Tweaking Fritz - PART 3

5/18/2008 – Our ChessBase Workshop series on "Fritz11 tweaks" finishes the settings contained under the "Game" tab, specifically the Coach settings and the list of "on/off" toggles at the bottom of the dialogue. Discover more ways to configure your Fritz in the latest Workshop.

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Continuing our discusion of the options under the "Game" tab (reached by going to the Tools menu in Fritz11, selecting "Options", and then clicking on the "Game" tab), we'll next look at the check boxes near the bottom of the display:

 

"Show opening" causes the Fritz11 software to display the name of the opening on the screen (once enough moves have been played to determine said opening, of course). This will occur in one of two places. If you've opted to view the "Chatter" pane (by going to the Window menu, selecting "Panes", and then "Chatter" from the submenu), the name of the opening will be shown for a move or two in the Chatter pane. If, however, you've opted to not display the Chatter pane, the name of the opening will appear in the Status bar near the bottom of the screen. (Please note that it's entirely possible to have the Windows Taskbar completely cover the Status bar, thus obscuring it. If you've selected "Show opening" and are not seeing an opening name appear a few moves into the game, but you are seeing the Windows Taskbar, adjust your Windows settings to hide the Taskbar after you move your mouse cursor away from the bottom of the screen).

"Flip board on new game". No, this has nothing to do with violently overturning the board and scattering the pieces all over creation (and don't laugh -- I have had people ask about that). This toggle just means that the piece color assignments will be reversed with the start of each new game. If the White pieces started at the bottom of the screen one game, the Black pieces will begin at the bottom when the next game is started as long as "Flip board on new game" is selected. If this toggle isn't checked, the color assignments won't be reversed and the user will need to do it manually instead if desired (by using the View/Flip board command or hitting CTRL-F on the keyboard). This was a frequently-requested feature for a very long time and has been included in the software as a user-configurble option.

"Mark move with arrow" causes Fritz to do just that -- after a move is made, an arrow appears on the board displaying what move was last played. This is a pretty useful tool for people who play at longer time controls and like to get up and walk around while their opponent is having a "long think". Of course, in an over-the-board event, you can just ask your opponent what he just played if you find your clock running upon your return. You can't do that with Fritz (well, you can, but I doubt the software will respond), so this toggle provides an arrow which graphically shows the previous move. Here again, this is user-configurable and can be turned off by simply unchecking the box.

Finally, "Always promote to Queen" is a useful "blitz chess toggle". Although we've enjoyed a fair amount of past ChessBase Workshop mileage searching large databases for strange underpromotions, the fact is that it really makes sense to promote a pawn reaching the eighth rank to only either a Knight or Queen (since the latter piece combines the moves of the Bishop and Rook). Normally when you promote a pawn in Fritz you'll see a menu asking which of the full range of legal promotions you'd like to select:

 

It's the only way the program has to know the identity of the piece to which you'd like to promote. But there're a couple of drawbacks:

 

  1. It costs you time to make a selection, which can be a crucial factor in the latter stages of games with fixed time controls;
  2. As previously noted, two of the choices (Bishop, Rook) are just silly anyway.

And another idea factors into the mix here. How often do you really need to promote to a Knight? I've played literally thousands of games over four decades, and I can count the number of times I've underpromoted to a Knight on both hands and have fingers left over. I'm not saying that you'll never promote to a Knight, but that you'll choose Queen in the overwhelming majority of cases.

So the "Always promote to Queen" check box is another calculated risk (like the "quick move" toggles we discussed in the previous ChessBase Workshop). In most cases (99.x%) you'll be fine with this box checked -- you move a pawn to the eighth rank and BAM! -- instant Queen. In that other .x% of cases -- well, you're gonna become embittered. It's ultimately up to you. If you don't check this box, you'll see the dialogue from the immediately-preceding illustration appear when you promote a pawn and you'll have to take a second or so to manually choose the piece to which you'd like to promote. If you do check this box, you get a Queen automatically upon promotion but might wind up crying the blues in those relatively few games in which a Knight is absolutely necessary.

Let's move on to the final toggles under the "Game" tab: those concerning our old friend the Coach. You remember him -- you make a mistake, the Coach appears (unless you've switched him off, and we'll discuss that possibility a bit later). The Coach pops up, tells you you've made a mistake, and asks if you'd like a hint about a better move to play. The "Coach" toggles under the "Game" tab control two aspects of the Coach's performance: when he appears and how long he'll think when you ask him for a hint.

The "Threshold" setting is presented in 1/100ths of a pawn; you have to make a mistake which puts you behind by that amount or more in the chess engine's evaluation before the Coach will appear. The default value is "80", meaning that a mistake which costs you 4/5ths of a pawn or more will cause the Coach to appear. The higher you set the "Threshold" value, the bigger a mistake you'll have to make before the Coach pops up (ergo, the less often he'll appear). Conversely, the lower you set this value, the more often the Coach will pop up.

The choice is ultimately yours. If you set the value too low, the Coach becomes kind of nit-picky (and the qualitative difference between what you wanted to play and what the Coach suggests will not be glaringly apparent to even a really good player). Set the value too high and the Coach becomes kind of worthless (set the value to, say, "500" and you'll only see the Coach appear when you drop a Rook -- not too helpful, that). Start with the default value of "80" for a few games and you'll then have a baseline for further adjustment.

"Calc. time" (meaning "Calculation time") controls how long the Coach (i.e. the chess engine) will ponder the position before providing you with a suggested move (should you request one from the Coach). Now let's get something straight here -- yes, chess computers running on modern hardware are greasy fast, but they do require a bit of time to operate if you want anything better than cursory analysis. Here's a true scenario taken straight from my tech support logs. A fellow asked me how to improve the suggestions the Coach made; "The software's suggestions seem awfully superficial", he complained. So I told him to bump up the "Calc. time" setting. A few days later I heard from him again: "Yes, the suggestions are better, but I don't like to wait for them. Isn't there a way to get better analysis instantly?"

Nope. The longer you wait, the better the Coach's hints and suggestions will be. That's just the way it is.

So the trick to successfully using the Coach is to find a balance between how strong a suggestion you need compared to how long you're prepared to wait for it. I'll tell you straight away -- the default value of "4" seconds is way, way too short a time to receive a decent hint. Try bumping it up to "15", after which you can raise or lower it to your taste (if you find that "15" isn't working out for you and, honestly, I don't think thirty seconds is too long to wait for a really good suggestion). Just bear in mind that no software is going to belch out an earth-shattering hint when you give it a pondering time measured in the single-digits of seconds.

More Fritz11 tweaks next week. Until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. No tech support questions, please.

 


© 2008, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

Topics f11, Fritz11
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