A typical chess position can contain a couple of dozen (or more!) legal moves, and a beginning player often can become overwhelmed by the possibilities, neither knowing nor understanding the point of a particular candidate move. Likewise, every chess player (regardless of their level of experience) should look at a move his or her opponent has made and always immediately ask, “Now why did he play that?”
It’s not always easy to understand the point of a particular move, whether one is a beginner or a grizzled veteran – heck, I’ve been playing for many years and I still often find myself wondering why a particular move was played. The Fritz family of playing programs (Fritz, Hiarcs, Junior, Shredder, and Rybka), chess playing software which is available from uscfsales.com, contains a feature which can help point you in the right direction when you’re trying to figure out the reason behind a particular move, a feature called (not surprisingly) “Explain all moves”.
Bear in mind that you won’t get a detailed multi-paragraph explanation of each move in a position; you’ll see a short descriptive phrase of a move’s purpose or an evaluation of its weaknesses. But this can often put you on the right track when you’re trying to understand why a particular move has been played or you’re evaluating candidate moves in a position and, as we’ll see later, sometimes offers very surprising information.
Let’s see an example. In the game Coro – Acha Fernandez, Spain, 1995, the following moves have been played: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Nxe4 4. Nxe5 d5 5. Bb5+ c6 6. Bd3 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Re1 Re8 10. b3 d4 11. Ne2 c5, to reach this position:
This is interesting. Black seems to have pushed his d-pawn too far ahead and now White is trying to capitalize on the mistake; how should White proceed?
We can always launch our chess engine of choice and click the “plus” button in the Engine analysis pane to see as many candidate moves (and their resulting variations) as we can. But if we’re interested in just the candidate moves with a short explanation, we can get that information from “Explain all moves”. Click the “Training” tab near the top of the screen, then click the box beside “Explain all moves”:
A new pane will appear on your screen (its exact location will depend on your present configuration of panes in Fritz13) and will display every candidate move along with a short text explanation for many of them:
There are a few points to bear in mind regarding this list. It’s a list of all of the legal moves in the position, generated by the Fritz5.32 engine (which is included with all ChessBase chessplaying programs). The moves are listed in order of their evaluations by Fritz5.32, from best to worst from the point of view of the moving player, and this ranking will change as Fritz looks farther ahead, more deeply into the possibilities of future moves. The verbal comments will change, too, as sometimes a move which looked good initially turns out to be detrimental somewhere on down the road (and vice-versa). The numerical evaluation at the top of the list applies to the current board position; this too will change as Fritz analyzes (and you will also see the current search depth at the top of the list).
It’s interesting to note that the move White actually played here (12.b4) ranks pretty far down on the list; several moves were much better. The top move so far in Fritz’s estimation is 12.Bc4, and Fritz calls it a “decisive threat”. Why?
Looking more closely at the board, we see the threat of 13.Bxf7, forking the King and Rook (since the Bishop will be protected by the Knight on e5) and winning the exchange if Black fails to prevent it. So even though “Explain all moves” didn’t mention all of that, it did get us to ask that all-important chess question: Why? And we were able to discover the answer on our own. That’s what I meant when I said that this feature can often put us on the right track to understanding moves and positions.
Note that as you go down the list, the explanations become more general or are omitted entirely. That’s because it’s a whole lot easier to explain the purpose of good moves than it is to justify the ideas behind bad ones – and this is especially true for a computer program.
If you’re an experienced chessplayer, you might be mentally writing “Explain all moves” off as a feature suitable only for chess beginners. Please allow me to try to disabuse you of that fallacious notion (gee, I love that kind of fancy talk) with an example from the same game. Here’s the position after Black’s fourth move:
In the opening of this game White seemed to be going for a Giuoco Piano, then switched to a Ruy Lopez-like plan by playing 5.Bb5+ , which took the game clean out of “book” (check Powerbook 2012 – the only move listed after 4…d5 is 5.Bb3). But if we back up a move, we’ll discover something really interesting…
Click on 4…d5 to jump to that position, then select “Explain all moves” (as I described earlier) — then watch what you get:
The “Explain all moves” feature in Fritz13 correctly identifies the position after 5.Qe2 as a transposition into known lines in the Petroff Defense! If you go back and check Fritz Powerbook 2012 you won’t discover this, being as no one has played 5.Qe2 in this position. But make the move 5.Qe2 on the chessboard in Fritz13 and then check Powerbook again – you’ll see three candidate “book” moves for Black in the position. By playing 5.Qe2, White can transpose into a known Petroff variation — and we might not have found out had we not used the “Explain all moves” feature.
Thus I mock the notion that “Explain all moves” is a “mere beginner feature”. “Hah!” I say. “Hah!” indeed.
A reminder — when you purchase ChessBase, Fritz, ChessKing, and now ChessOK Aquarium Windows PC computer software from uscfsales.com, you will receive free technical support from yours truly. 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.