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My rating is around 1200 and I want to improve my chess. Will playing correspondence chess improve my game?

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Whether or not playing correspondence chess will help you to improve depends a lot on how you play. If you move after a quick look at the position and use it more like a Blitz game with the possibility of pausing, then I do not think you will improve much. If on the other hand, you use it to study the relevant openings, pawn structures, endgames, etc. then they can provide a real asset for improvement. In particular if you combine them with some theoretical inputs from books etc. as you can then immediately try to turn the things you learn into praxis (which means you really learn them).

Another thing that may be worthwhile is to keep notes during the games of what moves you were considering and how you evaluated them. In the post mortem you can then check your analysis and evaluation of the game and spot areas for further study and improvement (e.g., good moves you did not consider, or moves where your evaluation deviates strongly from that of, say, a chess engine or a coach).

Of course not everything improves by correspondence chess. For example, if in OTB games you often hang your pieces or fall for simple tactics, then you really need to work on this separately. The fact that you can try the moves in correspondence chess should help to eliminate these simple mistakes from your correspondence games but they will likely be back in OTB games.

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A standard structure for a chess training program is broken down as follows:

Use a 4-day cycle.

Divide each day's chess time into 4 time units (the total of whatever time you can afford each day).

Activities include: - Study (S) - Solve (V) - Play (PL)

Areas of the Game include: - (O) Openings - (T) Tactics - (G) Strategy - (E) Endings

So, a time unit consists of a combination of an Activity and an Area. For example, SO means Study Openings.

Each play unit involves a combination of games at different time controls. If you are serious, use 1 x 15, 2 x 10, and 3 x 5 minute games. That's 50 minutes (not including any partner-seek time). If you can spare more time, add more to the number of quick games while you're at a lower rating, and when you get stronger, add more of the longer time control games to the unit.

A typical 4-day cycle might start out as:

  • Day 1: SO2, SG1, VT1
  • Day 2: VE2, PL1, VT1
  • Day 3: SG1, VG1, PL1, VT1
  • Day 4: SO2, VE1, VT1

Note that Tactics are worked on every day.

After you have played a set of 20 games (however many days that takes), do a retrospective on your performance. If you've got a chess engine, run the games through it. Ignore what your opponents did. Look only at whether you made a mistake (and what kind of mistake it was), and whether you caught your opponent's mistake when he made one. Keep track of the number of mistakes in each category, figure out a way to reduce them, and introduce that into your training.

If you lose games in the Ending more often than you win them, increase the number of units you spend on Endings.

Never go higher than 4 units on one area in the 4-day cycle, though. Since Tactics is already at 4, that's only going to go down if you're doing well in it, but not higher than 4.

Also, never take away from Play time to increase another area. So, for example, if you find you need to spend more time on Endings, but your Tactics still need work too, reduce the time you spend on Openings and increase the time on Endings.

The source I used of this training scheduling method appears on the ChessOk website.

As for what specifics to study and where to get materials, there are plenty of good resources on the Web; I'll leave that to other sources to address.

Now to your question: Correspondence chess is excellent at helping you learn openings and endings. These involve theory, and you need to memorize it to be able to use it in a tournament where you're playing over-the-board (OTB). Study the theory, and then practice it a little, and then test yourself. Test yourself immediately, then again the next day, and then again a week later. That will reinforce the memory, and convert it from short-term to long-term memory.

However, correspondence chess has 4 major flaws when it comes to serving as training for OTB play:

  1. It won't strengthen your board vision (your ability to see the potential combinations in a position), because the normal way to select a move in CC is by moving pieces on a board until you find the most promising variation.

  2. It will hurt your time management ability. You will get used to thinking slowly, and to repeating your thinking, unless you are very strict in budgeting your time and limiting repetition in your analysis. It's very different when you have 3 days to decide on a move, instead of 3 minutes.

  3. It will not help you learn and enforce your rights as afforded by the rules. For example, in a tournament, a player may knock over some pieces, and press his clock regardless, only bothering to set up the displaced pieces on your time. This is illegal, and you need to know it's illegal, and you need to act immediately to stop the clock and get a TD to enforce a time penalty on your opponent for the infraction. Such infractions never even occur in correspondence play.

  4. It will not help you analyze variations in your head. Correspondence play allows as much note-taking as you want. You can analyze variations to ridiculously-deep levels, if you want. In OTB, you may only note the move, the time, and draw offers - that's it. Unfortunately, if you try to use correspondence games to practice analyzing in your head, you're going to get creamed by everyone else, because they're taking notes, and will make fewer mistakes and be analyzing deeper.

This is why you should play games at regular time controls (no blitz faster than 5 minutes) in order to strengthen your play, and you should play in an OTB tournament at least once per month, if you want to be able to improve your OTB (or online) play at all.

If all you want is to play correspondence chess, then you're all set. I still encourage you to use the regular time control games to improve your tactical vision, but you can survive by just moving the pieces around a lot and stumbling on 3-move combinations you didn't actually see at the beginning.

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Well, it will help you certainly. Try to analyze the position when your opponent play his move. Take your time and see if you can find out his plans and ideas that stand behind his moves. Howeverdon't expect your game to improve much if you're only playing correspondence, and not working on your game. The best way to improve on your own is to work on all parts of your game, from opening to endgame. :) But all things considered, correspondence will help you out more than e.g. blitz or bullet will.

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