Friday, December 16, 2005

Chess and Computers Bibliography

I have begun a list of links to online resources devoted to Chess and Computers at our main links page, but I recognize that it is just a start and needs revision and expansion. It is one of many projects on my list (a list that keeps growing during this busy time of the year at work). As part of that project, I decided to make a list of books devoted to computers and chess for general users--meaning non-programmers. There is a long history of literature devoted to chess computer programming, most of which is rather specialized. That literature is documented to some extent at Louis Kessler's Links and Bibliography pages, the Computer Chess Programming blog, and Computer Chess Bibliography, which make good starting points if you are interested in the topic. The complete literature on chess programming is huge and goes back decades. And, frankly, I don't think it is of interest to most chessplayers.

What most chessplayers want in a chess-tech book is, as the title of a classic text by Julio Kaplan put it, How to Get the Most from Your Chess Computer (RHM Press 1980). And the ideal text would really be something current and specific to the technology they are using, much like what David Noble offered in his book Master the Chessmaster (Hayden Books 1992). They want to learn how to use their computers to do opening analysis, to use chess databases, and to access chess materials using the internet. And they want advice on how to integrate computers into the ways they study chess to help them improve. The following books fit that bill, though none cover the whole range of technological issues that chessplayers might want to know about and all suffer from that unavoidable bane of technology: rapid obsolescence. All of these books are still useful to some extent, but they will not be useful for long.

1) Jacob Aagaard, John Emms, and Byron Jacobs, Chess Software User's Guide (Everyman Chess 2003)
If you are looking for a purely practical guide to using chessplaying and database programs to improve your game, and if you own ChessBase products (such as Fritz 6+ or ChessBase 6+), this is the book to buy. Each author takes on different chapters devoted to "Managing Databases," "Learning a New Opening," "Learning about Yourself...and Your Opponents," "Relating Openings to Middlegames and Endgames," "General Training," and "Special Computer Products." Even though I had extensive experience with ChessBase programs when I purchased it, I still learned a great deal – most importantly, I learned how to do things (such as compiling a database and checking for duplicates) the best way rather than simply the way that I had figured out on my own. Get your copy while it is still available and still relevant.

2) Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence, Playing Computer Chess: Getting The Most Out Of Your Game (Sterling 1998)
Written to be an introduction to chess computers for kids, beginners, and chess computer novices, this book seems designed as a gift to accompany a first chess computer for the beginner or developing player. It seems especially well-written for its intended audience. It is a bit dated in its focus on stand-alone devices given the rise of Fritz and others these days. For those of us with more chess or computer knowledge, however, it has very limited utility (except, perhaps, as a teaching tool).

3) Mark Crowther, Chess on the Net (Everyman 2001)
Written by the founder of The Week in Chess (TWIC)--source of current chess news and games--this survey of chess on the internet is certainly authoritative even if severely dated. I find this book most useful for remembering the recent history of chess on the net, since it captures that moment before the rise of Google, when ICC had just gone pay-only and “Kasparovchess.com” was still alive and dominant. Yes, that now seems a long time ago, but we are talking just five years! So there are uses for this book, not least of which is its extensive list of categorized links (which has not been completely supplanted by the numerous links sites on the web, where you can click your way through). Even if the listed links are broken there is always the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to find what you missed, so the history of internet chess that this book documents is still alive for us today....

4) Sarah Hurst, Richard Palliser, and Graham Brown, Chess on the Web (Batsford 2000)
I had the first edition of this book, which I have since either given away or lost. It was very much out of date even when I read it, since it was written during the growth of the World Wide Web when there were still many unintegrated parts to it. I got the "new" edition when it first came out in 2000, and it had a big impact on my thinking about chess on the web. I was especially fascinated by the interviews it offers with webmasters and others who put up the first major chess websites, play sites, and forums. This "new" edition is also out of date (it’s simply impossible to keep current with the web through books). It was written when Mig Greengard was still best known for his association with the now-defunct Kasparovchess.com website and when newsgroups were not directly accessible on the web through any browser. So it was a different age. Unlike Crowther's book, which strives to be inclusive and therefore has a long list of links, this web survey offers relatively selective links to specific websites. Both suffer from the transformations of the past five years. Hurst et. al. have a better percentage of live links, but Crowther's larger number means that he is still ahead at the end despite his low percentage. It's difficult to say which approach is better for the longevity of a book about "chess on the web." In any event, such works rapidly turn into the history of chess on the web. In that regard, I like the interviews offered by this book, but I think Crowther has done a better job of surveying the entire scene. I notice that the edition sold by Amazon says "2003," yet I recently saw the 2000 edition at my local Barnes and Noble, so I am not sure if there may be a more updated version out there than the one I have.

5) Christian Kongsted, How to Use Computers to Improve Your Chess (Gambit 2003)
For a book whose title promises very practical advice on "using computers to improve your game," it spends an inordinate amount of time on the history, theory, and problems of chessplaying computers. In fact, over half of the book is devoted to what I'd consider more "theory" than "practice," including sections on "The Blind Spots of the Computer" and "How to Beat the Computer." These are important issues in some contexts and certainly it's necessary to know the theory in order to understand the practice. But I was hoping for more on "Computer Assisted Analysis" and got only 13 pages that are sometimes quite general (in order to avoid becoming too quickly obsolete). I have always managed to pick up a thing or two from any book I read on technology, and I found the most value in the sections on using programs such as Fritz to improve your opening, tactical, and endgame play. I especially like the idea of playing out "won" endings (such as K+N+5P v K+N+4P) against the computer to improve your technique and the positions he offers (complete with analysis of the best way) are helpful. All in all, this is still a very relevant and useful book for non-beginners. And because Kongsted is not tied to any particular product (i.e.: ChessBase), his advice is likely to be useful to a wide audience.

6) John Nunn. "Using a Computer." Chapter 5 of Secrets of Practical Chess (Gambit 1998), pp. 166-173.
This seems to be one of those add-on chapters recommended by the publisher rather than something integral to this otherwise quite first-rate book. Of course, we also have to remember that it was written before 1998, so that may explain some of its limitations. And, to his credit, Nunn keeps his advice useful and general enough so that every word in the chapter is still relevant today. The chapter covers three things especially well: compiling and using game databases for opening study, using the computer as a training partner, and developing opening novelties with the aid of a computer. The illustrative examples are quite well chosen and are cited by some of the other books here (which appeared later).

7) Bruce Pandolfini, Kasparov and Deep Blue: The Historic Chess Match Between Man and Machine (Fireside 1997)
There are a number of books and articles about the Kasparov-Deep Blue match and there is even an excellent film titled Game Over now available on DVD. But I have not seen such a useful book as the one Pandolfini wrote on the match and the games it produced. Recognizing that the world-wide coverage of this match in the press would likely increase the number of beginners buying chess books, Pandolfini wrote mostly for them with extensive move-by-move commentary on the games. Along the way he touches on many topics related to computer chess. Highly recommended for all levels.

8) Robert Pawlak, Chess Software Sourcebook (Treehaus 1999)
A useful if basic and dated introduction to purchasing and using various common computer programs.

9) Robin Smith, Modern Chess Analysis (Gambit 2004)
If you are a relatively advanced OTB or correspondence player interested in learning more about how best to use your chess computer to do opening or game analysis, this book is written expressly for you by one of the highest rated American correspondence players. It covers all the issues relevant to using your computer for deep analysis. In the final analysis, however, “chess analysis” is its only focus and so those interested in learning more about other practical uses of chess computers may wish to look elsewhere. But for advanced users, this is probably the best of the bunch and you are likely to learn something useful here.

10) Alex Yermolinsy, The Road to Chess Improvement (Gambit 2000)
In a very short end chapter titled "Let's Talk Computer Chess," the former U.S. Champ offers mostly a critique of chess compters followed by a discussion of some games he has won against the machines and how he did it. This seven page chapter is certainly not the reason to buy Yermo's otherwise excellent book, unless you just want to learn how to beat the damn things.

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