Fritz11: Threatened squares

9/16/2009 – Some of the best Fritz11 beginner features are the ones which give us hints but require us to think for ourselves. One such feature hints at attacks and defenses but makes us figure out why they work as they do. Intrigued? Check out the latest ChessBase Workshop in which the mysteries are revealed...

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Continuing our exploration of Fritz11 features aimed at beginning chessplayers...

Not to keep flogging this particular horse, but I'm convinced that the ability to recognize an opponent's threats is one of the most important tools upon which a beginning chessplayer should concentrate. While you win games by making successful threats, you save games by spotting and parrying the threats of your opponent. That's an important ability for a beginner to cultivate because it makes the jump from being a consistent loser (as we all were when we started out as chessplayers) to being at least an occasional winner. You start by developing the ability to recognize (and react to) the opponent's threats -- upon this foundation you build the ability to create threats of your own.

That's the reason why so many of the Fritz11 functions specifically aimed at beginners deal with this idea of threats.

In the last two ChessBase Workshops, we looked at the "Threat" and "Spy" features. Now we're going to look at another which has the word "threat" right in the function's name: "Threatened Squares". Like "Spy", this is an "always on" feature which will continue working until you turn it off. You can toggle between "on" and "off" by selecting "Threatened Squares" in the Help menu:


Unlike "Threat" and "Spy", the Threatened Squares function is not engine-driven, that is, it's not based on calculations made by Fritz (or any other chess engine). Truth to tell, Threatened Squares is just a straight "bean count" which a user could perform himself manually if he or she wanted to take the time to do it, but the Fritz software (the GUI, not the engine) performs it in just an instant.

Let's consider the following position:


It doesn't matter whose turn it is to move -- Threatened Squares treats the chessboard as a static "snapshot" and illustrates graphically which pieces are threatened regardless of which side is to move. Let's switch Threatened Squares "on" and see what turns up:


And we see that squares occupied by pieces of both colors are highlighted. As described, the side to move doesn't matter -- the position is viewed as a "snapshot" and the information is produced accordingly.

An interesting sidelight to Threatened Squares is that the Fritz software gives us a lot of useful information in this function but it doesn't spoon-feed it to us -- it's up to us to determine what the program is actually telling us. We'll examine that idea further as we explore what the different colors indicate.

Red squares

A highlighted red square indicates one of two things (or, when appropriate, both things at once):


  1. A piece or pawn which is completely undefended (in chess parlance, a "hanging" piece);
  2. A piece or pawn which is attacked by a opposing chessman of lesser value.
A red square means "Red Alert!", something for which the owning player needs to take immediate corrective action.

In our example illustration, we see that the Black Knight on c5 is highlighted in red. Why? The Black Queen defends it, right? Look again. The Queen's defense doesn't matter since one of the attackers is the b4-pawn -- a pawn's worth less than a Knight. And the Black Queen's defense is a bogus one anyway: after 1.bxc5 Qxc5 2.Rxc5 Black has lost mucho material. Black needs to either retreat the Knight or create a counterthreat of his own.

(That whole last paragraph, by the way, illustrates why Threatened Squares is such a useful tool -- it doesn't "baby" us. We're required to think for ourselves about what the program is telling us.)

Yellow squares

A piece or pawn highlighted in yellow is adequately defended -- not over-protected, just defended sufficiently. If a defender is removed, however, the piece or pawn will no longer be protected.

Going back to our example, we see that the White e2-Bishop is yellow-highlighted. The Black Queen attacks it while the White Queen defends it, so it's one-for-one. Black's d4-pawn is also highlighted; it's attacked by the White Queen but defended by the d8-Rook. As a side note, the White Queen isn't really attacking the pawn unless the d8-Rook moves away. That's the hidden point of the yellow highlighting: to not only show you which men are barely defended, but to also make you think about which units are defending them (and thus shouldn't be moved away).

Green squares

Pieces or pawns on green-highlighted squares are overprotected, meaning that they have more friendly units defending them than are strictly necessary (and those of us who have read Nimzovich know that this is a good thing). Even if a defender moves away, such a piece or pawn will still be defended.

We see just one such piece in our example illustration: the b1-Knight which is attacked by the Black Bishop on f5. Obviously the c1-Rook defends the Knight. If you're thinking "Wait a minute -- I thought a green-highlighted piece has to be over-protected!", you're right. Look again. The other White Rook (on f1) also aids in protecting the b1-Knight, thus either Rook could move away; as long as one Rook remains, the Knight will still be protected (though the highlighting of the Knight's square will change to yellow should this happen).

While Threatened Squares is definitely a useful tool for beginners, I wouldn't necessarily classify it as strictly a "beginner's feature" of Fritz11. In a few games I've annotated I've used the function myself when looking at an isolated Queen's pawn position on a cluttered board to definitively determine whether or not the pawn is over-protected, double-checking my own "bean count" before writing a comment on that position. So Threatened Squares isn't just a "beginner thing"; it's a useful tool for double-checking a positional analysis or even just as a form of "analysis training" in determining for ourselves (as we've done above) why certain squares are highlighted in a particular color.

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.



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

Topics f11, Fritz11
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