less attractive for the rest of the participants


Examination of the attached shows invitations have gone before and where offers have been made for WCCF 6 & 7

A Correspondence Engine

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I get asked with tiresome regularity “Which engine is best for CC?” My general answer to this is “none of them” as all the main engines are written and tested with fairly short time controls in mind. As I have written in the past some are better than others and most can be bent into playing better for CC.


These are a number of engines with modifications to aid CC players – CorChess and ThinksFish come to mind but these only tend to look at modifying the search rather than the many other areas which could be improved for CC players.


Recently I was working on my publication on Engine Analysis techniques (over 30 now!) and what struck me is that most of these methods have to be used to overcome the “Blitz” nature of Chess Engine Settings. So the next thought that popped into my head was “Why not write one for CC”? I mulled this one over for a while and considered the pro and cons.


Most things fell into place but one issue remains – which is testing. If I want an engine for CC, then it needs to be tested in CC Conditions as the engine will almost certainly be weaker in Blitz Conditions (as want a CC engine to find a better move in a slower way, rather than a good move quickly). This makes testing rather difficult unless a few people are involved.


My first objective is to create an ASMFish/ CorChess Hybrid prior to the development of a CC specialist engine.


Any player interested in getting involved (not just Welsh players for once!) please get in touch. You don’t need to be a programmer, Ideas and testing are just as important!


ICCF World Championship Preliminaries

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

World Championship Preliminaries


The ICCF World Championship Cycle starts again in 2018 with the Preliminaries. It costs £25 to enter (if paid via the WCCF), if qualified and there are two routes to qualification.


  1. Winning a Master Class Promotion Tournament. Not is first place is shared this leads to a fractional qualification.
  2. Federation Nomination. We have a very limited number of nominations and so invite applications from interested Welsh Players with a rating above 2250 on 2018/1 rating list. If interested please get in touch indicating why you think you should obtain one of the nominations.



To explain why the rating limit of 2250 is used. These events a highly competitive and it is unlikely that any player with a rating below this level will have a reasonable chance of Advancement (which is the primary objective of the entry, not Norms or Rating points)


Dead Man's Attack

Russell Sherwood  Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Most CC players have heard of Dead Man’s Defence, the unsavoury technique used to put off the result of the game (generally a loss for the person using DMD). Here I want to discuss it’s cousin, Dead Man’s Attack!


Picture the situation. You are playing a game, which is into the early endgame. Engine Analysis shows a nice +1 core in your favour but neither you nor the engine knows how to make progress.  What then tends to happen is that the moves played shuffle the pieces around without making any visible progress and after a little while longer a draw is agreed as its one of the positions the engine does not understand. It tends to be in practice that a Fortress was in place which secured the position.


That is what is supposed to happen……in a minority of games we see the “winning” player refusing the give up his “win” and continue shuffling. Now I am on the wrong side of one of these games at the moment and am at move 110! An interesting fact for me is that my opponent will not lose any rating points for a draw which is often the motivation to keep shuffling, hoping your opponent makes a mistake.


This piqued my interest, how often does this take place? Using my trusty Chessbase I took a look at the longest ICCF games in the database and the results are interesting……..


137 games more than 120 moves long

56 of them since 2012

33 of these turned into draws, leaving 23 as decisive


So the message to those playing DMA is quite clear – don’t its chance of success is less than 50%

Horses for Courses

Russell Sherwood  Monday, December 11, 2017

Most CC players tend to be aware that engines don’t play certain types of positions very well and traditionally the King’s Indian Defence has been seen as an area where Engines are close to clueless!


Fewer players tend to also know which Openings/Positions engines tend to do well or not so well in but very few have a comprehensive view of this.


This does not have to be the case. Some very interesting research has been taking place at One that is of interest to ambitious CC players is his project to create a Openings rating list of sorts.


There is a great description of what has been done but in simple terms, various engines have been tested and the results then tabulated by ECO Code.  At the Summary level Stockfish/Houdini and Komodo are at the top but if you into individual ECO codes or groups of codes, it shows that all of these engines are perform well/badly in certain positions!  Now this information can be used in a number of ways…..

  • You can make sure your engine/opening combination matches up well (which one you change is your choice!)
  • If you know which engine your opponent uses as their primary analysis tool, then you could steer the game into an area that engine does badly.
  • If you use an analysis technique involving multiple engines, you will know which ones tend to be more accurate in which type of position.

Is this a game changer? No, but when you consider that the difference in performance between the “Big 3” Engines is 15% in certain positions it does appear to be a potential way to gain a nice “edge”

Alpha Go a GoGo

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 10, 2017

Alpha Go a GoGo


Earlier this week an interesting paper was published regarding Google Deepmind’s Alpha Go Zero teams research into Chess. Since published this report and various sensationalist articles have sent seismic waves through the Chess community.

The basic claim is that this program learned to play chess in 3 hours to the point that it beat Stockfish 28 Wins  - 72 Draws – 0 Defeats.

Whilst, without a doubt, this approach will eventually become the prevalent approach to computer chess, the reports circulating are a little over the top.

Looking more closely at the details. The 3 hours taken to reach these levels was on hardware so specialised and new that it is only available to Google’s Deepmind team. For us mere mortals this can be thought of as a Supercomputer. So whilst 3 hours is very impressive, if it had been on typical hardware this would have taken much longer.

The conditions of the match were somewhat in Alpha Go Zero’s favour. Firstly whilst Stockfish ran on 64 Cores, it only had 1GB of HashTable available, probably around 1% of what is required. This is the equivalent of putting a Ferrari engine into a Mini!

The second issue is the time control used – 1 minute per move. All of the top Chess engines have very efficient algorithms to manage time and identify when to spend more time on a move or when to spend less – very similar to Human behaviour.

The third difference and probably the most telling, is that StockFish played without the benefit of an opening book. A fair event would have been either an opening book or a Brainfish/Cerebellum combination.

The belief amongst the Computer Chess enthusiasts is that if the conditions above had been “fair” the result would have been much closer.

In addition, for a wider test, the same match should take place with Houdini, Komodo.

So to summarise, this approach is the path of the future but the current “wow factor” is probably premature. For those interested, the Giraffe engine is worth looking at and some projects which can be seen on Github putting AlphaGo Zero’s ideas into practice!

Where there’s a way there’s a will!

Russell Sherwood  Sunday, December 10, 2017

Where there’s a way there’s a will!


At first glance, you may think I have got this saying the wrong way round! In typical use, you would be correct but in the world of improvement, this is a more common saying. In Chess (as in other things) we all want to improve and there is a belief among many that simply wanting to improve (so-called positive thinking) is enough to get better on its own. However, the evidence tends to suggest otherwise and that having a clear path to improvement is more important.


So how do we get a clear path to improvement In CC?  Much of the advice that does float around is from high rated players who started out highly rated (i.e. their initial rating was very high and stayed there) and is so not necessarily relevant to a typical players journey.


Where do we want our advice to come from? Preferably from people who have undergone the journey we wish to undertake, i.e. who have seen their ratings improve over an extended period.  Downloading a few ICCF Rating lists and some manipulation in Excel leads to the list below.  

RUS   Kornev, Aleksey Nikolaevich 12 M 2468
USA   Risquet, Carmelo 12 M 2386
ENG   Stebbings, Anthony J. 12 M 2352
RUS   Agryskina, Nadezda Ivanovna 13 F 2538
RUS   Odrov, Viktor Anatolievich 13 M 2432
GER   Kuntze, Andreas 13 M 2397
ISL   Ásbjörnsson, Ásgeir Páll 13 M 2391
LAT   Kovalenko, Igor 14 M 2429
NED   Hooft, Diederic 't 17 M 2390
USA   Stein, Kurt W. 19 M 2533
IND   Sengupta, Deep 19 M 2515
GER   Lembeck, Karl-Heinz 19 M 2512
NED CCE Jong, Jan Willem de 21 M 2503
GER   Schmidt, Jörg (* 1954) 20 M 2376
POL   Gorzkiewicz, Łukasz 23 M 2473
DEN   Jensen, Tommy 23 M 2416
SRB CCM Petronijević, Zoran 23 M 2398
BEL   Van Assche, Jeroen 24 M 2393
AUT   Komaromi, Gabor 25 M 2401
ENG   Adair, James 26 M 2463
PAK   Idrees, Muhammad 25 M 2368
RUS LGM Churakova, Natalya Evgenyevna 28 F 2438
RUS   Bukarin, Mikhail Yurievich 29 M 2471
INA   Margana, Adhy 28 M 2359
ISL CCM Guðmundsson, Elvar 30 M 2504
NED   Werten, Tony 31 M 2392
ITA   Rombaldoni, Denis 33 M 2401
SUI   Schmid, Pablo 35 M 2525
IND   Dutta, Amit 34 M 2395
RUS   Kudryavtsev, Dmitry Aleksandrovich 34 M 2385
POR CCE Vasconcellos, Renato 35 M 2411
SLO   Coklin, Marko 37 M 2435
RUS LGM Matveeva, Maria Aleksandrovna 39 F 2498
IND   Das, Arghyadip 37 M 2363
CUB   Fernández Martínez, Juan Carlos 47 M 2393
ROU LIM Stanila, Elena 53 F 2389
USA   Kulick, Neil 59 M 2354
CRO CCM Feletar, Darko 79 M 2391
RUS   Matvienko, Vladimir Petrovich 18 M 2404
ENG   Rallabandi, Praveen Kumar 112 M 2398
ESP   Moreto Quintana, Alex 120 M 2437
UKR   Khanas, Valeriy 125 M 2357
SLO CCM Zajšek, Franc 147 M 2372
WLS CCM Yeo, Gareth 153 M 2378
UKR   Mashchenko, Vladimir 30 M 2481
SLO   Pokrivač, Izidor 32 M 2405
RUS   Rybin, Anton Sergeevich 24 M 2480
SWE   Qwarfort, Fredrik 26 M 2448
INA CCE Sitorus, Yosua 238 M 2403
CUB   Pérez Rodríguez, Rubén 38 M 2392
RUS   Mannanov, Rinat Rafikovich 56 M 2396
GER   Marwitz, Ullrich 78 M 2370
ITA IM Piccirilli, Fabrizio 74 M 2390
RUS   Enin, Anatoly Nikolaevich 107 M 2353
CAN CCE MacTilstra, Ian 160 M 2354
ENG IM Soh, Edmund 240 M 2403
WLS IM Claridge, John B. 255 M 2399
CAN   Czerniawski, Andrew 79 M 2436
GER   Ulbig, Stefan 107 M 2392
GER CCM Hartl, Hermann 124 M 2385
PER   Quiñones Borda, Jorge Victor 141 M 2406
USA CCM Koo, Oliver 150 M 2388
GER CCE Meißen, Frank 85 M 2401
CZE CCM Hrubčík, Martin 234 M 2412
GER IM Anderskewitz, Ralf 341 M 2401
UKR IM Koshmak, Iurii 109 M 2451
NOR   Johansen, Anders Sten 467 M 2386
USA CCM Hernandez, Angel 177 M 2401
AUS CCM Roebuck, Derek 110 M 2378
ITA   Galliano, Giovanni 113 M 2428
SWE CCM Strömberg, Håkan 121 M 2392
ENG CCM Carr, Trevor 229 M 2391
RUS SIM Panitevsky, Ivan Anatolevich 180 M 2504
HKG IM Tsang, Hon-ki 168 M 2419
SLO CCM Pirš, Jernej 185 M 2411
ESP IM Sánchez Huerga, Aser 193 M 2445
CZE CCM Binas, Jindřich (*1954) 237 M 2421
GER CCM Bär, Lutz 150 M 2400
GER CCM Lukas, Norbert 280 M 2355
BUL CCM Petkov, Stamat 126 M 2407
GER IM Wenzel, Stefan 177 M 2461
GER   Hesse, Olaf 293 M 2447
ARG   Fernández, Javier Horacio 329 M 2416
AUT CCM Hengl, Christian 236 M 2420
GER   Keskowski, Thilo 201 M 2406
GER LGM Achatz, Kirstin 223 F 2377
USA CCE Biedermann, Kyle 312 M 2384
GER CCM Tiemann, Christoph 162 M 2412
GER CCM Homont, René de 276 M 2353
WLS LGM Sherwood, Helen 452 F 2386
RUS   Razumikhin, Andrey Mikhailovich 364 M 2391
RUS CCM Novikov, Sergey Vasilievich 249 M 2400
RUS CCM Prozorovsky, Vyacheslav Grigorievich 208 M 2404
USA CCM Landes, Eric 222 M 2397
GER CCE Boos, Markus 193 M 2400
CUB CCE Marrero Rodríguez, Alexis 167 M 2416
ITA IM Mauro, Lucio 735 M 2407
AUS CCM Mulligan, Barrie 276 M 2414
CUB CCM Pérez López, Alberto 536 M 2407
ENG CCM Weldon, David J. 227 M 2410
POL   Mostowik, Daniel 773 M 2366
ITA CCE Bellegotti, Giorgio 243 M 2453
LTU   Voveris, Saulius 271 M 2388
ENG CCM Brasier, John 352 M 2428
USA   Zaas, Peter S. 224 M 2369
DEN CCE Konstantinov, Maxim 207 M 2421
ROU CCE Taras, Iulian 546 M 2390
RUS CCM Kozlov, Aleksandr Anatolievich 237 M 2382
POL IM Broniek, Mariusz Maciej 523 M 2439
USA IM Schakel, Corky 782 M 2416
ROU CCE Stanescu, Teodor-Adrian 146 M 2406
GER CCM Scheiba, Manfred 218 M 2403
CZE CCE Dědina, Miroslav 578 M 2354
GER LGM Bolz, Barbara 293 F 2402
GER CCM Zielasko, Andreas 284 M 2390
LTU   Voveris, Gediminas 660 M 2352
ESP IM De Carlos Arregui, Inigo 804 M 2433
ENG CCM Thompson, Brian 953 M 2413
ESP CCM Conde Poderoso, Antonio 597 M 2373
GER IM Löffler, Werner 802 M 2394
GER IM Langer, Raimund 443 M 2406
SUI IM Janisch, Manfred 658 M 2441
CZE SIM Sýkora, Josef 1477 M 2416
POL IM Mirkowski, Piotr 457 M 2412
GER SIM Gromotka, Harry 1456 M 2389
CZE CCM Cvak, Rudolf 1585 M 2363
ENG SIM Rawlings, Alan J. C. 1775 M 2393






Close examination of the players on the list will bear dividends for the ambitious player. What do these players have in common? All have come through the system and raised their ratings up to 2350/2400+. This group is of more interest to us, than, for example, players rated 2450+ , who often only play against their rating peers and draw,draw,draw!

Practically these players make up around 1% of the total CC player pool. To put into context their performance - over the last 4 years they are scoring around 70% with White and beter than 50% with Black.


There are a number of different strategies in play.


Now I could give a summary of the learning examination of these players but that would take all the fun out of it for you!  Some pointers to help in your analysis…..


  • How many games are they playing/completing?
  • What level are they competing at?
  • What Openings and they playing/not playing?
  • What is their win –loss –draw ratios with black and white?
  • Are there any commonalities in their playing style?
  • Do they take draws? Short or Long?
  • Do you know any of them?


Putting some effort in here will allow you to reap rich rewards as it will give you an idea of “the way”, and Where’s there’s a way, there’s a will!



Welsh Correspondence Chess FederationBritish Correspondence Chess AssociationSchemingMind Internet Correspondence Chess ClubSocial Correspondence Chess AssociationWelsh Chess UnionInternational Correspondence Chess Association