During my long chess-free period since Benasque last summer, I've spent a lot of time playing email chess which (as S&B members who attended a talk I once gave at the club will know) I don't really like that much. Nevertheless, it's what I've got - and since (thanks to Angus' generosity) I now have a chessplaying program, it means I don't lose every game I play. In fact, since acquiring the program I haven't lost a tournament game, which naturally makes one wonder what function the human player still has in correspondence chess.
It's a shame. I'm past forty now, the sort of age at which a player's OTB strength tends inevitably to decline - and I'd always envisaged myself turning to correspondence chess when that occurred. What point there is in that, is currently unclear: if, in ten years' time, we will all have access to programs which in a few minutes will produce moves of world champion class or better, then one suspects that the human elelment will be very small, since any intervention we make is likely to produce a worse move than the one which the computer proposed.
For the moment, though, this is not quite true. While one can very well mess up the game by deviating from the computer's preferred choice, one can also work in a number of ways, both with and without the computer, either ignoring it (for a while) so as not to be overinfluenced by its preferences, or understanding its strengths and deficiencies in order to direct its thoughts to lines which it had neglected or misunderstood.
I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on the subject: anyone looking for well-informed commentary could do worse than try Robin Smith's Modern Chess Analysis, which deals at some depth with the various strengths and weaknesses of computer progams. (There is, by the way, a copy at the Barbican Library, which I would very strongly recommend that anybody living in London take the trouble to join. It is absolutely - a qualified librarian writes - the best public library I have ever been in.)
What I propose to begin here, in my best reasonably-informed-layman-and-amateur kind of way, is a discussion which will hopefully illustrate some of the potential ways in which computers either still fail at correspondence chess, or in which they succeed only with human help. I'll start with a position in an ongoing game from the International Email Chess Group: the game is now well past the diagram position.
What I'd like people to do, rather than give any suggestions of their own, is simply say what their computer wants to play as White. Without making any suggestions to the computer - don't put in a move to see what changes! We're asking what would happen if we relied purely on the computer. If you can give more detail, excellent: i.e. if the preferred move changed after x ply, the program's second and third choices, what program you used.
After we've had a few responses I'll come back to the position and explain what actually happened and why: and we'll see if the human element was actually helpful or not. So - suggestions please!
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