I have been playing on Red Hot Pawn for several years. It is a correspondence chess, turn based, website. You login, make your moves, then your opponent’s clock starts. Games can be played in as little time as 2 days, or may take years, depending on the time control.
Playing correspondence is a lot different than playing blitz, or over the board chess. Here are some tricks and tips that I have learned.
- Whenever it is your turn, first look to see if a piece has been captured on the last move. It is REALLY easy to drop a piece because you didn’t realize that your opponent captured a piece on the last move. You can look at the board, decide to castle, and only then realize that you forgot to recapture. This habit alone probably gained me 100 rating points.
- Along the same lines, take advantage of the “conditional moves” feature. This can help you avoid the types of mistakes that I just mentioned. This way, you are preparing responses to certain moves in the case that they are played. This is a good way to map out the responses as well, and lets you make the move while the position is fresh in your mind, instead of when you are looking at it “cold”.
- You are legally allowed to use opening books and databases, and I would encourage you to do this. It can be a great way to learn openings, and some opening lines are so complicated (like the Fried Liver Attack), that it is very hard to find the right moves without using reference materials.
- You can get a surprising number of timeout wins on RHP. Always check for “skulls”, which mean that your opponent has run out of time. I have found that long 3 day weekends and holidays are especially good time for collecting skulls, as some players only play during the work week, so may be gone longer than usual.
- My friend Francisco has had good luck collecting skulls with the very fast 1/0 time control. This is where each player gets one day to make their moves, but no timebank. So if you are constantly online, you can force your opponent to do the same, or else they have a good chance to lose on time. Be careful with this time control!
- Playing as slow as possible can help you to collect skulls as well. My friend Dean Brown plays very slow time controls, and collects a large number of skulls from people who don’t have the patience to play one game over the course of several years.
- You can often find people on the ladders who are no longer active on the site, but have not disabled their account. You can challenge them, wait for a timeout win, and pick up free rating points, and increase your ladder standing.
- Take advantage of your vacation time. When in doubt, use your vacation. You don’t get to carry it over to the next year, so use it or lose it. On the ladders people cannot challenge you when you are on vacation, so if it is the end of the year, and you still haven’t used it, I would take it anyway. You can still make moves on vacation, which is not true with ICCF games.
- It is really easy to end up with WAY too many games. Be careful about joining too many tournaments. Sometimes you might think that a tournament is over, but then the next round will start, adding a bunch of new games to your list that you were not expecting.
- Playing in thematic tournaments can be a good way to pick up rating points if it is an opening that you are familiar with. They can be a lot of fun as well.
- Some players tend to have massive rating swings. They might get to 2000, then have 12 timeout losses that takes them back to 1300. Be sure and look at the player’s history to get an idea of their true strength. RHP has a really nice graph that shows the rating history for each player.
- If you are really dedicated you could look at a players previously played games to get an idea of how to play against them. Personally I don’t have time for this, but it is a nice resource to have that you don’t have in OTB games.
- Take advantage of the ability to move the pieces around with the analysis board. I have found some really deep tactics using this feature.
- I read an article once in Chess Life from a guy who was a correspondence champion. He advocated playing every game as slow as possible, and never resigning. He figured that he could win extra games this way from timeouts, if someone happens to die, or be unable to play, etc. While this is no doubt true, I personally think that this is bad manners. I personally have no problem with players who play out until mate, and the “conditional move” feature, can help to speed these games up.
- I like to review all of my RHP games in Fritz after they are done. You should not be seeing a lot of “??” type moves, since you have a lot of time to think, and can move the pieces around if the variations get complicated.
After I posted this on RedHotPawn, I got some more great comments from Paul Leggett, posted below with his permission.
Here’s some observations I have made over time:
1) Don’t get hung up on ratings here, as there are strong players with lesser ratings, and some players with ratings that exceed their permanent pay grade (my current one, for example).
2) Number of games in progress is tough with short time controls, but much easier to manage with longer time controls. For instance, before I subscribed, I preferred games with shorter time controls, and they required multiple moves per week. I persisted with this short time-control madness when I subscribed until I realized that a longer time control mitigates quantity. I now have more games in progress, but I actually make fewer moves per week than I used to, simply because many of my clan challenges and tournaments have 7/7 or greater time controls (7/14 or 10/10, etc), and I need to make only one move a week if I am busy.
3) If you have longer time controls, it’s OK to go to bed without having moved in all your games. I was funny about that at first, but I got over it. 70 games with a 7/7 time control only require 10 games per day to stay ahead for the week. Some of those games will be in the opening, which are relatively quick if you’ve decided where you want to go, and some will be endings where you have probably worked out most of what you want to do, so you can pace yourself. It’s still a lot of work, but it counts as study time in my book!
4) Use our ability to manipulate the “my games” columns to structure your responses. For instance, I’ll click on the “moves” column, and make responses to my games with less than 10 moves or so first. If we’re at move 3 in the game, I already know what I want to play, unless the other guy plays a really outrageous move.
I then go to the games with the most moves. Very often they are endings where I have spent time working out what I think will happen, and it’s just a matter of playing the moves. Philidor and Lucena rook endings (and others like them) are autopilot and don’t require much time. Use the time you saved for the endings that really require work.
Or just read Greenpawn34’s blog and win in the middlegame, and skip this step!
5) No matter how you slice it, increased quantity decreases quality. Quantity does have a quality all its own, but that won’t change the fact that more games means more opportunities for “Oh $%^&, I missed that!” moments.
6) Make sure you’re having fun. There’s no money involved here, and the ratings mean nothing except whatever value YOU assign to them, so the only true measure is whether or not you value the playing experience here. If it’s not fun, take a break. You’ll be back!
If anyone else has any tips, I would love to hear them! Leave a comment below.