The future of chess books (2)

by Frederic Friedel
5/3/2020 – So I am being pressured to publish a book, a collection of articles that have, in the last twenty years, appeared on our news page – especially those describing encounters with famous players. And the ones that showed entertaining puzzles and games. They were very nice on a computer monitor, where you can replay and analyse everything – but transfering them onto very thin slices of tree? Nobody fetches a chessboard and pieces to replay moves anymore. Ahh, but there's a solution to this problem. Let me show you. And please help me evaluate this approach.

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As I said in the first part of this article: I believe that chess books and magazines represent a colossal waste. Less than ten percent of all readers play through the games they contain – those who do are called grandmaster, or IMs, and they do it in their heads – they read chess books like adventure novels. The rest of us try to follow the first few moves, if they are part of our openings repertoire, and then jump to the diagrams, where we replay a few moves that follow in our mind. The rest is usually ignored.

So just a small percentage of non-professional chess players actually read chess books. Hand on your heart: when was the last time you set up the chess board and pieces and replayed a game from a book or a magazine?

The irony is that you probably have the ultimate replay right there in your pocket, or on the living room table: your smart phone or tablet. On it the moves are executed on a graphic chessboard, and you can even have an engine running in the background, ready to answer every what-if and why-not question that might occur to you.

But how do you get the moves of the game, printed on paper, into your electronic device? Scanning the page and using intelligent OCR is not a practical solution. Also downloading a file and then searching in a database for the game you see on the page is cumbersome. You need to get it in one quick and easy action. And that is possible – using a QR code. This is a kind of barcode (QR stands for "quick response") in matrix form, which the camera of your smartphone or tablet can pick up quickly and effectively. And an app, one of a dozen you can get for free in the Apple or Google stores, will immediately execute the instructions contained in the QR matrix.

I am not the first person to think about the possibility of using this in chess books. As I told you in the first part of this article: my good friend Prof. Christian Hesse used the system in 2015, in his (German language) book Damenopfer. There, for the first time I believe, you could scan a QR image printed next to each diagram or at the start of a game, and then replay it on your electronic device. This takes a second or two. After that you have the game, moves, and the entire analysis on your mobile phone or tablet, and can replay them right there, in your garden, on a train or plane, anywhere. You read the stories in the book and replay the games on your electronic device. I showed some examples in my previous article.

So how I can I use this tool in my books? I have been experimenting with converting past articles printable text. After trying Microsoft Word and  Libre Office I hit upon Google Drive, which has a word processor that appears to exactly fulfill my needs. So the process is copy and paste a text from articles, update and format them nicely, and then export the file, which is stored in the cloud, e.g. to PDF. Works very nicely. Google's word processor does not have all the functions of the dedicated packages, but it has all the essential ones, and they have been optimised for ease of use.

The articles I convert often have positions or games. I always have them in PGN or ChessBase – in fact they are usually embedded in the JavaScript replayer on the news page and can be downloaded with a click from there. Take for example my recent article "The game that shook the world." At the bottom is a replayer with the annotated game. Clicking on the diskette icon downloads the PGN and, in my setup, loads it into ChessBase 15.

Now comes the decisive part: I go to the File menu and click "Publish this game". ChessBase 15 offers to produce a One Click Publication, with the replayer. It gives the URL, embed code for the player (so you can add it to a blog article), and social media buttons (to post on Facebook, Twitter or email to a friend). Here is what the page it generates looks like. That is definitely a page you can link to.

If you follow the URL given, on your mobile phone or tablet, this is what you get. You shold try it out: scan the following QR code (use a barcode or QR scanner as described below) and see what it looks like on your device.

As you can see on the photo the tablet produces the full player, where you can start an engine (fan icon) that will help you to analyse. There is even a "!" icon (on the right side of the engine display) that shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves (I use it all the time).

For the technically savvy there is another option: "Create an HTML file" and upload it to your server. In that case you use <div class="cbreplay"> tag. Full details are given here.

So we have generated the replay page as described above. It takes less than one minute. But how do you embed a link to it in your book or magazine? This is where I use QR codes, which are infinitely more practical than typing a long URL into the mobile phone browser. And it is perfectly simple to implement: simply google for one of a dozen (free) QR code generator pages. There you simply paste the URL ChessBase gave you for the replay page, and bing! you have the QR code matrix as a JPG or PNG. This you embed on your book or magazine page.

Naturally you can use this to link not only to replay pages, but also to YouTube videos, audio files, small utilities, etc. Here are some examples from the trial articles for my book (click all images to enlarge):

The above QR code leads to a video interview that is the basis of the article

Check if this external small utility works without problems on your phone or tablet

And here is the book page with a QR link to the full game with all annotations.

I think this is a very feasible method of making chess content available to readers of a book. I thank Christian Hesse for his pioneer work described in the first part of this article. Things have in fact improved: Christian's book was published five years ago, and I am using the latest ChessBase replayer, developed in 2020. It has many exciting functions that were not previously available.

What you can do for me

I will give you three trial chapters, which you can download and print out, to get a real feel for how my book would work. Or you can simply click on the links and display the files on the PGN reader. Then tell me how the game replayer runs on your mobile phone and your tablet. Also, I would be interested to find people who can assist in the production and publication of the book(s).

Topics: Chess books

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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klausm klausm 5/11/2020 02:06
QR-codes will not last forever (and they are ugly)! Why not use the diagrams in the books directly? This can easily be done with pattern recognition programmes today. I'm sure Chessbase can develop a version of their database for mobiles with that feature. When you get multiple results, you can easily choose the game you want, and other games with the same position may be useful.
celeje celeje 5/7/2020 09:46
E-books in pdf format are the best. All the other electronic stuff is more annoying than helpful.
PJOD PJOD 5/5/2020 08:32
I had hoped that this article was going down the road of telling me how I could access the content of all those lovely books lying dormant on my shelf because I don't have the time to access them when at home. This type of technology is much more convenient than books when standing on a packed commuter train (remember them?). But it would need to be practical for phones as well as tablets. Just like how I wish I could access my chessbase dvds on the go...
chessdrummer chessdrummer 5/4/2020 06:32
I wrote about this back in February 2012 in an article titled, "QR Codes are Coming to Chess." It is not much more than a hyperlink to content. What I find is that phones are still too limited in terms of screen size to give the user full range of options. When I tried to use QR codes for my chess articles (to point to content), I found that there was a character limit.

When I wrote a chess book some years ago, I thought about having a QR code next to each game. I didn't proceed because I wasn't sure if the technology would change within a few years. I simply supplied a PGN game file containing all the games in the book.

At some point we will figure out a better way, but books are still very much in vogue. If you don't believe it, join the chess book collectors Facebook group and be amazed.
Rikis Rikis 5/4/2020 04:55
What a sad delusion of automatism... Hands on my heart: people often see me with my pocket chess set and a paper publication on a plane or airport, let alone with wooden or magnetic chess set in my hotel room or in a lobby. Only a slow moving of real chess pieces reading a game from paper magazine or book with a proper drink may make my evening wortwhile after the turmoil of a workday with many sorts of electronic involved. Today I walked in a nature reserve untill the noon, slowly exploring plants, listening to birds, discovering wildlife. There's no doubt the esteemed gentleman FF would have cruised past me in his car in 2 minutes, extremely proud of his wonderful car performance.
Bill Alg Bill Alg 5/4/2020 04:12
There are many people who work all day in front of a computer. And the evening or the weekend comes, they want to study some chess. Then the question: do I sit in front of a computer *again*, or do I study with my book/magazine and my wooden chessboard?
peterfrost peterfrost 5/4/2020 07:28
Hmm. I'm beginning to worry that my daily habit of playing over games from 1980's Informators might be a tad old fashioned.
jserrano jserrano 5/4/2020 01:56
I just tried all three links. These are my thoughts.

- The links to the video and to the external chess puzzle work well but the web page for the full game is too cramped for the small screen of a phone. It is perfect for tablets and Chromebooks though. A simplified version including a bare bones board plus notation with a link to the full website would be perfect. Try to nag ChessBase to develop a simplified web page for small screen devices.

- If the book is going to be also available as an e-book, please add a hyperlink (in the e-book version) for those reading in their tablets (so there is no need to take a screenshot).

I find the adding of a QR a neat idea. It takes little page space and for some (many?) of us it would be a welcome bonus. Since the QR is purely optional it should not bother those who prefer reading the paper book as usual. Thumbs up.
MJFitch MJFitch 5/4/2020 01:12
What will you read on a deserted island, when there's no internet...???...PS: I have a board setup by my computer and i just finished one of the best books i've ever read."Devoted To Chess-The Creative Heritage Of Yuri Razuvaev" I put it up there with "The Life & Games of Mikhail Tal"...TRULY!!!
adbennet adbennet 5/4/2020 01:01
I don't see the advantage of this over a regular ebook. For the publisher it's wide open to piracy, nobody needs to purchase the book to access the urls. For the reader it's a weird QR code interface just to get the pgns one at a time onto their phone. If you are not going to protect against piracy anyway, why not just have one QR code at the beginning of the book where all the games are collected in a single pgn?
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/4/2020 12:55
'Nobody fetches a chessboard and pieces to replay moves anymore.' I do. I try to follow games 'blind', which is a good training for play, and when I get interested and things get difficult to follow, I put up the position on the board, to analyse it.
I do of course quick scans of daily tournament games, on sites like this. But even when visiting a chess site, I regularly get my pocket set (don't have to 'fetch' it, it's always close) to first find out for myself, if I don't get something and the position interests me. Just clicking through moves with your mouse, switching to the online engine for analysis, makes your mind lazy. A car brings you faster to your destination, but you see a lot more when you walk sometimes.
So be as pleased with this 'invention' as you like, but don't try to establish what's normal and what's not.
josschess josschess 5/3/2020 11:18
Qr code van Friedel
Grappig, het werkt
catalanFischer catalanFischer 5/3/2020 10:26
Yes text is basic. Kasparovs analysis r way to deep and wide for my poor brain to follow. But I love to read his annotations between the moves.
Aagaard is a very good writer too.
HowardGutman HowardGutman 5/3/2020 08:54
Some of this makes sense and many readers do look at the pictures. But some of this needs narrative text, take the Fischer/Petrosian match.

First, that was really two matches and while Fischer dominated during the world chess cycle, he was outplayed in the first half of the match. Petrosian had the advantage in I think 4 of the first 5 games, 1,2, 3, 5. We need a human to tell us that Petrosian and his team prepared beautifully, TN in game 1, targeting a poor variation previously placed by Fischer in 3. Interestingly that changed the second half. Petrosian decided to reply a poor variation whose primary virtue of surprise was eliminated in game 6.

But more pictures and explanation the better
Setne007 Setne007 5/3/2020 06:05
Amazing idea! Thanks!
BeFraBro BeFraBro 5/3/2020 03:34
Sitting in front of my board, surrounded by my books and magazines I keep thinking: What is this guy talking about??? Playing chess with my hands, having a book in front of me, working my way through the games in this book is still my litte heaven of tranquility which no computer monitor will ever ruin.
GeordieViking1 GeordieViking1 5/3/2020 01:27
Hi Frederic.

Please let's have paper books forever. They don't have batteries that can suddenly die when you need them.