Correspondence chess

Many chess-players think that correspondence chess has died out in recent years. This is quite a reasonable point of view, since you would think that if chess-players can consult databases and strong chess-playing programs (known simply as 'engines') there is little that a human being can add. However, correspondence chess is still thriving, and you can see what it looks like by going to the International Correspondence Chess Federation website (iccf.com). Hertfordshire runs a number of teams in competitions hosted at the ICCF chess server.

So correspondence chess has not died out, but it has largely migrated online, and players are allowed to make use of databases and engines. At the very highest levels, it is probably the highest quality of chess being played on the planet - when GM-strength human beings use the very best databases and engines, they can play chess to a level that not even the best humans or engines can reach playing on their own. A very high percentage of high-level correspondence games are drawn. It is widely acknowledged that 'chess is a draw', so that very good players using excellent technology find it very difficult to beat each others. Victories usually occur where one of the (human) players notices a very deep positional idea that the other (human) player has not seen. The idea is sufficiently deep that its effects are beyond the horizon of the engines the players are using. Of course, victories in high-level correspondence chess only rarely occur because of blunders. One might say they never occur because of 'normal' blunders, since the engine will always avoid such blunders. They do sometimes occur because of move-entry blunders, where the human player simply enters the wrong move at the ICCF server. It does happen.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the advent of Monte Carlo Simulation engines based around ideas from AlphaZero. Just how much will the human player be able to add to the mix when the engines become even stronger?

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