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ups: Playchess.com, enough options to satisfy any chess player...
downs: ...provided they can understand the extremely clunky interface

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Fritz 9 Play Chess Review
game: Fritz 9 Play Chess
three star
posted by: Sean Hilliard
publisher: Viva Media
developer: ChessBase
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date posted: 10:09 AM Thu Feb 2nd, 2006
last revision: 09:32 PM Wed Feb 1st, 2006

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Click to read.I\'ll admit I\'m not the best chess player in the world.

Heck, I\'m pretty lousy at checkers.

When it comes to strategy games, the only ones I\'m good at emphasize real-time battles and not much else. Dungeon & Dragons: Dragonshard? I\'m there. Warhammer 20,000: Dawn of War? Sign me up. Rome: Total War? I\'ll pass.

So, when Fritz 9 Play Chess landed on my desk, I was afraid. However, Fritz 9 packs some pretty cool features for beginners like myself. Unfortunately, most of the good stuff is buried in a terrible interface that literally makes it difficult to access.

Fritz 9 Play Chess lets gamers analyze historic chess matches and pick up strategies for their own games. It\'s the best feature for beginners in the game. However, it\'s as intimidating as it sounds. The interface that guides you through each match, move for move, can be frightening. OK, it\'s just plain clunky. Casual players beware: this is as accessible as it gets.

Fritz 9 Play Chess also has three other chess engines you can play. I really couldn\'t figure out why, though. If Fritz 9 is the best computer chess engine, then why bother to include older engines? It seems clear that in spite of claims to accessibility for beginners, Fritz 9 is really designed for chess afficionados.

Gamers also have the option to customize the board as much as they want, but the only option that is easy to use switches it from 2D to 3D. In the end, the other options, like making the pieces or board look different, seem tacked on. They don\'t change the game at all. They just make it look a little more appealing. Plus, they\'re difficult to use in the first place.

Fritz 9 Play Chess also includes a number of different versions of chess. There\'s Capture Chess, Chess 960, Giveaway Chess and Ouk Chatrang. Unfortunately, not all of the games are explained in the manual, and just jumping into a game to try and understand it is a haphazard way to figure out these alternative rules.

Fortunately, Fritz 9 Play Chess is set up with a one-year free membership to PlayChess.com, which is easily worth the price of entry. Gamers can find fellow chess-a-holics to play against of all skill levels. You can even go on and challenge grandmasters. See how many moves you can make against them before you get obliterated. Talk smack before the game, too. They like that.

Seriously, though, PlayChess.com has something for everyone ? including tournaments based on skill level, titleholder searches and chat features. You can even log on and watch tournaments in progress to see other players play.

For chess newbs trying to learn the game, Fritz 9 Play Chess isn\'t the best place to go. The teaching videos don\'t really help that much. The best way to learn more about chess is to start up a game with different options selected. The teaching tools in the options menu can be helpful. You can have a coach tell you which moves are legal in the game or not by blowing a whistle when you try to do something illegal.
I hate that whistle.

Another teaching option is highlighting pieces according to their threat level. For example, if a piece is safely defended, it\'ll be green. If it\'s slightly in danger, it\'ll be yellow, and if it\'s about to be taken, it\'ll turn red.

You can also ask the coach for hints on what move to make at any time during a set game. The coach even provides analysis of different moves, too. These elements really help beginners along, but are geared at more than a basic knowledge of the game, which best serves ambitious beginners.

My favorite feature of the game is changing the artificial intelligence (AI) of your opponent in single-player games with the computer. You can change a number of different options regarding how the computer plays on a slider scale from low to high. However, I liked the different button options Fritz 9 Play Chess has that instantly change each of the sliders with one click. These are based on the way different kinds of chess gamers play. Evidently, the average chess player looks like a monkey because that\'s the way they portray the option menu. I kid you not. There are options like \"assassin\" and \"reckless,\" but my favorite ones were \"drunk\" and \"moron.\" Unfortunately, there\'s no way to combine any of the options, so playing against a drunk, killer monkey in chess remains on my list of life goals.

However, as I mentioned earlier, Fritz 9 Play Chess is designed for serious players. Not only can you play the computer on different difficulty levels, you can also watch classic chess games being played out again for you ? over and over.

Unfortunately, I can\'t emphasize enough how difficult it is to enable certain options in the game due to the clunky interface. For example, all I wanted to do was play the \"legendary\" Automaton in a game of \"see how many moves I can make before he smokes me\" (My bet was less than 10). However, even by consulting the manual and the help menu, I couldn\'t figure out how to set up a 3D game against a 3D player. This really disappointed me.

In the end, Fritz 9 Play Chess is a game for the hardcore. If you already know how to play chess rather well and are looking to jump in and play a quick game against the computer or online, then pick it up. If you\'re a club player who\'s looking for a real challenge, pick up Fritz 9 Play Chess. However, if you\'re a casual player looking to figure out just what chess is all about, go to the library and take out a chess guidebook.

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