New Fritz 9 training modes

3/27/2006 – The new Fritz9 program is chock full of new features for developing chessplayers. Among these are three new training modes designed to help you increase your "board vision". We show you how to use Attack, Defense, and Check Training in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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There are a lot of components to being a good chessplayer. Memorization, pattern recognition, knowledge of technique, and "board vision" all play a part, along with the ability to calculate variations and that intangible known as "natural ability".

Fritz8 users will be familiar with its opening and endgame training modes which use specialized databases to help train them in a couple of these component areas. The opening training mode is, at its core, a memorization drill; it tests you on your ability to follow exact move sequences in various openings. The endgame training mode is a test of technique in which you're required to know how to finish a game.

The new Fritz9 program introduces three new training modes: attack, defense, and check training. These are designed to test your "board vision", to see how quickly you can react to new conditions on the chessboard. All three training modes work in the same manner and we'll take a look at them in this ChessBase Workshop.

It's important to point out that the old opening and endgame training modes still require the use of specialized databases (which are included with the software and are modifiable by the user), but the three new training modes will work with any ChessBase database. You don't need to modify a specialized database or set up a new one; you can use any database, from master databases you've purchsed to databases of your own which you've created.

Let's demonstrate step-by-step how one of these training modes (the "Attack" mode) works; although the challenge you're given differs between them, the procedure itself will be applicable to all three modes. We'll describe the differences between the three modes' challenges a bit later on.

In Attack training mode, you'll be given a series of positions; the challenge is to click on every piece that can be captured by an opposing piece. The material values of the pieces don't matter, the option to recapture doesn't matter, the side to move doesn't even matter. You just need to single-click on every piece or pawn on the chessboard (for both players) that can be captured by an opposing piece. This will require you to look at the board from the viewpoint of both players.

To start the Attack training mode, fire up Fritz9, go to the Tools menu, select "Training", and then click on "Attack Training" from the submenu:

The next dialogue you'll see will ask you to select a database and define the parameters of your training session:

The dialogue will default to a large ChessBase database from your ...\My Documents\ChessBase folder, but you can easily switch to another database by clicking the button which displays three dots (at the righthand side of the "Database:" block). The familiar Windows File Select dialogue will appear, and you can use it to navigate to any database in any folder on any drive. In the illustration below, I've switched databases to a "work" database I've previously created called "Analysis", as well as changed a couple of the other parameters (which we'll discuss in a minute):

Note that there's a line in this dialogue which describes the specific challenge of that training type; since we're doing Attack training, the challenge reads "Click all white and black pieces that can be taken." Keep in mind that this means exactly what it says; it doesn't matter if a White pawn is defended by another pawn while being attacked by the Black Queen -- that White pawn will need to be clicked in order to successfully complete the challenge.

There are two other parameters which can be set in this dialogue: "Next game" and "Minutes". The first of these allows you to select a game number in the database at which you'd like to start the training session. The default value is "1", meaning that Fritz9 will pull up a position from the first game in the database at the start of the session. After you complete this position, it will then bring up a position from Game #2 in the database, and so on. But if you want to "jump ahead" to a game from later in the database and start your training session there, just type in a different game number in the "Next game" box. By the way, Fritz9 will "remember" where you left off in the database the next time you start an Attack training session.

The "Minutes" parameter doesn't mean what you might think it does. This value doesn't refer to the number of minutes per position -- it refers to the total length of your training session. So, for example, if you set this value to "5" (as I've done in the illustration above) you'll have five minutes total in which to complete as many challenges as you're able.

When you're ready to start, click the "OK" button. Fritz9 will then load a position from the game you indicated with your "Next game" selection and the clock will start running. You must then single-click on every piece or pawn on the board which is subject to capture. When you click on a piece the square around it will turn bright green. To unselect a piece, click on it a second time:

The illustration shows a training session in progress; I've clicked on three pieces which are subject to capture, all of which are highlighted in bright green.

How do you know when you've successfully completed a challenge? Fritz9 will instantly load a position from the next game in the database after you've clicked on each piece that can be captured. Note that Fritz9 won't alert you to an incorrect choice or give you any "hints"; if you think you've clicked on every correct piece and a new position hasn't loaded, you need to go back and look more closely -- you've either incorrectly selected a piece or else you've missed pieces that can be taken.

Fritz9 will also throw in a little "trick" now and again: it will occasionally flip the board so that Black starts from the bottom (in other words, the program will randomly switch back and forth between White's and Black's points of view). This is significant, because it's crucial to be aware of which direction the pawns are moving (pawns can't attack backwards, so you'll need to remain aware of which side is moving in which direction).

Also be aware that you can forget about en passant captures, since you won't know which side was to move in the game and won't be aware of the move immediately preceeding the current position (the gamescore is hidden in training mode). So en passant pawn captures are right out.

Eventually your time will run out. When it does, Fritz9 will highlight in yellow all of the pieces you failed to click on. You'll also see a dialogue which provides you with your scoring for that training session:

This dialogue also gives you two additional options. If you want to start a new training session, click the "Try Again" button (which will restart the training session with the same "game" and "minutes" values from the session just ended). Or you can click "Cancel" to just bail out of the training mode altogether. Note, too, that you can stop any training session in progress by clicking on the red "X" near the upper lefthand corner of your screen.

That's how Attack training works. All three training modes function the same way, except that the specific challenge varies from mode to mode:

  • Attack training -- You need to click on every piece or pawn for both sides which can be captured by an opposing piece or pawn;
  • Defense training -- You're required to click on every piece or pawn on the board which isn't defended by a friendly piece or pawn. You'll need to remember that it doesn't matter whether or not a piece or pawn is presently under attack by an opposing unit; if it's not defended by a friendly unit, it qualifies as "undefended" for the purpose of this exercise;
  • Check training -- In this interesting training mode, you need to click every piece or pawn on the board which can put the opposing King in check after it moves. Note, though, that this does not refer to pieces or pawns currently giving check (there shouldn't be any in the positions loaded by Fritz), but instead refers to pieces or pawns which must first move in order to place the opposing King in check.

I mentioned that all three of these new training modes are designed to train your "board vision" but they can help you with your pattern recognition skills, too. This ties in with the previously-mentioned fact that all three of these training modes can be used with any database. So, for example, you can do a database search for all games of a particular opening, copy these into a new database, and then use that database in training mode. You'll often see similar middlegame patterns develop from a particular opening and you'll likely notice some similarities between the positions loaded by Fritz in a given training mode when it's used in this manner.

All three training types likewise share a similar motif: they're geared toward helping you recognize threats -- not just those you've created against your opponent, but also those he's created for you. That's exactly the reason why you're challenged to click on pieces for both players in each of these training modes.

When I first heard about these new training modes in Fritz9, I naturally assumed that they were geared toward beginning players. After trying them myself, I've changed my mind. These training modes are a lot more challenging that you might think -- I've kicked myself more than once after my time ran out and I saw a yellow-highlighted piece and realized that I missed a piece or pawn threatened by a nearby Knight or by a Bishop from somewhere across the board (and this is particularly true in positions which have pieces densely packed in some area of the board).

Most of all, though, this feature is really fun to use. The timed nature of the training really adds to the pressure, challenge, and fun of these modes. Even if you think you're at a playing level that's "beyond this sort of thing", I'm willing to bet you're wrong if you're not a titled player. Give these three new training modes a whirl and I think you, too, will find them challenging and fun to use.

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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