Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chess Openings Wizard

     Because I play a lot of correspondence chess and these days what with engines being employed by almost all players, opening preparation is more important than ever, so I investigated using Chess Opening Wizard. It appears that it's actually geared more towards OTB players who want to improve on their opening play.
     Chess Openings Wizard (desiger Mike Leahy) is similar to the 'tree' function in ChessBase, but more advanced. You produce database called ebooks. It's generally recommended for players rated about 1800 up to expert (2000).
     Studying openings for players in this range is not the waste of time it is for lower rated players because they already have an understanding of the basics. For most non-masters, no matter how well they know an opening, they tend to collapse as soon as they are out of their book simply because they have such a poor understanding of basic middlegame and endgame concepts.
     COW is useful for opening preparation which it does in the form off trees. The advantage to this tree method is that transpositions are accounted for so you don't have to ferret out the same position that can be reached through different move orders.
     You can also purchase a number of ebooks, but like all opening books, they will be out of date. It's better to make your own ebook and then copy and paste the games into a PGN file and then import the files into your own ebook.
     There are three versions: free, express and professional. You can download the free version; it is a trial version of the express version. This is rather strange, but the express version becomes the free version after the trial ends and it can be used permanently.
     The trial of the express version comes with a number of ebooks which can be viewed even after the trial expires. With the free version you can view ebooks, but changes can't be saved. That makes the free version pretty much useless. About all you can do with the free version is find transpositions and use the training feature to run through all the variations. A lot of the stuff covered is pretty obvious.
     One major complaint about downloading the software from official site is that you get a ton of Spam from the least that's the rumor.

Free Version: Comes with demo ebooks that describe all the openings by name and ECO code. To get the free version (and apparently a lot of Spam) you sign up for a 30 day trial of the Express version and after the 30 day trial is over it becomes the free version; it will work indefinitely.
Express Version: You pay $67 for it. Has the ability to edit your own openings and do analysis with an engine.
Professional Version: Costs $167.

For a comparison chart of the feature offered see HERE

I decided that Chess Opening Wizard it not a product in which I have any interest. You can't do much with the free version except look at outdated opening analysis and the Express version is not worth the price because if you are a beginner, low rated or average player, you shouldn't be spending a ton of time on detailed opening study anyway. And when it comes to playing correspondence chess, I don't need to memorize anything plus I can make my own opening books using any number of programs. Maybe the Pro Version is worth $167 if you're going to be playing your FM, IM and GM peers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Soviet Chess 1917–1991 by Andrew Soltis

     The publisher, MacFarland, has published some truly beautiful chess books, but on the downside, they are pricey. This book was awarded the title “Historical Book of the Year” by the United States Chess Federation.
     In addition to 249 beautiful games, the book also has photographs and 63 crosstables. Soltis traces the growth of chess from the Revolutionary days, World War II and then through the period of Soviet-dominated chess in the 1950's up to the Fischer era.
     Soltis also writes about Stalin's Russia and the fact that chess players were not immune from his wrath and he gives his opinions of the effect of Soviet oppression on the character of many GM's, but of course that's all speculation. Still, the way of life they experienced DID have its effect.
     My acerbic old friend, National master, author and chess historian James R. Schroeder claimed the book is very poorly written, but that's Schroeder. He complains that it's filled "inane comments" such as “The tragedy of Spassky’s brief reign was that it came just as Bobby Fischer returned to chess.” Schroeder opined that there is no tragedy when any champion loses his title and added that because Fischer did not play after 1972 there was nothing to prevent Spassky from becoming world champion again, had he been good enough.
     Schroeder also didn't like what he called "trivia" and “war stories” such as accounts of how some Soviet players died during the war as a result of starvation, etc. He complained of Soltis referring to a player named “Abraham Yanofsk.” Schroeder wrote that there is no such person, adding, “Daniel Yanofsky was a grandmaster and his second name is Abraham.” Give me a break, Jim! 
     He also claimed a lot of factual errors were made, but I wasn't interested in digging into all that!
     Personally, I think it all makes fascinating reading and I enjoyed the “trivia” and “war stories.” Chessplayers of those bygone days were real people, not just a foreign sounding name and some moves on a chessboard! As for it being grammatically incorrect in many places, I'm not an English major and I easily understood what Soltis was saying, so for me, it's a moot point. A great read with lots of interesting games if you don't mind the price!!