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FICS Teaching Ladder - Frequently Asked Questions.

1. What is the FICS Teaching ladder?
The FICS Teaching Ladder is an excellent resource for Chess players who would like to improve their game. Volunteers in the ladder comment on games played by weaker players. Any FICS user may submit a game to be commented comment by a stronger player.
All reviews performed through the FTL are available in the FTL archives and can be used for your study independently whether you have submitted games or not. The strength of the players vary from absolute beginners to FIDE masters. Just start browsing and we are sure you will find something of interest to you.
You can use the FTL in various ways:
  1. Ask for reviews of your own games
  2. Become a FICS reviewer and comment on games of other players
  3. Download the already made reviews.
For any questions or comments, you can contact the FTL administrators.

2. Getting your own games reviewed
2.1 How do I submit a game? top
In order to submit your game you have to be a FICS member. If you are not, you can Register for free.
Once you are a member just follow the the following steps:
  1. Prepare your game in a PGN file;
  2. Annotate your game and add your comments and questions. They will be a guideline for the reviewer, helping him by either covering the features of the game which most concerned you, or showing how you missed some crucial detail. Send the PGN file. We will select a reviewer and will forward the game to him/her. In the email add:
    • Your FICS handle;
    • Your OTB rating;
    • The time controls;
    • Whether you played black or white.
    Games not containing all the informations will be sent back to you.
  3. You will receive your review within two weeks.
2.2 What games can I submit? top
Games to be submitted should be chosen carefully. In order to really help you improve your playing, the reviewer should
  • be able to understand from the game your chess skill;
  • not answer questions you can solve by yourself with a minimum effort;
  • be able to point out your weaknesses.
This can be hardly achieved if you submit blitz games, or games in which one of the 2 sides had an easy win. Best results can be obtained if you submit close games, especially those ones in which you lost without knowing exactly where you went wrong.
2.3 How should I comment on the games? top
Before you submit your game for review, analyse it yourself and explain
  • why you made certain moves;
  • when you were uncertain;
  • when you were surprised.
This way, when the reviewer will go through your game, he will be able to comment on your strategical play, your tactical play, your technical slips and so on.
You should go through the game by yourself, computer analysis is of no help neither to you nor to the reviewer.
If possible, ask your opponent comments too. In general, the more thoughts you can give, the better the review will be, since the reviewer can then understand exactly which sides you have misunderstood or need to improve.
2.4 How many games can I submit? top
There is no limit to the games you can submit for review. However, you cannot send more than two games at a time. When you receive the response you may request new reviews again.
2.5 Can I submit games I haven't played on FICS? top
Yes of course, you are most welcome to submit any of your games.

3. Becoming a FICS reviewer
3.1 Why should I become a reviewer? top
There are several reasons why you may want to become a reviewer:
  • By going over other players games and being forced to explain them in a clear way, you will find your playing improves too;
  • the more reviewers, the more efficient the FTL, the better service you get when you submit your own games.
3.2 How do I become a reviewer? top
If you want to become a FICS reviewer, email with the following information:
  1. FICS Handle;
  2. Real Name;
  3. Email address;
  4. Eventual other email addresses;
  5. Does your email handle attachments?
  6. Spoken languages;
  7. FIDE rating if any;
  8. National rating if any;
  9. Other ratings or qualifications (Chess Instructor and so on);
  10. Country;
  11. Other information which will be made public and you wish to give.
All the information except obviously (1) and (11) will remain confidential.
3.3 How do I comment a game? top
If you accept to review a game, you have 14 days to do it. All reviews must be done using the PGN format.
Reviews must be polite and friendly. Comments should not be just negative, but constructive. Suggestions about improvements should be always provided when possible.
At the end of the review add a summary of the important points, for example pointing out which apparently are the player weak points are.
Whenever possible arrange an online session with the player, to go over the annotations.
3.4 I received a game but I have no time to comment it top
When you receive a request for a review, you are not forced to accept it. Please inform the FTL director as soon as possible. It is important we know if you are going to do the review in the two week period or not. In the latter case another reviewer will be selected.
If you are temporarily unavailable for reviewing simply inform us, and you will not be assigned reviews until further notice.
3.5 I am not sure of my review top
If you feel insecure about your review, and you would like to have it checked by a stronger player submit the review to FTL as if it was a normal game. This second review will be a review of the initial comments, and not of the game itself.
3.6 I have finished my review, what do I do? top
When you finish the review, send the annotated game to the player requesting the review, and a copy to the FTL director. You can send a copy of the game to the other player too, if his email address is available.
The email should look something like this:
 To: [player1],[player2]
 Subject: Review of [player1]-[player2]
 here is the review of the game [player1]-[player2] you requested.
 Please remember that you can find this game, together with all 
 the other FTL reviews, in the FTL Archive.
 If you would like to meet me on FICS, in order to discuss this 
 review, feel free to contact me (by email, or through a FICS message) 
 [include PGN file with the reviewed game]
3.7 I have gone over this game can I include it in the archives? top
We are happy to include in our archive any review you've made, even if not requested from FTL. So, if you are a FICS reviewer, feel free to send us any interesting review of your own, obviously in PGN format.
3.8. My rating on FICS is only 1500 can I be a reviewer? top
Yes of course, if you are eager to comment on weaker players' games, we will be happy to accept you in our reviewers team, don't forget you can have a cross check from a stronger reviewer too.

4. PGN format
4.1. What is PGN? top
PGN (Portable Game Notation) is a standard designed for the representation of chess game data using ASCII text files. PGN is structured for easy reading and writing by human users and for easy parsing and generation by computer programs. The intent of the definition and propagation of PGN is to facilitate the sharing of public domain chess game data among chess players (both organic and otherwise), publishers, and computer chess researchers throughout the world.
4.2. Can you show me an example of annotated PGN games? top
Here is a sample text file of a pgn game with comments and variations:
[Event "US Porta Nuova 20 min. game"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2000.12.07"]
[White "geppoz "]
[Black "Greco, V."]
[Result "1-0"]
[Annotator "geppoz & frengo"]
[EC0 "D53"]
[EventDate "2000.??.??"]
{frengo: Hi geppoz !} 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6 {frengo: This is the so called "Marshall Defense". It's not often seen nowadays, since White is able to create a strong center, and Black has not enough counterplay, as in similar openings, for example the Grunfeld defence} 3.Nc3 {frengo: Of course this move is perfectly playable, and indeed can cause a transposition into the Queen Gambit Declined. Anyway, it would be better for White to play 3.cxd5, exploiting Black's poor opening choice. Even though it is useful to have our opening schemes, in which we feel "confident," we must not hesitate in abandoning these schemes, when there is the chance for an objectively a better move. BTW, after} (3.cxd5 Nxd5 {probably White should prefer} 4.Nf3 {if he wants avoid:} (4.e4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.dxe5 Qxd1+ 7.Nxd1 Ng4 {with compensation for Black})) 3...e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 O-O 6.Nf3 Nc6 {geppoz: This move surprised me a bit, I expected 6...Nbd7, I don't know what White can play after 6...Nc6. frengo: 7...Nc6 is somehow inferior to 7...Nbd7 in this position, but for sure it's not a decisive mistake. Black could have some problems on the c-file, so a good plan for White is to open and occupy as soon as possible the c-file with his rook. Moreover, in some cases, the Black Knight could have some difficulties to help defend the Kingside from c6.} 7.Bd3 {geppoz: I decided not to care about my opponent's plan, and I played 7.Bd3. frengo: AARGHH! You don't play chess alone. Never, NEVER play a move without considering your opponent's plans. geppoz: This because I know some variations of the Orthodox defence in which White move Bd3 (or Bc4),Qc2 and sometimes Ne5 with many threatens against the Black castle. In this way I lost time because Black could play dxc4 but I thought that after Bxc4 White could still keep Black "under pressure". I'm not sure about this because in the Orthodox defence the Black Knight is on d7 so that the Black Bishop is "blind" and white could play Ne5xf7 followed by Bc4xe6. Here White can't do this even if he's able to move Ne5 and Bc4, but if Black moves b6 and Bb7, may be that the threatens against the castle give white a better play. - frengo: these thoughts are too abstract, I'd say even obscure. They are based too much on known schemes (with the Knight on d7), and totally ignore actual board position. geppoz: Sometimes I play c5 in positions like this but in this position, after b6 I cannot play b4 because of the Knight on c6. frengo: This is a perfect way of considering the game ! (leaving out of consideration if c5 is or is not a good plan) geppoz: so I decided to play 7.Bd3 Any advice about other continuations will be helpful frengo: here are my advices:} (7.Rc1 {This starts the plan of occupying the c-file, delaying the development of f1 Bishop. In this way we don't lose a tempo if Black plays 7...dxc4. Moreover, after developing the Rook, White can answer with Bb1 to Black's Nb4, without "imprisoning" the Rook.}) (7.a3 {After this move White can forget about Nb4. Moreover, after this move, White can also play c5, since after b6 he can simply play b4 now.}) 7...b6 {geppoz:Here I expected 7...dxc4 and I still think it was stronger than 7...b6 for Black. frengo: Yes, 7...dxc4 is better than 7...b6; after the text move, Knight in c6 is "suspended", and this may let White try and search for a tactic shot.} 8.O-O (8.cxd5 $1 {frengo: a typical reaction, in this kind of positions, to b6} exd5 (8...Nxd5 {loses a pawn after:} 9.Nxd5 exd5 (9...Qxd5 10.Bxe7 Nxe7 11.Qc2 {with double attack on h7 and c7}) 10.Bxh7+ $1 {The suspended Knight!} Kxh7 11.Qc2+ Kh8 12.Qxc6 Bb4+ 13.Kd1 {White should not be worried about castling loss, since Queens are about to disappear from the Board} Qd7 14.Qxd7 Bxd7 15.Rc1) 9.Rc1 Nb4 10.Bb1 {frengo: White stands better, he has good attacking changes on the Kingside, and Black Knight is somehow out of play in b4. Moreover White has already occupied the semiopened c-file with his Rook. For example, if:} Bb7 11.a3 Na6 12.Qd3 {Black must weaken himself playing:} g6 {visto che dopo since after} (12...Ne4 {loses a pawn after} 13.Bxe7 (13.Nxd5 {can be played too}) 13...Qxe7 14.Nxd5 Bxd5 15.Qxa6)) 8...Qd6 {frengo: This was a good chance for Black to play:} (8...Nb4 {planning} 9.Be2 c5 {solving a lot of problems}) 9.Qc2 $6 {geppoz: I didn't pay sufficient attention to the possible answer of my opponent. frengo: Again! This is quite a blunder; without the lightsquare Bishop, White attack has really little bite in it.} Nb4 $1 10.Qb1 Nxd3 {geppoz: Here a realized that the planned attack couldn't be carried on further. frengo: too late : -)} 11.Qxd3 Bb7 12.Nb5 {geppoz: I played 12.Nb5 because I didn't find anything better, but I didn't like 12...Qb4 frengo: this move quite complicates the game ; more quiet moves, trying to exploit the control of e5, could be 12.Bf4 or 12.Ne5} Qd7 (12...Qb4 {frengo: as maybe you've noticed, this move would cause big complication: here you are some variations, as a demonstration, without too many comments} 13.cxd5 (13.a3 {is wrong, for} dxc4 $1 (13...Qxb2 $4 14.Rfb1 dxc4 15.Qxc4) 14.axb4 cxd3) (13.b3 dxc4 14.bxc4 Bxf3 15.gxf3 c6 16.Nc3 Rfd8) 13...Ba6 14.a4 Nxd5 {with uncertain, open position} (14...exd5 15.Ne5 $1 {threathens Nc6} Bb7 16.Nxc7 Rac8 17.Rac1 Qxa4 (17...Bd8 18.Nb5 Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Qxb2 20.Qc2 Qxc2 21.Rxc2 a6 22.Nd6 Ba8 23.Nf5 $3 Ng4 (23...h6 24.Bxf6 Bxf6 25.Nd7 Rd8 26.Nxf6+ gxf6 27.Nxh6+) (23...Bb7 24.Bxf6 Bxf6 (24...gxf6 25.Nd7 Re8 26.Nd6) 25.Nd7 Rd8 26.Rc7) 24.Nd7 (24.Bxd8 Nxe5 25.Be7 Nc4 26.Bxf8 Kxf8 {planning Bc6}) 24...Bxg5 (24...Re8 25.Rc8) 25.Nxf8) 18.b3 Qb4 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Nd7 Rfd8 21.Nxf6+ gxf6 22.Rc2)) 13.Ne5 Qd8 {frengo: better would have been for Black to play Qd8 at the previous move.} 14.Rac1 c6 15.Nc3 Ba6 16.Ne2 {geppoz: I didn't know if there were risks in 16.Nxc6, so I decided not to play it} (16.Nxc6 {frengo: is forced} Bxc4 {with the following:} 17.Qd1 Qd6 18.Nxe7+ Qxe7 19.Re1 {and white stands better, mainly because of the threat of e4}) 16...Ne4 $4 {frengo: a blunder} 17.Bxe7 $2 {frengo: you missed} (17.Nxc6 $1 {almost winning}) 17...Qxe7 18.b3 {geppoz: here I though that:} (18.Nxc6 Qc7 19.Nb4 Bxc4 {now was not good for white. frengo: I agree, I prefer 18.b3}) 18...dxc4 $4 19.bxc4 $4 {geppoz:No words for this frengo: An incredible blunder! This is food for thought: many games at <2000 level are decided by mistakes and blunders. That means that if a player becomes good at avoiding errors, his rating is likely to increase considerably.} (19.Qxe4 {of course was better}) 19...f5 {geppoz: I think 19...Nd6 was better for my opponent frengo: yes, Nd6 was slightly better for Black, since he avoids to weaken the diagonal a2-g8, and moreover the Knight attacks the White pawn on c4. Anyway White is still better after:} (19...Nd6 20.Nxc6 Qc7 21.d5 Rac8 (21...exd5 22.Qxd5 Rac8 23.Ned4 Bb7 24.c5 $1 Ne8 25.cxb6 axb6 26.Nb5) 22.e4 f5 23.Ned4 $1 {with the idea} fxe4 24.Qa3 $1) 20.Nxc6 Qc7 21.Nb4 Bb7 22.Qb3 $2 {geppoz: I was still thinking to an attack against the Black King frengo: your idea is not too bad, since the pawn in e6 and the whole diagonal a2-c8 are quite weak. You should have removed the Black Knight first, for example:} (22.f3 Nf6 23.Qb3 {and the threat of 24.c5 is quite annoying for Black.}) 22...Nd2 23.Qd3 Nxf1 24.Rxf1 Qd6 25.Nc2 Rac8 26.Nf4 Be4 27.Qb3 Bxc2 $6 {frengo: A dubious move: The Black Bishop was more active than the White Knight. Probably for Black it was time to play:} (27...Kh8 {which prepares an eventual e5, and in any case removes the King from an exposed position.}) 28.Qxc2 e5 29.Nd5 $4 {frengo: If White wants to play Nd5, he has to play the intermediate:} (29.Qb3 $1 {indeed exploiting the Black King position (threat = c5+)}) 29...e4 $4 {geppoz: Also no words for this frengo: It's never easy to "sac" your Queen :-)} 30.Qb3 {geppoz: Like a maniac I still thought to the Black King. Here I thought to Nxb6 followed by c5 frengo: White position is not so bad after all. A pawn and a strong central Knight compensates at least partially for the exchange.} Rc6 {frengo: (?) this is a blunder. Definitely it was time to play 30...Kh8} (30...Kh8) 31.Nxb6 $4 {frengo: Maybe we could add to this move a third "?" :-) Indeed, a part that after this move White would be lost ofter 31...Rxb6, White had here the chance to take a big advantage after the comparatively simple:} (31.Nb4 {frengo: threatening both 32.Nxc6 and 32.c5+. Never execute a plan "bullheaded", but stop after each move, and check that the plan and/or its execution are right, that our opponent hadn't found adequate countermoves, or hadn't offered us even better chances.}) 31...axb6 $4 {geppoz: Black should take with the rook frengo: indeed} 32.c5+ Qe6 33.d5 Qf7 34.dxc6 Qxb3 35.axb3 bxc5 $2 {frengo: better resistence would have offered} (35...Rc8 36.cxb6 Rxc6 37.b4 Rxb6 38.Rb1 Rb5 {frengo: this ending is quite difficult for Black. White plus-pawn is already "passed", and White Rook is BEHIND this pawn, and this is the best case for the attacking player. Anyway the pawn is not too advanced yet, and Black could try to resist, by blocking the pawn with the King, and trying to activate as much as possible his Rook. And what matters more, the played moves loses immediately, and it's always better to try and make the road to winning the hardest for our opponent.}) 36.Rc1 Rb8 37.Rxc5 (37.c7 $1 {frengo: This was more precise and immediate. A funny variation could be:} Ra8 38.b4 $1 Kf7 39.b5 {and White pawn advances "pitilessly" :-)}) 37...Rxb3 38.g4 $1 Rb8 39.c7 Rc8 40.gxf5 Kf7 41.Kg2 Ke7 42.Kg3 Kd6 43.Rc3 Ke5 44.Kg4 {frengo: Black is almost in "zugzwang"} h6 45.h4 {Black Resigns Final Considerations: from this game, it seems to result in too much of a "schematic" vision of the game of chess by you. On the board (as happens in Life), "We think in generalities, but we live in details." (A.N. Withehead). So, having already made plans is fundamental for a chessplayer, but we can't in any case leave out of consideration the actual position, and our opponent's moves and plans. You have to be always ready to elastically change the execution of your idea, and eventually your whole plan, if your opponent defended well, or gives you a new and better opportunity. Even if when your opponent moves exactly as you planned, DON'T move instantaneously, but stop for a second and check again for few seconds: is it all right?. Moreover, from this game, a certain "insecurity" in the calculations of variations appears, and particularly of "little combinations": the remedy: play a lot, and moreover try to solve as many tactical tests and exercises as possible. See you on FICS, frengo: *****Copyright ***** Use this file for personal use only.} 1-0
You may notice that variations go into ( )brackets, and comments into { } brackets. Short and long castle is represented respectively by O-O and O-O-O, where O is a capital o and not a zero.
4.3 How do I Edit/Display PGN? top
All commercial chess programs can handle PGN files. If you don't own any of them there are several freeware/shareware programs available:
Windows 9x/2000 Macintosh Unix/Linux
ChessBaseLight (Freeware) Exachess Lite     (Freeware) SCID (Freeware)
Compochess (Freeware) MacPGN (Shareware)   
SCID (Freeware) PGNTalk (Shareware)  
4.4 How do I get PGN files from FICS top
There are 2 ways to save the games you play on FICS in PGN format. First of all many FICS client include a feature to save the games in PGN format. You can refer to your client help file for further details
You can also have the games you play on FICS automatically emailed in PGN format. In order to receive them in your mailbox you have to issue the following instruction next time you connect to FICS:
  1. set pgn 1
  2. set automail 1
If you wish to receive by email a game which is stored in your history or in the history of another player you can use the mailstored command.

5.Accessing reviewed games
5.1. Can I get games commented on for other players? top
All the reviews made in FTL are collected in an archive.
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Last modified: Sat Mar 24 10:16:23 GMT Standard Time 2007