ELECTRONIC T-NOTES


CHESSBASE USA'S WEEKLY ON-LINE NEWSLETTER


FOR THE WEEK OF AUGUST 5, 2001


NEW CDS AND E-BOOKS

by Steve Lopez

Once again, a new batch of products in ChessBase format have been released. In this week's ETN, we'll preview them and get a little taste of each.

The first comes from ChessBase GmbH and is a re-release of an older CD. The original version of Robert Huebner's World Champion Alekhine CD was available only in German. The new version is a full English-language version of this outstanding chess biography.

The main database of the CD contains all of Alekhine's known games. But it's more than just a mere game collection. There are text files galore, making this a true book on CD. The Preface contains a short overview of the CD and also contains seven illustrations, including the famous photo of Alekhine and his cat (named "Chess") and the photo of his death scene.

The Table of Contents provides links to the various chapters as well as tips on how to use the CD. The Short Biography is just that: a brief overview of his life, along with a bibliography of several more complete works on the subject. The CD also contains multimedia -- the next chapter is a collection of videos clips in which some famous players (King, Shirov, and Gelfand) discuss Alekhine and his impact on the chess world.

The next chapter is an index of the reports for the nine separate tournament databases that are in their own folder on the CD. These reports are lavishly illustrated with crosstable reproductions (from the original tournament books) and many photographs (including one of my personal favorites: the official group photograph of the participants in the New York 1924 International). These reports also contain text commentary on the tournaments themselves, and the databases contain every game from each event. Following this chapter there is a short chapter with Garry Kasparov's comments about Alekhine. After that is a great chapter containing anecdotes about Alekhine.

But the real guts of the database are the more than 2000 Alekhine games -- every known game played by the master. Over 350 of these are annotated, mainly by the ChessBase staff and by Alekhine himself. However, there are also games annotated by his contemporaries (Tarrasch, Nimzovich, and Bogoljubow among them) and by modern day players (like Kasparov and Huebner). Interspersed throughout the database are short tournament reports with photos, drawings, and crosstables.

A second database on the CD contains 25 of Alekhine's games, selected and extensively annotated by GM Robert Huebner. There's also some biographical information included. This database by itself is a monograph on Alekhine's style and would stand alone as a chess book or CD even without the main 2000+ game database.

But the CD doesn't stop there. You'll also find two additional databases. One is a set of forth "tasks" for you to complete -- forty positions taken from Alekhine's games in which you are to find the winning combination. Each is given as a "question" game (in which you're told which side is to move). You can then move pieces around the board to try to discern the answer. When you've decided on a solution, just load the next game in the database; there you'll find the answer, along with additional variations and descriptive text. In essence, it's a forty position tactics course based on Alekhine's games.

The final database is the training database (such as you'll find on most ChessBase CDs). This contains 103 timed training questions in which your job is to find the right move before the allotted time runs out. Of course, all of these positions come from Alekhine's own games.

World Champion Alekhine is a real labor of love by GM Huebner and a wonderful work for anyone interested in the life and games of this great player from the "Golden Age". It provides much more to the reader than a mere book offers: over 2000 games, video, and timed training problems. It's a standalone CD, containing the ChessBase Reader program -- no other software is required (although owners of ChessBase or the Fritz family of playing programs will certainly want to use those instead of the Reader).

Pickard & Son Publishers has very quickly become the leading non-ChessBase source of electronic chess materials in ChessBase format. I've previewed a lot of Sid Pickard's other releases in previous ETN issues and have always been impressed with the quality of the materials he offers. His latest releases are no exception.

The first is a major database release by W.C. ("Bill") Haines: The Chess Author's Database. As Bill puts it in the database's text introduction: "This database represents an attempt to compile the cleanest, most comprehensive database available anywhere."

One of the problems with chess literature down through the years is the amount of incorrect information that accidentally gets released. Games in the print media are sometimes incorrectly typeset and proofread, so that wrong moves are inserted into games. Sometimes an author will truncate a game (for illustrative purposes) and the abbreviated game will be republished elsewhere as thought it was the complete gamescore. Occasionally an author will deliberately alter a gamescore (Alekhine did this in his famous "five Queens" game, publishing a variation he cooked up as the actual game -- the real gamescore is given as an annotation in one of his books). And the electronic medium has intensified the problem; a game will sometimes be published on the Internet the day it's played and later discovered to be incorrect.

I've been discussing this problem at length with Bill Haines over the last couple of years, during which he's been keeping me informed about his ongoing database project. Bill has been collecting and verifying games (sometimes at great personal expense) for years; the Chess Author's Database is the result of his efforts. The database is as "clean", accurate, and standardized as Bill can make it.

How far has he gone in trying to get the most accurate database possible? I'll let him describe some of these efforts: "When all available records of the games between Tiviakov and Frolov from 1979 were not believeable, I contacted Tiviakov in Copenhagen. He sent me his records of the games, and the necessary corrections were made...When Spassky was on his drive to become world champion, there was a strange six game match with Timman which seemed totally out of context with the events of that time. I asked Timman about this matter, and he filled me in - it seems Spassky had contracted for the match a year before, and needed to fulfill his obligation. I also got from Timman the name of the sponsor for that event, and this information for the first time appears with these game scores."

Bill has compiled a database of over 1,600,000 games from the 1500's to 2001, some of which have not been previously available in electronic form. One of Bill's main areas of interest is the accumulation and verification of games from events in the United States (which, particularly in the years between World War II and the start of the "Fischer era", has been a particular "black hole" of missing and incomplete data). Looking at the years 1953 alone, Bill has unearthed fifteen games from the US Open Championship and two from the New England Championship. There are also games from that year coming to us from Brooklyn, San Jose, Illinois, Philadelphia, Richmond, Texas, the National Open, and various matches from California. The database is a real treasure trove of "lost" games of interest to American chessplayers (though Bill readily admits that there are a lot of games yet to be rediscovered).

While the database isn't perfect (I found a very few spelling errors in the database), the Chess Author's Database is a top-notch reference source, chock full of games that have never been published electronically anywhere else (or else have been published incorrectly). If you're serious about chess history, if you want to find some obscure (but vital) information that's not available in other electronic forms, I strongly encourage you to consider this database as an addition to your electronic chess library.

In ETN, back on October 15, 2000, I previewed Dan Heisman's e-book on the Two Knights Defense. Dan's written a sequel on the Fried Liver and Lolli Attacks, The Computer Analyzes the Fried Liver and Lolli, also available from Pickard and Son Publishers. Sid knows I'm a sucker for unusual openings, so he always e-mails me immediately upon publication with information on a new e-book on the weird and offbeat. This e-book is no exception.

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6, Tarrasch called 4.Ng5 a "duffer's move" (as Sid Pickard explains in the introduction). But we all know what a dogmatist Tarrach was (and how the Hypermoderns loved to tweak him). Adventurers who reject dogma will play the move and take it one step beyond: 4...Bc5 5.exd5 Nxd5, setting Black up for either the sacrificial Fried Liver Attack (6.Nxf7) or a central push using the Lolli Attack (6.d4).

The key to Dan's database is analysis -- it's not just a "database dump". In his Introduction, Dan describes why you should consider playing these lines and explains at length how the computer analysis was generated (he does more than just let Fritz run in "Infinite Analysis" mode on set positions). His "Conclusions" section briefly summarizes his findings in these two openings. He also provides introductory text chapters on both of these openings, as well as ChessBase-generated opening reports on them.

Next follow the actual games in the database. There are ten opening surveys, showing the comprehensive known theory for both variations. The remainder of the database contains over 500 games, a couple of dozen of which are annotated. Most of the games are from junior championships and electronic correspondence and realtime chess, but there are a few surprises in there (such as Weaver Adams getting clocked at Hastings 1950 and a game from the 1992 Manila Women's Olympiad).

So are these variations sound? That argument could go on for weeks -- it's primarily going to be a matter of personal preference. Players who hoard material like Midas sitting on his gold would never even consider playing these openings. But for players (like myself) who will come out of the opening with all eight pawns intact only if a few of them are epoxied to the board should definitely give this e-book a look. I've tried to refrain from typing the overused term "swashbucking" in relation to the Fried Liver and Lolli, but that's probably the best term for them. If you like some adventure in your chess and live for danger, these openings will be right up your alley. And Dan Heisman has gone to great lengths to ensure that his analysis is correct, so you can play them with confidence.

Play Chess -- Have Fun! is another e-book offering from Pickard and Son. This little book (authored by Lewis McClary) bridges the gap between learning how the pieces move and the initial stages of learning chess technique. I've talked to far too many people who say they like chess but have never gotten past learning the moves. As we know, there are literally thousands of available chess books but very few are aimed at the real beginner. There's a ton of books aimed at the total novice (who wants to learn the moves of the pieces) but there then seems to be a void for general books until one hits the late beginner/early intermediate stage. Most beginner books cover a single aspect of the game (such as tactics or basic strategy); only a very few (such as Yasser Seirawan's Play Winning Chess) attempt to give a broad overview of the fundamentals of chess technique.

McClary's new e-book attempts to fill that void, providing the basics without overwhelming the new player with too much information. Play Chess -- Have Fun! is a slight little e-book (two text entries in the database, plus twenty-two example games) that's packed with valuable tips for the new player. The meat of the book lies in the notes to the games. Each game is jam-packed with text annotations. The book gives the beginner what he needs to know without swamping him with information that he'll never remember.

The book reminds me (both in content and in price) of the many beginner books that hit the market during the "Fischer boom" in the early-mid 70's and which are (sadly) now out of print. Mr. McClary's e-book could benefit from a few more concrete examples from actual games, but it's not a bad little book for the new player who knows the moves but finds himself at a loss when considering what to do next.

In past issues of ETN, we've discussed Sid Pickard's efforts to revive old chess books from obscurity by republishing them in electronic format. Sid's just released another in this series with his electronic version of Endings for Beginners by J. H. Blake. Originally published in 1901, Blake's book is actually two books in one. Part One is a basic treatise on King and pawn endings (the cornerstone of endgame knowledge) while Part Two covers piece endings. Noted chess author Tim Sawyer has edited the book for electronic publication. He takes an interesting approach to the material: the chess problems (board diagrams) for each of the two parts are given in the text portions of the ChessBase-format database. Beneath each diagram is a link to the solution, loading a game where you will find Blake's instructional explanation as annotations.

I've ranted about this before, time and time again, ad nauseum here in ETN, but it bears repeating: we all stink at the endgame. Every chessplayer needs to spend considerable time studying the chess ending, but it's traditionally the area in which we expend the least amount of our total efforts. Endings for Beginners, despite its age (or maybe because of it) is an engaging way of learning or reviewing basic endgame techniques. It's a perfect textbook/reference for the beginning to intermediate player. I've been playing chess a long time and (despite my terminal patzerhood) can usually play a halfway decent ending (compared to comparably-rated opponents), but in reviewing this e-book, I was surprised by how much technique I'd forgotten. We all need a little refresher course from time to time and I found Blake's book to be an enjoyable and relatively painless way to brush up on my endgame technique.

All of the above e-books from Pickard and Son Publishers are in ChessBase format. You order the book from Sid and he sends you a reply e-mail containing the website and password you'll need to download your book. You download it to your hard drive and run the .exe file -- this unzips the e-book into .CBV format. Then you just fire up ChessBase, ChessBase Light, or one of our playing programs and open the .CBV file. This uncompresses the file into a standard ChessBase .CBH format database (see ETN, April 29, 2001, for more info on .CBV format).

Two additional releases by Pickard and Son are also of note, but are distributed in .PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format instead of ChessBase format. You'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to be able to open and view these files (Sid has a link to the Reader at his ChessCentral page, the link to which is given earlier in this article).

The first of these is a free e-book, authored by Bill Wall. Although I've never met Bill in real life, we've had a longtime acquaintance over the Internet; in fact, he occasionally contributes databases of games for my gambit web site. His e-book, Off the Wall Chess Trivia, is a fascinating compendium of esoteric (and sometimes just plain weird) information about our favorite game. It's 287 virtual pages of fun and interesting facts. For example, did you know that U.S. Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan was featured as "Bachelor of the Month" in the September 1983 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine? (And, by the way, this led to some rather interesting conversation between Yaz and interviewer Cathy Forbes in her book Meet the Masters). How about this one: GM Lothar Schmidt has the world's largest private library of chess books, with over 20,000 volumes adorning his shelves (cool, another goal to shoot for: only 19,500 books left to go).

Do you know Garry Kasparov's first FIDE rating? How about the link between Bobby Fischer, Barbra Streisand, and Raymond Weinstein? Why did Akiba Rubinstein once try to strangle Richard Reti? Who was the first non-Soviet to beat a Soviet GM in a match (and, no, it's not Bobby)? Can you name the three famous actors (one of whom was a USCF tournament director) who appeared on the cover of a 1945 issue of Chess Review? What famous chessplayer used to hand out buisness cards which read "Candidate for the World Championship of Chess and Crown Prince of the Chess World"?

Download Bill Wall's free e-book Off the Wall Chess Trivia and learn the answers to all of these questions today! It's a really great, fun, and interesting book and will provide you with hours of fascinating chess reading.

While strictly speaking not a chess book, chessplayers have been looking to Sun Tzu's The Art of War for inspiration for many years. The oldest military treatise on record, Sun Tzu's book has been applied to many fields of competitive endeavor, including sports and business. Chess is no exception to the list; in fact, my friend Mitch White wrote a book in which he applied Sun Tzu's tenets to his explanations of the moves in the 1992 Fischer-Spassky match.

As a chessplayer and military historian, I have a double interest in The Art of War. Although I've read it several times over the years, I made my first serious study of it a year or two ago as part of my American Civil War research. I was positively astounded by the book when I read it again -- despite its age, the principles set forth in its pages are, by and large, still accurate and insightful all these many centuries later.

So when Sid Pickard told me that he'd be releasing an e-book version of The Art of War, I had a reaction similar to that of Pavlov's dog to the bell: I immediately started salivating and my tail started a-waggin'. You may recall my review of Sid's electronic publication of Poe's Maelzel's Chess-Player (ETN, May 20, 2001); I almost had to invent a few new descriptive adjectives over that glorious, beautiful work. A few days ago, I finally got the e-mail I'd been longing for -- Sid said The Art of War is finished and available for review. After a busy week, I downloaded the book about an hour ago and I am still typing blind; the new e-book version of The Art of War positively knocked my eyes out and I can still hear them rattling around like marbles in the corners of my office.

The Pickard and Son electronic version of The Art of War is absolutely gorgeous! A re-release of the famous 1910 Lionel Giles translation (still considered to be the best and most faithful to the original), it's 299 pages of martial wisdom interspersed with stunning illustrations of Chinese sculpture and art. In fact, the "cover" of the e-book alone will positively floor you.

The Art of War is more than just a "textfile dump" of Giles' translation. The book is completely footnoted (just click on the superscript to "jump" to the footnote) and contains an extensive bibliography of additional Chinese military works. Sid's people have also included a wonderful appendix of Internet links to additional translations of the book, plus links to Web pages on Chinese art, philosophy, and literature. As I said in my prior review of the Poe e-book, this is everything an e-book ought to be.

So why should you as a chessplayer even care about Sun Tzu? Chess is more than just making the right moves; as Emanuel Lasker said, "Chess is a struggle". It's a fight, a contest between two wills. It's a war (I even have a T-shirt with the saying "Chess is war"); you don't need to hate your opponent, but you do need to possess the will to defeat him.

The Art of War is more than just a how-to guide on military strategy. It's a book of philosophy about the nature of conflict. That's why there have been many versions published in the last decade or so which relate Sun Tzu's principles to all areas of interpersonal conflict: sports, finance, and even chess. If you want to be a winner, you have to know how to win -- and it all starts inside of you. This is the underlying subtext of The Art of War. Here's a famous quote from the book, often repeated, that sums it up nicely:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

This guy was good. He knew his work. There's a famous story told in the introduction to the e-book version (and in many print versions) of a king who wanted to hire Sun Tzu as his general. The king decided to test Sun Tzu by requesting that he give a demonstration of his military technique. Sun Tzu asked that the king's 180(!) concubines be brought forth and divided into two companies, each "commanded" by one of the king's favorite women. Sun began to issue orders to the women, but was met with much laughing and giggling (much giggling, concubines being who they are, of course). Sun asked the women if his drill instructions were clear to them. They answered that they were quite clear. So he again commanded them to make a "left face" and again received much giggling in reply.

Sun then stated that if the orders weren't clear and were not followed, the fault lay not with the soldiers but with his generalship. However, if the orders were clear but not followed, the fault lay with their company commanders. So he directed that the two company "commanders" (the king's two favorite concubines) be executed on the spot. The king tried to intervene, but Sun would have none of it. He said that if he was to be the general of the king's troops, then he was in charge of the army. The two women were beheaded.

Sun then commanded that the remaining women face to the left. The order was immediately followed without a sound from the women. He issued several more orders and all were followed to the letter. Sun then sent for the king, to have him come and inspect the "troops". The king refused, saddened that his two favorite concubines were no more. Sun Tzu then replied to the king, "The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds," and refused the offered commission as the king's general.

So, ultimately, who was "testing" whom here? As I said, Sun Tzu was good at his work. He knew his stuff.

The Art of War: read it, live it, love it. It's much more than a war book. It's a book about how to win -- in war, in games, in business, in life. It's not only about strategy, it's about philosophy. It's about you. If you read it and think about what you read, you'll be a more successful person. Don't mess around with current contemporary translations, either. Stick with Giles -- it's the best I've read. And the new e-book version from Pickard and Son is the best of the best -- it's simply the finest version, electronic or print, of this classic work available anywhere.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes.