Happy St. Valentine’s Day! While we’re on the subject of that holiday, uscfsales.com is having a special sale to celebrate – I’ll give you the details later in this post. But first we’re going to look at a feature from the Fritz “family” of chess playing programs (Fritz 13, Shredder 12, Junior 12, Hiarcs 13, and Rybka 4), namely the “Measurements” pane. It’s a sort of “chess dashboard” which can provide some visual cues about the presence of important tactical or positional motifs in a given chess position.
Here’s how you activate the “Measurements” pane. Just click the “View” tab on the menu bar, then click the box beside “Measurements”, as shown here:
“Measurements” is at the bottom of the third column; when you move your mouse over it, you’ll see the same yellow description box as in the illustration. More important, you’ll see the “Measurements” pane appear on your screen:
This panel resembles the speedometer and tachometer display from a car’s dashboard. What it measures is something which I term the “volatility” of the current board position – the potential that something important (and sometimes violent) is about to happen on the chessboard.
The easiest meter to understand is the “Mate-O-Meter”. The more danger which exists to one (or both) of the Kings in the current position, the higher the needle goes on the Mate-O-Meter.
The other meter measures the position’s “hotness” — the needle will rise with the presence of tactical (or even important positional motifs) from position to position. This is a visual cue to the user that something important is happening – perhaps the possibility of material exchanges (or the chance to win material outright) or an especially strong (or weak) positional structure, such as pawn positions or piece mobility.
There’s a third component to this panel: a small round light at the top. While this “virtual bulb” is glowing red, it indicates that the internal chess engine is in the process of making evaluations (and you’ll see the needles moving on the meters); when the bulb goes out, the engine has completed the evaluation, and the needles will settle on a particular measurement.
We can look at a particular game for some examples of how this works. You can find the game in your Big Database or Mega Database: Borja Alvarez-Otero, Asturias Segunda, 1995.
After the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6, the “Hotness” meter eases upward (to a measurement of “2”), being as this is a Petroff Defense: both e-pawns are attacked by the respective Knights. After the moves 3. Nxe5 d6 are played, the needle flies upward pretty quickly:
…because the Knight is attacked (and Knights, obviously, are worth more than pawns). The next few moves (4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bg4 7. Be3 Be7 8. c3):
…put the needle into the “5” to “6” range; pieces are coming out, other pieces are pinned, and exchanges are threatened. The further moves 8…Nd7 9. Nbd2 Ndf6 10. Qa4+ drive the hotness needle up to “6”:
…because of the check to the Black King.
The game eventually does see those aforementioned exchanges made, and after 10…Bd7 11. Qc2 O-O 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Bxe4 Nxe4 14. Qxe4 Bc6 15. Qd3 Bxf3 16. gxf3 Re8 17. O-O-O, the game settles way down according to the hotness meter:
The exact measurements aren’t terribly important (there’s not much difference between what a “4.8” reading and a “5.0” reading represent); in fact, you can move ahead and then back through the moves and often see that a position’s exact “hotness” evaluation reads slightly differently the second time you come to the position than it read the first time. The important part is the movement of the meters: if the needle rises, you should be on the lookout for tactical opportunities, strong positional motifs, or mate threats (depending on which meter is moving and the amount of change it registers), while if a meter’s needle falls you should feel comfortable that the position is becoming (relatively) more safe.
For example, after the further moves 17…Qd5 18. Bf4 Qxa2 19. Bxc7 Bg5+, things get a little nuts:
No strong mating threats are present here, but the Black assault on the White King drives the hotness meter into the yellow “caution” zone. If you were playing a game against Fritz 13 with the Measurements “dashboard” visible, this would be your cue to start thinking hard about how to parry Black’s attack. Even the defensive move 20. Kc2 pushes the needle up into the red, because Black still has a check up his sleeve: 20…Qa4+.
If you run the measurements panel while replaying this sequence of moves and keep an eye on the needle, you’ll get some important clues as to how this feature works. After 20. Kc2 the needle drives up into the red zone, but when the actual check (20…Qa4+) is played, the needle moves back down. What we can infer from this is that the engine driving the “hotness” meter looks one move ahead and thus moves the needle according to the “mayhem” potential in that upcoming position: checks and captures drive the needle upward, while a flat-out blunder (like hanging a piece) will likely “peg the meter” (as we used to say back in my radio days) the whole way into the red.
After 21. Kb1 Rac8, we see:
…because White’s Bishop is under direct attack and, if it moves away, the Black Rook will join the attack against the White King’s position. Note, though, that the Mate-O-Meter is still pretty inactive; although things are getting pretty uncomfortable for White, there’s no threat of an imminent mate.
As a game progresses, you’ll tend to see a lot more activity from both meters toward the late middlegame and into a (non-drawing) endgame. In this game, both meters start hopping after 22. Rhg1 Bh6 23. Be5 f6 24. Bxf6 Rc6 25. Be5 Ra6 26. f4 Qa1+ 27. Kc2 Qa4+ 28. Kd2 Qa2 29. Qb5:
…because of all the possibilities of changes to the material balance. In fact, although the “mate” needle drops back down, the “hotness” needle reaches critical mass (hitting “9.6”) just before the game’s final move (which drops the needle back into the yellow). By the way, the rest of the game went: 29…Re7 30. Ra1 Rb6 31. Qxb6 Qxa1 32. Qd8+ 1-0
If you run “Infinite analysis” on that final position, you’ll learn that White has a forced mate here, but the combination is so long (over twenty moves) that the mate meter doesn’t register it. What’s interesting to me about this game is that despite Black’s early assault, White survived the onslaught, went ahead in material, and ultimately turned the tables – action that was registered visually by the relative move-by-move activity of Fritz 13′s “hotness” meter.
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Don’t forget: When you purchase ChessBase, Fritz, FritzTrainer DVDs, ChessKing, and now ChessOK Aquarium Windows PC computer software from uscfsales.com, you will receive free technical support from yours truly. You will NOT get technical support from me if you purchase your chess software anywhere else – you might not receive software support at all! Just e-mail me with your questions (but don’t forget to include your uscfsales.com order number!).
Have fun! – Steve Lopez
Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.