Wells' Fritz Middlegame Trainer

7/15/2004 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, we provide a sneak peek at a brand-new kind of ChessBase Training CD which uses the Fritz Media System multimedia features to provide a wholly different and compelling instructional environment. Take a first look at Peter Wells' Fritz Middlegame Trainer: Strategy and Tactics in the new ChessBase Workshop.

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previewed by Steve Lopez

The CD Fritz Middlegame Trainer: Strategy and Tactics (hereafter referred to as S&T for brevity's sake) is an extraordinarily difficult CD to preview, both for its presentation format and its subject - it's totally unlike anything else ChessBase has previously offered.

S&T is, at its core, a series of video lectures by longtime ChessBase Magazine contributor, British Grandmaster Peter Wells. It is not an electronic book with extra multimedia elements added to it as is the case with most other ChessBase offerings. On the S&T CD, the emphasis is on the multimedia component. So this is not a "tactics trainer/tactics exercise" CD in the vein of the George Renko ChessBase CDs, which consist of hundreds of timed tactics questions. It's not a basic strategy CD in the vein of the Eugene Bartashnikov ChessBase CDs, which are a multivolume set of standard strategic themes categorized and explained.

S&T is much more in the category of books like Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster or Soltis' The Inner Game of Chess; S&T is about "putting it all together", using and combining basic tactical and strategic elements to plot your course in a game.

Also unlike many other ChessBase CDs, this is not a "standalone" CD. The use of one of the current Fritz "family" of playing programs (one of the current crop which utilize the Chessprogram 8 GUI) is required to be able to fully use this CD, plus you must do an online upgrade to the newer versions (released starting in Fall 2003) which contain the ability to utilize the Fritz Media System features.

The Fritz Media System is an integrated multimedia environment, in which a teacher gives a video lecture while illustrating his points on the interface's chessboard: you'll see a video of the instructor while simultaneously seeing the pieces on the main chessboard move (and this also includes the use of colored arrows and squares on the board). The moves on the board follow his commentary. While it's possible to view the videos in something like Windows Media Player, you won't be able to follow the moves.

One of the many cool features of the Fritz Media System is that you can set up your screen display any way you like. You can configure the colors of the board and pieces to suit your taste, add or remove other information panes at your whim, and move the video pane wherever you like (it's a "floating" pane which acts like a separate movable window superimposed on the main GUI window). This differs substantially from standard chess VCR videos, in which you're stuck with whatever on-screen board the producers provide (and, particularly with videos that are a decade old, these can be pretty dreadful). With VCR videos you often need to set up a chess board of your own to "hold" the main line position while the on-screen commentators veer off into myriad variations and sub-variations using the on-screen board. But with the Fritz Media System the current move is always highlighted in the program's Notation pane, regardless of whether it's a main line move or a variation -- and a quick glance at the pane will always tell you which is which. So there are obvious and significant advantages to this Fritz GUI-driven system over traditional chess videos.

What about the content of the CD itself? There's more than three hours of video on the S&T CD, but you don't have to watch it all at one go. It's conveniently divided into shorter lectures; I'll provide a list here along with the running time of each lecture:

  • Introduction (5:34 min.)
  • Calculation (29:23 min.)
  • Commitment and Defense (17:02 min.)
  • Zwischenzug (16:56 min.)
  • Anatomy of Blunders I (19:49 min.)
  • Anatomy of Blunders II (15:44 min.)
  • Positional Pawn Sacrifices I (8:35 min.)
  • Positional Pawn Sacrifices II (20:08 min.)
  • Bad Pieces I (20:25 min.)
  • Bad Pieces II (22:14 min.)
  • Blockade (20:00 min.)

To start a lecture, fire up Fritz8 (or another of our playing programs that use the Chessprogram 8 interface). Go to the File menu, select "Open" and then "Chess Media File". The Windows File Select dialogue will pop up; use it to navigate to your CD drive where the eleven lectures are listed as .WMV files (you might do a double-take and think there are just ten, but a second look will show that they're numbered "00" through "10"). Double-click on one of these and you're off and running.

A new pane will appear which contains GM Wells' video commentary; in most cases, a game will also immediately load on your chessboard (and if one doesn't load right at the video's start, it will load later at the appropriate time). As you watch the video, you will see the pieces on the board move, illustrating the comments that GM Wells is making. He also makes liberal use of colored arrows and squares to illustrate his points.

The most frequently asked question regarding the S&T video is likely to be "What level of player is this CD aimed at?" This is always a difficult question because, for example, not all Class B players are created equal. I've known Class B players who are theory hounds, while others seldom (if ever) study the game and just play, coming by their talent naturally.

The S&T CD is certainly not a "basic tactics and strategy" course; the aforementioned ChessBase CDs will provide that information and instruction quite nicely. S&T presumes a certain level of prior knowledge and experience on the part of the user. If forced to provide an estimate, I would say that any player rated USCF Class A or higher will have no problems understanding the instruction on the S&T CD. Most Class B players will also encounter few (if any) difficulties. I would even say that many Class C players who have a great deal of practical chess experience will be able to follow the commentary.

The reason I'm hedging on my estimates is that many of GM Wells' lectures deal with topics that lean more toward the abstract than the concrete, and some (like "Calculation") can be fairly advanced. The lectures on "Blunders", for example, don't deal with a mundane topic like a simple categorization of types of blunders; they instead deal with the psychology of blunders and how to avoid them. Consequently this can be some (initially) daunting stuff for the average club player -- but if you stick with it, you will certainly derive a great deal of benefit from GM Wells' commentary.

So for higher-level club players on up, I heartily recommend the CD Fritz Middlegame Trainer: Strategy and Tactics; it's informative, entertaining (it's admittedly not a fast-paced Raiders of the Lost Ark-style movie, but it's pretty OK as far as chess material goes), and deals with topics that aren't usually covered in your average chess book or CD.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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