Reader mail

3/14/2006 – The e-mails from readers continue to pour in to our ChessBase Workshop mailbox. In the latest edition, our columnist responds to a few of them, including an interesting pair of missives about IM Alexander Bangiev's controversial series of Squares Strategy CDs. Workshop...

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Our first reader letter comes to us from Ken Blaine:

Fritz8 is mirroring / transposing White 2nd moves to Black 2nd moves (incorrectly) in special cases.

Ex:
Start a new game. Enter 1.d4 d5. Select the Opening Book tab. Make a list of the candidate 2nd moves for White.

Start a new game. Enter 1.d3 d5 2.d4. Select the Opening Book tab. The list of candidate moves for Black's 2nd move is the same as for White's 2nd move above but transposed / mirrored. All the statistics are the same, too.

Note that 1.d4 d5 and 1.d3 d5 2.d4 is the same board position but it is Black's move in the second line, not White's as in the first line. Other lines can be made to behave the same way if the same board position is reached but with an extra move.

Are the Fritz programmers aware of this?

I tried to find something on this in your past T-Notes but had no luck.

I've read about this behavior before. I tried it myself and got the same results, but also noticed that the statistics "normalize" after another move or two by each player. I don't know why this behavior occurs, other than as a means of allowing the program to react to "anti-computer" moves that a human player might try (such as Kasparov's infamous 1.e3 against Fritz in 1994). But I'm relatively certain it's intentional.

Thanks Ken!

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This one's from Jack Appelmans of Acton, MA:

I enjoy prowling the Chessbase News archives when hunting down a solution to a problem, and found something I wasn't expecting in your 04.11.2005 post, which relayed a letter from Bob Durett. Bob's letter was apparently dated much earlier (you said you couldn't recall whether you'd already shared it or not), in which he said, among other things:

"(5) I use a White Study Pointer, Black Study Pointer, White Opening Repertoire, Black Opening Repertoire, tree of recent games where each player is ELO 2600 or above, the same for 2500+, and a few other tools. If you have the wild urge to read a letter on how these tools are created, grown, and used then send me an email and I'll reply. "

You responded: "5) Fire away..."

I could never find any later posts that reflected what Bob might have said - could you share that?...

Sorry, Jack -- Bob never fired back, otherwise I'd be glad to pass it along.

By the way -- "prowling". I like that term.

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Also from Jack:

There are two CB functions you didn't discuss in your Making Your Own Playbook series that I thought seemed relevant:

1. Scan Repertoire for a whole database (assuming you've set up the database that you chose to call the reference db as the repertoire db instead), which admittedly only produces a text report instead of a games list (??), but covers the entire repertoire in one pass, which is a pretty big savings in time, and

2. Editorial Annotation (RR) for an individual game, which uses the source (e.g. a CBM) as a reference database, and then cites relevant game stems, without the full continuations (yeah, I know, that misses the endgame characteristics, and if you're playing the Marshall Attack, that's what you're shooting for)

Any comment on how these might help / hinder the exercise of developing / maintaining your repertoire?

I knew someone would eventually ask this question; you readers are too damned smart sometimes. OK, you'll hate me, but my answer's something of a cop-out.

I don't use the "scan repertoire" feature myself; I do it manually as described in that series of articles you mentioned. On the surface it might appear to be more work (and, really, it is) but it forces me to think about what I'm adding to the playbook. I like a lean playbook; I'm not looking to add every single move that comes down the pike, be it from CBM, TWIC, or whatever. So by looking at the individual games I'm adding/referencing, I'm adding only the material that I find relevant and/or significant, plus I'm thinking about what I'm adding (acquiring the knowledge before I need it, instead of reviewing it later when it's too late).

Scan repertoire is a really useful tool for players who want all of the available information added at one shot. One drawback I've discovered is that it requires you to set up your repertoire database very carefully: longer variations need to appear earlier in the database than short "stem" variations -- otherwise the feature sometimes tends to dump information into the short game and miss adding it to the longer branch variation games.

So I do things "the hard way". It's more labor-intensive, but my reward is a leaner playbook. And it's still a million times easier than the old days when I used index cards or a "little black book". I'm not saying that everyone should do it this way; it's just what's worked best for me -- I'm not bright and when I'm hit with "information overload" my personal "tilt light" comes on and starts flashing.

But the cool thing about this software is that it usually gives you multiple ways of tackling the same task and you can use the one that's right for you.

Thanks Jack!

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Finally, here's two responses to my previews of Bangiev's Squares Strategy series of instructional CDs:

I saw your review of volume 3, unfortunately after I have just purchased all 3 volumes. I hadn't seen your first 2 reviews.

I received the DVDs in the mail yesterday and very excitedly fired up volume 1 - which seemed the logical place to start. I was clearly wrong, because volume 1 is virtually incomprehensible on its own. Very strangely indeed, you have to go to the later volumes for an explanation of much of the Bangiev method. Lucky - sort of - that I purchased all 3.

But the course still dissapoints greatly. I give Mr Bangiev full credit for originality but a very low score for his didactic abilities. The language is just very tortured and repetitive. As you point out, it will take a lot of effort to learn the new notation and techniques. And I do not get a strong sense that the Bangiev method necessarily produces great results!. The explanations of the method as applied to actual games are not immediataley clear. There are 3 possibilities, none of which fill me with excitement:
a. I am a mid-grade club player without the intelligence to get the most out of the course
b. I CAN learn to use this technique but need to give it a lot more trial
c. The technique is in fact flawed and that when Bangiev sees his method producing results, he is already applying unconsciously the knowledge he acquired through traditional study - which obviously is consideravble given his IM rating.

Again I have to say that my dissapointment is the greater because the prize seemed so wonderful - being able to think strategically in a proper way without the necessaity to learn huge amounts by rote.

And yet, when I think about it, how could such an apparently foolproof, precise technique, really work? What would separate 2 players both skilled in the Bangiev technique? And if it is so profound, should Mr Bangiev himself be much higher up the ladder?

To a relative novice like myself still learning the basics of colours and so forth, I found some general observations very interesting and they will perhaps be useful to me. Beyond that, this approx 60 euros has not been money well spent.

Mr Bangiev has obviously put enormous effort into develping his technique and has a passion for sharing it. I really wish that I had liked it more and I do not criticise him in any way becaise I know how hard it is to get original ideas accepted. If there is one lesson, I suggest that the chess base web site have readily accessible product reviews (links on the Shop pages that advertise the products) - like Amazon.com, instead of having to search for them.

Tony Glazebrook

And:

I'm writing in response to your reviews of the Bangiev Square Strategy disks and whilst that may cause you to draw a sharp in take of breath and whisper "oh boy, not another one" I am in fact writing to praise both your reviews, and the disks involved.

I've been working through the disks one by one for some time now and whilst I can definitely see whilst some players take issue with what they regard and lack of clarity, I have to disagree with their overall analysis. My game is definitely improving as a result of these disks, for example: I no longer just play an opening as per the book moves but think about what the book moves are doing in a systematic way as defined by the poorly named but effective "B-method". Further, the flow from opening to middlegame is seemless and I rarely if ever find myself looking at a position thinking "now what?!" What joy that is!

I know it's not an absolute & solution to the problem of chess (would we really want that anyway??) but it really does help with analysing positions in a systematic way (and this systematic manner is the key for me) in order to find an active and valid plan based on the position; this approach seems lacking in many other method books.

Anyway, I'm only writing this to say thanks to Mr. Bangiev - I know he's taken grief for his immense effort but I for one am overwhelming grateful for his efforts given how much he's improved both my game and my understanding - and also to thank you for having the guts to fly in the face of controversy in supporting the product and giving honest reviews.

The square stategy is excruitiatingly hard work at times but based on my personal experience, I honestly believe it's worth it.

Richard Edgar

I've read a lot of Interrant posts about Squares Strategy and my previews of the series, both pro and con, and I've not seen the two arguments presented in a more clear and succinct manner than in these two e-mails (which, coincidentally, arrived within a short time of each other).

There's not a lot I can say except that I called it as I saw it in those previews and stand behind what I wrote. I knew that these disks would stir up something of a hornet's nest before I ever started banging out those columns, and the response has borne that out.

As for "having the guts to fly in the face of controversy", it's really not a big deal. I probably contributed a great deal to the controversy with my preview of the first CD (and, if so, IM Bangiev has my sincerest apologies). But I've been in more flamewars, screaming matches, and fistfights than anyone would care to shake a stick at; I'm opinionated and curmudgeonly and I leaned to live on that territory a long time ago. (But there's things I won't do -- I'd be crazy to stand in the middle of blue-collar bar south of the Mason-Dixon and yell "Big & Rich SUCK!!!". That's an honest statement [in my opinion] but it's also just stupidly looking for trouble).

I will argue, though, about an inference made by Mr. Glazebrook, that the B-Method is somehow foolproof and "...if it is so profound, should Mr Bangiev himself be much higher up the ladder?" That comment seems more than a bit unfair. If that was so, one could also infer that no one but an ex-World Champion should write any chess book. In chess (as in life) you'll ideally go as far as your tools and talents can take you. IM Bangiev has discovered/developed a tool that's helped him maximize his talents; he's shared it in the hope that it will likewise help others to maximize their talents as well. But it's entirely possible that a particular player's talents (however maximized) will still fall short of another player's skills and talents. That's just life. Here's an analogy: I'm an average club player who (at age 45) isn't likely to see much more improvement -- ChessBase/Fritz aren't going to make me the world champion. But I'd be a far far worse player had it not been for my use of these tools; they've helped me maximize my meagre natural talent and made me a better chessplayer -- not a champion by any means, but a better player regardless.

An expression I coined a long time ago (and am somewhat fond of) is "the best you can do is the best you can do". It's not a bitter observation by a longshot; it's one of the most optimistic (and, yes, proud) things I can think of.

The best you can do is the best you can do. And nobody (even you) can or should ever ask you for more -- and you should never ask yourself for less.

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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