04 September 2011

Comparison of Chess Software - features and uses

Since by now I have a fair amount of experience with the various chess software packages that I've been using as part of the training process, I thought I'd put down some observations on their strengths and weaknesses, along with some thoughts at the end on how they are being used together.  This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of each package's features, but rather some informed commentary by a player using them to improve his chess.

Fritz 12
  • Links to ChessBase reference database for best openings reference comments when doing game analysis
  • More flexible complete game analysis feature; select evaluation threshold for variations/comments, select game move from which to start analysis
  • Sometimes silly, pointless, or poorly translated "natural language" game commentary
  • Decent variation of playing options (sparring, "friend" mode) with handicaps
  • Don't fully trust engine evaluations with material imbalance
ChessBase 10
  • Allows UCI engine plugins (i.e. Houdini) for position analysis
  • Quick searches for game references based on board position
  • Sorts games for various tactical and strategic themes
  • Game statistics and more sophisticated DB analysis easily generated
  • Easy to use for annotation purposes
  • Expensive, not worth upgrading to ChessBase 11 at this point
Rybka Aquarium 2011
  • Excellent database included, but openings reference in game analysis is based on move-order rather than position
  • Complete game analysis produces better/more understandable results and includes numerical position evaluation in commentary
  • Publishing of fully playable annotated game to blog or webpage is possible (although not user-friendly)
  • Analysis and commentary features are strongest; focus is on this rather than playing
  • Rybka 4 engine included has legal issues; can substitute another one if desired
Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition
  • Best playing options by far for simulated opponents and 3D boards
  • Comprehensive training package included
  • Haven't bothered with the analysis and database functions, which are not state-of-the-art
So a typical cycle is to play a training game, afterwards conducting a complete game analysis using Rybka 4 in Aquarium and/or Fritz 12.  The game (in PGN format) is then loaded into ChessBase for opening reference purposes and commented on in Aquarium, while I step through the game move-by-move for my own analysis.

I'm still working out the best practical way to do this for new training games.  One technique that seemed to work reasonably well for Annotated Game #8 was to have ChessBase loaded with the Fritz 12-analyzed game and then have Aquarium open on the left 3/4 of the screen so I can easily compare the different variations and evaluations.  Although I like the ChessBase + Houdini engine combination for conducting annotations using my tournament games database, which was all previously analyzed using Fritz, the Aquarium analysis and commentary features seem more powerful and cleaner overall, now that I've become more used to them.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be one package that can do it all, so I expect I'll continue to mix-and-match to some degree.  If I had to pick just one to own, however, it actually (perhaps surprisingly) would be Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition, because its playing and training features aren't replicated by the others and there are now a variety of good freeware programs available for database (SCID, ChessBase Light) and analysis (Houdini 1.5, Stockfish) purposes.


  1. Hi, can you talk about how you use a repertoire database ? I have only just started to construct one, although I read Chess Software User's Guide some time ago. Do you use it to store all the depth of knowledge you have on your lines ? Or, do you use it as an aid to memory for the main lines ?
    Many thanks for your thought-provoking blog. Keep up the good work !

  2. My methods I'm sure are rather crude compared to what can be done by a more advanced database user, but I'm happy to describe them. Will do that in a separate post for completeness sake. Thanks for your comments.

  3. thank you for sharing your experiences!