I still own my first chess computer, a tabletop model I bought in 1989. It had plenty of levels, but at that time even the low levels were able to kick my butt. Despite my lack of success in defeating the danged device, I became fascinated by chess computers – within a year I owned three tabletop models and a portable “peg” style model.
One of the first three chess computers I bought was the legendary BORIS, a 1970’s relic but a piece of chess history nonetheless — it was one of the first readily-available mass market chess computers. I still have it in my collection; it plays truly execrable chess (I’d ballpark it at about 900 Elo USCF, and even that might be generous), but the comments which scroll across its red LED screen make it a lot of fun.
For “hardcore” play I had the “ebon monster”, a black-framed tabletop machine which played at a strong club level at its lower settings and at a 2100+ rating at the higher levels. And the little pocket “peg” computer went everywhere with me for years after I bought it; I was even messing around with it in the delivery room on the night my twins were born.
After I bought my first PC the tabletop models were all but forgotten; I do occasionally drag them out from time to time just for the tactile experience of playing with actual pieces. But the vast majority of my chessplaying these days is done on a computer screen against electronic opponents. It’s not that I have anything against either human players or the old tabletop computers, but with all of my various commitments it’s hard for me to carve out the time needed for a real-life (or even an online) chess game with another person anymore. With a chess computer I can stop and save a game at any time should the need arise, then resume it later.
So it’s generally human vs. computer chess for me these days when I get the occasional chance to play a game, and it’s usually against an “opponent” on my PC; it’s very convenient to be able to fire up a chess program and play it out on a screen instead of setting up all the pieces on one of my old tabletop models. I rather suspect that you might play this way quite a bit, too. It’s easy and fun, as well as very convenient to be able to play against an electronic opponent at any time of the day or night.
I’ve been going back and re-reading the works of Richard Reti lately; Reti wrote his books nearly a century ago, and his advice and observations are still relevant today. Reti’s advice to beginners is to play as much chess as you can, and I can’t find a bit of fault with that advice. Even though you won’t win many games at first, you’ll be doing something far more important: you’re laying the foundation for your future chess studies, establishing a groundwork of experiences to which you’ll attach the advice you’ll read in chess books or see and hear in chess videos. And having an electronic opponent at your constant beck and call is certainly useful in establishing that groundwork of games and experience.
But, even so, it’s not the most important feature of your chess playing program.
At some point in your chess career, after you pass those first steps of playing a lot of games just for the experience value and you begin to study chess endgames and tactics in earnest, you’re going to start asking the question, “But why did I lose that last game? What moves should I have played instead?”
That’s where the game analysis features of your chess software come in. If you ask me, the ability to analyze games is the single most important feature that your chess playing program offers to you.
It goes beyond just the answer to the relatively simple “Where did I mess up in that last game?” If you pay attention to what your chess analysis engine is telling you, it will (over time) help you to isolate and identify the weaknesses in your chess play – after which you can go to work tackling the job of eliminating them.
That’s where we’re headed next with this blog. I’m going to show you how to set up and run a couple of different kinds of chess analysis using any of the Fritz family of playing programs produced by ChessBase (i.e. Fritz, Rybka, Junior, Hiarcs, and Shredder). But we’re going to go beyond just a description of various dialogue settings (although we’ll cover those); we’re going to explore how to use a series of analyzed games as a means of identifying what you need to work on to improve as a chess player.
That’s why I wrote two prior posts about how to squeeze the most computing power out of your hardware. It wasn’t for playing purposes: you could conceivably run fifteen background programs and perform three major downloads during a game with Fritz set to a paltry 3 seconds a move and still get your proverbial head torn off by the program. The reason why you want to get every last bit of computing “juice” you can is for analysis purposes: when you have Fritz (or another engine) analyze your games, you want the sucker to be as strong as possible.
If you haven’t read them yet, go back and read my previous three posts to this blog. Then you’ll be ready for the next step, which is coming later this week. Until then…
Have fun! – Steve Lopez
Chessplayers who have purchased their ChessBase brand software from USCFSales can receive free technical support and advice on their purchases straight from me; just shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), but please remember to include the USCFSales order number from your ChessBase software purchase. – Steve
Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.