Correspondence Database 2004

7/17/2004 – ChessBase Workshop columnist Steve Lopez is a self-confessed friend for correspondence chess. In this week's column, he sings the praises of the correspondence form of play while previewing ChessBase's latest database release: Correspondence Database 2004. Workshop...

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previewed by Steve Lopez

I'd originally intended to preview Peter Wells' Fritz Middlegame Trainer: Strategy and Tactics CD in this week's ChessBase Workshop. Frankly, I ran out of time; Wells' CD contains more than three hours' worth of video in the Chess Media System format (which combines video, audio, and animated gameboards). It's an impressive work and I intend to devote more time to it before writing a preview for CB Workshop. I also received the two Sicilian Dragon CDs out of order; Volume Two hit my mailbox before Volume One, so you can expect a preview of the first volume shortly (Volume Two was previewed here a few weeks ago).

However, I also have an ulterior motive for selecting the CD for this week's preview: the subject is one of my traditional favorites. I always look forward to receiving a new edition of the Correspondence Database for entirely selfish reasons. I'm a devoteé of gambits and offbeat openings, the kind of games which are seldom played at the top levels of traditional over-the-board chess but which are quite frequently seen in correspondence chess games. Additionally, I've not played any over-the-board tournament chess in nearly a decade (the arrival of children does change your life) and have limited my "serious" play to correspondence (postal and Internet) events. So the Correspondence Database pretty much hits me where I live.

Why play correspondence chess? There are many reasons (besides the obvious rejoinder that it's fun). I'm a historical researcher/writer in my spare time and I find that the two research disciplines (historical and chess) are quite similar. It's a lot of fun to go digging around for additional information whether one is writing a piece on Iverson's Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg or looking for an offbeat reply to the eighth move in a variation of Alekhine's Defense. It's even more fun when one manages to discover a little gem that's been previously overlooked or underreported and which can be added to an article or sprung on a chess opponent. Years of playing correspondence chess taught me a lot about the research process; I once read a book on historical research which contained nothing that I hadn't already learned through my practical chess experience. And most valuable lesson I've learned which carries through to both disciplines is that time isn't infinite -- there comes a point at which you have to stop researching and start writing or make a move.

I won't hammer you with that old cliché about how correspondence chess is "the great laboratory" -- but it's true nevertheless. Professional over-the-board players are often reluctant to go way out on a limb in their games. In fact, I noticed the same trend at the amateur level back in my OTB tournament days. If you take a long-odds chance and lose, it can hit you right in the wallet; I lost a few class prizes back in the day by taking some bad risks in late-round games. As we used to say at our traditional post-tournament dinners: "Winners go to the Steak'N'Ale -- losers go to Denny's". Unfortunately, I was usually sitting in Denny's as I said that. So OTB chess tends to make many of us play a bit conservatively.

But correspondence chess is another matter. I can't speak for everyone, but correspondence play often brings out the swashbuckler in me. I can recall many a time in which I wished I could see my opponent's face when he opened his mailbox and looked at the postcard; I'd go home at lunch, write and mail my card, come back to the office, and tell my co-workers, "In about three days you're gonna hear an anguished scream coming from the direction of Chicago; do not be alarmed." Man, that was fun. I remember one game in which my opponent had me dead to rights. I saved it by playing an Alexei Shirov-inspired Knight sac (which, by the way, was completely unsound) which blew the position open and startled the guy so badly that I was able to put him on the run for the remainder of the contest. Fun times.

Correspondence chess gives you the opportunity to analyze positions more deeply than in OTB chess. You and I will never, ever play a "perfect" game, but I've come a lot closer to one in my correspondence games than in my OTB contests. Even if you're not interested in a "perfect" game, correspondence play gives you ample opportunity to test your nerve by playing openings and sacrifices that you'd never dare try in OTB competition.

Probably the biggest appeal of correspondence play is the time and effort it requires. Unlike those nights when you play seventeen blitz games in a row at the chess club and remember none of them later, every correspondence game is an event. Plans require weeks or months to see through to fruition, and those games stay with you -- I can still reconstruct from memory some key positions from my postal games years after they were played.

Correspondence Database 2004, although composed entirely of games from postal and Internet correspondence play, isn't just for correspondence players -- it's a great resource for every chessplayer looking for offbeat games, solidly-played standards, new weapons to add to his or her arsenal, or just plain good chess. Over 100,000 games have been added to the database since the last version was published in 2002. The current game total is 503,255, with over 11,700 of these being annotated.

This database is also a great addition to the historical record; it contains many events which loom large in the annals of chess history. Included are all the games from the first sixteen World Correspondence Championships, as well as many European Correspondence Championships, Correspondence Olympiads, and more national championships than you can shake a stick at. Additionally, there are thousands of Internet correspondence games on this CD. We're not talking about realtime server games here -- these are games played at correspondence time controls but in which the moves are transmitted electronically rather than via post.

As an additional bonus, the Correspondence Database 2004 CD also contains an updated Correspondence Players Encyclopedia with approximately 60,000 players represented in it. This can be used exactly like the regular Players Encyclopedia (with which ChessBase users will be familiar).

Here's another extra: the Correspondence Database also contains an opening key which is somewhat different from the ones included on our other database compendiums. In addition to the standard alphanumeric ECO codes, this database's opening key also displays the English names of the openings. Players who have trouble associating the names of the openings with their ECO codes might well find this alone to be worth the price of admission. The database also contains specialized Theme, Tactics, Strategy, and Endgame keys.

But the main draw to the Correspondence Database 2004 CD is the collection of games. If you want exciting theoretical duels, wild gambit play, offbeat openings, rock-solid positional play, -- in short, any kind of chess you can think of, you'll find it here. It's great, exciting stuff and a worthwhile addition to your chess library.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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