ELECTRONIC T-NOTES


CHESSBASE USA'S WEEKLY ON-LINE NEWSLETTER


FOR THE WEEK OF DECEMBER 26, 1999


NEW CHESSBASE CDS

by Steve Lopez

A pile of new ChessBase CDs has just hit the U.S.; let's take a look at this interesting new stuff.

The big news is the new release of Junior6. The biggest difference you'll note is that Junior6 has the same new interface as Fritz6 -- gorgeous new board and screen layouts, Windows resizeability, tool bars and buttons, and general ease of use (for example, the opening book is accessible by an on-screen file tab).

Junior6's programmer Amir Ban has made some changes to the engine, too. The previous version didn't consider underpromotions in its analysis. While this wasn't usually a factor in normal play, people who like solving chess problems didn't like the fact that Junior5 overlooked underpromotions when finding solutions. The new version has underpromotions added to its algorhithm.

Junior6's overall style of play remains the same: it's a nice mix of the tactical virtuosity of Fritz5.32 and the positional sense of Hiarcs7.32 and Fritz6. But, as always, the program is stronger than the previous version (and early Internet reports from independent testers are indicating a significant strength increase).

Also, Junior6 still has the interesting engine parameters of its predecessor, including my favorite feature: a tweak that allows the engine to consider very uncomputerlike sacrifices that would normally be eliminated from its search. It also is able to use the Eugene Nalimov Tablebases (as do Fritz6, Hiarcs7.32 and Nimzo7.32).

In the tradition of Hiarcs7.32 (which supplied earlier Hiarcs engines in the package), Junior6 contains some previous versions of Junior for use as engines within the program. This allows the user to compare the various engines to see how Junior has evolved over the years. And you get the normal "bonus" engines that you've come to expect: Comet, Crafty, and EXChess.

Junior6, like its predecessor, is a powerful engine and is a lot of fun to play against (see ETN Nov. 15, 1998). It's a great new addition to the ChessBase stable of chess engines.

Last summer, I wrote an ETN issue on the endgame tablebases developed by Eugene Nalimov (ETN June 27, 1999). These are a special type of endgame database that allows chess engines to play stronger endgames than they do with their normal algorhithms. Because the endgame often relies on technique, long term planning, and other variables that aren't easily quantifiable in mathematic terms, chess programs have always been notoriously weak in the ending. The Nalimov Tablebases are a way to beef up the endgame knowldge of chess programs, as well as an excellent study tool for the human player who wants to improve his game.

These tablebase files are often quite large, however. You can generate them yourself using a program that accompanies our latest chessplaying software, but such tablebase creation can take a long time (and be difficult on machines with slower speeds and limited RAM resources). They're also downloadable from the Internet, but this is again a time-consuming process. And then there's the added factor of disk space. A full set of 3, 4, 5, and 6-piece tablebases takes up about 8 gigabytes of hard drive space. Even just the limited set of 3, 4, and often-encountered 5-piece endings still requires over 2 gigabytes of hard disk storage.

In an effort to alleviate some of this hardship, ChessBase has introduced the Fritz Turbo Endgame. This is a set of all the 3, 4, and "important" (that is, commonly encountered) 5-piece tablebases on a four CD set.

Their usage is quite simple. As you approach the endgame, just insert the proper CD into the drive and the playing program (Fritz6, Junior6, Hiarcs7.32, Nimzo99 and some of the other engines, like newer versions of Crafty and Comet) will access the tablebases in its endgame calculations. It can actually use the tablebases deep in its search (for example, in a middlegame position in which pieces can be traded to reach the endgame, the engine will access the TBs deep in its search to determine if the transition to the endgame is advantageous).

You can also use the tabelbases as a study tool -- just set up the board position, pop the proper CD into the drive, then hit ALT-F2 to start the engine. The chess engine will then access the TBs and present you with a menu of the possible moves in that position and what the ultimate result of the game will be.

The Fritz Turbo Endgame is a really handy tool for both endgame study and improving the performance of chessplaying programs. The CD set is pretty well-organized, too. The first CD contains all of the 3-piece and 4-piece tablebases, as well as the most common 5-piece ones. The lesser used 5-piece endgames of the set provided are located on CD #4, with the remainder on disks 2 and 3 in roughly descending order of importance.

There are also setup programs provided on each CD for users who want to put some or all of the TBs on their hard drives (as stated previously, this will require over 2 gigabytes for the full set). The Fritz Turbo Endgame is highly recommended for players who want to strengthen their programs' ending play but don't want to go to the huge time expense of downloading the files or generating the files themselves, or who want the convenience of having the information on CD instead of on the hard drive.

Like many players, I really hate to see 1.d4 played against me. For years I used to say "Oh, man -- another boring Queen's Gambit. I could try the KID, but I don't want to make studying ideas and variations my life's work." Then I stumbled across a great game between Akiba Rubinstein and Milan Vidmar, in which Dr. Vidmar scored a stunning victory with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5! I've been an avid player of the Budapest Defense ever since.

Moscow's Dr. Dimitri Oleinikov has graced the lives of hardcore Budapest fans with an excellent ChessBase training CD: The Budapest Gambit. He takes us step-by-step through the main lines of this interesting and dynamic opening.

The CD begins with an instructional database. It starts with the usual information on how to use the CD. Then there's an introduction to the gambit, with some nice historical anecdotes and links to seminal games in the Budapest. This is followed by eleven chapters (presented as on-screen text files created in ChessBase 7) which trace the opening's historical development and present the main ideas for both players in the Budapest. The remainder of this database consists of 152 heavily-annotated games (using English text), many of which are linked to from the text files -- the overall effect is exactly that of reading a standard paper book on the opening with the added convenience of being able to play through the games and variations comfortably on your computer screen.

The main database is composed of 4088 Budapest Gambit games (107 of these are annotated). You're also provided with three small (twenty games each) databases of timed training questions so you can test yourself on how well you've learned the material. These databases focus on tactics, strategy, and traps. There's also a complete opening tree for statistical study and to use as an opening book in the Fritz family of playing programs (to force them to play the Budapest as well as making them experts in the variations of this opening). It also has opening keys which allow you to find all the games of a specific variation quickly and easily. And the CD is a standalone disk, since it comes with ChessBase Light, which allows non-ChessBase/Fritz users access to the valuable information on the CD.

Note that the Fajarowicz Variation isn't covered in the instructional text (as it's something of a "special case" in the Budapest) but there are plenty of Fajarowicz games provided in the main database.

I've been having a lot of fun with this disk. I've been playing the Budapest for a long time, but I've already learned a lot more about it from just the first couple of chapters on this CD. Dr. Oleinikov has done an excellent job in authoring this CD; if you're an established Budapest player or are interested in just dabbling with this exciting gambit, The Budapest Gambit CD will definitely be of value to you.


KILLER QUOTE OF THE MONTH

"Yep, I recognize that one -- Kasparov against Klara Kasparova, 1968" -- Fritz6


BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!

by Steve Lopez

It's that time of year again -- relatives giving chessplayers money as a Christmas gift because they can't keep track of the player's library. "Here -- Merry Christmas -- go buy yourself a book".

While I would personally be thrilled if you spend all of your Christmas money on ChessBase programs and training CDs (see previous article), I'm well aware of the chess book habit we all share (I've got the same serious jones for chess books, trust me). So let's have a look at some of the better offerings for intermediate players that came out over the last year.

The big news of 1999 was the release of Nunn's Chess Openings (Everyman Publishers, ISBN 1-85744-221-0). This is the first single-volume opening compendium to see the light of day in nearly a decade (the last was Modern Chess Openings 13). NCO was well worth the wait. GM John Nunn and his assistants have put together the first opening compendium with all variations double-checked for accuracy by computer. This is not to say that no errors may have creeped in, but I've found nothing to disagree with yet.

NCO is laid out almost exactly like Batsford Chess Openings 2 (even down to the style of type used), with the variations running from left to right across the page rather than in columns (like MCO). This might be a switch for some American readers who are used to MCO, but one gets used to it pretty quickly (in fact, I prefer it). Footnoted variations are given on the same or following page, so there's no digging around like we used to have to do with older MCO volumes.

There is some basic text introduction to the openings, but it's very general and brief. Explaining the opening ideas is not the focus of this type of book; presenting the variations and assessments is the main point. One criticism of this book is that the game references are sometimes lacking. This won't be a problem for ChessBase and Fritz users, who can just input the line and whack [SHIFT-F7] to run a database search for all the games in which the position appeared.

One of my favorite aspects of NCO is the respect paid to gambit openings. Other opening references such as MCO tend to give short shrift to gambits, evaluating them as "bad" or just ignoring them completely. But Nunn and company evaluate the Danish as playable for White, the Smith-Morra as "dangerous at club level", and even the Cochrane is evaluated as equal. There's no "blanket" anti-gambit bias in this book; if a gambit is bad, they'll say so, but on the opening's own merits or lack of same. Now that's what I like to see!

In my opinion, NCO is a great acquisition for club-level players and correspondence players, especially when used in conjunction with a good book that explains the opening ideas and a database program to seek out complete games in which the opening was played.

Shifting from the opening to the endgame, Yasser Seirawan has completed his "Winning Chess" series with a sixth book Play Winning Endings (Microsoft Press, ISBN 0-7356-0791-5). He starts off with the basic lone King positions, then advances to endings with King and pawn, Queen and pawn, Rooks, Bishops, Knights, and various combinations of pieces. Everything is explained extremely clearly with numerous examples. Yasser is in full form with his usual entertaining anecdotal style of instruction. There are plenty of quizzes in the book, too, so you can see how well you've learned the material. This is the best basic ending book I've seen since Horowitz' How to Play the Chess Endings, and I highly recommend it (even if you haven't read any of Yasser's other excellent offerings in the series).

A brief aside while we're discussing Yasser Seirawan: his wonderful chess magazine Inside Chess has ceased publication after twelve years. I'm really saddened by this, as IC was my favorite chess magazine. I spent many happy hours down at the pub, sipping a frosty one with a chessboard in front of me, flipping through IC and enjoying the annotations while waiting for someone to challenge me to a friendly game. It was an excellent magazine and I'll miss it greatly. Thanks, Yasser, for the years of pleasurable reading!

A lot of people have written books about computer chess over the years and, frankly, most of them stink. They're written either from the programming standpoint or are alleged "how to" guides on how to defeat your computer (which generally just amount to the advice "play closed games", followed by a bunch of annotated Kasparov-Deep Whatever games). A good book on how to actually use your chess computer is a pretty rare bird. Lawrence and Alburt wrote a pretty decent one a couple of years ago, but the book was as much basic chess instruction as it was advice for using a computer.

This is why I'm extremely surprised that a brand-new offering hasn't received a lot more attention. Chess Computer Sourcebook (Treehaus Books, ISBN 0-9673840-0-1) by Robert J. Pawlak is a tremendously helpful book, both for players new to computer chess and old hands like myself.

Bob has divided the books into two sections. The first is about what to buy, while the second is about how to use what you've purchased. He offers reviews (and screen shots) of all the major chess software available at the time of publication (earlier this year). He describes the basic features that are available in most chess programs, then provides a chapter of reviews on playing programs and another chapter which reviews database programs. Each chapter ends with a chart giving a feature-by-feature comparison of the programs he's reviewed. There are also chapters on tutorial programs (including our ABC's of the Chess Openings and Daniel King's Attack, a.k.a. Check and Mate) as well as self-contained opening references.

But the real treasure trove of the book is the second section on how to use the software once you've purchased it. My hat is off to Bob on this section. I have a tough enough time explaining software use for just the programs ChessBase offers; Bob somehow manages to give clear, easy-to-understand general tips that are applicable to nearly any program on the market. This was an absolutely herculean task -- and he makes it look so easy! Bob, you make me sick.

And the information he gives -- wow! I've been writing about chess software for years and there are a few tricks in this book that were news to me! There are a couple of opening book and positional evaluation tricks that I never knew existed -- Bob provides them in this book in easy-to-understand language.

There is also a section on Internet chess near the end of the book, including 'Net etiquette tips (bless you, Bob!) and sample commands that are nearly universal on the telnet chess servers.

The book runs 150 pages and is a fairly quick read (think of it as a "Chess Software for Dummies" without the stupid "Far Side"-type cartoons). Pick this book up and I guarantee that within 2 to 3 hours you'll know more about chess software and how to use it than you knew before you started. I stand in awe of this book. I look at it and think, "Dang! I wish I'd written that!" But, of course, this is just a fantasy -- had I written it, the book would have been four times longer and half as informative. Bob cuts the b.s. and gets right to the point. You need this book. It's a great source of information and Bob Pawlak has done an amazing job with it.

Jeremy Silman has released a new expanded second edition of The Amateur's Mind (Siles Press, ISBN 1-890085-02-2). You practically get a hernia picking it up. I've seen books half as long for twice the price. It's 443 glorious pages of amateur's mistakes and how to avoid them. Based on his column in Chess Life, this is some heavy-duty instructional stuff for the advanced beginner to mid-intermediate level player.

Silman's not the most conversational teacher in the world , but he gets the point across. The book contains twelve chapters, an additional chapter of tests, and a glossary. Don't be mislead by the title -- this is not a "fluff" book, so be forewarned. Some of this stuff is pretty challenging. Silman knows how to crack the whip. At one point in Chapter One, you're told to grab a pen and paper and write your own analysis of an amateur game, compare your analysis to that of the actual players, and then find out what you missed when Silman tells you what was really going on. Reading The Amateur's Mind is more like going to school than reading a chess book.

The Amateur's Mind is a great book and will certainly keep you busy for awhile (I'm still plowing through Chapter One). It's not a happy fluffy little beginner book. There is some real nose-to-the-grindstone stuff in here and, to be blunt, that is exactly what a lot of club players need. This book is making me get up off my proverbial butt and work a little; I don't know how you'll feel about it, but I appreciate the exercise. Great stuff -- I recommend it (especially as an introduction to Silman's other book How to Reassess Your Chess).

Sid Pickard has written some creative and unusual chess books. His 1993 book ECO Busted! was a collection of busts for main lines of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings' 2nd edition. It was a unique book and taught a valuable lesson: don't blindly follow what you're told in chess books - think for yourself! (It also helped me avoid traps in a couple of postal games.)

Sid's company, Pickard & Son Publishers (www.ChessCentral.com) has released a new CD for free thinkers -- The Nimzovich Defense (1.e4 Nc6). It's a highly unusual response to the King Pawn opening but can be very effective in the hands of an experienced player.

Sid provides a main database with instructional texts on the CD, all in ChessBase format. He's written a foreward which explains how to use the disk. Opening theoretician (and collector of the offbeat) Hugh Myers provides a lengthy introduction on the historical development of the Nimzovich, as well as an overview of the main ideas with some sample games. Then there are six opening reports (generated by ChessBase 7) which show the main plans, again with sample games.

The rest of the main database consists of 5514 games, with over 400 of them annotated (including some opening surveys authored by Sid). The CD also includes a statistical tree (which can also be used as an opening book to make the Fritz family of programs play the Nimzovich, which is an excellent way to practice the opening), as well as a supplementary database of 5229 Nimzovich Defense blitz games played on Internet chess servers. Most of these games were played by people with server ratings of over 2200, so the quality of the play is pretty decent.

The games are also presented in the old ChessBase format (.CBF) as well as .PGN format. In the former case, you lose the text introductions but still have access to the annotations. In .PGN format you have no annotations, but the games themselves are able to be ported to other chess software beside those offered by ChessBase. The blitz database isn't provided in .PGN format, but is available in .CBF format on the CD.

Overall, this CD is an excellent tutorial on this unusual opening. It also gives you a nice look at what some other authors are doing with the annotation and text tools provided in ChessBase 7.

Until next week, have fun!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes. If you love gambits and sacrificial play, stop by my Chess Kamikaze Home Page and the Yahoo Chess Kamikazes Club.