Reviews - What do customers think about How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess?
Useful, well written book, maybe a little lightweight in terms of improving your chess Feb 9, 2006
Note: This review first published in the Irish Chess Journal, February 2006
How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess is a book that will appeal to rather a lot of chess players. From the upper echelons of the super-GMs polishing their opening theory to club players getting in a little practice, computers permeate the modern chess world. The problem is, it's not exactly clear how to make the most of what they can do.
Kongsted, who you might remember as the winner of Limerick 2004, is a very strong correspondence chess player, and rated around 2200 over the board. However, his claim of journalistic training seem dubious in the face of a book that is both carefully researched and very readable!
The book title is a little misleading. Only half the book is directly about improving your play. Part one of the book (How the Computer Works) contains a short history of computer chess, followed by a detailed examination of how they work and then advice on beating them. While much of the material here will be familiar to anyone who's read about computer chess, you'll be surprised at the details you've missed.
Kongsted builds up the material methodically. After the chapter on the history of computer chess, he begins the meat of the book by introducing the various methods computers use for position evaluation and to prune the search tree.
Next, he writes about the limitations this manner of analysis introduces on the computer's play. He demonstrates each of his points with examples from games between strong commercial programmes such as Fritz and Rebel and strong human grandmasters - the likes of Kramnik, Shirov and Anand. The annotations to these games are detailed and interesting.
Kongsted concludes the first part of the book with a chapter on how to beat your computer. He advises on good anti-computer openings without resorting to junk like 1.d3, as well as appropriate strategy and mindset.
Part one of the book is very interesting, well written and will unfortunately do very little to improve your chess. Kongsted makes up for that in the second part of the book (Improving with the Computer), where the knowledge just gained of the strengths and weaknesses of computers is useful.
First up is a quick review of the available software. While he ultimately uses Chessbase as his database tool of choice for examples in the book, Kongsted unreservedly recommends Chess Assistant as its equal. He also explains how to expand your games database via the internet, as well as where to get endgame tablebases.
He looks at eight playing programmes in detail - Fritz 8, Junior 7, Hiarcs 8, Shredder 7, Nimzo 8, Gandalf, Chess Tiger 15 and Chessmaster 9000. He has a couple of paragraphs on each one, covering things like strength in the endgame, positional play and materialism. I would have liked to have seen what benchmark tests he applied to each of them, but I guess space constraints wouldn't allow it. That chapter also has sections on hardware (RAM and processor speed are important, in a less than shocking revelation), chess CDs (don't bother), optimising your programme's performance (turn off everything else and allocate lots of RAM for hash tables) and electronic chessboards.
Now, we come to the really interesting bits. The next four chapters are on how to use chess software correctly for analysis, opening preparation, tactical practice and endgame study.
For the analysis, Kongsted warns against the kind of lazy thinking that sees the computer doing all the work. Each section recommends a method of overcoming weaknesses in the computer's thinking. He also has a section on automatic analysis. The latter was enlightening, such as the example of the computer's incorrect initial assumption that Black was winning lead to it rejecting a repetition of moves - this was a line it had thought overnight on.
The recommendations on using computers for opening preparation consist of a chapter on how to use your database properly, the kind of thing that should really be explained in a manual, but isn't. Kongsted really packs in the tips and tricks (which are heavy on the key-board shortcuts). This is probably the most useful chapter in the book. The tactics chapter again warns against using the computer as a crutch. There are a number of problems given, which is not all that necessary, but a nice touch. The endgames chapter is similar in structure, but with much more detail on using the computer properly.
Overall, How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess is an enjoyable guide to chess computers and their correct use. A rarity among chess books, you could go through it in detail in a few days, making it particularly helpful for the time invested in reading it. Recommended for average club to strong players.
Good for improving your chess Sep 10, 2004
This book taught me a lot about how to use computers for improving in chess. It speaks about ChessBase and Chess Assistant and a few others, about how to use databases and playing programs for chess training. There is also an interesting chapter on computer-assisted analysis, and info about how to study opening and middlegame ideas with computer programs plus some suggestions for how to train tactics with the computer. The part I got most out of is how to learn a new opening, which can be done much easier with computer programs. I can recommend this book to anyone that wish to understand more about computer chess programs and improve their chess.
Wrong title Aug 25, 2004
I agree with the introduction and the first part of the book "History of Computer Chess" (About 18 pages). But then, The author spends 2/3 of the book trying to explain how to beat your computer! Only a minimal part tries to explain what the title says: "How to use Computers to Improve your Chess". Even then, there's nothing realy valuable on those pages worth your time and money. Nothing new for a common and average database and playing program user, nothing you already know or cannot find out with a little common sense. If the title were "How to beat your Chess Playing Program" (Which is what the book should've been named), I would've given it 2 1/2 stars. Do yourself a favor, enjoy a latte at Borders and browse through the book, put it back on the shelf and you are done with it.
Nice ideas! Mar 8, 2004
This book tells you how computers think and points out their strong points and weaknesses. It explains how to use the computer for learning. Though sometimes it was not clear in a few places. A good book.
This book is solid! Oct 28, 2003
This book really hits the nail on the head. Suggests real ideas for lower rated chess players on the role the computer should play in analysis and skill improvement. It saved me a lot of time which would have been spent staring at a computer screen, or playing fritz and trying useless tricks hoping to swindle it.