by Steve Lopez

This week we're going to revisit a new Fritz8 feature that was mentioned briefly in the Dec. 29, 2002 issue of ETN: theme blitz training. It got a paragraph in that issue; I thought it was a pretty self-explanatory feature and that massive exposition wasn't required. But I've had a few e-mails about theme blitz lately, so I figure it's time for a closer look.

Keep in mind that the term "blitz" as it applies to chess has a lot of different meanings. The first that comes to mind is plain old "blitz chess"; i.e., five-minute games. Then there are the colloquial usages, such as "I blitzed out my last three moves to make the time control", or "I got my pieces into position and all the tactics were there, so I just blitzed him off the board". In the case of the theme blitz feature, though, we have to look at the actual German usage of the term "blitz". You can translate it a lot of different ways (language being the funny thing that it is), but the rough idea is "lightning", "a sudden strike", or bascially anything that happens really quickly -- for many Yanks, the archtypical usage is from the term Blitzkrieg, a military technique developed between the World Wars and used to great effect by the Germans in WWII.

At its core, speed is what theme blitz in Fritz8 is all about, but it has nothing to do with time controls or the speed of play. Theme blitz is a fast shortcut, a way to play the same position over and over again without taking the time to reset the chessboard after each game.

The first step in using theme blitz is to get to a chess position from which you want to start. For this article, I'm using the position after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nxe5 dxe4 7.Nxc6 Qg5 8.Nd4+ c6 9.Bf1 -- sharp-eyed (and long-memoried) readers will remember this as the example position (from the Schliemann Defense) we used in the two part ETN series "Using your computer as a research assistant" back in August 1999. There are a number of ways to get to this position:

  1. Import a FEN/EPD position (ETN Oct. 31, 1999);
  2. Cut and paste the moves from a web page or .doc/.txt file (ETN Jan. 17, 1999);
  3. Load the position from a database game (by loading the game from a move list and then clicking on 9.Bf1 in the Notation pane;
  4. Start a new game, turn off Fritz' engine responses (by either Game/Infinite analysis or Engine/Switch off engine), and manually play the first nine moves through 9.Bf1;
  5. Go to File/New/Position setup and (laboriously) set up the position by hand.

In general, you'll only use the last technique for late-middlegame or endgame positions in which there are few pieces on the board. For opening positions, it's easy just to enter the moves manually. And, of course, the first two techniques above involve having the proper resources (a FEN position to import or a web page/document from which to cut and paste). In this case, I just loaded the position from a database of my own games.

Once you have the desired position on the board, go to Tools/Training and select "Theme blitz" to get the following dialogue:

The dialogue shows the loaded position on the chessboard, the move order leading to that position (assuming that one is available; you won't see this is you loaded a FEN position or set up a position by hand), and a couple of other options. The first is "Learn moves". This is a modified version of the Opening training feature (ETN Jan. 26, 2003), but instead of saving an opening variation into your openings database (for long term repeated usage), you're just setting up a position instead. By selecting "Learn moves", you're going to start your game from the normal opening position for a game of chess; your goal is to correctly reproduce the moves that lead to the position you've set up. Fritz will respond with moves exactly as you've entered them. But as soon as you make a move that's not correct, the Coach will appear on the screen to inform you that you've made a mistake (for example, if I play 4.exf5 instead of 4.Nc3, I'll see the Coach pop up). What you're ultimately doing here is drilling yourself on the proper move order for that opening. And once you've successfully reached the final position (in this case 9.Bf1), the game will continue; in my example, after I play 9.Bf1, Fritz responds with 9...Nf6 and I can keep playing (making this a way to play repeated complete games using a particular opening variation -- it's yet another way to force Fritz into a particular opening [ETN July 28 and Aug. 4, 2002]).

The other use of theme blitz is to play repeated games from the position you've entered. If I want to examine what can happen after 9.Bf1, I can set up the position, start theme blitz, and then play multiple games from this position without having to play through moves one through nine in each game (the games will always begin after White has played 9.Bf1) or having to manually reset the board to the position after 9.Bf1 for each successive game (the games will always begin with that position when I use theme blitz).

This is where the second toggle, "Change sides" comes in. With this box checked, Fritz will switch sides with you each game, so you alternate playing with the White and Black pieces from game to game. This is extraordinarily useful for learning ideas for both sides in a particular opening variation. One of your regular opponents might have lifted an opening from your personal arsenal (since he's tired of always losing to you whenever you play a particular opening line and has decided to play it himself) or else you're trying it from "the other guy's viewpoint" to pre-examine first hand some ideas that your opponents might throw at you in future games using your pet variations.

Also, you can use a variety of time controls when you play these games; contrary to what some folks think the feature's name is implying, these do not have to be games played at blitz (five-minute) time controls. You can play 40/2, game in 30, any time controls that you can dream up and are premitted by Fritz' "Levels" settings.

So remember that the "blitz" in "theme blitz" doesn't have a danged thing to do with the speed of the game. In the present context, "blitz" means essentially lightning repetition -- you can play game after game after game from the same starting position (or drill in the same opening variation repeatedly) without having to reload a board position each time or create an opening book on a particular variation: Fritz remembers the variation or position and does the tedious setup work for you before each game.

Until next week, have fun!

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