Almost no one knows this, but I’ve been a bit of a chess fan for a good part of my life. I watch “Searching for Bobby Fischer” every time it’s on. I was saddened by the recent announcement that Garry Kasparov, perhaps the greatest player ever, was retiring from chess. And every time I stumble across a Civil War chess set, I think about reaching for my wallet. But I rarely play, and haven’t undertaken any serious endeavor to become a more skilled player since a few weeks of study as a junior high school student.
That’s why when given the opportunity to review Fritz 8 Deluxe
, I jumped at the chance. When it comes to chess software, UbiSoft’s Chessmaster
is the name most gamers have come to recognize. But visit the chess sites on the web, or talk to any member of the chess community, and the software mentioned most often will be the Fritz engine by Chessbase.
In researching the prior versions of Fritz, there could be no doubt that it had the most powerful chess AI playing engine commercially available. Due to a lack of features, clunky interface, and a high price point, Fritz was relegated to those players who weren’t challenged by the less powerful Chessmaster engine, or who wanted a higher level of statistical analysis of their play. With this most recent release, Chessbase has made it’s strongest push yet towards the mainstream or occasional chess gamer.
In playing Fritz 8 Deluxe
, the first thing that strikes you is the control the gamer can exercise over the playing environment. The playing modes available range from several different types of tournaments, to “Blitz Mode”, Fritz 8’s form of speed chess, where each the game lasts no longer than 25 minutes, and can be set to as short as 5 minutes. In addition, the actual engine chess engine, or AI, that the user plays against is selectable and customizable.
Several chess engines are included with Fritz 8 Deluxe
, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. These engines can be further customized by selecting Friend Mode, a mode in which players can select a handicap (much like in golf) that is representative of their level of skill. Choosing this mode essentially ‘dumbs down’ the chess engine selected closer to the level of the player. As you play the engine in Friend Mode, the game will automatically adjust your handicap to match your increasing level of skill.
The controls are beyond simple. The interface is mouse based, with the exception of keyboard shortcuts for menus, so controlling your pieces is straightforward. In addition, the game will not let you make a move that the rules of chess do not allow, so if you’re just learning, you don’t have to worry about beginners mistakes.
While sounds aren’t all that important in a chess game, the graphics of the chess board are. And graphics are one of the biggest advances in Fritz 8. 6 new truly 3D boards have been included with this new version, all offer a unique look and feel, and vary enough from each other to create a decent range of gaming environments.
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