Interview with ICCF 26th World Champion

Tuesday, August 4, 2015: Ron Langeveld

1-      Congratulations on your win and for obtaining the title of World Champion in the 26 Final. The event is finally over after 5 years but your win had been defined for a while now. How do you feel about being the Champion? What thoughts come to mind when you remember the Final?

Memories are often related to specific moments in time. Since the final took a long time, even before I finished my last game, I can’t pinpoint any such moment that still lingers on in memory. At the start I knew I had better than average chances to win the title even though I expected every opponent to play more solid than they would otherwise. I don’t think I received any favors by means of blunders that suddenly increased my chances, so in a way I gradually got more used to the idea of becoming champion. By the time this was finally realized I felt I needed a break from chess since the many hours of analyzing did have their toll in terms of motivation and energy. Ironically this wish to forget chess for a while was countered by an increased interest in my result from quite a few people. Suddenly I had to tell about my hobby to  friends and colleagues. Give an interview for a magazine. Attend ceremonies. This kind of attention caught me a little off guard and in a way this is what I mostly remember about winning WC26.

2-      I have been following your correspondence chess career for a while, not only because we are friends but also because of your playing preferences. You play very few games but obviously excel. Besides the simple substitution of quantity for quality, how do you decide the best number of active games to play? Do you ever see yourself playing more games at a time?

The secret to successful correspondence chess in my opinion is effective time management, and time management itself is largely effected by the number of active games. There is never enough time you could spend at a single game as long as there are ideas to try. Ideas need to be created behind the board and then have them refuted by the computer until you find an idea that sticks and makes the difference. This is how it should be yet I belief that most players approach it the other way around. The notion that correspondence chess nowadays may be all about an arms race can also be mitigated if you stick to the better approach. Of course you need a relatively modern computer to do the dirty work of refutation for you but in my opinion it is rather pointless to invest in more hardware in order to make a difference. How many ideas can you interactively throw at the computer in one hour is the key question you should ask yourself when trying to decide exactly what to invest in. The players that don’t get to this stage or run out of ideas quickly might decide to expand in hardware instead of time. If increasing your game load compensates for this missing aspect then be my guest and check your bank account. Regarding number of games: for me the ideal number right now would be zero games. I could slowly work on my opening repertoire and prepare some head start in less explored territory. Unfortunately every ambitious tournament has its price in terms of game load. Given my preference for the ideal number I have strong objections against playing more games by starting another event earlier than necessary.

3-      There have been informal discussions about the draw rate in high level correspondence chess, what is your view on this issue. Have you read GM Nickel’s proposal?

I have read Arno’s proposal and I understand and respect his effort to change something about the situation yet I cannot support the proposal for various reasons. For starters a clear definition of the problem is still lacking. A high draw ratio in itself is not a problem. It’s not that game replay would suffer due to an increased draw ratio. Because wins occur less frequently it takes a longer time for the dust to settle and more players will compete for top spots for a longer time. And restating my point from the second question, it becomes abundantly clear that players that can make a difference in one more game by following the better approach will be rewarded. I do not belief Arno’s proposal would rightfully reward players for their effort when they get stuck in a draw with bonus material under current rules. It takes chess wisdom to escape with a draw even though Stockfish and co have calculated 2+ scores most of the middle game. Eliminating this by changing the rules will change the nature of the game and mostly reward the players that can be classified as operators.

4-      If I could grant you 3 wishes, what would you change in ICCF and why?

If I had to guess I would probably be labeled as a conservative within ICCF ranks. Let’s assume for a moment this is true then I would probably also have a bit of a problem in stating three wishes but I will give it a try anyway. On various occasions during the three congresses I attended I got more than a little irritated when confronted with YADA (Yet Another DMD Appeal). Many of these proposals originated from players that were in a hurry to collect results. Since they did not need 50 days on average for ten moves to reach a won game then their opponent certainly shouldn’t have more time to resign. I could throw in some more extravagant characterizations but what it boils down to in my opinion is that such players should be active on the Chessbase server and not on ICCF. If you don’t want to spend more time on a single game to make a difference, fine, start another event with a draw surplus for all I care but don’t change the rules to speed up the game for everyone. 50/10 May be too much for most games but it is not enough for the ones that matter. Let the players that are willing to go the extra mile have a chance to make this difference. Stop enforcing your own mediocrity upon all!

A second wish is closely related to the first: please don’t accept any proposal to eliminate the free day calculation because this could be very easily implemented on the server. The rule may have originated from the postal era but the fact that time CAN be calculated differently now does not automatically imply that we MUST calculate it differently now. The free day calculation will keep players with a day time job happy within ICCF because there is always an opportunity to reply once a day without wasting reflection time due to arrival of the move at hours you are not able to reply. To the ambitious player the free day currently enables him to use up to 60/10 on average in do or die situations. Eliminating this would just be an ordinary speed up of the game and a no go for ICCF in my book. I have made my future ICCF participation dependent on this vote, meaning that if this proposal is accepted I will ask the rating commissioner to remove me from the rating list to never return.

On a less emotional level a third wish: in my opinion a relatively large amount of money is spend for a relatively small faction of ICCF people in order to organize and attend congresses. It’s not that I don’t appreciate these events. Quite on the contrary, I consider them wonderful opportunities to meet friends and have a good time while doing ‘business’, but I wonder whether it is really necessary to organize congress every year. It’s difficult to find a federation willing and able to organize these events and the ones that can need financial support from ICCF. I would welcome a shift from congress expenses to server improvements and lower tournament fees. ICCF fees for tournaments are still rather high compared to competitive servers.

I want to thank Ron Langeveld for the interview. I believe his opinions are thought-provoking and reflective of the accuracy of his analysis.

Gino Figlio

ICCF Webmaster

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