Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ChessBase 13 - No Buyer's Remorse

     Ever since I stumbled on Fritz 12 for $20 in Office Max several years ago it has been my GUI of choice because I absolutely love it. I never used the Fritz engine; I always used free ones. The only exceptions were I did purchase Houdini 2...a mistake because it wasn't that much better that Houdini 1.5...I also purchased Komodo 8. While K8 is a little different than the free Stockfish 6, it was another case where I could have saved my money. Also, I purchased ChessOK Aquarium 2012 because I wanted to use the IdeA analysis function, but the program sits unused on my laptop. I tried to like it, I really did, but it just never measured up to good, old Fritz.
     I am not a person who needs the latest gadgets like Blu-Ray and cell phones. When it comes to phones, all I want to do is to be able to make an occasional phone call...I don't need the capability to take pictures, text or set off guided missiles in Nevada with my phone. But, I decided to treat myself and buy a Cadillac. No, not the car, but the Cadillac of chess programs...I purchased Chessbase 13 – Starter Edition.
     ChessBase offers packages from starter to Mega and Premium. Not being a GM or playing correspondence chess at that level, I didn't feel the need to purchase more than the basic version which does everything I need it to. The Starter Package comes with Big Database 2014 and access to ChessBase's online database (over 6.4 million games). It also has access to the “Let’s Check” and “Engine Cloud” which requires a Playchess.com membership which I don't have and don't want, but there is also a guest access. Also included is something else I'm not interested in...a six month subscription to ChessBase Magazine...a whole 3 issues.
     Cloud Computing allows you to analyze positions with the help of the best computers available, if one is so inclined; I'm not, but it's available. I do like the ability to find examples of similar endgames, pawn structures and maneuvers with similar structures or similar moves though. I never use clouds, not even for my personal stuff...backing important files up to a CD is all I need, but if one is so inclined, the cloud storage is good. At least if you are a professional player. In his book, Shirov commented that once his laptop was stolen and he lost all the games he annotated for the book of his best games and had to start over. A couple of years ago my laptop hard drive crashed and fortunately everything important was backed up on a CD, so I can see the value of cloud storage.
     Why buy this program? People buy new stuff like cars, phones and computers all the time. So, availing yourself of the latest in openings, training for endgames and middlegames, game analysis, accessing millions of games, GM coaching and paying online are all valid reasons for making the purchase. While on the subject of having access to millions of games, GM William Lombardy once made a snide remark to a lowly, rating challenged non-GM. When the guy said he had a database with a million games, Lombardy asked how many of those games he had actually played over as if to suggest it was a waste of time and money. The old codger missed the point entirely. Before computers, in our quest to improve, we had access to only a relatively few examples of how to play our favorite openings, typical middlegame positions and endings. Now with the click of a button we can locate hundreds of examples and make the learning process quicker and easier. It beats searching through your books “by hand” trying to find similar positions. That was something we had to do in the old pre-computer days with our postal games and it was the reason why I subscribed to every chess magazine I could.  Anyway, not caring for Aquarium and after having used the Fritz 12 GUI for years plus having made my own databases and opening books for years, it was time to upgrade and let someone else do all the work.  And so far, there has been no buyer's regret.

Chess Praxis by Nimzovich

     I have to admit that I never read this book until just recently. Chess Praxis is a classic and the great thing about it is that it can be read for both enjoyment and instruction. Originally intended to be a followup to his My System, it was designed to provide games that showed how he applied the ideas he described in My System, so it should probably be read after reading My System, but it's not necessary as Nimzovich himself pointed out. This edition is in algebraic notations and has a preface by by IM Jeremy Silman. 
     Nimzovich covers Centralization, Restraint and Blockade, Over-Protection and Other Forms of Prophylaxis,The Isolated Queen Pawn and the Two Hanging Pawns; the Two Bishops. Alternating Maneuvers Against Enemy Weaknesses When Possessing an Advantage in Space and Forays Through the Old and New Lands of Hypermodern Chess.
     All of these strategies are shown by using Nimzowitsch's games with his ideas embedded in the annotations. There over 109 complete games with a lot of other fragments that he played against Tarrasch, Chigorin, Maroczy, Reti, Alekhine, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Spielman, Bogoljubow, and, also, lesser lights.
     One thing I noticed about the games is that the themes the games are supposed to represent are not always so clear cut as the examples he used in My System, but that is not really surprising; often in real life things are not so simple.
     The chapter on isolated and hanging pawns alone is worth the price of the book. It almost makes you want to play all your games with hanging or isolated d-Pawns! There's a danger in this though. Years ago I read Pachman's Modern Chess Strategy and after thoroughly digesting the book, in my first tournament game I was enamored with the idea of gaining a N outpost. I succeeded in getting it to a fine square on the Q-side and was very pleased with the outcome of my strategy. Unfortunately, I had neglected what my opponent was doing and after plunking my N on the unassailable c5 square from where it influenced the center and dominated the Q-side, I realized that my opponent had been setting up a winning attack on the other side of the board and I was facing a mating attack. It was a painful, but valuable lesson.
     In addition to being a nice collection of Nimzovich's games, Chess Praxis is also an excellent book on strategy. One thing often neglected in instructional books (and opening books) is complete games. It's helpful to observe how winning positions are achieved and how the winning positions need to be followed up to the conclusion. It does most of us no good to be shown a game fragment and be told one side is winning; we need to be shown how it was achieved and the conclusion. Nimzovich accomplishes this by using a lot of endgames and late middlegames. For some that my be boring because the exciting moment has come and gone, but think about how many times we non-masters have achieved a won position or played a nice combination but then don't have the slightest idea of how to follow it up and administer the coup de grace.
     Another thing I really liked about this book is that, unlike many of today's books, there's not pages of computer generated analysis that nobody plays through anyway; his notes are short and to the point plus there are many narrative discussions where he verbally describes what's going on in a clear, concise manner.
     If you can get a basic understanding of positional play, you'll avoid a lot of tactical mistakes because your position is sound...generally speaking, that is. There are positions where you have all the positional advantages but an unnoticed weakness allows a sound tactic. By introducing yourself to the nuances of chess strategy you can't help but improve your game. 
     Recommended for those beyond the beginner stage and below master. That said, even if you just play over the games by Nimzovich you can't help but absorb something from his notes.