It’s hard to name something “11th Edition” and have people get excited about it. The first 5 editions are pretty straightforward, then the 6th is fine because you have to get to the 7th which is a magic number, but then the 8th and 9th are tough but worth it because then you get to launch the magical 10th edition!! But once you have passed 10 you have to give up numerical editions. That is all there is to it. And with that we have Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition. (Maybe next version will be the Presidential Edition? Or World Leader Edition?)All joking aside, I was excited to rip into the new copy of Chessmaster for the PC that arrived on my porch a mere 2 weeks late. My first copy of Chessmaster was Chessmaster 4000 and I was a wee tyke back then who played the ever-so-sneaky move 1. h4!!. I have subsequently owned 7000, 8000, 9000, and the hallowed 10th edition.
After loading the game, putting in my name, age, and chess experience I was presented with a cute simple menu of LEARN, PLAY or FUN. I immediately ignored FUN because chess is about winning, not having fun. Ok, I’m kind of kidding. I loaded up the FUN section and there are 4 sub-sections: PLAY, PUZZLE, MINI GAMES, and LEARN BASICS.
I clicked on the PLAY link in the FUN section and it immediately loaded a board with animated bunnies on a grassy board. Some bunnies were sitting on toilets and holding plungers and making gurgling noises. I immediately regretted having clicked on that link. I tolerated that for about 11 seconds while I realized I was playing a version of chess aimed at the group of toilet-loving bunny aliens who live among us masquerading as humans.
I next ended up at the PUZZLE section of FUN. There I was able to do some very basic puzzles around simple themes that are helpful for beginners. Cool enough.
Next I went to MINI GAMES. I saw fruit on the chessboard and left immediately for the LEARN BASICS section. The LEARN BASICS section is really cool for those who are starting out or want to take their chess “to the next level” (one of my favorite clichés). You can go over the rules in the tutorials section, do drills on basic principles, or listen to a mid-puberty version of Josh Waitzkin recount some of his games live. I am pretty darn sure I have heard these games before from him on a previous version, but it was really fun to listen to them again. It is rare to get inside the mind of great players like Josh.
After I had all the “FUN” I could stand I went to the LEARN section where I could choose from ACADEMY, FAMOUS GAMES, DATABASE, and OPENINGS. I headed off to the ACADEMY where you can learn from Josh Waitzkin, Larry Christiansen, or Chessmaster Series (meaning: some nameless master who doesn’t get credit). Basically in the ACADEMY you get hundreds of tutorials that walk you through all facets of the game from beginning to expert concepts. It is truly dizzying how much content is in there. Sure, most of it is available in previous editions, but if you have never seen Chessmaster then you will be blown away by how much is there. The FAMOUS GAMES is exactly what is says: a few hundreds unannotated great games that you can replay if you like doing that kind of thing (I’ll admit – I am a chess fanatic and played through a dozen of them J ).
The DATABASE has about 800,000 games in it and is a very powerful tool for the >.01% of the people in the world who actually would benefit from a chess games database. (The total number of people in the world who will use this database and who do not already have another chess database program is exactly 34.) Still, at $30 this is an amazing deal. I heartily recommend you jump in and learn to use a chess database! Next is OPENINGS, and once again, if you know how to use a chess openings trainer then you probably won’t use Chessmaster, but for those of you just getting into chess this is an amazing feature. You can train, build your own opening repertoire, and basically explore a decent slice of known chess theory. That said, openings are NOT the place where developing players should be spending that much time, so don’t get carried away in there.
Ok. Enough “fun” and learning, let me PLAY! The PLAY section looks pretty darn similar to past versions of Chessmaster, with the added enhancement of advertising for fancy chess pieces from the House of Staunton! Sweet!! (This actually doesn’t bother me because I like House of Staunton pieces a ton – they are beautiful.) PLAY actually offers a ton of playing options. Whether you want to play the revamped Chessmaster engine, against other people online, or with friends on a LAN (has anyone really ever done that?), you can find it here.
I started with a quick game against Josh Waitzkin when he was 8 years old. He immediately traded his bishops for my knights and I proceeded to crush him in a closed Sicilian using the bishop pair. The only thing missing from this experience was an actual video of eight-year-old Josh crying at the end of the game. I would have paid a lot of money to see that.
Overall I think Chessmaster is an AMAZINGLY good deal at $29 for the PC version. The total number of features is stunning. Sure, some of them are repackaged from the previous 10 versions, but there is some cool new stuff as well. The big news was that they did a release for the Nintendo DS which I would have liked to have reviewed, but I am over the age of 12.
If you don’t own any chess software and you want to get in the game, BUY THIS. It is a no-brainer. If you already own the 10th edition, then I say buy it anyway unless you have to choose between food and new chess software.