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

  • Does spending more time on a hard calculus problem improve your math skills? – Mike Jones Jun 9 at 0:55
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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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If you can get great learning value from playing correspondence chess (which usually nowadays allows engine use) or not, depends on your determination to use it as a learning device.

Let's assume, as you state, that you are a 1200 rated player, that you have no particular opening preparations, that you have a high error rate if it comes to tactics and that you know a few strategic elements (like open lines, importance of central squares...) and that you have nearly now deeper endgame knowledge (but you do know how to mate with a rook or a queen).

There are many areas, you will not be able to efficiently train, given the slow pace of correspondence chess. With 40 days for 10 moves, you will not reach endgames any time soon, for example.

So, first step is to make a list of what you can actually learn best with correspondence chess. Then focus only on those aspects, while you should try to find other means to train the other aspects.

Here my list, what you can learn best from (engine assisted) correspondence chess:

  • Your basic understanding of positions. Before you turn on the engine, take 10 minutes and try to figure out your sorted list of candidate moves. Write down what you expect to happen and also try to verbally express your thoughts. Then, one by one, analyze your chosen moves with the engine and figure out when you were right and when you were wrong (and why you were wrong). Then, try to understand the engines best moves (especially if they were not in your move list). Once you have a bit of practice, depending on position, you would be done in like 15min - 60min with all of the above. And that should give you a move to make (you play for learning, not to become CC world champion, after all). Whatever time you have left, use it on non-correspondence chess training.

  • Finding your opening repertoire. If you run multiple cc games in parallel, pick a number of different openings, which might interest you or deem you strong and study each of them as you decide for your opening moves (while still in an opening book). Over time, you will find out, which positions are fun and interesting for you and you will get a foundation of a repertoire for white and black.

The rest of your training should be tactics (hint: there are great puzzles on lichess and other chess servers), endgames and just playing (not bullet - something like 10min per game or even slower and a few blitz games (3+2 or 5min) - so you get fresh ideas about which openings give you trouble and to train reduce your blunder rate).

In my opinion, this his how the brain needs to tackle new tasks: Repetition, exploration and just seeing a lot of good examples. Try to find a good mix of those things and try not to waste time (by playing too much blitz or alike) and have fun.

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It might. It depends how you use the game to augment your study and how you apply what you did study to make moves in the game

Just playing is nice for experience but not really that useful when compared to study of openings, tactics, end games, tactics, strategic items like pawn structure, and tactics -- at your level of ability.

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Not really.

If You want to improve then study tactics.

Then learn to force yourself to move at exactly x seconds.
The goal should be ten seconds per move, no more no less. This will win in most time trouble situations if you can and they cannot. Even 15-20 seconds might give you a big edge if your games go that long.

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