Proposal for new forms of correspondence chess

3/18/2016 – The increasing strength of computer engines is a challenge for correspondence chess. And challenges can provoke productive and creative responses. Arno Nickel, chess book editor and International Grandmaster of Correspondence Chess, has a lot of ideas to react to the challenging computers. He wants to introduce elements of classical chess into correspondence chess.

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Introducing Elements of Classical Chess into Correspondence Chess

Plea for a New Revolutionary Format of Correspondence Chess World Championships

By Arno Nickel (ICCF GM)

Arno Nickel, International Grandmaster of Correspondence Chess

Berlin, 18th March 2016

Today there are three major problems in Correspondence Chess:

1. Dominating influence by computers
2. Increasing rate of draws
3. Exodus of over-the-board chess players.

All these points are closely linked with each other. As restrictions like banning computers don't really work for serious competitions, there is no use to think about such measures, apart from whether we would like the idea or not. But what really could be done, is to strengthen the 'human factor' by adding elements of over-the-board (otb) chess to CC competitions (and in the long run may be also to CC title norms).  

A major step to start with, would be a new CC World Championship format as a mix of:

  • 50 % Correspondence Chess
  • 25 % Classical Chess
  • 25 % Advanced Chess.

For example:

  • 1st stage: 15 players round robin CC tournament (14 games per player, duration 2 years),
  • 2nd stage: the 8 best players of 1st stage qualify for two further round robin tournaments:
    a) Classical Chess (7 games per player, playable in about 8 days),
    b) Advanced Chess (7 games per player, playable in about 8 days),
    (change of colour vs. same opponent: if White in Classical Chess, then Black in Adv. Chess).

The scoring system could be like this:

a) Correspondence Chess tournament:
1st place 16 points, 2nd/14p, 3rd/13p, 4th/12p, 5th/11p, 6th/10p, 7th/9p and 8th/8p.

b) Classical Chess tournament:
1st place 8 points, 2nd/7p, 3rd/6p, 4th/5p, 5th/4p, 6th/3p, 7th/2p and 8th/1p.

c) Advanced Chess tournament:
1st place 8 points, 2nd/7p, 3rd/6p, 4th/5p, 5th/4p, 6th/3p, 7th/2p and 8th/1p.

Maximum number of points: 32.

As computers are a powerful tool in Advanced Chess and in Correspondence Chess, the format as a whole does still favour players who are well experienced with using chess engines, but there will also be a significant influence by human chess skills. I guess, 25-35 %, notably as  in Advanced Chess in contrast to CC time is rather limited.

The idea for the AC tournament as a third type of competition is not providing players with heavy machines, but with ordinary laptops, rather for blunder checks than for strategical planning, as some CC players who don’t regularly play otb chess might dreadfully miss training in tactics.

All players would have to use the same standard of equipment (hardware and software). May be, by the way, providing the equipment might be of special interest for a computer company joining as sponsor.

It goes without saying that at present such a format is not realisable with official chess organisations, but only as a privately sponsored pilot project. If a sponsor would be ready to invest about 100 000 - 200 000 Euro, I’m sure, it would certainly attract the public and might change a lot in the long run.

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jfq722 jfq722 5/25/2017 10:37
The only, true solution is "local" play, without regard to ratings.
Anyone who tries to still care about their rating where CC is concerned will be fight machines.

Conversely, I can't believe anyone would care enough to use engines without benefit to their rating.
Engine users are the instant gratification (or is it ADD) type; I can never keep it straight.
Deny them the gratification. Make them use their cheating effort for 'nothing'.
Its like turning the lights on; the roaches will scatter.

Find a group of 10, 15, 20 chess players that you know and will know for years.
Play correspondence with them.
The honor system is in place.

Ain't chess engines grand?
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 3/21/2016 12:06
Many of the prisoners I've played over the years don't have mother's capable of such help. More likely mom will smuggle in cigarettes or drugs rather than computer generated moves. That said, there are some very good prison inmate chess players. Plenty of time for study..........
Jonmeista Jonmeista 3/20/2016 06:40
I used to play Correspondence Chess, and it was really a great format for our Royal Game, but then computers came along. Obviously I can't compete against players using engines, and I don't want to use one myself, any more than I'd want to use one during an OTB game. I also don't think it's historically accurate (or even morally acceptable, from a sporting point of view) for us to lump together the former Correspondence Chess champions with today's "Centaur" champions.

It's a different game now, and one that isn't appealing to me at all, nor to many other former correspondence players, however you try to modify the rules.
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 3/20/2016 04:59
telestai77: hahaha

You silly.

Of course they do. They run them for long periods of time and tweak the moves. That's how they find the best moves.

It's not chess ... it research.
gmwdim gmwdim 3/20/2016 04:43
I like the idea of combining correspondence/classical/advanced chess, but the logistics involved will be a challenge.
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 3/20/2016 04:38
Its time to accept reality and move on to other things. Some people will cling.

Correspondence Chess is dead.
Anuchessfoo Anuchessfoo 3/20/2016 05:56
MUCH faster time limits (a move a day), score wins at 3 points and no CASH PRIZES might help though some would just buy 12 PCs for the eleven games in the section (one for communication with servers). Basically the World Correspondence Chess Championship needs to be renamed as the World Computer Assisted Correspondence Chess Championship. Times change...people must change. The old model is seemingly gone forever. I miss it. If you do not like the new model, then perhaps it is best to try to play some other form of chess instead (on-line blitz, real over the board tournaments, etc.). I am trying the new model. I spend far too much time analyzing the engines' analysis once the opening is over. Needless to say, I try to create a variation of preference before switching the silicon monsters on, the thrill of finding a neat mating combination in the old cc model is now replaced by the thrill of seeing the engines agree with my initial plan/analysis for five moves! Does not happen very often....
michael allard michael allard 3/20/2016 03:12
All titled correspondence players should be required to annotate a number of the games from an elite event and also a required number of classical encounters. The annotation should be just as much literal as variational. The turn around time for submitting these should be within a day or two of receipt.
The accusation that is invariably made is that many correspondence players that utilize chess software frequently have much difficulty understanding software move recommendations.
Players that cannot pass a reasonable standard of explaining the moves in a game should either be stripped of their respective title or have their rating reduced.
Mendheim Mendheim 3/20/2016 01:24
"In the AC tournament, I don't see the point of 'All players would have to use the same standard of equipment (hardware and software)'."
The point is: same chances for all. That might be different in Freestyle Chess, which is played online.
CC without computers is only possible by a gentleman's agreement. I hope, your opponents in prison are gentlemen and won't for instance ask their mothers to do them a little favour...
There have already been online tournaments with longer time controls and arbiters watching the players in their rooms. Webcams have also been used for control. Such methods might be useful and acceptable under certain conditions, if you cannot bring all players together at one place.
Question: "Who would participate in a tournament where the first stage takes two years and the next two stages (together worth the same amount of points as the first) take two weeks?"
Answer: Correspondence Chess players would, as they are used to play such long games. So why not adding two more weeks? There are as well players who feel at home in both spheres. It's not a principal, but a practical question.
If Chess960 is going to become more popular, why not launching a Chess960 WCC in the same way.
Karbuncle Karbuncle 3/20/2016 12:07
@ Telestai777,

That's simply not true in the slightest. The difference between a top-rated cc player and an average one is how well they use the computer analysis feedback. I absolutely guarantee you top cc players make EXTENSIVE use of computer analysis.
Beanie Beanie 3/19/2016 11:45
Telestai777 Could you please tell us more about this? You're saying that a CC player not using a computer will always beat someone who is using a computer? Please could you show us some games where this has happened? Thanks!
LSI LSI 3/19/2016 10:03
A very sensible proposition.

You could also launch a chess960 corr. championship ?
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 3/19/2016 07:51
Actually, there is one place where correspondence chess sort of survives; you can try it and not use a computer---prison chess. I have games going on now by post card with two prisoners here in the United States. The prisons here generally don't give inmates computer access and, if in doubt, a prison chess organizer can verify that with prison administrators prior to setting up matches with non-inmates.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 3/19/2016 07:47
to Mendheim: No, I got the point.You clearly missed my point, to wit, that it only takes seconds to use a computer, unless you're still using an old Atari. ICCF does not penalize for computer use which makes human results meaningless. Correspondence chess is essentially dead as a purely human endeavor. Some still live the fantasy that the best players don't use them and can't be beaten by a player using one. Time to get over it and move on.
Blackacre Blackacre 3/19/2016 05:56
With all due respect, this proposal makes no sense. Who would participate in a tournament where the first stage takes two years and the next two stages (together worth the same amount of points as the first) take two weeks?
Telestai777 Telestai777 3/19/2016 03:47
Upper tier CC players don't use computers. And if you are trying to use one against them, they will destroy you.
llauro llauro 3/19/2016 03:06
In the AC tournament, I don't see the point of "All players would have to use the same standard of equipment (hardware and software)".

Some pitfalls: OS to use, interface to use, engine to analize, and specially, what about those that like to use several (usually 2-3) different engines to check the positions?

As the OS and GUI/engine software should be a choice, then it is difficult to fix a harwdare, for the difficulty to set-up an specific machine correctly in some OS (Linux, *BSD, OSX only on its own hardware).

But even with those changes, I don't think CC would have a good future: your suggestions would be only valid for the WCC Championship, not for the regular games. So who classifies there? You should rely on the present method, so the best engine-players would qualify to the WCCC, not the best human-long-thinkers.
sharpnova sharpnova 3/19/2016 10:48

As impractical and impossible as your suggestion is, it's the same thought I've gone to over the years. The truth is there is just very little way to regulate this sport.

Chess isn't going to be around forever.

It's a problem fundamental to games of perfect information.

Poker will outlive Chess.

Esports will outlive Chess.

All of these apply to Go as well. It will be machine dominated before 2025
deasla deasla 3/18/2016 07:18
I propose a new type of game.

It woud be called "Deep chess".

As tv reality showed us it's possible to be shut from the world for a long period of time.
So I propose a format of 2 weeks for one game in a regulated mansion.

No phone, internet, tablet etc.. would be allowed (books,movies and tv series would be proposed to the players) and NO COMMUNICATION with the outside world.
There would be camera in every room of the mansion (like in tv reality) but nobody would be able to see the footage except if one player file a complaint against his opponent for use of a computer.

The players would be able to have access to their database on a machine provided by the organiser and of course to multiple chess board to be able to move the pieces. They wouldn't have to be face to face and each of them would have a room to be able to perform their analysis (without computer).

I realize that this would mean only something like 1 hour per move but if you come well prepared and manage your time you could easily make it two hour per "important" move.
Mendheim Mendheim 3/18/2016 06:58
Seems you missed a point: "... in Advanced Chess in contrast to CC time is rather limited." You can perfectly go wrong when blindly following engine lines of low depth.
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 3/18/2016 06:42
Time is limited??!! Now that's funny. How many million moves will the computer still be able to analyze? The bottom line is that correspondence chess as a fully human activity no longer exists. IMO, there should no longer be any titles awarded for this highly suspect endeavor.
Kurt Utzinger Kurt Utzinger 3/18/2016 05:45
A fantastic idea.