A Short Guide to Convekta Software
Convekta has a number of different types of chess software available. Broadly speaking, these offerings fall into one of several categories: database/playing, exercise collections/tutorials, and reference works. Just about any class of player will find something to like.
Typically, people ask me what type of program I would recommend given that they want to work on a specific aspect of their game, or that they fall into a particular class of player, and don't yet know exactly what they want. So, I'm going to structure this article in that fashion.
Right now, Convekta's catalog is a little bit light on programs for the absolute beginner (i.e. someone that is starting from ground zero, and does not know how the pieces move). Furthermore, this type of player usually benefits from lots of words to explain key concepts. The only program that Convekta has that fits in this category is Chess School. While the interface for this program is not very eye catching (possibly an important factor for kids), the teaching material has been proven in hundreds of schools across Asia and Europe.
Chess School has quite a bit of text explanation, and can be used to learn all the basics of the game (how the pieces move, basic mates, etc). There is also a built-in chess engine, so that you can play out some rudimentary learning positions against the computer. However, the program does not have a full-fledged playing capability with engine handicapping and the like.
I would also recommend that beginners get a copy of Chessmaster, which is specifically tailored to this type of player. The graphics for this program are also quite pretty, for what it's worth. Chessmaster is currently distributed by Ubisoft, and is not made by Convekta.
For those players that know how the pieces move , and have some basic knowledge of mating patterns and tactical devices (like pins and forks), there are a few more alternatives. Here, the programs Advanced Chess School and Chess Tactics for Beginners are very good. They have the same basic format of all Convekta tutorial programs, but they have fewer words, so a certain amount of chess knowledge is helpful. I've heard from a number of people that are looking for a decent tactics program, but are afraid that CT-ART might be a little difficult. These people should look at the programs I just mentioned.
The Intermediate and Advanced Player
Once you've attained this level of expertise, you'll find that Convekta has quite a bit to offer. In fact, you could select from just about any program in Convekta's catalog that I have not yet mentioned. And I'm not just blowing smoke here. If you're this type of player, you've probably determined that there is a specific area of your game that you want to work on. So without further ado, I'll take a look at a few categories, and make a few suggestions:
General Opening - Convekta's primary offering is Chess Openings 2003 (as I was writing this article, I received a copy of Chess Openings 2005 - watch for an upcoming review). This program does not explain the concepts of the openings, and contains no English text explanations. What it does contain is a fairly broad survey of existing theory on just about every opening. While the coverage is not encyclopedic, it does do a decent job of covering most of the bases. The closest analog I can think of here is MCO. But it is definitely not in the same class as ECO. The best use for this program is to fill in holes in your existing repertoire. Convekta also offers a CD of opening blunders called appropriately enough, Blunders. All the exercises on this CD come from real games, and are organized by opening name. The CD can be helpful in learning typical opening traps and themes.
Specific Opening - Convekta has a number of individual opening CDs with some pretty advanced features. Right now, you can choose from the KID, Sicilian, and French. See these links (1,2,3) for more information.
Strategic Aspects of the Middlegame - My primary recommendation here is Strategy (with exercises by Maxim Blokh), and some of the Great Player's collections. If you can only study it short bits of time, then the exercises that come with these two sets of programs are very good. If you have longer chunks of time that you can devote to study, then I would prefer the Great Player's Collection; these annotated game collections are better than any other competing programs of this type.
Tactical Aspects of the Middlegame - Here your number one choice is probably CT-ART. To a slightly lesser extent, some of the Great Player's Collection CD's are also quite useful in this regard (here, I would recommend the Tal CD). But the greatest number of exercises will be found in CT-ART. Chess Tactics for Intermediate players is another alternative. My opinion is that this CD is more difficult than CT-ART. If you are the type that likes chess problems, I think that the Mate Studies CD is another worthwhile program. However, be warned that the exercises on this CD are quite difficult, so be prepared for a challenge. I think the utility of CDs like this is that they tend to improve one's creativity (plus, they're just plain neat to do).
The Endgame - Convekta's catalog is surprisingly strong in the endgame. My personal favorites here are Studies, Chess Endgame Training, and the Comprehensive Chess Endings (CCE) CD. Studies is perhaps best for learning tactical themes in the endgame. Chess Endgame Training is also useful in this respect, but the training positions come from actual games, instead of being composed. CCE is a different program altogether, and is useful mostly as a reference work and learning resource. CCE has quite a few learning examples which can be quite useful when trying to understand endgame play (and in this respect, it is infinitely superior to endgame tablebases, which provide no explanation at all). I would also give an honorary mention to the Endgame: Theory and Practice CD. While the exercises on this CD are quite good, they are more concerned with the technical aspects of this phase of the game, and I simply find that to be a little less interesting (of course, your mileage may vary).
Of course, this type of player will also benefit from using Chess Assistant as well. This is Convekta's flagship application, and has chess database functions (for game study and analysis), a playing program, ICC interface, training features, and electronic/print publishing as well. This program is extremely powerful, and has features that no other software can match. If you want, you can read a review of CA 8.1 here.
Desert Island Disks
If you aren't quite sure what you want, and are looking for a list of superior chess applications, then I would start here (this is nothing more than a list of my personal favorites).
Total Chess Training and Total Chess Training II - These are compilations of Convekta's best programs in money-saving bundles. Individual standouts here are CT-ART, Strategy, Chess Tactics for Intermediate Players and Studies, but Blunders and Middlegames are nice additions. There are more exercises on these CDs than most people will be able to complete in their lifetime.
Chess Assistant 8.1 - CA is the best tool available for game analysis. While the program does not have a lot of graphical gimmicks, it is loaded with features for the serious player. Look here for a review of Chess Assistant 8.
Famous Player's Collection - Capablanca, Tal, and Botvinnik. These are my three favorite famous player's CDs. All are more than worth their price, and contain games that are annotated in painstaking detail.
Comprehensive Chess Endings with Nalimov Tablebase DVD/CDs - I've written a very good review of this program that you can find here. This is really the ultimate endgame reference work.