All World Championships review by Steve Lopez

1/24/2004 – A "coffee table" chess book that contained a couple of hundred pictures, scores of annotated games, and a videotape collection of film clips would it cost a mint, and you'd need a coffee table the size of a battleship to hold it. But with DVD technology you can fit it easily in the palm of your hand. Check out the new DVD from ChessBase in this week's ChessBase Workshop.

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previewed by Steve Lopez

This DVD has been sitting on my desk (along with several others) for a good many weeks, not because of the subject matter, but because my machine didn't have a DVD drive. I'm not a technogeek who absolutely must have the latest and greatest; I'm traditionally a fair little bit "behind the curve". It's not because I'm disinterested -- it's because I'm phenominally cheap; I always wait for the prices to come way down before I invest in some technology upgrade. (I didn't buy a TV DVD player until a year ago but that's worked out well; the folks in my life now know what to get me for my birthday/Christmas -- movies, baby!).

I'll confess that I was blindsided by the arrival of ChessBase materials on DVD; I had no foreknowledge that this was going to occur. So I waited until after the holidays (as my wallet was still bleeding profusely from the way I overindulged my sons on their Christmas gifts), finally broke down, and bought a DVD drive for my computer.

I'm extremely glad I did so -- the new ChessBase DVDs are a treat. We'll be looking at them in the next few issues of ChessBase Workshop; this week, we'll begin with the one that grabbed my attention right away.

All World Championships from 1886 to 2002 (hereafter referred to as the WC DVD, to save me a boatload of typing) immediately brought a plethora of questions to my mind. First of all, why a DVD? The database can't be huge in regard to game content -- you can easily fit all of the WC games on a floppy with space left over. How would ChessBase handle the World Championship "split" of the 1990's? What about "bogus" World Championships, such as the 1992 Fischer-Spassky rematch?

I had a pretty good idea of what the answers would be before I even tore the shrinkwrap off of the package. Let's have a look at this DVD and find some answers.

We'll start with the question of game content -- what will we find in the database? For that, I'll quote from the DVD's introduction:

There is general acceptance that official World Championships begin in 1886 with Zukertort-Steinitz....The main database follows the line which began in 1886, and contains the matches which Kasparov has played as World Champion since 1993. A second database contains the FIDE World Championships since 1993, which, although they were in some sense the official ones, seem to have lesser legitimacy, because they did not follow the classical process of producing a World Champion....On the other hand we have not included the re-match Fischer-Spassky of 1992 in one of the databases. Even if it did follow Botvinnik's principles, the match came almost 20 years too late and thus had no legitimacy....Finally the inclusion of certain games can also be disputed, specifically those which were sometimes played after the match had already been decided. We have not included here the purely exhibition games from the Euwe-Alekhine match. Yet those games which were played to decide the actual winner of a match (almost always the World Champion only needed to draw the match to retain the title itself) are included.

There's a lot more explanation in the text; I've just included the main highlights. On this DVD you'll find four databases. The first database is the "main" 1886 to 2000 database which follows the generally accepted progression from the "Golden Age" (when champions got to pick and choose their challengers, usually on the basis of who could put up the biggest prize purse -- sports sponsorship is not a modern-day occurance) through the FIDE years (post WWII to the PCA split in 1993), on through the PCA years of the 1990's, and ending with the post-PCA match between Kramnik and Kasparov in 2000.

The second "main" database follows the FIDE progression from the PCA split in 1993 through the most recent match in 2002. Each match in both of the main databases begins with a text match report, with background info, photos, crosstables, quotes, and other information.

So we've settled the question of game selection. Now the big question: why a DVD? That answer was easy to predict: multimedia. The DVD is chock full of photos and videos to really bring these matches to life. And that includes guys from the "Golden Age", too -- there's some wonderful archival film footage of Capablanca and Alekhine included in a third database -- the multimedia one -- on the WC DVD.

Of course, the bulk of the "moving pictures" come from the modern era, specifically from the enormous library of video footage accumulated by Fred Friedel and ChessBase over the last seven or eight years. You'll see (and hear) match clips and video interviews from the 1997 FIDE World Championship and the 2000 BGN World Championship and FIDE WC events.

Multimedia, of course, doesn't just mean moving pictures. In addition to the nearly 200 movies/videos you'll find on the DVD, you'll also find nearly 250 still photos from throughout chess history, many of which are contained in the short player biographies and match reports contained in the two main databases.

A fourth database highlights the tactical fireworks from over a hundred years of world championship play. There are ninety entries in this database, all of which contain timed training questions which let you test your tactical abilities against the clock as you're challenged to find the best move in each of the training problems.

Multimedia's not the only attraction of this DVD, of course; the main feature is the complete replayable record of all official World Championship games. Many of the games are annotated; you'll find notes and commentary by players such as Kasparov, Anand, Botvinnik, Steinitz, Kavalek, Shirov, Karpov, and Short, as well as a large number of annotated games by ChessBase's GM Lubomir Ftacnik (for my money one of the best annotators around).

When I was a teenager (and when I first got into chess "seriously" in my late 20's), my favorite book acquisition were general historical works. I loved playing through the highlight games, seeing pictures of the great players, and reading anecdotal stories about their exploits over the board (Saidy's The World of Chess and Hartston's The Kings of Chess were [and still are] two of my favorites). The ChessBase DVD All World Championships from 1886 to 2002 is the one electronic book I've seen that comes closest to this ideal sort of "general" book; there's enough "eye candy" on the disk to interest every chessplayer while there's enough "meat" to the DVD (in the form of game annotations) to satisfy the really hardcore among us. It's extremely tough to create any chess work that will come close to the ideal of being "all things to all players", but ChessBase has come dangerously close with this new DVD.

I'm really impressed by All World Championships from 1886 to 2002 and, after thirty years of buying/reading/collecting chess literature, that's saying something -- I've become so jaded over the years that I seldom purchase any new chess books anymore. But this one's a real winner and I anticipate getting many hours of enjoyment from it. I have a lot of chess books/disks and the vast majority are just gathering dust on shelves or in boxes, but I expect to come back to All World Championships from 1886 to 2002 again and again. I can't come up with any better recommendation than that.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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