by Steve Lopez

I've recently started a project on beginner's chess mistakes, sort of a "learn by bad example" tutorial. I've been observing a lot of games on Yahoo's chess server to find games for my project and I've noticed a very distressing trend. If you took a typical player from one of the Social Lounges, sat him down in front of a chessboard in which the position has a mate in one, put a gun to his head, and told him to find the mate, you'd might as well save your breath. Just pull the trigger -- there's no way he'll spot mate on the move. I've reviewed about a dozen games so far and nearly every one of them contains a missed mate in one. All of he others contain missed mates in three or four.

Let's face it -- everyone misses forced mates once in a while. I published a game in ETN a couple of years ago in which I missed mate in one against an old rival, but I had an excuse (feeble though it may be) -- I was too busy laughing at my opponent. But to see so many games played on a chess server in which mate in one is completely overlooked is just plain depressing (especially when a game ends in victory for the other player).

ChessBase has released a new CD (just in the nick of time) which hopefully will remedy the problem. It's by GM Lubomir Ftacnik; the CD is titled 1000 Checkmates. GM Ftacnik is a good teacher; I've always enjoyed his annotated games in (the soon to be defunct) print magazine Inside Chess. In 1000 Checkmates, he turns his considerable skills toward identifying and describing common mating patterns, teaching us how to smell the "blood in the water" and go in for the kill when the opportunity arises.

The CD is more than just a thousand mate problems. GM Ftacnik instructs the reader in techniques for spotting the common mating paterns (back rank mates, King in the open center, smothered mates, double checks, etc.). The concept is pretty simple: once you understand the common mating themes, it's easy to spot them (and take advantage of them) in your own games.

The CD is aimed at players of all experience levels. There are three separate databases on the CD. No matter how skilled you are, you should start with the "Mates" database, because it begins with a textfile on how to use the CD's contents.

Once you're familiar with how to use the CD, you should proceed to the database that's aimed at your skill level. Novices should start with the "Basics" database. This contains text explanations of checks, the ways to get out of check, and checkmates, along with simple one-move problems for the user to solve.

Intermediate players (and those players who have completed the "Basics" section) should go to the "Motifs" database. This is the main instrcutional database. It explains the various mating themes in sixteen separate texts, one for each theme. The texts also contain visual aids (chessboard diagrams with colored arrows and squares for emphasis of crucial points) plus video clips of GM Ftacnik explaining the themes.

Once you've completed these texts, you're invited to test yourself through the use of 48 training quizzes. Each of these is a timed chess problem (as we've examined in past issues of ETN). You must solve the problem in the allotted time or recieve no points for the answer. The faster you solve the problem, the more points you get. This timed approach simulates analyzing a position under tournament conditions. Unlike a tournament game, however, you're allowed to get help with the problems. You can click a button to receive a hint -- but don't overdo it! If you ask for help, the maximum number of points you can get for a correct solution is reduced.

After you've completed the "Motifs" database, it's time for the main challenge: the "Mates" database. This is the real heart of the CD: one thousand timed mate problems! You can play through them randomly (by clicking on games from the list) or use the theme keys included as part of the database to concentrate on one mating motif at a time. All of the positions are taken from actual GM or master games.

How hard are the problems? The answer depends on your skill level, but every mate on the CD is a mate in one, two, or three moves. While mate in three doesn't sound too tough, I've watched experts and masters miss them more than just "occasionally". I think that the problems on this CD will challenge all levels of chessplayer right up through expert and possibly beyond.

The text and video instruction on the CD is provided in both English and German (it's a real trip to watch one of Ftacnik's videos in English and then switch over to see the same material covered by him in German). 1000 Checkmates contains theme keys to help you study one motif at a time. There are no complete games on the disk, only mating problems -- hence there are no opening keys. The CD also includes the ChessBase Reader program, so ownership of one of our database or playing programs is not required.

1000 Checkmates is a heck of a good disk; solving the training questions on it will hone your killer instinct and help you rack up more wins. And, judging from what I've seen on the servers lately, GM Ftacnik has provided us with these tools just in the nick of time.

Until next week, please to be having fun!

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