Fritz11's 'Threat feature'

by ChessBase
8/23/2009 – Steve Lopez, our ChessBase Workshop columnist, contends in his latest article that the ability to recognize threats is one of the most important chess skills for a beginner to cultivate, and describes how Fritz11's "Threat" function will help in that endeavor. Find out more about it in the latest Workshop.

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After more than six hundred columns of ChessBase Workshop and its predecessor (combined), it becomes difficult to remember specific individual columns as it all sort of blurs together; at this late date, I think maybe three dozen or so columns really stand out vividly in my mind. One such was written a decade ago and told the story of a particular game I played with a novice chessplayer. She'd not been playing very long and was generally at a loss when deciding what move to play. I would make a move which threatened something (either materially or a big positional improvement) and her reply would generally not take my last action into account; she'd play something which not only ignored the threat but which was also essentially unrelated to anything happening on the board. So I'd allow a takeback and explain what my previous move threatened. To my surprise, she's not only make a move which countered my threat but would also make the best counter-move (if more than one was possible) and do so almost immediately with a minimum of thought.

I had a sort of epiphany that day, although it was something I'd seldom seen mentioned in chess books: the ability to recognize an opponent's threats is a cornerstone of one's chessplaying ability. Looking back on my own early years as a player, as well as at the actions of numerous people to whom I'd taught the game, I realized that this statement is true. In one's initial stages, one usually makes fairly aimless (even essentially "random") moves. This starts to change when a player develops the habit of saying "Now why did he do that?" in response to the opponent's moves; although one's play has then become reactive (making countermoves in response to threats), it's an improvment over playing aimlessly and is a stepping stone toward more proactive play (learning to develop threats of one's own).

That column from ten years ago sprang to mind for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this new column and that old one deal with the very same subject: the "Threat" feature in Fritz. Although the version numbers have changed, the basic idea of the Threat function has remained the same: to give novice players the "heads up" as to what Fritz intends to do next, just as I did in the game I've described here and in that prior column.

Before proceeding, let's detour for a moment and define (once again) what's meant by the term "threat" in chess. A threat is nothing more than what a player would do if he could make two moves in a row.

It's really that simple. Think about giving check. You move your Bishop to attack the opponent's King and you announce "check" (translation: "I'm threatening your King"). He has to make a move which stops the check -- if he can't, game over (and "check" has become "mate"). Or let's consider a Knight move which threatens an opponent's Rook: if he doesn't either capture your Knight or move his Rook, you'll capture his Rook (and win the Exchange) on your next move -- thus the Knight threatens the Rook (and the basis of a great many tactics, such as forks, consists of two or more simultaneous threats of which only one can be stopped).

That's all there is to it: my threat is the move I would make if I could make two moves in a row without you having the chance to react. In Fritz software terms, it's what your electronic opponent would play if it could make those two consecutive moves.

It's example time (from Gligoric-Smyslov, Donner Memorial 1994). You're White.


Black has just played ...Qh8. Why? What's the threat?

Experienced players reading this column are likely to see the threat. But let's remember the novice players we were discussing early in this column; to those folks the threat's not going to be nearly as obvious. That's why Fritz11 has the "Threat" feature -- a player can just go to the Help menu and click on "Threat" (or hit SHIFT-T on the keyboard):


...and after a few moments (the length of time depends on the "Calc. time" settings; see last week's ChessBase Workshop for details) we see the answer: ...Nd6.

I know some people might have thought ...Rh1 was the threat, but after Kf2 White's still relatively OK. The move ...Nd6 sets up the followup move ...Ne4, from which the Knight would cover f2 and make ...Rh1 deadly. In fact, the move ...Nd6 is exactly what Smyslov played next. Gligoric saw it coming and played Re1, providing some breathing room for his King. Smyslov went ahead with ...Nd6 anyway since it works on gets another piece into the attack. You can check your database to see how the game played out.

It's important to note here that "Threat" isn't an "always on" function; you have to activate it "as needed" on a move-by-move basis. However, there is a similar function which is "always on" and which we'll consider in the next ChessBase Workshop. Until then, 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.

© 2009, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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