Meeting Matthias Wüllenweber

by Nadja Wittmann
3/13/2018 – ChessBase was founded in 1986 and back then no one talked about "start-ups". But 30 years later ChessBase still feels like a start-up, and between shelves full of ChessBase DVDs and lots of computers new ideas are tossed around day after day in the ChessBase office in Hamburg, where new software is developed with cheerful enthusiasm. As ever, Matthias Wüllenweber, ChessBase founder, associate and chief developer is the driving force. We asked him what makes him tick. | Pictured: Matthias (left) in a meeting with Hou Yifan | Photo: Frederic Friedel (ChessBase)

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A short interview with Matthias Wüllenweber

Nadja Wittmann: Matthias, you are our boss and chief of the programmers. Which is your favourite program or application and why?

Matthias Wüllenweber: As a programmer, one is always in love with the current project. Writing code is a kind of craftsmanship. The satisfaction to see an idea grow and finally do something useful is what makes this job special. My recent favourites are “Easy Game” and “Assisted Calculation” in Fritz 16. The point of “Easy Game” is not just to realistically mimic a human opponent but also to make the game interesting with various hidden winning chances for the user. 

Matthias Wüllenweber

Matthias Wüllenweber, CEO and programmer in chief of ChessBase | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

What is your lifetime motto over the board and, maybe, in life?

Enjoy the moment and do not worry.

What do you like most about playing chess?

Don’t get me started. The thrill of competition. The adrenaline of a fight. The dopamine when something works. The awareness of the history and culture of a game that passed the “test of time” and is at least as fulfilling and alive as it was a 100 years ago. I think chess offers a good balance between deep and rich complexity and recurring, recognizable patterns that appeal to the human mind. Those recognizable patterns, the “I know that - I can master it” are important to feel at home in a game of such vast variety. It can be an opening variation, a middlegame motif or endgame technique. I do not like ideas which destroy this well-tuned purity and balance. There is a mild asymmetry between White and Black and the queenside and the kingside — but not too much.

Do you have enough time to spare for activities that are not related to chess or work?

We have so many different projects to maintain and to advance that we all work pretty hard. But it is also a lot of fun and we have more freedom and possibly also more creative opportunities than bigger companies offer. Alas, there are many cool ideas lying untouched due to lack of time. For this reason, we always look for new developers who are ambitious chess players.

Apart from work I also spend a lot of time with various musical activities, that is quite relaxing.

As a chess player and "user" of your own software, which ChessBase program do you use the most, and for what?

To maintain and to refresh my own openings, I like openings.chessbase.com, because I do not play enough tournament games to keep everything in memory all the time. Two or three days before a serious game, I start doing tactics on tactics.chessbase.com before going to bed. All general practical work is done with ChessBase 14. I played maybe 100- 200 “easy games” against Fritz16 to tune it. But playing Blitz on play.chessbase.com is the thing I enjoy most. 

Climbing high to get new perspectives

Climbing high to get new perspectives | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

Where do you get your inspiration for new program features?

There are various sources. Brainstorming with my colleagues is the most important and productive way to look ahead. Input from the users can be quite brilliant and convincing. Sometimes I write stuff that I need myself. Programs or functions that are not used by the developers themselves tend to be clumsy.

Matthias´view (and leg) sitting at the top of the mast

Matthias' view (and leg) from the top of a mast | Photo: Matthias Wüllenweber

What part of developing a new version of a program is the most difficult for you?

The start is always difficult because nothing works yet. The end is also challenging because you have to eradicate bugs, polish the optics, the performance, the user experience. Many programmers underestimate or dislike this crucial final phase. They love algorithms or proving concepts but like finalizing the user experience less, and so their work feels unfinished.

"Captain of ChessBase"

"Captain of ChessBase" | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

Talking about chess: What is currently on your mind?

Chess is striving and blossoming on the internet in many ways. I think this is no coincidence, the internet is perfect for chess. Our hectic life leaves us time to play a few blitz games on the net but often not enough time to meet friends at the local chess club. I regret that and hope the tradition of clubs and playing people face to face can benefit more from the general success of chess.

Matthias Wüllenweber does not even bother to sit on a chair while testing the "Tactics App" at the ChessBase office

Matthias Wüllenweber does not even bother to sit on a chair while testing the "Tactics App" at the ChessBase office | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

And what are you currently working on, if that is not a secret…

At the moment I am doing various maintenance things to improve the quality of our services. play.chessbase.com is currently the focus.

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