Interview: CCM Dennis M Doren (USA)
The majority of CC players are probably not aware of Dennis Doren but will be aware of his fruits of his labours, as ICCF Rules Commissioner (along with those others with the Rules commission), a significant shift within ICCF rules towards clarity, allowing for fair and consistent application.
Briefly Tell us about Yourself?
I'm 66 years old, married to a wonderful woman, with one daughter, her husband, and a 2-year-old grandson. I was a forensic psychologist during my career, but am pleased to say I am now retired. Chess is now my main fun activity (including organizational work for the ICCF and the ICCF-US), besides travelling with my wife, and spending time with our grandson.
How did you get involved in Chess?
Someone in my family taught me, after I saw them playing the game. Who exactly it was who taught me is debated in my family, as each of my brothers and my father claimed he was the one. I don't remember, as I was only 4 at the time. I did not get interested in tournament chess until I was 13 or 14, when the older brother of a friend of mine started teaching me what the game was really about, told me he went to tournaments, and invited me to join him.
When and how did you get interested in Correspondence Chess?
I played only OTB tournaments until I was in graduate school. At that point, however, I could no longer afford to spend an entire weekend at an OTB tournament due to the pressure of my school studies. Chess had been a love of mine for about decade by then, so I did not want to give it up. I decided to try CC because it allowed better control over when I gave time to the game.
What do you like about Correspondence Chess?
I find interest in what I consider the 3 types of chess: blitz (speed), regular OTB, and CC. Each has its unique characteristics that make chess enjoyable. CC in particular allows a player to work on really "solving the puzzle" of the game - to figure out subtle details of the game that would otherwise escape most of us even in OTB play. I both learn about the game, and feel like I have a chance to play "beautifully" in CC, whereas that is never even a goal, no less a reality in speed or OTB chess.
What are your Correspondence Chess Career Highlights?
(1) When I obtained what was then called a master's rating (2200) within the US Chess Federation CC, which at the time allowed me to start playing internationally.
(2) The first time I won against an ICCF IM.
(3) Serving as the tournament organizer for some category 12 and 13 events.
(4) Serving as the writer of a quarterly newsletter dedicated to friendly match news within the ICCF-US.
(5) Serving as the ICCF Rules Commissioner, in particular reorganizing and clarifying the ICCF rules and procedures.
(6) Developing the ICCF adjudication system involving about 80 GMs and SIMs.
What do you think an aspiring player should do to improve their game?
Spend time. I found that as I improved in my play and I played higher rated players, it took me longer and longer to decide on my moves. And as I took more time to decide on my moves, the better I played. Most of the time I lost a game, I could trace it to having moved quickly once too often. Second to that, building a library related to one's openings and a resource for endings can be very useful; though the ICCF archive database and an endgame tablebase can serve well in those regards without spending any money..
Do you have an overall strategy when you start a game or Tournament?
I used to, but can's say I do any more. I used to stick to a very small set of openings and defences, with the rationale that I would understand those lines better than my opponents. That worked for a while, but not once I reached a certain level of opponent. I am now far more likely to mix things up a bit, becoming less predictable for my opponents, but simultaneously requiring more study on my part.
How do you select your moves, what is your general method?
The answer depends on the stage of the game. Opening moves are selected as members of chosen lines, either as common lines or something more obscure. Endgame moves are selected based on the requirements of winning versus drawing (or avoidance of losing) possibilities. The selection of middlegame moves is the most interesting. I generally start a couple of engines analysing a position, but while waiting study the position for the principles involved, for determining where pieces should be headed, for avoiding creating weaknesses in my position while creating weaknesses in my opponent's position, etc. Later, I compare the lines the engines suggest with my own ideas to see if they mesh. I also see if the engines offer any idea I completely missed. Resolving any such differences is the heart of top play, at least at my level.
With so many draws in Correspondence Chess, What do you try to do to generate wins?
I look for the unexpected idea. Sometimes this occurs early in an opening line, but more often there is something in the middlegame where the engines all suggest a certain move or set of moves, but there is another idea that offers better outcomes in the long run despite showing a relative weakness in the short run. These are often the type of moves my opponents miss, quite specifically because the engines don't suggest them. The other place I look for wins is in very late middlegames, as the games approach the endgame. I am regularly surprised how poorly the chess engines will play some late middlegames.
What are your future aspirations in Correspondence Chess?
I have hoped to earn the IM title since 1991. Maybe soon...
What are your favourite Openings and why?
As mentioned above, I used to have a small list that I would gladly tell you, as the ICCF archive database would tell you anyway. Nowadays, I don't believe I have an answer to this question.
If you could ask a legendary player, alive or historical, once question about Chess, what would it be?.
I would ask Wolfgang Uhlmann why he kept castling (king side) in the black side of the French Defence (FD) when it regularly cost him games. That may be an esoteric question to your readers, but since I played the FD as black from my teenage years until a couple of years ago, and studied how the "greats" played it, I never came to understand why one of the best FD players of all time kept making what, in my humble opinion, the same losing move.
Do you have a Favourite Chess Book or DVD? If so what?
My favourite chess book is whatever is teaching me what I need to know at the moment. Chess books, except for the most basic, all get dated over time. My favourite when first playing OTB was one of the earliest editions of Modern Chess Openings, but I find such an approach to openings too general to be valuable for me at this point in my chess career.
Do you have a Favourite player? If so who?
Awonder Liang. He is a 16-year old FIDE Grandmaster from Madison Wisconsin, USA where I lived until very recently. He is a very pleasant young man who also broke many records for being the youngest to achieve various chess related things, like beating an IM, beating a GM, earning the IM title, earning the GM title (at age 14!), etc. He is the current US Junior Champion, and this for the 3rd year in a row despite the fact that US Junior covers anyone under age 20. With multiple games against each, he also has a positive score against the top 3 USA FIDE players (Caruana, Nakamura, & So). Back when he was 9 years old, I used to meet with him both to study the game and play blitz; that is, until I was no longer even a sparring partner of worth. I now find it very exciting to follow his progress. I would not be surprised if some day he becomes the USA Champion, and even World Champion.