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I'm currently using chesstempo to get better at tactics, reading books on strategy, analyzing grandmasters' games, etc.

My current rating is around 1800 and I am planning to gain 200-300 points within the next couple of years.

I'm considering investing in a chess software either ChessBase or ChessAssistant and would very much welcome some use cases of how you use them to improve your practical skills?

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This is a very broad question. The following topics all seem to be relevant:

  1. Learning about chess theory (opening and endgame, as well as priyomes, which are appropriate stratagems for certain typical aspects of a position)
  2. Didactic methods (i.e. how humans learn)
  3. Pattern recognition and memorization
  4. Productive chess play against a chess engine
  5. Analysis skills improvement
  6. [I'll think of another one in a minute...]

1.a Openings To learn an opening, you need to have the objective of knowing what move to play in a given position from that opening. The word position is critical; if you only learn a given sequence of moves, you will get outwitted by an opponent who starts by playing one opening, and then plays a move that isn't in that opening, but which transposes to another. For example, your repertoire includes the Dutch Defence vs 1.d4, so when your opponent plays 1.d4, you reply 1...e6 (you avoid playing 1...f5 immediately, to preclude the Staunton Gambit (1.d4 f5 2.e4).

This (1.d4 e6) allows your opponent to play 2.e4, which transposes to a French Defense (normal order is 1.e4 e6 2.d4). The position is what tells you it's a French, not the move order.

To learn openings using positions, get a chess position trainer (some are free), and load up your repertoire. The trainer will give you flashcard-like training on random positions, and you need to reply with the correct move for that position; the way you got there is irrelevant.

1.b Endgames To learn endgames, you need to a) determine which ones to learn, b) find the theory somewhere, c) learn that theory, and d) develop competence in applying that theory.

Software can:

a) Tell you the relative frequency of different endgame types. For example, Rook v Rook endgames occur in about 50% of all endgames, but K+B+N v K occurs only once in 6000 games. Learn RvR; skip K+B+N v K.

b) Teach you the theory. The better chess software packages come with an Endgame Trainer module, but you can also just download a very inexpensive one; I recommend the Chess King app Ending for Android in the Google Play Store; it's ported from the PC version, Total Chess Endings (by ChessOK, the same company on the PC platform).

c) The Endgame module will illustrate how the ending is handled, and then pose problems for you to solve that incorporate that ending.

d) A chess database can help you find examples of that ending in practical games. You can grab one of these at the point where the game transitioned to that ending, and play it out against an engine. Then, go back to the actual game and see what the masters did. BTW: You should choose games where the players were both rated at least 2200; lower-rated players are virtually guaranteed to mishandle most practical endings to one degree or another; some 2600+ ELO players do it, too.

1.c Priyomes A priyome is a typical procedure for handling a specific aspect of a position. It deals with limited numbers of pieces, and implements a key idea. For example, when trying to create a passed pawn the general priyome is to push the candidate first, i.e. the pawn that has no opposing pawn on its file.

I haven't found a single source for priyomes in software or databases anywhere, but software can help you play out a priyome that is illustrated in a book. I can recommend "How to Choose a Chess Move", by GM Andrew Soltis, for some examples of priyomes. Find the games from that book in a games database, and play through the variations he gives.

If you can afford it, either buy your chess literature in software form, or take the time to load the games from a book into a database. If you do the latter, extract them from a large database, such as a version of MegaBase from ChessBase, or the equivalent from Chess Assistant.

Why do your chess study in software form? The fact is that chess instruction in software is much more effective than it is on paper, because:

  • You don't have to spend time setting up the position or moving the pieces
  • You waste no time in resetting the position to review the lesson from the beginning
  • You can review a difficult variation separately, and easily return to the mainline without losing your train of thought while resetting the pieces
  • You never make a mistake in setting up the position
  • You can speed through uninteresting moves or even jump to critical positions effortlessly and completely accurately
  • You can analyze an interesting line that wasn't included in the material, and return to the text easily
  • You can use a chess engine to analyze the position at any point in the lesson, if you want to explore further or just want a better understanding of why a particular move works or fails
  • You can even add notes and variations to help you learn the material
  • You can test yourself not only with the exercises, but also by repeating the lesson materials, hiding the given moves and attempting to guess them instead, with immediate feedback

I only addressed the first topic, and this answer is already 2 screen's worth, so this is probably an appropriate place to take stock (and a break).

Feel free to post questions about the other topics, and I'll try to address them there.

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I know that I, for one, have used them to tell me why a line not mentioned in the books is bad. Most books show you all viable lines of play and maybe a few dubious ones, but a book can't mention all possible variations. More often than not, my opponent will play something very early on in an opening that isn't mentioned in any of the books I have on hand and so I assume it's incorrect play but struggle to know why it's an inaccuracy and how I can punish the inaccuracy. This is where, in the absence of a seasoned pro, a computer can be useful.

Let me illustrate with an example. I am a Trompowsky player and I learned most of my lines from a book by Peter Wells and a video from Andrew Martin. Together they cover a lot of material and I feel reasonably prepared to play at least passed move 8 or so. In many blitz games, however, I was frequently encountering the line:

  1. d4, Nf6
  2. Bg5, Ne4
  3. Bf4, g5?!

Now this g5 move is not listed in any material I've come across. I can probably assume it's bad or it would be mentioned as a viable line, but I couldn't come up with why it was bad over the board. Maybe with careful analysis, I could, but if you are like me, time is in short supply. I am a husband and father to 4 so I need to make good use of my time. Or, in this case, good use of the computer's time. Finally getting tired of seeing this line in view of

  1. Be5, f6
  2. Bg3, h5

and I'm not sure where the bishop is going to go after h4. So I put the position into the computer after 4. Be5, f6 and let it run for awhile. After some time it came up with the surprising

  1. e3!, ...

threatening Qh5#. I had completely missed this and always assumed that the bishop must keep on moving or retreat all the way back to c1 after 3. ..., g5. You can argue that I should have been able to find this without a computer, but the fact remains that I didn't and there are plenty of situations out there where my opponent may play something dubious but I may struggle to find out why it's dubious and what the correct response is.

In sum, I think you'll find it useful to use a computer to refute variations that appear strong on the surface, but aren't mentioned in your reading material so it's not likely that they are as strong as you fear. Computers can easily find those counterintuitive moves that will shock your opponent who isn't as prepared.

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    +1 To use engine to help refuting out-of-book variations. – ferit Dec 31 '15 at 18:29
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    I love the line that "I should have found this without a computer, but..." The solution is always easier once you know it! – corsiKa Dec 31 '15 at 20:18
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Honestly a Chess Software does not let you to learn the depth of the Game . It never helps you to learn strategy or think in terms of a human mode , for an example majority of gambits are coined into a negative score for Computers but as for Humans they are a big psychological bonuses .

Well the biggest plus is that you can improve on your openings because you need to memorize them and learn the whereabouts and you can feed a position to see which lines or moves are best in this position , what is the Score etc .

It is always good to watch videos in Chess.com, Youtube and other websites from GMs where you get the real insights of the Game .

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