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Modern Chess Openings: French Defense
keywords: French, Defense, Opening, Kalinin, Reference, MCO, ECO, Shredder 7.04
Robert Pawlak
Monday, January 05, 2004

Some Convekta fans may remember the release of Semiclosed games, which came in 1999. This was the first (and only) Convekta opening CD based on a detailed study of a particular family of openings. Semiclosed games was more or less a massive collection of detailed theory. Since then, Convekta has been content to make yearly releases of their Chess Openings series, which provides more of a general overview (for a review, go here).

However, with the release of this French Defense CD by GM Alexander Kalinin, Convekta has finally decided up the ante, so to speak. I think this CD is very different from ones that they've released previously, and sets a new standard for rigorous opening study. First, let's tackle the easy part, and look at some important statistics. This CD contains:

  1. An opening encyclopedia for the French, consisting of 26 heavily annotated game fragments. This database contains what most people refer to as "Theory", and contains masses of variations, with evaluations.
  2. A "Theory and Practice" database that contains 557 annotated games; the annotations are of the Informant type, with language less symbols used to represent words. All the annotations in this database were created by actual humans :-). Furthermore, each game has be analyzed by Shredder 7.04, with the results available for each move. This database also contains instructional articles that cover the main ideas in the French (these are written in English - note: they may be in other languages as well). Furthermore, there are 50 quiz positions that reinforce these ideas.
  3. A database of 56,137 games, that have been blunder-checked using Chess Assistant and Shredder 7.04.
  4. An integrated chess tree that shows statistics from the 56,137 game database, along with human evaluations of the opening moves.

Here's a screen shot that I made of the electronic-book portion of the CD. On it, you can see the tree-like organization of the data. This paradigm is very useful for accessing the information, since you can use it to easily find the variation you are interested in:


As I mentioned above, the "Theory and Practice" database also contains a few English texts that discuss some of the more important ideas of each opening. For instance, here's one on the Winawer French, that discusses the important concept of black blockading on the Queenside (commonly done with ...Qa4). For those variations like this, with a blocked, or semi-open pawn center, there are articles that discuss the more important strategic concepts.

It's also interesting to note that Convekta has made it easy for you to examine a game while consulting theory, and the chess tree at the same time. In the graphic below, you can see the state of current theory (and Shredder's analysis) on the left, starting with 16.Ne5. Just to the right of that, in the center of the screen, you can see a list of games that were played with that variation, below the main board (incidentally, this list is updated automatically, as you move through the game). To the right of that, and below the game moves, you can see a chess tree containing computer analysis of all the plausible continuations in the game.


Incidentally, there is computer analysis for every move of every game in the Theory and Practice database. This analysis was conducted with Shredder 7.04. This feature allows you to make an intelligent decision about whether a particular variation is good or bad, because you will know (instead of just assuming) whether a game is blunder free or not. The"Games" database has also been checked, but here, the results are visible in the game only (not in the tree or in the theory panel), and were done using Chess Assistant's blunder checking function (instead of the CAP analysis that was used for the "Theory and Practice" database).

[quickbar]Like many software houses, Convekta includes a free copy of Chess Assistant to use for viewing the content on the CD (there are some restrictions - you can't open a large number of databases, and there are no strong engines included (these are extra cost), or ICC play options). Another interesting feature of this CD is that it has some enhancements and interface changes, in what is normally a pretty standard version of Chess Assistant lite. One of the additions is a new "quickbar" which gives fast access to all sorts of important functions.

This CD is meant as a reference work and study aid, and does not make recommendations for a unified repertoire (in which case, you'd need to learn other, e4-related openings as well). Instead, it attempts to provide unbiased evaluations for many variations of the French. All ECO codes from C00 to C19 are covered, as is code A08. C03 is not included, but these games are classified as code C10 on the CD, so essentially, there is nothing missing. There's detailed coverage of the most popular lines, like the Classical, Winawer, Tarrasch, Rubinstein, etc. You'll even find some coverage of the many gambit systems in the French, although for some of the really offbeat stuff, you'll be on your own. Note that there is coverage of a very practical variation that many club players encounter or play, which is the KIA/Reti type setup of A08. The database also contains some Sicilian games that transpose into the French.

And while I am on the subject of transpositions, I should mention how this program deals with them. First, you've got Chess Assistant's Chess Tree, which can be used to show all the move orders that can be used to reach a given position. Second, there is a new feature that actually shows transpositions in the game moves (see below). This feature is present in all the games and game fragments in the "Theory and Practice" database. In the picture, you can see the variation beginning with 7...Nbc6 is underlined. This denotes a transposition to the position on the board, using a different move order. Also note the "Follow" button (bottom left). When this is clicked on, you'll see the theory updated live, as you move through the game. Flipping back and forth, executing redundant searches, etc. are all eliminated because of this feature.


In summary, this CD goes well beyond what is offered by any other manufacturer. It has plenty of human-annotated games (all checked by the current World Computer Chess Champion), and there is a nicely organized set of databases and articles that can be used to learn this opening. It's pretty much left up to the reader to decide which variations he/she would like to play, so this is not a repertoire book. It is however, a very comprehensive reference work on the French, with many advanced features that make opening study easier.

Please see this link for more information from Convekta. The program must be installed from the original CD, but you will not be prompted again for the CD (no invasive copy protection schemes). English, German, French, Spanish, Italian are all supported.


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