Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition: The Art of Learning

Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition: The Art of Learning

Checkmate!
Developer / Distributor: Ubisoft
Release Date: 30 Oct 2007

Rating: ESRB – Everyone

Introduction
Chessmaster has been around for so many years that we wonder whether this latest version — the eleventh, to be exact — from Ubisoft truly deserves all the fuss. The franchise has earned many an accolade as well as the respect of chess lovers all over the world. In fact, we heartily salute the developers for all the wonderful effort that they have put into this ongoing series of releases.

Unfortunately, it appears that Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition (CGE) seems to be have been around for a number of years already. Does this version marks the dreaded demise of the great chess engine?

Well, only time will tell. After all, Ubisoft still owns the rights to the game and the possibility of a new version is dependent on whether there is still a demand for the game. And since we consider CGE to be the pinnacle in the series, you can rest assured that you are getting the best bang for your buck if you decide this is the chess game for you.

Three options from the get go: Learn, Play, and Fun!

What You Get
CGE is endorsed by IM (International Master) Josh Waitzkin, a well-known child prodigy in chess; and he’s sort of like a spokesperson for the game. In addition, many of the board designs come from the House of Staunton, the leading manufacturer of chess sets and frequent contributor to the series.

There are three main areas in the game and they are packed to the brim with tons of stuff. First there’s Learn mode, the highlight being many hours worth of chess lessons. Then there’s Play mode where you can start playing against the AI or against another player online or on a LAN. Finally, there’s the Fun mode that is targeted towards kids and chess newbies.

Time to learn some chess rules

Learn: Academy
There is an encyclopedia’s worth of lessons in this area. Sign up for Josh Waitzkin’s Academy and you will get to participate in several fully narrated lessons that come with a huge chunk of accompanying text. The developers at Ubisoft have gotten both IM Josh Waitzkin and GM (Grandmaster) Larry Christiansen to help conduct some of these lessons. The lessons are fully interactive with lots of quizzes along the way, so you seriously need to put on your thinking cap while going through the Academy.

For owners of the previous version of Chessmaster, there’s a new “The Art of Learning” lesson (this section shares the same title as Josh’s new project and book). This lesson presents a fresh new approach at learning chess through personal experiences shared by Josh.

Shh! We’re taking our final examination for the first lesson

Learn: Openings
Beyond the lessons, you have the Openings mode that teaches you everything you need to have a good start when playing chess. Many games have been lost because of a haphazard opening move, so spend some time here learning the ropes.

Learn: Database
The database contains close to 800,000 entries of chess games. The highlight of the database are the GM level chess games that were played during 2002 to 2007. There’s a comprehensive search tool provided that helps you zoom in on a particular game you wish to take a look at. For example, we found it very easy to search and single out Gary Kasparov’s match-up with Deep Junior.

Learn: Famous Games
Looking for a famous game between 1619 and 2007? Well, there are 900 of these excellent matches here. With only 30 plus matches conducted before the year 1900, there’s a lot of modern games in this collection.

Gary Kasparov’s exciting match against Deep Junior

Play: Training
This is like a quick play training feature that sets up an unrated match for you faster than you can say “Searching for Bobby Fischer“.

Play: Ranked Play
For those who want to play real chess, there’s the Ranked Play mode. This is the mode where you can choose to play against a large number of AI opponents. These AI opponents are rated (sort of like a golf handicap), and by playing with them, CGE will compute your rating score for you. If you score more than 2000, than you should seriously consider being a chess master.

Play: Set Up Position
This is a handy mode where you can get one of those chess books from your local library and key in the position of a chess match described within. From there, you can adopt a “what if ” scenario and see if you can win a match from a critical point in the match.

Setting up the board for the 9th move of the match
between Michael Adams and Charles Monroy at the
2011 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival

Play: Tournaments
Want to play in a chess tournament? Well, CGE allows you to do so with a few easy mouse clicks. There are five categories of pre-defined tournaments: Apprentices, Initiates, Adepts, Masters, and Style. You can also create your very own tournament.

Play: Online and Play: LAN
Go online or duke it out on a chess battlefield via a local area network – it’s all up to you. There’s quite a lot you can do here like playing a rated or unrated match, online tournaments, ladders, simultaneous exhibitions, and more. An interesting new feature are the addition of 12 chess variants like the following we’ve described below:

  • Marseillais – make two moves every turn except for the first turn by white,
  • Kriegspiel – traditionally, this variant is where you play blind by seeing only your own pieces and rely on a referee who can see all moves on a third board; this goes the same for your opponent. In this case, the referee will be the computer who keeps track of all moves.
  • Pocket Knight – this is where you have an extra knight that can be deployed on any empty square at any time in the match, and
  • Progressive – this variant nets you an intense chess game. It uses the following move sequence: white makes 1 move, black makes 2 moves, white makes 3 moves, and so on.
Taking a moment to watch and learn from
a tournament match

Fun: Learn Basics
Learn the basics of chess in these easier to digest series of lessons. They also feature a number of interesting matches that demonstrate many lessons for the beginning player.

Fun: Play
This mode is great for kids and newbies to chess. The chess sets also tend to look simplistic and colourful, catering more to the younger generation.

Fun: Puzzles
A puzzle generator awaits you with this mode. Play the following types of puzzles: Hung Piece, Find Fork, Find Check, Mate in One, Mate in Two, Avoid Mate, Move to Safety, and Pin Piece.

Let’s generate another puzzle to play

Fun: Mini-Games
A nice addition to CGE are four new mini-games designed to be targeted for kids (but also fun to play for adults). Here’s a quick look at the quartet of mini-games:

  • Fork My Fruit – move a given chess piece to simultaneously attack locations on the board,
  • Minefield – there are no opponent pieces on the board except yours. You must move your pieces across the board while avoiding and marking out mines, a la Minesweeper. Watch out, you have a limited number of moves in this mini-game.
  • Pathfinder – capture pieces while leaving behind a trail of your piece that grows in length; a la the retro game of Snake.
  • Chain Reactions – fancy a match three game? Well, you can… with Chain Reactions. The objective is to move a chess piece such that you create a connecting chain of three of more pieces of the same type. This mini-game is supplied with the latest patch through the auto updater.
Look, it’s a match three game in Chessmaster!

Graphics
Graphics is a strong point in Chessmaster. The menu interface has not changed much; it’s already in excellent shape.

You get a total of eleven 2D chess sets, forty seven non-animated 3D chess sets (ten of which are new) and four animated 3D chess sets. The latter features an incredible new chess set featuring the zany white (and now black) bunnies of Rayman Raving Rabbids fame!

Audio
The best part of CGE are the fully narrated lessons. There’s hours upon hours of top notch recordings here. Interface sound effects don’t intrude on the game, but Fun mode sound effects tends to go over the top just to help loosen things up a bit. And, we’re pretty sure you will love the wonky sounds the rabbids make.

New to CGE: The Raving Rabbids are back
in this humorous animated chess set!

Pros:
This is the definitive chess game for everyone to enjoy for years to come!

  • The lessons are the most admired feature in the game. Put your heart to it and maybe you’ll emerge to become the next Grandmaster champion.
  • You have lots of game play variety in Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition. Embark on solo or multiplayer fun, try out fun games and puzzles, or just establish your chess rating and brag about it to your friends.
  • Thanks to the long history of this game franchise, the latest version of the game comes with a complete set of options that you can use during matches – analyze your moves, be alerted to any potential blunders, take back a move, get a hint, get more in-depth advice, and much more.
The beauty of stained glass
  • There are lots and lots of chess sets to choose from (although some of them need to be unlocked by achieving a number of required victories).
  • You can consult the database and watch famous games. You also have the ability to set up your very own board positions and then play out the rest of the game to pursue what if scenarios.
  • Although not readily apparent, the latest Chessmaster chess engine (known as The King) is supposed to work better by using your PC’s resources more efficiently.
  • If you are adventurous, you may like to know that chess sets can be modified (instructions are available from Ubisoft’s Chessmaster website).
  • You can customize the game by downloading extra chess sets. They can be downloaded from these few places on the Internet.
Here’s a chess set we downloaded

Cons:

We have some very minor points to mention here.
  • If you already own Chessmaster 10, then you must decide if the new additions are worth your attention. In our opinion, we’d probably choose to wait for Chessmaster 12… the only problem is, will there be one from Ubisoft?
  • Chess engines are ranked based on the Elo rating system by the Computer Chess Rating Lists (CCRL) website. The latest CCRL 40/40 list shows Chessmaster 11 (at 2822 points) behind a multithreaded version of Fritz 11 (at 3095 points). That means the Fritz 11 chess game engine is apparently more superior to Chessmaster 11. And unless you are a super chess player, you may decide that Chessmaster 11 is not up to your standard.
  • After playing the mini-games for quite some time, we eventually grew tiresome of them. Although they feature increasing levels of difficulty, there’s unfortunately not much staying power to them. They should however appeal to kids who love casual puzzle style games.
Step right up and Fork My Fruit!

Conclusion
Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition: The Art of Learning epitomizes everything that a great chess game should and can be. This incarnation of the beloved series is definitely worth your investment. There is so much content here that is worth every second of your time.

We doubt if Ubisoft can throw in any more significant features for the next version, but we’ll let you decide if you should pass up this game on that basis… who knows how long we’ll have to wait.

If you’ve been sold, than we suggest you get a copy of the game today for the best brain challenge this festive season! You (or your kid) could very well be the next Grandmaster in the making…

Enjoy your fantasy battles on the chess board today!

The Verdict

8.5Great

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