Interview: LGM Toni Halliwell (ENG)
Toni is one of the stalwarts of Britich CC in recent years and a regular player in Yorkshire Team events. Ranked #5 Female CC player in the world on the latest rating list iand one of a trio of strong British CC players Toni has help redefine the British CC Landscape.
Briefly Tell us about Yourself?
Retired IT College Tutor and freelance business adviser. Interests also include music (most genres), playing piano and guitar (badly!), geology and landscape photography.
How did you get involved in Chess?
Rather embarrassing this one! Older brother taught me the moves while I was at primary school. Didn’t really take it up then, but moved up to Grammar School where, as a 13 year old girl, with an almighty crush on the History master who started a chess club, so where he was, I had to be … lol!
Is this the most original answer yet?! 😊 [Editors Note: Yes!!]
When and how did you get interested in Correspondence Chess?
Can’t really remember but must have seen an ad for the Postal Chess Club run by Chess, Sutton Coldfield, back in the day. Played in their all-play-all tournaments, from being about 15 I think.
What do you like about Correspondence Chess?
‘Meeting’ people from all over the world; used to like collecting the stamps when it was all postal.
Having more time to ponder your moves than otb allows and to really learn openings without having to be able to remember the lines.
Also it’s available when you don’t feel like trailing out to a club on a winter’s evening!
Being an IA/TD.
What don’t you like about Correspondence Chess?
Engines! These prevent you knowing how good or bad you really are compared to your opponents. I know they prevent games being spoiled through blunders, but you are not really matching your own skill against the other person, and sometimes it seems that you can ‘buy’ you way through if you can afford better computers. Also find it difficult to vary games and can end up playing the same opening/variation so many times, unless you are prepared to try out new openings.
Players who don’t exchange a greeting at the start of a game. Would they refuse to shake hands otb?
Language is no barrier these days with online translation tools, so no excuse – just use your own language if you don’t share a common one.
Players who use DMD when the going gets tough!
What are your Correspondence Chess Career Highlights?
Three spring to mind:
- Returning to chess after a 20 year gap and winning the British Ladies Championship in the first season back.
- Beating the Open British Champion in less than 30 moves, while being the reigning British Ladies Champion!
- Getting a draw with our own GM Robson, rated 2600, in a team competition. Where but in correspondence chess would you even get the chance to play such a player if you are at my level?!
The first two of these pleased me because in both cases the win came from a move/plan that was not showing on a computer engine at the time!
What do you think an aspiring player should do to improve their game?
Play against the strongest opposition available. Study everything, but don’t get bogged down on mainly openings. Don’t neglect endgames. Learn solid principles rather than trying to memorise lines. Study structures, patterns etc. to help your middlegame. Find out where you went wrong in lost games, or where you think a win went astray. Find a very strong player whose style you like and look at their games.
Do you have an overall strategy when you start a game or Tournament?
Not particularly. Of course I start out wanting to win every game, but know realistically this is not likely to happen. If it is a team tournament, I plan to be more careful so as to play for the team and not let them down. I try to look at the opponent, have I played them before etc. Mainly remind myself not to rush the opening and try not to get transposed into an opening I don’t like.
How do you select your moves? What is your general method?
Firstly I look at the position without any assistance and choose some possibilities that suit my style. I look at books and databases in the opening stages and use the NIC Yearbooks for updates. I tend to look more at the ICCF database to see what the top correspondence players do, and there are a number of these players who I like to follow who play the same openings as me. If out of book, then the engine unfortunately has to come into play too, but I try not to play an engine move just for the sake of it. If I don’t understand the reason for the move, I won’t play it until I do.
With so many draws in Correspondence Chess. What do you try to do to generate wins?
This is very difficult obviously because of engines. Trying to learn which openings are harder for a computer to deal with and why and what other types of position might not suit engine analysis so well. This information seems to be hard to find and only picked up in snippets here and there.
Other than that, when I feel forced to resort to the engine, leave it running … forever … just to make sure that the move you are about to settle on doesn’t get superseded so many plies later on! Also use several different engines for comparison.
What are your future aspirations in Correspondence Chess?
Firstly to secure my second IM norm to get the title. Beyond that to see if I can get SIM norms. Then of course to win the world championship, lol!!
What are your favourite Openings and why?
For white, I’m a lifelong Queen’s pawn player. I find these easier to understand than King’s pawn openings, and for the same reason that as black I don’t play the Sicilian against 1. e4, neither will I put myself at risk of facing the Sicilian either. Not because I am scared to, but because I have never studied it and others advise that there is so much work to do to keep up with this opening in particular, so I concentrate my efforts elsewhere. For black I tend to prefer openings with a King’s side fianchetto, again just because I’ve always played them, but I am trying to adopt others now and bring more variety to stop me from being predictable!
If you could ask a legendary player, alive or historical, one question about Chess, what would it be?
If I dared (!), I think I might ask Bobby Fischer why on earth he thought he could play 29. … BxKRP against Spassky in the first game in Reykjavik 1972.
Do you have a Favourite Chess Book or DVD? If so what?
This varies all the time. Currently, as he has recently passed, I am looking at the, enormous book ‘Pal Benko – My Life, Games and Compositions’ by Benko and Silman. It really is a nicely produced volume. I am a member of the online Chess Book Collectors group on Facebook, though not really an avid collector as such, but their recommendations or otherwise have saved me wasting money or drawn my attention to a book I might not otherwise have known about.
Do you have a Favourite player? If so who?
No special favourite. I like the 2 Ks and as a woman of course I like Judit Polgar, especially when she has put one of our own opinionated GMs in his place! Did study Botvinnik for a while. Basically just like the whole bunch, past masters, present and likely future!