Five ChessBase disks

2/5/2007 – Potential purchasers of ChessBase products are always curious about what lies "beneath the shrink wrap"; what will they actually find on the disk inside the package. In the latest Workshop we demystify another batch of ChessBase CDs, including Junior10, Correspondence 2006, ABCs of Tactics, White Repertoire 1.e4, and Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess. Workshop...

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  • Junior10 chess engine
  • Correspondence Database 2006
  • The Great ABCs of Tactics by George Renko
  • White Repertoire: 1.e4 (2nd Edition) by Alexander Bangiev
  • Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess by Danny Kopec & Hal Terrie

Let's tear off some shrinkwrap and have a look at what you'll find on these five ChessBase disks: one program, one database, and three instructional CDs. We'll be using my usual "short form" previews. You'll find complete third party reviews of most of these disks elsewhere on the ChessBase website.

Title: Junior10 chess engine
Programmers: Amir Ban & Shay Bushinsky
Physical format: DVD
Disk contents: The new Junior10 chess engine which runs within the ChessProgram 9 GUI (meaning that the program contains the same features as Fritz9); specialized Junior opening book, tuned to the playing style and preferences of the Junior engine, and containing 3,843,825 unique positions; database of more than one million unannotated games (the same as the one in Fritz9); forty-four page ChessProgram 9 manual in printed booklet format, with separate text sections in both English and German.
Comments: I'm always up for a new version of Junior; I have more fun playing against it than any other ChessBase engine. Back in the day, Junior used to have a "Sacrifice" tweak as part of the user-selectable engine options but it's been done away with; that option is now an integral part of Junior's playing style. Amir & Shay have made the element of surprise a part of Junior's normal modus operandi; while still one of the strongest chess engines available, it's also sometimes quite speculative in what it opts to play. You're never quite sure where Junior is going to take the game; at times you'll be expecting a "safe" move from it when suddenly Junior plays a sacrifice that doesn't quite seem sound at first but usually finds a way of working out at the end, taking you completely by surprise. This makes Junior a very fun and challenging sparring partner. It's also a great analyst, especially when used in conjunction with other engines in "Compare Analysis" mode. Junior will usually be in complete agreement with another chess engine, but at times will pull a rabbit out of its hat, "seeing" something very interesting that another engine misses. I'll typically use Junior in conjunction with Fritz and either Hiarcs or Shredder when analyzing games: Fritz for the tactics, Hiarcs/Shredder for their positional strengths, and Junior as the ultimate kibitzer.

Title: Correspondence Database 2006
Physical format: CD
Disk contents: Database of 588,148 correspondence (postal and Internet) games, spanning the years 1804 to 2006. Separate Correspondence Players Encyclopedia (for use within ChessBase) containing entries for approximately 63,000 players.
Comments: The bi-annual Correspondence Database is one of my favorite ChessBase products. It's been said so often that it's become something of a cliché but correspondence play really is chess' great laboratory. Much is made of the occasions when a "super" GM plays a novelty in a major event and later reveals that the move/concept was the result of hours, days, or even weeks of "home preparation". In correspondence play, it's all "home prep" and hardcore correspondence afficionados often sit on a homebrew novelty or "pet line", sometimes for years, just waiting for the right time to spring it on an opponent. Serious correspondence players are often also major bookworms, digging through innumerable games of the past in search of promising sidelines or opening traps which have been lost in the mists of time. And more than a few correspondence players are irrepressable gambiteers, relying on reams of home analysis and databased games to guide them through even the shakiest of speculative opening sacrifices. I've known more than a few over the board tournament players who dismiss correspondence play as being some sort of "bastard stepchild" of chess, but such players are really missing out on a treasure trove of novelties, gambits, long-forgotten traps, and sound (but not currently fashionable) opening ideas that are the normal part and parcel of correspondence play. And you'll find all of that (and more) in Correspondence Database 2006. It's one of the ChessBase offerings that I absolutely can not do without. 'Nuff said.

Title: The Great ABC of Tactics
Author: George Renko
Physical format: CD
Disk contents: Seven databases containing more than 11,000 timed training questions (in which you're challenged to find the best move) designed to test your tactical skills and instruct you in tactical concepts. ChessBase Reader program (for users who don't own ChessBase or Fritz) making the disk a self-contained product with no other software required.
Comments: George Renko is one of my favorite ChessBase authors; I find his instructional disks on tactics to be fun and highly enjoyable. His previous disks of tactical exercises are nothing less than brilliant, and The Great ABC of Tactics follows suit. Not only is no prior tactical training/experience assumed on this CD, no prior chess experience is assumed -- the first database on the CD opens with a primer on the rules of chess followed by 299 very basic tactical exercises (somewhat reminiscent of the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess). The remaining six databases are "paired", with a database of timed training positions illustrating tactical concepts followed by a database of similarly timed exercises based on actual games; there are "basic", "intermediate", and "advanced" level databases for each of these "pairs". Many of the games on the CD contain more than one timed training question, so you'll need to work through the entire combination before making the initial move (since you'll be required to "follow through" on the whole combination). The Great ABC of Tactics, in the style of Renko's other training disks, is a "learn by doing" CD -- you don't get text explanation, you just have to work it out in the same manner as in an actual competitive game. The disk is great for absolute novice players, and any untitled (under 2000 Elo) player will find plenty of challenging material here (the bulk of the material falls in the "basic" and "intermediate" categories).

Title: White Repertoire: 1.e4 (2nd Edition)
Author: Alexander Bangiev
Physical format: CD
Disk contents: Introductory database with information on how to best use the CD; individual databases on a variety of openings (Vienna Gambit, Sicilian Grand Prix Attack, Scandinavian Defense, Pirc Defense, French Defense [Advance Variation and 2.f4], Caro-Kann, Alekhine's Defense); database of timed training questions; ChessBase Reader program (see above). Total of more than 100,000 games, 600 of which are annotated.
Comments: Readers of Bangiev's recent ChessBase training disks may be a bit put off but you should relax -- Bangiev returns to a more traditional instructional method for White Repertoire: 1.e4 (2nd Edition). As the title implies, this is an updated edition of his prior White repertoire disk. The goal of this CD is to provide the player of the White pieces with an active repertoire -- maintaining the initiative with chances for attack. This is a disk for aggressive players; passitivity is not allowed. The disk provides the reader with lots of text explanation of the ideas for White in each opening, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each (so you'll go into each opening with eyes wide open). The explanations are given in plain English (none of the "B-Method" shorthand annotation that has been the trademark of Bangiev's other recent offerings), with the instruction keyed to important games which can be reached by links directly in the introductory texts for each opening. The games contain variations and brief text commentary along with standard Informant-style symbolic notation. The CD is suitable for intermediate (club-level) to advanced players.

Title: Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess
Authors: Danny Kopec & Hal Terrie
Physical format: CD
Disk contents: Seven databases, six containing test positions and one ("Appendices") containing academic papers concerning chess and cognition. ChessBase Reader program (see above).
Comments: This CD is difficult to preview as it is totally unlike anything which ChessBase has previously released; it's essentially an electronic version of a book previously available only in print form. Six of the databases are chess tests in which you first print out the scoresheet which the authors have provided for you. You then are given a chess position to evaluate; you're asked to write down four candidate moves in your order of preference (first through fourth), taking no more than two minutes per position. After you've finished the entire suite of positions for a chapter, you then look up the solutions and score your answers according to the scoring system provided. Once you've tallied your score you can use it to determine your Elo rating.

I can hear tournament players saying, "But I already know my rating!" Yup, and I know chessplayers -- I've spent a lifetime playing chess with them and the best part of the last fifteen years on the phone, corresponding, and hanging out at tournaments with them -- so I already know how this deal will likely go down. If a rated player takes the test and it provides a result pretty close to his OTB rating, he'll think it's a good test. If the results show an Elo higher than his OTB rating, he'll think it's a great test. And if the results come in way under his OTB rating, he'll think the test to be the biggest waste of his time since he took the SATs.

But that way of thinking totally misses the woods for the trees. The manner in which the tests are structured can give you valuable guideposts on your chess deficiencies; if you score badly in a particular area, that's what you ought to be studying when you're not playing. So this CD can be a very useful tool in determining where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess is also valuable for chess tutors who want to get a "baseline" for a new student's existing chess knowledge. And an interesting idea mentioned in one of the appendices concerns using the test positions as a means of determining a chess engine's approximate rating (but keep in mind that there are a number of variables at play here, the greatest of which is the specific hardware on which the software is running).

Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess is potentially a useful tool in determining your chess abilities, provided that you're willing to go at the process with an open mind, receptive to the tests' ultimate results and what they're designed to tell you about your chessplaying skills. And, if you're not adverse to wading through some technical "academese", the Appendices provide some interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Until next week, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.

© 2006, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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