computer and correspondence chess

chess-king-1372062558ApoSince very young, I always liked chess. I played vs friends and later computers, always in an informal and spontaneous way.

I discovered correspondence chess in 2010, and it seemed like a great thing to get into. I felt it would not only give me a chance to play a game I liked, but would also create the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world and possibly make new acquaintances.

On top of that, it would connect my interest in chess, computers, software and books. I built a reasonably powerful computer, started a chess engine collection, and accumulated several million games from different sources which I painstakingly curated and analyzed. I had found the ideal hobby.

After several tournaments I reached an ICCF (international correspondence chess federation) rating of over 2300 (beginners are 1700 and world champions 2650). I developed a good process to analyze and make decisions, and even won a few mini tournaments.

However, I had failed to produce a single pen pal from all the people I played. I realized that after the initial exchange at the start of the game, very few people were interested in maintaining a conversation. The social aspect was being fulfilled by specialized internet forums where one could have casual, yet very high quality, games and discussions.

But then, two things happened that started to take the joy away from the hobby. First, the top game engine at the time was accused of plagiarizing other engines. The ensuing discussion turned most forums into unbearably toxic spaces where people from both camps relentlessly attacked each other.

Second, and this had become clear to me as unavoidable by 2012, technology ended up taking most of the fun out of the game. Toolsets became less and more sophisticated, deep computer analysis had exhausted most opening lines, and everybody was reaching the same conclusions and decisions. Given the opportunity, a hobbyist had very high probability to draw a game vs a world champion.

By 2014, the interest was gone. I decided to retire once I finished my ongoing tournaments. In early 2015, I completed my last game. I now only visit the discussion forums once every 5-6 months. The drama and fights are gone, but so is most of the people. Some top players are retiring for the same reasons I did. The hobby changed into something I am not keen on.

I do miss the challenge that some games brought, and the satisfaction of seeing your analysis prevail. I have dabbled in shogi, go, and some chess variants, but these are all too niche for somebody in North America. Perhaps one day a new form of playing will surface that will bring the game back for me. I certainly hope so.

Leave a Reply