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 number.
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:
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:
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 other.
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 stars)