Chessmaster 8000 was one of the first chess programs I ever used. It is a very easy software to learn how to use, unlike Fritz, which took me several months to become accustomed to. The latest version is called the Grandmaster Edition – a surprising choice given their previous naming scheme (8000, 9000, 10th Edition, etc.). The game is also playable on Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 an PlayStation Portable, although there it is branded Chessmaster: The Art of Learning. I will only be reviewing the PC version. The main spokesperson for Chessmaster is American International Master Joshua Waitzkin, a well known chess personality who was labelled a prodigy (a term which he personally dislikes).
I believe most of the value that comes from this program is under the “Learn” section. In particular, the subsection called “Josh Waitzkin’s Academy”. In my opinion, this subset of the program is worth more than the purchase price of the entire product alone.
This section was available in Chessmaster 8000, although far more material has been added since then. Waitzkin takes you through some of defining moments of his chess career as well as showing many of his painful losses in order to drive home important concepts. I remember listening to the lectures over and over again while I was still a pre-teenager. Waitzkin’s explanations are lucid and concise, making them easy to absorb.
For the Grandmaster Edition, a new section called “The Art of Learning” is added, containing 23 new lectures from Waitzkin (14 of them based on actual games, and the rest are introductions and conclusions). The Art of Learning is also the name of Waitzkin’s book about his early career in chess and then transitionally into an exceptionally successful martial arts career.
I have read the book twice within the last year. The Art of Learning is a brilliant book that, although references chess considerably, is written about the learning process and is hence applicable to virtually any field. See my review of The Art of Learning for more information. Clearly, the new section in Chessmaster is based upon the lessons discussed in Waitzkin’s book (although you do not need to read the book to understand the lectures).
Josh Waitzkin’s Academy caters for a very wide range of skill levels. It starts by literally teaching the rules, going on to talk about basic tactical and positional elements, endgame principles, some of Josh’s treasured games and a section concerning competition psychology. The final three sections, in my opinion, would be useful all the way up to 2300 FIDE level.
I believe for players under 2200 FIDE, Waitzkin’s lectures, coupled with a steady diet of tournament play, game review and book study (tactics, openings, etc.) will lead to substantial improvement.
On a personal level, Waitzkin has contributed an enormous amount to my life, especially given I have never seen him at an event. His book not only taught me about his chess experiences, but about how to approach life. Waitzkin’s influence has been so deep that I consider him a personal hero. (Yes, I do have him under the “People Who Inspire You” section of my Facebook profile!)
Alright, now obviously to those familiar with earlier versions of Chessmaster, there are other sections to the program apart from Josh Waitzkin’s Academy. These include a course in attacking chess by American Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, 900 famous games, a 600,000 game database (this is not considered big for 2011 standards), and that’s just everything in the “Learn Chess” section!
I remember spending countless hours in CM 9000 playing around with the single player section of the game. There are a wide variety of opponents you can play against in single player mode and they all use The King, the chess engine behind Chessmaster, which is purportedly one of the most adaptable chess engines available (it can supposedly emulate a very large range of playing levels and playing styles realistically). The engine, now at version 3.50, was written by Johan de Koning of the Netherlands.
The opponents you can select in training mode range from a rating of 23 to 2876 (I believe the highest rating varies depending on your number of processors and processor speed); each personality has their own name and a photo to go with. There is even a large collection of grandmaster personalities to play against (although these don’t have photos) – the GMs range from old greats such as Alekhine, Capablanca and Morphy to modern top grandmasters such as Shirov, Polgar, Leko, Kramnik and our current World Champion Anand. Most of the grandmasters have their own tailored opening repertoires, as crafted by the Chessmaster programmers.
One of the most addictive functions to the training mode is the option to “create your own personality” – you can set different values such as attacker/defender, contempt for draw, consideration for king safety and even the values of the pieces.
Chessmaster also features online and LAN play, although I don’t really see these as necessary. On a club like Free Internet Chess Server (FICS), you can play against friends (or strangers) for free, with lots of advanced features. However, adding the online and LAN features gives the software a sense of completeness.
In the “fun” section, don’t miss a couple more lectures by Waitzkin (although most of them are ‘repeats’). This section also has a wide variety of puzzles to challenge a player’s tactical ability.
Click here to see a comprehensive outline of Chessmaster’s features.
The PC version comes in at under US $20 on Amazon.com (or even less if you buy a used copy), which I consider to be excellent value. If you are a beginner, I believe this is the software to get. More advanced programs like ChessBase or Chess Openings Wizard can be left for later (unless you have too much cash lying around!).