When it comes to chess programs, battle lines are always drawn with both partisans arguing to the end and no one feeling any better. A friend who has seen it all offered a comparison and compromise. Here is what he wrote:
There is a cost effective method of using these programs. For downloading games and saving databases one may use the Chess Informant Expert 6.6 and ChessBase Reader. Both are free with a database limit (about 8000 games).
Chess Informant Expert:
It’s easier to write one’s own annotations in CIE format and enter Informant symbols. However, the search function here is not user-friendly. This program has three engines, Crafty 17.9, Crafty 18.7 and Ruffian. However, at the end of analysis in any particular line no final evaluation is offered.
ChessBase Reader: Essentially, this is the new avatar of good old ChessBase Light. It offers a large, elegant board and pieces. One could change the font and design of pieces o for variety. Fritz 6 is a helpful engine and indicates a win, loss or draw at the end of its analysis. The search engine is good for finding players, but it not so good at locating a position.
Chess Assistant Lite: This demo version is only for getting a “feel” of the main program. One can’t get much out of it on a regular basis.
The flag ship is Chess Assistant 12. It has an up- to-date database with an excellent search function and here you get a list of games with the same position in a separate window. However, I have an issue with this program. There is a lot of overlap among databases.
I would recommend the smaller Chess Encyclopedia 2011 instead for those who do not want to spend so much money. It is from he same company. This program includes “every” recorded OTB game from the past to the present (1560 to 2011.) There are 4354987 games of which 46810 games have detailed annotations. It also has a separate opening base of 36000 games. Admittedly, this is also an overlap. From the brief annotation given here it is not clear why these games are important from the opening point of view. As for the encyclopedia, it is offered in MCO style with long columns and sub-columns. Explanation is kept to the minimum.The main engine used here is Rybka v2.3.2.a, and others are Crafty, Dragon, Delfi, Ruffian. Not Houdini 2. It’s in the bigger program, Chess Assistant 12. But seriously speaking, it is not obligatory to have this engine in testing tactical accuracy of your calculation. Rybka would do. Chess Assistant engines are good, but it’s rather annoying to have a machine evalution reading like an algorithm. This is not how one thinks and calculates during a game. Simple Informant signs like” +-,-+ and =” are much better in understanding the position.
One limitation of Chess Assistant programs is that the board is small as compared to others like Chess Informant Expert and ChessBase. Also, if one is a little rushed and careless in using the program, it begins to show access violation error. Something that seldom happens with Chess Informant Expert or ChessBase. Then the only option is to uninstall and re-install the program.However, Chess Assistant scores over ChessBase in that a single program combines
an annotated database and engine analysis.
If you buy ChessBase 11,it only has the basic program and a large database of unannotated games. You need to buy another program like MegaDataBase 12* so that you could have annotated games. If you compare the quality of annotations, first it appears that ChessBase is scoring because it has more human comment to offer. Chess Assistant annotations on the other hand are rather impersonal and lack human touch. But the program has a larger database of annotated games for the past world champions and also rare analysis for the games from the Soviet period (the Russian legacy). So this argument can go back and forth...
Any way currently the more ambitious players, especially the rated and the titled ones are veering towards programs like Houdini Aquarium and Fritz 13. Here the focus is more on playing and analyzing with engines.
There are quite a few experts writing on programs. One basic book is Christian Kongsted’s work, “How to use computers to improve your chess” (Gambit.2003) This is a bit dated by now. You may also to check out online articles of Dadi Jonsson and Steve Lopez. Steve, especially, has written tutorials on both ChessBase and Chess Assistant programs. They are very helpful.
However, at the end of the day I still want to know how a Carlsen thinks and calculates, and not how Fritz and Houdini do. These friendly monsters are terrific. But if they rule our hearts and minds, it would be terrible. With that word of caution I would say Amen.
Note:Big DataBase 12 does not have annotated games as pointed out by NimzoRoy (see comment below). So it's taken off the list.