Two classic CDs

by ChessBase
3/9/2005 – While the Chess Media System DVDs are all the rage, the "classic format" ChessBase training CDs are certainly still valid training tools. You can read previews of two of the latest "classics" in the new ChessBase Workshop. More Information...

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by Steve Lopez

It's always flattering (and a little bit scary) to discover that somebody famous reads this column. I write for the average player (those like myself, down here in the "fishpond") and it's seldom occurred to me that a titled player might be reading my weekly nurgling. So I was pretty shocked to find a forwarded e-mail in my box written by IM Jeremy Silman. It was in response to something I'd written in a recent column:

In your new article by Mr. Lopez, you say: "According to Jeremy Silman, material imbalances are the keys to understanding chess positions."

Sadly, you are misquoting me. I say, "Imbalances are the keys to understanding chess positions." A material imbalance is just one of several that needs to be thoroughly understood.

I'm often misquoted and it's not the end of the world. But here, you are telling the reader something harmful, since material imbalances are NOT the keys to understanding chess positions. I always try and make my students less materialistic (or at least make them understand that other imbalances can be equal to or even better than a material one). Your comment will convince the masses to be more obsessed by material considerations than ever before.

He's right. It wasn't a deliberate misquotation; it's another example of my "shortcutting" for the sake of brevity. The column in question dealt with a material imbalance display in ChessBase/Fritz, so I thought it would be helpful to cite IM Silman's excellent work on imbalances in chess and their importance in order to help the reader understand why a material imbalance display is better than a simple display of what's been removed from the board.

I also had an insidious ulterior motive for mentioning IM Silman's books. Here's my reply to his e-mail, sent to Fred Friedel (who'd forwarded IM Silman's e-mail to me):

He's right, of course. In my own defense, the article was about a program feature dealing with material imbalances -- so while it *was* technically a misquote, the statement was (I still think) pretty much contextually valid. I also had an insidious hidden plan in mind: to provoke more players into reading Mr. Silman's work.

However, I'll certainly print Mr. Silman's e-mail in full in a future column along with an appropriate "mea culpa" statement, along with a "thank you" for his calling it to my attention.

So here it is: IM Silman is right on the money; material imbalances are important, but certainly are not the only imbalances that need to be considered when evaluating chess positions (otherwise you'll end up playing like a circa 1988 DOS chess program). I take full responsibility for the misquote and I do sincerely thank IM Silman for writing to set the record straight.


previewed by Steve Lopez

While the new ChessBase DVDs in the Chess Media System format are all the rage currently, the old "Classic Format" CDs certainly still have their place. A good example is when the format of the instruction doesn't require lengthy exposition, such as when a disk contains a large number of interactive training questions.

That's the case with the CD Right Decisions by Jacob Aagaard and Esben Lund, based on Aagaard's book Excelling at Chess Calculation. The book's title is the giveaway to what Right Decisions is all about. While a great many chess positions allow the average player to proceed by using general principles or "feel", there are plenty of cases in which precise calculation is required. Right Decisions will provide you with lot of practice in calculating exact move sequences, practice that's obtained in a less stressful environment than your typical weekend rated chess tournament.

The CD is divided into five separate databases, each on a specific topic/type of calculation:

  1. "Seeing exercises" (designed to help you spot combinations)
  2. Positions for calculation (mainly involving specific tactics)
  3. Endgame studies
  4. Pawn endings
  5. Positions for playing (miscellaneous positions that don't fit into the other categories)
The first four databases listed consist of games with timed training questions; when you double-click on a game to open it, you'll get a popup window asking you to solve the position. Just make a move on the board to "answer the question" and the program will tell you whether or not you've solved the problem correctly. The training questions allow you a generous amount of time for solving each; more on this below.

The last database on the CD contains thirty positions designed to be loaded into one of the Fritz "family" of chessplaying programs and played out against the chess engine. You'll doubtless note that the database actually contains sixty entries; that's because each of these positions is provided a second time, with the moves that were played in the actual game along with some variations and analysis.

The other three databases which contain the timed training material give you an awful lot of "grist for the mill". Each of the databased training games contain multiple training questions plus plenty of side variations (some of which also contain timed training questions). So Right Decisions isn't a CD to be approached casually; many of the training games can easily become an evening's worth of practice.

Here's a game count for each of the three databases containing timed training games:

  • "Seeing exercises": 196 games
  • Positions for calculation: 89 games
  • Endgame studies: 100 positions
  • Pawn endings: 75 positions
With over 400 carefully-selected training positions on the disk, you'll receive plenty of practice in calculating exact variations.

Right Decisions is a "learn by doing" CD. There's not a lot of hardcore instruction included; realistically, how would someone "teach" you to calculate anyway? If you look back on the time you were starting out as a chessplayer, you might recall a time when it was difficult for you to see more than a move ahead. Most club players can easily "look ahead" at least three moves; they got to that point by doing it, by real-life practice, not by being "taught" how to do it.

"Doing it" is what Right Decisions is all about. Allow me to quote from the CD's introductory text:

On this CD you will find about 200 hours worth of training material. In preparing it we had to make some choices concerning time and the depth of the exercises. We decided that it would be in the serious student's interest to receive a lot of high quality material, rather than to receive a limited amount of material, deeply annotated. For this reason, we decided not to worry too much about the point system, nor about the time given for each question. These are mainly set in default mode. Also we did not add text to each of the approximately 1000 questions in the databases, as this text would only very rarely be of value in a training situation.

We do recommend that those who work with this CD check out their own solutions (when they differ from the intended ones) with a computer program like Fritz 8. In almost all situations the program will be able to give a quick verdict, as the positions on this CD are all tactical in nature.

And that's the best explanation of Right Decisions that can be given. You'll be forced to calculate specific variations, specific consequences, but you'll be doing it away from the "pressure cooker" of tournament or online play. It's hassle-free practice with the extra benefit of getting the right answers when you calculate incorrectly (and, if you use a chess engine as the authors advise, being able to see why your answers are the wrong ones).

On to the next CD...

The Leningrad Dutch is a highly popular opening, from the club level on up to the pros. I had no idea how popular until I was working in the chess software biz fulltime and talking to chessplayers all day long. It seems that nearly everyday a player or two was extolling the virtues of this opening.

If you're curious about the popularity of this opening, want to learn how to play, or want to play it better, then check out the CD The Dutch Defense: Leningrad System (A86-A89) by Boris Schipkov. It, too, is in the "classic" ChessBase format and contains a ton of instruction and other tools you'll need to become proficient in this opening.

The main part of the CD is the instructional database, which contains more than 15,200 games. The first entries in this database are the instructional texts:

  • 01. Leningrad Dutch General Introduction
  • 02. Basic Strategic Ideas
  • 03. Various Lines after 3.g3
  • 04. Variation 3...g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nh3
  • 05. Variation 5.Nh3 0-0 6.Nc3 d6 7.d5
  • 06. Various Lines after 5.Nf3
  • 07. Variation 5.Nf3 0-0 6.b3
  • 08. Main Line 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.Nc3
  • 09. Main Line 7.Nc3 Qe8
  • 10. Main Line 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.b3
  • 11. Main Line 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.d5
  • 12. Main Line 7.Nc3 c6
  • 13. Main Line 7.Nc3 c6 8.b3
  • 14. Main Line 7.Nc3 c6 8.d5
  • 15. Main Line 7.Nc3 Nc6
  • 16. Main Line 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5 Na5
  • 17. Main Line 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5 Ne5
  • 18. Leningrad Dutch - Conclusion

The Introduction discusses a basic history of the Leningrad Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6) plus gives some information on this disk's contents plus a bibliography. The next chapter, "Basic Strategic Ideas", is just that: a "catalog" of recurring strategic themes in this opening.

Each of the subsequent chapters provides brief text discussions of the listed variations and further subvariations followed by links to key illustrative games, many of which are annotated.

In addition to the instructional database, the disk also contains a database of twenty games with timed training questions and an opening tree (to be used for statistical study or as a Fritz opening book) with nearly a quarter-million individual positions derived from the main game database.

One caveat about this CD: it's not as text-intensive as many other ChessBase opening training CDs. Most of the instruction is provided in the form of Chess Informant symbolic notation, so I would recommend this CD to more advanced players (USCF Class B and higher) who are more likely to be comfortable with symbolic commentary. This CD will consequently be a bit more work than other opening training CDs for some players, but the work will pay off in results as you become a more proficient player of the Dutch Leningrad opening (as well as the minor Dutch lines also discussed).

Both CDs contain the ChessBase Reader software, so they're self contained -- ownership of ChessBase or one of the Fritz "family" of playing programs isn't required.

Next time around we'll look at some new instructional disks which use the Chess Media System; until then, have fun!

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

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