ELECTRONIC T-NOTES


CHESSBASE USA'S WEEKLY ON-LINE NEWSLETTER


FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 20, 2001


UPDATE

The Fritz6 user interface has been updated to allow it to run the ChessBase versions of Chess Tiger and Gambit Tiger (see ETN, May 6, 2001). Go to the Downloads page on the ChessBase GmbH website (www.chessbase.com) to download the latest Fritz6 upgrade. Install it and the Tigers will be usable in the Fritz6 interface, eliminating the need to switch to the Tiger interface (which is identical to the Fritz6 one anyway, but this will eliminate the need for you to uninstall the old interface or switch interfaces).

Likewise, if you want to run the Tigers as analysis engines in ChessBase 8, you'll need to do an online upgrade to the latest CB8 service pack. Get online, start ChessBase 8, go to the Help menu, and select "Online upgrade". The rest is all driven by prompts. The upgrade takes eight to ten minutes at 56.6 kps. Be aware that you'll be asked for a CD check (ETN, January 21, 2000) the next time you run CB8 after the upgrade, so have the ChessBase 8 CD handy.


NEW CD AND E-BOOKS

by Steve Lopez

The latest CD from ChessBase is The Reti Opening, written by Don Maddox. This obviously puts me in an unenviable position, since Don's my boss at ChessBase USA. You don't have to be an Einstein to see an apparent conflict of interest here; however, keep in mind that I'm also employed as a writer by ChessBase GmbH. In light of this, nothing I write about a CB product in a "New CDs" column in ETN should ever be construed as an unbiased "review"; in fact, customers who've talked to me on the phone know that I always term these columns as "previews" (see ETN, April 15, 2001), because that's how I view them. I'm just telling you what's on a disk and giving you pointers to items or features you might find interesting, as well as guidelines as to the level of chessplayer at which a particular CD is aimed. Atter that, it's up to you to decide whether or not a CD will be of value to you. So, with that caveat in mind, let's look at the Reti CD.

As readers of my Battle Royale know, I'm a huge fan of Richard Reti. But, oddly, I've never played "his" opening. I'm an e4 guy and haven't gotten around to making the usual midlife switch to d4 (which many players make somewhere in their middle years when they find tactical calculation getting to be a bit much for them). So I've not explored the Reti.

I've known Don for close to ten years and, from past experience, I know he's a big fan of the King's Indian setup on the White side, regardless of whether White opens with e4 or d4. Don's a strong correspondence player (he usually has forty to sixty games going at once) and is a regular player of the English, but he also plays a straight King's Indian setup as White a great deal:


Note that this position works with 1.c4, 1.d4, or even 1.e4. It's a hypermodern opening setup, developed by players like Breyer, Nimzovich, and Reti in the early years of the twentieth century. The idea is to control the center from the flanks by using pieces, instead of occupying the center with a pawn pair. (For more on hypermodern theory, in terms that even an idiot can understand [since an idiot wrote it], click here. Then use your browser's "Back" button to return here when you're finished).

The problem with the Reti (at least for the average player) is one it shares with Black's similar Kingside setups (such as the Pirc and King's Indian Defense): the transpositions. Since there's no immediate tension in the center (such as you get with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3), there's no standard move order. You can play the first few moves in a variety of orders and still reach the same tabia (setup position), so memorization of move orders is useless. Of course, I've railed against rote memorization in this column many times (most notably the recent series on learning a new opening), so the memorization isn't a major factor. But learning the ideas for a bunch of variations (even though the lines are closely related) can still be a real grind.

And that's where Don comes to the rescue. The Reti Opening concentrates on ideas rather than move orders. Although the CD is organized by variations, the ideas are clearly explained and laid out, with the added bonus that the explanations are geared toward the average player rather than titled players. So it's not your typical Winning with the... work, in which some GM writing the book assumes that you're rated at least at the Expert level. This CD is aimed at the average Joe and Jane who's looking for something different to add to his or her arsenal.

The Reti Opening CD is organized into clearly-defined sections:

The Foreword tells you how the CD is organized and how to use it. Section I gives you an overview of the basic Reti variations. This section might seem overwhelming at first -- there's a lot of variations here. But Don's made the task easier through the use of opening keys -- indexes he's created that let you pull up all the games of a specific variation with a simple mouse click. At the end of each variation's discussion is a "key" icon that brings up all of the games of that variation. You play through the games, paying particular attention to the annotations, and increase your understanding of that line. So you use the "building block" approach to learn the basic variations one at a time.

Section II: Basic Principles of the Reti introduces six critical lines in the Reti -- and provides links to theoreticals with move-by-move explanations; every move of these six short surveys is annotated. ChessBase-generated opening reports are also provided for each of these six systems, making it easy for you to do further exploration by studying plans and additional games. Section III: Advanced Reti Praxis contains sixteen heavily-annotated (including audio annotations) games in eight Reti systems for more advanced study.

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that a problem with the Reti is the abundance of transpositional possibilities that it contains. But this transpositional richness is also the advantage of the Reti -- you have loads of opportunities to fake out your opponent by steering him into positions with which you're familiar (and he isn't). This is the subject of Section IV; Don has provided three specialized opening keys which show how to transpose into the Reti from the Queen's Gambit (both Accepted and Declined) and the Catalan.

Don also includes a brief biography of Reti (including links to two of Reti's games from New York 1924) and an introduction to the Training database -- a whopping seventy-nine games containing training tests designed to let you gauge how well you've learned the material. The CD also has an opening tree for the Reti, which you can use for statistical study or as an opening book in our playing programs (to force them to play the Reti, giving you the opportunity to practice what you've learned from the CD).

The main database on this CD is huge, by the way, containing nearly 32,000 Reti Opening games. Hundreds of them are annotated, so there is a lot of bang for your buck with this CD. And, as always, it's a standalone CD -- it comes with the ChessBase Reader, so no other software is required (although it can be used with ChessBase and Fritz, so owners of those programs will likely want to use them instead of the Reader).

Here comes the part where I disagree with my boss. Don contends that the Reti's a good opening for beginners, but (in my opinion) a certain amount of strategic knowledge is required to play it well (as is the case with many hypermodern openings). Although a determined beginner may well be able to add the Reti to his arsenal, in my estimation a player needs to have studied a bit of strategy to make this opening work. So I think a player would need to be around 1350-1400 USCF to get the most out of this opening.

My friends, opponents, and readers of my web page know that I'm the Robert L. Ripley of chess openings. Instead of collecting shrunken heads, I collect really weird and unusual openings (it can be argued that actually playing that stuff will give you a shrunken head, but let's skip that unpleasant thought and move onward). So I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Sid Pickard about his latest e-book in ChessBase format: The Bozo-Indian Defense. No, that's not a typo (that's what I first thought when I read the e-mail) -- the thing is actually called the Bozo-Indian.

My curiosity piqued, I eagerly obtained a copy and checked it out. The Bozo-Indian Defense gets its name from a combination of Bogoljubow and Nimzovich. It's a hypermodern opening (heh -- that again. Tarrasch is spinning in his crypt even as I type) and is a sort of "inverted Alekhine":

1.d4 Nc6 2.d5 Ne5!?

OK, man, I'm in!

Pickard & Son Publishers has done a really neat job with this one. There's obviously not great heaping gobs of material on this opening (it's more than just a little off the beaten track; the e-book's bibliography cites just three primary sources), so Sid Pickard has created the material for you. The database contains over 500 games and most of them are annotated. You won't find tons of GM games here; in fact, most of the material comes from online games. The idea here is not to play a strong mainline opening. Instead, you're going to play an unusual opening and know it better than your opponent does. This makes it a perfect opening for online chess. Correspondence players are also noted devotees of the unusual, so this might be a good opening choice for postal or e-mail games as well.

The Introduction contains a lot of useful information, including material on the "Alekhine connection" (to which I alluded a few paragraphs back). Sid also provides a couple of theme keys allowing you to identify games that contain tactical blunders and "false results": blitz games which end with a player losing on time but with a superior position.

There's also a chapter on transpositions (we're starting to see a pattern developing here) and there are a lot of them. You can get into Bozo-Indian positions from several other openings (including the French, Pirc/Modern, and King's Indian Defense) so it might be worthwhile for players of these mainstream openings to understand the ideas of the Bozo-Indian positions as part of their arsenals.

The e-book also contains a long chapter on the various Bozo-Indian variations, which includes links to a half-dozen opening surveys, additional specialized theme keys, and a ChessBase-generated opening report. You can use all of these tools to increase your understanding of this very ususual opening line.

So how good is the Bozo-Indian? I'd not play it in a 40/2 tournament game (in which my opponent might be able to figure this stuff out as he goes), but it appears to be perfectly suited to online chess. A straight statistical evaluation of the games in the e-book show that White might have a very slight advantage (just a hair better than equal) but, as I ranted in the recent series on learning an opening, the numbers frequently lie. Sid notes that many of the games in the e-book end with time running out or are decided by one player's tactical blunder, so this skews the statistics. As far as the opening itself goes, it looks weird but playable. And since there's not a ton of well-known theory involved, it's a good choice against a well-booked opponent.

The ball's in your court. Are you going to be a hypermodern like Tartakower and Reti or a dogmatist like Tarrasch? Some chessplayers say there's nothing new under the sun but I seem to recall a few quotes to that effect from Capablanca back in the 1920's. Chess is still pretty wide-open and there's a lot left to be discovered. I'll freely confess that I'd never heard of nor considered the Bozo-Indian prior to a few days ago. But the Bozo-Indian Defense e-book has really piqued my curiosity; it looks like a lot of fun and I intend to learn it and trot it out on occasion, just for some big grins if nothing else. Thanks for the tip, Sid! He did a great job on this e-book (which, btw, requires ChessBase, one of the playing programs, or ChessBase Reader, since it's entirely in ChessBase format).

While we're on the topic of e-books, I'll freely admit to being an e-book freak. I won't do the full rant here but I see definite major possibilites for the future of electronic publishing. E-books are convenient to store, inexpensive to produce, and are often cheaper than their paper counterparts. For example, I've been doing a great deal of historical research on the American Civil War over the last couple of years. The primary source is a 128-volume set called The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, a 128 volume set containing official correspondences, battle reports, maps, etc. It's available in paper form at about $20 a volume, so for a mere two grand you can have the whole set (the cost doesn't included adding a room onto your house to store the danged things). It's also abominably indexed, so it's pretty hard to find what you need. So what was my solution? I bought the CD ROM version for about $80, fully searchable (just type in a word or text string and you get a list of every spot in the OR where it appears), and you can print the pages right from the program or export them to a word processor. I can't even begin to estimate how much time this CD has saved me, both in searching for material and in not having to drive to the library whenever I need to look up a citation.

I've purchased several other similar CDs on history and literature. I'm estimating that I've added a few thousand volumes to my library quickly and inexpensively this way and, as for storage, a half-dozen CDs don't take up much room.

This doesn't even take into account the available online material. I've downloaded hundreds of public-domain books, including dozens of Civil War volumes that are long out of print (many written in the two or three decades after the war ended) and are available only in the original (and fragile) paper editions in the special collections of far-flung universities. Online concerns such as Project Gutenberg and Abika make literally thousands of volumes available free for the downloading. A close friend recently needed a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology and asked me where to go to buy a copy. I just downloaded it and zapped it on over as an e-mail attachment.

But the e-book appraoch is not without its pitfalls. OCR scanning technology has a long way to go and much of this stuff isn't carefully proofread after it's scanned. I've downloaded more than a few volumes that were unusable due to typographic errors and I hate wasting my time on that kind of slapdash stuff. So it's a real treat to see an e-book that's done correctly, with the typos corrected and (if you're very lucky) with the original illustrations included.

That's why I'm happy to see that Sid Pickard (Pickard and Son Publishers -- see above) takes the e-book concept as seriously as I do. Sid's branching off into the non-chess e-book field with a line of public-domain classics. So why am I mentioning it here? Because his introductory freebie volume is an e-book version of Edgar Allen Poe's Maelzel's Chess-Player.

Every American kid encounters Mr. Poe somewhere in his scholastic career. And, if the kid's lucky, he gets more than a few shudders from Poe's masterful working of the horror genre (heck, Poe practically invented it). But a little-known fact is that Poe deleved into non-fiction occasionally, and Maelzel's Chess-Player is just such a work. It's a scholarly (yet readable) article on the various automata that were very popular in the early industrial age, concentrating primarily on the "Turk", an automated chessplayer.

I won't go into great length on the Turk (I've published an article on it several years ago, which you can find here. I'd rather talk about Sid Pickard's e-book version of Poe's article. This thing is gorgeous. It's in .PDF format, so it requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to open the file (Sid has a link to it on his page). The e-book version of Maelzel's Chess-Player is lavishly illustrated, with some of the pictures in full color. The type selected is easily to read, and each page has a header line in ornate period type. It contains footnoted references. It also has hyperlinks in the text leading to additional supporting articles on some of the other automatons Poe mentions in his article. It even has an appendix with links to online sources for further reading. Friends, this is not just some plain vanilla text version of Poe's article. This is an absolutely beautifully done work in electronic format. It truly is an actual book on your computer. And best of all, it's free. Do not hesitate, do not pass "Go", do not collect $200. Get thee hence to Sid Pickard's site immediately (the link is given earlier in this article) and download it now. I personally guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter (too bad if that's the case, because it's a great article), take a look anyway. Electronic books will never replace their paper counterparts, but the Pickard and Son version of Poe's Maelzel's Chess-Player will show you the future of electronic publishing. It's an e-book that's better than "right", it's stunning. It's everything an e-book should be. I've been on the Interrant a long time and I have seldom been as impressed by anything I've seen here as I am with this book. I've bought many, many paper books that aren't as well-produced as this.

And, as a book freak and online author, that's the absolute highest recommendation I can give. Trust me.

Until next week, have fun!

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