by Steve Lopez

I received my first Pocket PC via special delivery a couple of weeks ago and I have to confess that I was initially a bit disappointed. Pocket PCs have a relatively slow chip (compared to desktop or laptop PCs), limited memory and storage, and run Windows CE (so that standard Windows apps won't run on them). I mean, what the heck do you do with the danged things? If you're a businessperson who wants to do away with three or four little books (day planner, address book, appointment book, etc.), it's a handy little tool. You just keep all of that stuff on your Pocket unit. If you have a cellular phone with an infrared eye, you can dial up your Internet connection on the cell phone, point the phone and the Pocket rocket at each other, and surf the Web or get your e-mail. But for us average Joe computer geeks, there's not been a lot you can do on a Pocket PC. The Reader program is pretty cool -- I can download a few dozen books from Project Gutenberg in .TXT format, tag 'em up in HTML, convert 'em to .LIT, and have a little library in my pocket. But other than that, why cough up $400+ for a pocket PC?

The times they are a-changin'. More and more companies are coming out with the proverbial "killer apps" for Pocket PCs. And, as Fred Friedel said in his article in ChessBase Magazine 83's print supplement, ChessBase has weighed in with a CE chess application that may just fit the bill -- Pocket Fritz.

Now let's get something straight right away -- Pocket Fritz is not "Fritz6 for WinCE" (I just realized that abbreviates the same as "wince" -- heh). You don't have the metric boatloads of playing features that you have in Fritz6, nor the extensive database capabilities of Fritz6 or ChessBase. You don't have the ability to analyze complete games in Pocket Fritz. What you do have is "chess on the go" in an attractive and easy-to-use interface.

As Fred said in his print article, one of the nicest things about WinCE is that it doesn't take for-freaking-ever to boot up. You hit the "on" button and you're into your computer in about three seconds. Programs load up quickly in CE as well -- from hitting "on" to being into Pocket Fritz takes less than ten seconds on my Pocket unit.

The first thing you notice about Pocket Fritz is the interface -- it's an attractive full-color chessboard, with the default settings being a wood board and easy to see White and Black pieces. You have the further options of marble and "simple" (blue and white, similar to the "Cool" board setting in Fritz6) boards, as well as metal and "simple" pieces.

Pocket Fritz's main purpose (obviously) is to play chess. You have the ability to set an average number of seconds per move. You can also play sudden death games ("Game in x"). Futhermore, there are six handicap levels for beginners to use. How strong is Pocket Fritz? I can't give you an ultimate rating (much of that is hardware-dependent), but the program will give most chessplayers more than they can handle. I'm the typical club-level player, and the default level of three seconds a move is enough to kick my butt repeatedly. Pocket Fritz' engine is based on that of Shredder (the same guy programmed both of them), so you know it's going to be a tough battle when you play against it.

After you finish a game with Pocket Fritz, you can save it into a PGN database (the only data format supported by the program). You can easily copy the database to your main (desktop or laptop) computer's hard drive and open it using ChessBase or Fritz, using it as you would any other PGN database (including my recommendation: copy the games into a CBH database so that all of ChessBase and/or Fritz' functions are usable with them).

Conversely, you can also copy PGN format databases from your hard drive over to Pocket Fritz so that you can play through chess games "on the go". Pocket Fritz contains a database of 144 classic chess games for your viewing pleasure, but you can use PF to play through games from any PGN game collection (as long as the database will fit on your Pocket PC). So, for example, you can do a search for a few hundred games of a particular player or opening, copy them into a PGN database, transfer them to your Pocket PC, and use Pocket Fritz as a portable game viewer.

PF offers some limited (compared to CB or the other playing programs) database functions. You can search PGN databases by player names, event, year, and/or result. While PF isn't a full-featured database program designed for using dozens of criteria for searching massive databases, its search functions are perfectly adequate for use with small game collections.

In fact, creating such a collection is a great use for Pocket Fritz. You can turn off the "brain" of the program and enter games by hand. As discussed in previous issues of ETN, I'm a big fan of using ChessBase and Fritz for inputting games I'm reading in a chess book or magazine. Using these programs as an "electronic chessboard" makes it easy to navigate the many variations provided in annotated printed games. With PF, you can now do this "on the go" -- just carry your Pocket PC along with your chess book and play through the games and variations on the screen. When you're done, you can save each game into a PGN file and later import them into ChessBase or Fritz on your desktop PC.

PF is suitable for players of all levels. In addition to the "easy" play levels mentioned above, PF also contains a rudimentary "coach" which warns you if the move you've just made is, um, shall we say, sub-optimal. You also have access to "hint" and "show threat" commands in the program.

While Pocket Fritz doesn't analyze complete games (you'll still need on of the Fritz "family" of PC programs for that), there is an analytical function built into the program. If you're playing through a game and want to get DF's "thoughts" on a particular position, just fire up the analysis mode. A new pane appears on the screen and shows you what DF thinks of the position, providing a numerical assessment of the position, as well as allowing the option of displaying multiple lines of play -- that is, variations which DF recommends in that position. This is similar to "Infinite Analysis" mode in Fritz (and the other playing programs), as well as the engine analysis in CB8.

And, if you have an infrared cell phone/Internet connection (described briefly above) available, you can use DF to access ChessBase's online database of nearly two million games.

DF also allows you to set up positions on the chessboard, will read standard FEN notation (if such a game or games are stored as part of a PGN database on your Pocket PC), and has a special tactics training mode -- on command, it will load tactical positions for you to solve.

While not as sophisticated as its bigger brothers (Fritz, et al.), Pocket Fritz really isn't designed to be the same animal as a standard PC chess program. PF allows you to play chess anytime anywhere (much like the small LCD chess computers that have been all the rage lately), but with the added functionality of serving as a game viewer, game input device, and game retriever (if you have the infrared capabilities mentioned earlier). Pocket PC owners have been going nuts over this thing since it was introduced a few weeks ago. PF has even been used to provide instant database access for observers/commentators at major chess events, such as the Mainz Chess Classic -- you can read the full story in the print supplement to ChessBase Magazine 83.

I still remember the days (a decade ago) when I used to tote a pocket chess computer around with me religiously: a Saitek peg set, with lights to show where the pieces moved. While it was a great thing to have in its day, it didn't have anything remotely resembling the capabilities of Pocket Fritz. With PF, there are also no tiny pieces to lose. And, since it runs on a Pocket PC, I also have access to many other programs, such as the various electronic books I've created for MS Reader. So now when I get tired of my Smith-Morra being crushed, I can just exit out of DF and read (on the same electronic unit!) a chapter or two of Mahan's antiquated military theory. Then, when I'm rested and refreshed, I just fire up DF again and proceed to have my head handed to me once more. So I don't need to carry around a portable chess computer and a stack of books anymore -- it's all there for me on a single small unit that fits in my shirt pocket.

As I said, I was a bit disappointed with my Pocket PC at first, but the more I play around with Pocket Fritz, the more enamoured I'm becoming with my pocket computer. Pocket Fritz is a really great little tool for players on the go (especially when used in conjunction with ChessBase or the PC playing programs in the Fritz family). Now if somebody will figure out how to make a WinCE version of Battleground:Gettysburg, I'll be in computer geek heaven.

Until next week, have fun!

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