20 December 2009

Chessmaster versus Fritz: Analysis

Comparing Automatic Game Analysis

The Fritz interface, which supports several engines calls this feature "full analysis." In Chessmaster software it is called "auto-analysis". I took a game played against a Chessmaster personality and let Chessmaster analyze at ten seconds per move. I printed the output. Then, Hiarcs 12 (my strongest engine currently running in the Fritz interface) examined the game at ten seconds per move.

Fritz permits a copy and paste that facilitates posting the analysis to this blog, and with Fritz I can create diagram files for upload to blogger. Saving or reproducing the Chessmaster analysis is more cumbersome, so I typed it into the existing ChessBase file (Fritz).

In the text below, the Fritz (Hiarcs) analysis is indicated (H12) as is Chessmaster's (CM). I've added a few comments (JS) beyond my headnotes to each section.

Fritz embeds suggested lines as replayable variations, although the software offers the option of having these as text. Chessmaster's suggestions can be replayed within that software, but does not create an exportable product. It is possible to export a file with Fritz's variations so as to replay in Chessmaster, but not the other way round.

The Opening

Both software programs name the openings and give the ECO code. Chessmaster's opening book appears limited, while Fritz draws from a database that is easily updated. Fritz looks for the moment of novelty; Chessmaster highlights deviation from the main line. Fritz does not comment on moves prior to the novelty. Chessmaster comments on each move, presenting simple expressions of general principles.

Marie - Stripes,J
Chessmaster 10th Edition Rated Game, 2009

B53: Sicilian: 2...d6: Lines with Qxd4 (H12)


B00 King's Pawn Opening. The King's Pawn opening move is both popular and logical. It controls the center, opens lines for both th eQueen and the Bishop, and usually leads to an open game in which tactics, rather than slow maneuvering, predominates. (CM)


Sicilian Defense. The Sicilian Defense has an ancient lineage. It creates an unbalanced position in which both sides have full rein for play, and allows Black to call the shots at least to some extent. (CM)


White's normal response prepares d4 and avoids such committing moves as f4 or d3 or Nc3, which have their own rationale. (CM)

2...d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6

B53 Sicilian Defense / Chekhover Variation (CM)


Out of Opening Book. Bb5 would have been in the Sicilian Defense / Chekhofer Variation opening line. Moves it to safety. (CM)


Disengages the pin on Black's pawn at g7 and attacks White's pawn at e4. Removes the threat on White's pawn at e4. (CM)

Removes the threat on White's pawn at e4. (CM)

6...g6 7.Bb5 Bd7

White has a very active position. (H12)
Frees Black's knight at c6 from the pin. (CM)


Slightly better is O-O. (CM)
8.0–0 Rc8 9.Nd4 Bg7 10.Bxc6 Bxc6 11.Qf3 Bd7 12.c3 0–0 13.Re1 e5 14.N4b3 b5 15.Qe3 a5 16.Nf3 Bc6 17.Qd3 Qc7 18.c4 bxc4 19.Qxc4 a4 20.Nbd2 Qb6 21.Qd3 Ng4 22.h3 Nxf2 23.Qxd6 Nxe4+ 24.Kh2 Nxd6 25.Nf1 Bxf3 26.gxf3 Qf2+ 27.Kh1 Qxe1 28.Bd2 Qxa1 29.Kg2 Rc1 30.Kf2 Rxf1+ 31.Ke3 0–1 Avramov,L-Schaal,R/Bad Wiessee 1997/CBM 61 ext (H12)
8.Qb3 Bg7= (H12)


8...Bg7 9.0–0 =/+ (H12)


Block's Black's pawn at g6 and clears the way for a kingside castle. (CM)


Black has a cramped position. (H12)


Slightly better is O-O. (CM)
Better is 10.0–0!?=/+ is the best option White has (H12)

10...0–0–+ (H12 evaluation)


Partially pins Black's pawn at e7, protects White's pawn at e4, and blocks Black's pawn at f7. (CM)


Frees Black's pawn at e7 from the pin and attacks White's queen. Black wins a bishop for a knight. Material is even. (CM)

12.Qa3 a6 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Ncd2 Qb6 15.Rb1
15.b3 Bc3 16.0–0 a5-/+ (H12)


Attacks White's pawn at c2 and hampers the opponent's ability to castle kingside. (CM)
Hiarcs 12 gives the evaluation that Black has a decisive advantage.

Critical Position

I noted yesterday in "Chessmaster Nonsense" that Chessmaster's post-game comments draw attention to the most dramatic change in numerical evaluation, rather than the game's turning point. But, full analysis of a game should do better. According to Chessmaster, 16...Bd7 was my most serious error. Fritz (running Hiarcs) is less certain, opining that Black already has a decisive advantage after 10...O-O. Hiarcs points out a number of improvements in Black's play that would have maintained this decisive advantage more assuredly.


Slightly better is Rc1. (CM)
16.Rc1–+ (H12)


Leads to 17.O-O Be6 18.Rfc1 Bg7 19.B4 f5 20.c5 dxc5 21.bxc5 Qc7, which wins a pawn for a pawn. Better is Bxc4, leading to 17.Nxc4 Rxc4 18.O-O Rfc8 19.Qd3 Rc2 20.a3 Bxb2 21.Ne1 R2c3 22.Qd2, which wins a knight and two pawns for a bishop. This was black's only serious miscue, but black was able to stay close and eventually mated. (CM)

Better is 16...Bxc4!? 17.Nxc4 Rxc4–+ (H12)


17.0–0 g5=/+ (H12)


17...Be6 18.Rc1-/+ (H12)


[ 18.0–0!?-/+ (H12)

18...Be6 19.h5 Bxc4

Hinders the opponent's short castle. Black wins a pawn. (CM)
19...b5 20.hxg6 fxg6 21.cxb5 axb5 22.0–0–+ (H12)


20...b5 21.e5

Slightly better is Nxc4. (CM)
21.Nxc4!? bxc4 22.hxg6 fxg6 23.Qxa6-/+ (H12)

21...dxe5–+ 22.hxg6

Isolates Black's pawn at h7. (CM)

22...fxg6 23.Nxc4 bxc4 24.Qe3

24.0–0 Qc6–+ (H12)


Attacks White's pawn at b4 and seizes the open file. (CM)

25.0–0 Qxb4 26.Nxe5 Bxe5

26...c3 27.Nd7 Rf7 28.Nxf6+ exf6 29.Rc2–+ (H12)


White wins a bishop and a pawn for a knight and a pawn. Black is ahead by two pawns in material. (CM)

Finishing a Rout

Inexplicably, Chessmaster identifies 47.Rf6 as "white's only meaningful blunder." By the time the game reached this position, we were in an endgame that I could win against Anand or Carlsen. There had to be significant errors earlier in the game.

27...Qd6 28.Qe3 Rf5 29.Rfe1 Rh5 30.Qxe7 Qxe7

Better is 30...Qh2+!? 31.Kf1 Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxg2 33.Qe6+ Kg7 34.Rxc4 Rxc4 35.Qe7+ Kh6 36.Qf8+ Kg5 37.Qe7+ Kg4 38.Qe6+ Rf5 39.Qxc4+ Kh5–+ (H12)

31.Rxe7-/+ c3


32.Rc2 Rd5 33.Kf1 g5-/+ (H12)

32...Rhc5 33.Re6

33.Rec2 Kf7-/+ (H12)

33...a5 34.f4

34.Kf1 c2–+ (H12)


The pressure is too much, White crumbles. 35.Re3–+ (H12)
Moves it out of immediate danger. (CM)

35...Rxe5 36.fxe5

Creates a passed pawn on e5. White wins a rook for a rook. Black is up a pawn in material. (CM)
Fritz's double question mark at 35.Re5 states all that need be said regarding this doomed pawn. Magnus Carlsen could not hold the White position here. (JS)

Attacks White's pawn at e5 and blocks White's pawn at e5. (CM)
Neither program points out what a human coach might: Black's king will devour the pawn on the way to supporting the passed c-pawn with the intent to force the rooks off the board and crate a simple king and pawn endgame. (JS)

37.Kf2 Kxe5 38.Ke3


38...c2!? and Black can already relax 39.Kd3–+ (H12)
This push would have been consistent with Black's idea to get the rooks off the board. (JS)


39.Rc2 cannot change destiny 39...h5–+ (H12)


Better is 39...c2!? might be the shorter path 40.g3–+ (H12)

40.Kc2 Ke4

40...h4 keeps an even firmer grip 41.Rb1 Rc4 42.Rd1–+ (H12)


41.Rh1 a3–+ (H12)

41...g5 42.Rf6 h4 43.a3

43.Rf7–+ is the last straw. (H12)


44.Rh6 Slightly better is Ra6. (CM)

44...Kf4 45.Rxh4
Pins Black's pawn at g4 and isolates Black's pawn at g4. White wins a pawn. Black is ahead by a pawn in material. (CM)

45.Ra6 what else? 45...Rc4 46.Rh6–+ (H12)


Frees Black's pawn at g4 from the pin, forks White's pawn at g2 and White's rook, and blocks White's pawn at g2. (CM)

46.Rh6 Kxg2


Leads to 47...g3 48.Rh6 Rc4 49.Rf6 Kh3 50.Rh6 Rh4 51.Re6 g2 52.Re1 Kh2 53.Kxc3 g1Q 54.Rxg1 Kxg1. Better is Rh4, leading to 47...g3 48.Rxa4 Kf3 49.Ra7 Rc4 50.Rf7+ Rf4 51.Rd7 g2 52.Rd1 Rg4 53.a4 g1Q 54.Rxg1 Rxg1 55.Kxc3, which gains a pawn. This was white's only meaningful blunder, but it cost the game. White was not able to recover and was eventually mated. (CM)

Imagine some kid reading this analysis and developing the belief that White still ahead a fighting chance with the improvement Chessmaster recommends. That kid will suffer under a delusion. (JS)

47.Rg6 g3 48.Ra6–+ (H12)

47...g3 48.Rh6 Kf2

Better is Rc4 ... (CM)

Both programs offer long detailed variations in this phase of the game. These are labourious to type, so I'll refrain from revealing all of those offered by Chessmaster. (JS)

49.Rf6+ Kg1 50.Rg6 g2 51.Rg7 Rc5 52.Rf7 Kh2 53.Rh7+ Kg3 54.Rg7+ Kh3 55.Rg6

55.Kd1 cannot change what is in store for ? 55...Rc4 56.Rh7+ Kg3 57.Rg7+ Rg4 58.Rxg4+ Kxg4 59.Kc2 g1Q 60.Kxc3 Qc5+ 61.Kb2 Kf4 62.Ka2 Qf2+ 63.Kb1 Ke5 64.Kc1 Kd4 65.Kb1 Kc3 66.Ka1 Qb2# (H12)



56.Rg8 does not win a prize 56...Rg4 57.Rh8+ Kg3 58.Kxc3 g1Q 59.Re8 Qc1+ 60.Kd3 Qd1+ 61.Kc3 Qb3+ 62.Kd2 Rd4+ 63.Ke2 Qf3+ 64.Ke1 Qf2# (H12)

56...Rg4 57.Rh6+

57.Rf6 doesn't get the cat off the tree 57...g1Q 58.Rf3+ Kg2 59.Re3 Qd1+ 60.Kxc3 Qb3+ 61.Kd2 Rd4+ 62.Rd3 Rxd3+ 63.Ke2 Qd1# (H12)


Black has a mate in 9. (CM)


58.Rg6 doesn't change the outcome of the game 58...Rxg6 59.Ke4 g1Q 60.Kd3 Rg4 61.Kxc3 Qf2 62.Kd3 Rd4+ 63.Kc3 Qd2# (H12)

58...g1Q 59.Rb4

59.Rd6 cannot change what is in store for ? 59...Qd1+ 60.Kxc3 Qxd6 61.Kb2 Rc4 62.Ka2 Rc1 63.Kb2 Qd2# (H12)


59...Qc5 60.Rb5 Qxb5+ 61.Kxc3 Kf3 62.Kc2 Ke2 63.Kc1 Rc4#


60... c2!
Mate threat. (H12)
Here, Fritz created a training exercise, another useful feature wholly lacking in Chessmaster.


61.Kxc2 a3 Passed pawn. (H12)
61.-- c1Q Mate threat. (H12)
Null moves are not within Chessmaster's analysis capabilities. (JS)


61...Qe3 62.b5 Kf3 63.b6 a3 64.b7 Ke2 65.b8Q Qd3+ 66.Kc1 Qd1# (H12)

62.b5 Qc4+

62...Kf4 63.b6 Ke3 64.b7 Qb6 65.b8Q Qxb8 66.Kc1 Kd3 67.Kd1 Qb1# (H12)

63.Kd2 Kf3

63...Qxb5 64.Kc2 Kf3 65.Kc1 Qd3 66.Kb2 a3+ 67.Ka1 Qe2 68.Kb1 Qb2# (H12)

64.b6 Qb5
64...Qd4+ 65.Kc2 Ke3 66.b7 Qb6 67.b8R Qxb8 68.Kc1 Kd3 69.Kd1 Qb1# (H12)

65.b7 Qxb7 66.Kc3 Qb5 67.Kd4 a3 68.Kc3 Ke3 69.Kc2 Qb4
69...Qb2+ 70.Kd1 Qb1# (H12)

70.Kc1 Kd3 71.Kd1 Qb1#

71...Qd2# (H12)


Addendum, 3 March 2010

I added a brief note (follow link) concerning Chessmaster's online play. I played some 300+ games there when I first acquired Chessmaster 10th edition.

18 December 2009

Chessmaster Nonsense

I've been fooling around with Chessmaster's ranked play feature, testing my play against several "personalities" at rapid time control. My usual gig is to open the program to "ranked play" and select "random opponent" and "random color." If I lose (often), I may play more against the same opponent.

Today the program froze for several minutes, and I lost two minutes on the game clock--kind of frustrating in a game 10. Even so, I was doing okay until I reached this position.

White to move

I played 28.Qd1, opening myself to an unstoppable attack. This error was the game losing move.

The game finished:

28...Bxh3 29.gxh3 Rxh3 30.Rh2 Rxh2+ 31.Kxh2 Qf2+ 32.Kh3 Rh8+ 33.Kh4 Qf4#

Here's my beef: the post-game analysis tells me that my "worst move" was 31.Kxh2--the only legal move in the position. I suppose the software thinks I should have resigned inasmuch as it is mate in five.

Such post-game analysis distracts the chess student from a necessary task: identifying the key turning point in a game. Instead Chessmaster highlights the move that changes by the greatest margin the numerical evaluation in an easily won, or completely lost position. This feature is a disservice to users of Chessmaster software. Bad advice can be worse than none at all.

In contrast, Fritz (Hiarcs, Junior, etc.) does not offer numerical analysis at all from move 29 on. Rather, it is mate in 12, mate in 6, and mate in 1 after White's suboptimal moves.

From the diagram position, 28.Qf3 maintains White's advantage. All other moves shift the advantage to Black, my Qd1 decisively so. If one is using software in training, it should help identify the key position, not offer phantom assessments after the battle has been decided.

13 December 2009

Names in Lights

Sometimes a little notoriety warms the heart! See "Stripes Tops Xmas Chaos".

James Stripes won the Xmas Chaos g/60 tourney held December 3 & 10 with a perfect 4.0 score. and Ryan Ackerman was second with a 3.0 score. Loyd Willaford (2.5) topped the U/1600 section. A link to the USCF cross-table will be posted on our Recent Results page (link at left) when the event is rated. There were 15 players at club on the 10th.

The event pushed me to new peak ratings: 1857 standard, 1773 quick. See the crosstable.

Since I posted "Class A" marking my success in reaching a goal I had announced in this blog, I've maintained my A class rating through six events. After my fifteen minutes of fame in 2008, I pushed past the 1750 milestone. That felt good. Now, seventeen months later, I'm one hundred points higher. One hundred points gain is normal improvement for youth players, but takes some effort after gray hairs begin to appear.

It's time to get serious about some new goals, such as crossing into expert class before old age dementia sets in.

11 December 2009

French Defense!

I might have gone home, taking a bye in the final round to win the event. But, the TD told me I had to stay because Nikolay was counting on a battle. Staying meant playing Black against a youth who spends lots of time studying chess and is rapidly becoming one of the strongest Spokane area players. He scored 4/5 in our recent club championship, losing only to me.

After my grueling and lucky win against Ryan's French Defense in round three, I reset my clock, turned my board around, and put my mind into gear for the Black side of the French. Nikolay Bulakh's rating is provisional, based on nineteen games. He was 1479 (P11) going into the Fall Championship, and came out 1729 (P16). He swept Quad B in the Turkey Quads (I was second in Quad A), increasing his provisional rating to 1782. He had ambitious plans going into Christmas Chaos, a game/60 dual rated event, but lost in an early round. Even so, a win in this game would put him and I in a tie for first, likely with others.

When I arrived at club, he was ready, and confident that we would play in round four. We played some skittles to warm up and argue opening theory.

Bulakh,N (1782) - Stripes,J (1820) [C01]
Christmas Chaos, Spokane 2009

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5

3.Nc3 remains the most popular, and according to my selected database of master games since 2000, results in the highest performance rating. Slightly lower in performance, but higher in winning percentage is the Tarrasch, 3.Nd2.

A lot of French players dread the Exchange Variation because they like to win and it seems drawish on first glance. John Watson disputes this assessment. He shows that Black easily creates imbalances that can lead to victory for the second player, and dispense a little venom for aficionados of the White side.
It is not a particularly imaginative line. ... Although the Exchange Variation appeals to players who are trying to draw against stronger players, allowing equality on the third move as White may not be the way to go about that. Be aware that it's a strategy that has failed miserably throughout the years.
John Watson, Play the French, 3rd ed., 70
3... exd5 4.Bd3 Bd6

Watson recommends 4...Nc6 to break the symmetry immediately.

5.Nf3 Ne7 6.0–0 Nbc6 7.c3 Bg4

We have transposed into the line favored by Watson.


8.Re1 is more accurate.

8...Qd7 9.h3!?

Watson refers readers to analysis by Lev Psakhis, who calls this move inaccurate.

9...Bh5 10.Re1 0–0–0 11.Qa4

I thought during the game that Nf1 was part of the purpose behind Re1, and that's the move in the line from Psakhis given by Watson.

11.b4 seems warranted. Indeed, my worst experiences with the French have been losses to this queenside pawn storm backed by White's heavy pieces.

11...g5! 12.g4?

My opponent burned eight minutes off the clock to find this error. Counterplay is a better plan: 12.b4!

12... Bxg4

12...Bg6 is accurate, safe, and gives Black the upper hand. But, attacking is fun while defending accurately often takes time. In a game/60, time is critical.

13.hxg4 Qxg4+ 14.Kf1

Nikolay had offered a draw at move nine, and now while thinking muttered draw, draw, draw, ...


Did I consider 14...Ng6--a better move? No, I wanted to keep the king on his wing. Later in the game I would change strategies and try to steer him away.

15.Ke2 Nf5+

My engine tells me that carbon lifeforms fail to comprehend this game of ours, and that 15...Bf4 presents White with more difficulties. Nikolay's clock has thirty-one minutes remaining to my forty-three.

16.Kd1 Rxe1+ 17.Kxe1 Qh3

For some reason, I failed to correctly assess my advantage after 17...Nh4! 18.Be2 Re8. Perhaps I thought the rook should remain on the h-file to support my future queen.

18.Bxf5+ Qxf5 19.Kd1 g4 20.Ne5 Bxe5 21.dxe5


Up until this point, I have had the advantage, thanks in no small part to my opponent's lack of vigor in attacking on the queenside. Now I let his queen create problems, and the advantage shifts to his side.

22.Qxg4+ Kb8 23.Qe2 Qg1+ 24.Qf1 Qg4+

I could offer a draw. However, my opponent has twelve minutes left to my twenty-eight. Moreover, I think that I can stitch my pawns back together before they start their promotion run.

25.Qf3 h5 26.Kc2 Qg6+ 27.Qd3 Nxe5


"Box," Yasser Seiriwan would say, referring to Informant code for the only move. Alas, White has restored equality. Black has compensation for the material, but no real advantage. On the other hand, White has five minutes; Black has twenty-five. Forget tactics training; learn to tell time.

28... fxg6 29.Nb3 h4 30.Bf4 Nf7 31.Rh1

White completes his development!

31...g5 32.Be3 g4 33.Nd2 Nd6 34.Bd4 Rh7 35.Nf1 Nf5 36.Ne3


The knight is a more useful piece according to the massive calculating capabilities of the chess engine. But, reasoning that bishops are more useful when pawns exist on both wings, and that the cleric likes working with the rook, I opted to remove the long-range piece from my opponent's arsenal. He has two minutes left on the clock; I have nineteen. I should have mentioned earlier that we are using my analog clock--no time delay.

37.cxd4 g3 38.Rh3 c6 39.Ng2

39.Kd3 activates White's second most powerful piece.

39...Rf7 40.Kd3 Rf3+ 41.Ne3


41...g2! and the queen should take care of things nicely. I reasoned, incorrectly, that White might set up a fortress with the knight and rook that a queen would have trouble breaking down as all the action would take place on one half of the board. However, my queen would have been waiting--and picking the last pawns from her teeth--when the knight and rook arrived. Sometimes concrete analysis is necessary, especially when I have fifteen minutes to my opponent's one.

42.Rxh4 Rxb2 43.Rh8+ Kc7 44.Rg8 Rxa2 45.Rxg3 a5 46.Kc3 b5 47.Kb3 Rf2 48.Rg7+ Kb6

Black has a real advantage. Although it is not overwhelming, a little technique should carry the day. Decisive, however, is Black's fourteen minutes to seconds remaining for White. The blunders during the finale can be attributed to the time White expended early on attempting to prove the righteousness of an inferior opening line.

49.Rg3 b4 50.Ka4 Rd2 51.Rg4 Rd3 52.Nc2 b3 53.Rg6 bxc2 54.Rxc6+ 0–1

07 December 2009

Chessmaster Software

Chessmaster frustrates me. It has some exceptional teaching and learning features, is readily available for several platforms, and is inexpensive. Yet, I cannot recommend it without qualification. It could be much better, and would be if it were designed by chess professionals rather than a gaming company.

It was my first software, and I use it still. My use of it it recent years stems mostly from the need to be able to discuss it with children that I coach.

Chessmaster has features still lacking in its competitors. These are terrific for beginning and intermediate players, and may offer some benefits chess competitors with strong skills. Chessmaster offers a battery of learning devices: Josh Waitzkin's Academy, Larry Christiansen Attacking Chess (six annotated games with the GM's voice), Larry Evans' Endgame Quiz, Nunn's Puzzles, and many dozens of "personalities" against which to play.

Tenth edition (released 2004) was so thoroughly redesigned that long time users of 9000, 8000, ... going back to the first Windows version (3000) found themselves confronted with something wholly new. I dislike the menus of the new versions as it makes accessing the database more cumbersome. Thankfully, Chessmaster ceased as my database software in 2001. Once I started using Chessbase Light and Chess Informant Reader, Chessmaster no longer had anything to offer in the study of grandmaster games. My work with databases expanded further when I bought the full version of Chessbase in 2003. Then I bought Fritz 8 and found that it integrates fully with the database software.

With Chessbase products, I move the pieces around on a single board. From there I can access other games that reached the same position and a host of engines that calculate variations. The engines can give me the best line, or the twenty best lines. Right click menus provide access to my resident database and the Chessbase online database.

If I am viewing a historic game in Chessmaster and want to expand my understanding of opening theory by looking at similar games, the process is cumbersome. First, I must go to the menu and find Edit > Copy > Forsythe Board Position. Then, go back to the main menu, which seems akin to exiting and reopening the program. Once in the database ... ? I cannot seem to use this copied information in the database. Rats. I'll just find the game in Chessbase and examine it there.