Three cds from ChessBase

2/4/2006 – New Chessbase CDs and DVDs have been coming out at a fast and furious rate. You can read previews of three of them (Vienna Game, Dutch A80-A85, and 1000 Opening Traps) in the new Chessbase Workshop.

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The CDs and DVDs have been hitting my mailbox at a furious clip. This week we're going to have a look at three of the latest CD releases from ChessBase; all of them are on the subject of opening training.

The first one to catch my eye was Gregory Huber's The Vienna Game, and for a very personal reason: I once wrote a CD about the Vienna and, like my disk on the Ruy Lopez Worrall Attack, it never saw the light of day. In both cases the publishers went belly-up before the disks were released. I must have really hacked off that Romanian gal I used to run a long while back; she's evidently put a curse on me so that every opening disk I write causes the publisher to go bankrupt. It's no wonder that Rainer Knaak won't answer my e-mails.

So I know a little about the Vienna (and I have some Skynyrd running through my head now, too). That doesn't have a thing to do with this preview; I just felt the need to whine.

The CD The Vienna Game actually covers two openings: the Vienna (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3) and the Bishop's Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4). There are a few advantages to these openings. First, your opponent was likely expecting dang near everybody he faces to play 2.Nf3, so he's not likely to have done any "home prep" against either of these openings. Second, there's not a ton of theory to be learned by the White player, especially so when compared to everything that can happen after 2.Nf3. Third, the nature of these openings pretty much allows White to determine what kind of game he wants (attacking or static, tactical or positional, etc.). And fourth, these two openings are statistically comparable to the more mainstream 2.Nf3 openings in terms of their success rates against Black. So what's not to like?

The Vienna Game follows what has become the standard approach for ChessBase opening CDs. You'll begin with an introductory text which explains some basic ideas, as well as provides a methodology for using the CD. The next text is called "Common Themes and Patterns" and it's a pretty impressive chapter. It's a pretty long text and, remarkably, contains no links to games -- it's a comprehensive listing and explanation of the themes you'll see repeated over and over when you play the Vienna and the Bishop's. It's a catalogue of what to look for as you study the rest of the disk and its value can't possibly be overemphasized; the "Themes and Patterns" text is your guidebook for everything which follows.

And what does follow is a series of twenty-four texts (think of them as "chapters") on individual variations in these two openings. Here's where you'll get your links to important example games, as well as text explanations of each variation and subvariation. The author has done something with these texts which I like very much: the main line of each variation appears in red type. This allows you to focus on a single variation in each text as your starting point before you start branching off into the sidelines. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it's so danged helpful that I'm surprised more writers of ChessBase training CDs haven't adopted the practice.

The thing that drove me bats while I was writing my own CD on the Vienna was the transpositional nature of the opening. Huber handles this aspect very well on The Vienna Game and makes sure to point these transpositions out to the reader as they arise.

The instructional database on The Vienna Game contains 357 entries; twenty-six of these are texts and the remainder are annotated games. The reference database contains 27,578 games. There's an additional database of fifty-four games containing timed training questions which allow you to test yourself on how well you've learned the material. And the usual opening book/tree (used as an alternative opening book for Fritz as well as a statistical reference tool) is also present; it contains 621,532 unique opening positions.

In short, I really like what Huber has done with The Vienna Game, and I respect the amount of work he's put into it. The Vienna's a breeze for the potential player to learn, but a nightmare for a potential author (due to the aforementioned transpositions). Gregory Huber's done a really great job here of organizing and presenting the information to the reader.

I always know when a new disk has arrived in the mail; I have a metal mailbox hanging on the front of my house and the package always makes a satisfying "ka-BANNNNNGGGG" when it hits the bottom. My second "ka-BANNNNNGGGG" this month was from Boris Schipkov's Dutch A80-A85. It's the sequel (or maybe prequel) to his previous CD on the Dutch, namely The Dutch Defense: Leningrad System (A86-A89), from about a year ago. This new CD is obviously similar in regard to structure and style, since the two disks together form a unified work on the Dutch (1.d4 f5).

Schipkov starts us off with a general introduction in which he explores some of the opening's history and mentions many of the great players who've regularly employed it. After the introduction come nineteen further texts:

  • 02. Basic Strategic Ideas
  • 03. Variations 2.Bf4 and 2.Qd3
  • 04. Variations 2.g4 and 2.h3
  • 05. Line 2.Bg5
  • 06. Line 2.Nc3
  • 07. Line 2.Nf3
  • 08. Line 2.g3
  • 09. Line 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6
  • 10. Staunton Gambit 2.e4
  • 11. Staunton Gambit 2...fxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5
  • 12. Various Lines after 2.c4
  • 13. Rubinstein Variation 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3
  • 14. Rubinstein Variation 3...d5 4.Nf3 c6
  • 15. Various Lines after 2.c4 Nf6
  • 16. Line 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3
  • 17. Line 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6
  • 18. Line 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6
  • 19. Stonewall 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.Nf3 d5
  • 20. Dutch Defence A80-A85 - Conclusion

The chapter on "Basic Strategic Ideas" is again your catalogue of the recurring themes in the A80-A85 Dutch. Each section of this chapter provides links to important sample games, as well as some nicely-done graphics which utilize colored arrows and squares on the chessboard; you can see at a glance the main focus of the particular theme in question.

Each of the texts on individual variations also contains some brief explanation of the variation's basic ideas, shows the subvariations which can occur, and provides game links to each.

The CD contains just one database; Schipkov has combined the instructional and reference databases into a single huge (over 37,500 games) unit. Nearly 1200 of these games are annotated to varying degrees. Dutch A80-A85 also has a training database: thirty games to test your knowledge by challenging you to solve timed training questions. The opening book contains 600,874 unique positions and can be used as a reference tool or as an alternative opening book for the Fritz family of playing programs.

Dutch A80-A85 is the perfect compliment to The Dutch Defense: Leningrad System (A86-A89) (in fact, they're intended as a two-volume work) and displays the clarity and thoroughness we've previously come to enjoy from Boris Schipkov.

The third "ka-BANNNNNGGGG" made me grin, even before I tore off the shrink wrap. It's called 1000 Opening Traps and it's written by Karsten Muller and Rainer Knaak.

There's nothing new about the idea of a book of opening traps. The authors of this CD even mention this fact and refer us back to Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (who's still one of my all-time favorite chess authors; his book on the middlegame practically changed my life). A ton of people have written opening trap books, most notably Neishtadt and Bruce Pandolfini. So what makes this disk different from the others (aside from the obvious fact that it's in a convenient electronic format)?

I think it's due in large measure to the writing style of the authors; 1000 Opening Traps is literally a joy to read. It's actually (*gasp*) entertaining; when you're talking about chess literature, this is much. Here's an example taken from the CD's introduction:

The verb to fall, hints at where we are heading - one falls, perhaps into a pit that somebody has dug and then hidden. That is the difference from a dangerous situation which you have brought upon yourself, such as climbing up a high tree or heading into unknown territory. What you are doing is natural, for example going along a path and then falling into something, such as a pit or a snare, etc. For the person who falls, it is of no importance whether the situation was created by someone else or whether it arose naturally, for example a hole that was unexpected in that place or a plant - the damage he may have suffered is exactly the same. Therefore there is someone who falls into a trap, and there is also someone - sometimes - who set the trap.

That actually made me laugh out loud because it's a delightful metaphor for the chess experience of falling into an opening trap (as opposed to just making a mistake which provides your opponent with an opportunity to create some mayhem). The whole CD is like this, with the traps clearly (and sometimes colorfully) explained.

Why do some of us love works on opening traps? I think it's for the same reason that TV shows on "Funniest Videos" or police chases are so popular; human beings like to think of themselves as noble creatures but there's a part in each of us which takes a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of others. Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges based their whole careers upon plucking that weird chord in each of us.

But 1000 Opening Traps is more than just mere comedy -- it's a complete catalogue and guide to setting traps for your opponent in the chess openings. The disk is indexed six ways to Sunday, with sections organized according to ECO codes, extensive use of medals to point out common themes, and even a special second database in which common motifs are catalogued and described. Here's a list of the texts contained on the CD:

  • Introduction
  • Grandmasters get caught
  • About this database / Sources
  • Various
  • A00-A39
  • A40-A99 1.d4 various
  • B00-B19
  • B20-B99
  • C00-C19 French
  • C20-C49 Various open games
  • C50-C59 Giuoco Piano + 2 Knights
  • C60-C99 3.Bb5 - Ruy Lopez
  • D00-D09 Queen's Gambit side lines
  • D20-D29 Queen's Gambit Accepted
  • D10-D19; D43-D49 Slav and Semi-Slav
  • D30-D42; D50-D69 Queen's Gambit
  • D70-D99 Grünfeld Defence
  • E00-E59 Catalan, Queen's Indian, Nimzo-Indian
  • E60-E99 King's Indian

The CD is really easy to use: you just go to the text on your favorite opening, read the next intro to a particular variation, click on the provided link, and the program (ChessBase, Fritz, or the Reader) pulls up a list of games for you to peruse. The main database contains the thousand games mentioned in the title. A second "motifs" database has about three hundred games organized according to theme. And a third training database lets you test yourself in 142 timed training games.

So how useful is this information to the average player? I sometimes hear moaning on the chess message boards about how traps books are "useless" because "you're never going to play that stuff". I strongly disagree; I've often had the pleasure of successfully setting opening traps for my opponents and, believe it or not, it's particularly the case in my correspondence games (in which you'd think that the opponent had a greater chance of spotting the trap). And reviewing these common opening pitfalls is very useful for keeping yourself from dropping right into them. It's even useful for advanced players to study these traps as a means of "seeing how it's done"; such players can then go on to devise new opening traps of their own.

Either way, 1000 Opening Traps is a lot of fun no matter what. The text is often entertaining and the games are instructive (and, yes, sometimes funny in a slapstick sort of way). It's a cool CD and I recommend it heartily.

By the way, all three of these CDs come with the ChessBase Reader program, a sort of "ChessBase Demo" which allows you to view and use the material presented on the disks. So each is a "standalone" with no other software required (though, as always, you'll want to use ChessBase or the Fritz "family" of playing programs if you have them to get the most from these instructional CDs).

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.

© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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