WHERE WE'RE GOING

by Steve Lopez

It's the holiday season, and you know what that means: carols, presents, last-minute shopping, relatives hanging out at the house, putting toys together for the kids, slapping decals on the toys for the kids, kids yelling "Daddy! Fix this broken toy!" (which you just assembled the day before), and absolutely no time for playing chess. Consequently, I have no tips for you this week, as my computer is essentially the world's most expensive paperweight at this time of the year. However, I have been giving a great deal of thought as to where Electronic T-Notes is going, and I'd like to share some ideas with you.

First of all, let me stress yet again that this is your newsletter. If you have suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered in this corner of cyberspace each week, please e-mail them to me. ETN is driven primarily by your suggestions. If I had to dream up a column each week with no input from you, the reader, I'd have burned out on the whole thing months ago.

If you've suggested topics and haven't seen them yet, I haven't forgotten you. A European ChessBase customer wrote to me last summer and asked for a series on learning middlegames (similar to the series I did on learning openings) It's a great idea; unfortunately, I haven't quite decided how to tackle it yet. However, there will be more on using ChessBase and Fritz to study middlegame themes; when "Base Basics" returns, we'll look at some basic middlegame searches using Fritz.

I'd also like to branch out into some other areas of chess study and practice besides the area of ChessBase software. Using a computer to study and improve is not done in a vacuum; there are lots of other areas that can be touched upon without going too far afield. Consequently, I plan to add to this page some discussion on topics like correspondence chess and on-line chess, as well as more traditional features like book reviews.

I'm at a crossroads right now as far as the ChessBase instruction is concerned. In the early going last spring, I tended to focus on some of the more complex features and uses of ChessBase software. I received a ton of e-mail which asked me to cover the more basic features for our new users. I then went into areas like "learning a new opening" and the basics of using a chess database. But I can't help feeling like I'm neglecting the long-time ChessBase and Fritz users who are well beyond the basics. So please send me some feedback on the topics and areas you're having trouble with, or that you'd like to see covered here.

Also, please note that this truly is your space. We sent out a call some months ago for articles and e-mail on the topic of how you use our software to help you improve your game. I'm always very interested in hearing about the new ideas you have for using the tools the programmers have provided. I'm frequently surprised by tips and ideas that seem so simple and yet somehow got by me, even after I've used ChessBase software for five years. So send along your tips and methods, and I'll be glad to publish them here and give you appropriate credit and accolades.

Speaking of submissions, I'd like to continue "Chess Embitterment", but I really need to see your games. Please send me some, along with any background information and game notes you'd care to provide. I realize that it takes a special type of player (either very brave or very foolhardy) to subject themselves to possible public ridicule, and I also realize that there aren't very many of us. I look at "Chess Embitterment" as a type of electronic A.A. meeting; most players will sympathize with you in your misery -- after all, we all make mistakes. Anyone who claims they don't isn't being honest with himself. So if you're not afraid to laugh at yourself (and likely hear others laughing too), send some games. If you don't want to annotate them, that's fine -- I'll do the honors if you promise not to be offended or take anything I write too personally. It's all in fun, and I'm extremely sympathetic to mistakes.

To put everything in a nutshell, I appreciate all of your help in the past year, and I hope to hear from you throughout 1998. You are what makes Electronic T-Notes fly and I value every comment, suggestion, submission, and idea that you care to float my way.

As for that other web page...

1998 will see some changes to Battle Royale. Back when the book was started, I had lots of time to work on it. My wife was pregnant with twins (though not very demanding, bless her heart, considering the circumstances), so I was in a state of pre-parenthood. I worked full-time for ChessBase, which gave me several hours a day to write (albeit with many interruptions).

Well, it's almost five years later and life is very different for me. I have a different full-time (non-chess) job now. The boys are four years old and demand a lot of my time. I'm also writing and editing for another company, plus I have some other chess-related side projects. I've been toying with the idea of also writing some (non-chess) historical pieces and perhaps some fiction. Additionally, I'm planning to return to postal chess sometime soon (just to keep a hand in competitive chess, as I have no time for serious OTB tournament preparation nowadays).

So, unfortunately, the format of Battle Royale is going to have to change. Round Eight will be the last in which every move of every game is annotated. I'm sorry -- I'd love to be able to continue to do the whole tournament in that style; perhaps someday I'll go back and do just that. But there's no way I can keep to a weekly deadline in the old format and still meet my other commitments. I'm rapidly coming to the end of the material I wrote back in 1993. I've been writing some new material and I've discovered that there's just no way I can annotate a game a week move-by-move and have any hope of spending time doing much of anything else.

Beginning with Round Nine, I'll just be calling your attention to the main points of the game. I think you, the reader, after 40 games of move-by-move commentary will be pretty adept at filling in the gaps. Besides, I don't want to insult your intelligence by explaining 1.e4 for the umpteenth time. I'll be using the graphic commentary features more often in lieu of some of the verbal explanation.

Sometime during in the coming year, I'll be switching to the new ChessBase format as well (.CBH format). I want to be able to make Battle Royale more interactive by adding quiz positions (letting you score points for correct answers so you can gauge your improvement) and possibly some sound files, too. I also want to use the newer graphic commentary features that aren't supported in the old data format. I hope the lack of move-by-move commentary will be offset somewhat by these other features.

We'll still be hanging out with the masters at New York 1924 (including enjoying breakfast with the Hypermoderns) and answering some of the questions that have already been raised. Will Janowski crack under the strain of his personal problems? Will Dr. Lasker figure out that we're from the future? Will Richard Reti remember to pick up his briefcase after a game? And will we ever be able to understand a dang thing Geza Maroczy says?

A few paragraphs ago, I was referring to some other chess writing I've been doing. You can check out my column on the history of computer chess, "The Silicon Schachmeister", in an Internet publication called SmartChess Online. I'm sure you'll recognize some familiar names among the other contributors. It's a slick Web page, very much like a "real" magazine, and I'm proud to be among the regular contributors.

I received a couple of e-mails about my column on "move-by-move" books in which I was taken to task for omitting some books by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden. Mea culpa; I'm surprised I missed this, as I have one of them in my collection. Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur (Dover, ISBN 0-486-27947-2) has probably 85% to 90% of the moves explained. It's a good book if you want to learn how to exploit an opponent's mistakes. There are two other books in the series, but I'll not comment as I've not seen them. Thanks, guys, for pointing out my omission!

Finally, I want to thank you for helping make 1997 a great year for me. Writing these two Web pages is a lot of fun, made even more so by the near-daily feedback I get from readers. It's a joy to be able to spend some time with you each week, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the valuable time you spend with me, attempting to decipher my rambling screeds. All of us here in this madhouse I call "home" (Ami, Cody, Sam, and myself) wish you and yours all the best for a happy and successful 1998!

You can reach me by e-mail.