by Steve Lopez

Over the last several weeks, we've been looking at ways to utilize Fritz6 for improving one's game. This consists primarily of having Fritz analyze one's games to point out weaknesses and deficiencies in one's play. But there are a few uses that are a bit more "pro-active" on the user's part which we'll examine this week.

A lot of players are very concerned about their opening play. For the average class-level player this is not a particularly crucial area but it's not something which should be ignored either. Fritz6 comes with a database of over 300,000 games and this database is a wonderful reference tool for researching and working on your openings.

One easy way to do this is to simply do a search for games by ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings) code. As an example, you might play the Caro-Kann Advance variation as White and like to see games in which this variation was played. Once you've saved one of your own games into a database, check the game list and have a look at the ECO code -- this will tell you what to search for. In this case (the Caro-Kann Advance), the ECO code will appear as B12. Switch from your personal database to the database that comes with Fritz6, click on the "Filter games" button, select the "Game data" tab, and type B12 into both of the two boxes to the right of "ECO:". Click "OK" and the program will bring up a list of all games which fall under the B12 ECO classification.

Note that not all of these games will be Caro-Kann Advances (though the majority will be). There might be a few "side lines" of B12 in the list (such as the Fantasy Variation), but most of what you see will be just what you're looking for.

The first thing you'll see is screen after screen of game headers. How do you know what game to look at? There are a number of ways to tackle this. I recommend studying annotated games (games with notes and variations). These notes will provide you with helpful information (moreso than a raw gamescore). You can always tell which games are annotated by looking at the far right column of the game list: if you see the letters "v" and/or "c" in this column, the game contains notes and/or variations. The letter "v" stands for "variations" while the letter "c" designates "commentary". Capital letters mean that there are a lot of variations or commentary in the game.

Even excluding your viewing to commented games will often still provide you with an overwhelming amount of material, which you still need to pare down. My personal preference is to play through the games in chronological order. Many writers (from Reti to Saidy) have suggested that the typical player develops his skills in a way parallel to the historical development of chess. This is why Paul Morphy's or Adolf Anderssen's games are so much easier to understand than Garry Kasparov's. In this particular case, you'll notice that only three Caro-Kann Advance games in the database were played before 1960. The opening was certainly played more often prior to that year (check the ChessBase Big Database or Mega Database for confirmation), but it didn't become extremely popular until the latter half of the 20th century ( a statistical bar graph generated in ChessBase 7 shows that the opening's popularity increased dramatically in the late 1980's).

If you decide to work on annotated B12 games chronologically, your first game will be Hort-Seirawan, Bad Kissingen 1981. Double-click on the game to open it. There are a few short variations near the start of the game, but a pile of them at move 7. How do you navigate through all of this stuff? I prefer to play through the actual game moves once or twice. The next time through the game I play through the main variations. I hit the nested sub-variations on the next pass. Of course, your mileage may vary -- you might gain more benefit from working through the variations on the first play-through. You'll discover what works best for you as you use these features. Remember when navigating through the variations that clicking on a move in the notation pane jumps the board directly to that move.

Another thing to look for in the game list when deciding which games to replay is the use of medals. These are colored boxes that appear in the game list between the tournament name and the ECO code. These are used by the game's annotator to alert you to a significant feature found in that game. The colors and what they signify were listed in the February 6, 2000 issue of ETN.

If the above searching technique provides you with too many options, you might try hunting for games in which a specific variation was played. In the database window, click on the "openings" tab and use the hierarchal set of opening keys (that is, opening "indexes") to find what you want. In this case, you'd double click on the "B" line, then "B1", then "B12", and then you'll see two variations offered, along with a list of games that didn't fit into either of those two classifications.

To narrow things down even more, you can always do a position search (for example, if the specifc variation you want to view is eight moves long and there's no specific opening key for that eight-move sequence). The ETN issue for February 6, 2000 discussed position searches.

When you play through database games on a specific opening, try to spot common themes that arise in the middlegame. A typical theme might be a common piece placement, or perhaps a strong Knight outpost on d5 that occurs in many games. Recognizing these ideas will do you more good than merely memorizing opening move orders with no idea of what to do in the middlegame.

There's a neat trick you can use for finding out the ECO code for a particular opening variation: input the moves and click on "Save game". The ECO code will already be filled in for you. Make a note of this code, then click "Cancel" so that the game isn't saved into the database.

Every chessplayer develops an opening repertoire after he or she has been playing a while. The best way to practice the openings you want to play is to create a personalized opening book for use in Fritz6. This is an old trick and I used it for many years in my own tournament preparation (when I still played regularly in over the board events). To create a new (empty) opening book, go to the File menu, select "New", and then select "Openings book". As always, use the file select dialogue to name and store your new book.

Then click on "New game". Hit ALT-F2 to start "Infinite analysis" -- this is done so that you can input moves without Fritz responding to them. Click on the "Openings book" tab in the notation pane. Right-click in this pane to get a menu and select "Allow move adding" -- this will let you add moves to the tree.

Then you can start making moves on the board. Input all of the opening variations you play or the ones you're prepared to face. You don't need to go overboard with the length of the variations. For many years I used an opening tree that seldom went past six or seven moves (fourteen plies maximum) and it worked very nicely. Of course, the length of the lines will vary from opening to opening -- some will be longer than others. But you don't want to input dozens of 15 to 20 move lines. For one thing, most class-level opponents will deviate from theory much sooner than that. And you'll never remember all of those exact move sequences anyway.

A side option here is to create two opening books -- one for the openings you play as White, another for the ones you play as Black. Just load the opening book for the color you're playing and let loose the dogs of war!

Exploring an existing opening book is also a good idea when you want to learn about the openings. Open the tree and step through the moves until you come to your "trouble" position. The tree gives you a menu of posible moves in thta position as well as statistical information for each of them. You can examine different replies and look at the possibilities that arise later in the tree for each of them. And if you want to search the currently-loaded database for games containing a given position, right-click in the tree and select "Search games" from the menu. This will bring up the database window and a list of games in which that position occured.

Here's a little training trick I published in ETN a couple of years ago which was greeted pretty enthusiastically by the readers. Several years ago, before the advent of "adaptive opponents" such as Fritz' "Friend mode", I used to play training matches against various level settings in my computer programs. For example, I would set Fritz up to play in "Handicap and fun" mode and set the rating slider to 100 points below my USCF rating (since Fritz uses the FIDE rating standard, this meant that my computer opponent was playing at approximately my strength). I would then play a six-game match, alternating colors each game.If I scored 3.5 points or more, I won. I drew the match with 3 points and lost with anything less. If I won the match, I would grant my "opponent" another six game rematch. If I won the rematch, I would bump the rating slider up by 50 points and start a new match. If I drew the match, it was declared null and void (as though it had never occurred). If I lost, I dropped the slider by 50 points and started a six game match against my new, weaker opponent (as the loser, I had to go back down the "virtual ladder"). But I always had to win two matches to advance.

Why did I do this? It was great training for the tournaments I was playing in at the time (most of my opponents were within 200-300 points of my rating). It gave me an incentive to play well. And it allowed me to chart my relative progess (or lack thereof) merely by looking at my results.

I combined this with a personalized opening book, so that I would be playing the openings that I use in tournaments. And now, with the first Fritz6 service pack, we have the ability to play timed games in "Handicap and fun" mode. This allows one to set the time control to that of the upcoming tournament for which one is preparing. So now you can prepare for tournaments by playing preparatory matches against your computer under conditions that are as close to the real thing as you can get (games using the proper time control and the openings you've studied and prepared).

This last example illustrates a good way to combine features in Fritz6 to get exactly the type of training you want. The features of the program can be combined in myriad ways, customizing it to whatever works best for you. This is why the question "What's the best way to use Fritz?" can never be universally answered. A hundred users will have a hundred different needs. The best course of action is to ask yourself what it is you want and need to accomplish and look for ways to use the program to achieve those goals. A hundred users, a hundred needs, a hundred solutions -- all different. This flexibility is what makes Fritz6 arguably the most versatile and useful chess program ever.

Well, my friends, we've come to the end of our introductory series on Fritz6. We didn't cover every feature and conceivable use (which would be an impossible task anyway, for the reason I just described) but, as I said at the start of this series, I never intended for us to do so. Half the fun of the program is exploring it and discovering new uses for it -- and that part is up to you.

Until next week, 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.