by Steve Lopez

Man, I do hate to blow my own horn, but the questions about my new CD are already starting to flood my mailbox...

A few of my good friends and regular callers have heard of this CD; Lord knows that it's been in the works long enough. About two and a half years ago, Don Maddox (ChessBase USA's president) approached me with the idea of writing a CD about the world of chessplaying software. After a lot of hassle in finding the right piece of hardware on which to do the work, I finally dived in and wrote The ChessBase USA Guide to Computer Chess, and finished it in May 2001. The CD is a step-by-step tutorial for using Fritz6; however, production delays caused a long lag during which Fritz7 was released. I updated the CD by adding a Fritz7 supplement (since the interface is nearly identical to Fritz6's, I just needed to add a long appendix covering Fritz7's new features and a tutorial on using the Playchess server). After a few more months in "post-production", the CD has finally been released. Whew!

I won't even pretend to be impartial about this CD -- after all, I wrote the danged thing. You know my work; after all, there are over 250 articles I've written available right here on this site, so you already have an idea of whether or not my words are going to be worth $39.95 (the price of the CD). Instead of a "review", I'll just present answers to the many questions I've already received concerning The ChessBase USA Guide to Computer Chess:

Q: What's covered on the CD?
A: The CD is a complete step-by-step tutorial on how to use Fritz (and other chessplaying programs, such as Chessmaster) to improve your chess game. While the bulk of the CD consists of explanations of Fritz' features and how they work, I've added a lot of other goodies to the disk. For example, the first section of the CD is seven chapters long and is a (believe it or not) short history of computer chess, starting with The Turk and running up through Kasparov vs. Deep Blue and the home PC revolution. You get some interesting games in this section (some of which I've annotated) showing milestones in computer chess history. Another seven chapter section illustrates ways in which you can use any chessplaying program to help you improve your game. And, so you can learn and practice the database searching functions of Fritz, I've included over 500 games played by Wilhelm Steinitz as a bonus.

Q: Is the CD just "T-Notes on a disk"?
A: Nope. Although some of the program functions discussed on this CD have previously been covered in ETN, the writing is all new, done from scratch.

Q: Yes, but since I can already get ETN on the Web, what's the advantage to this CD?
A: ETN's a good resource, but (since it's a weekly electronic periodical) it lacks structure. I jump around from topic to topic from week to week, answering questions as they arise and covering new program functions as they're added. That makes ETN timely as all get out, but it's not at all anything like a step-by-step tutorial. The ChessBase USA Guide to Computer Chess offers a structured guide to learning Fritz' myriad features. I start you off with the easy stuff (installing the program and playing games against the computer) and work you on up through more involved procedures, like doing database searches and analyzing games. The CD is meant to be read like a book; the later chapters build on the previous ones. By the time you're finished with this step-by-step approach, you'll know everything you need to get the most out of Fritz.

Q: You mentioned other chessplaying programs. What others are covered on the CD?
A: Obviously, the whole Fritz "family" of programs (Fritz, Hiarcs, Junior, Young Talents, Shredder, Chess Tiger, Deep Fritz, Deep Junior) share the same (or similar) interfaces, so nearly everything on the CD will apply to all of these programs. But I cover other chessplaying programs as well. There's a whole chapter on "personalities" offered by other programs such as Chessmaster, Power Chess, and Kasparov's Gambit, in which I even take you step-by-step through the process of creating new Chessmaster personalities. And the concepts discussed in the last chapter (on improving your play) can be applied to any chess program that has an "analyze game" feature. (Plus you'll learn why I love, love, love Sierra's old Power Chess and Power Chess 98 programs).

Q: Does the CD cover ChessBase, too?
A: No, only chessplaying programs, but sections of the CD (like the one on database functions) can serve as a "starting point" for learning some of the basic ChessBase features.

Q: Do you plan on writing a CD about ChessBase?
A: Not unless Don shows up on my doorstep with a gun in his hand. I can't imagine how to even begin to organize such a CD, given the feature-rich environment of ChessBase.

Q: What format is the text in?
A: The text is in ChessBase format, readable in any of our current programs (ChessBase 7 & 8, and any of our playing programs from 1997 onwards). If you don't have any of our software, you can also read the CD using the free ChessBase Reader (downloadable at www.chessbase.com) or using the Fritz6 demo, which is included on the CD.

Q: I don't own Fritz -- how can this CD help me?
A: If you own any chessplaying program, there's useful information on this CD. Besides, the CD comes with the Fritz6 demo, so you can install the demo, load the CD in it, and follow right along with the text. And if you have mice or other vermin in your home, you can also use my photo on the CD's back cover to scare them back outdoors.

Q: Do you plan to write a second edition?
A: C'mon, man -- the first edition just came out! Seriously, I'd like to do so someday, but I'm no longer a fulltime writer so things are a bit hazy there. What I'd really like to do the next time around (time and the quirks of life permitting) is fully cover both Fritz and Chessmaster -- they're both very useful programs, but have features that do different things and are targeted at two different (but often overlapping) markets.

Q: How much does it cost and where can I get it?
A: The ChessBase USA Guide to Computer Chess is $39.95 (less shipping) and can be ordered from ChessBase USA. Call the order line at 1-800-524-3527 between 9 AM and 5 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday and they'll be happy to take your order.

Q: I don't see it listed yet on the ChessBase USA website. Why not?
A: The website is currently undergoing a major revision. The CD will be listed there shortly.

Q: Do you get a royalty on the sales?
A: You betcha. And I'll someday be trying to put my twins through college simultaneously, so please buy two copies and give one as a gift (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).


by Steve Lopez

In the last two issues of ETN, we've seen how to add variations, verbal commentary, and symbolic commentary to a game. This week, we'll continue our series on annotation with a look at various "special" annotation forms that you can use to further amplify and clarify your notes. This issue will concentrate primarily on ChessBase; most of these annotation forms can't be added to games in the Fritz interface (though such annotations can be viewed in Fritz).

One form that is available in both programs is the use of colored arrows and squares on the chessboard. These can add clarity to verbal or symbolic annotations by providing a visual reference on the board. You create these by holding down a key (or combination of keys) and either dragging the mouse from one square to another (to create an arrow) or clicking on a square (to color that square).

Colored arrows are useful for showing intended future maneuvers. There are three different colors you can use for arrows, and each color is intended to mean something different. Here's a list of the colored arrows, the keystrokes required, and what the arrows mean:

So, for example, if you want to graphically show that the played move Bc4 is threatening Bxf7, you'd click on the move Bc4 in the Notation pane (to highlight it), hold down the ALT and SHIFT keys simultaneously, and drag the mouse from c4 to f7 while holding down the left mouse button. When you release the mouse button, you'll see a red arrow on the board going from c4 to f7.

Now we'll look at colored squares: the colors, the keystrokes, and what the different colors represent:

So let's say that White has a overprotected pawn on e5 and you want to emphasize this. Hold down the ALT button and click on e5; the square will turn green to show that it's a strong square.

If you make a mistake and want to erase an arrow or colored square, just repeat the same process. If you wanted to erase the green coloration of e5 in our previous example, just hold down ALT and click on e5 to remove the green color from that square.

A second annotation form that's available in both programs is the ability to change the display color of variations. Just right-click on the first move of the variation and select "Variation color" from the popup menu. A palette (the standard Windows color palette) appears and lets you select a color; click OK and all the moves of this variation will now be displayed in that color. This really isn't a big deal, but using it can make your variations stand out from the main line moves of a game. An alternate use is to color just really critical variations (making two or three variations in the game a bright screaming red, for example). Or if you have many variations at the same point in a game (for example, you create an opening theoretical that has five options for Black at move seven), you can make each of the variations a separate color so that they'll be easily distinguishable from each other.

Several special annotation forms are available only in ChessBase. One of these is the use of medals. A medal is a way to call special attention to a game in the database's list. If you open a game list and see a bunch of symbols that look like flags, these are medals.

Each medal color represents a different feature or aspect of a chess game. Right-click on a move, choose "Special Annotation" from the popup menu, and then "Set medal" from the submenu to get the following dialogue:

Each medal type has a corresponding check box. When you check a box, you'll see the color for that medal appear in the box at the top of the dialogue. In the illustration, I've selected "Model game (opening plan)" which provides a dark blue medal. You can select multiple medals for a game, which will appear as colored stripes at the top of this dialogue and subsequently in the game list.

You can attach medals to individual moves of a game (which makes it easy to identify the spot at which, say, a "tactical blunder" or "sacrifice" occurred). You can also attach medals at the start of a game (prior to the opening move), but you'll have to do this from the keyboard. Before any moves are made on the board, hit the " (double quotation marks) key to bring up the medals dialogue. Select the medal(s) you want, click "OK", and the proper colored medal(s) will be in the Notation pane prior to the opening move.

The main use of medals is as a means of marking games of particular interest in the game list (as shown in the first illustration above), but you can also use them to mark individual moves as sort of a "bookmarking" function -- the light blue "user" medal is particularly good for this.

Here's a list of medals and their corresponding colors. Please note that these colors may display slightly differently depending on your graphics card and settings (so please refrain from e-mailing me with accusatory statements about my "color blindness"). On a graphics card set for High Color or True Color, these verbal descriptions should be close enough; when in doubt, try the check boxes in the Medals dialogue to see how they display on your machine:

Another way of emphasizing a particular move is to mark it as a "critical position". Right-click on a move, select "Special Annotation from the popup menu, and then one of the three "Critical position" commands. These will change the color of the move in the Notation pane as follows:

If you later change your mind and want to change the coloration back to black, just right-click on the move, select "Special annotation", and then the "No critical position" command.

There are two unique special annotations that provide the user with a special popup diagram window. The first is "Pawn structure":

You'll use this when you want to emphasize the characteristics of the present pawn structure. The popup window displays only the pawns on the board, removing the Kings and other pieces. As the reader plays through the game, this display will pop up when he reaches the move to which it's attached. To create a pawn structure popup, right-click on the move, select "Special Annotation", and then "Pawn structure".

The second (similar) popup annotation is "Piece path". When you attach this to a move, a popup is created showing (via colored arrows) all the moves the last-moved piece has made during the game up to that point:

In the above illustration, we see a piece path popup showing the moves the White Queen has made up to that point in the game. To create a piece path popup, right-click on the move, select "Special Annotation", and then "Piece path".

If you later want to remove either of these annotation types, right-click on the move, select "Special annotation", and then the "No path/structure" command. Note, too, that you can attach both of these annotation types to a move; when the user clicks to undisplay the first popup, the second will appear in its place.

"Game quotation" allows you to drop in a citation (players, tournamemt, year) to a second game in the database that has the same board position. You'll need to open two game windows at the same time. Right-click on the move where you want the game quotation to appear, select "Special annotation" and then "Game quotation". You'll see the game citation of the second game appear as a text annotation following the move on which you right-clicked.

If you're feeling especially industrious, you can add multimedia annotations (sound, still pictures, and video) to a game. To add one of these, go to the Game menu, select "Annotation", then "Multimedia", then either "Copy sound", "Copy video", or "Copy picture". Note that each of these commands assumes that you have a pre-existing file of the proper type that you want to attach to the game. Sounds must be in .WAV format, pictures must be in .BMP format, and videos must be in .AVI format. Selecting one of these commands brings up the Windows file select dialogue; use this to go to the folder where you've previously saved the file you wish to use, click on the filename to select it, and then click "Open" to attach the file to that move. When the user gets to this move, sound files will play automatically, while pictures and videos will appear in a separate popup window.

You can also record sound files directly within ChessBase. Select "Record sound" to get a popup control panel that lets you record your sound file. See the ETN for June 24, 2001 for more on this dialogue.

You can also add training questions to your games. This feature was previously discussed at length in ETN in the April 7, 2002 issue.

The last topic we'll hit this week is the ability to mark a move for a diagram; this is used for cases in which the user prints out the game. There are a few twists and tweaks for this function, but for right now we'll just cover the basics. To mark a move for a diagram, open the text annotation window (as described in last week's ETN). Hit CTRL-D on your keyboard; depending on the font you're using, you'll see either a Knight head figurine or a hollow box appear in the annotation window. Click "OK" and you'll see this symbol appear in the game notation. This symbol tells ChessBase/Fritz that a chessboard diagram should be created when the game is sent to the printer. When the game prints out, a diagram of that position will be displayed at the proper point in the printed gamescore.

And, as always, please don't forget to use either "Save game" or "Replace game" (ETN, August 11, 2002) to save your work to disk -- otherwise it'll be irretrievably lost when you close the game window.

That covers all of the annotation styles you can use to add commentary to chess games in your database. Next week, we'll have some final thoughts on annotating games (and we'll get a peek at some new ChessBase CDs, too). Until then, have fun!

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