Best use of for OTB training.

Apr 3, 2010, 6:45 AM |

Many people play both CC (Correspondence Chess like and are playing OTB (Over The Board). If you, like me, are mainly using for training for OTB tournaments then how can you maximize the training here? This articles focus on that. 


OTB and CC are in fact very different. If you took one of the top-10 players like Carlsen I am not sure he would in the top 10 in CC and if you took one of the best correspondence players like Jørn Sloth (CC world champion 1975-1980 and Danish:-)) I do not believe he would be in top 10 at OTB chess.

You need a different skill set for OTB and CC. For OTB memory is important for opening skills, in CC you are allowed to use books. In OTB time is a factor with on average 3 min per move, in CC you typically have 3 days per move. In OTB visualization skills are critical (you have to visualise positions only in your mind for calculating variations at the boad), in CC you can use a physical analysis board (or a virtual like here on for playing around with the pieces while calculating variations.

So how can you best use for OTB training since there are huge differences between the two ways of playing chess?

What CC chess is great for (at least for me) is learning and expanding on your opening repetoire. I do not learn openings by rote memorization of opening variations from a book. I learn opening by playing through by own games with these openings - i.e. learning by doing. For this CC is excellent since you can read a opening book while playing that exact opening. In OTB it is not possible. When I now play OTB I can clearly see my openings have improved as a result of CC.

Another thing is end-game training. In CC you can delve much deeper into your end-games than in OTB, so even though my end-game skills were pretty good before starting CC it has become even better. And since using books are allowed in CC you learn the general principles of the specific end games you are playing here on You can apply the theory right away while playing - learning is best when theory and practice mix. In OTB you usually learn the hard way by looking up in a book what principles you should have used for that ending after you have lost (although losing tends to be a very efficient way to learn to avoid losing the next time!)

What about clock time? Well, you do not get the same amount of time pressure and stress levels in CC that you experience in OTB. For that there is no substitute for sitting at the board for 5 hours with the clock relentlessly ticking and a silent human on the other side of the board for whom the sole purpose in life for the next 5 hours is to crush and destroy you completely (at the board!). In fact OTB is so stressful that it is probably not really healthy! Former world champion Michael Tal was often told by his doctors to give up chess because the stress was too much for him. Of course he could not give up the drug of chess as we know.

On average your brain uses 20 % of all glucose (think sugar) that you eat, which is pretty much considering the brain is only about 1-2 % of your body weight. When engaged in cognitive complex operations (such as chess) your brain tends to need more energy. When playing OTB I always try to bring candy or coke which contains lots of sugar. In CC you do not play for 5 hours (at least I do not) - you log on and off doing other things in between moves. I find I use less energy playing CC. Why is that? I think it has to do with the next paragraph concerning calculation speed

What about the speed of your calculations? In OTB speed is essential. There is a huge difference between using 1 minute or 10 minutes to find the correct move in a position. Huge! In CC that is not important at all. It does not matter if you spend 1 minute or 10 minutes on a move (well, depending on the amount of games you have of course - there is only 24 hours in a day!). I try not to use too much time on finding a move here. Otherwise I will be spoiled with time and use too much when I do OTB. Of course I DO use more time here in CC on a move than OTB. That is one of the main charms of CC: the luxury to delve very deep into some interesting positions which is not possible in OTB. You have to find the balance. Kasparov wrote in one of his books that in chess (and in life which was his point) you constantly balance time, material and quality. In CC the time does not matter so much - at least clock time, board time - like gaining a tempo is of course just as important in CC as in OTB.

What about visualization training? Well, here you have to be careful. It is very tempting to use the analysis board here on but that will not train your visualization skills very much for OTB. In fact your visualization skills tend to become a bit lazy I think. Therefor I very rarely use the analysis board on, because I want to force myself to train my visualization skills. Of course this sometimes cost me games because I lose due to an error I would have spotted using the analysis board. My rating here (on average 2150) could probably be improved by 100-150 points if I consistently checked my variations with the analysis board. Thats the price you pay for improving your visualizations skills using CC. 


Overall, is a great tool for training OTB, if you are a bit careful on how you use it. Especially for improving your positional understanding of the game CC is great I think. But remember, if you want to improve in OTB: There is no real substitute for sweating it out face-to-face with your enemy whom is bent on wiping you off the board with the seconds ticking away.