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Fritz 8

Published by Chessbase
Developed by Chessbase
Fritz Engine developed by Frans Morsch
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released – Out Now
Price : £37.99

There are many chess games on the market, some good and some not so good. The general public will probably go along to their local game shop and look at the various titles there and probably walk away with a copy of Chessmaster or some other such title. These titles are OK. They provide a beginning to learning the game and come with encyclopedic knowledge on how pieces move and studies of the hundreds of openings etc. This is the route I took into attempting to become a better chess player and whilst it seems like a good one it soon becomes obvious that any optimism you may have about your abilities as a chess player whilst using these programs will prove to have been misplaced when you come up against human opposition.

The main problem with titles such as Chessmaster, and many others out there I might add, is that they just don’t play a real game of chess when you play against the lower difficulty levels. No end of times I have played a game against players who have an Elo rating of less than 1,500 and have been involved in a close contest only for the AI to do a stupid move (or indeed a series of stupid moves) that not only ruins the game but also ruins the confidence I have in the software to develop my abilities Chessmaster is not alone in this problem though. Many other software titles display this kind of incompetency when asked to reduce it’s strength to accommodate mere chess mortals such as myself. There is an answer to this problem though, a piece of software that caters for the chess newbie and even Mr. Kasparov and that software is Fritz 8.

Fritz 8 is the latest title in the Fritz series. Fritz is just one of the many chess titles published by the highly impressive Chessbase. Fritz 8 is much more than just a piece of software to provide you with a game when there is no human opponent available. Fritz 8 is the ultimate chess coach and will improve your game no matter how strong or weak it currently is. Even the legendary Gary Kasparov has admitted he uses Fritz for his analysis. Surely you can’t have a more impressive endorsement than that. But whilst Fritz is virtually an omnipotent chess playing monster, it also knows how to play against a beginner.

I would consider myself to have an Elo ranking of about 900. Most of you will probably know that this represents a weak to average player and therefore I need help on quite a large scale. I’ve always been interested in chess but it’s only recently that I’ve wanted to take the time to play chess properly. As I mentioned earlier playing on Chessmaster 9000 against an AI opponent with a suitable ranking doesn’t really do me any favours. The reason for this is that the game begins well and the AI will begin to offer a challenge when all of a sudden it begins making very silly sacrifices, something a human player would never do. Fritz 8 does not do this. Instead Fritz will always make a good move rather than an excellent move when it is playing against someone of my current skill level. This might not seem very significant but believe me it is. Playing Chessmaster 9000 I often find myself laughing at the stupid moves that gave me the game but when playing against Fritz I am amazed. It feels like you’re being taught by a Grand Master who instead of bamboozling you with brilliance, shows you a more intelligent way of playing without ever getting too far in front of you.

Fritz also includes a variety of tutorial features that make learning the game straightforward. You can have legal moves and threatened squares highlighted. You can ask for suggestions if you’re stuck for a move. You can enable a spy that shows what Fritz is planning to do on it’s next move. Best of all though you can enable the "Explain all moves" option which will list all possible moves you can make and show the value of each move. This is a power analytical tool that enables you to see what moves are effective. You can enable a blunder alert that will stop you in your tracks should you go to carry out a silly move, which again can prove rather useful.

The first time you play against Fritz you’ll be in for a stiff challenge. There are a variety of games you can play in Fritz 8 but beginners should really begin with Friend mode. As you play games in Friend mode Fritz will carefully adjust to your ability and give you games where you have to play well to win. It’s never impossible but it will always make it a challenge for you, which means you’re constantly having to raise your game. Without realising it you’re improving all the time because as you improve Fritz will slowly crank up the difficulty to match your improved game. Other game modes include Blitz, Long game, Rated game (which gives you a rating after a certain amount of games and Fritz will also adjust to your ability). Sparring mode is a fairly advanced mode for good club players. You can even play Shuffle chess, a game where the starting position of the pieces are rearranged. This is the ultimate test of your chess skills as right from the off, you’ll have to rely on your initiative rather than relying on the tried and tested openings. Each position has a seeding though so if you like a particular setup you can re-enter the number at the start of a new game to obtain your chosen game.

As we’ve already said Fritz 8 caters for the beginners and the Grand Masters. Plenty of analytical tools are available for those players that are really at the top of the game. The game engine can be turned off at any time too so you can input your own specific board setup and then let Fritz analyse it for you. Kibitzers can be added to assist you if you want. You can allocate as much system RAM as possible to both the main engine and the Kibitzer. You can even use another chess engine if you like. As well as the Fritz 8 engine you can also choose the Comet B50, Crafty 19.01 and the Fritz 5.32 engine. If you are lucky enough to own a sensor chess board you can also use this with Fritz 8, which of course means that you don’t even need to touch the computer to enjoy the game. Both the Auto 232 and DGT boards are supported. You can arrange tournaments and even watch a game between two of the included chess engines. Fritz 8 also provides free access to Playchess.com (for 1 year). The Playchess.com Internet chess server is always full of chess players from around the world for you to compete against.

You don’t expect great graphics in chess software. For the most part this is largely true of Fritz 8. The program has a clean, application look about it however, there are two true 3D boards that look absolutely stunning and are fully rotatable and zoomable. You can choose between a classic marble or classic wood set. These two sets are better than any of the 3D sets found in Chessmaster 9000 especially when you run them in full screen mode. If you don’t have the 3D hardware to run these two sets then you can always opt to use the standard 2D boards. You can pick a variety of appearances for the 2D boards and you can also change the look of the pieces if you wish.

Fritz 8 is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. All information is displayed in text so there are no problems at all. There is an extensive help file system included in the program that will answer any questions you have. The manual that is included is also useful in describing the different modes and analysis tools. If you have the teaching modes enabled the game uses various colour codes to show what legal moves can be made and what pieces are under attack etc. Hearing gamers do have the option to use the multimedia CD-ROM which features a talking opponent but in all honesty this is a feature that most chess player would turn off anyway as whilst it’s fun to begin with it soon becomes repetitive.

Fritz 8 is many things to many chess players. To the beginner and novice player such as myself, it’s the expensive chess coach that I can’t afford. To those seeking to become a Grand Master it’s the perfect sparring partner who will finally allow you to realise your dream of becoming a GM. What makes Fritz 8 really something special though is the fact that the more you use it, the more you will get from it. There’s probably some things I haven’t mentioned because Fritz 8 does many, many things. If you click the Fritz 8 title (or click here) you’ll be taken to the Fritz 8 website where a full run down of the program is given.

Overall Game Rating: 9.5/10
If you want a chess program to take you from your first steps with the game to the lofty height of becoming a Grand Master, Fritz 8 is the perfect answer.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers. If you are serious about learning chess this is the only chess title that doesn’t fall short.

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