Research is a central pleasure of correspondence chess. Using opening books, databases, and both print and electronic versions of Chess Informant elevates my play in the short run and expands my over the board repertoire in the long run.
As I was finishing high school and starting college, I played in a US Chess Federation Correspondence tournament in which moves were sent via postcard. My only opening book in those days was I. A. Horowitz, Chess Openings: Theory and Practice (1964). After finishing graduate school, I entered a few more USCF postal events. I bought the A volume of Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) and tried to steer my games to lines that were found therein. I also bought Informant 64. One of the games in that issue was especially helpful in a game against Faneuil Adams, Jr. (see "Playing by the Book").
In the early 2000s, I made the switch from postcard to email for correspondence chess. Then, in 2003, I started playing on websites where move transmission was a matter of clicking and dragging a chess piece on a computer screen. Record keeping is handled by the website. Move transmission in this new form of correspondence chess differs enough from postcards and email, that many players no longer think of it as correspondence chess.
I learned a lot playing in a Spanish Opening thematic on the first of these websites that I joined. I scored a nice victory on the Black side of the Chigorin variation and also made my first efforts with the Marshall Attack.
By the time I was playing turn-based chess, as some call this online correspondence chess, I had all five volumes of ECO and a library near 200 volumes, including many specialized texts on my favorite openings. Now I have ECO in both print and electronic editions, and I have all 123 Chess Informants in electronic versions (Informant 124 comes out next week--I've ordered book and CD).
The Study Regimen
Sitting at the table with a chess board and opening monograph and systematically working through the lines may be a worthwhile study technique. I am certain that is how many players learn their openings. That is also what I did in the late 1970s with Horowitz when I was supposed to be working on my high school homework. But, for me, such study is a rare activity.
My book study more often consists of working through entire games, such as those by Paul Morphy, or middle game books, or Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, a book that I have as both print and Kindle (see Pawn Endings Flash Cards).
On the other hand, all of my opening resources come out during some of my correspondence games. Last week when I logged into ChessWorld.net, I discovered that a new team match had begun, adding eight new games to my load. It is time to hit the books.
Against one opponent, I am trying a new line against the Tarrasch French that is recommended in both The Flexible French (2008) by Viktor Moskalenko, and The Modern French (2012) by Dejan Antic and Branimir Maksimovic. Using my ChessBase database, I located games in this line played by Moskalenko and by Antic. I am studying these games.
Against another opponent, I opted to play the King's Gambit. I have been deploying the King's Gambit in many of my blitz and bullet games the past few weeks. I also played in in one of my worst tournament games ever (see "Knowing Better"). The King's Gambit has been an occasional weapon for me off and on since the 1970s. Because one of my top students plays it, I am studying it again. I watched Simon Williams' King's Gambit video series on Chess.com. John Shaw, The King's Gambit (2013) arrives tomorrow.
As I play through my correspondence games, I study the relevant portions of the opening lines in these books and others. I look up the positions in Chess Informant and examine some of the games. During one recent correspondence game, I went through every one of the more than one hundred games ever published in Informant that had reached the position I had at that moment. That work took the better part of a weekend. The game might have ended as a draw, but my opponent was banned for cheating and I won on time.
Sometimes I use Chess.com's Game Explorer or ChessBase to play the percentages, choosing lines that have scored well in the past for my side of the board. When I have the time, I look for lines that score well for my opponent, but that have a recent refutation in Informant or some other collection of annotated games. Knowing that many of my opponents use the same databases that I do, I try to beat them with better research.
Speed kills. The faster moves are made, the more likely they will be errors. Even so, finding tactical combinations in an instant seems to be a skill of strong players. Can very fast games, even bullet chess (less than three minutes for the game), be useful in training pattern recognition?
Although I usually avoid bullet chess, sometimes I go on a binge. The past few weeks, I have long sessions of 2 1 bullet of several hours each. This time control is slow bullet. A game lasting sixty moves is the same time control as fast blitz--a game in three minutes. These binges are often a futile quest for a rating goal. Last night, I wanted to get my rating back over 1500 after having been near 1700 before a string of losses. A couple mornings ago, the goal was to get my rating over 1600. That took half a dozen games.
Five years ago, my bullet rating on Chess.com was over 2100. The website made some adjustments in the formula to compensate for rating inflation, and it fell quickly. I'm usually in the mid-1600s, which puts me about the 95th percentile.
I am not very good at bullet. My reflexes are slow and I drop pieces on the wrong square. Most often, though, I make horrid moves. Nonetheless, I play better when I look at the board as a puzzle rather than questing for rating. Rating gains are a product of focus. To achieve a rating goal, the efforts must be directed at playing the board.
I am reviewing my bullet games. Some of them have tactics that are useful for creating problems for beginning and intermediate youth players. The tactics in my bullet games are less complex than in master games.
Last night, I had a nice position and understood the correct approach. Without time to calculate, however, I missed some key elements and dropped most of my attacking pieces.
White to move
30.Qe6+ Kg7 31.Rf7+ Rxf7 32.Rxf7+ Kh8
White to move
Okay, my move is not terrible. I'm still winning. But I missed a simple checkmate in three that I've seen in dozens of tactical problems.
33.Rxh7+! Kxh7 34.Qxg6+ Kh8 35.Qh7#.
34.Rxh7+ was possible still.
34...Kg8 35.Rf8+ Kxg7 36.Qg8+ Kh6
White to move
The mate in six was perhaps a little complicated for bullet:
A couple of days ago, I was reflecting that Louis Paulsen is one of those players whose play I know principally from his losses. A rare exception is one win against Paul Morphy at the First American Chess Congress. But, for the most part, I seem to be looking at Paulsen's games because they were important victories for Morphy or Adolf Anderssen or Wilhelm Steinitz.
My game of the week for the seven days that began this morning, thus, offers a welcome exception. The game is Paulsen -- Rosenthal, Vienna 1873. Paulsen won with a nice combination from this position.
Scholastic players and parents: The label "Problem of the Week" links to posts that contain my "lesson of the week." These blog posts serve to reinforce what is presented in my after school and in-school chess clubs.
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