CHESS SOFTWARE - THE CC PLAYERS’ GOD,
DEVIL - OR JUST PLAIN SERVANT?
subject of ”Software and correspondence (CC)” has been
disputed at least for as
long as I have been involved in CC. The so-called optimists
who claimed 15 years
ago that computers would have no influence on CC, have
obviously been mistaken.
Chess programs quickly grew strong enough to influence CC
and indeed they have done so.
In CC as in all other walks of life: the introduction of new
technology cannot be stopped.
Even though there are surprisingly many exceptions out
there, particularly among older
players without Internet access, a great majority of CC
players today take advantage
of chess software of some kind. The two main results have
improvement in general playing strength: fewer games, at all
levels, are decided
by blunders or simple tactical oversights.
equalising of playing strength in the sense that chess
software improves the weaker
players more than they do the stronger players. ICCF has
learnt its lesson from this
and sensibly enough has reduced the number of classes from
five to two.
pessimists who feared that chess programs would make CC
players a dying
race and/or be collectively changed into computerised
messengers, have also
been proved wrong. The biggest change is more due to
Internet than to chess software:
CC has become all the more synonymous to email and server
chess, a development
that both for time-saving as well as economical reasons in
all probability will continue
until one day the postal authorities in a still distant
future will be made superfluous.
The principle of CC, or "Fernschach” as our German-speaking
friends prefer to call it,
is the same whether the moves are transferred by snail- or
e-mail - and whether in our times
of “ideal chess with all available help allowed” a move is
found with the help of opening books, game data bases,
family, friends or software, does not make much difference,
practice the chess programs probably play a more important
role behind the
drawn curtains in today’s CC than what the other help
channels are able to,
but they are still no way decisive in games between Master
players. It is interesting
to note that the top CC players of 20 years ago still are
active and to a surprisingly
high degree hold their own today. Also of interest is the
fact that top over-the-board (OTB) player Ulf Andersson
immediately rose to the top of CC once he joined the CC
It can be argued that OTB play has been more influenced by
computers than CC has.
Adjourned games have disappeared completely over a few
years, fighting electronic
cheating is becoming an advanced science, and opening
preparations have been the
subject of a technical revolution that often can decide
games even on an international top level. In fact, it is not
unthinkable that the future position of CC will be
of the chess programs: the critical stage where the best
chess programs are so much
better than the best humans that games between humans are
uninteresting, will come
later in OTB with “normal” time limits than in blitz or
speed games, and even much later in CC. This applies even to
the hypothetical scenario where humans play without the help
chess programs: the greatest asset of the programs is their
ability to evaluate relatively
short and “hard” variations quickly and exactly, and the
importance of that is
inversely proportional to the time limits in the game.
Undoubtedly there are players today, as there were 10-15
years ago, who in any
position blindly mail the chess programs’ first choice to
their opponent, even though
I still do not understand what their meaning of life is. But
I do not believe there
are more such players now than five years ago, or that they
obtain better results
than they did five years ago. A computer administrator
without any chess understanding or critical mind will still
experience unpleasant surprises in games where the opponent
has access to the same chess programs but in addition has a
better chess understanding and a critical mind.
own CC experience strengthens the impression that chess
can influence CC games, but very seldom decide them on their
own. My use
of chess programs in CC tournaments has been constant: I
have never used any.
I won my first Master group in 1993-94, and my second in
2001 - with several
mediocre and downright failures in-between. I have
consequently on my own,
without the help of chess software, and definitely without
any deep chess
understanding, qualified for a CC World Championship
Semifinal. Over a decade
where chess programs claim to have undergone a revolutionary
results without computer assistance have, if anything,
Why don’t I use Fritz during my CC games, since I received
it as payment/fringe
benefit for writing a rules column some years ago? It is not
for religious reasons,
but partly because I want to train my analysis skills,
partly because so far I have
not played a CC tournament mainly for the result, and partly
because I want to
celebrate my approximately two yearly wins with a pizza
party without having to
invite the computer as honorary guest. Do I sometimes miss
the company of Fritz in
critical CC positions? Of course, it happens, as in the
following game from the match
Canada-Norway. I believed White obtained a positionally won
game in the opening,
but it took me a whole year before I could come up with
something tactically decisive -
and I suspect a strong chess program would have found it
much earlier. When the
Canadian’s “I resign” somewhat surprisingly dumped down in
my mail box I lost no
time in feeding my game into Fritz - and was very relieved
that I hadn’t done it sooner…..
Hans Olav Lahlum (NOR) -
Raymond Stone (CAN).
Friendly Match :
Norway - Canada
Queen Gambit Accepted, with 3.e4.
is a taciturn but nice and young air-plane mechanic who
wanted to play
by traditional snail-mail, claiming he lived isolated with a
fish tank but no computer.
When I start a new CC game I am only interested in new
friendships and interesting
positions, so I don’t care if my opponent receives help from
chess programs at home,
chess programs at work, other air-plane mechanics or his
goldfish. Far more irritating
was the fact that he played the dead boring exchange
variation in the French in his
white game - that yawn of a draw might have been avoided if
he had used a chess
program with at least a iota of self respect.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4
ambitious central thrust has given me many advantages but
very few points OTB.
Luckily, the problem in CC is usually the other way round….
common, but 3…. c5 is a sound alternative. Switched off his
Fritz blows his materialistic horn by trying to hold on to
the pawn with 3….b5.
principal reply; 4….Bb4+ and
4…. Nf6 are wait-and-see
sharpest move - White develops quickly and gets a nice view
but he must be prepared to sacrifice a pawn in many
variations. 5.Qxd4 Qxd4 5.Nxd4
is safer, but there is no advantage to White after
Possibly more playable in CC than OTB, but still very risky:
gets a strong initiative for the pawn.
5….c5? 6.Ne5! Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8.Qh5+ is not
playable in CC (either). 5…. Bb4+
6.Bd2 Bxd2+ 7.Nbxd2 Nc6 or 6.Nbd2 Nc6 7.O-O Nf6/Be6
is supposedly the slightly safer main variation of accepted
are entering a very open landscape, more akin to Guico Piano
or Scotch than
Queen’s Gambit. That Black has to look after f7 is clearly
6… Bg4? 7.Qb3 Qd7 8.Bxf7+! Qxf7 9.Qxb7
Rc8 10.Qxc6+ (Pytel - Castro, Dortmund 1977)
and 6…. Bc5? 7.Ng5 Nh6 8.Nxf7 Nxf7
9.Bxf7+ Kxf7 10.Qh5+ g6 11.Qxd5 (Stein - Kvyatosky,
Ukraine, 1959), in both cases with a clear attacking
advantage for White after he has reclaimed his pawn and
Black has lost his castling rights. After the main variation
6…. Be6!? 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8..Qb3 Qd7
White can win back his pawn with
9.Qxb7 Rb8 10.Qa6 or 9.Ng5 O-O-O Nxe6,
but it is not quite clear who is best after this. The text
move holds on to the pawn provided correct play on Black’s
part, but White gets a strong and lasting initiative.
cowardly refuses (for as long I cared to wait) to even check
positionally critical pawn break and prefers
7. Bb5?! to regain the d4 pawn.
7…. Bg7 8.Qb3
Consistently following up with pressure on f7. Fritz
nurtures no particular warm feelings
for the a2-g8 diagonal and once again prefers to hold on to
the pawn with 8.Bb5?!
Surprisingly a TN and a clear improvement to accepted theory
- but not clear enough
to save the variation. The only earlier known attempt with
6…. g6?! is Lehmann - Bellon,
Malaga 1970, where the later IGM lost decisive material
8…. Qd7? 9.Ng5! Nd8 10.Nxf7 Nxf7
11.e6. I give Fritz his first plus mark due to
his second choice as 8…. Be6!?
9.Qxb7?! (9…. Bxe6 is probably better, but even
if White regains his pawn on b7 or e6 the advantage is not
Nge7 10.Bb5 O-O! 11.Bxc6 Rb8 12.Qxa7
Nxc6 actually gives compensation for
the pawn and is Black’s most active attempt to save the
variation. On the other hand
Fritz does not believe in Black’s positional compensation
after 12…. Nxc6
and therefore prefers - as Stone does -
rather obvious move is given by FIDE-IM Jakov Neistadt, in
his spare time a leading theoretician on Queen’s Gambit
Accepted - but now we left the Cape Farewell of the theory
map. Fritz is afraid of losing the e5 pawn and prefers to
give it extra support with Bf4 or Re1.
9…. Na5?? 10.Qb5+, in case
anyone was wondering.
was difficult to assess the consequences of this second pawn
so difficult that I soon gave it up and instead simply
concluded that the half-open e-file,
a wide open a2-g8 diagonal and in general active pieces
should give first-class
compensation for two hanging central pawns: especially since
it is difficult to see
where Black in the foreseeable future can hide his King. A
good alternative was
10.Bd2 threatening 11.Ng5 Nh6 12.Nxf7!
Nxf7 13.e6 - or to prepare the e6-break with
11.Re1. However, Black can then
invite to move repetition by 11…. Qe7,
which in some variations allows Black to counter e6 with
f6/f5 if White deviates, or even to capture on e5.
11.Bd2 Qe7 12.Bg5 Qd7 13.e6!?
would be obvious OTB, but in CC I preferred to take
the e6 path right away rather than paying a fee of 2 stamps
at the toll plaza and taking a
detour. Fritz has no plans involving e6 and no misgivings in
allowing Na5xc4, giving
11.Na3?! as equal alternatives
with a small advantage in both cases.
11... fxe6 11.Bd2!
first this felt like admitting not only the fact that White
has no directly decisive
plan, but also admitting my, in the OTB community,
well-known direction blindness.
What will become of Nb1 and Ra1 in life was also a source of
worry here. However, it doesn’t look much better for Black’s
Bc8 and Ra8, and he was ready to exchange one of his main
problems with Na5 followed by
Nxc4: 11.Re1? Na5! 12.Bxe6 (12.Rxe6?
Qxe6 13.Qa4+/Qb5+ Bd7!) Nxb3
13.Bxd7+ Kxd7 14.axb3 and it is doubtful whether
White has full compensation for
the pawn at the threshold to the end-game: Black’s exposed
King is in far less danger
after the exchange of Queens, while the Bishop pair as well
as the pawn structure will
be to his advantage in the long run. The text move weeds out
Na5 (with an iron rake),
and threatens friendly, but determinedly to increase the
pressure on e6 with Re1 or Ng5,
in some variations even a tactical Bxe6. Fritz considers the
variation played in the game,
but cannot find anything better than 14.Bf7+ - concluding
with advantage for Black!
11…. Nge7 12.Ng5 Nd8
Probably not posted with a light heart, but against
12… e5?, 13.
Be6 followed by 14.Bxc8
and 15.Qf7+ is the simplest
lock on the mailbox.
13.Re1 e5 14.f4!?
wants to play 14.Bf7? Kf8 (possibly to deny Black the right
to castle, which
anyway is only hypothetical at the moment), but cannot find
any better continuation
than 15.Bc4, whereupon Black threatens to win material by
15…. h6. 15.Qf3 is met
with Qf5, and
14.Nf7? Nxf7 15.Bxf7+ Kf8 and
16… Nc6/Qf5 was even less
White has - without collecting an exchange fee - swapped the
active Ng5 for its
passive counterpart at d8. Better then to park the pieces in
their present active
positions, discretely awaiting how Black intends to develop
his pieces - and threatening
less discretely to win back one of the pawns and/or to open
the f-file as well.
Planning Qe7 and developing Bc8 - the only good plan I can
see in this position.
14…. a6?! might help black
after 15.a4?!, but as pointed
out by Fritz white can roll on with
15.fxe5 since 15... b5? 16.Bf7+
Kf8 17.Rf1 is a one way driven road to chess Hell. I
rejected on principle opening the e-file with
14… exf4?!, since it doesn’t
even win another pawn. Fritz at first flags clear advantage
for Black after capturing on f4, but characteristically
turns around to clear advantage for White when he eventually
discovers some concrete tactics in the shape of
15.Bb5! c6 16.Bb4 Bf6 17.Nxh7! Rxh7
Winning back a pawn, threatening the reappearing
16.Nxf7 Nxf7 17.e6 theme.
Closing the e-file feels a little bit dubious, but it is
Sacrifices pawn number two for the second time - this time
with the intent to open
both the e- and f-files against Black’s King, and also
immediately threatening 17.Nf6+.
Possibly White has compensation for one pawn after
16.e6??, but that move is a
positional misunderstanding that allows Black to castle out
of his biggest problems.
Black’s main problem is still the King, and White should
rather give another pawn to open the e-file, than to close
the a2-g8 diagonal and holding on to the pawn. Fritz
impresses by actually finding 16.Ne4!
Nxe5 17.Bg5 Qf8, but refuses to admit that White has
an advantage afterwards.
difficult position Black should concentrate on closing the
rather than opening a file to hang on to pawn number two.
16…. Be6 17.Nf6+ (17.Bg5?! Qb4) Kf8
or 16… Ne6 17.Nf6+ Kd8 are
pleasant but give slightly better chances of survival. After
the text move the variations
are too numerous for my notebook, but I lacked the fantasy
to imagine that Black
could survive for long with the e- and f-files as a
double-barrelled gun aimed at him.
Ne5 never has time to capture on c4 due to discovered checks
along the e-file and the
Knight is hanging loose itself. In defence of the text move
it could be said that Black’s
position has become a 64-headed nightmare, in addition to
the fact that 16… Qxe5? 17.Ng3
and 16…. Bxe5? 17.Bg5
threatening 18.Nf6+ immediately
lose decisive material.
17.Bg5 Qf8 18.Nbd2!
looked for a win after 18.Rf1 Bf5, but found none. With 6
black pieces crowding the
8th row I then prefer to develop my remaining light piece,
delay Rf1 until Rae1 is available,
and launch Nf3 as a new critical possibility. I ask nothing
more - for this move.
was about the last legal move I expected: Black seems to
settle down to the idea
that he has a lost position on his hands, and instead of
trying to get his pieces into
play he dreams of swindles based on d2,
Qc5+ in a later variation. What
actually expected at this stage I cannot really say. Opening
the e-file for White’s Rook with
16…. Nxc4?? is just as suicidal
as it looks: 16.Nf6++?! Kf7 20.Qxc4
Ne6 21.Rf1 wins,
but even simpler is 19.Qxc4!
threatening several decisive discovered checks. Even in
the age of computers the threat is often stronger than its
execution. Against the direct
18…. Bf5?! White can capture on
d6 or b7, and after the quiet 19.Nf3
to look unstable. Fritz admits to a clear advantage and
gives in to the - at best - very
patiently 18…. a5? (White can
capture on d8, or if he wants to be a sadist he can insert
19.a3 a4 20.Qg3, but after
19.Nf3 Black cannot play
Qb4 because of the threatening
avalanche in the e-file!) Instead he will then try to force
a declaration from Bg5 with
18…. h6!?, possibly Black’s
best try. Fritz once again underestimates White’s
compensation when he only gives a small advantage after
19.Bxd8 Kxd8 20.Rf1 Qe7 21.Rae1
and must eventually admit that 19.Bh4
g5 20.Bg3 Ndc6 21.Bb5/Bd5 quickly hurts in the
Fritz’s 19.Nf3 d2 20.Re3 surely also wins, but White’s
completely overwhelming when Ra1 is transferred to the
19…. Bf5 20.Rae1
20.g4 Nxg4 21.Rae1, but now
White’s pieces have occupied nearly optimal
squares - and 21.g4 winning a
piece is only one of several threats.
very difficult conditions the most creative try: the King
the e-file and if he reaches c8 the game may be a long one.
die-hard chess dogmatic I at first had principal objections
against this move.
It should not be correct to exchange an active Bishop on g5
against a flattened
Knight on d8. However, Black’s position has reached the
critical stage where the
position can be brought down by concrete computations, and
with all of White’s
remaining pieces in good positions it is only logical to
exchange a piece - even a
good one - for the active defender Nd8. Having moved his
King to d7, Black
makes a Queen invasion on b7 look more tempting. The
Bishop’s use of the key
square g5 is a story within the story of this game: Both
good moves increasing White’s advantage - and when the
Bishop finally leaves
g5 the advantage becomes decisive.
21…. Qxd8? 22.Nc5+ or
21… Kxd8 22.Qxb7 Rc8 23.Be6/Qd5+
doesn’t last long -
but the pin in the f-file can be utilised after the text
move as well. Fritz points out an
opportunity to capture on c4 at last:
21…. Nxc4! 22.Nxc4 Rxd8 is possible since
23.g4? Bd4+ doesn’t win
material, but as he admits, Black has decisive attack after
the simple 23.Qxb7.
flags clear advantage after 22.Qb5+
Nc6 23.g4 Bd4+ 24.Kh1 Qb4 25.gxf5 or
which also should win. Even though it was on a day nearly
(but note: only nearly)
as beautiful as my ex-girlfriend, I was surprised when two
weeks after the Bishop check
I found “My position in the A game is hopeless. Well done”,
in my mailbox. After quarrelling a bit with Fritz I
concluded that the resignation was in place.
22…. Ke7?/Ke8? 23.Bxf5 gxf5 24.Ng5
wins material and/or mates in a few moves.
If Black gives up his Queen with 22….
Bxe6, 23.Qa4+! Kc8?! 24.Rxf8 Rhxf8 25.Nc5! Bd5 26.Qxa7 b6
27.Na6 is The Ultimate End. (23.Qb5+?
also looks natural. After 23…. Nc6?
must not play 24.Nc5+??
Qxc5! 25.Qxc5 Bd4+, suddenly
giving Black jackpot for
18…. d3 - but 24.Rxf8 Bxf8 25.Nf6+ Ke7
26.Qg5 looks convincing.
23…. Kc8! 24.Rxf8 Rhxf8
25.Nc5 Bd5 is much less clear because a7 isn’t en
prise anymore). Fritz first hinted
that Black should be perfectly happy with Rook, Bishop and
two pawns for the
Queen after 23…. Nc6 24.Rxf8 Bxf8,
but let himself relatively soon be convinced that
White still has a decisive advantage when
25.Nf6+! Ke7 26.Qf4 (with the idea
Rd4 27.Qe3 Rd6 28.Nfe4 or
27…. Kxf6 28.Qxe6+ Kg7 29.Rf1
(somewhat irritated) onto the keyboard. The conclusion of this line is no
the Queen is more valuable when the opponent’s King is
roaming the streets in the
centre and White’s pieces are still waiting on every corner
with loaded guns.
moral of this story is:
is, as its predecessors a clever tactical pathfinder, but as
them far less trustworthy as
strategic advisor. You may hire it in a temporary position
as secretary, but do not forget
that you yourself are the boss. Also, think critically over
is more clever testing moves you serve him than suggesting
move himself. You can
only (and then still only “maybe”) trust him if you are very
active in suggesting
candidate moves, and also testing the final positions in the
variations suggested by Fritz.
often underestimates initiative and attacking chances
compared to material
balance until he sees the danger on the variation radar -
but then it is often too late.
Evaluate critically his suggestions, particularly when you
or your opponent has
sacrificed material to obtain positional compensation.
can still be a valuable advisor in your CC games, but if he
decides them it is
still because of errors on your or your opponent’s side -
and exaggerated beliefs in chess programs is probably the
most frequent error committed in 21st century CC games….
Three years after this article was first
published in Norwegian, the author has
tested out Fritz as an advisor during the North Sea Team
Tournament II. As the result
became his first IM-norm, the Lahlum without looking too
depressed admits Fritz might be a very helpful advisor - but
still upheld the rest of his conclusions from the Stone-game
Translated by Per
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