by Steve Lopez

I'm sorry about this column (and Battle Royale) being late this week. I spent a few days in the hospital. I'm home now, doing better, and will hopefully have both columns back on track very soon.

While I was away, an interesting e-mail came through from Ian Brooks, who reminded me that several correspondence chess organizations do in fact allow the use of computers to generate moves. While this is certainly true, I didn't want to confuse the issue in the last ETN by mentioning them. Yes, there are a few organizations/events that allow this, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. When in doubt, consult the administrator of your postal organization to find out the legal status of such computer usage.

I've also received numerous e-mail requests over the course of the last year to essentially rewrite the Fritz and ChessBase manuals and put them on the Internet. I find it very flattering that some of you think enough of my explanatory abilities to find such a project worthwhile. However, a project of that type is a heap of work. In 1994, I spent a solid month writing a manual for Fritz3 that ultimately wasn't used (precisely because it contained "too much" explanation and the parent company in Germany found it too long and expensive to produce). The point here was that it took a month of 8-hour days to produce that manual, and that was two versions ago (many features have been added since then). It would certainly take even longer to create a new manual for Fritz5 that contains the level of explanation that you want. Since I'm not a full-time writer these days, I regret that I can't produce these on-line manuals. It'll just have to come out in dribs and drabs each week in ETN. As always, I'm open to suggestions for topics and features you'd like to see covered here. I'm sorry about the on-line manuals, but thanks to those of you who asked, just the same.


by Steve Lopez

Our friends at ChessBase International have produced a pile of new CD titles lately. We took a look at Danny King's Attack! CD a few weeks ago. Now we'll examine ChessBase's other CD offerings.

First up, we have the Bundesliga 1996/97 CD. As many of you know, the Bundesliga is Germany's national chess league. It's very much like sporting leagues in the US and England. Many towns have chess teams, but they're allowed to bring in "ringers" (under strict guidelines as to payment and usage of such players). The whole thing is very reminiscent of English league soccer.

The Bundesliga used to be the source of some wild-and-wooly games. We used to see a lot of wild gambits being offered (the Cochrane and Latvian were big favorites) and the play was always interesting (if not technically the best). Times have changed. With the flood of former-Soviet players invading the West, the Bundesliga has settled down a bit. The quality of play is higher, but the games aren't as much fun.

On this CD are the games of the 1996-97 German league. There are around 2,000 games in all. Additionally, there are a ton of video clips of various top players at the board. The unfortunate part is that all of the introductory text is in German, so you don't get a lot of context for the video clips. You can pick up the names of the players from the text but that's about it.

Is the CD worth the price? If you bought and liked the old Bundesliga 3.5" disks, you'll like this CD. You're getting the same number of games for the same price, plus a small number of the games are annotated now (some with English multimedia, such as Shirov describing his thoughts in his game against Onischuk). The additional video (unconnected to specific games) is an extra bonus.

Ultimately, it's up to you. It's not a bad buy, it's better than the old 3.5" disks, but you might be disappointed by the lack of English text.

A better buy for you might be the Correspondence Chess CD. It's a database of all the correspondence games that ChessBase released on disk over the years, with some new material added. Some of the games are annotated. The entire database runs 103,953 games.

Why is this database significant? In my opinion, correspondence play is the great laboratory of chess: new ideas are tried, old ideas are resurrected, and players have the opportunity to play as perfect a game as possible. If you're a fan of gambits you'll find all you want and then some in correspondence play. Players also seem a bit more willing to take chances in correspondence play than in over-the-board chess.

The newest form of correspondence chess is represented by about 10,000 games on this CD: electronic (e-mail) chess. One caveat concerning these games: some of the players are not top-notch correspondence players. There are a great many games from CompuServe on this disk; I know some of the players personally and know them to be class-level players.

Overall, this disk is a good buy. You might need to separate the wheat from the (minimal) chaff concerning the quality of a minority of the games, though.

Two very interesting training CDs are available but their usefulness is rendered somewhat limited by the lack of English instruction on the disks. These are 400 Checkmates and Endgame ABCs.

Both disks contain instruction in the new ChessBase text format, but this instruction is entirely in German. However the timed training positions on the 400 Checkmates CD are great. These utilize the new ChessBase training feature, in which you are given a position and a set amount of time to find the correct move. The program keeps score on how well you do and will offer hints if you need them (though asking for a hint reduces the number of points you can score from a given position). The mates are all pretty basic and are a great refresher course on checkmates for players from Class B down. All of the text in the training courses (including the hints) is in English.

The endgame CD's instruction won't be of much use if you don't read German, but the examples given will make perfect sense if you've read a basic endgame book (such as Horowitz' How to Win in the Chess Endings). The disk makes liberal use of the graphic annotation abilities of ChessBase (colored arrows and squares) and if you know the German names for the pieces, you should be able to use this disk to improve your endgame.

Between these two CDs, I can recommend 400 Checkmates without reservation. The fact that the text is in German doesn't matter, as the entire point of the disk is the training section which has the text and hints in English. I have to be a bit more reserved about recommending the Endgame ABCs disk, as it won't be especially helpful to you unless you read German or have read a basic endgame book first.

Another disk written in German transcends the language barrier to take its place as a classic: Robert Huebner's monograph on Alexander Alekhine. This is a really remarkable disk and deserves a look from anyone interested in this giant from chess history.

Once again the text screens are written in German, but don't let that stop you from perusing them. Interspersed through the text are numerous photos of Alekhine, including the famous death scene. The context of most of these photos is clear, so the German captions are irrelevant to one's enjoyment of them. There are also several video interviews with current grandmasters who discuss Alekhine's influence (Daniel King's comments are a hoot, by the way).

The real meat of the CD is, of course, the games. There are four separate databases on the disk. The first contains thirty of Alekhine's games annotated by Robert Huebner. These are extensively annotated using mainly the Informant-style symbols rather than text (though a few German phrases sneak in occasionally). A second database contains eighty-one classic combinations by Alekhine, again with notes by Huebner. A third database consists of 1,745 Alekhine games, some of which are annotated by various authors (Kotov, Botvinnik, Euwe, and Alekhine himself are among them). Then there's a fourth database which is a lot of fun: 103 training positions taken from Alekhine's games, in which you can test yourself against the clock using ChessBase's new training features.

If you're the least bit interested in Alekhine, masterful tactics, or the "Golden Age of Chess" (1900-1940), then you really should check out this CD. You won't be able to enjoy the biographical material unless you read German, but the photos and games all speak quite well for themselves.

Hopefully, ChessBase International will release an English version of this CD and will continue to offer monographs on other players (regardless of the language); I'd like to cast my personal vote for one on Richard Reti.

You can reach me by e-mail with your ideas and suggestions. Hammer me with them! I'm listening!