Fritz 16 — a fun and instructive opponent

by Albert Silver
12/11/2017 – While chess engines have been a boon overall to the game, their sheer strength has long surpassed our ability, which usually makes playing them an exercise in masochism. Fritz 16 brings a series of features to make it fun to play against for all levels, and all kinds of tools to help you improve. From hot and cold hints, to Elo evaluations of your play, here is an introduction. | Photo: (Flickr) Joe Haupt from St. Paul, Minnesota CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fritz 16 - He just wants to play! Fritz 16 - He just wants to play!

Fritz 16 is looking forward to playing with you, and you're certain to have a great deal of fun with him too. Tense games and even well-fought victories await you with "Easy play" and "Assisted analysis" modes.

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Bring back the fun

For a while, the idea of an expert or master level computer opponent was the ultimate dream. Fancy wooden machines with plenty of functions would bring the latest iterations and some could even move their own pieces. Playing them was a challenge, and entertaining, but by no means insurmountable.

 

The Novag Robot Adversary was one of the most spectacular options, with a robotic arm that would move and capture pieces

Those days zipped by so fast that nowadays even a modern smartphone can make mincemeat of the World Champion if it is not handicapped somehow. And that is for the 2800 gods that walk among us. Imagine for the rest of us mortals.

Of course, the option to handicap the program is nothing new, but unlike when facing a stronger human opponent who can calibrate their play more sensibly, weaker computer levels have often played in ways that seemed quite strange, if not outright ridiculous. For five or six moves they would be playing a brand of chess we can only aspire to, and suddenly for no reason they would hang a pawn or a piece. It just wasn’t any fun.

Among the most important new features in Fritz 16 is a series of functions designed to bring back the fun in playing against a program.

Starting an Easy Game

The opening screen of Fritz 16 is where you start, and we just click on Easy Game to get started.

The Opening screen already makes the differences clear. Instead of the detailed menus with all the functions, we see just the necessary to play our game. The Levels button will help us choose our level of opposition, and we can see everything from Beginner to Grandmaster. The default is ‘Club player’. If you find it too hard, by all means choose a weaker player, and if it is too easy, you can increase it.

Let’s leave the default on and start a game. After about 13 moves in a Petroff, the cute Fritz icon tells me I am slightly better, and shows an unhappy face. Ten more moves into the game, and not only does Fritz tell me I am slightly better, but also starts to give its first Elo evaluation of my play. This is just a rough estimate, and will be subject to plenty of adjustments down the road.

Small hints and visual queues increase the fun

Not only will it show you the current evaluation, to help you know how you are doing, but the bar chart in the middle will also give a quick visual overview of how the game has been going.

To be fair, the default level is very easy, and at the end of the game, it congratulates me with good grace. (“Now you’re going to get a war you won’t believe!”)

However, what impresses is that at no point did it hang a piece or pawn outright, and just played normal looking moves, even if they were weak.

Assisted Analysis

Naturally, playing the program offers the usual fare of options such as a takeback (Retract move), Hint, and more. But there are some more interesting options to help you in your game without outright telling you what to play. If you enable the Assisted Analysis, you will see.

Just check Assisted Analysis at the right of the main buttons to enable

 

In the position above, Fritz has just played 13…d4. I am very unsure of what to play. Should I move my bishop somewhere? Let’s ask Fritz what it thinks. To do this, I just click on the bishop with the mouse, as if I were about to move it someplace, and wait a second.

Keeping the mouse button pressed on the bishop shows me the quick evaluation of each square available to it

The bishop, as we can see is a strong choice, and Be4 is clearly among my best plays available.

This sort of suggestion is a considerable step up from the usual Hints that most programs offer, in which they just tell you what to play. This way you can ask about the piece you want to play, and have a rough feel about what Fritz thinks.

Conclusion

As you can see, with these new calibrated levels, you will have a very manageable opponent, accessible to players of all levels. You can use the Assisted Analysis for a hint here and there, and while you are playing, Fritz will tell you how you are doing in the game, whether better or worse. The Elo evaluation is a nice touch that can inspire you to try for more.

So, is this not an ideal holiday gift to a friend, or for yourself?

Video introduction by Matthias Wüllenweber


Fritz 16 - He just wants to play!

Fritz 16 is looking forward to playing with you, and you're certain to have a great deal of fun with him too. Tense games and even well-fought victories await you with "Easy play" and "Assisted analysis" modes.

More...



Topics: Fritz 16, Guide, Tutorial

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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MKP1151 MKP1151 1/16/2018 09:40
Without question, the best Fritz ever... congrats to Vas Rajlich and the entire ChessBase team for making such a wonderful program!
Mel Griffin Mel Griffin 12/15/2017 07:43
Well naturally I just HAVE to have this. However, I am wondering if I were to swap out Fritz16 with one of the other engines I have such as Junior, Hiarcs, Shredder, Rybka or Houdini would all the functions remain the same?
Chessbase...please never change what you do and how you do it. You guys rock!
notebook03 notebook03 12/13/2017 05:23
@vanhelsing I'm a fan of the Chessmaster series and still regularly play against the Grandmaster Edition, but it never did 'natural language analysis'. Just to be clear 'natural language analysis' is the field of artificial intelligence and interpreting language, which is along the lines of what Google Assistant tries to do. Chessmaster just plays back post-analysis commentary and annotations made from pre-recorded chunks of Danny Delk's voice. This is why Chessmaster called it 'natuaral language', as it wasn't a synthetic computer voice. Power Chess also had this, featuring a woman's voice.
vanhelsing vanhelsing 12/13/2017 12:55
@notebook03: Actually, even Chessmaster 4000 Turbo (1993) was able to narrate its natural language analysis. The analysis may not have been as good as Fritz 16 but it was indeed spoken so you could just sit back, relax and listen. The technology has been around a long time.
notebook03 notebook03 12/12/2017 09:31
@vanhelsing No, it doesn't do that. (Fritz doesn't do anything like 'natural language analysis'. In time, AlphaZero might, though...)
vanhelsing vanhelsing 12/12/2017 01:27
Does the natural language analysis have a spoken feature? I mean, can the program "narrate" the analysis to the user as well?
garyklien garyklien 12/11/2017 05:18
I love it so far, the voices, as well :)
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