I often receive e-mails from Fritz12 and Deep Fritz12 users, usually containing question or three. One frequently-asked question can be paraphrased like this:
“I’m a new chessplayer. I haven’t advanced much beyond knowing how the pieces move. I’m trying to follow your advice by playing as much chess as I can, but it’s frustrating — Fritz always beats me. Is there a way I can set Fritz to play like a beginner?”
First off, I’d like to commend the folks who write e-mails like that one. A lot of people don’t like to admit that they’re beginners and could use some help. That’s a tough admission and I’ll be the first to compliment anyone who makes it. And second — yes, you can set Fritz to a beginner mode. In fact there are two settings which I can recommend, and we’ll discuss one of them in this very blog post.
For players who are just starting out, I recommend “Handicap and fun” mode, so named because you’re “handicapping” Fritz’ playing strength, and because some of the play modes you can create are very fun for even the experienced chessplayers who may be reading this. Fire up Fritz and click “Play Fritz” in the splash screen; when you get to the main chessboard screen, go to the Training menu and look for “Handicap and fun” in the “Training levels” portion of the ribbon:
After you click on this command, you’ll see the following dialogue appear:
This is where you’ll select various settings which will affect the way Fritz12 plays against you.
The most crucial of these for most players is the “Playing strength” slider. The values represent the approximate Elo (chess strength) rating at which the chess engine will tend to play. The exact values displayed will vary depending on what chess engine you’ve loaded and the computer hardware on which you’re running the software. Engines like Fritz and Rybka will tend to offer higher values. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you install another free engine called Turing, which is available at the ChessBase website (scroll to the bottom of the Engines page to find it). While Turing is a historically important chess program, it’s also very weak when compared to modern commercial engines.
Download Turing’s setup file and run it. Then you can hit the F3 key when you’re in Fritz’ main chessboard screen to bring up a scrollable list of chess engines; Turing will appear on that list and can be loaded from this dialogue.
(By the way, the Fritz Help file recommends the use of Fritz1.20, but that engine will not run on Windows XP, Vista, or Win7 systems; Fritz1.20 would still arguably be too strong for most beginners anyway).
Club players and those with tournament experience will understand the Elo value approximations and can set the “Playing strength” slider accordingly. Beginners, however, should just move the slider the whole way to the left; if you find the result to be too easy a game, you can always bump it a bit to the right the next time you play in order to get a more challenging game.
Next we’re going to define the criteria for the other sliders; as a general rule “Min” means that the chess program will tend to ignore that particular aspect when it decides on a move, while “Max” means that the engine will consider that criterion to be very important.
King’s attack determines the overall aggressiveness of the program by setting how important the program considers attacking your King. “Min” will make the software play more passively.
King’s defense sets the importance the program places on defending it’s own King. “Min” means that the chessplaying engine will tend to ignore its own King’s safety.
Piece placement affects how harmoniously the chess engine’s own pieces will tend to work together. “Max” means that the software will try to place its pieces on squares where they can support each other, while “Min” will result in a more “willy-nilly” piece setup.
Pawn structure is, in some ways, similar to “Piece placement” in that a “Max” setting means that the software will try to place its pawns so that they are defended, while “Min” will result in weaknesses such as backward or doubled pawns.
Mobility determines the relative importance of free piece play to the program. A “Min” setting means that the software will tend to have a cramped position or, at least, not try terribly hard to open lines of maneuver for its pieces.
Center Control is an important chess concept; if one player controls the center, he or she tends to dominate the board. This slider affects the importance the chess program places on this concept.
Piece trading controls how willing the chess software will be to trade off its pieces. “Min” means that the program will jealously hang on to its pieces, even (in some cases) if a trade would result in a slight material advantage to the chess engine. “Max” will make the software swap off its pieces, trading like a crazed Moroccan rug merchant, sometimes even coming out on the short end of the deal.
Variety introduces a random element to the software’s play. It controls how willing the program will be to occasionally play a second-best (or even third-best) variation.
Piece play is intended to simulate the way some (human) players seem to favor moving one piece over all others. I once had a regular opponent who loved to move his pawns, often to the detriment of his pawn structure and overall position. By checking the “Pawn” box (and moving the “Pawn structure” slider closer to “Min”) I was able to closely simulate the play of this “pawn lover”. Checking one of these boxes means that the software will tend to favor moving that piece, while adjusting the slider controls how badly the program will screw up its position in order to do so.
Moving back to the top of the display, Blunder range controls how much material the chess program will be willing to throw away in order to meet the criteria set by all of the other sliders. These numbers follow the conventional values of the pieces; thus setting the slider to “1.0” means that the software will chuck a pawn while a value of “5.0” means that the program will be willing to go behind by as much as a Rook to ensure that the other slider values are followed to the letter.
Back at the bottom of the dialogue, there’s a checkbox marked “Program plays fast”. Checking it means that the program will tend to move quickly (and thus tend to play more sloppily, much as a human player might if he fired off his moves too rapidly).
The “Handicap and fun” dialogue also contains a list of pre-set “characters” along the left-hand side. These are named according to a general characteristic of their play. If you don’t want to fiddle with the sliders/settings, you can just click on one of these buttons to load one of the pre-set playing styles. The “Default” button returns the whole “Handicap and fun” dialogue to its “factory settings”.
I’ll mention again that “Handicap and fun” mode, while unquestionable useful to beginning players, isn’t just for novices; every chessplayer can have a great deal of fun by playing around with these sliders and seeing the result. As I indicated earlier, I’ve been able to accurately simulate the play of some of my opponents by using this dialogue, and some experimentation and judicious tweaking of these controls often makes the Fritz12 software a blast to play regardless.
Have fun! — Steve
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