Review by Steve Goldberg
ChessBase Tutorials: Starting Chess (DVD), by Daniel King, ChessBase
2012; Playing Time 3 hrs. $32.95 (ChessCafe Price $28.95)
Starting Chess is part of the ChessBase Tutorials series, and as the
title implies, it is intended for rank beginners.
Starting Chess is actually a set, consisting of both a three-hour
DVD and a fifty-page booklet. The booklet is also available as a PDF file on
the DVD. Either the booklet or the DVD can stand alone on their own merits as
an introduction to chess for the beginning player. The material is not identical;
the intent seems to be that the booklet can allow for a handy, quick review
of the information provided at greater length in the DVD.
The DVD also contains a "Play Fritz" option, with apparently Fritz
11 loaded on the DVD. It is unclear to me whether this is the full Fritz program,
or a watered-down version, but it seemed to have all the bells and whistles
during a quick view. On my computer, I already had both Fritz 9 and Fritz 12,
and when clicking "Play Fritz" from the Starting Chess opening
menu, my Fritz 12 was automatically accessed.
Daniel King does his usual excellent job of transmitting information in a generally
entertaining fashion. Unfortunately, my experience was that the production side
of things was not quite up to par with what I have come to expect from the ChessBase
team. They have set the bar pretty high regarding ease of use, but right off
the bat I noticed some problems.
Unlike the many other ChessBase Training DVDs I have reviewed, this DVD cannot
play directly from the DVD itself, but must be loaded onto the computer. This
in itself is not necessarily a problem, and can even be an advantage in that
the player does not have to always search for the DVD every time he wants to
use the program.
But loading and installing the program seemed to take a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g
t-i-m-e. On one computer it took at least ten minutes to load and extract
the files, and on another, with an external DVD drive, approximately twenty-five
minutes was required. It is possible that my computers are the issue, but this
occurred on two separate systems.
Once the program fully loads, a "Starting Chess" icon appears on
the user's desktop screen. Clicking the icon produces the following menu:
Actually, overlaid above this menu is a request for the user to enter the activation
code, which appears on the inside cover of the booklet that comes with the DVD.
Entering this activation code, and one more four-character code that appears
on the screen, there did not seem to be a method to properly proceed. Although
there was an "OK" button on the screen, it was not activated, and
clicking it did nothing. My only two options were to click "Cancel"
or "Buy Activation Key."
I clicked "Cancel" and was informed that my serial number was not
valid, but after a few seconds, this message disappeared, and I then had access
to the menu above. This same scenario repeats itself every time the "Starting
Chess" icon is clicked on the desktop. I eventually learned not to bother
re-entering the activation key; just clicking "Cancel" gets me to
the opening menu, again after being told that I have not entered a valid serial
Clearly, there has got to be a better way to open the program.
Note from ChessBase: The first 20 copies of the program
had bad serial numbers – apparently Steve Goldberg got one of these
programs. The ChessBase hotline will give Steve a new serial number that works
perfectly with his copy. Naturally the programs we are currently delivering
have correct serial numbers.
This opening menu offers a number of choices. To access King's video segments,
the user clicks on "Starting Chess." The other options are as follows:
- Starting Chess.pdf
- Play Fritz
- ChessBase Shop
- PlayChessApp (for the iPad and iPhone)
Clicking "Starting Chess" brings the viewer to a Fritz games page.
It may or may not be clear to new users that they must again click on the highlighted
"Starting Chess" listing to then access the video segments.
This then opens up the more familiar Fritz Trainer brand of opening menu, a
portion of which is shown below:
The following video segments are available:
- 01: Setting up the board
- 02: Notation
- 03: The pieces – rook, bishop and queen
- 04: The pieces – knight
- 05: The pieces – pawns
- 06: King and check
- 07: Checkmate
- 08: Checkmate in one – Test
- 09: Draw – Stalemate and others
- 10: Mating the lone king
- 11: Material chess
- 12: Tactical motifs and test
- 13: Solutions
- 14: Castling
- 15: Opening – 1.e4
- 16: Opening – 1.d4
- 17: Fischer-Fine
- 18: Anand-Topalov
In addition, after Segment 10: Mating the lone king, there is
a link that can be clicked to a database of checkmate positions in which the
player is given the white pieces and asked to mate the black king, with Fritz
playing the black side.
The video segments (other than the introduction) all appear
within the Fritz architecture, rather than the typical Fritz Trainer appearance,
as shown in the screen shot here:
After the introduction, in "01: Setting up the board," King demonstrates
how the pieces are positioned on the board, and then presents a brief game,
although presumably the viewer does not yet know how each piece moves. At the
end of this segment, King assures the viewer that the next video portion will
explain piece movement, but in fact, the next segment is devoted to chess notation.
Mind you, King does a nice job of deciphering notation for the viewer, but
it is not until the subsequent section that he actually begins explaining how
each piece moves.
I believe it was in Segment 05 that I began noticing distracting arrows on
the board, unrelated to what King was teaching at the time. This happened over
and over, across multiple video segments. These arrows were generated by the
Fritz program, not by King, indicating suggested moves or threats.
This repeated annoying problem can apparently be avoided in Fritz by clicking
on the Training tab, then unclicking the Spy box. But will any beginning players
know to do this?
On a more positive note, Segment 09, "Draw – Stalemate and others"
includes a short game segment that even more experienced players will appreciate,
and may be an eye-opener for beginners. It is a game between Alexander Chernin,
rated 2630 at the time, and his 2430-rated opponent. Chernin, with the white
pieces, is threatening mate and there does not seem to be much that Black can
do. Here is the position in question, with Black to move:
However, Black finds the following: 1…h4+ 2.Kxh4 Rb8 3.Rxb8 Qxh3+
4.Kxh3 and it is stalemate.
Segment 12 reviews the basic tactical themes, such as double attack, pins,
skewers, deflection and the like. Toward the end of this segment, King presents
a number of positions in which the viewer is asked to find the best move, incorporating
one or more of the tactics just covered.
The following segment then provides the solutions, in a clear format. My preference,
however, would have been to provide the solution immediately following each
problem. The way it is set up presently, all the problems are presented, one
after the other. Then all of the solutions are provided, again, one after the
My concern is that this makes it more likely for the viewer to simply go to
Segment 13 to observe the solutions, without actually trying to work them out
for himself. On the other hand, if the solution was provided immediately following
the presentation of the problem, the viewer could be advised to pause the DVD,
take a few minutes to try to work out the answer, then restart the video to
find out if his answer is correct.
After a nice segment covering both the mechanism and importance of castling,
King offers two segments on the opening, one with 1.e4 and one with 1.d4.
Segment 15 reviews options with 1.e4, and includes discussions of the Spanish
(Ruy Lopez), the French Defense, and the Sicilian Defense. These are beneficial
presentations, and King brings together some of the earlier material, including
the basics of controlling the center, bringing out pieces, and castling. He
also presents some opening traps, utilizing some of the tactical themes previously
covered. Again, however, a slight production problem occurs. The top of the
screen reads "Spanish – Ruy Lopez" while this opening is presented,
and it remains as such throughout the entirety of this segment, even during
coverage of the other openings. It is not a major issue, but there is already
enough material for beginners to assimilate, without risking unnecessary confusion.
The next segment reviews a couple 1.d4 openings, the Queen's Gambit Declined
and the King's Indian Defense (the top of the screen indicates "Queen's
Gambit Declined" for coverage of both openings). King then changes course
just a bit, and presents a Grünfeld Defense by showing a Topalov-Anand
game from the 2010 World Championship match. I suspect this may be especially
interesting for new players, seeing how an actual game between world-class players
developed. The entire game is not presented, but it is taken up to the transition
between opening and middlegame.
Continuing on this theme of illustrating actual games, the DVD concludes with
two exciting tussles: Fischer-Fine, 1963, and one of the other games between
Anand and Topalov from their 2010 match.
The Fischer game (an Evans Gambit) illustrates the importance of bringing one's
pieces into the game as rapidly as possible. It is a quick, crushing Fischer
victory that should get the viewer's adrenaline flowing, reminiscent of how
those of us felt who came up during the Fischer boom years.
The final segment shows Anand with white, playing a Catalan Opening against
Topalov. Anand was not overly concerned with recapturing a captured pawn; instead,
he concentrated on piece development. The game features plenty of satisfying
actual and potential tactical shots.
Despite the production problems noted above, King's clear explanations and
exciting presentation of the Fischer and Anand games to finish the DVD will
surely whet the beginner's appetite for more chess. As such, I can give a qualified
recommendation to Starting Chess.
My assessment of this product: Uneven (three out of six
Video Sampler: Daniel King – Starting Chess
More Training DVDs by Daniel King