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Chess Assistant 9 review
keywords: CA 9, review, database, playing, opening practice, tree, nalimov, DVD
Robert Pawlak
Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'll get right to the point - the latest version of Convekta's flagship database/playing program has relatively few major changes from version 8. Indeed, most of what is new in version 9 is largely invisible to the user, since they are things like bug fixes, slight visual tweaks, and the like.

However, there is a new mode for training openings. This feature is similar to the one offered in BOOKUP, but is not identical. I'll go over some of the main differences a little later in the article. Another difference is the inclusion of Shredder 9.11 as the main analysis engine. This is a welcome change in my book, since it seems that development of the Tiger engine has largely ceased (for personal reasons). The Chess Assistant Club, which is now called “ChessOK” has also been changed a bit. You'll notice a slightly improved user interface, and a few more features. And finally, this version includes all the updated chess data that normally accompanies new versions.

If you order the Mega package, you'll also get a three year subscription to Convekta’s commented game service, as well as Nalimov tablebase data, MEGACAP, a 3 million game database, and the player’s encyclopedia. My opinion is that among different versions, one should either chose the Pro or Mega packages, since I think they offer the best value for the money. I'm not going to reiterate all the game statistics, etc. in this article, instead I would refer you to the ChessOK website for this info (enter the software store).

I mentioned that Shredder 9.11 is now the standard engine. Shredder has a great number of tweakable engine parameters, as seen in the screenshot below. You can also change the playing strength of Shredder via this dialog (ELO slider and UCI_LimitStrength checkbox), so it also makes a good choice for non-grandmasters to play against.

[Shredder 9.11 Personalities]

Incidentally, ChessOK is now the distributor for Rybka, which should interface very easily with CA. This engine is incredibly strong (ELO 3000+!), and has been heavily discussed on various computer chess bulletin boards.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a new opening test mode. This feature is meant to be used to drill opening variations. To use the feature, you open a chess tree, and enter moves on the board to reach a position that you want to drill (you can also load a previously saved position as well). Once there, you can chose to play white or black, and the computer will randomly select moves for the opposing side. When you reach a position that is not in the tree or play a weak move, Chess Assistant will offer to switch over to engine mode, in which you play out the remaining moves against a chess engine. In the screenshot below, I chose to play 9.Bg5, which Chess Assistant told me is not optimal in this position (9.Ne5 was better).

[opening test pic]

The new opening training function works in conjunction with the Chess Tree to automatically generate preferred [buttons]moves and commentary. Thus, to be of the most value, one needs a tree that has a fair number of games in it, as well as the commented tree. The best choice for this data is hugebase, since it fulfills both requirements. The only wrinkle here is that you may need to modify some evaluations if you don't agree with them, and you won't have too much control over the moves the computer plays, or the moves the computer will accept from you. The latter is probably the main difference that this mode has with a program like BOOKUP. Incidentally, to access this new mode, a button has been added to the main toolbar (as well as one for updating CA automatically).

There have also been some updates to the CQL search function (see my review of Chess Assistant 8 for more info on CQL). Dadi Jonsson has covered these very well, so I'll simply send you to his site for more information. Dadi also has a nice overview of all the features in CA 9, which you can also find at this link. Incidentally, it looks like Dadi will be writing a column on Chess Assistant for the Chess Café site. Yours truly will be assisting in a minor capacity.

As I mentioned earlier, the Chess Assistant club interface has been updated, and the server seems to be attracting a healthy number of players. One major feature that Russian speakers (with English installs) will appreciate is the “foreign console” display (with Cyrillic alphabet support). There is also some nice color coding on playing interface. And it looks like Convekta will be adding some for-pay services, like chess lessons and tournaments.

[Chess Ok Club]

And of course, all the chess data that is normally included in Chess Assistant has been updated as well. Below is a screenshot of the new player database (called guru in previous versions). Ivanchuk looks a bit surprised in the photo, don't you think?

[player base]

As I mentioned before, there are some minor visual improvements in the presentation of information, which you can see below in the opening tables mode. Some of these modifications were made gradually in some of the openings programs, but they've now found their way into CA.

[openings table mode]

ChessOK has more information on what you get which each package, and they have a great deal of detail about the number of games, which tablebases are included, etc.

Conclusion

While this might not be the version that some of the CA users were waiting for, it does offer some important updates (games, data, etc) that enhance the power of the program. Right now, the program is a little better "out of the box", since it comes with a very strong and configurable engine (Shredder 9.11).

Personal note

I've been quite busy with my personal life lately, and this has affected my ability to complete reviews like this one. And I was in Europe a good part of July, so was unable to work on this review as I would have liked. Many people sent me e-mails wondering where the CA 9 review was - I would have liked to get this out sooner, but reality intervened ;-).

 







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