Thursday, December 4, 2014

Barnes & Noble e-books - DO NOT PURCHASE!!

DO NOT PURCHASE ANY OF THEIR E-BOOKS!

  My Nook Color was destroyed back in May when our house flooded and it was just yesterday that I got around to installing the Nook for PC app which I downloaded from the Barnes and Noble website. This app allows you to read your books from your laptop. It didn't work.
     I tried signing on to the live chat and the first time got timed out before I could even finish typing my message. It happened the second time, too. The third time I managed to get in contact with somebody and she asked me if I was having trouble with the Nook for PC app; that was strange because that is exactly what I said in my initial contact, 'I am having trouble with my Nook for PC app.' So, she asked the nature of the problem and my reply was, 'I can't read the books I paid for, only the free ones.'  She typed back, 'You can't read the books you paid for, only the free ones?' What the ...! Isn't that what I just wrote?  Anyway, before I typed 'Yes.' I got timed out.

     So, I called their toll free help number and was told to archive and unarchive the books and it should work. I did and it didn't. I called back and was put on hold for a few minutes. When the lady came back she said wait about an hour and something about it takes that long to sync. I waited and the Nook for PC app still didn't work so I called a third time.
     This time the young lady on the help line informed me, 'We no longer use the Nook for PC app because there were so many problems with it. You have to read your books online from the Barnes and Noble website. I would suggest you go ahead and delete the app from your laptop.'
     I asked her why, if it does not work, is it still available for download from their site. She didn't know, but told me she was going to notify somebody that the app should be removed from the website. I also informed her that their chat is as worthless as the Nook for PC app so she said she was going to make a note of that also for the technicians to look at. The whole experience was bizarre.
     If you want to read any Barnes and Noble books without a Nook you must sign in to your Barnes & Noble account and read them directly from the site. B&N has abandoned support for the app without providing a replacement.  None of the available free readers work for the simple reason that you still need your e-mail address and the credit card number which you used to purchase the book in order for the reader to access the book.
     Basically Barnes & Noble is not in the e-book business and they are refusing to support customers who made e-book purchases in the past.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dover Chess Books

Dover offers a wide variety of chess books for both beginners and advanced players, including books on tactics and positional play, the endgame, and openings. They have many classic books by past masters:  Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, and others.


from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications
from: Dover Publications

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Komodo 8 Chess Engine

    I posted on this about a month ago on my other Blog that I had just purchased the download version of Komodo 8 and I have been testing it out on LSS. While it’s too soon to make any determinations my results since I started using Komodo have been +0 -1 =2. I can’t blame the loss on Komodo though because as Black I played the QGD Chigorin Defense and was never able to recover from an inferior opening position. Here is the final position:

     Even though it LOOKS like black has drawing chances, all the engines give white a winning advantage and a bunch of Shootouts all gave white the win, so it was time to resign and concentrate on the remaining games. The three draws resulted from, as white, an Evans Gambit and a Urusov Gambit (!) and as black, a Guioco Piano. With any luck, I expect to go +2 -0 =1 in the remaining games, but a result of +2 -1 =3 with Komodo won’t be very convincing since it’s about in line with my overall results prior to Komodo’s arrival on the scene. Many more games will have to be played to get a more accurate picture. According to all the engine ranking sites though, Komodo 8 is by far the best.
     The Komodo developers claim it is different from the rest in that its search allows it to often see deeper than any other engine and its evaluation differs because it represents a blend of both automated tuning and the judgment of a grandmaster and computer expert, GM Larry Kaufman.
     Komodo is primarily known for excellent positional play which is important if you are playing on ICCF or LSS where engine use is, if not mandatory, both allowed and advisable. Most of the top engines excel in tactical strength, but the programmers have sacrificed positional play so their engines will score better on tactical problems and do well in blitz play against other engines. In other words, they have stacked the deck for rating list purposes.
     As Komodo developers point out, the judgment of a GM is still superior to engines so it makes sense to emphasize positional play rather than tactical skill. Komodo is especially useful for opening analysis because Kaufman has made sure that the program's evaluations agree in general with accepted theory. Komodo also excels in the evaluation of positions with material imbalance, which it handles more correctly than other top engines. This is a very important factor because my experience has lead me NOT to trust engines in this situation. It seems they often get it wrong.
     On the CCLR 40/40 rating list Komodo 8 pounded Houdini 4.0 as did Stockfish 5, so we can discount Houdini 4.0 as not being worth the purchase price of about $50. So, the real question is, is Komodo 8 worth the $60 purchase price as opposed to the free Stockfish 5?
     On the CCLR 40/40 list, Komodo 8 hammered Stockfish 5 +19 -8 =67. On the other hand on the CEGT 40/120 list Stockfish 5 heads the list followed by Komodo 8 and Houdini 4.0, and the matchup of Stockfish vs. Komodo 8 is almost equal.
     In answering the question as to which is best, the $60 Komodo 8 engine or the free Stockfish 5 engine, it depends on what you are going to do with it. If you are SERIOUS about playing on ICCF or LSS and have 8 or more cores and are willing to devote a tremendous amount of time to preparing your own well researched opening books and spend days analyzing positions, then by all means spend the money for Komodo 8.
     If you’re like me and only have a quad core laptop, play correspondence for fun and like to experiment with different openings (I have played the Sicilian Wing Gambit, the Urusov Gambit, the Grob and stupid stuff like 1.a4 and 1…a4, none of which have been outright refuted!!) then stick with Stockfish 5.

11-1-14 UPDATE:  In a match conducted last month on an AMD FX-8350 8-core with 4GB hash per engine and the Syzygy 6-men tablebases and a long time control of 90 minutes plus a 30 second increment, the match was tied at +16 -16 =68.  So it appears my conclusions are...WRONG!!  There really does not appear to be any need for most of us to spend the money for Komodo. Details of the match HERE

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kindle and Nook Apps

     I was surprised to find out some people thought you had to have a Kindle or Nook to read digital books, but that’s not true. Whether you have a Kindle or Nook you can generally purchase books online cheaper from Amazon or Barnes and Noble (for the Nook) than from a book store and the digital editions are usually cheaper. By the way, most of the free books are digitized books that are out of copyright protection and most of them are of very poor quality. There’s not much point in trying to save a little money downloading them; they are usually boring and sometimes hard to read; if you want cheap download the $0.99 ones.
     Both the Amazon app for Kindle and the Barnes and Noble app for the Nook offer pretty much the same things. You load them on your tablet, smartphone or computer and when you buy a book once you can read it on any device with the app installed. Of course, you can also read that same book on the Kindle or Nook if you own one. I used to have the Nook, but it got destroyed when our house flooded back in May so now I just download and read books on my laptop.

Good Opening Books

Her are some good general opening books.  The book on the King's Indian Attack is especially good because to play it properly you have to have at least a general idea of how to meet each black setup. Also, the King's Indian Reversed is a good attacking opening that does not create any weaknesses in white's position.  The attack will be in the nature of a methodical buildup and so the chances of making a serious blunder resulting in an immediate loss is less likely to happen to white than in an open position that resulted from a gambit opening.


You can download the FREE Amazon app Kindle for the PC HERE

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ChessBase Starter Package


 
 
Product Features

• ChessBase 12 Starter Package & Guide to ChessBase DVD & Art of War E-Book (3 item Bundle)
• ChessBase 12 - Integrated CB online database with more than 5 million games - Access to player encyclopedia with over 30,000 pictures
• ChessBase Big Database 2014 + automatic update through December 31, 2014 - ChessBase Magazine subscription, half year: 3 issues DVD + print
• Guide to ChessBase is a series of multimedia videos that will guide you step-by-step through using ChessBase programs.
• FREE the epic "Art of War" by Sun Tzu, completely re-mastered for the 21st century by ChessCentral

Highly recommended to the tournament or correspondence player. Chessbase is a database management system that allows you to search millions of masters games that come with it for similar positions and analyze your games. Plus, they offer excellent support for their products.

Backgammon Sets and Accessories

The Backgammon Store sells equipment for the serious backgammon player. They offer vinyl, fine leather, plastic and exotic wood. They also produce their own line of backgammon sets in their own workshop.


Click on banner to visit

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Must Have Dover Chess Books (Cheap!)

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played: 62 Masterpieces of Chess Strategy by Irving Chernev. Over 60 games featuring games by the greatest— Capablanca, Tarrasch, Fischer, Alekhine, Lasker and others. Chernev’s annotations occasionally contain serious errors…play over the games with an engine or if you just want too, and aren’t worried too much about occasional faulty analysis, play over them just for enjoyment.


 
500 Master Games by Tartakower and du Mont. Must have!


 
Simple Chess by Michael Stean. This one will actually teach you something! Aimed primarily at novice players but helpful for all players. Stean isolates the basic elements and illustrates them very well. Algebraic notation.
 


Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 by Bronstein 210 masterpieces. Algebraic notation. This a MUST HAVE…REALLY!!


 
Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory by Macon Shibut. You do NOT need this book about the best chess player of the nineteenth century which analyzes his games in depth and discusses other players of the period but it’s great reading.

107 Great Chess Battles, 1939-1945 by Alexander Alekhine.  Algebraic notation. Why would you NOT want to read a book by Alekhine?


Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden

     This book contains 25 games chosen and annotated to help amateurs learn how to avoid a variety of weak strategic and tactical mistakes. The games were selected to point out how masters exploit typical errors made by amateurs and because they are not grandmaster games, they are easier to understand. The authors introduce concepts that appear in the game at the beginning and then when they appear in the game, they explain them.
     The book was apparently written for players in the 1200-1600 range, but I seriously doubt it will help anybody very much because the strategic concepts are given only brief explanations and you can’t learn much from playing over a single game. I wouldn’t bother buying it or, for that matter, borrowing it from the library. Note: it's not in algebraic notation either.

Friday, September 19, 2014

McFarland Chess Books


Disclaimer: I have NO financial interest in their books.

I received a catalog of chess books by McFarland Publishing in the mail today and can highly recommend their books. I have a couple and am impressed with the quality, but be aware that they are pricey. For example, Alekhine’s Best Games 1902-1946 by Skinner and Verhoeven which contains 2,543 games will cost you $125; I don’t think there are any notes, just game scores with diagrams. Prices are generally in the $45 range!  Looking through the catalog, I could have spent about $500!

There are books with biographies and annotated games on the great, near great and obscure players:  Botvinnik, Nimzovich, Capablanca, Victorian players, Emil Kemeny, Kashdan, Arthur Kaufmann, W.H.K. Pollack, Adolf Albin, Julius Finn, Amos Burn, James Mason, Albert Hodges, James A. Leonard, Walter Penn Shipley, Steinitz, Frank Marshall, Thomas Frere, Reshevsky, Reuben Fine and more.  Next year they will be publishing books on Samuel Lipschutz, Vera Menchick and Ignaz Kolisch.

McFarland is a publisher of academic and nonfiction books ranging from history, military history, sports, literature, etc. Check them out at McFarland Publishing.  If you live in Europe, Australia, Asia or Africa you can check them out at Eurospanbookstore.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekly Deals by ChessOK!

From September 12 to September 18, the following special offers are available on ChessOK.com.

If you order products for more than $120/€100, choose one download programs for up to $25/€20 each as a bonus! Specify the bonus product(s) you want to receive in the comments field when filling the order form.


Download for $40 off
 

Download for $40 off
 
 
Other Specials:

Buy 1-year access to Lomonosov Tablebases at a 30% discount!

Buy one of 3 packages available in the Combo Packages section of their combo shop:

Complete Chess Strategy (Chess Strategy 3.0 + Chess Guide for Club Players + Chess Guide for Intermediate Players)
Complete Chess Opening (Opening Lab + Encyclopedia of Opening Blunders + How to Win Miniatures at Chess)
Complete Attack on the King (Attack on the King I + Attack on the King II + Advanced Defense).

Each of them contains 3 courses, but you only pay half the price if you order one of the packages while this offer is in effect!

 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Great Bargains on Playing Software



Fritz 13 - download, no waiting for shipping! Available from Amazon Digital Services, Inc. Download size is 3.3 GB and should take 45 minutes - 5 hours on broadband. Database contains over 1.5 million games, over 10 hours of video instruction. Fritz is, in my opinion, the best GUI available because it is the easiest to use. I recommend using the top-rated Stockfish 5 engine which is available for free download from the Stockfish site.





Chess King 3 2013 version with Houdini 3. 5 million game GigaKing Database, free updates 2013 classical and random playing modes, supports up to 6 cores and 4 GB of hash, 1500 puzzles. The Houdini 3 engine is worth the price $29 alone!

NOTE: When evaluating positions it’s always a good idea to get the opinion of at least TWO engines. The two I recommend are: Houdini because it gives the most realistic evaluation and is strong in the ending even without the use of tablebases. Stockfish is currently the top-rated engine and is very good in middlegame planning and tactics, but it is not as strong as Houdini in the endings. One word of caution: it’s evaluations usually are considerably higher than other engines.

Critter 1.6 - Another excellent free engine for double checking evaluations is Critter which is available for download from the Critter site. Critter's evaluations are closer to Houdini and it's only slightly weaker than Stockfish and Houdini. The SSDF complete engine rating list is probably the most accurate because of its slower time controls (40 moves in 40 minutes vs. the 40 moves in 4 minutes) and the standings there are:
1-Stockfish 5, 4 CPUs (3286)
2-Houdini 3 4 CPUs (3264)
5-Critter 4CPUs (3175)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Other Games



Learn to play Go!! It's fascinating!

You can play Go online at online-go
 

 
Cribbage is Fun!


Need to learn how to play Go, Cribbage or anything fast? Here's an interesting book…



Research suggests it takes 10,000 hours to develop a new skill but when will you  find that much time and energy? To make matters worse, the early hours of practicing something new are always the most frustrating. That's why it's difficult to learn how to speak a new language, play an instrument, hit a golf ball, or anything else. It's so much easier to watch TV or surf the web... In The First 20 Hours, Josh Kaufman offers a systematic approach to rapid skill acquisition: how to learn any new skill as quickly as possible. His method shows you how to deconstruct complex skills, maximize productive practice, and remove common learning barriers. By completing just 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice you'll go from knowing absolutely nothing to performing noticeably well. This method isn't theoretical: it's field-tested. Kaufman invites readers to join him as he field tests his approach by learning to program a Web application, play the ukulele, practice yoga, re-learn to touch type, get the hang of windsurfing, and study the world's oldest and most complex board game.

Chess Opening Essentials: The Ideas & Plans Behind ALL Chess Openings, The Complete 1. e4 (Volume 1) by Stefan Djuric et al




Helps develop a solid understanding of fundamental opening ideas and gives you the ability to choose the opening that suits your style and taste. While this is not a book masters would be interested in, it is an outstanding resource for players that are looking for a general reference that explains most major lines in e4 openings. One of the best features are the conclusions of each line which gives the reader an idea of play in the middle and endgame. Highly recommended!!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations by Fred Reinfeld


    

     This is tactics a workbook with puzzles broken down by motif with a brief explanation on their mechanics. Unfortunately this reprint has not corrected Reinfeld’s analysis with the help of an engine. Some of Reinfeld’s solutions are not only inaccurate but they lead to the wrong result! I can’t imagine why the publishers would not correct this because publishing a book with known wrong solutions and inaccurate analysis cannot be of any value to the aspiring player.
      The book is in the old descriptive notation, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, this should not deter you from taking advantage of many excellent reprints in descriptive notation; you can learn it in a few minutes and if you do have trouble with it, simply print out a ‘cheat sheet’ until you become proficient.
      Another aggravation is the solutions are in the back of the book which I suppose saves space, but it’s a pain to have to find them. While you can easily carry this book around in your coat pocket, I would recommend checking the solutions with an engine. I checked a couple of sites (for example, Ossimitz and Lars Balzer) hoping the positions contained in this book would be available, but no luck. In the end, since this book, which is supposed to be instructional, can’t be recommended seeing that about 25 percent of the solutions are wrong.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The KGB Plays Chess:The Soviet Secret Police and the Fight for the World Chess Crown by Boris Gulko & others


    
     For me this was an interesting read. It reveals behind the scenes material you won't find in the usual chess books. It’s the story of the KGB against chess players Viktor Korchnoi, Boris Spassky, Boris Gulko and Garry Kasparov who were pressured, blackmailed and persecuted.
     A unique concept is that the perspective is from both sides. To quote the Amazon blurb: The victim and the persecutor, the hunted and the hunter, all describe in their own words the very same events…Former KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Popov, who left Russia in 1996 and now lives in Canada, was one of those who had worked all his life for the KGB and was responsible for the sport sector of the USSR. It is only now for the first time that he has decided to tell the reader his story of the KGB's involvement in Soviet Sports.
     I have to admit that I skipped over most of the book that was written by former KGB agents though because I didn’t find it very interesting…boring actually.
     I have read brief snippets about Soviet players, the KGB and chess politics in the Soviet Union, but this book was an eye-opening expose. I knew the Soviet government went to great lengths to keep Botvinnik on the chess throne, but did not realize how far they actually went to keep Karpov on top. 
     It can be a bit confusing to read the same facts from different points of view in different sections of the book though. It sometimes made it a little difficult to keep things in perspective, but that’s a minor quibble.
     By now everyone probably knows about Karpov's involvement with the KGB and Soviet government and his willingness to do anything to keep his World Championship. Karpov's influence quite possibly could have saved Gulko and Korchnoi a lot of grief, but he wasn’t willing to offer any help. The main story however revolves around GM Boris Gulko and his wife and their attempt to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel. There’s also Korchnoi’s story in his own words, but Korchnoi is not a nice man and it’s sometimes hard to empathize with him.
     Bottom line: I enjoyed the book and there is no buyer's remorse over the $18 I paid for it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dover Chess Books



I am proud to announce that this site is now associated with Dover Publications! Many of the chess books in my library are by Dover; I like them because Dover books hold up well, cover a wide variety of subjects and, best of all, they are reasonably priced. Check out their books using the link on the left.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Chess Books for Kindle


Botvinnik: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala

    

Botvinnik’s classic One Hundred Selected Games was one of the first chess books I ever really read and, in fact, wore the cover off of it. Botvinnik, along with Reshevsky, was my early chess hero. Add that to the fact that game collections and tournament books have always been my favorite type of chess book so Cyrus Lakdawala’s Botvinnik: Move by Move was a book I couldn’t resist purchasing when I came across it last week.
     Botvinnik was a fascinating individual. He played the communist game to the hilt and as such was a man who was respected for his chess ability but he was also feared by his peers because of his power. He was not above using his influence with communists party leaders to advance his own career and discredit certain of his opponents. I know David Bronstein had little use for Botvinnik. In his “other” professional life he spent many years attempting without success to create a computer program that played strong chess.
     This book is Lakdawala fourth in the “Move by Move” series: Capablanca, Kramnik and Korchnoi being the others. In his play Botvinnik emphasized logic and strategy and Lakdawala illustrates Botvinnik’s skill in the areas of attack, defense, dynamics, exploiting imbalances, accumulating advantages, and the ending. The sixty games contain notes which include questions and answers in the analysis. One thing I personally didn’t care for was Lakdawala’s attempt at humor in the notes though; something Botvinnik would never have approved of. While the title is somewhat misleading (move-by-move analysis it is not, sometimes making the annotations appear rather sparse) it’s the games themselves that count. Also, Lakdawaka’s notes sometimes do nothing more than point out the obvious, at least one is not bogged down with reams of computer generated analysis.
     The book is also available in the Kindle version. Recommend for all players of all strengths.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Chessmaster 10th Edition

 
    Chessmaster 2000 was my first real chess program and it was great. Now they are up to the 10th edition.
     The best part of the Chessmaster series has always been the tutorials which are perfect for beginners and intermediate players. Another great thing was playing against it despite the fact the “personalities” weren’t very realistic. You can play “rated” opponents, but I don’t think the ratings are very accurate compared to real human players, but it was great fun. This is a major problem with all engines when trying to duplicate human play. Engines seem to generate a series of GM-like moves before committing a gross blunder then they go back to playing GM-like moves before repeating the process. Either that or they play totally ridiculous moves from the beginning.
     These days, unfortunately, the manufacturers have put powerful copy protection on the program so that a disc is required every time you boot the program! As a result, some users have had problems getting it to run on their PC’s. This is major issue. One user complained it will not start even though he had the original CD in the drive. The 2-D sets have been all but eliminated in favor of 3-D animated ones including a "stereo 3D mode" with a set of red/blue 3D glasses. All this silly stuff uses (wastes) a ton of processor power. Chessmaster 10 images.
     The menu interface is messy because doesn’t scale things. Another aggravating thing is the lack of arrow keys to navigate when playing through a game. Its auto-annotation feature is just plain horrible; I think it always has been. There are other reasons not to buy this program, but I’ve listed enough. Instead of improving their program over the years, they have been unimproving it. Suggestion: spend your money on some other program!

Update on Aquarium with Houdini



     My first experience with ChessOK’s Aquarium back in 2010 was a disaster, but more recently I have purchased their latest Aquarium and aside from an initial problem downloading it, it has become my tool of choice for analyzing and playing engine-assisted chess on Lechenicher SchachServer. I might add that the initial problem was quickly addressed by their customer service.
     There are several products available and the main difference is the engine supplied.  Aquarium 2014 comes with Rybka 2.3 while Houdini 4 comes with the H4 engine; all products have a 6 million game database.  Houdini 4 supports up to 6 cores and 4 GB of hash. Houdini 4 Aquarium offers advanced analysis functions, game commenting, searching, powerful chess trees, playing against the computer, databases, advanced publishing features and much more.
     The biggest problem I ran into was that the Aquarium interface has so many bells and whistles that it was difficult for me to use it.  I finally solved the problem by 1) reading a lot of the available material and 2) creating a practice database where I could mess around without boogering up anything.  After a week or so of study I finally got to the place where I was fairly competent, but even now I haven’t yet mastered all its features.
     Most important, especially for correspondence players playing on LSS or ICCF where engine use is allowed, or for anyone doing opening analysis, is the Interactive Deep Analysis feature.
     The purpose of IDeA is to analyze a position deeply and return as much information about it as possible (often for us amateurs, more than we would ever want or need to know) to enable the user to get a better understanding of the nuances of any position.
     The best part of IDeA, unlike Fritz’ Deep Positional Analysis, is that it keeps a permanent record of its analysis in a tree structure, which is unlimited in size. You can browse the analysis tree at will, both while the analysis is in progress and after it has finished.  Also, you can direct the analysis into the positions that are of most interest to you by excluding or adding positions and variations.  What this means is that analysis can be stopped at any time and the next time it is started, it resumes where it left off.
     In addition to the Houdini 4 engine, you can also download other strong engines (recommended) like Critter or Stockfish to assist in analysis.  Another really nice thing is that when analyzing a position you can configure Aquarium to analyze with several engines in a variety of different formats all at the same time (assuming you have more than one core, preferably at least 4cores).
     Also, it has a nice looking interface that can be set up just about any way you like.  Highly recommended if you don’t mind spending a little time and effort learning how to use it.

Click to enlarge
 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mastering the Chess Openings Vol. 1 by John Watson




In this volume 1 Watson explains the fundamentals and basic ideas of 1.e4. Openings covered: Giuoco Piano, Two Knights Defence, Philidor Defence, Ruy Lopez,King's Gambit, Silcilian Defence, Caro-Kann Defence, French Defence, and Pirc Defence.

Watson begins with fundamental ideas that apply to all openings then moves to concepts that one needs to improve, beginning with the correct conduct of the openings. Watson explains the ideas and strategies behind specific openings and, more importantly, he explains principles that enable one to play any type of open position. One of the best early opening books that was similar in structure was Fine’s Ideas Behind the Chess Openings, but Watson has expanded on Fine’s work. Extremely helpful is Watson’s lavish use of game fragments and complete annotated games to illustrate his points. In short Watson emphasizes understanding rather than memorization. Recommended for 1400 and up.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chess Opening or Kids by John Watson



     John Watson writes some really good books, but this one isn’t one of them! It’s not just for kids either; it should be for any beginner, but I am afraid it won’t be any help at all. 
     Watson tries to give a simple guide on 50 common openings, allowing 2 pages per opening, and explain the basic ideas of each one.


     Some reviewers complained Watson’s language was too complicated for kids and that it might have been better had he used easier language and longer explanations. I am not sure I agree that it’s too difficult for kids to follow his prose because chessplaying kids are pretty smart but that aside, the basic explanations are not much help; in fact, for beginners, it’s pretty much useless.
     One reviewer said the book is very hard to follow and I agree that the layout is somewhat confusing for a beginner and that’s what this book essentially is…an introduction to the very basic ideas of each of the openings designed for beginners, adults or children.  If you are past the beginner stage you’ll likely not have any trouble following the layout, but if that’s the case, you are too advanced for this book. On the other hand, if you are a beginner you won’t understand why "black is in a dangerous situation" because Watson won’t tell you why. All-in-all, not a good buy for anybody.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Houdini 2 Aquarium


   
     As a long time user of Fritz my first experience with Aquarium was unfavorable because compared to Fritz, the GUI was way too complicated for my taste. The Aquarium interface has so many bells and whistles it takes a while to learn how to use it. I ended up setting up a practice database with a few games just so I could practice
     I used the download version from ChessOK and had some problems. With my first experience the serial number would not work. Their tech support got back to me quickly and advised that the problem was not with the program, but rather with the way Windows copied and pasted. All I had to do was type the serial number in and the download then went smoothly.
    The second experience also ran into download problems. The download hung up and after several tries I got a message that the limit on downloads had been reached. An e-mail to tech support (specifically,  fellow named Alexander Zhuravlev) got answered fairly quickly considering my inquiry was sent out on Thursday evening; I heard back on Saturday. I was given another link with unlimited downloads and things went quickly and smoothly.
     I have heard of some bugs in the program and a few complaints, apparently mostly from new users, about the complexity of the program and some bugs, but I have not run into any real bugs. This is probably because I have used the download version with the bug fixes included.  Buying a CD may have any bugs in the program included. 
     There are a several things that I find more complicated than Fritz, but I am slowly learning and Aquarium is growing on me. Like everybody, I am finding some things I like and some I don’t; no program is perfect, I guess.

     One thing I do not like are their chess publishing tools. Copying a game into HTML for a blog runs to 150 pages! I just use the Knight Vision site. All in all, I am finding this program does indeed have a lot of features that are absent in Fritz and Aquarium is slowly becoming my chess program of choice as I find myself using Fritz less and less.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Can You Can be a Positional Genius?



     I enjoyed this books but it has some good points and some bad points. It is a slim book consisting of ten tests of fifteen puzzles each, 5 easy, 5 intermediate and 5 difficult problems. Analyzing the positions and solving the puzzles will give you an idea of how good your positional understanding is rather than any instruction that will increase your positional understanding. For that, you will have to find another book because Dunnington does not explain ideas in any great detail. Mostly for intermediate level players.
     The benefit is analyzing the positions then seeing how your analysis compares to Dunnington’s. At least that will give you some idea of how well you can play when there is no tactics in the position and you have to do something constructive.  There is a scoring system to tell how well you did, but it seems rather clumsy to me. If you can find this book at the library or get it used cheap, then OK, go ahead and buy it but it's not worth $24.26.

Fifty Great Games of Modern Chess by Harry Golombek




This book contains some of the best games of the top players from the beginning of the 20th century up to 1940…OK, so they are not so modern any more, but games by Alexander, Euwe, Grunfeld, Nimzovich, Reshevsky, Reti, Alekhin, Bogoljubov, Borvinnik, Capablanca, Spielmann, Tarrasch, Marshall, Rubinstein, Keres, Lasker, Fine, Schlechter, Tartakower, etc. have to be good, especially when annotated by Harry Golombek who does an excellent job explaining things. Descriptive notation, but if you were smart enough to learn how a Knight moves, you are smart enough to learn descriptive notation in 10 minutes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fundamental Chess Openings by Van der Sterran



     I had a chance to look over this book I discovered in the library recently and think it is the best opening book you can start out with if you are trying to learn openings. 
     Most players buy a bunch of books on different openings and end up not getting through any of them. Van der Sterran’s book is different. It covers a lot of material, but not deeply and that’s OK because beginning players don’t need a lot of sophisticated stuff. What they need is a very good explanation of general themes, development, and move orders with the main focus being on standard mainline openings. 
     Van der Sterren gives you enough knowledge to get through the first several moves which is all you really need because lower rated opponents aren’t going to be all booked up 15-20 moves deep anyway. Another great thing about the book is that it does not contain reams of analysis. Van der Sterren explains things with words which makes it easier to comprehend the principles behind the moves. It's a great book for beginners up to average players (around 1600). 450-plus pages large pages.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deep Hiarcs 13



     The HIARCS engine uses the Fritz 12 GUI which I happen to like a lot. As for the engine itself, HIARCS is best known for its unique human-like playing. Chess computers don’t really play like humans, they play like computers. However, many players think HIARCS’s play is the most ‘human-like.’ It's not overly-aggressive and it doesn’t seem to play what can only be described as weird moves. 
     Like all engines, it is good at tactics but is best at positional play; but probably not as good positionally as Shredder and Houdini. This makes HIARCS a good training partner for the reason that it does play human-like moves and on the handicap levels it makes human-like mistakes. For this reason, it may not be best if you are looking for absolute best move.
     Hiarcs ranks way down on CCLR’s Complete List with a rating of 2997 which is still pretty good. By comparison #1 ranked Houdini 4 is 3248 while Stockfish DD is #3 at 3229 and Houdini 1.5a is #9. 
     One disadvantage is that HIARCS 13 offers single core engines Hiarcs 13.2 and 13.1 but if you are using it as a sparring partner rather than looking for the best move, this isn't an issue. It has the Hiarcs13Lite opening book, Fritz 12 interface with many training functions, a database with 1.5 million games and 12 months access to Playchess.com.
     Opinion: if you are looking for a realistic training partner, HIARCS is worth considering if you don't mind the rather steep price just for a playing partner.