Features designed to help you improve your game

by ChessBase
6/4/2004 – The Fritz "family" of chessplaying programs offer a lot of features to help you while playing a game against the computer. In this week's ChessBase Workshop, Steve Lopez checks in with another roundup of features designed to help you improve your game. Workshop...

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by Steve Lopez

"The best laid plans of mice and men" and all that jazz...

Last week in ChessBase Workshop I said that we'd be taking a very basic look at some of Fritz' features which are designed to help your game, and that we'd be doing this in two parts. I finished off last week's column with some brief commentary about "Fritz and family's" Hint feature and fully intended to move on to other topics in this week's column. But a funny thing happened the other night at the billiards table. I was shooting pool with a chessplaying friend who sometimes reads and critiques my work; she looked at a printout while I was lining up my next shot and said, "You know, there are multiple Hint features in Fritz: Suggestion and the full-fledged Hint dialogue."

" I know," I replied as I zeroed in on the 3 ball. "But I figured I'd let the reader have a little fun and discover that for himself."

She waited until just before I took the shot (I'm sure this was deliberate) and said, "Um, tell me again: why is it your German friends are having you write articles for their readers?" And, of course, I scratched the shot.

She's right (she often is); after further consideration of the matter I realize that you deserve a better explanation of the Hint/Suggestion features than the cursory treatment I gave them last week. Soooooo, on the subject of Fritz' other features designed to help you become a better player, hold that thought -- we'll come back to it in a later CB Workshop. This week we'll look a little closer at the two closely related Hint functions.

Yes, there are two of them, and the obvious first question is "What's the difference?" If you go to the Help menu, you'll see two items, one after the other, "Hint" and "Suggestion". The two functions are related -- Suggestion is actually a subfunction of Hint. So let's start with the daddy and move on later to the baby.

If you're playing a game against Fritz, or even playing over a game from the database, you can get a Hint as to what Fritz thinks you should play next/what the next move should be. Go to the Help menu, select "Hint", and you'll briefly see a message appear on the screen as the program contemplates the position:

(In fact, if you take a look at the Engine pane, you'll see that the chess engine is working. It's not showing you any analysis [that's hidden for a reason, as we'll soon see], but you'll see the "header" stuff, like the ply depth, changing at the top of the Engine pane display).

After a few moments, you'll see a dialogue similar to this one:

I think I know the guy in the picture; as I recall, his name's Leo and he plays chess down at the seedier end of the city park. He always has that unlit cigar butt in his mouth and he hasn't taken off that hat since 1947. Anyway, Leo's here to help you by offering you a choice of hint information. First there's some text -- Leo's telling you what to watch out for. If you click the "Attackers" button, you'll see the chessboard display change: the squares of all of your opponent's pieces or pawns which are attacking your material will light up in green. If you want to see all of your material that's being attacked, click the "Attacked" button: the squares of all of your attacked material will light up in red. Finally, you can click "Undefended" to see all of your "hanging" pieces/pawns (i.e. those that aren't defended by friendly forces, regardless of whether or not the "hanging" material is being attacked); these squares will light up in yellow.

That's some pretty handy info which oftens serves to direct your thinking: "This and this are under attack, and this is what's attacking them. One of my pieces is hanging. So how do I defend?"

In case you need more information, you can click the "Fritz' plan" button. This works the same way as the "Show threat" command (which we discussed last week): "if Fritz could make two moves in a row, here's what it would do". Leo will show you (with a colored arrow on the board) what Fritz is threatening to do next. A cool bonus is that the text in the white box of the Hint dialogue changes and, if you've filled out the information in the "User info" dialogue, Leo will sometimes call you by name: "Bc4xd5 is what's in store, Steve". It's not quite the same as when he's down at the park spitting tobacco juice on your chessboard, but this is a good thing.

Armed with this information, you should be able to dope out what to do to stop the threat. But if you're still stumped, click the "Suggestion" button. Leo then draws another arrow on the board to display what Fritz thinks you should play to stop the threat. Click the "OK" button to exit the Hint dialogue but, before you do, make a mental note of what you're seeing -- the colored squares and arrows will disappear along with the dialogue.

That's the lowdown on the Hint functions. As stated earlier, the "Suggestion" command in the Help menu is just a subset of the whole Hint suite. Clicking the Suggestion command from the Help menu does the same thing as clicking the Suggestion button in the full-fledged Hint dialogue. You still get the brief "I'm thinking" display, which is then followed by a colored arrow on the board which shows you what Fritz thinks you should play next. It's a bit quicker than clicking "Hint" and there's an extra bonus: you don't have to look at Leo fingering his Bishop (the guy has no idea what "touch-move" means).

That's really all there is to it. There are really two "Hint" functions: the more elaborate "Hint" command, and the "Suggestion" command which is sort of a "Hint lite". Yes, I did say last week that we wouldn't go into detail on any single feature, but in this case I thought it would be worthwhile to change my mind. We'll just call it a "takeback" and let it slide. Please indulge me -- I'm still bitter over missing that shot on the 3 ball.

Until next week, have fun!

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

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