Computers and Understanding in Today’s Correspondence Chess

This post examines the relation of computers and understanding in correspondence chess. “Chess Training for Candidate Masters” is a book by Grandmaster Kalinin aimed at addressing the fact that today’s aspiring chess masters have benefited greatly from working with chess computers. 

Altough the book is aimed at over the board players, the book has great insights for correspondence aspring masters as well.

It starts from the recognition that there is little doubt that advanced software and electronic training programs have significantly contributed to the rise of the standards of play. 

But there is a negative side to this, Kalinin argues. Many chess players see the computer as the ultimate response to nearly everything. They think that computer analysis is the best and the fastest way to find the truth in any position on the board. 

As a result, many of those players have gradually stopped thinking and analysing for themselves. However, what you need in order to make real progress in chess is not more computer input, but increased understanding, he says.

In 2006 Kalanin gave up playing tournaments, to concentrate on training work. From time to time, he quenched his craving for competition by playing in correspondence chess tournaments.

He had played successfully in several such events at the end of the 1980s. He soon realised that over the intervening 20 years, correspondence chess had changed beyond recognition.

“Now one is playing against a computer and can oneself also make use of its help”. In his view, such play has no relation to chess and is more like a scientific experiment aimed at finding the best way to fight against the computer.

For him the computer, even when its king is under strong attack, can never lose its head, which can hardly be said of a human player. This means that in correspondence play, one can strive for accurate and complete analysis.

There are some cases, Kalinin argues, however, where even unlimited analysis, with the computer’s help, fails to reveal the definitive answer to a position. The fact that you use a computer to help, sometimes doesn’t solve the problem, as the net of variations is too wide.

In this sense the main lesson by Kalanin for over the board players would work for correspondence chess. What you need in order to make real progress in chess is not more computer input, but increased understanding. 

To address the reliance on the computer, an aspiring chess master, in Kalinin’s opinion, must understand the importance of aesthetics, accept that the classical heritage is essential in his development, learn the importance of human insight in reaching analytical mastery and grasp how to spot and fight his weaknesses.

In correspondence chess today you will loose a game above higher class or master level if you just follow the computer’s decisions. To be able to play competitive CC, you need to understand what is taking place to direct your analysis beyond the material computer calculations. Otherwise you won’t only find no enjoyment in your chess, you will loose again and again.

Chess Training for Candidate Masters: Accelerate Your Progress by Thinking for Yourself. Alexander Kalinin. New In Chess, 2017. ISBN 9789056916930

Nicolas Ronderos

Nicolas Ronderos is an American ICCF Player. He is also a Good Companion Fellow at the US Chess Problem Society. He lives in Paris and tweets about CC as @CorrChess
  1. admin left a comment on April 14, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Very interesting. However chess computers is a very broad term and includes hardware, chess engines and other tools (databases, endgame tables and other software). The interaction between the human player and everything else produces modern correspondence chess.

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