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The Case of the Vanishing Chess Games

by Mark Donlan

Play Like Botvinnik by ChessOK, Figurine Algebraic Notation, Download, Free

Play Like Botvinnik is a free training course that comes preloaded within the free Peshka graphical interface. The course was released in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the sixth world champion and offers 350 instructive positions and 1,069 games played by Mikhail Botvinnik from 1924 to 1970. The games are annotated by GM Alexander Khalifman and IM Sergey Soloviev.

If you are like most software users, you probably load a program and begin using it without ever reading the manual. However, this can lead to a frustrating experience with Peshka. So it pays to first read the installation instructions and peruse the user manual before diving right in with this program. Though even this is not as straightforward a process as it should be, because the manual displays screen-shots that are outdated.

For instance, page five of the user manual shows the following image with a Navigator button in the tools menu:

Play Like Botvinnik

While the actual Tools menu is depicted below:

Play Like Botvinnik

As you can see, the Navigator button is now the Wizard button; Layouts is now headed Default Layout; Users is now displayed as Players; and where there used to be seven tool buttons, there are now only six. Nevertheless, the functionality remains about the same, so the directions within the manual are still relevant.

Play Like Botvinnik launches immediately if you are installing Peshka for the first time:

Play Like Botvinnik

It opens by default to Theory mode and two of the main elements on the screen are the navigator window and the notation window:

Play Like Botvinnik

The title of the current course is located in the upper portion of the Navigator window, with the available content listed below. To view the content you simply click on the item in the list. The Notation window then displays the material associated with the lesson.

In the screen-shot above, it is a brief biography of Mikhail Botvinnik:

"Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1911. He learned to play chess at the age of 12. An electrical engineer by education, he was the first Russian to become World Champion after winning the 1948 World Championship tournament held after the death of Alexander Alekhine. He retained the world title until his defeat to Petrosian in 1963, except for two occasions when he lost the title for a year, to Smyslov (1957 - 1958) and Tal (1960 - 1961). On both occasions, he had a clause in his contract that obliged his opponents to grant him a rematch within a year of a possible loss. Botvinnik made great use of this to study his opponents in detail and was able to regain the title both times as a result of this. The one exception was to Petrosian, whose unorthodox style produced moves that he declared he could neither understand nor predict. Throughout his life, Botvinnik was always very serious about chess and never played for fun.

"After his defeat to Petrosian, he trained other Soviet players and devised a training programme. He advocated practising with strong players, studying master games, publishing analysis to be scrutinized by others, learning to handle the clock to avoid time trouble and learning to concentrate in spite of disturbances. Although he was a non-smoker, he often practised with heavy smokers in order to check his ability to concentrate in adverse situations. He also stressed the importance of regular physical training to maintain fitness as an important part of a chess players preparation. In 1970 he retired from playing in order to concentrate on developing chess computers."

Note that to the bottom left under the chess board element of this first lesson it tells you that you are in theory mode and on "Task 1 of 1." This is an important indicator, as we will explain.

Let's now click on the year 1965 at which point the navigator and notation panels display as follows:

Play Like Botvinnik

There is no text to speak of in the notation window, but there is a diagram illustrating a good move played by Botvinnik. Yet, there are five other lessons associated with this section:

  • Nordwijk aan Zee.
  • Moscow Ch of Trade Union Teams.
  • 3rd European Teams Championship.
  • VIII Spartakiade of Trade Union.
  • Match Moscow-Leningrad.

Clicking on any of these will bring up text related to the event or a crosstable. Yet, notice that if we click on "Nordwijk aan Zee," the Task now displays as "1 of 8."

Play Like Botvinnik

This is indicative of the fact that there are seven associated games with this event. It is this feature that had stumped a fellow ChessCafe.com contributor and I, because we each had difficultly finding the 1,069 games within this course. Thus, we can now announce that the case of the vanishing chess games has been solved! They are hidden in the task panel.

Another indicator is that the solid rectangle above the board divides into however many tasks are available. If there is one task, it will display as one solid bar:

Play Like Botvinnik

If there are multiple tasks, it will be divided accordingly:

Play Like Botvinnik

To proceed to the next game, or back to a previous one, just click the task arrows, or on the rectangles above the board. The notation displays as Informant-style annotations with alternative variations differentiated by color.

Play Like Botvinnik

However, we now encounter another shortcoming of the software: the fact that the players names are not displayed until the end of the game, so we do not know who is playing what color at the outset of the game; and the score of the game is not always given, so we do not know the result without hypothesizing. Thus, we can surmise that the game Flohr-Botvinnik, as seen in the image above, ended in a draw after 20...g6, but it would be nice to know for sure. Other courses, such as Opening Lab or Encyclopedia of the Middlegame IV, all do show the game results.

Play Like Botvinnik

To access the 350 instructive positions, just click the Practice button at the bottom of the Navigator window. It is here where you can solve exercises and the program keeps track of your results. Test mode is similar to Practice mode, though there are many choices for determining what material you would like included.

There are also a number of configurable options within the Peshka interface. The main screen layout can be altered, as the three main windows can all be docked according to the user's preference:

Play Like Botvinnik

The diagram can be flipped, the speed with which the pieces move can be adjusted, the engine time can be tweaked for playing against the built-in chess engine, and the print options can be changed. For the latter, the default option is to only print a diagram of the position. If you also want to print the notation, you have to change the behavior via the options button. An export to PGN option would be most welcome; instead there is an export to Aquarium button that sends the loaded game to the Aquarium software program if it is installed on your system.

Of course, once you become familiar with how to use the Peshka program, the issues mentioned above are no longer such a nuisance and you can focus on enjoying the annotated games and puzzles. It would be nice if you did not have to be Sherlock Holmes in order to navigate the content, yet Play Like Botvinnik is still a worthy resource – and its free. Other courses in this series, available for purchase, are Play Like Capablanca, Play Like Lasker, and Play Like Spassky.

My assessment of this product: Uneven
Download Play Like Botvinnik
by ChessOK

A PDF file of this week's review, along with all previous product reviews, is available in the ChessCafe.com Archives.


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