GM, how is this possible?
Me? A correspondence chess Grandmaster? Me, an orphan and a poor boy in the world, father and mother have passed away, sisters and brothers, never seen. Me, born in few smoke’s village from the northeastern backwoods of Kuusamo. A boy, whose’s mother used to bathe me in a smoke sauna and then wipe clean in freshly fallen snow. Maybe it was then I got interested in black and white – white and black chess pieces. When my father taught me the basics of chess, it was the beginning a relationship, not a one-night thing, but a life-long one. Relationship with chess…
Me? A Grandmaster. This fills many people with wonder and astonishment. So, a little explanation might be needed…
First of all, correspondence chess requires skill. Secondly, in correspondence chess you need to have “strong buttocks” and thirdly, it requires a lot of love and cherishing. Fourthly, the game naturally requires a great deal of toil and sweat. My journey to success is made exactly from these elements.
So, what do you exactly have to do to succeed in contemporary correspondence chess? It’s true that nowadays we have all these computers, which some hate and some love. While some people surrender and give up playing because of those, the others see them as richness and something that enhances the game. I, personally, belong to this latter group of people.
Oh, how I love it when my opponents decide to play only with ‘the engine’ (computer’s chess program). It’s so easy to get all the points from them.
Oh, how I love those opponents who play the game totally unaware of all the richness that chess theory brings along. The Internet is full of it. And all this information is only a click and a couple of euros away and it only takes a few minutes if you know what you are looking for.
It’s so nice when you have a lot of friends – especially friends who are always willing to help you and give you advice on problems in chess. I could do a little name-dropping here: Garry Kasparov, Dejan Bojkov, Efstratios Grivas, Nigel Davies, Ari Ziegler, Andrew Martin, Alexander Bangiev, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Viktor Bologan, Alexei Shirov, Adrian Mikhalchishin, Lubomir Ftacnik, Sam Collins etc. What a bunch of friends! Grandmasters, International masters and even a couple of World Champions. And what’s the best, the number of this kind of friends is getting bigger all the time. All these friends have been willing to share their own expertise to me. OK, sometimes this help has required some ‘financial arrangements’, but may these be bestowed on them. (I guess you already understood that by ‘friends’ I was referring to chess teaching videos here. According to the rules you can’t use other people’s help to analyse your games. However, books and videos are permitted.)
Oh, how I love those players who don’t want to get familiar with their opponents’ games. In contemporary correspondence chess it’s extremely easy to dig up all your opponents’ previous games, make statistics of them, and make sure you can prevent them using their favourite openings and playing format. Again, all this information is just a click away on the Internet. A good source is the webpage of our own organisation ICCF.
Above, I mentioned some of the tips how to succeed in chess. Whoever understands and embraces these hints can find him/herself in an everlasting love relationship with this beloved game. First, it takes your little finger, then your hand and then the whole person. This is my world.
I have been asked many times, why I do not play OTB games. The reason is very simple … the background information I need in order to play is completely missing. In fact I consider the correspondence chess and OTB chess are quite different types of game. Especially young OTB players could benefit enormously from our games and from the way we are playing. To be able to make success they have to study and understand the theory of chess. Our way to play gives an excellent platform for that. I myself am content to study the theory according to the particular situation, and I’m no longer interested in learning by heart. This is possible in our tournaments.
In a nutshell, here are still a couple of hints if you are interested to read… of course the following text can be a disappointment to at least those readers who believe in the omnipotence of those engines, chess engines. For my part, I believe in the overwhelming superiority of existing chess theory and databases. Therefore, crystallized… knowledge and skill still win in chess. And then a few guidelines…
know your opponent. With today’s technology, it’s possible to find all your opponent’s previous games, favorite openings, middle games and end games. It is even possible to book them in the form of an opening book, so you can easily see his or her preference, how he or she has succeeded, and what preference he or she favors. I would say that all this is just a few clicks away. Of course, you need to have a comprehensive gaming database to access this.
get a comprehensive database for games. There are many kinds of databases. The ones that I trust the most are databases for correspondence chess. And these can be acquired for free on the ICCF webpage. If you are interested you can also find all my games in that database. This source is the one foundation on which I base all my games.
So, there the games are, every year and every month. The new month will appear there immediately after a month’s end. Of course, the files must be transferred, downloaded to your machine and processed there in your own database. I would say that it is just a few clicks, even though the files are packed to speed up file transfer. There are also my games. I personally consider this information source one of the bases on which I rely.
master the theory. It’s the skill that rules in chess – even today. And you can find endless pages of theory online. In the past, this theory could be found in books but now things are different. Personally, I like teaching videos which you can watch over and over again and study theory closely with the reading program that come with the videos. You can also use them with Fritz, which brings along some further advantages. Today, I already have dozens of these videos and the postman still brings me a new one 5 to 7-hour-video every month. What’s more, these videos aren’t too expensive either. With a price of a coffee and a doughnut, you’ll easily get a hardcopy or download version. For my own games, this is the second base, which I nowadays rely on.
build your own opening database. If you do not have the theory sources described above you should create your own opening library. And again, once again, I would say it can be done with a few clicks. The opening library can only be based on some of the best games and even the fresh ones. I have not used those commercial opening libraries for years. The theory of opening is changing quite a bit and it is worthwhile to update the library from time to time. Of course, it is in your repertoire to follow these changes. One example of this is the victory I won in the GM-norm tournament against my opponent SIM Serner Arpad. He played Pirc classical variation opening path, which has already been abandoned in those teaching videos, warned of a problem. So my opponent got to experience a fierce defeat and me one of the necessary feathers into my GM hat SIM Siikaluoma, Auno – SIM Serner, Dr. Arpad, in WS/GMN/028.
get the software you need. I do not want to advertise or favor any special software or commercial supplier. There are many of these and there will be new ones and old ones will disappear behind the skyline. To put it simply I use ChessBase’s products, of which the most famous is Fritz. Fritz, which is a whore for others, and for others a pure opportunity to play their own gaming. As I said earlier, I myself belong to these latter ones. I really use Fritz to run engines other than its own engines. Fritz is involved in all the four guidelines mentioned above, theory, exploration of opponents’ games, gaming database management, and building of your own opening library.
get the engine. So so, get the engine and a decent one. I do not recommend anything special about these, as new ones will come up almost every month. So where do I use the engine? Engine is useful especially when you want to see what your opponent is likely to move. And this is really a valuable piece of information, especially when the “unfortunately” many play only on a chess engine. If you just want to play the games, use the engine, but if you want to win, my advice is, consider the theory, use your head and an engine on the side. Of course, you can get good tips on how to direct the game. But remember values given by engine are often wrong. The best example of this would be the opening transformation of the poisoned soldier of the Sicilian opening, where black gets unbeatable values in a situation which is a real draw. Chess programs, engines, especially with Fritz, incorporate a wide range of possibilities for analyzing games. I’m not going to specify these here, but they can be found in the Fritz’s Handbook. However, with regard to the Engineers, it is worth noting that developers are only testing them against other engines. Nowadays, correspondence chess players can be classified into three groups of, organic players, machine players and centaurs. Organic players are players who do not want to touch computer programs in connection with their games. There are plenty of them, and they are quite easy to distinguish from ICCF’s rating list, for example. Machine players are those who just play on the machine, the chess program. It’s also easy to find them among the other players. Then there is the third group that has been named centaurs in my language. They are players who combine their skills with current technology. In fact, I’m a thoroughbred centaur, appreciate whoever wants to or not.
vary your openings. Be sure your opponent knows your favorites, I should say your comfort zone in terms of chess openings? The reason is described above. What you do, you can assume that your wise opponent also does. This is true when playing for titles. And if he/she does not, then do not worry about it.
manage a changing world. I remember a saying of a well-known chess player in our magazine, Kirjeshakki: to win your opponent you will have to win him in opening, middle and final. This is mercilessly true, but the world is changing. With regard to the endgame, we have got the endgame tables, Nalimov-tables, which tell the absolute end result of the game as long as there are not too many pieces on the board. Nowadays we already find complete 6-piece tables on the net and 7-8 pieces are being developed. These issues are being discussed in online forums for which you can get a link here the Discussion Forum at the Endgames. The site will tell you the changes right away when they come. It’s worth keeping track of, so you do not lose your games because of ignorance. With respect to the opening and the middle game, I appreciate that the focus has shifted somewhat towards the opening. The theories of the opening are in the process of change. A good opening can give you a victorious game, but the bad opening you can’t no longer fix in the middle game.
My motto is, winning games rarely depend on chess programs or the size of the engine room. Skill is still what it is takes to win in chess. Anyone who does not want to work and get acquainted with the theory is going to stay in our hobby at lower levels, and hate forever those who use machines to develop their skills.
And how does the current computer-based correspondence chess differ from the time before all those gadgets.
My opinion is … no way. Aids have always been used in correspondence chess. At first there was a board and pieces. It was permissible in the home’s dark corners to compose games. It was not necessary to move exactly the piece that you first touched. This was how I started myself. Then came the accordion. It was allowed to play all the games with pieces of plastic and explore them. It saved time, did not always have to tune the board. And literature … before there were games collections. Now there are only databases and open access to all games played. Previously you may have owned a better book than your neighbor. Now all major games are available for free. It may be asked whether we now have a level playing field for everyone.
And the last thing I’m gonna do is put links to my GM title qualifying tournaments. Two norms are needed, the total number of games must be at least 24 and there has to be at least five grandmasters among the opponents. All these conditions were fulfilled in the tournaments, which can be found in the following links …
RCCA-Gold 2008 , this is an annual Russian invitational tournament. I played at the so-called gold level in the tournament.
WS/GMN/028 , the tournament is a so-called norm tournament. These tournaments are for getting a norm to the desired title, in this case the title of the Grandmaster.
Needless to say, to get into the aforementioned tournaments, I have already had to show expertise in previous tournaments and in my games.
Finally, I would like to extend my warm thanks to my family, my dear wife Pirkko and my daughter Mirjam for their patience and tolerance. My time is spent ruthlessly on my hobbies. Time that is naturally out of our common time. Always sitting in front of his screen and talking to his mouse. Their encouragement and support has paved the way for my achievements.