by Steve Lopez

My postman's doubtless been swearing at me lately. Although packages containing compact disks aren't very large or heavy, they've been quite numerous in the past couple of weeks.

One such package contained my long-awaited copy of Knut Neven's new CD from ChessBase, French Defense Without 3.Nc3. I've been a French Advance player for most of my chess career (although I tend to prefer those "dubious" gambit lines), so I was really interested to see what he had to say in this, the second of two volumes on the French Defense.

A few weeks ago, we looked at his other French Defense CD, which covered all of the variations in which White plays 3.Nc3. Obviously (from its title) the new CD covers the remaining French Variations, in which White opts for other third move plans. Because the CD covers a span of 10 ECO codes (C00-C09), and hence a lot of games and ideas, the author has opted to split the data into three separate databases.

The first of these covers C00 and C01. This includes a catch-all category for variations (such as the King's Indian Attack and the Wing Gambit) that don't fit into the other classifications, plus the Exchange Variation (which isn't as "cowardly" and "boring" as some folks would have you believe; Neven shows some pretty dynamic stuff in the games on this CD). This first database also contains the general introduction to the CD as a whole. You'll find over 29,000 games just on C00 and C01 here.

The next section covers just C02 -- the French Advance Variation. In over 16,300 games we see nearly everything in the French Advance, including my beloved gambits, such as the Nimzovich Variation and the Milner-Barry.

Finally, we come to the third database covering C03-C09 -- the French Tarrasch, to which I suspect most readers will devote the bulk of their time. Here we see more than 27,600 games, including a huge amount of text information on the ideas of this sub-system. In fact, what distinguishes Neven's work on this and his other French Defense CD is his attention to the ideas behind the variations. Instead of just doing a database dump and spitting forth endless reams of variations, Neven takes the time to actually explain what's going on. Each of the three databases contains text descriptions of the ideas of each variation along with links to important illustrative games. This is a huge help to the average player; understanding the ideas behind the opening is much more important than memorizing variations.

The French Defense Without 3.Nc3 also contains opening keys for each database (to make looking up a specific variation a snap), plus a modified version of the ChessBase Reader (allowing the user to read the larger databases on the CD). Of course, if you own a copy of ChessBase or one of the Fritz family of playing programs, you'll want to use one of those instead of the Reader, but the Reader's inclusion makes this a true standalone CD -- no other software is required.

In my opinion, this CD is excellent for anyone from intermediate level upwards. Titled players will appreciate the wealth of games included on the disk, while intermediates will benefit greatly from the readable and easily-understandable text instruction.

You get a break this week, in that you need only suffer through the abbreviated version of Steve's Endgame Rant, to wit:

We ALL stink at the endgame. Period.

So a good new CD or book on the endgame is always a welcome addition to the world of chess literature. We could all use the help.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the new CD The ABCs of Endgames. I was expecting something very basic for beginners and, while that level of material is certainly present on the CD, there are a few items here that are a bit more advanced. In fact, I'll guarantee you that some Class A and Expert friends of mine don't know everything presented on this disk.

The main database is provided twice on the CD: once in English and once in German (the English version is called "Endgame ABC" while the German version is called "Endspiel 1x1". However, I can personally guarantee you that I will receive angry calls and e-mails from English-speaking users complaining that they received a German version of the CD. Sure, that's the choice I'd make when confronted with multilingual choices: double-click on the one in a foreign language and then blow up when it doesn't come up in English.)

The database opens with thirteen instructional texts:

  1. How to work with this CD
  2. The endgame -- Introduction
  3. Basic Mating Methods
  4. Pawn endgames
  5. Knight endgames
  6. Bishop endgames (one side)
  7. Same color Bishop endgames
  8. Opposite color Bishop endgames
  9. Mixed minor piece endgames
  10. Rook endgames
  11. Mixed Rook and minor piece endgames
  12. Queen endgames
  13. Mixed Queen vs. minor piece endgames
  14. Heavy piece endgames

Of course, many readers of this column will already be familiar with the basic mating patterns and the very elementary endgames, such as the simple pawn endings. But if you're under Expert level, I'm certain there are concepts presented on this CD that you don't already know, particularly in the minor piece endings. For example, this bit of text from the section on Bishops vs. Knights:

The endgame with bishop and two pawns normally presents no problems. However, there are a few positions which are hard to win. A draw can be only achieved in exceptional positions. If you advance the pawn, you have to take care that those squares are not blocked which are out of the bishop's control. This actually reduces winning chances to a minimum level.

And the authors follow this up with a link to an endgame in the database. To my chagrin, I realized that I've screwed up this ending myself. I've gone into an endgame with a Bishop and a couple of extra pawns vs. a Knight, thinking I had an easy win. Suddenly I was staring a half-point in the face and wondering why. ABCs of Endgames vividly illustrates the reasons.

Don't be fooled by the title -- this CD is not just a primer. While the standard basic endgame material is on here, the disk goes beyond those concepts and into some techniques that are not known by the average player. The thirteen instructional texts contain links to the 177 endgames on the CD; there is a lot of ground covered on this CD and it will keep you busy for quite a while. That's even before you get to the bonus database, taken from ChessBase Magazine 57. In it, we see video of Kasparov and Karpov analyzing after their fifth round game at Las Palmas 1996. Karsten Müller provides excellent voiceover narration of the players' postmortem of the endgame, and you can even load the game from the database, resize the video window, and follow along with their analysis. It's a nice reminder that even the "big boys" struggle with endgame technique from time to time.

As I said previously, we all stink at the endgame. For those of us who are untitled players, ABCs of Endgames will go a long way toward correcting that deficiency we share.

A new version of the Correspondence Chess CD has been released. Correspondence Database 2000 has been beefed up to nearly 300,000 games taken from all levels of correspondence chess. You'll find everything from the World Correspondence Championships to Internet e-mail competitions.

Coorespondence chess has been described by writers much more eloquent than myself as being the great "laboratory" of chess theory. Some correspondence players spend long hours analyzing new homegrown opening variations and then keeping them as secret weapons (sometimes for years) until they have a chance to use them. Other correspondence players are avid collectors of antique opening books, pouring over them in search of obscure long forgotten lines to spring on their opponents. Correspondence players are often fearless, even reckless, steering their games into wild complications that no sane over the board player would ever dare try. That adventurous spirit is reflected in a lot of games on this disk.

I'm an avid correspondence player and, as such, I find this database invaluable for a number of reasons. There are openings here that are not played at the top levels of chess (such as the gambits I love, for example) and which you won't find in databases of top grandmaster games. One of my close friends is a rated correspondence master who believes that even badly played games by lower-rated players have value: you save time by finding easy refutations to substandard play, refutations which someone else has already worked out. And in a database like this I can find plenty of games played by people I actually know or might possibly face in a correspondence game. So even though this database has a generous helping of games played by average players, I find having such games to be beneficial rather than detrimental.

So a new version of the Correspondence Database is always a welcome addition to my chess arsenal and, if you appreciate (and play!) unorthodox openings that deviate from main lines and enter into uncharted territory, I trust you will find it so also.

I've received a few interesting items from some non-ChessBase sources as well over the last few weeks and I'm still evaluating them -- so we'll have a look next week. Until then, have fun!

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.