How the Internet has changed chess: Part 1

How the Internet has changed chess: Part 1

NM Coach-Bill
May 10, 2013, 7:35 PM |

Having been around organized chess for over 45 years I believe I am qualified to discuss this topic. It's going to be a pretty wide topic and I don't know yet how many parts this will become. What I do have to say should assist the ultimate goal which is to improve your skill level of chess play. Let's just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.  As for the position at the right, it's Black to play. Not to win, but to do the best he can. More on this below.


I ceased playing over the board tournaments in 1996 until the end of last year. However my involvement with chess continued during the interim. I was heavily involved in correspondence chess with ICCF from 1986 until the year 2000. I earned two qualifications to the World's championship cycle, and picked up a gold medal for Team USA in PATT#3. See my coaching page here for the link. I then dabbled in Internet chess play for the next dozen years. I remember in 1995 while in graduate school a few of my postal chess opponents directed me to to play chess online. Over the next few years while at work I dabbled at a few sites like Yahoo games. Finally in 2001 I purchased my first home computer and continued to play as many sites as I could find where chess was offered. Naturally I eventually gravitated exclusively to the premium quality sites. Here I was able to compete in a number of events using standard time controls like 90 30 and 45 45.


What I found was most players on the Internet like to play blitz chess. After all, the grandmasters are doing it, why not them? Let me back up a bit. I'll have more to say about blitz chess in a later article. When I was first playing club chess back in 1967 it was naturally all face-to-face. When I started playing correspondence chess at age 25 in 1980, I was one of the youngsters. As I have explained before my two years experience until 1982 with postal chess is the prime reason I acquired a national master title. I reentered postal chess in 1986 as I found it was the only way I could conveniently acquire master level opposition. The only other alternative to consistently play strong opponents was to move to Europe or New York City in order to play in master tournaments but these choices were impossible. 


As noted I was one of the younger players in postal chess and suspect that the majority of my prior opponents have since retired or passed on. In the old days we played by postcard and the post office had custody of our moves the majority of the duration of the game. This led to games lasting anywhere from nine months to three years. I consider this quite normal. Players today look at this and wonder how I possibly could have coped with such slowness. After all, today postal chess is played online and transmission of the moves is instantaneous. Many postal chess players today who play online are under the misconception online chess is a substitute for over the board play and if their opponent happens to be online the same day they are, they will exchange as many moves as they possibly can with them. I have noticed a lot of players have in excess of 50 games going which is way too many to devote the proper attention each game requires. So somehow the methods of the old guard that I belong to have been lost. This is largely because players are introduced to organized chess today through the Internet. We folks of the older generation had easy access to literature and articles of how postal chess can improve your game that the new generation is unaware of.


As noted above correspondence chess is how I became a chess master by learning how to analyze, evaluate, and assess positions. It is a perfect way to learn openings because you get to look them up as you play them. Naturally proper endgame technique can be mastered as well. When you're at a chess club and complete a tournament game you often conduct a postmortem analysis of the game with your opponent. Here you're moving the pieces around looking at possible variations and you're learning. The exact same thing is true when analyzing a postal chess game. I know of a FIDE IM who played hundreds of simultaneous postal games as training for over the board games. When he got a move in the mail he would set the board up start the chess clock and spend about as much time on the position is if he were playing a real game all while not moving the chess pieces. Although this may have helped his over the board play his postal chess suffered. His opponents were trained to take hours on a move and this is too much of a time advantage to grant a theoretically weaker chess player than you. The IM was usually punished for playing quickly. If you take your time you should play at a much higher level of chess. I know of several chess players with over the board ratings of 1600-1900 who achieved legitimate postal chess ratings of 2200 and higher.


Now I would like to share a famous example of how analysis of a chess position can achieve a win in correspondence chess. American Hans Berliner won  the fifth world's correspondence championship in 1965. A senior master strength player he participated in three US championships that Bobby Fischer played in, with reasonable results. He then turned his attention to postal chess play and qualified for the world's championship finals. As black he played the Alekhine’s Defense to 1.e4 but he found himself with Black against Yakov Estrin of the Soviet Union who was also the world's leading authority on the Two Knights Defense. Hans studied Estrin’s opening literature and found a flaw. Much has been written about this position, and I give a link to find out more, but let's suffice it to say that the position at the top of the page was considered by Estrin to be winning for White.


No telling how many hours Berliner devoted to Estrin's work or even this position but suffice it to say he did a thorough enough analysis at this point and throughout the rest of the game to bring home the point. In other words Berliner did his homework and succeeded. You can too. Every position you reach can be dissected at your leisure until you are satisfied you've found the best move in the position. If it isn't the best move your opponent will show you why and you'll learn from him. Your skill level will rise jn chess the more you analyze, and correspondence chess is a perfect method to help you learn!


Part two will follow soon!