The coach in Fritz11

by ChessBase
8/22/2009 – In our continuing ChessBase Workshop series discussing Fritz11 features for beginners we look at Fritz' electronic chess coach. Need a hint? Want a takeback? The Fritz Coach not only lets you take back moves but also alerts you to your errors in the first place. Learn more about the Coach feature in the newest ChessBase Workshop.

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It's been said that if a chess beginner was allowed unlimited "takebacks" he or she could beat a world champion, and I do believe that assertion to be true. In the majority of cases no one loses a chess game unless he or she makes a mistake. If you've ever taught beginning players you'll know what I'm talking about: if you keep allowing takebacks the game tends to stretch on into eternity, and there comes a point where you have to say "No more takebacks" if you hope to ever end the game and get on with your life.

I'm not slamming beginners here -- I think the "takeback" is a valuable tool for novice players. I've played lots of training games with students in which I'll say "You might want to rethink that" after they blunder particularly badly. Oftentimes they require a bit more information in order to understand why a particular move wasn't very good, and I'll have to drop a hint or two to steer them down the right path.

That's precisely what the "Coach" feature in Fritz11 does: it acts like a human teacher who tells you when you've erred and tries to guide you down a better path. (And, so I won't get thirty-five e-mails asking for clarification, yes the same "Coach" feature also exists in Junior, Shredder, Hiarcs, Rybka, etc.)

Before you use the "Coach" in Fritz, there's a preliminary bit of business which much be performed. This was discussed a column or two ago in ChessBase Workshop but it bears repetition here. You'll need to set up the parameters for the Coach by going to the Tools menu, selecting "Options", and then clicking on the "Game" tab:


The two settings in question are displayed within the "Coach" box: "Calc. time" and "Threshold".

"Threshold" lets you set a value which determines when Fritz will think you've made a mistake. The number in the box is expressed in units of 1/100th of a pawn; for example, the default value of "80" represents 80/100ths (or 8/10ths) of a pawn. If you make a move which causes the engine's evaluation of your position to drop more than the value set for the Threshold, the Coach will pop up on the screen.

If you set the value for a high number (such as "100"), you won't see the Coach until you make a move which drops a pawn (or the positional equivalent), ergo you won't see the Coach very often but when you do you'll know you made a pretty big mistake. Conversely, if you set the value to a low number (like "30", the numerical equivalent of a tempo) you'll see the Coach appear a lot more, but the mistakes which prompt his appearance won't be as drastic. The trick is to find a setting which is right for you. A high value is preferred for beginners (because they won't likely understand the nature of an error unless it involves loss of material). More advanced players can set somewhat lower values, but not too low because the Coach will then pop up constantly, disrupting the flow of the game (as well as resulting in what'll essentially be the "unlimited takeback" scenario mentioned at the top of this column). My personal opinion is that "50" or so is a good setting for an intermediate player -- if you drop half a pawn at the club level, that's a fairly serious mistake.

"Calc. time" refers to how long (in seconds) the Coach will think when you ask him for a hint (the "Calculation time"). There's another tradeoff here: higher values result in better suggestions, but you'll have to wait longer to see them. In any case, the default value of "4" is far too low. Here again, the setting you choose will largely be a matter of personal preference, but I don't think "15" is unreasonable for a minimum setting.

After you've set these two parameters, click the "OK" button and they'll be in effect. For our examples I set the values to "60" for the Threshold and "15" for the Calculation time.

Let's say we're playing a game as White against Fritz and we get to the following position:


This is actually from Ligterink-Ree, Donner Memorial 1994, by the way, in case you want to look it up in your Fritz database later. Black just played ...Qxe7 and now it's our move. Let's make a mistake (on purpose) so we can illustrate how the Coach works: we'll play the pawn on b2 to b4:


...and here's our buddy, the Coach (in a past column I referred to him as "Leo". I don't know why -- he just looks like a "Leo". He looks like one of those park chess hustlers who sets up by the swing sets and scares all the little kids). There are four buttons on the Coach "popup" two of which let us pick the kind of hint we want to see.

"Give me a subtle hint" is just that. The Coach won't come right out and tell you why the move's a mistake, but will instead try to "nudge" you in the right direction:


That is, indeed, pretty subtle, but the Coach is letting us know that there's something just plain wrong with that pawn sitting on b4. We can get something a bit more concrete (as in "like being hit in the head by a brick") by clicking "Give me a broad hint":


In addition to the verbal hint, a red arrow is drawn on the board to illustrate the opponent's threat:


The bottom two buttons in the Coach display allow us to take one of two actions. "I don't believe that" lets the move stand; the Coach dialogue disappears and the game continues (and you'll likely see immediately why the move was a bad one; this can be pretty educational, albeit harshly, which is why we're given this option to ignore the Coach's warning). The other choice is "OK, I take that back" (and this button's purpose should be obvious -- we click it to take the move back and we now have an opportunity to make a different move).

It's all pretty simple and straightforward stuff: the Coach is like a chess teacher who points out our mistakes and let's us have "takebacks" when we slip up. In Fritz' case, though, you'll never hear the Coach complain if the takebacks pile up and the game takes all day: Fritz will play just as long as you'd like.

Until next time, 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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