Carbon versus Silicon (4)

The human mind isn’t a computer; it cannot progress in an orderly fashion down a list of candidate moves and rank them by a score down to the hundredth of a pawn the way a chess machine does. Even the most disciplined human mind wanders in the heat of competition…
GM Garry Kasparov

Many players are interested to know if the use of chess engines is allow in correspondence (turn based) chess. The question is fair because using them in situations where they are not allowed, constitutes a break in the rules. Some organizations forbid it, while others do not. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. is one of the most important and influential website these days. One of their commitments is to ensure using chess engines in tournaments where they are not allowed does not happen. They monitor that daily.
  2. International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) is the official body for correspondence chess. They accept the use of chess engines, endgame tablebases, and any other tools or sources by the players. This is because ICCF cannot police the use or not of any of them.

Now this is a very important delimitation to consider in any discussion about the use of chess engines. Here is a sample exchange I had with one chess player this past week:
Player: “Is it permissible to use chess engines in CCCA play? If so, is there a category of play where this is not done?
Note: CCCA = Canadian Correspondence Chess Association, the official ICCF affiliate.
Me: “Since CCCA cannot monitor the use of chess engines in any game, we cannot forbid it either. It is up to the players to decide what to do. The only way to play without engines is against opponents that agree not to use them as a gentleman’s agreement.
Player: “The US Correspondence Chess organization has a category for non engine play. I was hoping that the CCCA did too. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t. Practically speaking, one cannot enter a tournament and then ask each contestant if they would agree to not use engines.
Me: “The reality is CCCA also had such a category and nobody wanted to play in it. It can be revived at any time if there is demand.
Player: “I read the article by Jon Edwards on correspondence chess in the latest copy of American Chess Magazine (ACM). He recently gained the GM title.
His description of what it takes to compete at that level in correspondence play just confirmed my opinion of the use of engines in chess play. It’s a case of may the person with the best computer science background and the most expensive and latest technology win. Mr. Edwards, the tech expert on the ACM staff, has a USCF correspondence chess rating of 2536 and an OTB USCF regular rating of 1998.
I’d get no personal satisfaction from winning games or gaining a title through this means.
Me: “It is like comparing apples and oranges. They are both fruits (forms of chess) and at the same time they are completely different. A CC rating of 2536 is also totally different from his OTB of 1998, while both being 4-digit numbers… As long as this form of chess (ICCF) allows the use of engines and everyone knows and abides, I am not sure I see a problem. Moreover that title means he performs at that level in this particular form of chess. Perfectly normal IMO.

I am not asking any of you to change your opinions. All I am asking is to inform yourselves of what the rules are for the form of chess you choose to play. If you like to play at, you can be sure players will follow the rules and not use chess engines. If they do (valid for anyone from amateurs to professional GMs), they are caught on a daily basis and suffer the consequences.

However, I see too many who after losing a game there cry foul and claim their opponents used chess engines because their play contained minimal mistakes as shown by the engine analysis available. I would recommend instead the habit of analyzing your own games with or without the help of engines. Only this way you will learn something and get better. An engine analysis saying move X “is best”, or move Y ” is miss” means little if you leave it at that. Personally I do not think many learn anything out of it. Sadly a vast majority does nothing more. Do not be one of them.

Eugen Demian

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Valer Eugen Demian

Author: Valer Eugen Demian

The player – my first serious chess tournament was back in 1974, a little bit late for today’s standards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to play all forms of chess from OTB to postal, email and server chess. The journey as a player brought me a lot of experience and a few titles along the way: FIDE CM (2012), ICCF IM (2001) and one ICCF SIM norm (2004). The instructor – my career as a chess teacher and coach started in 1994 and continues strong. I have been awarded the FIDE Instructor title (2007) for my work and have been blessed with great students reaching the highest levels (CYCC, NAYCCC, Pan-Am, WYCC). I am very proud of them! See my website for more information. I have developed my own chess curriculum on 6 levels based on my overall chess knowledge and hands-on experience. A glimpse of it can be seen in my first chess app:
I can help you learn chess the proper way if this is what you seek! View all posts by Valer Eugen Demian

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