Previewed by Steve Lopez

It's that time of year again (actually, it's well past that time of year but other article topics took precedence): the new goodies are out from ChessBase GmbH. So let's dive right in and have a look.

Big/Mega Database 2003

The two master databases are out and, as always, the frequently-asked question is "What's the difference between the Big Database and the Mega Database?" In the case of the 2003 versions, both databases contain the same number of games: a whopping 2,312,072 spanning the years 1560 through 2002. The Big Database's games contain no annotations, while about 50,000 of the Mega Database's games are annotated. So the size of the database is the same, the source games themselves are the same, but 50,000 of those games are annotated in Mega 2003 whereas the annotations have been stripped out of those games in the Big Database. (Which is why the Mega Database costs extra: the annotators do get paid for their work).

So the next question is always, "How much bigger are these databases over last year's?" More than 300,000 games have been added to the databases, which (obviously) includes the important games for late 2001 through late 2002, plus a large number of prior historical games which have been unearthed and verified. These databases can be used with the various playing programs we offer as well as with ChessBase.

If you want to read a somewhat long (but quite eloquently written -- heh) explanation of the basic philosophy behind the compilation of ChessBase's large databases, I encourage you to refer to the December 31, 2000 issue of ETN in which I explain the core source of the games as well as provide a short history of the electronic chess database phenominon.

As a special bonus, Mega Database 2003 also comes with an updated version of the Players Encyclopedia, usable in ChessBase 8. The new PE is itself pretty big and beefy -- there are over 14,000 player photographs in the new version.

Powerbook 2003

The new Powerbook is also out, chock full of the latest opening theory. Over 100,000 games have been added to this year's version (bringing the total size of the book's source database to more than 750,000 games). The CD also contains said source database (to make it easy to search for games in which a specific position occurred); this database is unannotated.

I'm often asked about the feasibility of using the Powerbook for computer vs. computer chess game/match/tournament purposes. I'll refer you back again to another ETN issue (April 15, 2001) for the answer to that question.

The previous Powerbook (2002 version) had 7,947,900 positions in it, derived from 649,784 games. The new Powerbook 2003 drops the total number of positions to 7,616,483 taken from a higher number of games (750,465) -- apparently 2002 was a good year for busts and a bad year for novelties.

The new Powerbook 2003 CD also comes with a bonus: new map files for Fritz/Shredder/etc. These are enhanced map files for the globe graphics visible when you log on to the Playchess server. These provide extra geographic details when you zoom in on an area of the on-screen globe. If you've installed Fritz8 or Shredder7 to the default folder, you'll just need to copy the files from the \HighDetailGlobe folder on the Powerbook 2003 CD to the folder c:\program files\chessbase\chessprogram8 on your hard drive.

Shredder 7

We've mentioned Shredder7 in this and previous ETN issues. The new Shredder version has the same interface as Fritz8 (see ETNs for Dec. 22 and Dec. 29, 2002 as well as Jan. 5 and 26, 2003 for some details on the new features of the improved interface), with the inclusion of some additional "Shredder-specific" 3D piece options.

You also get the Shredder Classic interface (described in ETN, Feb. 3, 2002), which provides some cool features not found in the Fritz8 interface (such as Triple Brain [ETN, Mar. 3, 2002], the Endgame Oracle, and wildcard analysis in endgames).

The Shredder7 CD of course also has the new Shredder7 engine with all of its positional improvements; the engine also has multi-processor support built into it (so owners of multi-processor machines will be able to use their hardware to full advantage). The program also ships with a new tournament opening book, designed to maximize the playing style and strength of the Shredder7 engine.

And, as I've said many times before, Shredder is easily the most positionally oriented of the chess programs we offer. No chess program plays "Steinitzian" positional chess (computers are computers after all), but I'm confident that you'll be impressed by the positional knowledge that's programmed into Shredder. It has a playing style all its own (and one which stands as a complete contrast to the more traditional tactical monsters like Tiger and Nimzo). Shredder is easily the most positionally-oriented chess program on the market today; only Hiarcs approaches it for overall positional style.

Pocket Fritz 2

Pocket Fritz has been making waves ever since its appearance on the market in 2001 (see ETN for Jan. 19, 2003 for an example). The new version, Pocket Fritz 2, is now out. In addition to the new beefed-up engine (estimated blitz rating of 2450, according to the ChessBase GmbH website), PF2 also has some neat new features in the interface:

Color coded notation: this makes it much easier to follow games with nested subvariations;

Colored arrows: these are used by the program to display the computer's last move, as well as to illustrate threats;

Automated game replay: load a game, fire up the replay feature, sit back, and watch the moves unfold (and you can adjust the replay speed, too);

Easy annotation functions: add your own analysis to games from a database (your own games or the ones provided);

New pieces and board colors: new options for the way the chessboard is displayed on the screen;

Energy-saver: helps keep you from croaking your PDA's charge.

PF2 runs on any Pocket PC that runs Windows CE 3.0 or Windows 2002 as its operating system and with a MIPS, SHG, ARM or Xscale processor (please note, friends and neighbors, that a Pocket PC and a Palm PC are two entirely separate and different species of animal -- you can not run PF on a Palm unit!). You also need access to a desktop or laptop PC with a CD drive to be able to install PF2 -- it comes on a CD, not on a card (and I can't imagine owning a Pocket PC without access to a regular PC anyway; not having PC access would severely limit what you can do with your Pocket unit).

So there you have it, fellow chess freaks -- several new items for your perusal in case that Christmas gift money from Uncle Seymour is still burning a hole in your pocket. Until next week, have fun!

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