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There was some interesting discussions recently about the use of chess databases in correspondence chess. Unfortunately is was buried in about post 100 on topic about cheating.
Here are my thoughts on the legality and helpfulness of using chess databases in correspondence chess.
First off, there is the assumption that books are allowed in postal play. This seems totally logical but one person even questioned this.
Databases are really just an extension of books. In fact almost all modern opening books derive the references from these same databases.
Does this give an advantage to "premium" chess.com members? Maybe. Databases help considerably for the first 10-12 moves in most openings (check out a recent forum post on the Ruy Lopez where using a database would have helped save a game) most of the game is really decided by the players. Even using a database requires some chess knowledge and foresight. Just because a game end 1-0 does not mean the opening was correct.
Also many people maintain their own files for specific openings, themes etc. For instance I have quite a file on the Riga Variation of the Ruy Lopez which I have used successfully against very strong (2400) players.
Two slight side bars. There was once some discussion on endgame tables and their use in correspondence play. Computers have effectively "solved" endgames of 4,5 and 6 pieces. Technically these are not engines but database tables so the question was asked are these legal in non computer assisted events? Clearly the answer was no as they were not aides in helping players use their own chess knowledge and skill to play but moves that were forced by computer generated calculations.
Also there are correspondence organizations that have determined cheating is going to occur no matter what so why not allow the use of engines. One group is the ICCF which is probably the largest and strongest correspondence organization. The games take a slightly different approach and it is not as easy as one would think. There is a very high percentage of draws however. The games are still fun but require a totally different mind set.
I agree. I tried playing on a site that allows engines and discovered:
Highly rated CC players are pretty good in their own right. They have to be at least good enough to guide play into positions that engines do not play well and they have to be good enough to recognize when an engine evaluation is wrong. One 2300+ OTB player who plays at ICCF told me the only thing an engine evaluation is good for is measuring material and he did not trust their positional evaluations. Even at my level I’ve run into positions where my intuition told me the engine evaluation was just plain wrong. Play over GM games using an engine and you’ll occasionally run into this situation so it’s not that unusual.
Even if you’re just letting the engine select your moves it takes patience to let an engine run long enough to get a decent move selection. It also requires a fairly powerful computer and the most up to date engines. It’s not possible for an average player to buy an engine and compete at the highest levels in the ICCF (or IECG) because other skills are necessary. Anyway this type of chess didn’t appeal to me… probably due to lack of up-to-date equipment, patience and skill. As you mentioned there are a lot of draws; in my case about 50%.
You are absolutely correct that it’s a different mindset, requires different skills and is no doubt fun for many players. And as you point out it’s not as easy as it sounds.
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